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What an Organisational Merger Can Feel Like in the Absence of Safety to Change – Part 2.

Lana chats about her traumatic experience in the workplace in part 1 here.

Lana notes the timeline of her experience across a three year period.

“It was more than a year to find what I was looking for, and I am very happy now. It feels soothing in a safe way. I feel like I get to contribute. I am so grateful to feel like part of a team again. There was an awful lot of suspicion on my side during that process, and this emphasises the trauma I felt in my previous work environment. It took me a while to come out of that (suspicion into trust) even though someone had been able to help me.”

There are misconceptions we may have about the workplace: 1) business isn’t personal, and 2) people should not be emotional at work. These ideas may have come about initially to protect ourselves. However, separating our emotional state about work or workplace difficulties on a continual basis can lead to a lack of consideration, alignment and connectedness in business dealings. Our emotional, physical and spiritual states are present with us everywhere we go – in fulfilling our work and in being our whole selves. 

I asked Lana about what she hasn’t yet mentioned about her experience.

“I felt like I was part of a highly successful organisation that I was proud of. And we were all doing our best. I felt like that was so giving, and so fulfilling. And I felt like I could bring 100% of myself to work every day and I loved it. Right now, I feel like I couldn’t let go of that, and I got hurt. I’m not sure what words to use around that. I’d like to see that again, and help myself around that again. If I am able to trust that much again… at the moment I can trust my new organisation and there is space around it. The integration, cooperation, and co-creation is less in my current organisation, and that is healthy for me right now. Somehow I feel like I need that now as part of my mending process. What is hard for me is that I loved bringing 100% of myself to work – I loved it so much. I felt like I was growing to such a degree that was so fulfilling. Now I have a trepidation and a distrust of that, and its something I grieve about. Sometimes I am hiding in my body, and in my thoughts.

I am so grateful for my community and my family now and the love I feel. I wish it was possible to talk about, even in incredibly successful organisations where creative and intelligent, flourishing people are, about how we can look after each other: ‘Whats a red card, whats a yellow card, what is out of bounds, and how can I help myself know what that is for me, and for others. I really want that for me – something that we can be ourselves in’. Those ‘rules of the game’ is what I’ve been seeking, to wrap myself around again. I have so many ideas about it – the cultural and emotional context. All these aspects that I felt supported us, and then contributed to the falling pieces of the building or the tsunami I experienced. All of these aspects I still think about in making sense of the three years of re-organisation. There is an enormous amount of material and experience in that. I believe I can benefit myself in a shared dialogue for improvement that happens. When we talk and listen to each other we can move forward differently. I have a lot to talk about, and I am curious as to what I say and how I say it. I am still figuring it out. I feel like that still contributes to my trauma. The scab has broken off but the wound is still tender. I am unsure I can say how long it takes to have perspective. It has unfolded enormously in six months to a year because I’ve been able to let go – both where I am and who I am working with. To support myself in different ways in which I can be 100% myself.

The thing that is interesting is that if I think back on the ‘glory days’ I feel there was extra energy for me to be myself in and outside of work too. It was so fulfilling for me. Certainly I’m older so maybe my recipe has changed. What I want to feel is healed and whole around it. I want to be able to look at my communications and expectations with more generosity and understanding of myself, and I want to be able to say ‘anybody that is willing to listen, these are our top ten learnings’. I don’t expect to be able to do that with anybody I was working with or key actors in the challenge – I have to do that for myself first. I am grateful to be able to talk about this now because I can really feel my sticking points. Being able to let go is very important – it was the key factor for me. What I had invested in was not available at that moment, so let go, and to recognise that is the wisdom I have from today. I was so tenacious – that supported my trauma. I believed what we could be and had been working towards was gone. It was like I had my teeth clenched around it and that was being ripped away. That was a dream – an amazing and magnificent one. Emotionally, to be able to dream with confidence and joy, and to brave the feeling of loss in letting go, that’s the bridge I’m working on for myself.”

“When it started (the merger) I can see how different people had different ways of dealing with it. I could see a lot of people had entrenched anger. Things had been stolen in a way. I could see all kinds of behaviour that means big things are going on. Dramatic changes right, left and centre. The diversity in the workplace in the way we all worked together was also demonstrated in the diversity of coping mechanisms. I am glad for that, and it was possible for everyone to use. A lot of people I am not in contact with. It’s like the closeness isn’t available now. We had to let go. There are people on the periphery that I can talk to now, and to some degree that’s amazing. Toward the last year I was stepping in and out – it was just a short while ago. Normally that is quite a while, but this event still stays with me – it needs some chewing. It’s like I need to let it go far enough away so that I can look at it. Today its almost like its still where my eyes and heart can’t focus. My brain thinks  it can and my gut knows it can’t. “

I ask Lana about any resources she had available around her in making sense of how this experience was affecting her.

