How my traumatic childhood made me burnt out in my 30s
This is an excerpt between me and my therapist (S) paraphrased where my husband is sitting next to me.
Me: I need your help. I don’t know what to do during this burnout recovery period.
S: You need to redefine meaning of your work.
Me: What do you mean?
S: What is a meaningful work to you? Is it being helpful for customer? Is that enough?
Me: Well, sure being helpful to a customer is nice. I mean it’s kind of the basic, right? It’s not a big deal.
S: Well, it is to the customer you helped. It might made their day.
Me: Well, OK sure. But then what am I supposed to do with this data?
S: What data?
Me: The “I’m kind” data. Where do I put it? Do I put it in work file? You remember how I am obsessed with boxes and putting things in the box. Those labels I get from people, I put it in a box. I can’t put kind in the work box. I can’t put that in my CV. It’s not a trait that can be used professionally at work.
S: When I recruit people, you know what made the difference for me between picking people? Is how they are as people. If I am to pick between two people, one is arrogant and one is kind, I’d pick the kind one. So, yes, it does matter, Lita.
Me: I guess, you are right. I just thought kind is personal trait. It goes into the personal box. And I don’t think my personal box is important.
S: Well, that’s because your childhood trauma. You were abandoned and constantly criticized as a child. So you think you are not important. Your parents said you’re a good kid if you have a good grade. If you don’t have a good grade, you are not a good kid hence you are not worthy of love. So your value is intrinsically linked to your performance.
Me: But how does that linked to work?
S: You are used to have tangible proven result as the based for your worth. Kind is not quantifiable. Helpful is very subjective. You don’t trust that kind of data.
Me: right, yeah. When people told me I’m kind or awesome. I’ll always go “What? What I do?” and more confused. I felt like I didn’t do anything.
S: Yes, because you are not used to compliment and unconditional love. The love that is presented without you having to perform anything is something you are not used to.
Husband: Yeah, she always looks so weird, awkward and slightly terrified when I said she is beautiful.
S: Right, so now, your work is to redefine what is meaningful work to you? Is being kind and helpful to customer enough for you? What is meaningful work to you?
Me: Of course being helpful is nice. I guess it’s because I’ve always wanted to work with climate change and sustainability and my current work as Sales feels so far from that. To pull the red thread from climate change to what I do everyday is very far.
S: It will be hard to find meaning when the goal is far-fetched. Let’s say nothing is going to change, you are still going to go back to the same work. How can you make it different?
Me: Hmm.. OH MY GOD! I have learned since I was a kid that to find meaning is by doing things, being useful. As I find less meaning in what I do, to compensate in the lack of meaning in the basic work, I ended up doing more and more extra work. That ended up burning myself out.
S: Yes, that’s great that you realized that. It is because you are trying to find your worth and your meaning externally. What you need to do now is to find your worth and meaning internally. And this is the hard work because you were raised without security to be just yourself. You need to take stock of who you are.
Me: But how do I do that? I usually take what people mostly say about me. It’s like the ballot box where put in their votes of, “kind”, “funny”, etc and in the end of the day I took out a paper and looked at it. “Oh someone said I’m funny, then it must’ve been true. I am funny, then.”
S: No, you shouldn’t do that because that means people decide who you are. You depend on the external feedback and what happens when those don’t exist anymore? Don’t just accept what people say about you, you examine it and decide for yourself if that is you. For example, “people say I’m kind. Am I kind? Let’s see what is the definition kind in the dictionary. Oh I fit! I do all of those kind definition OK then I’m kind.”
Me: Right. But there are so many adjectives in the English language, do you have a list? Do I go to the dictionary and start with every adjective?
S: You can start with what people have been saying about you. And then go from there.
This is one of the most mind-blowing therapy session I’ve ever had. This is why I love therapy. I hope this helps anyone out there🙂 So here is now my journey of stock taking.