Ever have a feeling that your boss/manager is the bane of your existence? Ever feel insecure or intimidated by them? Perhaps its not only this boss. Perhaps you’ve had several such bosses. Teachers or maybe officials of some kind have previously brought up difficult emotions within you. Here, I want to help you understand what’s really going on at a deeper level. A much deeper level.
In this article I’m going to argue that fear of authority figures (boss, manager, etc) is rooted in unresolved childhood trauma. I’ll also talk about how to resolve this issue and how to live life without the fear of those who yield some influence over our lives.
This will be particularly useful for those of us who had people around us as children who had their own issues. Those issues may have been projected onto you. However, this is not necessarily about them. It’s about what happened to you and what you came to believe about yourself as a result of being subjected to their dysfunction.
What is healing? Simply, it’s when the light has shone on an ancient trauma and the truth has been revealed to you.
Everything that happens to you in life is meaningful. The distant, dark memories of your childhood hold secrets for you. A time when you cried alone. A time when you were made to feel ashamed. In looking at them, often with some help, you reveal blocks you never knew existed.
You may have secretly suspected this. The old traumas flash into your awareness from time to time, calling out for attention. With courage, you will finally be able to look upon them. Where once you felt this was pointless, you reach the point of being open-minded enough to look back and bring a new intention to this remembering.
Your open-mindedness will come from your weariness of living with fear. You see repeating patterns that become increasingly difficult to rationalize or ignore. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
- “I’m still afraid and intimidated.
- I’m still desperately trying to impress.
- I’m always trying to avoid their judgement”.
You will come to know that they had a common denominator.
In your early years, you may well have learned a harsh lesson. The simple mistakes of an innocent child (yes, you) were not met with compassion, patience and understanding. Rather, they were perhaps met with anger, cruelty or intimidation. What happened next is important to understand, so I’ll spell it out here step by step:
1. You were indeed helpless as a child. You didn’t have the ability (either physical or psychological) to assert or protect yourself.
2. You realized that the person condemning you had power over you. Thus, you needed to find a way to continue living in their presence.
3. Because you couldn’t assert yourself, you had to take their side. You had no choice but to internalize feelings of self-loathing, guilt, and unworthiness. You had to convince yourself that your accuser was justified in their shaming tactic. They were ‘right’ about you. To think otherwise would have involved too much conflict.
Things grew more complex. You needed to continue living with your accuser (the person who attacked you, shamed you, traumatized you). Thus, any feelings of fear or of ‘being controlled’ had to be denied and repressed.These feelings were simply too difficult to live with on a day to day basis. You buried them in order to convince yourself that your surroundings were safe or bearable.
However, as you grew older and started to interact with the wider world, those repressed feelings of being controlled or attacked began to resurface. At various times in your life, certain people who bore perhaps some minor similarity to your childhood accuser became to object of projection for you.
A recurring theme has been figures of authority. A boss or manager came into your life. Indeed, they did have some small degree of influence over your life. However, your projection (of buried feelings) was then super-imposed on them additionally. They embodied, not only their own traits, but also the traits of your childhood accuser.
Around this new person, you found yourself outwardly trying to avoid their potential anger (which projection may have vastly overestimated or outright fabricated). You found yourself questioning your own worth to them and second guessing yourself. You hated the thought of talking to them and did so only because you felt you must.
Above all, what we are really trying to avoid is the scorn or disappointment of authority figures that start to come into our lives. It’s the feeling of being a disappointment we cannot stand. It’s the feeling of unworthiness or shame we’re running from.
When you really sit with this and consider it deeply, you may begin to realize that these feelings must be coming from a source completely independent of the authority figure currently in your life. Have they ever really done or said anything that should rationally make you question your worthiness as a person? Sure, they may have given you negative feedback, but did they actively shame you in this?
If so, the approach we’re about to look at remains the same. But, in most cases, we begin to see that the true source of these feelings dates to our formative years exposed to a less than loving influence.
So, what can we do now? Again, I want this to be useful for you, so I’m going to spell out the steps as I see them.
You need to stop rationalizing for the person who shamed or condemned you as a child.
Often, when I ask people about a traumatic experience they had as a child, they are reluctant to place the blame where it belongs: squarely at the feet of the adult intimidating the child! They say things like:
“Ok, they didn’t handle it well, but I really was a difficult child”.
Or something like:
“Nothing else would have gotten through to me. I needed a good telling off. I needed a good smack every now and then.”
This needs to stop! Even if you were misbehaving, it doesn’t change a thing. Intimidation, shaming, or OBVIOUSLY, physical violence is never justifiable. Where was the curiosity on the adult’s behalf for WHY you were misbehaving? Were they not at least partially responsible for how a child had come to conduct themselves under their own guidance?
Also, if intimidation or shaming is so effective, why don’t we prescribe it to everyone today, especially adults? See the double standard? You never deserve this. It wasn’t right and you need to come to terms with this.
Go back to the memory mentally and protect yourself.
The memory of this event comes into your awareness from time to time anyway. So, rather than avoid it or push it down, go back to it proactively.
See the scene. Now, imagine that you enter the scene as the person you are today. You are there with your younger self as well as the person of authority. What does the younger version of you need in that moment?
Likely, it’s reassurance and compassion. They need to feel safe and protected. This is your chance to give it to them. Tell them what you feel they need to hear in that moment.
Most importantly, see what they are learning about themselves during the experience. Are they internalizing guilt or shame? This is your chance to tell them that that’s not necessary and that they are perfectly innocent.
Let them know that even if they made a simple mistake, as all children do, they do not need to feel bad about themselves. Everything is ok.
Assert yourself with the person in authority
What would you say to the person in authority who is making the child feel afraid, ashamed or intimidated? This, by the way, is not really the time or place to ‘understand’ them or to ‘see things from their perspective’. There is a time and place for that, sure. But, in that moment, the child needs to be protected as a matter of urgency.
They need to feel protected now! Understanding of the person in authority will come. However, due to the power imbalance in play, they need to be told assertively that what they are doing is NOT OK! This is going to stop RIGHT NOW! Feel free to tell this to them on behalf of the upset child. That is why you are revisiting this scene. Above all, the child must not internalize feelings of guilt or unworthiness.
Practice again and again with the resurfacing memories
By doing this process, often repeatedly when memories arise, you begin to finally let go on internalized feelings of unworthiness. That new boss or manager simply seems less intimidating. Their ‘power’ over you is seen with more perspective.
If there comes a time when your boss crosses a line or uses intimidation or shaming tactics, it is now much easier to assert yourself. If you did it with the person from your childhood, there is no one you cannot do this with. There is immense power to be recovered in revisiting the trauma of your childhood.
A final word on this. This work can be very deep and intense. Therefore, if you feel you need to talk with someone while doing it, don’t hesitate. There are many people out there trained in this aspect of healing that can help. Sometimes, having someone to remind you of your safety can be invaluable.
Talk again soon,