During the past 15 years, I’ve become familiar with hundreds of personal stories about severe workplace bullying. I’ve seen, over and again, how bullying targets often face multiple challenges in terms of understanding and responding to their situations.
Many bullying targets go through similar stages on their path to a better place: Recognition, response, recovery, and renewal. Here are some brief thoughts on each:
Being severely bullied at work can be a shock to the system. Especially if the bullying is more indirect, simply figuring out what’s happening can be a maddening challenge. “I didn’t know what hit me” is a common refrain from targets.
The term “workplace bullying” is gaining wider recognition, but many who experience it were not familiar with the term beforehand. For these people, there’s often a “shock of recognition” that occurs when they, say, stumble upon the website of the Workplace Bullying Institute or this blog. For many, discovering there’s such a thing as “workplace bullying” is a revelation, one that validates their experiences and impressions.
Processing this experience and its effects on one’s health and employment may take time, reflection, study, and perhaps professional help — even while the bullying behaviors themselves continue and sometimes escalate.
The next step is to address the bullying itself. In this short post, I won’t attempt to discuss all the options and their limitations, but they range from internal reporting, to filing a legal complaint (though in the U.S., such possibilities are limited), to leaving the job. Unfortunately, the latter too often remains the most viable option in terms of removing the threat to one’s well-being.
There is no singular, “one size fits all” approach, so be wary of advice that suggests so. But do assess your options with the growing number of useful resources (see below) available to you.
Workplace bullying can exact a heavy toll on one’s mental and physical health. If you are in this position, then recovering your health is a critically important stage.
If you’re currently a bullying target, you need to address any health problems as they arise and to engage in whatever safe coping strategies may be available. As far as genuine recovery goes, it’s awfully hard to enter this stage until the threat is removed. Recovering from bullying while you’re still experiencing it is next to impossible.
Once you’re away from it, however, the process of healing can begin. It may be longer or shorter in duration. If, for example, the bullying has triggered clinical depression or symptoms consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this may be a longer term process. In any event, some combination of self-help and professional assistance may be useful.
“Moving forward” is another phrase that rolls easily off the tongue, while in reality it often presents significant challenges.
It may mean getting another job or even searching out a new livelihood. And in many cases it will mean finding ways to deal with recurrent feelings of anger, fear, and resentment. This often is an ongoing process, rather than a sudden point of being “over it.” That’s why for many people, these stages can overlap, with hopefully less of the bad stuff and more of the good stuff becoming prevalent over time.
Ultimately, though, people can and do find their way out of the darkness. In talking to targets of severe workplace bullying, I find that many were able to summon reserves of strength and resilience they didn’t know they possessed. These qualities led them to better places in their lives, away from the abuse that so undermined them.
A 5th “R”: Resources
The best overall self-help resource remains Gary and Ruth Namie’s The Bully at Work (rev. ed., 2009). Written in a straightforward, supportive, and conversational tone, it delivers a ton of information and insights about workplace bullying and useful advice. Some of this material also is available without charge at their Workplace Bullying Institute website. WBI’s professional coach, Jessi Eden Brown, offers short-term phone coaching to bullying targets for a reasonable fee.
In addition, I’ve collected various resources and posts in the Need Help? section of this blog, including a variety of blog posts that may be useful for targets assessing their options.