Have you ever been so upset that you couldn’t think straight? Or felt so overwhelmed that words escaped you? Or maybe you made some inappropriate comment that you never would say if you weren’t so angry. Once you calmed down, your ability to think returned–you were “yourself” again.
All of us have, at one time or another, experienced a situation like this. Most of the time, we calm down and move on, without serious repercussions. But what about when it happens in the workplace, where stressful situations — deadlines, reorganizations, sales goals, etc. — are an everyday occurrence? Where stress becomes the norm rather than the exception? It’s hard enough to deal with corporate change and politics, and when you’ve experienced trauma outside of the workplace, leaving that trauma unaddressed can make handling stressful situations at work nearly impossible, significantly impacting your career.
Here are the five main ways your personal trauma may be holding you back at work:
- Dealing with change — The accelerating rate of change in companies today is commonly cited at the number-one source of stress for employees. If you have unresolved trauma, you’re even less able to embrace and respond effectively to rapid change; you’ll fight it instead. You’ll dig in your heels and stick to the “old way” or become territorial, neither of which will make co-workers view you as a team player or managers see you as a candidate for promotion.
- Accessing creativity — It’s not a secret that creativity flourishes when you are relaxed and feel safe. When you carry trauma, you’re unable to access your creative capacity because you feel uptight and threatened most of the time. In brainstorming sessions, you’ll come up with simplistic, shallow ideas rather than letting creative juices flow, because you worry about judgment from others. In the end, employees who resolve their trauma and feel safe to express their ideas will move up the ladder more quickly than you will.
- Seeing the big picture — Trauma has a significant effect on your cognitive abilities, which makes understanding theoretical concepts and lofty ideas difficult if not impossible. Because you’re more focused on your own survival rather than the success of the organization or well-being of your co-workers, you can’t see how your actions impact the whole or fit into long-term plans, you’ll be less inclined to be tapped for management roles.
- Fitting into team environments — It’s no surprise that teamwork requires well-honed interpersonal communication skills. But traumatized individuals have difficulty communicating effectively with others, and when required to deal with several people simultaneously–like in a team environment–can often shut down completely or become defensive and paranoid. With today’s increasing emphasis on teamwork, if you’re unable to communicate effectively in a group you’ll be quickly left behind.
- Handling diversity — Respecting and valuing diversity in the workplace is top-of-mind at virtually every organization today, and requires logical assessments of people and their character and intentions while keeping irrational or unfounded emotional responses in check. However, if you’ve been traumatized, you may categorize people into those who are for you and those who are against you (Us vs. Them) and express xenophobia. Especially in the post- #MeToo world, this worldview won’t put you on the path to success.
If you see yourself in any or all of the above vignettes, and you want to put your career on a better track, go to www.emilywanderercohen.com and download my tip sheet on “5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Heal Trauma.” Then, let’s talk about how your personal trauma may be standing in your way–and how we can work together to clear a path to workplace success!