“There was a point that the medical advisor in the workplace suggested I go to an emergency psychologist at a local health clinic. That amazed me. I had been working with this medical advisor for some years and I had a large degree of trust with this person. After I was convinced by another doctor I did go. The amazing doctor I met there said that my feel good hormones were completely gone and my body needed some help. She put me on meds for five months. It made a world of difference. I haven’t spoken with anyone about other diagnosis like PTSD and I’m not aware of it so much. I can say that in my new job, the first month I was absorbing everything I could – like in 6th gear about how does everyone work, who makes decisions, is anyone trying to knife each other in the back. I felt like I needed to talk myself down every day to get through the day and manage to start the new week again. Its a really peaceful environment and I haven’t found anything trying to sabotage another, or to make themselves look good, which is what I found in the old organisation when the dream was dissipating. Certainly in the organisation that took over (merger) it was a survival tactic so that everyone could survive. The idea to live and thrive was not entirely available. Things were just a little bit too complex for there not to be someone to blame at some point. That doesn’t sound like I am outside the landscape of post traumatic stress though I feel the new place is safe. To some degree that means I am ok. There are still triggers that spike me. There are still people that I used to work with that I have a great respect for, and I love them dearly in terms of what they did even though we’re not able to work together anymore. I’ve done some reading about moving through things with gratitude, and to let go, and those are great tools for me. I feel like I am rebuilding myself. I am more aware of what that is and how I do that. Its interesting to focus in on that with a greater sense of understanding and investment.”

Without acknowledgment that things are indeed traumatic and troubling, we can be less discerning about the environment, and attribute the chaos to our own internal landscape. This can take a long time to unwind from or start to form part of our life narrative. Developing oneself can bring perspective back to the situation, and an understanding of what can be done and how to talk about it in future.

I ask Lana about what helped her through this period.

“What has helped me is sleeping and finding meaning. The first one is because of how I function – if I can sleep I can process and there is calm. I have people around me that I depend on. I have people around me that are so loving and very strong so I can sleep when I need to sleep. Finding meaning is about appreciation and gratitude for the people that can help me, and also for noting that it’s about taking one step at a time. One step forward. I don’t need to have a plan. I love to plan and have a long term horizon. In this period of time I need to let go of that, and find out what makes sense and meaning each time. Coaching has really helped me as a framework for how to accept ourselves as naturally creative, resourceful and whole; and as a toolbox for how to jump into that together. There’s a frame of safety and stability and at the same time allows for exploration, and gives a responsibility to both coach and client. There is not an expectation that the coach will give the client answers. There is a partnership there. There is a lot of freedom there. In my previous organisation I had expected that others would take responsibility for themselves and others. So the coaching framework brings a brilliant framework around it. What are we, as human beings, able to lift together? There is an agreement around the ways of working – that’s so helpful for me. The people I have in my life now, friends, family and previous work colleagues, this parameter of: what is it I take responsibility for? And what is it I have to talk about? Is there an agreement there? That sort of testing has helped enormously. That is a natural order for me now and how I work. What are my ways of working? And what is it now with three or four people together? And how do I regulate that? The idea that I am naturally creative, resourceful and whole means that even when I am hurting I am still whole. This phrase has been helpful for me. I am incredibly grateful for the coaching team to have taught me this. I am grateful for those who have shared their spirituality with me. I am grateful for this amazing world, nature, the universe, any name I can put on it – I am grateful for what is bigger than me. I am still moving through it. Part of moving through it is about not being distracted by fear, or consumed by the pain. An example was that there were some people very high in the organisation who had been making decisions that showed me that it made sense – it has brought incredible gratitude for helping me make sense. I can see there was space for that, and gives me the understanding there was not ill will in this. That understanding of each other as people is helpful and one of the ways I make meaning. Its part of our evolving and growing. Finding ways to be able to be better to ourselves and each other in all ways”.

Lana’s description here is a testament to what many people at work value and want to work towards – connection, appreciation, care for self and others, space and freedom for creative problem solving. Having useful framing and discussion tools can help enormously through periods of change.

For organisations what’s beneficial about Lana’s account is her personal experience of what change can feel like. It’s a message that any organisational development and change needs a level of connection to navigate and co-create. It’s a balance between organisational performance, sustainability and individuals needs.

For organisations, we have a holistic framework to support in understanding this balance and using it to adjust organisational systems and processes that allow for individuals to thrive: https://www.patriciainezmeiring.com/frameworks/organisational-development-consultant-london/ .

For individuals who want to create greater alignment for themselves, have a look at this online personal development course: https://www.patriciainezmeiring.com/training/online-masterclass-2/

If you’re a company and would like training for your employees on resilience, wellbeing, and mental health we also have an offering: https://www.patriciainezmeiring.com/enterprise/

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