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Healing From a Toxic Work Environment

Tareasa “Reesa Teesa” Johnson has taken the internet by storm with her 50+ part TikTok series “Who TF Did I Marry.” While her experience has caught the attention of millions, it’s not lost on me that her newfound virality and success still came at an incredible loss to her. 

Yet, and still, she rises. Johnson just signed with CAA, one of the top talent agencies in the world, and has been featured in The Cut and on The Tamron Hall Show. Speculations of a potential movie or series about her story continue to swirl. 

Black women smiles, caption says in Austin, Texas with a Netflix logo in the upper right hand corner

I see Johnson’s story as an example of living life after a traumatic experience, the necessity of sharing your truth, and finding power through your pain. It’s one that I believe many Black folks, and especially Black women, can learn from as they recover from traumatic and racially abusive experiences in the workplace. 

If you’ve been tapped into our blog for the last few months, you know we’ve written extensively about the impacts of White supremacist culture on the mental, physical, and emotional health of Black folks. We know now that workplace-induced PTSD, anxiety, and depression are very real things, but since they’re so common, what can Black folks actually do to heal from the painful experiences they’ve had to endure? 

Accept that healing is not linear. 

Healing is not a final stop or end destination to anticipate. While we can change the way we feel about an experience, that is a process that comes with time, support, compassion and grace. 

I have coached women of color who have started new jobs after finally leaving a toxic working environment. The company name and supervisor may change, and they may even feel excited about their new opportunity — but for many, it’s still hard to shake the feeling of the other shoe getting ready to drop at any moment or bracing for the worst. 

Recovering from a traumatic work experience means accepting that healing will take time. There may be triggers in your new working environment that raise difficult emotions and memories within you. Practicing mindfulness techniques, a spiritual practice or being engaged with community can support you in the inevitable ebbs and flows that healing brings. 

Get the support that you need. 

Community and a strong network are keys to having a successful career and healing from a toxic work environment. Having mentors and coaches, you can count on to process your experiences can help you to see yourself in a different light and reclaim your sense of self-worth. 

Seeking the support of a licensed mental health professional can also help in recovering from a toxic and traumatic work experience. Processing and openly talking through experiences with anxiety, depression, and painful memories can allow you to regain your confidence and self-esteem and feel empowered again. 

For Companies: Build A Culture of Trust and Support 

Black professionals face immense pressure to conform in the workplace and present as chipper and poised. But over time, wearing that mask can become draining. 

Working in an environment with a high level of trust frees employees to share more about their past toxic work experiences, should they choose to, and create a new and more positive work experience. 

Providing employees with coverage including mental health support and coaching are simple tools that demonstrate to your team that they are seen, valued and cared for. 

Reesa Teesa shows us that healing and thriving after a traumatic experience is possible. An effective DEI strategy should take into account that many people on your team, and especially women of color, are likely carrying a toxic work experience with them. Equitable, inclusive and kind workplace practices are necessary in our collective healing journeys. 

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