Our guest author, Marie Scott, advises on how to recover from an assault at work.
Number of employees assaulted at work
According to the latest available Crime Survey of England and Wales, that for 2015/16, there were 329,000 reported physical assaults at work that year. This equated to 1.5% of men and 1.3% of women surveyed reporting at least one incidence of an assault at work that year. That year was a typical year – 2015/16 wasn’t an especially violent year for employees. The sad fact remains that, although thankfully rare for most, hundreds of thousands of employees are assaulted at work each year. Whether that assault is by a stranger, or by someone known to the victim (as either a colleague, or a client or customer), being subjected to a violent act at work is a traumatic event and one that can take quite some recovering from.
Anyone who comes into contact with other people as part of their job could potentially be at risk of being assaulted at work, but some jobs are more prone to that risk than others. People who work in caring role or in education can be at a higher risk as well as those who handle cash for a living. People who represent authority, such as police officers or prison officers, are also particularly prone to being assaulted whilst doing their job. Not everyone who is the victim of assault at work needs help to recover – some people are just naturally more resilient than others. However, there is no shame in not being as robust as those who need little or no help – the fact is that being physically assaulted is a traumatic experience, one that can cause many emotional and psychological symptoms as well as the more obvious physical consequences of being violently assaulted.
Psychological impact of being assaulted at work
On top of any physical injuries, an assault at work can leave you with a number of other issues – you might feel angry, afraid or upset or maybe you just feel numb, like you can’t quite process what has happened. It might also leave you with heightened emotions in general, not just relating to the attack, but which spill over into other areas of your life and can feel overwhelming when you are already trying to deal with the assault. Unlike other traumatic incidents, such as accidents, the fact that the assault was a deliberate act on someone else’s part can be a difficult thing to deal with – it can be hard to process the fact that someone else deliberately wanted to hurt you and it can leave you struggling with feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability.
As well as recovering from the injuries you have sustained, you also need to take time to recover emotionally. It is really important to talk about what has happened as a way of debriefing. All too often, the tendency is to keep your feelings bottled up in the hope that they will just go away, and the idea of talking and talking and talking about your experience can seem counter-intuitive, like you are going to cause yourself more harm and trauma by repeatedly talking about what has happened to you. In fact, this isn’t the case – you are more likely to suffer long-term harm by bottling it up. By talking about your experience, you allow yourself to process what has happened to you and to begin to desensitise yourself to the painful emotions that are brought up by the memory of your assault. It can be just as helpful to write about your experience – the more you tell your story, the less power it has to cause you harm.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by workplace violence
Sometimes the aftershock of being assaulted at work becomes something more detrimental. Although people tend to associate PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) with such events as being in a war zone or conflict situation, it can actually develop in anyone who has suffered a traumatic occurrence and that includes being the victim of a violent crime. There are a number of symptoms to look out for when diagnosing PSTD. The one that most people would associate with PTSD is ‘re-experiencing’; the flashbacks and nightmares that most people think about when they think of PTSD. But there are other symptoms to keep an eye out for too – hyperarousal (a sense of being permanently on edge, always ready for that ‘fight or flight’ response); avoidance with regard to the attack; depression; anxiety, as well as a tendency towards self-harming or self-destructive behaviours as a way of blotting out or numbing oneself to the debilitating and intrusive feelings of trauma. PTSD is a serious mental health issue and one that often requires professional help to recover from. This professional help may take the form of CBT, psychotherapy or counselling and the aim of this therapy will be to reduce and remove the unpleasant and distressing feelings that the victim of assault is suffering from. The aim is not to make those bad memories disappear altogether but to prevent them causing such distressing symptoms. As mentioned before, it is an important part of the therapeutic process to talk about the assault and to fully process the event emotionally so that it no longer has the power to cause great harm. Taking the time to examine your response to the traumatic event of being assaulted at work, whilst painful at the time, will take away the power those memories have to cause you future emotional pain. By discussing the memories and the flashbacks and the emotional states that those memories create in you, you start to lessen their hold on your psychological state. It sounds scary, like ripping open a wound, but a good therapist should be there with you to help you process what you learn and put it into context.
Being assaulted at work is an unacceptable occurrence – you shouldn’t have to face violence (or even the threat of violence) just to do your job and it is never justifiable. If you have been assaulted at work and you are struggling to cope with the aftermath, tools and services to help you to recover are available and the earlier you seek help, there is less likelihood that the aftereffects will leave a permanent mark on your psychological health. This doesn’t mean that you are ever likely to forget that you have been assaulted at work but it will hopefully mean that it doesn’t blight the rest of your life.
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