Made for Change with Dr. Janny Chang

Ep. 15: When You're Triggered at Work - How to Return to Safety and Take Up Space

August 26, 2022 Dr. Janny Chang
Made for Change with Dr. Janny Chang
Ep. 15: When You're Triggered at Work - How to Return to Safety and Take Up Space
Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever felt triggered at work by a colleague, boss, being overworked, or micro aggression, racist, sexist, ableist, or other structurally oppressive comments? This episode is for you! I talk about workplace trauma and how NOT to re-trigger any traumatic event. I then propose the AAT method, which translates to Action, Awareness, and Taking up Space. This method is especially important for women and people from marginalized communities. How do you take up space, especially when you want to withdraw and stay quiet? What does it mean to take up space? How can you make sure that even when you're triggered, you're standing in your own power, speaking your truth, and generating safety for yourself?

Hello, Hello friends, it is good to be here. As always, I am so glad to be joining this conversation about work and serving the smart and soulful community of women and other people who care about being human

and flourishing in this culture that prizes productivity, and is to humanizing so many ways. So today, I want to talk about a topic that I hear a lot and quite frequently, which is about being triggered at the workplace. Now you know what I mean, right? A workplace can leave a lasting mark, especially ones that are toxic, right. And by that I mean toxic, meaning that there are dysfunctional dysfunctional behaviors and practices that go on in the workplace that cause emotional hardships and suffering for employees and managers and everyone there a toxic workplace can leave a lasting mark. So workplace traumas are very real, right? And they can take a lot of time to heal from.

And even when I say heal, I want to put it in quotes because I don't think we completely heal from experiences that our traumatic I think it's an ongoing learning to live with certain traumas and grief and sadness, and it takes some time to

feel okay, again, right, and maybe can never be 100%. Right? We carry that grief and trauma with us, possibly forever, but it could shrink in terms of its impact in our everyday lives. Right now. According to Dale siliq Sokoloff, who's a Harvard trained clinical psychologist, a trigger is when you have an emotional response to something that has happened in the past.

That you can be more easily triggered if you have gone through trauma, and a lot of us, most people have gone through some kind of trauma.

Everyone has gone through traumas with a capital with the lowercase t I'm sorry, most people have gone through a trauma with a capital T. At the very least. And I would venture to say most people have gone through workplace traumas because of the way that the workplace is structured in the United States. Right? People are overworked, we live in a very hyper capitalist structure that places profit over the human It is common to have experienced workplace trauma and not and do not get support for it afterwards, right? Because it's not often recognized as a legitimate form of trauma, like war, or violence or other kinds of more recognized trauma. Now, when you are triggered,

you might feel all kinds of emotions, right? People can, you know, feel angry or sad or fearful. And triggers themselves can encompass a lot of things right? It can be your boss yelling at you, a colleague that is in your in an irritated mood and takes it down on you, right? It could be from having a huge workload at work, especially the pandemic because a lot of people have left or quit or been let go. And then if you are the one that has to carry that workload that can be very triggering on a daily basis, right.

And triggers can also include microaggressions, racial, gendered,

ethnic immigrant, sexualized,

triggers, right that can occur at work, it could just be a comment that can trigger you.

And the triggers can be more impactful based on your own history of trauma and your own experiences in life. But they can also just be based on the workplace that you're in right, especially being are hostile if you're in a particularly hostile environment. And certain industries are built in a way that are highly individualistic and hostile has that culture of Doggy Dog mentality, right? I'm thinking about academia. For one, I'm thinking about, in some cases, the nonprofit sector because of the mentality that resources are so scarce. So when you're in an industry, where resources are scarce, then I think that there is more of this culture

of infighting and competition and hyper individualism, right, that can occur. Now. It's also the case, I think that so many of us that live in the United States in this hyper capitalist society, have a codependent system with our work. And that has to do with codependency with our professional identities, deriving our worth, from our professional identity deriving our worth, from our job title of external validation about our work, like how much we've accomplished at work, how we're promoted and salaries, right? I mean, salaries are such a sensitive topic, because money itself is such a sensitive topic in the United States. But that can be a trigger when you talk about how much people make, right.

And also where we derive ourselves a sense of self worth from right, because a lot of times, you know, we, I think with this codependent operating system where, you know, it doesn't feel safe to talk about money. But that sense of self worth for a lot of people can come from how much money they make at their jobs.


all these triggers can cause a lack of sense of safety, to be ourselves. If you find yourself becoming a chameleon at work, you're holding back, withdrawing, changing the way you behave based on how you're received by certain people.


is a symptom of not feeling safe to be yourself, if you also come from marginalized identity, LGBTQ i A plus identity, and you are in a very heteronormative

binary gendered environment, then it doesn't feel safe to be yourself.

