If a bully-of-a-boss screams in an office, and there is no Lavender around to hear it, can he still control her amygdalar fear response?
We’re about to find out.
I am now a 100% remote employee?!
I’ve spent my not-FMLA completing a crash course in processing a lifetime of trauma alongside dealing with the concurrent 9th Circle of Hell abuse case. This is not how I recommend doing things, in case anyone else with a severe trauma history is considering continuing to try to hide behind a protective mask of socially acceptable emotional numbing and dissociative semi-amnesia for the rest of their life. More power to anyone who can pull it off forever, but I ultimately couldn’t. The crumbling of the mask is bad, possibly bad enough to have made the years it worked no longer worth it in hindsight.
I have no idea why the 2018 combination of another go-round with the 9th Circle of Hell Cover-up, Inc. (erm, state social services regulatory agency) coupled with a boss whose own rather, erm, “unique” personality ultimately led to an approximately 50% loss of staff and staff turn-over in one six-month period finally broke through a wall of dissociation so thick that I was once able to defend a graduate thesis and testify in the same week. However, it did, and I have thus spent twelve weeks trying to plug the numerous older leaks in my mental boat while new ones sprung up outside in a torrential downpour. This has partially involved a more diligent to return to on-my-own trauma homework via reading about how to manage the more severe end of dissociation – when it moves beyond zombification into complete, un-hideable catatonic shut down – as well as an interesting blend of invented trauma therapy (traditional stuff won’t work for someone who has institutional abuse in her history/present) for which I give my therapist a lot of credit and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome modified trauma yoga (which may no longer qualify as “yoga” since stretching is not good for hypermobility, but whatever.)
I’ll probably write about the latter two in later posts, but one of the more memorable features of the former is that I read recently in a book on managing severe dissociation that having ADHD is a specific risk factor for being abused. Not just “any neurodiversity” or “any illness” – though those are independent and additive risks – specifically ADHD. Those typical ADHD behaviors of interrupting, appearing to drift off in the middle of sentences, fidgeting and otherwise being a ball of restless hyperactive energy are particularly likely to draw the ire of abusers because they represent impossible-to-ignore frustration foci for people who are too self-absorbed to countenance any deviation from the world they desire to engender through fear and rigid control. Add to that the fact that ADHD is highly genetic – it’s likely that parental abusers were themselves once also abused because they displayed the same lightning-rod childhood behaviors – and ADHD becomes a perpetuating factor for intergenerational trauma within C-PTSD engendering families.
I’m not sure how I feel about this claim. I will be the last person to claim that diagnosis usually matters to abusers. Abusers abuse, period. They abuse anyone who deviates from the norm. But, it is possible that the particular words they choose to abuse or the physical actions they take to abuse might be slightly influenced by diagnosis, and I certainly see the role of intergenerational trauma in my history. I also know that different family members within an abusive family can all have very different experiences of what that abuse looks like, so maybe some study somewhere will suggest that children with ADHD are more likely to be the family scapegoat vs. other equally abusive enforced roles. This doesn’t make the ADHD abuse experience any worse than any other abuse experience, but maybe those slight distinctions might help with targeted therapies for different types of neurodiversity coupled with trauma histories someday?
My boss is a verbal abuser. And, I definitely played a scapegoat role in the recent office drama. I had nothing to do with the organization’s financial problems or the way the boss was having difficulty pushing his vision for growth to certain make-or-break audiences, but my ADHD lightning-rod behaviors certainly pissed him off more in light of those other things than before.
However, my other ADHD behaviors like out-of-the-box thinking, hyperfocus and need to distract from one fearful thing by doing another (even if that other thing is only less fearful) may have actually saved my job when the majority of my officemates lost theirs this summer. We have multiple offices in multiple cities, but the one I work out of has been thoroughly decimated during my absence. I gather my boss considered a few options: 1) just letting me go 2) asking me to move to another office or 3) the one he eventually went with.
Option #1 was discounted because although my recent choice of “working style” did not “meet expectations,” my work itself continued to. (Read: I dissociated in his presence during the height of trauma and that was unforgivable. PTSD to him is a “working style,” even when he knew about my family situation.) He had also kind of forgotten how much I actually do on a day-to-day basis until he saw my memo on the status of my 20+ projects for others to manage right before I left for not-FMLA.
Option #2 was discounted because, at one point during the not-FMLA, he really needed something done that he didn’t have anyone else left with the know-how to complete. I did the project remotely, unpaid, because I had a sense it would serve me well later and because, when in Hell, sometimes even lesser evils are a way to ground yourself there is a world outside it. This made him realize that if he a) had an employee with a unique approach (thanks ADHD) who was able to work in non-traditional environments like hotel rooms with poor wifi in the middle of nowhere who was b) also deeply annoying to be around personally (screw you, ADHD), then c) maybe he didn’t have to see her in the office at all.
I won’t mock his mental image of the 9th Circle of Hell as a desolate wasteland simply because it isn’t coastal the way I mock most of his other opinions. I agree with him that it’s a desolate wasteland, albeit for my own non-stereotypical reasons, and his conception of me as off in the boonies served me in the end.
I keep looking for the catch – he is a bully after all – but I haven’t found it yet. Maybe it’s like with the health insurance situation, wherein my own multiple diagnoses turned what would otherwise clearly register as a form of social shunning into a sense of palpable relief, even for the bully-in-my-brain. My own live-in bully didn’t actually want to go back and have to see that bully in person any more than that bully wanted to see me. Maybe somehow my ADHD lightning-rod (and irony magnet superpower) managed to land me the perverse prize of no longer having to hear my boss screaming at folks through the walls, having to worry about how to get away when his words trigger me into an emotional flashback, or having to expend spoons to dress for the office and manage an early-morning commute when I could even more successfully work in yoga pants and fluffy socks with a heating pad around my neck and braces on at home.
Maybe the bully-in-my-brain will latch on to the “you got this boon to your health and sanity by being so impossible to deal with that you were literally sent to your room permanently” later, and the inevitable rejection sensitive dysphoria spiral will start. That probably will eventually happen, but after dreading what I was going to hear on my planning call and then so unexpectedly instead being given what I most wanted – the chance to not lose my salary and also not have to face an office full of triggers with protective mask shattered after this summer – I can only feel relief right now.
I’m sure my boss will still attempt to control my sad, permanently vigilant amygdala via angry words by email even from the comfort of my own home, but, hopefully, I can set up a safe space to lessen their dissociative impact knowing he can’t actually see the effect that his verbal abuse has on me directly.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.