How to Heal from an Abusive Workplace
When you finally summon the courage to leave an abusive workplace, it’s natural to feel an overwhelming sense of relief. For many wronged employees, it may feel like you can finally breathe again. Perhaps you’ve had the fortune of lining up a new-and-improved position that has you grinning from ear to ear (and rightfully so). Sayonara, abusive workplace; hello, new job!
However, many people fail to identify this time of transition for what it is: an evolving time of processing and recovery. While it’s easy to view leaving an abusive workplace as the final step, it’s actually the first step for many abused workers.
Like it or not, extensive time in a hostile or toxic work environment can take a significant toll on our mental and emotional wellbeing, and often inflicts trauma that we must work through in order to heal…even if we don’t always recognize the gravity of this right off the bat. After quitting any position at an abusive workplace, it’s normal to experience:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Like you’re “walking on eggshells”
- Irritability or resentment
- A perceived lack of safety
- Difficulty relating to others
- Chronic stress
- Emotional numbing
- Difficulty sleeping
…and more. Trauma impacts our physical bodies and mental health in various ways, and for many people, it can be difficult to shoulder that burden—even after we’re free and clear of the workplace that seemed to suck the very soul from our bodies.
4 Tips to Ease the Transition from a Hostile Workplace
No matter how difficult the ups and downs of this journey can feel, take heart in the fact that healing is very possible. Assuming you can acknowledge past workplace trauma, work towards healing, prioritizing your personal health, and exercising patience with yourself throughout the process, there’s a brighter, healthier future ahead of you.
Workplace trauma is real and difficult. In the workplace, trauma can be identified as an event or chain of events that are:
- Outside of the worker’s control
- Unpreventable in the eyes of the employee
- A result of cruelty, whether intentional or not
It's important to have a good understanding of how workplace trauma impacts our body, mind, and overall wellbeing. Only then can we begin to take steps toward healing, and prevent past trauma from negatively affecting our new work. Keep reading to learn 4 tips to ease your transition from an abusive work environment to greener pastures.
#1. Do your research.
The concept of workplace trauma and abusive work environments can be overwhelming to learn about, let alone understand how it impacts us personally. In many cases, abused employees can experience continued doubt and insecurity regarding their experience, and even question their version of events (“Was it really that bad? Was I just overreacting?”).
Conducting your own research about workplace trauma, bullying, harassment, and discrimination can strengthen your confidence and security regarding your memories and experiences. It can be a way to not only validate yourself but learn more about how to proceed in the healing process.
Moreover, researching your experiences can introduce you to people who relate to your situation, and allow you to forge valuable connections with those in the same boat as you. While it may be tempting to self-isolate or withdraw, having a community of likeminded individuals can improve your wellbeing and even speed up your recovery.
#2. Be willing to reflect as you work on moving forward.
Many people are tempted to give in to avoidant behaviors after a traumatic workplace experience. While it's okay to take some time to yourself—you deserve some peace and quiet, after all—it's unwise to shut down every single memory that comes up.
This isn’t to say that dwelling in the past is a good thing. Allowing resentment or bitterness to fester isn’t healthy for anyone. However, there is power in acknowledging what happened to you. The human body often has a way of telling us what we need, and sometimes that entails being open to reflection.
As frustrating as it can be, there are some parts of our trauma that we've yet to untangle. In some cases, this untangling is mandatory to move forward. By acknowledging and validating our experiences, we move forward in the healing process.
While it can be nerve-racking to let ourselves feel the broader range of our true emotions, it’s often a requirement if we wish to heal, otherwise these feelings are prone to come up in negative ways later on.
#3. Acknowledge your triggers.
If you’ve survived trauma, experiencing the feeling of being “triggered” is often an inevitable part of the healing process. This is our body’s instinctive way of attempting to protect us, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. Instead, it often feels like we’re reliving past trauma all over again.
It’s okay to feel triggered, even if it’s by a small or confusing event. The important part is exercising awareness of your triggers, especially the what and why. Triggers vary widely from person to person, making it all the more important to understand your body and what it’s telling you.
For example, you may experience overwhelming emotions when you're interrupted during a meeting at your new job. It’s important to recognize these triggers and dig deeper to uncover the true cause behind them. If you feel triggered when a coworker gives you a strange look, it probably isn’t because that coworker makes you uncomfortable.
Be open to exploring underlying causes, learning to understand your body, and delving into why you feel the way you do. This is a key part of the healing process and can help prevent you from making snap judgments or assumptions in a healthy work environment. Consider freewriting or journaling to get your thoughts rolling and discover things you may not have realized before.
#4. Exercise self-compassion.
Trauma impacts everyone in different ways, meaning that the recovery time looks different for each person. It’s important to meet yourself where you are in the moment, and be content with starting there.
Healing from workplace trauma is rarely linear. It’s normal to feel like the road is a meandering mess at first. One day you may feel fine; the next, you may experience crippling depression or anxiety for no apparent reason. It’s important to trust your body and respect the time it needs to process and heal.
Self-compassion will be your biggest strength during the recovery process, and practicing it will allow you to grow stronger and happier every day, even on the days when you don’t feel it yet. Learn to trust yourself and exercise patience, because you deserve it.
Every Client Is a Cause Worth Fighting For
At Donati Law, PLLC, we serve employees in Memphis and the Mid-South on a client-by-client basis. Each client is a cause we believe in, and our skilled employment law attorneys are here to devote our full effort and energy to each and every employee, one at a time.
No one deserves to suffer in a hostile work environment. If you’ve been harassed or discriminated against at work, there is hope for healing. It’s crucial to act swiftly to demand the compensation you deserve. Don’t worry—our team will be here every step of the way to provide the compassionate legal counsel and relentless advocacy you deserve.
Are you the victim of an abusive or hostile workplace that involved discrimination? Donati Law is here to protect your employee rights. Call (901) 209-5500 or contact us online to speak with an experienced employment law attorney.