Saving Your Soul – Keeping your Soul Alive in a Toxic Culture – Part 2

culture perspectives Jul 06, 2016

The manager was brought in as a change agent, to instil a can-do attitude. Within three months, he resembled the cynicism and resistance of the culture he’d been brought in to change.


The sad truth is that most people working in a toxic organisational culture subtly perpetuate the very culture they dislike. They do this by either accepting/being silent in the face of toxic behavior, or adopting and practicing toxic behavior.


The long-term effect of this on the individual is low self-value, poor health and burn out. The wider impact is that the toxicity in the culture is cemented rather than challenged and changed, affecting everyone who works in or interacts with the organisation.


There is also a bottom line cost to shareholders through cost to productivity, innovation, retention, and almost all other metrics that over the long term are impacted.


If you are to continue to work in a toxic environment, the questions become:

  • How do I stay engaged?
  • How do I remain myself and not become what I dislike about the culture?
  • How do I look after myself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?
  • Do I stay as a change agent or leave for self-preservation?


To survive a toxic culture, self-care becomes critical, including and especially the care of the soul. Caring for your soul begins with being aware of what ethics and values you hold sacred. What is truly important to you, and what are the lines you are not prepared to cross?


What choices do you need to make in order to stay in alignment with these ethics and values? When we stay true to deepest selves, we take care of our souls. When we forget/neglect/override/ignore our ethics and values, often mental or physical illness is not far away. There are a number of practises that can help us to care for the soul on a daily basis. The following practices are those our clients have found the most useful:


Daily self-reflection
Find a time in your day that allows you space for contemplation. This is often best done before going to sleep at night. You may like to include these questions to guide your reflection:

  • Where did I practise my values today? Reflect on specific examples. What did I lose/gain through practising my values?
  • What could I have done better today, to take care of myself? What impact would these different choices have made to myself and others?
  • What is one thing I did or said today that I can be proud of?
  • How did I feel about what happened today (good, bad or ugly)?


Emotional management
In a toxic culture, we are likely to have more emotional ups and downs as we find our values and resilience tested. Acknowledging emotions is essential in order not to become beholden to them. For example, anger is neither good nor bad. However, if we become beholden to anger we may not be in control of our responses. Acknowledging anger allows us to harness its energy constructively.


Often we attribute meanings to particular events and can get caught in the emotions of the stories we make up. Albert Ellis developed the ABCDE method to help people provide perspective. A is the activating event, B is the beliefs we have about this event, and C is the consequences of holding those beliefs. D is disputation; the opportunity is to look at alternative possible beliefs or meanings to those that we default to. By disputing our default narrative, we open ourselves up to many other possibilities. We then assess the (E) effect of disputation; how do we feel now that we have considered other possible interpretations?


Physical Care
Care of the soul takes more energy in a toxic culture than a positive one. It therefore becomes more important to take care of your body and mind to give you the energy to “fight the good fight”. You will maintain and even develop the capacity to think critically, rather than accept the status quo.


In some toxic cultures, people notice they put on weight or lose fitness after joining the organisation. Often people stay up worrying or find their sleep disturbed. Other people binge eat or drink. In order to mitigate against these, it is important to support your physical body through regular and nutritious meals, exercise, relaxation and good quality sleep.


Your nightly reflection ritual, as well as a mechanism for taking care of your soul, should also enable you to put aside what has happened during the day. You will have a replenishing sleep and wake up fresh the next morning.


When your soul is cared for and you are supported with strong physical vitality, your mind can be clearer and more accurately able to perceive right from wrong. This can support you in staying true to your values and ethics through your behavior.


Building a supportive network
Another support can be through relationships with strong and soulful people who can offer you their perspectives on the culture, and your actions and choices within it. Having trusted relationships where you can observe the system objectively has three key benefits:


You do not allow your perspective to become influenced by the culture
You can safely share your concerns and frustrations
You help others to take care of their souls by assisting them to perceive more clearly what is happening and to remember to stay true to their ethics and values

This can be a difficult journey. You may need to continue to behave in a contrary manner to that of the dominant toxic culture. You can also build incredible strength and intrinsic confidence through staying true to what you believe is important.



In the first article in this series, we considered how to identify and navigate through a toxic culture. This article has considered how we look after ourselves through this process. The next article in the series explores what we can actually do to change the culture and help our organisations release the toxicity.

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