You can read the first part of this post here.
After my trainer and I were no longer companions, I thought a lot about the experiences that we had had together. I think I needed to process what had happened because it was such an intense experience. One thing that really angered me about the situation was that I had put forth so much effort to make her happy and to make the relationship work, but she treated me horribly. I resented the fact that I had invested more time, energy, and thought than I had invested in any previous relationship, and I invested it in someone who obviously didn’t care about me. This definitely led me to a resolution to never let myself be treated that way again.
This companionship also caused me to reflect a lot on the mission president as my priesthood leader. I fully believed that decisions in the mission were guided by inspiration, so I puzzled over why the mission president had been inspired to assign me to this trainer. One conclusion that I came to was that this experience helped me understand to a small degree the feelings of other people in abusive relationships. I felt like I had more compassion and understanding for why people in abusive relationships didn’t end the relationship. I understood how quickly your thought processes could change in these types of circumstances and the fear you have of the person who has real or imagined power over you. After my mission, I really wanted to write my mission president a letter or ask him at a reunion why he made the decision that he did, but I never did. I came to accept that mission presidents have to make lots of decision, some of which are more inspired than others, and at the end of the day, he was human and made a bad decision.
Even though I was only with my mission trainer for six weeks, this experience did have some long-term effects on my life. I developed a mild form of PTSD that would manifest itself if someone criticized the way I was doing things, or told me what to do. In these situations I tended to freeze up, shut down my emotions, and withdraw. Because I recognized where these feelings were coming from, I was able to lessen the effects over the years. However, these feelings and responses are still there. For example, during a recent family trip I overheard two family members having a heated argument. I started feeling very scared and escaped to the absolute opposite end of the house in order to be as far away from the conflict as possible. Later, I felt guilty about reacting this way because I felt like I could have intervened or told someone else what was going on in order to stop the argument from escalating further. Although, I know that I can’t blame myself for this situation, I would like to develop the skills to be strong enough to be able to deal with these types of situations.
I did have one situation in graduate school that was somewhat similar to my experiences with my trainer. I was assigned to work on a project with a member of another lab. I was at the end of my graduate school years, and she was a lab manager who had recently finished her undergraduate degree. When we started working together, I considered us equal collaborators in the project. However, although I outranked her in experience, she was constantly checking up on my progress. She was an extremely detailed oriented person (as am I) and started micromanaging me to the nth degree. We would take turns guiding kids through the tasks that they were required to do, but anytime I would test a kid she would ask me a million questions about what I had done. (Did you record the data? Did you save the video? etc. etc.) At first it just seemed like friendly reminders, but after a week or so, she was driving me absolutely bonkers. On one particular day, a child refused to continue during the second of three tasks so I sent the child home. This research assistant came storming in the room and grilled me about why I hadn’t completed the final task with the child. When I explained to her what happened I asked her, “Did you think I just forget?” She responded, “Yeah, I thought you forgot.” I couldn’t believe it. I had seven years of experience doing research and she didn’t trust my abilities doing a simple task. Similar to my trainer, she showed very little trust in my abilities. She often treated me like I had the memory span of a hamster. I racked my brain about how to deal with this situation because I didn’t want to have a big negative confrontation, which would make it difficult for us to continue to work together. In contrast to my trainer, nothing about this researcher’s behavior really seemed malicious. Instead, it just felt like she was a perfectionist and that she had to have her hand in all aspects of the project in order to make sure it was done correctly. I finally thought of a solution that I hoped would end the problems. Whenever she asked if I had done task, such as file the data for a particular child, I would respond “Oh, I always file the data after the kid goes home.” The amazing thing was that this response worked. Once I started responding this way, she stopped asking. Although I never felt completely comfortable and at ease around her, we were able to finish the project together and I felt pretty happy that I had dealt with the situation in a positive way.
Another interesting experience I had was with a friend who worked at a retail store in the mall. When we would get together and I would ask her about work, she would describe her experiences with her boss, which sounded very similar to my experiences with my trainer. Her boss showed very little trust in my friend’s ability to do things the right way even though my friend is a very competent and organized person. One time, my friend found her boss digging through the desk drawers her office in order to double check on something that she didn’t think my friend was doing right. This boss would often criticize my friend unexpectedly for doing something the wrong way, while she was completely charming to costumers. As my friend would describe these experiences, I urged her to find another job if at all possible. I knew the emotional toll that this kind of relationship can have on you. It seemed to help my friend that I could really relate to what she was feeling. My friend did eventually leave that job when she decided that she couldn’t take the emotional abuse anymore.
Overall, I am still frustrated that I had those experiences with my trainer and that they still impact my life in negative ways. On the other hand, I feel stronger and more aware of how to prevent emotional abuse to myself and to others. In church settings, we are taught to be submissive, meek, and humble. While I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with these qualities, I think we also need to learn how to stand up for ourselves. We need to be able to recognize abuse in all its forms and know how to prevent that abuse from continuing. I feel that we should teach members of the church, especially women, about how to stand up for themselves and how to speak out to priesthood leaders and others when needed.