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Career Advice

How To Recover From A Career Trauma

Posted by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

Career Advice Expert

Last Updated February 15, 2017
|4 min read

So much happens at work. If your job is truly a fit, you can experience tremendous personal and professional growth, creating a happy symbiosis for you and your employer that can span years. It’s remarkable how much positive impact the right position and environment can have.

But the opposite can also be true. A negative professional environment can cause deep distress. Some leaders foster professional cultures that enable bad behaviors like bullying, cut-throat competitiveness, distrustfulness, etc. Others managers may be inattentive to poor behavior in their units causing dysfunction to fester. Leadership matters, and working in a leadership void can create uncomfortable chaos which can take a toll.    

In addition to leadership issues, the professional world has a brutal bottom line. Reorganizations, downsizing, and other types of professional restructuring can cause once happily ensconced employees to lose fit in their positions or to lose their roles altogether.

It’s difficult to recover your professional confidence after emerging from an abusive environment or after suddenly losing a position that was once a happy fit.

But recovery is possible. It may even present you with new opportunities, once you are able to catch your breath and move forward. Here’s how to start picking up the pieces:       

Secure the support you need

It helps to be heard. In this case, you need your healing to begin as soon as possible so that you can figure out your next steps. So it may be helpful to tell the whole story to someone who will listen to every detail and offer confidentiality and professional-grade insights.

A counselor or a therapist can help give you the support and clarity you need to make sense of what happened to you and to salvage your sense of self.  

Pursue a clear internal narrative about your experience

Whether you work with a professional or you take on a solo soul search, make it your goal to clarify for yourself what you experienced. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the reality of a situation through the haze of your feelings about it. If you are dealing with a situation of abuse, reality can be particularly confusing because agents of toxicity don’t function in healthy or typical ways.

But you need clarity to heal; it’s like cleaning an emotional wound. Psychoanalyst and award-winning author, Dr. Claudia Luiz notes:  

“The worst thing people try to do when they are recovering from a work trauma is try to change their feelings. That is, try to feel more confident, less traumatized, optimistic, positive and strong. Ironically, this weakens the psyche. Work trauma has to be treated as something appropriate and it has to be embraced. Just as we thrive on our successes, we reel from setbacks.”

Don’t try to muscle your way to wellness. Be honest about your feelings and allow yourself time to heal.

Recognize the limitations of your control

Abuse happens in the workplace. The professional world can be unfair. It does not always reward employees’ loyalty. Businesses leaders are trained to do what they need to in order to advance their company’s objectives. These are truths about the professional landscape that aren’t likely to change. We simply have to alter how we react to them.   

Dr. Luiz notes: “Corporate America (including the nonprofit world) is ruthless -- bad and challenging things happen, and goals for the company sometimes supersede caring for individuals. But we have to embrace our humanity, our hurt, our anger, and even our intense outrage if we are part of the culture and suffer at its hands.”

Go back to your roots

Emotionally handling a professional trauma is stressful because it may deconstruct your sense of where you fit in to the professional world, but it can be powerful for the same reason.  It gives you the chance to re-examine what you love about the work you do and to see if there might be a new or a different way to do it.

Dr. Luiz reflects: “Once you embrace the reality of what you feel, and not just in name but truly get there through the work of self-growth, you are stronger.”

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