Sometimes, managing the symptoms of CPTSD and developmental trauma seems like a full-time job, but I already have a full-time career. How can I make it through the workday without totally falling apart? How can I continue to perform at work when I keep getting triggered? Have you ever asked yourself those questions? I frequently ask myself some of those same questions.

My Experience

It hasn’t always been that way for me, though. For most of my career, work has been my happy place, where I felt the most competent and confident. Sadly, that is not true for me at the moment. In 2019, when I was 51 years old, I had a zip file of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse open up on me. These memories completely overwhelmed my nervous system and wreaked havoc on my ability to perform my duties at work. Not that I didn’t know that I was abused, but until that time, the most painful of those memories were locked away, and I didn’t have access to them. When they flooded my nervous system, I went from a high-functioning overachiever to not functioning at all. My happy place became a place of fear and insecurity. I knew nothing about trauma or what was happening to me. I was falling apart, and I thought I might be losing my mind or going crazy. One thing was obvious; I did not have the coping skills to deal with whatever this was. I was terrified of everything and everyone, but I was mainly terrified that I would lose my job because I could not perform. I worked so hard to get to my position, and I loved the work I was doing, but it seemed to be slipping through my fingers.

When I was at work, I isolated myself from everyone, even the team I was leading, because I was struggling to function. My mind was still being flooded with horrific memories from my childhood; I had a lot of emotional flashbacks and re-experiencing. My brain was offline because of being constantly triggered. I was a mess. I felt isolated and alone like I was on a cruel island, and no one else understood what I was going through. I could not let people in because I built titanium armor around myself for safety over the years. The armor works great to keep the bad stuff out, but it also keeps the good stuff out, like comfort, companionship, and community.

New Beginnings 

Finding a good trauma therapist was the first step in getting the support I needed, but even that was not enough. Because I was struggling to perform my job, I felt like I had to talk to my manager about what was going on. It took a ton of courage to have that conversation, and I remember feeling sick to my stomach as I entered her office. I told her what happened over Christmas break and how much I was struggling and that I understood if she felt like she needed to hire someone else to do the work. She told me she hired precisely the right person for the job because I was capable and qualified, and still was, in her eyes. Then she asked me, “How can I help?” I have never heard sweeter words than those in my life. She believed in me and was willing to help me get through this. Just remembering that conversation from over three years ago still brings tears to my eyes. When you feel broken, less than, and inadequate, there is nothing more powerful than having someone believe you and believe in you. That conversation gave me more courage to let more people in, albeit cautiously, and I soon learned how critical community is to healing trauma. When we experience relational trauma, we have to heal in relationships. For those who have experienced developmental trauma, we’ve learned to turn away from support, which inhibits our ability to heal. The braver I got, the more willing I was to share my story at work, the more people I found that had the same struggles.

After my manager left the company, I learned how important it was to have a person I could reach out to for support when I was triggered at work. After two years of working with my therapist, we took a little break, but I was doing much better with my manager’s support to help me get regulated when triggered by something at work. When she left the company, my attachment wounds were ripped open, and I did what I always did, I withdrew deeper into myself and withdrew from the support I desperately needed. I spiraled so severely that I was dissociated for three months before a friend/coworker did an intervention on me and saved me from myself. Of course, I went back to therapy after that, but there was still this void of support in the workplace. My therapist couldn’t be my only support system. I needed more support, especially at work, where triggers abound. I got a trauma recovery coach to help support me like my manager did, which helped me. I started thinking about other people like me who need the same support but don’t have the resources to hire a coach. What do they do to help them make it through the workday?

This Journey is Hard

It is challenging, and we cannot do this on our own. We need each other. This work has kicked my butt on multiple occasions, but I’m still here, working hard not to allow my past to negatively impact my present and future and make work my happy place again. That is what I want for all of you, as well. I know I am not the only one that struggles at work or even maintaining a job because of constantly managing the symptoms of trauma in the workplace. While there are a growing number of resources on CPTSD and various treatment modalities, there is a shortage of information that talks about how we can manage our symptoms in the workplace. As trauma survivors, we already have a ton of obstacles we have to face, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful and thrive in whatever field we choose. I shared my story with you so you can see why I am so passionate about helping other survivors overcome the effects of trauma in their workplace.



Upcoming Articles

I will be writing a series of articles called “CPTSD in the Workplace” to bring some light and heat to the struggles we face in the workplace. I think many, if not most, of our managers and company leaders, do not know what we go through to make it through the day.

Here is a list of topics I would like to cover:

  • Impacts of CPTSD on Performance
  • CPTSD: A Hidden Disability
  • Presenteeism
  • Managing CPTSD symptoms in the workplace
  • Trauma-Informed Management Practices
  • Building a support system
  • Employee Resource Groups: CPTSD
  • Career Development and CPTSD
  • CPTSD Self-Advocacy within the Workplace
  • Identifying workplace triggers
  • Intra-day support
  • Strength Finder: Identifying your CPTSD superpower
  • CPTSD and Threat Management
  • CPTSD and Performance Reviews
  • The impact of organizational change on CPTSD survivors
  • CPTSD: Trust vs. Mistrust
  • CPTSD and Dealing with Authority
  • Emotions at Work
  • Dealing with deadlines
  • Changing jobs
  • Changing managers
  • Dealing with company policy impacts
  • Establishing safety in the workplace
  • Dealing with a new diagnosis in the workplace
  • Courageous Conversation
  • Creativity and Safety

I desire to:

  • Empower trauma survivors to thrive within their workplace
  • Educate business leaders about the effects of trauma on employee performance
  • Identify and advocate for solutions that work in the workplace

I will be sharing from my lived experience working for a major financial corporation, but I want to hear from you and what you experience in your industry. I want to hear about what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.

In Summary

In this article, I have introduced a topic not being discussed today, how to manage trauma symptoms within the workplace. There are bodies of writings and research about trauma healing modalities or trauma from the workplace, but nothing that pulls the string on the continuity of care for trauma survivors. Sometimes, having therapy once or twice a week is not sufficient, and that’s OK. That doesn’t mean that you are broken, defective, or inadequate; it just means that you have different needs. You can do other things to help yourself and advocate for yourself to get what you need. I want to empower you to do that. Stay tuned for more articles on the subject. Let’s grow together.