Recovering from a Toxic Job
December 6, 2022
We’ve all had unpleasant work experiences, but for many that “unpleasantness” actually crosses into workplace trauma, an under discussed, real experience. As with any trauma, unacknowledged it can drive your actions and reactions even when the threat has passed–like when you’ve left the toxic job behind and are stepping into a new, healthy role.

Not sure if toxic remnants of your former workplace are still hanging around? Look for some key warning signs:

  • Are you on edge before meetings with your manager, even if that manager has never given you reason to stress?
  • “Sunday scaries” feel like debilitating anxiety you can’t quite shake?

Melody Wilding, LMSW, an executive coach and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work, offers a path forward in this detailed Harvard Business Review piece. Here, we’ll discuss the tenets of her advice to moving forward after leaving a toxic job.

  1. “Find closure.” Acknowledge that leaving your former job is a loss – regardless of the circumstances that led to your departure – and allow yourself to grieve and create closure. Wilding recommends techniques such as writing a letter to your best self to acknowledge that you did the best you could with the tools you had at the time. You may never receive the apologies you deserve from former colleagues or managers, but you can provide healing for yourself.
  2. “Take control of what you can.” The tendency to ruminate on what you could, should, or might have done differently in your previous role is a natural one, as is a sense of shame about the way you were treated. While you cannot change the choices you made in the past, offering yourself compassion, and applying those lessons in your new season can be a powerful step in rebuilding confidence.
  3. “Plan for triggers.” Recognize situations–and stress reactions–in your new job that feel familiar. Interrupt your learned reaction to these triggers. Identifying these precipitating events or feelings can empower you to prepare to deal with them, rather than be driven by them.

Key strategies for dealing with these trauma responses include calming your nervous system by taking a few deep breaths prior to scenarios where the triggers are likely to emerge, and recognizing the narratives you develop about feedback or management.

“Savor the positive moments.”

Your brain protects you by being on constant watch for threats; after trauma, this is especially true and can be a difficult cycle to break. One way to begin to rewire this tendency is by intentionally savoring and focusing on positive moments. Wilding shares a few techniques, including:

  • Positive reminisce: Spend ten minutes each day reflecting on thoughts, emotions, and other details related to a positive moment.
  • Three good things: Write down three good things that happen each day - this is not unlike a gratitude practice, and has the same very positive results!
  • Positive imagination: Think about what is coming up for you tomorrow. Focus on imagining every good thing that could possibly happen.

Wilding emphasizes the importance of patience and self compassion, while emphasizing it really does get better. “Above all else, take care of yourself. Adjusting to a new job can be stressful under the best of circumstances, let alone when you’re recovering from the effects of a toxic workplace environment. With patience and self-compassion, you can rise above and become more resilient than ever before.”

Lauren Lyddon has helped people and organizations to tell their stories for more than a decade. Having tested her love of the creative through the pursuit of an MBA and undergraduate business degrees, she is a writer, editor, and lover of fiction in all its forms (especially theatre, well-written television, and novels). A West coast resident often operating on an East coast schedule, Lauren uses her business background and love of story to serve clients in writing, editing, PR, and more. You can visit her online at



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