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 When Julio Harari’s son was suffering from cancer and became upset about his hair falling out after chemotherapy, the banker from Buenos Aires shaved his own head. He went to work the next day shorn of hair, to the puzzled reaction of colleagues.
当胡利奥?阿拉里(Julio Harari,见文首照片)患了癌症的儿子因化疗脱发而心情沮丧时,这位来自布宜诺斯艾利斯的银行家也剃光了自己的头发。他第二天光头上班的样子让同事们感到困惑。
Mr Harari describes his experience: “They tell you that your son is sick and you freeze. Then you get results from the next test, and you freeze again. You start thinking about what life is going to be like without your son, and you freeze. But you have to carry on, there are others in the family and other responsibilities as well.”
Although Mr Harari was traumatised by his son’s cancer, he was also able to put his feelings aside in this show of support for his son, who died in 2015 at the age of 24.
Trauma is an emotional and physical response to an unbearable event, such as bereavement, war, physical attack or abuse. The mind often rushes to protect the person, by numbing them from overwhelmingly painful feelings of grief, helplessness, rage and collapse.
People who have suffered trauma carry it with them, often unknowingly, wherever they go, including the office. Work can either help recovery or be the place where trauma is reignited. Much depends on the person’s early experiences, as well as their organisation’s culture.
For Mr Harari, who is an associate director of an international private bank and in charge of a team of five specialists, work was a helpful distraction. “If you’re only thinking about the chemo, life is very miserable,” he says. “But if you also have [work] you can carry on breathing.”
During his son’s illness, it was important for Mr Harari to acknowledge that he would not be able to keep up the usual pace at work. This helped him to be realistic about what he could achieve. He also came to realise that he could only help his son by being by his side.
“I knew I would always run behind the curve. And I learnt that I could hug my son, but I could not cure him.”
Returning to work
After his son’s death, work provided a form of respite from his pain and grief. “He passed away on a Sunday night, and Thursday I was back working,” says Mr Harari. “Some people asked how could I do that and I said, ‘It keeps me alive’. I had to compartmentalise [my feelings] otherwise the pain would freeze me.”
“Compartmentalisation” — splitting off conflicting feelings — is a common reaction, and one of many defences the mind employs to protect individuals from extreme feelings. Such defences are normal, and only become harmful if they distort reality too far.
Mr Harari was fortunate to have the emotional stability not to be overcome by feelings of helplessness and despair during his son’s illness. That stemmed from a healthy and supportive early family life.
For others, however, experiences in early family life such as deprivation, neglect or abuse can affect the nervous system, making subsequent setbacks harder to bear.
Persistent unhappiness
For such people, even ordinary work disappointments, such as missing a promotion or being treated unfairly, can reactivate early traumas, leaving the person with incomprehensible and overwhelming feelings. The process is described in The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk.
对此类人而言,即便是工作中的普通挫折,如错过升职或遭到不公平对待,就能够重新激活早期的创伤,让其陷入难以理解和难以抗拒的情绪中。贝塞尔?范德科尔克(Bessel van der Kolk)的《身体从未忘记:心理创伤疗愈中的大脑、心智和身体》(The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma)一书描写了这一过程。
For these individuals, an anticipation of danger persists — frequently where none exists — putting them in a hyper-vigilant state and often reacting irrationally.
Such employees avoid close relationships at work because intimacy often provokes strong feelings, which give rise to traumatic memories, says Julia Vaughan Smith, a psychotherapist and executive coach specialising in trauma. Instead they may become needy, compliant or even narcissistic.
心理治疗师、专门治疗创伤的行政教练朱莉娅?沃恩?史密斯(Julia Vaughan Smith)表示,这样的员工会避免在工作中产生亲密关系,因为亲密往往会激起强烈的情绪,后者会引起创伤性记忆。相反,他们可能变得缺乏安全感、顺从,甚至自恋。
Ms Vaughan Smith explains: “They can be close in a superficial or detached way in which they have a pseudo independence: ‘I don’t need any help I’m quite all right on my own’.”
Such people fear being out of control and helpless. They control themselves, their work and others in an attempt to keep the parameters of their lives held firmly, so they are not taken by surprise. Their energy is consumed with strategies to avoid the traumatic memory, and vitality is lost. Exhaustion sets in because they are constantly under stress.


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