Quitting a bad job and starting a new role afresh can be a huge relief. But sometimes, leaving a toxic workplace behind isn’t enough — and it can take a long time for you to regain your confidence and self-esteem.
It’s no secret that workers today are seeking environments where they can thrive mentally as well as professionally. But unfortunately, many people still struggle with hostile treatment, bad bosses and unhealthy practices — which can lead to stress, anxiety and depression.
According to research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a toxic workplace culture is the number one reason why people leave their jobs. Even after you’ve left, though, a toxic workplace can have a lingering negative effect on your confidence.
So how can you rebuild your faith in your own abilities?
“A toxic workplace can leave a lasting imprint on us, in the same way as an unhealthy relationship or a traumatic experience,” says Georgina Sturmer, a counsellor and member of the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists.
“When we’re in a workplace, we often feel trapped or silenced. Maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of unfair or damaging criticism — or perhaps we have had to stand by while others have been treated badly.”
When we’re stuck in an environment like this, we often react by suppressing our feelings, Sturmer explains. At the time, we keep our heads down and carry on, but this can mean that we delay processing the impact that it’s had on our physical and emotional wellbeing.
“If we’ve been surrounded by negativity or criticism, we often internalise these messages and judgements,” she says. “These leave us lacking in confidence or self-esteem, even when we have escaped the negative environment.”
How to rebuild your confidence after leaving a bad job
Firstly, it’s important to take stock of your skills and abilities in an objective way as, oftentimes, how we feel about ourselves isn’t based on reality.
Write down a list of your skills, experience and abilities, making sure to include examples of your successes. This gives you something to look back on when you’re struggling with self-doubt.
Sturmer recommends finding ways to remind yourself that you’re not in your old job any more. “This might sound strange, but sometimes our minds feel as if they are stuck somewhere, even if we have liberated ourselves from that environment,” she says.
“Think about what you might need to do to keep yourself in the present. This might involve calming techniques, like breathing or grounding, or using positive affirmations to support how you feel about yourself.”
And while it’s tempting to avoid thinking about the job you’ve left, it can be helpful to be self-reflective. “Think about the workplace environment that you’ve left, and think about what you need to do in order to avoid falling into the same situation or relationship in life or in your next job,” says Sturmer.
“Consider what boundaries you need to have in place to make sure that you control how you are treated, and how you let other people’s words or actions affect you.”
And finally, it’s important to find an outlet for your negative feelings or experiences.
“Consider a creative outlet like journaling or drawing. This can help us to understand what we have been through and support us to be kind to ourselves. Voice them to a loved one, or a mental health professional,” says Sturmer.
Therapy can help you think through how you’ve been affected by your past experiences — and a therapist may be able to help you overcome these kinds of stumbling blocks too.
Speak to friends and family about what you’ve been through, too. Although you may feel alone, other people will have had similar experiences — and sharing them can lessen their emotional impact.