Life gave us lemons 2: child abuse, work addiction and success

Claire was a Retail Vice President, who was sexually abused by her stepmother in childhood. She told Thrive about her experiences in the workplace.

Life gave us lemons
This series demonstrates the value to your organisation of supporting Survivors of childhood trauma. It’s intended to be uplifting, while being mindful of the fact that many are not receiving the support they need. As ever, every Survivor travels a unique path.

We’d love to hear from you if you know a Survivor who’d like to contribute their story.

When Claire was promoted to VP she experienced a breakdown and was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress.  This was a result of her childhood trauma and she now realises that ironically her success at work was her Achilles heel. She was what she called “a high achiever” and now she recognises that she used work as a coping mechanism. Immersing herself in work numbed any pain from the past.  “If you drink to cope there are consequences for your job. If you do drugs there are negative consequences. But addiction to work is overlooked—in fact it goes rewarded”, she told us. “The more you achieve the more you have to run to keep up. You never think you’re good enough. I think I’ve spent a lifetime following the advice of the Red Queen!”

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Claire is surprised that the repercussions of her abuse took so long to emerge. “It’s always been there, in the background. But I’ve been running twice as fast to keep it at bay.”

“Obviously mental health is a factor. But I was never classically depressed, as my psychiatrist explained. I struggled with the social element at work—I always avoided socialising with colleagues because I didn’t feel good enough. If I needed time out, I took a holiday but never wanted to say “I’m ill”. I would just push through the exhaustion—like pushing through a pain barrier but in the end,  it caught up with me. I guess I couldn’t run fast enough for long enough!”

Although Claire’s achievements were rewarded, she knows she wasn’t functioning to the best of her abilities. And now she’s had to leave work altogether.

What would have helped at work?  “Quite simply: to have been able to be me. To be able to talk openly about my past without fearing stigma or rejection,” she told us. “In an odd way, I felt envious of people who could explain themselves—someone going through a broken relationship or even a bereavement—because people would offer them understanding and care. But when it’s childhood abuse—well, it’s in the past, so people just don’t want to know. Also, I think in the back of my mind I imagined people wouldn’t believe me, or they’d think I was making excuses.”

The future? Claire doesn’t know but she does say that the next employer will have to be open to her needs. “It’ not about rubbing their noses in it. It’s just being confident that I can say This is Me. Like a Veteran with PTSD—I just need to be understood.”

Disclaimer: Goddard Consultants Coaching Practice CIC is not responsible for the view expressed in this article – the views expressed are those of the blog article author. Blog articles are not an endorsement of an individual or a service.

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