Triggers are unique to each individual, everyone has them, and they sometimes come out of the blue.  I learned this the hard way this week.  My work environment has been understaffed and, towards the end of the summer, we finally brought on board 3 new staff members. Honestly, I was disappointed when I met them.  They are lovely, smart, personable girls, but they are young.  They are in their 20’s and not quite settled in the path they are taking.  We’ve hired, and lost, several of these types of girls, so I was bummed to think I’d spend my time and energy training them and, just when they’d figured it all out, they’d find a better opportunity and be gone.

I, and another long term employee, decided to meet with the manager to talk about this.  Our manager is fabulous, but she is green.  She’s never been a manager before and, with a degree in fashion design, I’m guessing she never saw herself in this position.  What she lacks in terms of experience she more than makes up for in patience, being supportive and getting things done.  I’ve had things taken off my to do list because she is there and able to do them.  It has been great.

The downside is that  she’s not yet comfortable telling people what to do.  My primary responsibility is the facility, which means (in addition to other tasks) cleaning.  It is not fun saying to a new employee “it’s time to clean the toilets”,  but this is what the job requires- a relentless support of all those yucky tasks that keep our environment a healthy and inviting atmosphere – i.e. clean and orderly.  I, and my coworker, were in agreement that these new employees were not stepping up to the plate, and we needed to talk to the manager.

During the meeting I said something to the effect that the new employees, while “cute 20 year old somethings”, were not dedicated to our mission.  I thought the meeting ended on a good note.  We came up with an action plan and I felt better about things.  Apparently that was not the case for the manager.  In fact, she felt really, really bad.

During the meeting there was a moment in which it became clear to me that my manager was really stressed out.  I didn’t think much about it at the time.  Finding, training and holding on to good employees is really hard, and I thought that was what she was feeling;  frustration. It was much, much more than that.

As I processed this today I realized that I must have triggered her.  The owners, in talking to me about the meeting, kept referencing the statement “cute little 20 year old’s”. One of the owners said that this could be viewed as discriminatory.  I disagree with that.  Young people are not a protected class, and, because we are an environment of all women, a woman would be hard pressed to make the case that she was not hired because she is female.  But my manger referencing that phrase stuck with me.

During the meeting I said ‘ I don’t have a problem with these young girls.  They are energetic  and fun to be around, but we are a way station to them.  We are the gap between school and a career.”. In retrospect it was after that statement that her stress went up.  In retrospect, her stress level had been inappropriate – unless she’d been triggered.  Triggers generally evoke feelings of extreme stress and anxiety, which makes sense because they usually related to past trauma.

I don’t know my manager’s story, so I have no idea why this is a trigger for her, but it is.  As I run through the meeting in my mind I can see her react.  Her posture changed as did her affect. What had started as a conversation quickly became a terse gathering of action steps, designed to end the meeting.   This is exactly how I respond to triggers.  Reactions to triggers —

  1. They make us feel insecure or inferior to others.
  2. They can disrupt relationships.
  3. They can cause an over-reaction toward others.
  4. They can interfere in work performance.
  5. They can cause low self-esteem or self-confidence.
  6. They can encourage bad behavior.
  7. They contribute to feelings of depression and/or anxiety.
  8. They distort perception.
  9. They can lead to wrong assumptions about others

I’ve experienced all of these when I’ve been triggered and I can clearly see how she was experiencing these during this meeting.

I don’t hold myself accountable for having triggered her, but I do feel accountable that I sensed a shift in the meeting and did not address it.    One of the side effects of being with a covert narcissist is an inability to trust your gut.  In this case I knew my gut was talking to me, and I knew it was a real feeling.  For me, this is progress.   A few years ago I’m not sure I would have sensed the shift and, if I did, I certainly wouldn’t have trusted the feeling.  In that sense I’ve made tremendous progress. With that progress comes responsibility,  I’m actually looking forward to trusting my gut again, and addressing issues I’ve created/experienced on the spot.

Be careful out there.  You never know who you might trigger!!

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