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Job Coach Explains That 'Career Wounds' Operate Exactly Like Trauma & We Need To Treat Them Accordingly

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woman struggling in office, workplace trauma

Even though our jobs take up so much of our lives, it's surprisingly easy to underestimate the negative impacts they can have on us when something goes awry.

According to one career coach, we all should rethink this dynamic, especially since it can have such a huge impact on our careers down the road. 

A job coach says 'career wounds' operate exactly like trauma and we should approach them similarly.

We've long talked about the ways our jobs interact with our mental health, particularly given the ways they monopolize our time and impact our quality of life. 

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But Mandy Tang, a career coach known as @careercoachmandy on TikTok, theorized that the link goes far deeper than that. She claimed that our jobs are like every other part of our lives — we carry "wounds" from our careers that affect our behavior and can calcify into patterns that keep us stuck.

In a video, she claimed that we're often taught to move forward quickly when something bad happens at work, so we never really deal with it.

"I think that having a traumatic incident at work, like a bad boss, bullying at work, being laid off unexpectedly, any of those kinds of events are what I would call having a 'career wound,'" Tang explained, likening it to a romantic heartbreak or "mother wound."

   

   

"We kind of know these things," she went on to say. "They're sort of prevalent in culture, and we know how to process them, and we know how to grieve them." 

Not so much with our jobs and careers, however. "Because the pace of corporate America is so fast and unforgiving when things happen to us at work, we're just expected to keep going," Tang said. "There's no recognition, there's no naming, there's no processing of the pain… You're just expected to interview and find your next job and just move on."

Much like with other kinds of trauma, this often results in repeating patterns that hold us back in our careers.

Tang posited that, much like other kinds of trauma in our lives, not dealing with it comes at a price. "As a career coach … what I see is that people bring this heaviness and this trauma with them from job to job to job," she shared. "And because it is unresolved, they keep living out the same scenarios and being tested in the same way."

She likened this to our romantic lives, in which we often seek out toxic partners who hurt us in the same ways over and over. As for a workplace example, she described being a people-pleaser

   

   

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"I'm going to keep going to jobs where I can be, like, the fixer and make everything okay, and that's where I'm going to get my self-worth," she said. "I keep saying yes to everything, and then I get burnt out and resentful … and then I quit. I rage quit. So that might be the pattern that gets repeated and repeated."

Identifying and working through this, she said, is integral to getting our careers back onto the proper footing. "Some of the important work that I think needs to be done is for people to pause and be like, what are my patterns? What do I keep doing over and over? And if I don't heal that … it's like a new job, but the same story."

According to mental health research, the upheavals we experience at work are indeed traumatic and can have unexpectedly outsized impacts on our lives.

Tang is definitely onto something here. We don't typically just walk away from traumas like deaths or illnesses and move on to the next thing. Most of us take time to mourn, grieve, heal, and potentially seek mental health treatment — whatever we need to deal with the event.

And it is indeed strange that we don't have the same approach when it comes to job-related difficulties, because mental health research has long known that events like job losses or being bullied in the office are traumatic in the literal sense of the word.

   

   

Studies have found that being fired or laid off, for example, is more stressful than a divorce or the death of a close friend. And experts say it can take up to two years to psychologically heal from a job loss.

Workplace bullying and job losses can even lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, one of the defining features of which is repetitive patterns of adverse responses associated with the trauma. Just like Tang pointed out, these patterns show up in our careers too.

I've experienced this in my own life, for example. Two years working for an abusive boss in a toxic work environment made me throw myself into perfectionism and overworking at my next job in order to ward off the abuse and firing I was sure was imminent. 

   

   

This left me burned out just six months in, negatively impacting both my performance and my personal life. It probably would have eventually cost me my job if I hadn't nipped it in the bud with my therapist.

Bad office dynamics, toxic bosses, or abrupt job losses are not things our brains simply pick up and move on from, nor are the impacts of things like inadequate pay, for that matter. Taking that to heart — on the part of both workers and business leaders — and dealing with them accordingly will go a long way toward steering our professional lives in a better direction. 

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.