Ending the Drama of Work Trauma

Long gone are supposed to be the days of being sent to the principal’s office. However, the current organizational culture can make us adults feel like children in trouble, being called to the manager’s office.  Organizations spend millions of dollars using EAP programs to aid workers with stress, but nobody really speaks about abuse in the workplace as being a large part of depression and anxiety. Why is working in a disorganized place so painful??!!

Most of us spend at least 8 hours of our days at work, which does not leave a lot of time for replenishing and relaxation. During these 8 hours, our nervous system can become dysregulated on several occasions, or remains so the entire duration of the day. If we have an abusive boss, this relationship can actually trigger past trauma, leaving us feeling helpless and scared about our present and future. The threat of being fired can elicit a survival response, which overrides any and all sensibility. Rules and regulations, unrealistic deadlines, rejected ideas,  can all be reminders of being bullied, made fun of, not being good enough. The truth is, we are often expected to obey hire-ups while they treat us less than kindly. Our voices become stifled, we are unseen, afraid to speak up for fear of getting fired, all the while thinking that we are adults now….we are supposed to have a voice!! We are supposed to be valued and our expertise should matter.  Sometimes, the fear can be greater than the injury, causing a sense of helplessness. Where will I find another job?? Who will hire me? Will I make the same amount of money? I am qualified? Am I too old? ….are all questions asked by the terrified inner voices.

Sadly, in many cases, there is actual abuse within the workplace in the form of being belittled, sworn at, experiencing passive aggressive behaviour by a boss,  being manipulated, lied to etc.  Work can become a very difficult space to navigate, with detrimental consequences on our mental health, resulting in lack of sleep, nightmares,  lack of enjoyment in life, difficulties getting out of bed in the morning, feelings of dread, chest pains, migraines, stomach aches etc. Sadly, the sociopathic boss in not a mythological creature. This is a conversation we really need to have openly, as Human Resources often fails us in this regard and many, many reports need to be filed against one boss for any action to be taken.

I’ve been through some of the aforementioned situations more than once and so the advice below stems not only from clinical expertise but also from personal experience.

  • Get a good therapist to help you figure out if you can work through being trigerred and remain at your place of work, or if this situation is affecting your mental health more than you realize and it is time to leave.
  • Look for a job on a regular basis as listings come out daily…..if you are serious about changing jobs, this has to be a priority.
  • Sometimes a lateral move is needed in order to get your bearings back and pay bills prior to undertaking another job in your field. I know people who have left high paying positions to work in retail, taking time out to heal or figure life out.
  • Look into going back to school and following that dream you always thought about but never followed. In Canada, Ontario offers second career funding for those who qualify. Go here for more information http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/secondcareer/
  • Can you take time off due to disability and figure things out? (abuse in the workplace does result in a disability if you cannot sleep, have anxiety, depression, dread going into work, and are no longer the same person)
  •  Volunteering in an area you love, balancing out the stress at work can also be a short-term solution allowing you to use the skills that may be undervalued in your job.
  • Are you interested in teaching? Local Colleges and trade schools might be looking for  a person exactly like you. Do some research.
  • Can you start your own business? Even if initially your income decreases, the stress of not going into work might be worth it. A good business coach can provide guidance on how to attract clients and build your self-worth and net-worth.
  • DO NOT GIVE UP …your life is worth more and you deserve better!!!!!

The point is, working within an abusive or just the wrong environment can lead to very serious emotional and wellness difficulties, which must be taken seriously. There is no shame in admitting that we are affected and need change and it is worth exploring your options. The alternative is to continue the way you feel, and you already know what that looks like. So why not get curious about what else is possible?