Trigger and therapy

So, the boss-type person who will trigger me at work, which each new workplace obligingly supplies, has emerged. It’s not my actual boss, who is a type totally unlike my family, and it’s not the client I’m actually working for, who is an easy-going friendly type of person – also not like my family. It’s a director of a group I need to work with. We had an unexpected difference of opinion right the first time I was introduced to him, and this week he sent a rather nasty email, copying other people, which suggested I was slow and couldn’t complete a simple task. The email was totally ignorant of the actual situation, and I now think he was actually trying to back up one of his staff – it’s a long story. Nevertheless – I got really angry.

These people who trigger me also draw me in in some way – this guy seems really bright in that technical way that some are. I grew up around technically bright people because of my father’s job. He’s also arrogant and entitled. Of course I immediately crave his good opinion. Aarghhh….. I just met him in the tiny kitchen, getting tea. He was set to ignore me altogether, then after a few seconds I said a cheery hello. Hello, comes back. Ready for Thanksgiving? I’ll be here. You’ll be here? Yep. Tough times….And he leaves.

I feel odd about this. I never responded directly to his accusations of slowness. So seeing him face to face was awkward but inevitable. Maybe I should have ignored him, as he was ignoring me? It felt cowardly somehow, so I said hello, and we were polite. Was he referring to me in some way with ‘tough times’? Sometimes I exude an air of failure and depression. I don’t mean to, but I fear that I do. Or was he completely self-aborbed (my brain says this is more likely) and conveying he was going through roughness?

Who cares. This is the kind of crazy detail my trauma brain obsesses over. It’s like I’m looking for who will trigger me, how can I obsess about it. The fact is work is OK, though there was this situation this week, and now there has been not enough to do. This always happens too.

Went to therapy yesterday. I think it made me feel worse, and I can’t really identify what it was. But the last few sessions, I’ve had the strong urge to quit in the days following. Then as the week goes on, I look forward to going back.

I most always have some issues with sleep, but since starting the new job, and with the painful shoulder, it got a lot worse – waking every two hours, not dreaming. It’s a particular type of sleep that happens to me when my system is under too much stress. And just this week, it started getting a bit better. I started dreaming again, and sleeping three hours instead of two sometimes. And after therapy, bang, I’m right back to the traumatic sleep and no dreams. It’s as if I don’t relax enough to dream somehow. Or to stay asleep. Very shallow sleep – good for waking up at the least noise, in case bears are attacking.

For most of the session, therapy felt not quite real. I was in my adult, which is easy for Ron to relate to. So we talk about this work problem I had, and about how I stayed home last Friday due to being overwhelmed. I thanked him for responding to my email, and he said he was glad he could help. Privately I’m thinking it wasn’t much to ask, considering how I was feeling. He responded the next day, not the same day. But still, it helped. I’d rather call and talk, but I don’t say that. I don’t want to be a bother, and I don’t think he wants me to call him. That weekend was truly awful – a lot of time in bed, and I got little done. I felt dreadful.

It’s like he doesn’t get how bad it is.

So we talk for most of the session. I struggle a bit to come up with topics, though I know work really bothered me, and the weekend. Ron says some involved things which I can’t for the life of me remember. I’m partly exhausted, just hanging on, trying to keep a grip on what’s going on. Partly I resent him. I know that this kind of talk doesn’t really help me, but then, I think, this is what you’re supposed to do, talk about things that bother you.

As the session goes on, I get the stronger and stronger feeling that this is not what i need to talk about. Finally, I realize I’ve been feeling this for quite a while, so I say it. I just really feel this is not what I need to talk about.

OK. Is it a part?

Maybe. But I don’t know who, or what they want.

Actually, I know some of it, but can’t verbalize it. It’s like there’s this swirling chaos inside, anger and fear and distress. I’m talking about my work problem, but it’s not the problem the rest of me is having. It’s like there’s a bright shiny part that copes, and that is talking to Ron, ‘doing therapy’. Then there is the rest of me, angry, despairing. Not being heard. But I can’t figure out how to let her be heard.

With ten minutes left, I remember something deeper I did want to talk about, but I forgot entirely. At my massage, and somewhere else too, I had this overwhelming feeling of being bad. I enjoyed the massage, I liked the therapist, I found it helpful and not intrusive. But as she worked on me, badness seemed to seep out of my pores. It was almost like words. A part of myself knew I was not bad, but another part felt horrible. I thought about being bad for the whole massage.

Why do you think that was? I ask. Maybe it was the sensual nature of the massage? Ron suggests. I am doubtful, but maybe. I say maybe it had to do with accepting care – parts of me feel that needing care, and receiving care, is not OK. To me it makes sense, considering my mother does not react well to needs, and I’m sure she did not react well to children’s neediness. To win my mother’s love, you need to be self-sufficient.

In the last three minutes, I bring up some feelings about the email he sent me. Not the kind of rejecting stuff I talked about here. I said it felt really dangerous for me to reach out to him that Friday. And that now, mentioning that, also made me feel afraid. And all of a sudden, I’m in some emotion, and it feels as if the session got real. Ron asks why do I think it feels frightening. I don’t know. Maybe it’s about asking for care – that frightens me. Then he responded, so that felt good. I feel so much fear talking about this. Ron seems a bit puzzled, but interested.

And….time’s up. I felt the stuff about the massage was important, and the stuff about the email, and everything else was filler. Plus parts didn’t get a voice, which bothered them and me. But. Thinking back, at least there were those ten minutes where I no longer felt exhausted, where I felt I was on to something that mattered.

  1. sounds like a tough session. Glad it helped near the end. Sometimes I find it hard to verbalise things too. I can relate to that very much. XX

  2. Andi said:

    I also “trauma sleep” and it’s awful. Never heard someone else describe it so well before.

    • Ellen said:

      I haven’t heard of too many others having it – so good to know it is a thing that others have also. Ron didn’t really seem to have heard of that before. There is one other person or context where I’ve heard it mentioned, and that’s it. It seems kind of bizarre, but it’s not something I’m making up. Cheers

      • Andi said:

        No, you’re definitely not making it up!

  3. leb105 said:

    yes! “this isn’t what I need to talk about…”
    It seems like your adult is having more feelings – badness, fear, anger – that aren’t owned by parts?
    I guess it’s a good thing that sessions end, since ending focuses us on what’s important.

    • Ellen said:

      I’m not sure about the adult vs. child. But I think the adult part also needs time to figure things out, even though the child part feelings seem more vivid and intense. That’s a good way to look at session endings. 🙂 Thank you Laura.

  4. Laney Dodson said:

    You are so far ahead of the game, being so clear about your triggers. It was just 2 years ago that I was able to figure out that the people who were in similar roles as my family members were triggering my PTSD. In work situations it’s always more severe for me, especially with authority figures and bosses.

    This post struck a familiar chord. You’re doing great work!

  5. Cat said:

    I’m 10 days late on this post, but it’s good to catch up with your therapy. I think it makes sense to feel fear from neediness, especially if those needs weren’t met as a child or if we are made to feel bad for having them in the first place

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