Corporate Stockholm Syndrome aka Work Related Psychological Trauma

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

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The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands, the ownership and control of their livelihoods, are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease. ~ Helen Keller

Unless you are a CEO, a professional athlete or a rock star, you will likely encounter the psychologically unhealthy work conditions that typify the average working American. With the economy heading towards unprecedented collapse a culture of avaricious materialistic consumerism is infiltrating corporate culture.

Despite fabricated labor stats unemployment is realistically estimated as over 20% (Michael Snyder, Global Research June 14, 2018) / “The Real Economic Numbers: 21.5 Percent Unemployment, 10 Percent Inflation and Negative Economic Growth”). There are more than 146 million Americans classified as “low income,” more than 100 million Americans enrolled in at least one federal welfare program, and tragically, an all time high in child homelessness. Governmental looting of pensions and savings has begun, devastating retirees and their surviving spouses while corporate moguls earn 380x more than the average wage earner. Minimum wage is not commensurate with inflation. Fiscal corruption is exonerated and in fact encouraged. We are stuck with a broken and corrupt healthcare industry . Hence, it is ignorant to think the absurdly wealthy will be justly taxed, while decreasing taxes on the middle and working classes.

Expecting a return for one’s efforts has sadly become a mythical pursuit for the average person. Employees are demoralized and are plagued by omnipresent fears of disposability. According to a Workplace Democracy Association/Zogby Interactive survey, 25 percent of Americans compare their workplace to a dictatorship. Accordingly, it’s not surprising that work related trauma is on the rise. In fact in this fiscal climate many of my psychotherapy clients are evidencing specific symptoms catalyzed by work environments akin to indentured servitude.

A number of clients I treat are victims of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome.

Corporate Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which employees feel pathologically beholden to their abusive employer.

Victims of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome are brainwashed to uphold corporate values of working long hours for less compensation, alienating workers who are not in compliance with excessive demands, and designating those who question authority as traitors.

For example, one of my clients recently began a new job in which she is denied a standard supervisory orientation. She is expected to have information and knowledge that has not been explained. This sink or swim mentality is dehumanizing and exhausting yet it’s normalization has catapulted her into a state of emotional distress and confusion. Another client is embroiled in such extreme work overload, that the possibility of a life outside of his job is obsolete. In fact, his colleague who requested time off to get married was actually subject to scrutiny by the corporate powers that be.

Unfortunately federal labor laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act don’t require that employers give their employees time off. Having to forfeit vacation time in order to get married may not be fair, but it is becoming a common reality in hostile work environments. In such environments intermittent promises of promotion, pay raise, and accolades are interspersed with hostility and indifference.

This sort of corporate culture is infused with ambient terror, sending the message that non-compliance will result in merciless demotions and terminations. The results in victims of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome feeling robbed of volition. They come to experience themselves as dependent on their employer for their very survival. They begin to question their reality and sense of worth and competence.

With the rapid diminishment of union influence and organizing, and the economic decline in contemporary America collective bargaining has become a near impossible feat. This gives the unethical employer the latitude to disregard the basic humanity of employees. The fulfillment of organizational goals at the expense of basic human respect produces a toxic chaotic work environment in which metabolic stress and psychological and physical illness occur.

With culturally sanctioned harassment and bullying on the increase it is imperative that victims of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome receive validation of their truth by a trusted witness, be it a peer or a clinician. Dismantling this toxic systematic indoctrination means identifying the external sources of abuse so that self-blame can be released. Taking care of one’s physical health and defining bottom line limits is crucial to regaining a sense of agency.

Should all self-care efforts to endure the toxic workplace lunacy not attenuate symptoms, a job search to a healthier work environment may be the necessary panacea.

Ultimately one must remember that no job is worth your health.

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As a survivor (and thriver) of complex trauma and a seasoned therapist specializing in treating complex trauma, narcissistic abuse syndrome and addictions, I am intent on creating content that affords informative insight, hope and healing from psychological disorders. I aim for my creative content to assist readers with tapping into the resiliency of the human condition while recognizing the countless challenges of being human.

New York City, NY
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