So becoming a chameleon and trying to fit in. And fawning is actually one of the trauma survival strategies that we use to try to fit in and find a way to belong. But being like that, when you try to fit in, you become disconnected from your own body and from your own mind and soul. And it becomes painful to reveal who you really are. And imagine doing that day in and day out. 40 plus hours a week at work, you don't feel safe to be yourself where you have to be a chameleon to try to fit in and then you're still not accept right you don't even feel accepted even then. So I want to talk all about this and what I've come across

Victoria Urbina, who is a Cymatics, expert, feminist wellness coach, whom I love and adore, has come up with these three acronyms too, for how to deal with, you know, sense of safety and boundaries in life. So she doesn't focus on the workplace. But of course, workplace is part of life.

And I want to, you know, I want to use her acronyms, but I also want to add something to it. And which she uses is awareness, acceptance and action, triple eight. Now, I want to talk about this in terms of awareness, acceptance, and taking up space, so ay ay T, and K, these, these are the acronyms I'm gonna go over each of these as an I don't want to say even solutions. Because again, I think when we look at the toxicity of the workplace, we're talking about larger structures, right? So solutions sound like it could just be fixed right away, but really, it's a gradual process. And and I don't know if it'll ever be fixed completely, but the thing is working constant negotiation just like

We as as we are with our own lives, but with larger oppressive systems. It's a constant negotiation in which, I wouldn't say that solutions are there to be to fix the system, but they can offer some reprieve. Okay, and they can offer some sense of agency within our lives. So that's why I talk about this in terms of a sense of


Okay, so not solutions, but a sense of agency and freedom, and a way to control what we can within our own lives. So I so let's talk about awareness, right awareness, acceptance and taking action. So awareness

is being aware, and being mindful of our thoughts and feelings. So hearing the thoughts in our mind and feeling the resonances in our body, right, the thoughts that might occur, like boss doesn't like me, I don't want to disappoint them. Sometimes there are subconscious thoughts, too, right? And you could be thinking, oh, you know, why is he doing them? So triggered by this comment? I mean, and subconsciously, you might not be thinking it directly, but subconsciously, it could be I need them to like me, it's like, you want that sense of approval, so bad. Now, you may not think it directly.

But it's there. It's there in your psyche. Right. So it's about uncovering those direct thoughts, and going deep into your psyche, and then turning inward, in order to find out and uncover what other thoughts are tied to that one thought you have, like, maybe I'm just I'm so mad at him right now, my coworker. But what is underneath that when you probe and this takes some journaling, so take some time to be still and meditate. And think about it, and getting in touch with how you feel. Right? Like, I might feel

resentful, you know, when my coworker makes this comment,

but if you unpack the layers, it could be that underneath that it's, you know, I, I'm seeking His approval. I really want him to like me, I want him to be okay with me. Right? So then you have to kind of dig deeper. Why? Why keep asking? Why be curious, right? Why do I need him to like me? Why am I being triggered by his statement? Why am I feeling resentful emotions become patterned in our body, and it helps to learn to hear our body signals, right? How we stand when we're around that person. We're working remotely? How we sit when we're in a Zoom meeting? Do we tense up when this person makes a comment? Do we feel our jaws locked up? Do we find ourselves feeling guilt and shame about it about how we're reacting to this person? Do we find ourselves taking on other people's problems as our own?

You know, I think when you grow up in this codependent operating

way of living, we tend to think that it's our job to fix other people that we have to also be perfect to be lovable. And that has powerful effects on our nervous system, right? The system is just constantly running the background of our lives, it's kind of like, you're literally is like an operating system that runs in your, you know, your Mac, your MacBook, your computer, your phone, right. And

it's hard to regulate your nervous system, when you're constantly thinking about other people and trying to seek their approval and wondering why they're mad at you and why they don't like you're being triggered, right. And then when you're not able to also

be aware of that. It's also harder to be aware of how Olympic impacts you physically write when you get tense around someone else, or when they make a certain statement. So the mind and body are connected. And so this nervous system needs to be regulated in order for you to fully relax and feel safe. Right? So when you think, oh, I want him to like me, what does it look like for you physically? What kind of feelings rise up for you internally if you can even name that emotions? I work with a lot of very cerebral brilliant clients who find it hard to identify an emotion. If that's the case. You can learn to go by color, identify by texture, What color does that feel like? It feels red, you know, I feel hot, right? That's a really great start.

