Helping workplace bullying targets get beyond rumination

“….what consumes your thoughts controls your life”

Creed, What If

I don’t listen to a lot of hard rock, but when I heard these lyrics from What If, a song about hatred, oppression, and vengefulness by the group Creed, I thought immediately about the experiences of many people who are dealing with severe workplace bullying.

Bullying targets often ruminate obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.” She continues:

Rumination usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.

Graham encourages her clients to engage in self-compassion, which includes “evoking a sense of kindness and care toward one’s self.” Her full article delves deeper into nurturing practices of self-compassion, and for those who want to learn more, it is well worth a click and read.

For some targets, self-compassion practices will prove helpful and healing. For others, however, it’s awfully hard to avoid dwelling upon the negatives. I frequently invoke the findings of a 2006 study by communications professors Sarah Tracy, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, and Jess Alberts, who found that bullying targets’ narratives of their experiences “were saturated with metaphors of beating, physical abuse, and death.” That’s a pretty dark place to be, and it is not uncommon.

As I’ve written before, we are still in the early stages of developing effective counseling, therapeutic, and coaching protocols for helping targets of workplace bullying. Too many practitioners remain unfamiliar with workplace bullying and its effects on individuals. Among other things, we need to enable those engaged in these helping modalities to help more people move out of that state of obsessive rumination and toward better places in their lives.

Related post

For more about the Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Alberts study referenced above, see my 2009 post, “Workplace bullying as psychological torture.”


Lynne Shallcross, “Grown-up Bullying,” Counseling Today (2013) — Includes extensive commentary by therapist and coach Jessi Eden Brown, who for many years has been affiliated with the Workplace Bullying Institute and is one of the nation’s most experienced and knowledgeable practitioners in working with targets of workplace bullying.

3 responses

  1. What I have found helpful – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, self-compassion work, and meditation – as well as a great deal of reading and connecting with others with a similar experience who are farther down the road with healing than I am. One person shared these wise words with me: Don’t seek forgiveness, allow forgiveness to find you when the time is right; at times when I think I should be “over it” by now, those words help me be more patient. And, when I wonder why I can’t just “let it go,” I remember someone else’s wise words that maybe “let it be” is a more compassionate way to look at it. I’m inspired reading about people who have overcome great adversity and found peace, such as Michael Morton and Louie Zamperini; if it’s possible for them, surely it’s possible for me. Lately I’ve read more and research that meditation can have a powerful, positive effect on the brain, and, after doing meditation for almost a year now, I truly believe I am creating new and more positive “grooves.” A situation may not feel just or fair, and forgiveness may take its sweet time. Still, there’s peace to be found, more and more as time goes on.

  2. When I was bullied my ruminations came from outrageous hurtful lies that were being told about me. It took me a long time to get past all the lying and lack of integrity. Once I got past that then my next big hurdle was learning not to give a hoot about what people said about me. Once I learned that skill it was liberating but it was far from easy and took about 2 years and a lot of work. It helped that I quit that job. Now I think I may have taken it a bit too far because I no longer care what anyone thinks of me and I mean anyone. If I am okay with myself and what I am doing, that’s all that matters anymore.

  3. Another excellent article that focuses a light on one of the most important issues for those who are impacted by active or past work abuse, i.e., how to heal. As with any other psychological trauma, there is probably never going to be a ‘one size fits all’ healing approach, but maybe what we already know will help light the path to understanding.

    We know – for almost anyone – validation is critical. When I was in the worst of my situation, there was no one to turn to help me understand what had happened and was happening. Well meaning friends were well meaning. Their focus was in trying to help me change to prevent the abuse or minimize it. BUT they (nor I) didn’t have a clue what actually needed to change. I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. I was in danger, yet transfixed and immobilized.

    While I spent considerable money on a well meaning therapist (I desperately wanted help), my healing began when I talked with others who, themselves, had experienced work abuse. Some were actively in abusive situations and some were further down the healing path. They were validating and unconditionally accepting. They wanted to heal too and that collective momentum was priceless.

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