How To Believe In Yourself Again After Work Conflict
One of my mentees tipped me off to a podcast dedicated to exploring the glass cliff that executive women face. It seems that when an organization is hitting the skids, boards and employees often prefer women to men in leadership. However, the organizational situations can be so dire that women who accept these positions are unduly criticized for the dysfunction that they inherited.
It is a Catch-22.
No wonder 6% of CEOs are women. Maybe this is for lack of opportunity. But I also suspect women intuitively know the consequences. The data reveals that they are, in fact, called out and disparaged more than their male counterparts.
As always, there is nothing we can do about other people. Our greatest failure is not succumbing to conflict or failing in any one situation, but rather denying ourselves the runway to rise and trust ourselves again.
And even this can be faked. Although, I don’t recommend it.
Instead, I think there’s something to learn from trauma recovery models developed by Dr. Pierre Janet in the late 1800s and expanded by Dr. Judith Herman in the early 1990s. Suffering is timeless, isn’t it?
“The experience of emotional overwhelm is similar to that of a shaken bottle of soda. Inside the bottle is a tremendous amount of pressure. The safest way to release the pressure is to open and close the cap in a slow, cautious and intentional manner so as to prevent an explosion.”
Step 1: Stabilize
I’ve met many people who skip this step and literally go off the deep end because they consider themselves problem solvers. The irony is that they are often not mentally prepared for the endurance it takes to face their own problems.
It is one thing when you’re trying to solve for something as concrete as a financial target, quite another when you have to reflect on misunderstandings, accusations, and foibles that involve yourself.
So first things first, set goals for healthy self-care:
- Make a small commitment to meditate (e.g., 5 minutes a day)
- Get in touch with your tendencies (good and bad) – I like the Enneagram for this
- Imagine where you’d like to be in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years
- Take a walk! In other words, exercise: spin, yoga, or dance in shower because you can
The point here is to ground yourself after an emotional or physical shock. This may mean relying on the medical community for a prescription to take the edge off while you reassess. Whatever it takes, stabilize so you can move on…
Step 2: Mourn
Once your life feels stable, it’s time to look back and process what happened. This is often done in the company of group or individual therapy. Or I believe in the confidence of a great mentor. This has been a touchstone for Edittress: where you can find and connect with experienced professionals across many industries without the ramifications of office politics.
Artistic expression can also play an important role here: write, paint, squish play-doh.
If at any moment in retelling your story, the emotions overwhelm you – return to step 1. It’s easy to slip into reliving the drama, but the goal is to tell your story without any emotions attached.
My personal journey has vacillated between these two steps. Earlier on, I would tell my story to anybody who would listen. This was a mistake. Many people don’t have experience to empathize. And, let’s be honest, most don’t care. This was true for priests, old co-workers, and even therapists who were more interested in scheduling next week.
Ultimately, healing for me began under the refuge of older executive women who had experienced the exact same prejudice, slander, and distress.
Step 3: Integrate
When you can recall that conflict as leading to this-or-that is when the story no longer defines you. The experience cannot be undone, but becomes an integrated part of what has made you who you are today. As time goes on, you’ll find that it may empower you to achieve more.
A good friend likens it to one patch in the quilt of your life. This can only be authentically achieved when moving through steps 1 & 2, else the patch becomes another hole.
Our mentors are generally older women and men because it takes a lifetime to process and practice integration like this. And without mentors, young people are reliving the same work mistakes with sometimes more dire consequences.
Is searching online for advice really our only option?
During my research phase, I was struck by how many young women I interviewed who struggled with “not making yourself feel awful” for things that go wrong in the office. It happens to everyone. Connecting with people who have been there is the tangible inspiration we all need to know that we’re not alone and that we’ll survive.
We are building that for you. Stay tuned.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”