If it feels too much for your nervous system, stop and go back to that practice of

grounding yourself, stand up with your feet firmly to the ground, hip width, and focus on breathing. As you're focused on breathing, deeply, inhaling through your nose, exhaling through your mouth, do it 20 times,

do a visualization practice. Imagine yourself being a small child.

Get into that head of when you were a small child and feeling like you had to prove yourself that no one gets you. And you feel yourself just tightened up. And then

as you're breathing, release it, imagine yourself getting the love that you needed, giving yourself a hug, like you as the adult now, hugging the small child that you were and, and feeling that embrace, really feel it as you do this deep breathing, and feel yourself.


as the tension starts to melt away. And so that means paying attention to your hands, your shoulders, your jaw,

letting all of that release.

And then what I like to do next is after this exercise is envision yourself taking up space, envision yourself in front of a crowd,

speaking your mind and receiving applause for what you're saying.

saying the truth telling your story.


focusing on you the spotlight is on you. Now this feels a little bit too dangerous, risky or if you feel unsafe, imagine yourself in front of a crowd.

Go ahead and envision yourself just telling your story to the mirror or to your best friend or to your younger self.

Just imagine yourself taking up space through words and storytelling. How does it feel in your body?

Codependency says it's not okay to take up space.

But what you're trying to do is say yes, I am here to take up space, even if I'm emotionally triggered at work. Even if I've gone through trauma at work, the intuitive thing it seems, is to withdraw and stay quiet. But I am going to do the opposite. I am going to speak my mind and tell the truth. So often we live with a false self. Here, you're going to step into the authentic version of you where it feels safe to feel vulnerable, empowered, and ready and peaceful and calm. And it's all about what that authentic expression of you is. And that's done through being aware. Being aware a deeper knowing of where you are and where you stand.

You can step out of that self judgment and into the light and the warmth of self love and self compassion. Right? You start to notice yourself adhering to thoughts or stories of oh, why can't I keep? Why can't I stop this? Why am I like this? How can he was this way to me? When you start focusing on other people what they're doing and getting mad about it. Come back to yourself. Come back to yourself like what do I need right now? Do I need a hug? Do I need to do some breathing exercises? Do I need to go into nature? What feels good right now I just need a cup of tea. What am I feeling right now? Get in touch with that feeling as it feels in your chest and in your body?

Am I feeling shame? Oh, shame feels pit like a pit in my stomach. When I get that shame? Is it bound with guilt? Do I just feel so stressed out and fatigued? I just need to go take a nap. Right? What is it that I am feeling? Do I feel just not enough? Like I am not enough as a person?

What does that feel like? Is it feel hot, cold, tight, gripping, tense? clammy? Do I constrict and contract myself? Right and just let yourself be in that feeling? Like embody that feeling of I feel shame and I feel that pit in my stomach. As I'm deep breathing through it. Oh, just let myself be there.

I even talked to myself and say Janny you


you're feeling shame, you're feeling shame, just repeat it over. And they just have to have something to do, right. And I oftentimes will just repeat it to myself.

Because when you push a feeling away, it comes out stronger. So you don't want to resist it, you don't want to push it away, or to buffer by turning on Netflix, or distract yourself with eating, you want to just sit in it. And let yourself feel that emotion processing feelings. When we talk about that in the coaching world, it really is just to sit there in stillness. And observe your thoughts and your feelings. And letting yourself just be in it. as uncomfortable as it is because it doesn't feel good, right? It doesn't feel good to be

sitting in shame, or any of those emotions, but it's a vibration your body and it'll pass through, it'll pass through if we allow it to be there, and not resist it and try to push it away.

It'll just dissipate, it'll dissipate, the edge will come off. Right. And the reminder to yourself as life is 5050. It's awful.

Half the time, man, it's amazing half the time, right? It's like the yin and the yang, one can exist without the other, right.

But regardless, I'm going to take up space, I'm going to take up space.

Now, a few things to be aware of as if you've gone through a traumatic event at work.

And it is important when you're dealing with yourself or other people who've gone through that is to not trigger that trauma event again. And it can be retriggered. If you are asked to recount the story of the trauma, you can potentially re traumatize yourself or the other person. Trauma actually physiologically changes your brain structure.

It makes changes that are difficult to undo. So if you spent most of your childhood living in fear or anxiety


you know takes a long time to result you don't want to live relive that, again, by telling your story and connecting it to what you're doing in the workplace, you can focus on the present, and focus on the future without re triggering that trauma.

