Undoing the damage of a toxic work environment

I recently left a company where the environment was extremely toxic. Management had a group of favorites, and anyone outside the inner circle could quickly become a target. There was absolutely no trust among the staff. Because our behavior was constantly scrutinized, I never dared to voice an opinion about anything.

Fortunately, my new company has a totally different culture, with managers who are encouraging and helpful. However, I can't seem to get over my previous experience. I frequently feel paranoid and find it difficult to trust anyone. How can I forget the past and become a normal employee?

The aftermath of working in a toxic organization can be similar to post-traumatic stress. Many people carry the emotional baggage to their next workplace, where fear-based reactions can easily damage new relationships and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. So you need to fix this problem as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, you have already taken the first step towards recovery by recognizing that your self-protective impulses are no longer rational or necessary. Next, you can begin to modify your behavior by identifying the specific situations which trigger your anxiety. This will allow you to decide in advance on a healthier response.

If you have helpful and trustworthy colleagues, you might even consider requesting some feedback, without elaborating on your earlier troubles.

For example: "One thing I really love about this company is the emphasis on teamwork. In my last job, collaboration was actually discouraged, and everyone operated independently. Now I'm learning to be a team player, so if I can improve, please let me know."

Altering established patterns can be tough. But if you become more open and trusting, your colleagues are likely to respond in kind, thereby reinforcing your new behaviors. Before long, you should begin to feel more comfortable in this warm and supportive environment.

I recently got in trouble for playing a game on my cellphone. In the business club where I work, maintaining a professional image is extremely important. While working the registration table at a club event, I began playing the game during a slow period. One of our managers saw me and immediately emailed my boss.

Although I know my behavior was unprofessional, I believe this manager was out to get me. If he was so concerned about the club's image, he could have spoken to me personally and told me to put away the phone. Should I talk to my boss about the manager's hostile attitude?

The only thing you should tell your boss is the game-playing was inappropriate and will never happen again. Criticizing the guy who reported you would just make a bad situation worse.

Correctly or not, this manager apparently felt contacting your boss was preferable to approaching you directly. Instead of overreacting, put aside your resentment and just regard this incident as a valuable lesson learned.

Marie G. McIntyre, is a workplace coach. Follow her on Twitter@officecoach.