Lower case and heartfelt: When targets of workplace bullying share their stories online

The next time you read a general piece about workplace bullying that attracts a lot of comments, take a look at how people describe their experiences of being bullied at work.

More often than not, you’ll read through dozens of personal stories mixing details of what happened with expressions of pain, despair, and anger. Most commenters recount their own experiences with workplace bullying; others share stories of close family members enduring it.

Rarely, however, are these comments loaded with ALL CAPS rants or snarky putdowns. No, such remarks tend to come from folks who ridicule the very notion that we should take workplace bullying seriously.

I first noticed this in 2008, when Tara Parker-Pope, health writer for the New York Times, wrote a column about workplace bullying that garnered wide attention. It attracted hundreds of online comments (unfortunately, they are no longer on the website), including story after story posted by bullying targets and their family members. I would use terms such as poignant, heartfelt, compelling, and authentic to describe the largest share of them.

I’ll defer to my friends in clinical psychology and mental health counseling to assess the emotional states reflected by such online comments. For me, however, they reinforce the destructive, targeted nature of workplace bullying and why it’s so important for us to address it.

13 responses

  1. Sending links to your column to my sister has had a profoundly beneficial effect on her life. What had been extremely confusing and distressing for her became clear as she read about your work and about other people’s experiences. She has not been able to get relief at work, but she finally realized that the health problems she has experienced only in this job are probably being caused by the stress she is experiencing because of the bullying, and she had decided to find another job. Even interviewing has been a great experience as she is talking with people who are impressed with her credentials and express appreciation for her experience and the glowing recommendations she has from everyone except her supervisor. Thank you so much for the great work you are doing and for your part in making the world a more humane, compassionate place.

  2. It is a work in progress to bring National attention to a silent,but serious problem,being bullied in the workplace has caused me and my family problems, i would not wish on my worst enemies,not that i thought i would have any,but apparently,someone has a problem with who i am as a person,\.
    The emotional and mental torment i endured while working for this company became far more than i could ever imagine,what’s more disturbing is that,i was embarassed to let anyone know i had fell victim (Emotionally) to a few harsh words and actions of a group of upper managment who used intimidatioin and retalitory actions as means of controling their emplyees and keeping minorities in less desirable positions.
    Things had gotten so bad at one point with the Stereo Typical refernces and Racially sensitive comments,i was forced to see a therapist,when i bought the issue to my supervisor,who promised me things would get better,it got worst,i Filed a complaint with the MCAD in march 2012,met with the lead investigator in Boston’s MCAD Branch and The Representatives of the company in July.was Terminated in august 2012,I am currently suffering from sever Anxiety,Depressionand as well as Panic Attacks.
    Workplace Bullying is a Huge problem and i am so greatful something is finally being done about it,maybe not in time for me,but for others,so they can be sparred from the truma i am going through every day,It seems like in the Sate of MA,the laws protect the aggressor rather than the Victim(s)

      • Thank you David
        I did have the chance to meet you at the state House about a month ago, I am still suffering from my experience,making it very hard to muster up enough confidence to seek employment.
        This is a terrible feeling of helpfulness.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Shelton. It seems abundantly clear to me that whether we leave the toxic employment setting, stay and seek justice, then, either get terminated, or stay and seek some measured form of justice (in my case), the consequences are devastating for the targets.

      It almost seems as though it is a no-win situation for targets of workplace bullying. We and our loved ones suffer no matter which ‘option’ we choose in our efforts to balance the delicate scales of requesting that we be treated respectfully and keeping our jobs.

      I have mentioned the above dynamic tension to the CEO on more than one occasion. In other words, we shouldn’t’ have to trade in our self-respect in order to keep our jobs. That kind of price tag should not be part of a gainful employment package.
      However, in workplace bullying settings it is an intricate part of the job requirement.

  3. Hi, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your digests. The points you raise are stimulating food for thought. It is great to know that someone like you is representing the many wrongs of adult bullying. I’m in such a ridiculous set of circumstances that the people bullying me will probably see you as somehow supporting me (god forbid that should happen!), but I simply wanted to say how much I appreciate your efforts in this blog.

  4. Hello David,A while back I submitted my story. However, I do not recall how to access it now. Could you help me to find it?I would be willing to submit another testimony to the devastiting effects of workplace bullying, & a phenomenon I learned about called workplace mobbing~which I was also subjected to. Thank you. Mary Lou Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2013 04:05:37 +0000 To: mlferro2@hotmail.com

    • Mary Lou, if it’s in one of the comments here, you can try doing a search for it using the search box, top left hand corner of the blog home page. Because there are 3,000 comments here, that’s the best I can suggest. If you sent your statement somewhere else, you’ll have to contact the folks in charge of those sites.

  5. David, as always, this is a great post.

    What was hard for me to admit was how much I cared what others thought of me. I knew the bully was busy with “impression management” and I didn’t see how I could defend myself. I suspected others thought less of me, not only because of what they’d heard, but because I could not perform. It was humiliating.

    I also had a hard time admitting how much pain I was in. I felt I should have been able to handle it. My life hadn’t been easy, so what was wrong with me? Being a crying depressed anxious wreck was embarrassing. It undermined my credibility, my professionalism, and my self-esteem. I was furious with myself for falling apart.

    After going through this experience, I realize how much we are social animals. Being excluded from the “herd” is anxiety-provoking and painful. Maybe I didn’t realize how much I needed other people, but my bully certainly understood it. After I was isolated (supposedly for my own good), I was grateful for any communication, even with her. How sick is that?

    What was, by far, the most difficult part of my experience was accepting that there are people who revel in hurting others. My friends already understood this, but for some reason I had a hard time accepting it. It was easier to endure the torment than question my beliefs. I still believe most people are good – better than we realize – but I do know there are some people, thankfully a minority, who delight in the destruction of others. That realization is so dark, I know it contributed to my depression.

    I’ll never be as trusting as I was, but I have decided to be an open and friendly person again. I know I risk being hurt, but if that happens, it won’t last long.

    • Thank you for reminding us that your decision to be open and friendly again is part of recovering from bullying or other forms of mistreatment. Remaining more guarded than before is probably wise, but getting to the point of saying you can be more social is such a vital step forward. Hurray!

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