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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Career Crisis as a healthy ‘trauma response’.

If you’ve been on the planet for long enough, you’ve likely experienced ‘trauma’.

Trauma is the Greek word for ‘wound’.

Psychologically, trauma is what you experience when your sense of safety is threatened at a physical, interpersonal level or environmental level.

With everything going on in the world, you could argue that trauma is the default experience on the planet right now.

But let’s keep things in perspective. Life isn’t meant to be all positive emotion and easy living.

We’d never grow or evolve.

So we need a few definitions.


There are 3 types of trauma (or wound): acute (one off), chronic (repetitive) or complex (a mixture with extensive ramification over a lifetime).

If you look into trauma (e.g. through Dr Gabor Mate’s work including his latest – The Myth of Normal – Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture), you start to see the link with what so many experience in unhealthy organisations.

This is not ground for feeling victimised, however. But it is a route to greater clarity and self-compassion.

What does that mean?

Being exposed to toxic work culture may be accidental and remedied. It can happen to anyone.

*Entanglement* in toxic work culture, and a sense of being stuck and powerless, is usually related to past trauma including intergenerational trauma. If your ancestors were oppressed, it’s harder for you to be free. This needs deeper work.


1) The most important thing to remember is that: ‘trauma is a normal response to abnormal situation’, as psychiatrist and death camp survivor, Viktor Frankl put it.

2) Next, realise that systemic toxicity is an anti-relational phenomenon. It’s created by broken human-human and human-environment connection. It can only be combatted by transforming our capacity for connection and insight, through the medium of presence, individually and collectively.

3) Then, allow yourself to trust your intuition and explore questions as to whether something is toxic for you. Note that your questioning may sound like a “career crisis” to others. So sometimes, it’s best to let your questions develop quietly.


Because others might only see the great job title, perks and everything you’ve already invested in your career; but not understand your personal experience of the challenges and pain in your situation (fun fact: I told some people I was going on maternity leave (even though I don’t have children) because it felt more acceptable than saying I’m stepping back from my career with no firm plan.)

As a rule of thumb or heuristic, ‘career crisis’ is a healthy ‘trauma response’ when it allows you to question and examine your position on the following:

- Work culture

- Direction in life

- Impact on the environment

- Implications for mental wellbeing

- Widening inequality and limited diversity

- Destruction of the human social fabric

- Anything that doesn’t feel quite right to your intuition

In summary, questioning the impact of an organisation’s operations on you, the workforce you’re part of and beyond is generally healthy. It maintains good governance.

If this healthy response is suppressed by the culture, then you’re dealing with super-toxicity (the operations are problematic + questioning of the operations is suppressed). If nothing changes, over time, you’re left with anxiety and physical symptoms to solve as an individual problem that is actually systemic.

So if you’re asking some of the above questions and labelled as going through a ‘career crisis’, you can simply respond by saying that you’re experiencing healthy trauma i.e. a normal response to an abnormal environment.

Have a great week,


p.s. Everyone's short on time these days...Does that mean you can't have transformational coaching conversations? Absolutely not. Join us for a fast and fun Speedcoaching session at the RSA and sharpen your ability to be present, insightful and connected. Create shifts with colleagues and loved ones within moments. Free registration here >>

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