The Rise of Career Psychosocial Stress (Not To Be Confused With “Trauma”)

Psychosocial Trauma

The DSM-5 (the psychology bible of ailments and classifications) defines trauma as actual or threatened death, physical injury, or sexual violence. You won’t see a job loss or being demeaned at work (not even for a decade) classified as “trauma.” However, after career coaching for decades, I want to call a spade a spade.

Your income (and in the U.S. healthcare) is critical to your life. Otherwise, what sane person would work in a role they do not like if it were not critical to his or her life. Also, according to some stats out there, 87% of those employed don’t like their jobs.

So think about this: when you are navigating through a corporate “scare” such as a sudden job loss or being overlooked multiple times for a promotion. Have you ever viscerally felt threatened? Many of us have cried at such a loss. Several of us have been left emotionally scarred. For many (I’m positive) being let go has had them running for more psychotropic meds. Is it possible that a psychosocial threat at work could feel as traumatic as a physical one? If that’s not the case, then why would a boost in meds help? Just something to consider.

You may have been scarred if you can’t bring yourself to apply to a job for fear of another sh*t boss (or another tumultuous political arena). Too many professionals continue to carry those scars and mentally check out in their careers.

You may limit the definition of death to physical yet mentally if your body is in the office yet your mind and heart are turned off then how is this not a trauma worth healing too?

This is where I have come to realize is the best way I can serve my clients. Every single client has turned to me during a job search moment. It has been during a job search when most otherwise successful professionals have come to feel the most vulnerable, unseen, and jaded. Again, why is there no such thing as career trauma? I digress. Most corporate professionals want to think that masking their hurts is a sustainable strategy. Several can get away with it because coming up with smart interview answers and outsourcing resumes feel productive. However, the reality is that something always gives. Bearing the effects of such stress seeps into a myriad of life choices. Is this conscious? Not always. It requires probing questions.

It is possible to unlock the root cause of why you can’t bring yourself to apply to a job. There is more than meets the eye when an industry veteran refuses to share a thought on social media because they don’t feel like a thought leader. Similarly, I can tell that some big stressor must have happened in someone’s career, when they will not talk to strangers to network or ultimately ask for help. It’s never been about not having the right words. It’s been often about not feeling confident that they are worthy of being helped.

What’s required to get at the root cause of any resistance, avoidance, self-sabotage when it comes to designing your ideal career? You must be open to being asked deep questions by someone who is outside of the “system.” I can write a million words on the art of asking questions. Yet, I’ll leave that soliloquy to another day. Realize that candor matters more than corporate courtesies when it comes to breathing life into a hurt professional. It takes being asked tougher questions to unearth the moments that informed how small you should play in your career as well as how big.

You have a range and chances are that range has felt inelastic for a long time. The range of what was possible for you in your career may have been limited by a wrist-slap moment for stepping on the toes of a boss or during a traumatic performance review. Or, you may have been sued for biting off more than you should have. I have heard it all. These “stressful” events have forced ambitious professionals to step out of the system to rebuild themselves. Did you know that?

Back to my point: the way your “career range of possibilities” ends up shackling you during a job search is varied. You may never apply for a people leader role ever because someone once told you that you lacked business acumen. This comment could be haunting you for decades. Otherwise, you may only apply to roles in one sector because the last time you attempted to break into your ideal sector you came up short. You got a contract gig. You end up feeling like maybe you weren’t good enough for a full-time role. This occurrence could be holding you in contract limbo for years. You can hide all of this in a strategically written resume. Actually,…

I’ve seen miraculously creative ways of sugarcoating these “psychosocial stresses.” One way is keeping a decade-old picture as a LinkedIn profile picture (because a fool once alluded to your age). Another is a voice tremble accompanied by a “perfect” job interview answer because a job candidate had been fired (not let go).

Yet, what I have come to believe is that the only way for a kind-hearted professional to ever grow exponentially in his or her career is never just saying/writing the right words.

It’s about adequately addressing the root cause of their low-confidence, self-esteem, and lack of self-trust.

All of this rests in us treating career psychosocial stresses as thoughtfully as the traumas that are defined by the DSM-5.

As a caveat, I want to say that I am not making light of the traumas as defined by the DSM-5. I can speak with confidence that those traumas are atrocities. What I am saying is that you can put lipstick on a pig every day including Sunday yet beneath it all there will still be a juicy pork chop.

Said differently, it’s impossible to show up as the best version of yourself if you continue to ignore the psychosocial stresses that are at the helm of your career (life) choices.

If you want to reach your fullest potential and stretch the range of your career possibilities by addressing the root cause (s) of your career limitations then hop on a breakthrough session today. The best time to uncover and address what is behind your resistance, anxiety, or stress is in between jobs.

But, no DSM-5, let’s not include a threat to our livelihood similarly to the threat of our lives. Yes, I have opted to pepper in some sarcasm here.

Let’s just see some stats. The average human works 1/3 of their lives and uses coping mechanisms to numb himself or herself to get through 2/3 day. How is this not worthy of its own traumatic designation when I’ve seen these things get in the way of good people from actually living their lives? Nope, let’s not heal “work stresses” as we would physical threats. Why not keep up with the shenanigans of drafting strong resumes and expressing polished interview answers in pursuit of roles that don’t lift our hearts? It’s worked for hundreds of years. We have the meds to treat anything, anyway. This last point is not a testament to whether meds work or not. Nor whether they are correct or not. The point is that something is off when damaging situations are left unaddressed as if they are just “stresses” you can easily shake off. Tell this to anyone who endured a workplace (for which they sacrificed) that spit them out like a fishbone.

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Melissa Llarena

Melissa Llarena is an author, imagination coach, consultant, speaker, and contributor to ForbesWomen articles that have garnered 4 million + views. She is also the host of Unimaginable Wellness, the podcast for entrepreneurs, founders, and creators who are also moms. Featured guests include GaryVee and Beth Comstock. Melissa holds a psychology degree from New York University, an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and a Transformational Coaching Academy certificate. She is training to become a meditation practitioner. Melissa lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and three sons. Visit

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