Nurses & Trauma Bonding

A friend from the emergency department opened a witchy store right near my office. I had messaged her and told her I’d come by and get some gift bags for an employee dinner coming up that I’m giving for my employees. So I went, I brought the boys, I hadn’t seen her in several years, but I got the gift bags, the boys had fun, and later that night I was with a friend at a sushi dinner.

I told her and her husband about the witchy store experience and the gift bags with many items that can ward off bad/negative energy for my employees. She asked if I was close to the owner. I said no, not now, but it’s like when you see a kid die together, no matter how long ago it was, there’s a bond there, and it just feels right to support people I worked with in the ED. My friend is also a therapist of course, so she says, “Oh, you guys have a trauma bond,” and I am also a therapist in my psych nurse practitioner way and I sorta nodded like, well yes. Yes we do. Then my friend did the therapist head tilt and I was like shut it off. We don’t therapize over sushi.

It’s hard to describe a trauma bond. But if you’ve had one, you know. I didn’t like everyone I worked with in the ED. I worked there for seven years. The last year being roughly ten years ago now. And I know for sure not every one who worked there liked me. I get it. I can be a lot. But, and this is the trauma bond part, if I was walking down the street on the coldest day of the year- around here that can be below freezing- if I walked into the person I disliked the most and vice versa and I didn’t have a coat and they did and I was shivering and cold they would still take their coat off, give it to me, and try and help me get warm. And I live in a generally unfriendly state…no one else is going to be stopping to give up their coat. Trust me.

I know some of them are reading this. And I know they may be thinking of certain people thinking no way in hell, but really think about it. Any of us would give the shirt off our back for some one we stood next to while a kid died. Because it wasn’t just about the deaths. It was about keeping each other safe. Holding each other’s emotions. And the causes of death. The abuse cases. The sudden arrests. The police. The assaults. We held each other up through some crazy heart breaking cases while being pushed down on by management and being told there is no room for raises while the board gets million dollar+ bonuses.

That’s what bonds us. The chronic stress. The vulnerability. The rawness. The night shifts. The affairs. We know a lot of stuff about everyone we worked with. A. Lot.

If hospital systems embraced these bonds, acknowledged them, and honestly if they manipulated them, they could have the most loyal and lifelong employees possible. Instead they just keep pushing nurses down and eventually we break and leave.

Being an employer has taught me incredible lessons about myself and about employees. I’ve learned that anxious employees are amazing. And I say this for many reasons and with complete love. Anxious people tend to want to please. So they get their notes done, they drop their charges, they show up for sessions early, and if they have to cancel I know it’s for a solid reason without them even telling me. They are very hard working and get everything done that needs to be done. I’ve also learned that I make anxious people nervous and I have to use a filter and work really hard, to…well to be less myself with them. Because they’d all leave if I was direct and myself.

I had a short exchange via chat today with an employee, and I was in the middle of a phone call and four other things, so my answer to her was short on the chat. Not short rude- just my normal shortness- to the point, nothing extra. I had to pause. Go back. Write a longer message explaining I was in the middle of five things, it’s me not her, I’m not mad, etc. type of message, and I got a response “Thank you so much for that, you saved me an afternoon of ruminating about this.” Five years ago. Before employees. I would never have sent this follow-up message.

But I’m never too old to learn. I have always said and will continue to say I want to be the boss I never had. I had to expand that to say, I want to be the boss you never had either. Because the people who work for me are not me. I have to approach everyone as an individual and recognize their strengths and weaknesses and anxious people- freaking phenomenal employees who need more reassurance than I am used to or was comfortable giving. It’s been a learning curve. But damn if I can figure out why the heck can’t large hospital systems?

I can only hope my employees won’t leave their work tenure with me with a trauma bond. Just a fun, friendly, co-worker bond. The work we do is hard enough. We shouldn’t be traumatized by our work environment because of our employer.

To all you ED nurses creeping on my blog- the term is Trauma Bond. Get a therapist. They can handle your shit. Trauma bonding can be intense maybe intoxicating for some. But it messes you up. You know it. Get help. There is no shame in mental health help. Therapy helps. I’ve been on both sides.

One thought on “Nurses & Trauma Bonding

  1. All that you say about anxious people is spot on. I am a naturally anxious person myself (not to the point of getting therapy, I think…I hope), but yeah, I want to please, get anything expected of me done in time et al. Had I been your assistant, and you had not sent me that clarifying message, I’d have obsessed for the longest time about what I did wrong. For example, my client just sent me a mail this morning asking clarification for something I wrote, in a rather short and to-the-point email and I am obsessing if there has been a misunderstanding or if I had made a mistake (although I did nothing wrong as far as I know). So, kudos to you for being sensitive.

    Liked by 1 person

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