Communication Studies Self-Improvement Sociolinguistics Trauma-Informed Writing Sample

A (Brief) Adventure in Autoethnography

Introduction:

As part of my graduate level work, I was asked to complete an autoethnography of individual characteristics and defining experiences. The goal was to inform my understanding of the impact of cultural aspects and their nuances within an organization.

By previously engaging in self-reflection, I have been able to identify some key features of my personality, but by conducting an actual autoethnography for this assignment, I was able to utilize a methodology to fine-tune my introspection.

Literature Review:

For this autoethnography, I reviewed the suggested three articles to narrow my scope and determine direction. I felt that Dell Hymes’ “SPEAKING” model was a beneficial addition to my toolkit, as it creates a framework to ensure consistency in consideration of setting, participants, norms, and sequencing, especially when evaluating and reflecting on the exchange of communication between myself and other individuals who maybe have a differing communication style. This was also the first time in which the correlation between linguistic theory and strategic communication was apparent.

Fagan-Smith’s article “Unlocking the Code of Your Life” provided the most guidance.  In mimicking Fagan-Smith’s approach to sorting through personal ephemera and photos, I realized that identifying a single defining factor on which to elaborate on was going to be the most challenging part. I was reassured in the fact that she echoed that sentiment as well.

As noted by Fagan-Smith, “People who spend time writing about themselves [past, present and future] become happier, less anxious and depressed and physically healthier. They become more productive, persistent and engaged in life.” I’m not sure if I can qualify myself as being more productive, persistent or engaged in life because I frequently write about my experiences in a journal. However, I do know that it occasionally helps me be less anxious while rationalizing and validating some of the feelings that accompany the unpacking of and coping with extreme and prolonged periods of trauma.  In most situations, I feel optimal comfort when writing about my experiences and utilizing written distribution as my means of story sharing as opposed to vocalizing.

The Story:

Ava with her brother, Grandma Lee and first cousins who she stayed with in Bethel
My Grandma Lee used to refer to the five of us as “yous kids.” Left front: Kirsten, Lia, Grandma, David Left back: Ava Francesca, John George

“When Battocchio was 9, her father was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma and her parents traveled around the country trying to find a way to push him into remission. For seven years, Battocchio sometimes stayed with family and friends from her hometown of Redding, Conn., to spots in New York, Florida, New Jersey and back home again. Her home life was inconsistent, but her need to poke around was a constant” (Lawler, 2017b).

While Lawler hit the nail on the head, it was a little more complicated than occasional slumber parties. Around age 12, I found myself frequently living alone in my family’s home, as the support system was fatigued with having to care for my brother and myself. By 15, a number of my educational priorities had taken a backseat as I assumed a caretaker role and by 17, my father had passed away, and my college track had been completely derailed, thus setting the stage for a prolonged period of instability that is just now starting to even out in recent months.

Google Map with multiple pins showing locations where Ava has lived

When I was twenty-one, I moved from southwestern Connecticut to the Twin Cities. I remember arriving at my new apartment in the middle of the night and checking the address to make sure I was in the right place. I had only been to the Twin Cities, before my move, during a connecting flight to Bemidji, Minnesota about eight years earlier. I did something similar when I moved to Winnipeg, Duluth, and Chicago and I am confident that there is an underlying connection to the moves made as a teenager.  I have included a historical movement map created on Google Maps of some of my significant moves. I was unable to document all as there is a limit on the map feature.

Google Map showing some of the road trip destinationsDuring my periods of maintaining a permanent residence, I still find myself traveling to fulfill the itch to “move.” I have included a map of the United States and Canada that outlines places I’ve traveled extensively on backroads road trips. This map is purely a perimeter and includes extensive exploration within the outline. I feel that my experiences run parallel with similar characteristics outlined in a 2010 New York Times article: “If they moved a lot as children, they might be experiencing what Freudian analysts call “repetition compulsion,” or a Goldilocks complex, always looking for the just the right place” (Kershaw, 2010). It’s a weird feeling being in one particular place for too long. Honestly, it makes me uncomfortable, as I feel that I am just so used to moving and existing in what most people perceive to be chaotic scheduling that stillness makes me think that I am neglecting necessities. This is likely why I throw myself into a variety of different activities.

Defining Characteristics:

Thriving Globe asked readers to reflect on a series of questions when scanning workplace culture. I used these questions to identify themes in my life. Upon reflecting, I found that persistence, tenacity, and risk-taking are guiding themes in my personal life that frequently impact my professional life as well.

After Lawler published her article on my photography, I kept rereading my quote:

“I explore to connect, to comfort homesickness, but I’m not sure where home is.”

At that moment, I realized that I had taken what was ultimately once a very disruptive detail of a larger traumatic situation and incorporated it as part of my persona. While this prolonged period of instability had initially been a source of anxiety, I believe, it eventually allowed me to grow into a person who found comfort and confidence in my ability to fly by the seat of my pants, especially in new situations. It also made me realize that my response to this chaos was to develop a pattern of behavior in which I reflected on a situation, identified the controllable, set goals and then proceeded to attempt to move mountains if necessary, to achieve these goals.

