Targets of workplace bullying: Getting unstuck

One of the biggest challenges facing many people who have experienced severe workplace bullying is getting unstuck. Some may feel trapped, helpless, or victimized. Others may be caught in a cycle of anger, defiance, or battle-like conflict. Oftentimes, these thought patterns and behaviors are associated with psychological conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.

Bullying targets also may be dealing with what psychiatrist Michael Linden has labeled Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, a condition triggering levels of “embitterment and feelings of injustice” to the point of impairing one’s “performance in daily activities and roles.” These reactions can be so strong and enduring that they render someone helpless to address the situation.

Of course, used insensitively, terms such as “it’s time to move on” and “let it go” sound like slightly softer versions of “get over it.” Interpersonal abuse is not easily shaken off and disposed of, and it certainly should not be excused. Indeed, “moving on” or “letting it go” may seem impossible to those who feel trapped or who are locking horns with their aggressors. It is not unusual to find people who get stuck in these places for quite a long time.

So, in using the term “unstuck,” I’m talking about getting to a better place, a point at which the bullies no longer have a stranglehold on someone’s life. It’s about continuing to acknowledge the injustice and wrongfulness of workplace bullying without having it sap one’s daily energies. Targets who reach that point will have reclaimed their lives from the bullies.

As I wrote earlier this year, people who are dealing with bad work situations may find that “getting to tolerance” is a first step toward moving to a better place, literally and figuratively:

What do I mean by “getting to tolerance”? It means being able to deal with the undesirable aspects of your workplace without them constantly taking you down a notch, or at least bouncing back after a bad day there. It means being able to do your job well, perhaps even with some enthusiasm and satisfaction, despite the negative aspects of your work environment. It means not taking the bad parts of work home with you every day. It also means being able to develop and weigh future options in a constructive and hopeful way.

The Should I stay or should I go? question may loom large, especially in situations that appear highly unlikely to improve:

When should you hang in there, and when should you pursue an exit strategy? This question confronts a lot of people who feel stuck in frustrating or even toxic work situations. And given the realities of a tough job market, the dilemma of what to do becomes even more pronounced.

None of this is easy, which is why reaching out for assistance may be useful and wise. Options include beyond self-help may include counseling and psychotherapy, coaching, and support from family and friends.


The Need Help? page of this blog provides a list of resources about workplace bullying specially useful to workers.

In addition, I served as a subject matter expert to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, helping them develop this public information page on workplace bullying, with an emphasis on resources for employers.

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3 responses

  1. If you have a good manager or human resources team to turn to then that is one tactic before deciding to leave. Thank you for these great insights as this is something people don’t typically address out of fear or lack of understanding. One really good book I recommend on this topic is called, Creating Hate: How It Is Done, How To Destroy It: A Practical Handbook, by Nancy Omeara. It gives you new information you’ve never read anywhere else.

    • I agree with you, Lauren. It’s always good to try to resolve this first if you can with management before quitting. Thanks for recommending Nancy’s book – looks very informative.

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