Workplace trauma is common but few people are aware of how thoroughly it impacts our outlook on life, our nervous systems, our ability to think and to function.
If workplace trauma is so common, why don’t we talk more about it? One of the reasons for that is that our understanding of trauma shifted over the past 5-10 years. Trauma isn’t only something that happened in the event, or accident or unfortunate circumstance. Trauma is in the nervous system, and is a biological response to perceived threat.
Trauma is in your BODY – not in your head. It isn’t something that you can get over by thinking. Trauma affects your ability to function on all levels and, very importantly, impacts your ability to trust yourself and others. You walk around in a permanent state of hyper vigilance, expecting the worst, the next blow.
Trauma is something that doesn’t go away by positive thinking or mindfulness programs and resilience trainings. Those may actually end up hurting you more than helping.
It is easy to see why modern workplaces are so traumatizing. Most of us have been exposed to negative, unfair and even devastating situations at work. Very few organizations have a healthy culture where we feel safe to be ourselves, and the management consists often of selfish and power hungry characters that merely pretend to care for their employees. This is valid for large corporations, international organizations, NGOs, banks, medical settings, lawyers offices, churches and religious organizations, law enforcement. It is everywhere. Even in organizations that promote mental health.
Constant competition, backstabbing, openly or indirectly abusive superiors, impossible targets, lack of resources, lack of organizational support, entitled and narcissistic clients or colleague, and organizations that claim to care but actually squeeze you like a lemon, are all a huge source of threat for the human nervous system.
Our biology is wired to protect us from danger, and our biology is stronger than our mind; it takes over in threatening situations whether we are conscious of it or not. We require safe and secure relationships with other people at work to truly thrive and to give our best.
Sometimes people trust the system and the processes and take their grievances further. However, let’s be realistic, putting ugly issues to the table and shedding light to a less than perfect situation doesn’t make you an employee of the month. It often makes your situation worse. There are of course exceptions to this, and hats off to those who have the guts to do the right thing, but, in all fairness, it is a small minority.
If you recognize that you may have been traumatized at work, know that workplace trauma isn’t a life sentence. It takes time and some effort to calm that alarm system in your body, but it can be done. If you are currently in a workplace that is unhealthy, unsafe and outright toxic, for your own sake, see if there is a possibility to fix the situation, and if not, run! We cannot stay in toxic situations without consequences to our mental and physical wellbeing. No amount of healthy eating, exercising and meditation will fix this.
As always, all change starts form within. Nobody else will come to your rescue, if you don’t take the first step. Educate yourself about trauma, and get help. Sometimes trauma cracks us open in unexpected ways. Through those cracks, light can shine in and we can be transformed for the better.