A few months ago, I presented a workshop on Work Life Integration to a group of Human Resources professionals. A woman contacted me afterward and said that as I was talking about negative emotional stress and its impact on our bodies, a light went on in her head: she's been getting sick over and over again, and she realized that it's due to working in an extremely toxic work environment. This isn't the first time I've heard a story like hers; recently, I was working with two women who had horrifying tales to tell about working under a boss whom many people might consider a sociopath. They were clearly suffering - they exhibited signs of severe burnout, and I hate to think about what that job is doing to their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Stories like these make my blood boil. They make me want to march into that sociopathic boss's office and invoke a serious ruckus. Even recalling their stories, my stomach is in knots, my chest feels puffed, and there's a probably a vein in my forehead about to burst. UGH.
Now, I get it, "hurt people hurt people" and all of that - I'm married to a clinical social worker who lovingly reminds me that people act out of unresolved pain. BUT STILL. That doesn't give them a right to abuse and degrade the people that work for them, and there's no reason any of us should tolerate treatment like that - especially when we're voluntarily employed.
If, for some reason, you don't feel ready to leave a toxic work environment, I can offer one guaranteed way to help limit the damage it's going to cause you: energy bubbling.
You know how we jokingly refer to our "personal bubbles"? How some people have small bubbles and they like to get all up in your business, and others have big, wide ones, and they stand five feet away from you as they talk? It turns out, those bubbles are real! We each have a flexible, fluid energetic bubble that surrounds our bodies. Before you scoff and say this is all hippy-dippy nonsense, let me tell you a story to help illustrate:
Last year, I took a self-defense class with some girlfriends, and one of the exercises that the teachers had us do was to partner up with someone across the room. One of us would act like an oncoming attacker walking up while the other would be the potential victim. As the "attacker" walked toward us, they told the "victims" to emit the most forceful, solid boundary we could, without moving, without saying anything, just through our looks and the energy we gave off.
The differences in the various "bubbles" we were each giving off was pretty palpable. When I played the attacker, my partner's bubble felt very strong, even from far across the room. If I had actually wanted to attack her, I probably would have changed my mind. Other people, however, didn't seem to know how to emit that "don't f*ck with me" energy - their boundaries felt less solid. This stuff is real, and it's easy to see once you start to pay attention to it!
One of the best, most effective ways to protect yourself from toxic emotional garbage that people sling at you throughout your day is to enforce your bubble.
To do this, just start to play around with imagining your bubble. What color is it? Is it transparent, or opaque? Is it squishy, or firm? Are there holes anywhere? Ideally, your boundary (or bubble) should surround all sides of you, front and back, left and right. It may be more open and fluid with those you feel most safe with, and it might be like titanium when you're around that jerk at the office.
If you want to take it to the next level, you can use your hands to physically reinforce your bubble - pretend like you're drawing it down all over you. Imagine it reinforced throughout your day, and if you're getting emotionally assaulted at work, envision all of those stupid little bullets just bouncing gently off of your bubble and back onto the floor. For an awesome guide to doing this, check out this 8-minute tutorial by Julianna Ricci.
Another benefit of being aware of and reinforcing your energy bubble is that it also keeps in what is yours, and therefore your "stuff" is less likely to spill onto those around you. By taking care of your boundaries, you ensure that you're only keeping the emotional baggage that is actually yours - you're not picking up whatever Desperate Diane is putting off across the room, and you're not oozing anything onto her, either. You each keep what you're dealing with, plain and simple.
I know this might sound weird, but trust me - it works. People with enforced energy bubbles don't pick up toxicity as easily, they protect their health, and they're more able to give off energy that is solely uplifting to others.
I would really encourage you to try this, whether you're in a toxic work environment or not. Enforcing our boundaries is a skill that we all need to develop if we're going to stay healthy amidst unhealthy people. In the words of Ice Cube, which came to me multiple times while writing this post:
"chiggity-check yo self before you wreck yo self."
If you're into this energy stuff, you might check out Donna Eden's groundbreaking work, Energy Medicine.
Know someone who needs a better bubble? Send this their way!