Are you stuck in toxic patterns at work?

Catherine Andrews
5 min readAug 17, 2023

If so, here’s how to release them

I hope you are having a beautiful week, and are spending some time using and activating your voice, as I wrote about earlier this week.

I’m here today with a lesson on inquiry around toxic work patterns, which is something I see holding many highly sensitive people and empaths back in their workplaces — and surprisingly, most of the time they don’t even realize it.

But this is very common. All we need is a bit of self-inquiry, some compassion, some awareness and observation, and then to make the choice to act differently.

So where can we start?

First, I highly encourage you to read therapist Annie Wright’s excellent essays on the topic, Am I recreating my trauma in my worklife?

And part two, How do I NOT recreate my own personal trauma in my work life?

Wright notes that, “Our work lives can serve as stark mirrors and powerful portals.” She continues:

“Your work-life is excellent ‘grist for the personal growth mill’ — what do I mean by this? Essentially, it can provide excellent material, insight, and knowledge for your personal growth and development if you approach it consciously. For example, whatever your personal issues are, whatever the unresolved impacts of your relational trauma history are — the beliefs you have about money, yourself, your self-worth, your ability to set boundaries, your ability to have healthy assertive conversations and tolerate conflict and being disliked, etc — all of it is going to show up (particularly as you advance in your career) providing you with an opportunity to be curious and conscious about whether or not those beliefs, behaviors, and patterns are working quite so well for you.”

For example, do you find yourself consistently in jobs where you are fighting to prove your worth to a boss, or in conflict/disrespect with that boss?

Or judging a peer who consistently seems to get more recognition than you, even though you believe they don’t deserve it quite as much as you do?

Or maybe you’ve burned out at every single job you’ve had — you had hoped when you changed jobs, each time, the burnout would stop, but it never did.

These are unresolved trauma patterns that play out unconsciously in the workplace, and these are the three patterns I see most commonly in my HSP clients (though there are others, of course).

One wonderful tool for learning to see if you are stuck in any unhelpful patterns at work is the Drama Triangle. This is a model of dysfunctional social interactions and illustrates a power game that involves three roles: Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor, each role representing a common and ineffective response to conflict.

Watch this video to gain a better understanding of how these dynamics play out, or read this worksheet for an example of how this can play out in the workplace.

I often find that HSPs in the workplace are either in the Victim or Rescuer mode, which keeps us from accessing our power, agency and authenticity.

The good news is that, once we step into awareness of any maladaptive patterns we have in the workplace, the workplace and our leadership is actually a wonderful place to heal from these behaviors and choose to do differently.

So how do we go about that?

1. First is simple mindfulness. Commit to observing yourself in the workplace for a couple of weeks without judgment or meaning-making. Jot down notes, especially during times when you find yourself activated, emotional, or in a dysregulated nervous system. What triggered those activations? Who was involved? How did the exchanges play out?

2. Then ask yourself, are these types of interactions common in your current job, and have they been common across several jobs? That’s a great clue to know that this is a pattern that may stem from unconscious patterns, beliefs and behaviors you hold personally.

3. Third is to ask yourself honestly and with compassion, why you might be stuck in patterns like this? Was there a situation in your childhood or upbringing where you felt you had to prove your worth, or take care of somebody else, or whatever the case may be, and could that unconsciously be playing out in the workplace today?

4. The fourth is to choose healing of these past wounds that are contributing to these unhelpful patterns of today.

And that is what we’ll be doing beautiful and deep work on in the Highly Sensitive Person Leadership Academy.

Through inner child and shadow healing work, we will identify unhelpful patterns, coach ourselves through healing them, and from this place of recovered wholeness, be able to step powerfully into our authentic leadership.

Modules in HLA that will deal with this topic:

  • Understanding “conscious leadership” and leadership as a portal for self-growth and integrity
  • Connecting with and empowering your inner child as a leader
  • Healing from workplace trauma to lead from wholeness
  • Discovering our “shadow guide” in the workplace to heal our wounds

When we lead from wholeness, the benefits are so many:

  • We get triggered less in the workplace
  • We have better boundaries
  • Our workplace relationships improve
  • Confidence improves and we doubt ourselves less
  • We’re able to communicate more openly and honestly, and we fear and avoid conflict less
  • We respect others more and in turn they respect us authentically too
  • We don’t feel a need to prove ourselves from low-self worth, but instead from doing good work that creates impact
  • We feel calmer, happier and more grounded every day

Earlybird enrollment to HLA opens September 5th and when you enroll off of this waitlist, you get a $250 discount on the cost of the course.

I hope whether or not you join us in HLA, you’ll take some time to consciously reflect on what’s going on for you in leadership or the workplace and why that might be — and then find the resources to help you navigate it, because you deserve to feel present, happy and whole, in the workplace and beyond.



PS: Don’t forget to mark off the dates for the Highly Sensitive Person Leadership Summit! September 5, 6, and 7th, 8pmET each night. Replays are provided and you do NOT have to be on-camera or participate at all, I won’t be putting anybody on the spot. You can simply show up to listen, take notes and learn.

PPS: In the next couple of weeks our final essays will be around using your menstrual cycle (or nature, if you don’t have a cycle) at work, and overcoming impostor syndrome. Stay tuned, and definitely send me any questions on these topics you might like to hear more about!



Catherine Andrews

Teaching awakening + healing through vulnerability + self-compassion. Finding hope in a messy world. Author of the Sunday Soother.