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Bringing ACOA Stuff to Work
Is Cooool! 😎
One of the daily reflections this week in the Strengthening My Recovery book was about how our adult child stuff can show up at work:
A glare or body posture that's reminiscent of our childhood is enough to send us into fear and shame. We were taught to react this way by caregivers we felt we had to placate in order to get our basic needs met. … But now we are grownups who can take care of ourselves. When we experience fear and shame brought on by someone else's actions, whether in the workplace or elsewhere, we no longer play the game. We start to let others be accountable for what they say and do and how they feel; we let go of the non-verbal cues. When it is safe, we ask questions. "It seems like you're upset. Is there something you would like to talk about?" We no longer pretend and try to manipulate people and things.
I immediately thought about some of my jobs in my twenties and early thirties, especially:
The co-worker that threw her keys at me once when she couldn’t control her anger over something that wasn’t even about me. She made herself passive and acquiescent to the authorities who were actually causing her problems, and then took it out on people she wasn’t scared of, i.e. me. I took it because knew how upset she was at other people, and I wanted to be “the understanding one.”
The one who treated even minor mistakes as major, consequential issues; she required perfection and had no mercy when she didn’t get it. I was scared of her anger and oriented my job around avoiding it.
The job where instead of asking for help or admitting I was in over my head with a project, I found a new job, quit on the spot, and took some evidence of what I saw as my failures with me when I left.
The time a higher-up smacked me on the ass when I was bending over a filing cabinet and said, “Sorry, couldn’t resist.” This was in the early 90s, before Anita Hill and sexual harassment training, which…shouldn’t have been necessary. Anyway, I laughed it off even though I was boiling and humiliated inside. Never show “negative” emotions!
The job where I was a day camp cook and my budget was tiny, and rather than risk disappointing the people I was feeding (adult counselors) with perceptions of not enough food, I spent my own money (that I didn’t have except on credit cards) making up the difference. It increased my debt and my anxiety, and the fear I was going to get “caught” doing the job wrong.
How my feelings about authority (see Laundry List item #1) led me to either fear or disrespect all my bosses, made it very hard to ever be reasonably humble without raging inside about it, and meant I rarely stayed at a job for more than 12-18 months.
All of the lying I did at sooo many jobs to avoid feeling disapproved of or criticized. So much lying! See also: feelings of superiority, suppressed rage, resentment, etc.
“Boundaries? What are boundaries?” said me, til about age 40.
This is why I had to become self-employed! Seriously, even though I’ve grown so much in my recovery, I think my life as a freelance writer has kept me from more…opportunities…let’s call them, for further maturity.
For some people with codependent and/or ACOA tendencies, it might be trouble saying no at work, giving a job unearned loyalty, never dealing directly with a problem. Swinging all over the map among “fight, flight, freeze, fawn” reactions to coworkers, customers, or bosses. Never asking for a raise or time off. Feeling stuck. Dealing with problems by lying. Not asking for help. Feeling like you’re failing if you’re not making everyone happy all of the time. Being impulsive about quitting. Even something as simple as not being able to tell your work friend that you really need a lunch hour alone in your car can be so daunting!
That’s a lot, but I’m also sure I’m leaving stuff out. I’m curious where you’ve seen your “stuff” show up at work or in your career.
The little meditation at the end of that reflection in the book is:
On this day I will own my power. If others seem grouchy or unapproachable, I let that live with them and don't make it mine or try to fix it.
I like that language of “don’t make it mine” whether you’re talking about work stuff or home stuff or just the realities of walking around in a world full of people.