So you’ve finally escaped the seething toxic swamp that was your job…congrats! The thing no one tells you, is that even after leaving a toxic job, it’s still not over. In fact, quitting an unhealthy work environment is only the first (and hardest) part of regaining your confidence, post-shitstorm.
Career Psychologist Helga Zimmermann defines a toxic work environment as “anything from poor management, gross overwork, dysfunctional communication to bullying—basically somewhere it’s impossible for you to thrive.” And it can be traumatic too.
So how’s a gal supposed to get back to her feet, toss away the emotional baggage and show up bright and shiny as her best self at the next gig?
Hibernate to heal
If you can take time off before starting a new job, amazing. If not, set aside some quiet time after work or on the weekend dedicated to focusing inward. Psychologist Louise Morrow specializes in workplace bullying, and says that “Any toxic relationship takes it toll on our health and our self-esteem.” It’s therefore important to replenish what has been depleted. Morrow suggests, “Bring some self-nurture into your daily life through yoga, meditation, tai chi, or gardening.”
I’ve personally found things like taking a break from social media, watching TV and movies (especially comedies), baths, nourishing food, reconnecting with nature, and lots of sleep are also great ways to nurse yourself back to (mental) health.
But it doesn’t all need to be chill—there’s every chance you’ve got some pent-up rage in there too. Morrow suggests, “Release any anger, frustration or anxiety you’re still carrying by exercising, dancing (alone in your room is perfectly acceptable) or sing with gusto to your favorite song. Some people even release tension by popping bubble-wrap. So satisfying!”
Aside from quality solo time, your hibernation can include a network of support people. Morrow explains, “Toxic environments can be very isolating. Establishing a team of trusted friends, family, your doctor, therapist etc. means you’re surrounded by people who have your best interests at heart, and are there to support you on dark days and cheer you on into your future.”
Face your demons
Next, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of untangling your experience. Morrow admits, “The desire to avoid thinking about a toxic experience is natural, however the fact is it will continue occupying our thoughts and pushing our emotions around until we face and reflect on our experience.”
This part may be uncomfortable, but is so crucial in moving on. Set aside time to examine the false negative beliefs you may have accumulated about yourself at your old job (you can do this via journalling, or with a trusted friend or therapist). Next, challenge any harmful thoughts you might be harboring. Where did they come from? Are they even yours, or do they belong to your miserable ex-manager who made fun of your work/appearance/beliefs/insert inappropriate behavior here. If they’re not yours, let them go.
Depending on the circumstances of your ex job, and whether you’ve already had an exit interview, you could even consider writing a formal letter to your former boss or HR manager detailing your experience. This could aid in gaining closure, feeling empowered, and perhaps even bring about positive change.
Do things you’re good at
Rebuild that self-esteem by doing things that make you feel capable and fill you with joy. Morrow suggests, “Reconnect with your core strengths, and use them as a guide to future choices you make about your work environment.” These strengths don’t need to be related to your previous job.
In fact, it may be more fruitful if they’re not. Human Resources expert Claire Hunt recommends, “Get creative. By exploring different creative activities (such as painting, drawing or making music) you may discover talents or passions that influence your next career choice.”
Leave the past behind
A nice way to wrap up this transition and leave the past behind might be some sort of personalized ritual or ceremony. Morrow suggests: “Write about your experience as a letter to yourself or to the person who caused you pain. Describe what occurred and how you felt. Then write about what you learned from the experience, about the qualities and strengths you recognize in yourself. Once you can read your story without emotion you might destroy the paper it’s written on, signifying that it is over.”
How you heal is ultimately up to you. Be guided by your intuition, and if it’s still too raw to deal with, don’t rush yourself! With time, you may look back positively on the resilience that got you through, and the strength you gained as a result of your experience.
Hell, it could very well lead you to a more satisfying role. Ultimately though, in the wise words of Hunt, “It’s important to remember that you are so much more than your job.”