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Let's Talk Trauma: Your Toxic Work Environment May Be Destroying Your Mental Health

Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

With post-pandemic employment on the rise, many are looking for opportunities to find low stress work environments. While there are some careers that are certainly more stressful than others, any job is a stressful job if it’s in a toxic environment. Working in environments where we don’t feel safe or cared for can be traumatic. The additional stress of handling a bad boss, a belligerent customer or a burned-out coworker can lead to declines in physical and mental health short term, and serious chronic health conditions long term. Even if people do excellent work, working in a demoralizing environment often contributes to feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy. Conversely, work performance suffers when the thought, “I don’t want to be here,” constantly prods in everyone’s head.

For many, it’s not the work itself, but difficult people that add toxic stress. Bullying and abusive behavior is everywhere, and nearly one in five people report experiences of psychological aggression in the workplace. The higher the aggression, the lower the job satisfaction and performance. Additionally, narcissistic and psychopathic behavior from a supervisor in the workplace, which is a common contributing factor for toxic stress, is not only overlooked but often rewarded. Many of those same behaviors may equal success in a competitive environment.

People who have experienced childhood abuse and neglect are particularly at risk of staying in a toxic work environment far past their window of tolerance, fearing repercussion for speaking up or asking for more support. When psychologically abusive behavior seems “normal,” it’s harder to recognize the red flags in a workplace. Perhaps you try harder to please a boss who can’t be pleased. Perhaps you pick up the slack for the ones slacking off. Perhaps you take everything on so that no one else can let you down. Perhaps you’ve tried standing up for things before, only to get shut down. Bottom line, if you work in an environment where you don’t feel safe, seen or heard, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Most are not in a position to immediately quit a toxic work environment, but it is important to consider and prioritize mental health as a factor in deciding whether to stay or go. Maybe the job has benefits that make it hard to leave, or the location makes it easy to pick your kids up from school. However, the more we rationalize toxic environments thinking we’ll “suck it up” for the sake of some other benefit, the more we lose touch with our own sense of identity, meaning and purpose. We humans need to feel like our contributions to the world matter, and that’s often achieved through our connections to the people we spend the most time around. When a work environment is toxic, it robs us of feelings of connection and belonging that we need to feel happy, healthy, and whole.

Toxic workplace trauma is valid. Anything that stresses you out or robs you of a sense of connection and wellbeing is worth investigating and correcting. While carrying the responsibilities of your work is honorable, ethical and often necessary, no one needs to carry abusers or abusive environments.

Lead image via contributor

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