More often than not, others describe me as being “driven” and a “risk-taker” while occasionally using the descriptor “unrelenting” which can frequently possess a negative connotation. Admittedly, I can latch onto achieving a goal with the ferocity of a crocodile to their prey. However, I feel that others find me more hardworking than I am, as I frequently fail to complete the necessary items with quality that meets my personal standards and on a suitable timeline to execute both my short-term and long-term goals.

Reflection:

Ava and cropped out former partnerAs a recently separated, survivor of intimate partner violence, basic survival needs have taken precedence over academic pursuits which in turn has caused me to be insanely frustrated with my inability to manage my time appropriately. This is a common issue that connects to my financial struggle as “64 percent of those who identified as victims of domestic violence reported that their ability to work was affected by the violence” (Corporate 2015). Perhaps this has amplified the external appearance of my internal drive as I work to reclaim stability while simultaneously redefining and barreling down the revised path of my academic future.

Ultimately, I need to remember that persistence and tenacity will be pointless if I collapse inward from an inability to practice consistent self-care tactics. Through reassuring myself that there are only so many hours in the day, it emphasizes that it is forgivable to unclench the jaw and relieve the pressure of constant production and attainment. Lastly, I need to remember that this is a common dilemma for those who are working through trauma, “Normal goals and obligations may be suspended, at least temporarily, while the individual devotes time and energy to processing and working through the traumatic experience” (Bonanno, Pat-Horenczyk, & Noll, 2011) (Davidson, n.d.) While this seemingly temporary setback is frustrating at the moment, it is necessary for the development of coping flexibility and post-traumatic growth. Working through this process in itself requires tenacity.

An issue that I encounter is that the combination of my determination and my frequency in which I leverage the breadth and depth of my experiences to take charge in situations where there is a lack of leadership (especially in group projects) is frequently misinterpreted as being rigid and inflexible. I have received feedback in the past that this has resulted in others characterizing me as an “alpha-bitch.” This can be commonly resolved when I explain my determination and pieces of my backstory. However, I feel that opposition is not commonly expressed when the actor is male, and therefore do not require a justification such as mine to defuse tension. “The more autocratic and directive mannerisms a female shows, the more negatively she is seen”(Crawford, 2000.).

As a result, I frequently tend to utilize language characteristics that are similar to ones identified in Robin Lakoff’s 1975 work “Language and Women’s Place.” These include lexical fillers (e.g., you know, you see, sort of), tag questions for confirmation, and ‘Super polite’ forms (e.g., indirect requests).  Additionally, I am also guilty of ‘couching commands as inclusive suggestions for action’ (Montgomery,1995). Moreover, I utilize tag questions to express uncertainty, be facilitative, soften, and be confrontational (Holmes,2001). Typically, these techniques help to minimize the conflict that arises by being driven and tenacious in a way that is misinterpreted as unrelenting or “power-tripping.”

Conclusion:

One of my most significant takeaways from this piece is the realization that as individuals, we have a duty to one another to be trauma-informed. I feel, especially from reflecting on my guiding principles and how those motives can be translated from “motivation” to “domination,” that to remove noise from the channel between sender and receiver that we act in good faith. Self-examination takes an exceptional amount of fortitude. This is a process that cannot always be incorporated into one’s self-care plan and ultimately prevent an individual from being aware of tension in communication in a way that identifies the need for an explanation of behavior to resolve barriers. By acknowledging that my ability to engage in this active awareness and reflection is not a skill that everyone can necessarily bring to the table, it will enable me to act with empathy. This empathy will help ensure that, as the receiver, I am positioned as well as I can be to receiving information without allowing any of my own negative experiences to distort that message.

For organizations to be receptive to the messages that they are receiving from various stakeholders, it is imperative that thought leaders be able to reflect on the past’s impact on the present and the future. To position the organization for future positive outcomes, it is necessary to celebrate the successes, identify the areas of opportunity, determine the impact of unresolved trauma and to create an action plan to resolve those issues from having any further implications. Great growth comes from great discomfort. However, to achieve that on a personal, professional or organizational level, it requires the courage to admit the missed opportunities to prevent future recurrence.

Reference:

Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, “CAEPV National Benchmark Telephone Survey,” (Bloomington, IL: The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, 2015)
Crawford, A. L. (2000). “Women in Leadership: The Stereotyping of Women” Northwestern University Communication Studies Department.
Davidson, S. (n.d.). Trauma-Informed Practices for Postsecondary Education: A Guide, 28.
Faulkner, R. A., & Davey, M. (2002). Children and Adolescents of Cancer Patients: The Impact of Cancer on the Family. American Journal of Family Therapy, 30(1), 63–72. 
Holmes, J. 2001. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Longman.
Kershaw, S. (2010, February 26). The Psychology of Moving. The New York Times
Kinsella, B. (2017, June 15). Why You Can (And Should) Be an Ethnographer in the Workplace. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
Lawler, C. (2017b, November 6). With an eye for detail, Duluth photographer records forgotten… Retrieved November 12, 2018.
Lakoff, R. 1975. Language and Woman’s Place. Harper and Row.
Montgomery, M. 1995. An Introduction to Language and Society. Routledge.
Taniguchi, H., & Kaufman, G. (2007). Belated entry: Gender differences and similarities in the pattern of nontraditional college enrollment. Social Science Research, 36(2), 550–568. 
Unlocking the Code of Your Life – August 26, 2018. (2018, August 26). Retrieved November 12, 2018.

 

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