Emotional Capital at Work
Be an emotional badass
How do you think @badgirlriri built her Empire? One emotional strength at a time. You ready?
Simone brings you expertise from certified professionals who have helped people navigate workplace discrimination, harassment, or culture problems. We want you to be armed with resources to understand your rights — and to move on, should you choose that path.
Therapy is a tough service to figure out. Most of us think to ourselves: Can’t I just force my best friend to be my “therapist?” Why do I have to pay someone just to listen to me? Do I reallllllyyyy want to unearth all of my inner demons? Isn’t it just easier to suppress them!?”
Well, no. We want you to know how to gain emotional capital at work, so we sat down to learn more from Nicole Amesbury, former Head of Clinical Development at Talkspace who now runs her own private practice.
As you’re reading, if you have any questions (anonymous or otherwise) — or want to connect with Nicole — feel free to drop us a line at Ask Simone.
Simone: Thanks for sitting down with us, Nicole.
Nicole: Of course, my pleasure.
Simone: Let’s jump right in and start with the basics. What are people looking for from therapy, especially when dealing with professional obstacles or workplace trauma? And what results should they expect?
Nicole: People come to therapy because they want a better life. There’s typically an obstacle or dilemma they’re facing — and something has changed or turned, or they’re feeling unwell. One of the unique things about being with a therapist is that you can speak unfiltered, and disclose secrets you wouldn’t share openly.
A relationship with a therapist is different from a relationship with a friend. We are trained interviewers and know how to take into account all the parts of your life. Our role is to be by your side, an unbiased support as you interrogate your life and go through changes.
Other than situations where someone is actively considering suicide, conversations in therapy sessions are safe, private, and protected by confidentiality laws. Your friends won’t always protect your privacy (and aren’t bound to), and while you still may want to confide in them, friends are also often biased. So we only tend only share parts of ourselves with our friends, for fear of judgment.
As for what to expect — there may be uncomfortable moments in psychotherapy, just like their might be with physical therapy. But you really claim your strength in those uncomfortable moments, when you bring things out in the open and leave denial or disassociation behind. It’s unfortunate that some people drop out of therapy when the band-aid is ripped off and the wound is exposed, so to speak, because that is when you can do some amazing, healing work.
That’s why it’s important to stick with therapy and not be afraid to complain to your therapist when it feels uncomfortable. Moving forward with some gentle exploration can help — and it’s in those risky feeling areas of your personal journey where great progress can be made in work, relationships, and life.
“Our work life is so important to the rest of our life and of course we have relationships with the people we work with. Unfortunately, sometimes trauma does happen in the workplace.”
Simone: Relationship problems can certainly lead people to therapy. So can problems with work — feeling unfulfilled or inadequate or very stressed. And sometimes work and relationship problems blend together. You may have complicated relationships with your boss, or your colleagues — or even someone you’ve been dating in the workplace. If you’re feeling anxious, what’s the risk of letting emotions fester and go unaddressed? What toll can negative emotions have on your work?
Nicole: Increasingly we see that for both men and women, relationship complaints are pretty intertwined with work complaints. Our work life is so important to rest of our life, and of course we have relationships with the people we work with. Unfortunately, sometimes trauma does happen in the workplace within those relationships. Say you’re going to work every day and you’re being harassed by a manager or colleague. That is an extraordinarily difficult thing, to need to work and want to enjoy work while also being in an environment where someone is abusive.
Workplace stalking is another growing problem — therapists have seen a spike in people seeking help to address it. We live in a society where technology has changed how much privacy we have in our lives, and that is changing perceptions and adding confusion to our interactions; however, every person has the right to healthy boundaries and privacy.
“A therapist can help you put together the pieces of that emotional puzzle, to get to what is really troubling you and help you to decide what to do about it. The feeling you are experiencing is not the problem.”
Simone: It must be so challenging emotionally to go through that.
Nicole: Yes, it is a huge challenge. You don’t feel happy when you’re being harassed! Which is also why it is important to understand how the emotions are being created — whether it is the workplace culture, because of policies, or a particular person in the workplace. A therapist can help you put together the pieces of that emotional puzzle, to get to what is really troubling you and help you to decide what to do about it. The feeling you are experiencing is not the problem. The real problem is that we do all kinds of things to deny our emotions instead of valuing them for what they are, taking good care of them, and using them wisely.
“It’s often the case that women are more likely to come to therapy with relationship concerns, while men come to therapy with work concerns. That’s because culturally, women have been primed to focus more on their relationship health than their career growth or financial health.”
Simone: You mentioned earlier that more people come to therapy recognizing that relationships and work life are intertwined. Can you elaborate on this a bit more?
Nicole: Yes, definitely. It’s often the case that women are more likely to come to therapy with relationship concerns, while men come to therapy with work concerns. Culturally women have been primed to focus more on their relationship health than their career growth or financial health, while men are often more comfortable talking about their work life first. Either way, I see the dynamics shifting as women become more and more independent, and men realize the value of emotional capital in their lives.
“People typically have this notion that they should be able to take care of themselves, that therapy isn’t necessary. You tend to believe it’s all in your head or that you should be able to think your way out of it…”
Simone: In the United States especially, there’s a stigma around therapy. Executives might have a “life coach” … but of course they have their sh*t together too much to consider therapy. How can we get rid of that stigma?
