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Organizational trauma has multiple complex layers that must be worked with gently and skillfully by trained professionals. Organizations can experience a combination of healed historical trauma, unhealed trauma, internal wounding (cultural patterns), and cumulative trauma (empathic work).
When an unexpected event occurs to a team that is unprepared emotionally and cognitively, the self-protective structures freeze, which can leave staff feeling vulnerable and temporarily helpless. This is exacerbated in organizations who often already feel overwhelmed by the external environment (e.g. crisis centres, shelters, etc.).
Even if a traumatic event is handled perfectly, there are still other events that happen in any organization’s life cycle that add to cumulative stress (i.e. smaller events, the nature of advocating work, or the intense, intellectually and emotionally charged cultures that occur in non-profit, advocating organizations specifically). This weakens the organizational system's ability to meet internal and external challenges and results in a vicious circle.
The good news is that they stay true to their mission and this solidifies bonding with staff and clients. The bad news is that this intensity and mutual reinforcement are vehicles for transmission of the trauma as anxiety runs amok with nowhere to discharge. Redemptive organizations become highly sensitized to the very ills they’re trying to address. The result can be a crisis mentality which has many symptoms. Read more about organizational trauma symptoms here.