Surviving a Dysfunctional Environment 

 In Jason Bunger, Preaching & Teaching

It has been said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It is pretty simple, the culture of any team, family, relationship, or organization is far more important than its strategy. If a group is healthy, the strategy will work itself out. If a team is unhealthy, no matter how great the plan or effort is, the team will probably fail.

Occasionally, we may find ourselves in a dysfunctional environment (what others may call a “toxic culture”) and don’t know how to move forward. I want to share a few insights as someone who has survived, and often contributed to dysfunctional environments. These are not commandments, just observations, I have made concerning people in Dysfunctional Environments.

  1. Recognize that people can survive in a dysfunctional environment, but rarely can they thrive in it. I have a simple equation that states: Talent + Effort + Environment = Success. You can still be successful with only talent and effort, but you will never be as successful as if you would be in an environment that was conducive to success.
  2. Realize that the person who doubts you the most will be you. You speak a different language and therefore, everyone begins to question you. If you see something as red, but everyone else around says that it is blue, so you begin to question your own abilities.
  3. People outside your encouragement may invite you to join their environment, but they are simply not going to join your environment. No one wants to jump on a sinking ship.
  4. There is always something below the surface, or someone behind the scenes, that allows this environment to exist. You think you are the only person who notices what is wrong. Others do as well. However, something (or someone) is in place that prevents people from speaking up.
  5. In order to survive in this system, you may unintentionally become part of the system. Because it is easier to change yourself than your environment, you will probably unintentionally become a part of the very thing you try to change.
  6. Most people are willing to wait you out. You are not the first person to come and decide that you are going to change the world, or a person. You are not the first person to “help that guy.” They know the routine. They also know that once you finally can’t take any more, you will be gone, they will remain and someone else will come along.
  7. Never underestimate the gravitational force of the status quo. Whatever exist is a result of a long season of neglect, hard work, oppression, apathy or tradition. In fact, some people are unintentionally working hard to keep this system in place. While you are working hard to change things, you are dealing with a group of people that are working equally as hard to keep things the same.
  8. There are usually several reasons people never leave a dysfunctional environment:
    1. They tell themselves that things will get better. It won’t.
    2. They consider the short-term pain of change to be too costly. (It will get worse before it gets better.)
    3. They don’t have a support system outside of their environment. It is said that most people would leave an abusive environment if they simply had one person they could count on to lean on.
    4. They own the problem instead of the solution. This is perhaps the worst. They think they deserve the toxic environment. They think, “The reason I am in this situation is because I…” This may very well be true. However, your poor decision may have gotten you in that environment, but it does not mean that you have to stay in that environment.
    5. They overvalue the “good things” of that environment. It is not as bad as things could be. They make statement such as: “Other people wish they were in my shoes.” “At least I have a boy/girlfriend.” “A bad job is better than no job.” or “A toxic home is better than no home.”
    6. Most people will choose something that is familiar over something that (although better) is unknown.
    7. We often look back with sentimentality at something that did not exist. We only thought it did. It was never what you imagined that it was. Things didn’t change, you just figured it out.

It is possible to survive a toxic environment, but rarely will you thrive. Perhaps if you know why you have chosen to stay, you can develop new strategies to endure or to leave.

Ultimately, you will probably not be able to change your environment. Therefore, you must make a decision: Do you change environments? Or do you let your environment change you?

***Note: If you are in an abusive environment, you simply need to get out now. If you need help, contact us.

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