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Toxic workplaces and dysfunctional patterns

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Life always offers us opportunities to gain insights & positive learnings.. even in the most stressful situations.

My journey over the last 12 or so months has shifted my understanding of how we operate in the world. I’m not a fan of blaming & labelling as I think we’re ultimately just trying to survive in the world, and behaviour can be adversely affected by unconscious beliefs that we try to compensate for.

This typically shows up when we’ve been triggered in some way, resulting in people going into a dysfunctional pattern that is automatic and often unconscious. It's a bit like a virus on a computer causing havoc to any file it's linked to.

Workplace conflict is a great opportunity to see how this plays out & how it can contribute to toxic behaviour & culture.

Perhaps someone didn’t get the promotion they were going for so unconsciously they feel powerless (likely confirming a believe they hold), so they engage in behaviour aimed at undermining the successful incumbent to make them feel powerful instead. For example, not responding to reasonable requests made by the new incumbent, going above them when applying for leave and laughing at them whenever they ask questions to clarify and gain understanding in the new role.

Perhaps that person then goes further into their dysfunctional pattern by spending hours trying to convince others in the team and outside of it, of their negative views about the new incumbent to again try to feel powerful in this situation. This includes manipulating stories to make others question the competence and integrity of the new incumbent, and general gossiping and rumour spreading. This kind of behaviour is an attempt to collude with others (getting support) and has the ability to influence others' perceptions, and again is aimed at helping resolve the aggrieved persons unconscious (or conscious) belief they are powerless.

Perhaps one of the people in the team whom they get along with, becomes an active audience for the aggrieved person and so their conversations primarily start revolving around stories regarding the new incumbent. The aim is to gain support and influence the team member to also believe the new incumbent is incompetent and (insert other undermining names here)..

Perhaps the influenced person hasn’t got the emotional maturity to discern what is actually going on, and with no attempt to question the information being shared they instead, blindly accept it as the 'truth'. This also resolves her underlying belief that she doesn't belong, as this collusion makes her feel closer to the aggrieved person who now feels more like a 'friend' than a team member, and she then starts separating from the new incumbent in an attempt to project / displace the 'I don't belong' feeling to someone else (us versus them).

This further drives the influenced persons behaviour and reactions, and from this perception of separation and fear, they start looking for evidence to support their views (confirmation bias). That influenced person now starts their own dysfunctional pattern based on their new perceived reality of fear and threat, they change their communication style with the new incumbent, create a conflict during a meeting, and refuse to talk to try to resolve it. This situation drives the story created by the influenced person, fuelled by the aggrieved person, and even more so with the continued colluding between them. Their behaviour becomes more challenging towards the incumbent so a meeting occurs with the influenced persons previous supervisor in an attempt to understand what happened. This results in them going into an extreme overreaction and actively attacking the incumbent calling the person a’liar & manipulator’. The situation deteriorates dramatically. Meanwhile the original aggrieved person feels justified and powerful.

Perhaps the person who won the acting up role who is understandably hurt by this verbal attack goes into a dysfunctional pattern of thinking ‘why me?’ and starts trying to make sense of the situation, concluding it is perhaps confirmation that there is something wrong with them, they don’t belong, and are not good enough to do this role. They may also at the same time recognise the dynamics contributing to others behaviour but if the former is stronger than the latter, this will trigger a range of thoughts (ie: self-doubt, worthless) and feelings (ie: fear, unsafe) that are linked to the unconscious (or conscious) beliefs the person holds. These will influence how the person responds or reacts to this situation (part of their dysfunctional pattern).

Perhaps the manager who this was reported to by the incumbent (in an attempt to initially seek advice and support to manage this situation) and was present for the meeting where the verbal attack occurred, doesn’t want to feel the discomfort associated with understanding & attempting to resolve this conflict so they create their own subjective story based on their previous working relationship with the aggrieved person and the influenced 'friend', and find it easier to simply decide the incumbent is to blame for the situation. From this perception, likely confirming a belief related to trust, they then contribute to the toxicity with blame towards the incumbent (stating to them after the verbal attack, 'well she did say she didn't want to talk about it') and inaction towards the aggrieved person who started the pattern with the undermining behaviour, and the influenced 'friend' who subsequently verbally attacked the incumbent.

The incumbent sees this unconsciously as more evidence they don’t belong, they’re not worthy of the role and there is something wrong with them. They retreat and go into 'victim mode' despite their intuition screaming at them this situation is toxic.

I could go on and on and of course the dynamics shift and change dependent on where each player decides to put their energy.. either....

Trying to resolve their unconscious beliefs by engaging in dysfunctional patterns.. (ie trying to make themselves feel powerful by making others feel powerless; or by getting defensive and attacking to 'get in first' to cause separation and to resolve a perception of fear and threat; or by going into a 'why me' story and retreating letting the feelings of self-doubt take over; or by trying to resolve the tension by assigning blame to the person that has spoken up, and supporting the people they know better, which keeps 'the peace' for them).


By remembering who they truly are and knowing their beliefs are not real, they’re just a structure aimed at keeping them safe but often in ways that are not helpful.

The only way to truly know is to be curious about these kind of situations... get awareness of your own patterns and triggers.... and get clear about your vision (what do you want instead).

Connect with your inner ‘golden Buddha’ / genius / higher self / goddess / authentic self... whatever you want to call it.. and keep switching to that every time you’re tempted to go back into dysfunction.. those old patterns that don’t serve you.. the stuff that keeps you stuck and responding or reacting from 'victim mode'.

I know this is challenging in reality but it can be done. It takes commitment and conscious effort. It's about breaking old unhelpful patterns and creating a new one, so it WILL feel uncomfortable, it WILL take time, and it is likely to feel like an emotional rollercoaster. And that's why having a coach to support you through this process can be super helpful.

If you need support responding consciously to a toxic workplace or situation & operating from your higher self, then book in for a free 30 minute consultation on the website

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