Triggered by volleyball coach

I was traumatized by my volleyball team, and even after switching colleges I still can’t let it go.

Our elder has some suggestions for getting a monkey off your back once and for all.

Dear EWC

After high school, I went on to play on the volleyball team for my first year in college. It was literally the worst year of my life. I was in a new environment for the first time all alone. The coach preceded her reputation of being foul-mouthed and treated everyone absolutely horribly. I had never been called such names or been treated so disrespectfully in my life. And that wasn’t the worst of it. The other girls on the team made it their goal to make my life living hell. I’m not sure what I did to provoke this, considering all I ever did was treat any of them with kindness; maybe they sensed that I was just a pushover. Only like five girls really bullied me, but the other girls saw this and just kind of turned their backs to me, I think because they feared that befriending me would put a target on their backs as well. So I just tried to isolate myself in this time. I just did whatever the mean girls told me to do because I was just trying to avoid conflict. I’m not going to go into all the specific instances of what they did because I would be writing forever. I haven’t even told anyone the extent of everything that really happened.

I transferred schools and quit the game of volleyball that I love. And that brings me to my problem. This has been almost two years ago and I just can’t seem to let it go. Every time I see anyone on the team posts something on social media, or something related to that time in my life is brought up I just get flooded with hatred and resentment and all kinds of negative emotions. Once I ran into the coach in Walmart and I literally started to cry. I couldn’t even help it! If I even start to think about this time in my life I just start bawling. It was just such a dark place in my life. Whenever these triggers pop up it just ruins my day. I do not want to feel this way forever. I just think about this bad time in my life so much and I don’t want to. I just want to get rid of this hatred and resentment for good. I don’t want to carry around those negative feelings associated with the place and people involved. It’s been too long for me to be dwelling on this but I still hold so much resentment towards the situation and the people. I just want to let go and get over it but I don’t know how. Any advice on how to move on from this experience that I should be over by now?

Nick replies

I thought one of the best moves Malia Obama made was to take a gap year between high school and Harvard. She needed to get out of her bubble (teen years in the White House; high pressured private school; pressure of Harvard ahead) and find her own footing. So she took the year off to be an intern in the “real” world where she had to navigate being jostled around by nice and not-so-nice people. Doing so prepared her for Harvard, for tough professors, for rough-around-the-edges classmates and for a world she was protected from because she was the President’s daughter.
Gap years are common in British education among those planning on going on to university studies. They are not common in our American educational system. Therefore young persons like yourself find yourselves going from the familiarity and support of home and high school to the rough-and-tumble world of college life. You added to this a demanding coach who’s singular focus was to whip her volleyball team into competitors. It sounds like she subscribes to the “Olympic” coaching method where you take no prisoners, you motivate by breaking down each team member in order to challenge them to excel and not heap much praise — as high school coaches are inclined to do — or care much about bruised feelings. For some incoming freshmen, like your teammates, that method works. For others, it is crushing.
You found out, for you, it didn’t work and had the exact opposite effect so you removed yourself from the experience and transferred colleges altogether.
Your problem is that you never left the experience behind. It serves no purpose to say “if you had done this or that” like talked to the coach or used the campus counseling department to help you process what you were experiencing, you wouldn’t be dragging this around with you now.
What does serve a purpose is to go to your current college counseling department and let them help you unpack what you experienced once and for all.
Obviously your anxiety is only eating away at you. I doubt your coach went home after running into you at the store and felt triggered. I doubt any of the young women you continue to see on social media, much remember what happened in freshman year when you were part of the team. But you do. You are triggered. You are, two years later, still bothered by all of this. Your resentment has no effect on any of them, believe me. It is eating you alive however.
Trying to flee from it won’t work. You already did that by quitting the team and changing colleges. You have to unpack it once and for all. This requires a guide, like a sherpa, to help you analyze what happened, why it happened, how you handled it when it was happening, how to put it behind you and then learn how to be empowered not to let it drag you down or repeat itself in any part of your life moving forward.
The reality is that, in the real world, you are going to have mean girl classmates, workmates and even bosses just like this coach. We all do. I’ve had several direct superiors in my working years whom I thought were horrid managers and not-so-nice individuals. But you will have to deal with them. Once you learn how to do so, you will no longer be triggered by their antics.
So I strongly urge you to go to your campus counseling department and receive the counseling which will free you — free you from the resentment you are carrying around; free you from checking on them on social media; free you from freezing and being triggered; free you from what you have been carrying two years later.
You’ve taken the first step by writing to EWC for advice. I hope you will take the next step and get the counseling you need to get this monkey off your back and have the bright future you want for yourself.

Letter #: 453928
Category: Self-Improvement

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