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Trauma on the job and the road to self-awareness

If we were to make a list of the words that we have repeatedly heard this year, stress would certainly be in the top three. The word is thrown around so frequently that we forget to analyse the feelings associated with it. Christine and Patricia recall some of the most stressful moments in their lives that took a lot of self-awareness to cope with.

Volunteering at VWOC "Body Love" event. (Vicenza 2020) Photo by Tommaso Pitton.

Three years ago, while preparing to finish another routine work shift at the permanent supportive housing building, Christine received a call about a noise complaint from a neighbour. She rushed upstairs with her work partner to scold the tenants and remind them of the rules they ratified in their tenancy agreements. When they arrived at the scene, it was a party of five as usual. There were heaps of empty bottles of whisky and vodka all over the floor. They peeped a few used needles on the tables; however, nothing was particularly alarming. They made their requests for respectable noise levels known, but it was as though the tenants had made a pact to do the opposite of what was asked. As they checked their watches, hoping that shift change would be minutes away, one of the tenants climbed over the balcony railing and threatened to jump. “This must be a joke,” Christine thought. She was the full-time employee, so she was responsible for initiating the crisis intervention. She calmly informed the emotional tenant that his jokes were inappropriate, but no sooner had the words left her lips, than they were all stunned by the sound of his body hitting the ground.

On the opposite side of the world, Patricia was preparing to do her work as a flight attendant. It had snowed all week and the Düsseldorf-Geneva flight was completely booked out. She was reciting to the crew chief the steps to follow in case of an emergency landing; one of her least favourite tasks as a junior flight attendant. An hour later, after having received the passengers on board and going through the formalities, they took off. Despite the stormy weather, there was no turbulence forecast so they were relaxed, looking forward to seeing a breathtaking sunset over the snow. Twenty minutes into the flight, the cockpit rang. As Patricia reached for the phone, the plane bumped twice throwing the heavy service trolleys towards the ceiling of the plane. The attendants fell to the ground with the food and boiling beverages pouring all over them. Everything happened so quickly leaving her only a few seconds to assess the situation. Right next to her lay her colleague with a sprained ankle and bleeding forehead. Passengers were panicking. Among them, the husband of a pregnant woman who was screaming in discomfort, and two unaccompanied minors terrified of being away from their guardians.

While in crisis intervention mode, neither of these women had the space to process their trauma. It was hours later when they had returned to their homes, that their bodies began to break down. When Christine convinced herself that she was only momentarily affected by watching a live suicide attempt, her body craved alcohol to erase the memory. And when Patricia pretended to be fine, her mind soothed her into a passive ball, sitting in front of the television for hours. Miles away for one another, these two different women were able to recognise the effects of their maladaptive coping mechanisms and counteract them by practising self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to turn your focus inwards and assess the discrepancy between your behaviours and thoughts, and your belief system. Highly self-aware individuals are able to objectively analyse themselves, manage their emotions and adjust their behaviours according to their value systems.

For Patricia, practising self-awareness pivoted during the first quarantine. She spent time identifying her prejudices, recognizing her vulnerabilities and understanding how she was viewed by others. She focused on being open-minded and forgiving herself for shortcomings. Dedicating time to activities that brought happiness to her life helped her love herself more. During the lonely moments, she adopted positive behaviours like establishing a routine that balanced her needs with what was feasible. She did solo workouts and volunteered for a program in which she wrote supportive letters to Covid 19 patients that were isolated in hospitals.

In our studies, we are exposed to discriminatory practices before we even enter the field. We aspire to acquire jobs that enable us to advocate on behalf of people who are denied the opportunities to fight for their own rights. We are basically subscribing to a life of servitude so we must prepare by increasing our self-awareness. Christine has come to terms with this fact, and prioritizes self-care because she knows that she cannot pour support from an empty cup. Building self-awareness goes beyond having a positive mindset, into mastering the art of perspective-taking. When facing tough, limit-testing situations, these women try to envision the worst-case scenarios. Most often than not, the worst case scenarios seem farfetched and highlight the absurdity of their current dilemmas.

Three years ago, trauma overwhelmed Christine when she watched a live suicide attempt, while panic surrounded Patricia when a routine flight almost turned deadly. This school year has felt catastrophic causing many of us to struggle in silence. We still do not know when the added stress of the pandemic will subside, but we can practise self-awareness to alleviate some of the pressure. If you are having trouble getting out of the rut, contact the University of Padua’s psychological support service. Accepting that you sometimes need help is an important step in increasing self-awareness.

Per leggere in italiano, fai clic con il pulsante destro del mouse in un punto qualsiasi di questa schermata e seleziona "Traduci in italiano".


Patricia Ferreiro and Christine Nanteza are both 2nd year students in the MA Human Rights and Multilevel Governance at the University of Padua. They have built a strong friendship since collaborating on the palaver presentation in first year. Follow Patricia’s story on Instagram and Christine’s story on Instagram @c.nanza and LinkedIn.


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