Nicole: So true, the mental health / therapy stigma is real. People typically have this notion that they should be able to take care of themselves, that therapy isn’t necessary. We often believe it’s all in our head or that we should be able to think your way out of it… that only “really sick” people see therapists. These are myths. Lots of people see therapists to make their lives better, to optimize their performance and success.
Because of these myths, though, people wait until they feel like they have “lost their sh*t” to talk to a therapist. All too often, they’re at the end of their rope and something drastic has happened. Maybe they’ve lost their job, can’t get out of bed to get to work, or have contemplated suicide.
“People tend to come into counseling when it’s raining through the roof — but whether it seemed fine before it started raining, or after it stopped, they still need to fix the roof. So if you notice a problem you should come and stay until you know you are under a safe roof and feel secure.”
There’s a famous JFK quote I like to share with my clients: “The time to fix the roof is when it’s not raining.”
People tend to come into counseling when it’s raining through the roof — but whether it seemed fine before it started raining, or after it stopped, they still need to fix the roof. So if you notice a problem you should come and stay until you know you are under a safe roof and feel secure.
Simone: Stressful work environments can also lead to physical health problems. Simone co-founders Mary and Ariella dealt with this firsthand. Mary developed a stye on her eye after dealing with an abusive work environment. Ariella broke out in hives on a Sunday evening (before work on Monday) — and after going to an allergist, learned that what she thought was an allergic reaction was actually stress-induced — a reaction to a bad work environment. Is it possible that addressing emotional problems earlier, can help us recognize bad work environments and make changes, before it starts to impact us physically?
Nicole: Both of your experiences are not uncommon. When something mentally painful is happening, people will do whatever they can to try and stop the pain. Our culture prizes mastery over feelings and so we are often taught to ignore our feelings and we end up trying to control them through avoiding them. We just deny our emotions and try to carry on. What we don’t realize is that our emotions are a part of our whole body and as such, they impact our whole body. Emotions will always find a way to release — to “get out.” So if we try and avoid the painful ones, they can manifest in a different way — and that could be physically.
“A lot of therapists will do what they can to help accommodate you. If you talk with a therapist and explain to them what you are able to pay, some have sliding-scale fees.”
Simone: So let’s talk cost. None of us are spending $500 for an hour of therapy. Are there affordable options out there? How can we ensure that therapy isn’t just reserved for women with a certain level of privilege?
Nicole: The high cost of therapy is a health crisis that we need to address as a society. Paying for therapy is especially difficult for people who work hourly jobs or who are not covered by insurance. Even going to traditional therapy appointments can be difficult without missing work. Online therapy and group therapy have certainly made therapy more accessible and affordable.
Many therapists will do what they can to help accommodate you. If you sit down and explain what you are able to pay, together you can have an open discussion about finances and what you can afford, as many therapists have sliding-scale fees. Most people are afraid to ask because they think therapists only have a set rate.
Simone: That’s news to us! Super encouraging, because women in uncertain work situations are often anxious about money.
Nicole: Yes, that’s true. But it’s also true that regardless, people under stress will spend a lot of money trying to comfort themselves in quick and easy ways. Think retail therapy or several glasses of wine after work that distract from or alleviate the pain we are experiencing. That is money being put toward short-term relief or an attempt to self-medicate, rather than looking at the bigger picture of taking care of long-term well-being — something to think about when budgeting.
Simone: Oh yes, we’ve all done that! Now that we know there is a chance for many of us to afford therapy (and the value of keeping self-medication to a minimum), what is your advice on connecting with the right therapist?
Nicole: I would always ask myself a few questions after a preliminary consultation with a therapist. First, do I feel inherently comfortable with this person? This is someone you are sharing your innermost thoughts with, you need to be willing to broach difficult topics. Second, is this person being patient with me? Make sure the therapist isn’t rushing you through your thoughts or being quick with you. Finally, do I feel judged? Your therapist should be incredibly empathetic. It’s not about changing the emotions you’re feeling or jumping to conclusions, it’s about respecting the emotions and finding ways to cope or break through a block you’re facing in life. If you feel that the person you are talking to is warm and understanding, that is a good sign that it’s the right connection.
“We found during therapy that she (my client) was a natural leader, not a follower. Not a bad problem to have. She still liked working with people, but needed to realize that she, in fact, could be the the one making decisions and implementing them.”
Simone: Last question — can you share with us any stories (anonymous ones, of course) about how therapy has helped someone at an inflection point make a decision? As therapists, we know that you can’t give any prescriptive advice. But how have you seen people grow or move on from a bad work environment?
Nicole: Sometimes, we come up with myths about ourselves, often rooted in our growing up experience — being told who we are, and not allowed to naturally just become ourselves. We think that we need to fit into a certain role, stay within a certain box, or have relationships in a certain way. But it’s not always so and it can limit our full potential.
One client in particular struggled to recognize her own power and strength, and was trapped in a stifling framework. In every workplace, she’d get to a point and then clash with her managers. She told me she felt like a slave to her job, but she was concerned that something was wrong with her because she kept experiencing this same dynamic in multiple workplaces.
We found during therapy that she was a natural leader, not a follower. Not a bad problem to have. She still liked working with people, but needed to realize that she, in fact, could be the the one making decisions and implementing them.
I am glad to say she now has a thriving business.
Simone: We can both relate to that story. Thank you Nicole!
Hey you, thanks for reading! If you have any questions (anonymous or otherwise) — or want to connect with Nicole — feel free to drop us a line at Ask Simone.
Ariella + Mary (aka Simone)