A formal complaint and triggers

Last night we nearly had a formal complaint laid against us by a student.  It wasn’t due to harassment, abuse or even incompetence.  It was purely due to the student not getting what they wanted.  They wanted to renew a book, but it was wanted by another student, so I wasn’t able to renew it for them.  This sparked, what I can only describe as a childlike tantrum.  She yelled, insulted me and said that I couldn’t be trusted.  I was stunned at how quickly she was triggered into acting out.  I’m not saying she has a mental health issue, but that she was severely triggered by not getting her own way.

I’ve lost most of the interaction to the dissociation, but some of the bits that I remember are just bizarre.  Management wanted to make sure that she spelled our name correctly on the complaint – if we’re going to be complained about, she can at least get our name right; Carrie asked her to calm down so we could resolve the situation; One observed, ready to step forward and protect us all.  The whole incident left us shaking and totally dissociated.  It happened during the night shift, so I was the only staff member in the building.  Both of the student assistant shelvers had their headphones on listening to music, so didn’t know anything had happened.

I had to explain the incident to my team leader and circulation supervisor this morning in case she did go ahead with the formal complaint.  Our cynical friend said that we should have called security, but I didn’t even think of it at the time.  Also it would seem silly to call security over someone having a tantrum because they didn’t get their own way.

It’s odd whenever I see anyone totally lose control like this, how little sympathy I have for them.  This woman may have genuine issues that mean that she is unable to cope with life and is trying to work through them.  But all I saw was someone who had no control, pushing their problems onto someone else (me).  I can understand this sort of lack on control under extreme stress, but this was about not being able to read a book!  It was the sort of behaviour that got us sectioned under the Mental Health Act when Frank was angry that we were in a hospital.

I think I find it so hard to identify or understand her behaviour because the dissociation I experience, is all about hiding.  If I’m triggered, I’ll try to escape the situation without causing a fuss.  My first response is to hide.  If I’d been in this woman’s place, I probably would have dissociated, shut-down and walked away.  It’s only when we consider something so overwhelming, and there is no possibility of running away, that we act out in front of others.  It’s only happened when we were being assessed for our level of safety in the psychiatric ward, so it’s very rare.  When it does happen, it usually leads to another round of self-hatred and self-injury.

I suppose what I resent most about this woman’s behaviour, is that most people would pass her off as having “mental problems”.  But this is so unfair and insulting to those of us who genuinely do have mental health issues and are working hard to heal and get help.  She may have mental health problems, but she could just be immature and incapable of handling the world.  That doesn’t necessarily equate to having a mental health issue.  This is what encourages the stereotypes about mental health.  One of the interesting clips I’ve seen to try and challenge the stereotype about a mental health diagnosis is Schizo from Time to Change (as a warning, the start could be triggering).

What annoys me, is that I allowed this incident to trigger me.  I allowed someone throwing a tantrum to get me upset to the point of dissociating.  I had some really nice students during the rest of the night, but that one incident ruined my night and still leaves me shaking when I think about it.

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6 Responses to “A formal complaint and triggers”


  1. 1 fromthesamesky September 1, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Oh wow, I’m not surprised you felt triggered. This would be a difficult experience for anyone, not just the threatening and hurtful behaviour of the student but the added stress of the possibility of a formal complaint. The strongest person would find this difficult.

    I hope the student rethinks in the light of day and you get no further trouble.

    I REALLY like your point though, about it being unfair to those struggling with mental health issues when a person who is most likely just being rude and disrespectful out of immaturity is passed off as having ‘mental problems’. What an insult to those of us who have a real reason to struggle. My word.

    • 2 castorgirl September 3, 2009 at 9:51 am

      Thankfully, it looks as if the student isn’t going to lay a formal complaint. Our team leader said that if she had, it would be thoroughly investigated before being dismissed :) Apparently this student has had similar experiences with nearly every staff member to a lesser extent. I just happened to get one of her more dramatic examples.

      I don’t know if she has any issues which help to explain her reaction. While it did seem as if it could be explained by immaturity, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. All I know is that what happened with me was incredibly stressful and inappropriate.

  2. 3 Paul from Mind Parts September 2, 2009 at 7:21 am

    I know this has triggered you. And I don’t blame you. I applaud you for how you handled it.

    I especially applaud you for how you took the experience and tried to learn from it. I understand what you are saying about mental health stereotypes. People with mental health problems are generally thought of as people you would not want to be around. But I have to say that I have met some really wonderful people who are working really hard at healing, and this has been inspiring to me. I hope to you too. We can change the stereotypes.

    Paul

    • 4 castorgirl September 3, 2009 at 10:28 am

      I know that we can all be triggered to act out. But those of us working on healing try to learn from the experience and try to fix the problem. I had a similar experience at a previous workplace and the student returned to me half an hour later to apologise. That apology took strength and courage. But, I knew that student was stressed by exams and that her initial reaction was purely due to stress. There was a huge difference in their demeanour through the respective interactions.

      We usually don’t get rattled while dealing with the students as we know that they are under a great deal of stress. But this incident on Monday night was different. I could be reading her incorrectly, but it seemed driven by a sense of entitlement, rather than stress.

      I’ve met some amazing people working on their healing, and at different stages of their healing… I’m continually blown away by the blogs I read and the healing I see happening :)

  3. 5 lostshadowchild September 2, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Oh, this was awful…:( Hope you are better today. But I want to ask something, because you have written that it annoys you, that you allowed this incident to trigger you. I have made the experience, that it’s impossible to “control” trigger. I learned to handle some trigger, but some huge trigger I will never be able to “control”. If someone is shouting and had a tantrum as you described above…:( this would be worse in our system too. We would dissociating too. No way to stop it. Trigger to much. please, be a little less strictly to yourself. I think you handle this ugly situation really well. hugs to you ((()))) (and I don’t think this student will make a official complaint)

    • 6 castorgirl September 3, 2009 at 10:32 am

      Being hard on ourselves is all we know. It’s that double standard that I would say to someone else to stop being too hard on themselves, but then we’re our own worse critic.

      Thankfully she isn’t going to lay a formal complaint – well she hasn’t so far.

      (((safe hugs)))
      Take care :)


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