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Occupational Burnout and the ‘Unconscious Family’

Occupational Burnout and the ‘Unconscious Family’:  The link between early-life relationships and workplace wellbeing

Written by:  Etain Case

Workplace wellbeing.  A prevailing topic swirling in the collective psyche.  It’s generated much press and public attention in recent years, and corporate wellness programmes are now commonplace in most British organisations.  They are designed for, and highly adept at, finding solutions to workplace related issues.

According to IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health), work-related stress is the ‘harmful physical or psychological reaction that occurs when people are subject to excessive work demands or expectations’.

But what if the cause of burnout is unrelated to the workplace?  Sure, the corporate culture’s unremitting demands often result in burnout and high turnover rates, but there are other, equally significant factors at play.  Aside from the pressures of the external, professional world, there are internal factors that stem from early-life relationships that have a significant influence on the formation of the mind.  This largely unknown phenomenon is referred to as the ‘unconscious family’.

The ‘unconscious family’ explained

For each of us, the building blocks of our minds begin in the first 1001 days of life.  The relationships we experience during those early days form the bedrock of how we perceive the world and form relationships as adults.   Research by Dr Emma Loveridge of Cambridge Code Laboratories reveals how early-life interactions with others dictates the construction of later-life behaviours and attitudes.   This key scientific understanding is corroborated by wider neuroscientific research into early-life relationship influences, as well as those formed in later years.  There are both good and bad examples: a pushy parent, an influential teacher, or a school bully.

But how does the unconscious family link to stress in the workplace?  

The explanation can be found by examining this case study:

A 40-year-old male is a senior manager at an international private equity firm.  He is heading for a promotion, but his innate desire to please finds him unable to let go and hand over tasks to his younger successor.  His parents were driven – their high hopes encouraged him through university, a graduate degree, and onwards to a career in finance.   Life is good.  Suddenly his father dies unexpectedly, and his internal world gets pushed around.  His foundation crumbles.  The unconscious family that has been heading in the same direction with him all his life – the one that was ever-present – now creates a shift in his experience.  He then begins asking himself the hard questions as he sees midlife approaching, and younger colleagues catching up.    But he is determined to push through, to continue doing what is expected of him in the professional environment.

This process continues gradually until life slowly begins to topple over – leading to stress, an inability to cope, and eventual burnout.

When the unconscious family is the puppeteer of the inner (micro) world, the outer (macro) world will be a reflection of this.  The ability to collaborate, lead and drive organisational strategy will depend on the interplay between these inner/outer worlds – the unconscious family, its influence, and how it drives outward behavioural patterns.

The solution

The solution can be found in a bespoke form of corporate consulting that focuses on accessing the area of the brain responsible for these behavioural patterns.    This approach involves bringing the discipline and rigor of the clinical world and adapting it to a corporate setting, where the unconscious triggers can be adjusted to create a different external experience – with transformative results.

And the ultimate benefit?

More say over one’s own internal perceptions and a deeper understanding of oneself, facilitating an enhanced and improved level of engagement in the professional workplace.


Rafan House is a clinically-governed psychotherapeutic clinic based in Harley Street.   We offer specialised and discreet conversations with individuals, families and organisations who are seeking help with the demands of 21st-century life.