Shell Shocked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I worked with an abusive boss for 26 years. I am finally free of
working directly with him, but we’re both employed by the same
company. People who do still work with him come to me to vent, and it
causes all the same responses it did when I suffered more directly.
Just thinking about him causes an anxiety spike. It’s a physical
reaction in my body: twisting in my gut, racing pulse, shallow
breathing. All the classic fight or flight responses. I’m not even
discussing my mood, which plummets. My wife encouraged me to
unplug from him, but I cannot afford to quit, and at 58 am unlikely to
find a job as good as this one. What’re some things I can do, other
than avoiding him and conversations that include his name? It’s a form
of PTSD I am eager to finish healing.

Shell Shocked

Dear Shell Shocked:

What you are describing is indeed a form of PTSD. Also classic
Pavlovian conditioning. You need to switch off your responses to the
stimulus. Avoiding direct contact with his person and conversations
about him and his abusiveness is a great start. But better is to
cultivate relaxation responses, because you’re still in an orbit that
includes many old cues.


Start by identifying a code word for yourself that is your new
command to set the process in motion. Make it something silly and
unrelated to work: tofu, bozo, or papaya. The minute you start to feel
yourself respond in old ways, say the word and start imaging yourself
getting up from a chair at a table where he is sitting, walking out of
the room, and closing the door behind you. If you still hear his voice in
your head, image turning down the volume dial on a radio until it
fades to silence. See yourself walking into the sunlight and going to
meet your wife at your favorite restaurant at a vacation resort. See
yourself sitting at a table with her, looking at an incredible view, with a
plate of tasty tidbits and flight of beer or wine. If thoughts of him
reappear, start over: say your cue; close the door; turn down the
sound; and have another slosh of anesthetic. Do this often enough and
he will fade into your past.


PS if you start to develop a drinking problem, change the imagery and get
a therapist.