So you do want to avoid the secondary trauma of telling retelling that story again. And avoid also toxic positivity. Whether it's in your own mind or to other people, is when someone is feeling down or you're not feeling right. Like I said it. Allow yourself to feel that allow yourself to be in it. Give yourself that warm hug. Give yourself what you need, even put your hand to your heart, right. But the solution is not to say Oh, everything's me, all right, everything's gonna be great. Right? That's a sort of,

you know, when we do that, we're just trying to push away that feeling of feeling bad, or we're trying to

it's actually kind of self centered way to make ourselves feel better if someone else is feeling bad. Oh, it'll be okay. Right. But it's not really for their benefit. Because people just want to be listened to and be in it instead of trying to solve something. Right. And that actually can make the traumatic event worse.

All right, so I've gone over the acronyms.

I've talked about awareness, being aware of our thoughts and feelings, the acceptance part of it, which is accepting our emotions and being still and being in it. And then the third

reminder is to take up space

and the taking up space, you'll find there's so many ways to do it.


it is about the mindset that I have a right to be here I have a right to use my voice, I have a right to tell my story, to speak my truth. And when it even when it feels like I should cower, or withdraw. I won't do it. I won't do it because I have a right to be here because of the love I have for myself. Now, taking up space can look like many different things. It depends on how comfortable you are. And you always want to be comfortable and feel safe. But also test the limit a little bit. You do want to push yourself a little bit but not to the point where you start feeling unsafe. It's a very fine line to take up space at the workplace. There's many different ways to do it. I know friends who dress the part we call it a power suit for instance, dressing the part plays a role and if that's what you can do great just dressing right you don't have to speak up but you dress the part it can

And B, also your physical gestures. So there's also a power pose, how you use your body to take up space. Do you noticing your posture? Do you stand tall? Do you try to sit down more than standing, there's different ways to establish taking up space without speaking in a loud voice. And so physically, what you do plays a huge part in that then for some people, it's speaking up speaking up documenting it right. Every time I speak up, I write it down, I write down what I spoke up about. And if you don't feel comfortable with that, try to do it for every five statements, then there's a statement in which you speak up and you speak it up loud, it could be even questioning something a workplace policy, it could be in a staff meeting where you're making it known what you've done, and you're celebrating the accomplishment, it could be putting together a new policy in place and submitting it to your boss, some kind of taking up space where you are taking the initiative and owning leadership of something and letting it be known publicly, in the workplace.

And there's varying degrees of that based on again, how safe you feel, while still pushing the limits, you want to push your it's called the zone of comfort, right? You want to the window of tolerance, you do want to learn to expand that, but always come back to safety. And then the other thing I find very helpful and taking up space is to learn your history and be empowered by it. So if you're from a marginalized group, like I am, especially so many Asians are, I think overlooked when it comes to oppressive structures, right? Like I think people think, oh, Asians aren't discriminated against. Well, the hate crime against Asians have totally gone up. So if you're an Asian woman, especially with all the stereotypes floating around, it is hard to establish that assertiveness and be taken seriously. No matter what industry you're in showing authority and showing should be taken seriously. And I think one of the ways to do take up space as Asian woman is to learn our history and be empowered by blue, the Chinese Exclusion Act, study the Japanese internment camps, there are so many instances and especially modern day examples in which Asian and Asian Americans have been excluded, and marginalized and treated as lesser than. And it's important for us to make that known and to tell other people about it. And to know that for ourselves, that is actually empowerment. It's empowering for us to know where we were people that have come before us, and the oppressive structures that try to keep us down. But we nonetheless, band together, and we take control of our agency, and we, as a collective people have survived and thrive. And finally,

the last piece of taking up space that I would like to offer is to dig deep turn inward and be okay with people judging you or even hating you. Now, this is a whole other separate area to grow on its own. As women, we're socialized to care what people think. And it's great, it's a good thing to be part of a collective and relationships that are reciprocal. But at the same time, women are socialized to care too much about people, validating them and liking them. And so we have to break out of this cultural conditioning, and learn to be okay with being ourselves and speaking our truth. And taking up space, even if it means people are judging us negatively or hating on us is a long journey. But it is a journey to learn to be okay with who we are and generate that validation and love for ourselves. Regardless of what other people think. All right. That's what I have for now. So to recap, when you're triggered at the workplace, remember the acronyms Ay ay ay t, what they are is awareness of your feelings and thoughts, acceptance of those emotions and feelings and taking up space. Could be done in many different ways could be physical, it could be speaking up the way to take up space, is to learn your history is to dress the part speak up and document it. Dig deep and be okay with people judging you, and even hating you and expand your mind and body. Alright, that's it for this episode. Thank you so much for tuning in. In the meantime, believe in yourself. Remember, you're the heroine in your own story. You get to write despite the oppressive structures, despite everything that's going on in the world. We can stand together very interdependent way work to change the world by changing our own narratives. Alright, much love to you all. Thank you