The obsessive filter of workplace bullying

One of the most debilitating effects of workplace bullying is how it may prompt a target to use bullying as a primary filter through which so many other work and life experiences are screened, interpreted, and understood.

On occasion, I see it on this blog. I will post an article on some aspect of work that does not explicitly mention bullying or even imply anything about it, and a reader will post a comment to the blog or to my Facebook page that relates it to bullying behaviors.

I do not offer this observation as a criticism. Rather, it is unfortunate evidence of how deeply this form of mistreatment can impact its targets.

Dealing with the experience and aftermath of work abuse can become an obsession. As I’ve written before, targets may excessively ruminate about their experiences. The slightest situational trigger may cause them to evaluate information or a social interaction through the lens of bullying. From a clinical standpoint, this may relate to a fight-or-flight response and various post-traumatic reactions.

True, understanding the dynamics of workplace bullying can actually be an insightful tool for comprehending the workplace in general. Several years ago, Ståle Einarsen, University of Bergen psychology professor and a leading authority on workplace bullying, gave a conference keynote address in which he said, in effect, that rather than using our knowledge of employment relations to help us understand workplace bullying, perhaps we should use our knowledge of workplace bullying to help us understand employment relations.

However, when that filter becomes embedded in one’s emotional being, the results can significantly undermine that person’s quality of life. Here is where we greatly need the modalities of therapy, counseling, and coaching to help people get to better places in their lives.


Related posts

Helping workplace bullying targets get beyond rumination (2015)

When dealing with abusive work environments, the terrible “ifs” may accumulate (2015)

Workplace bullying: The challenges of moving from recognition to renewal (2014)


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13 responses

  1. Wow So true!!!! Thank you for posting this important information. I’ve seen in many situations over the years how this has been the case. We do see the world through our experiences and sometimes it’s a double edge sword. There are many times I’ve wished I could see through different filters. I have witnessed this effect on co-workers, colleagues, friends and aquaintences. It hurts to see people suffer so deeply.

  2. Because workplace bullying actually prevented me from working for over 9 years due to the undermining lies of my former employer, it is impossible not to ruminate about the circumstances or feel the effects of it every month when the bills are due.

  3. Actually, along with Nan, I kind of agree that it’s hard not to ruminate, and it’s what kept me awake till four a.m. the other night, without even knowing it, I was awake watching tv, mind racing, but not on the situation I face, but just being distracted to the point I am avoiding things. It’s quite hard to balance it, and not ruminate in that sense. I think the roller coaster analogy is the best, some days are great, others are spent ruminating for moments or hours at a time. It can be all consuming, and disruptive. Thanks Nan, and sorry to hear of your 9 year unwanted hiatus from work! 😦

  4. The International Association on Workplace Bullying & Harassment is sponsoring The Inaugural Summer School: Formulating Evidence Based Treatment for Targets of Bullying, in Calgary Alberta Canada. Bringing together world renowned psychiatrists, psychologists, and researchers. Clinicians will receive theoretical foundation for treatment, understanding diagnostic issues and challenges, and providing treatment protocols based on research and years of practice.

  5. Once embedded that filter affects all your relationships and even how you think about yourself. The after effects of workplace bullying (and I suffered it for more than 7 years with several supervisors and some coworkers) impacts health, employability, family, self-confidence, friendships–everything in your life. How can you call it an obsession when it is in reality something you have to deal with in order to function? Rumination may also be unavoidable but your perspective is permanently changed after the bullying and so is how you deal with what goes on in your day to day life. Quite simply, workplace bullying either changes you or destroys you.

    • Mattie, I, too, have difficulty with the use of the word ‘obsession’ when referencing the actions/focus of people who have experienced life-altering abuse. I have tried to think of another term that better describes the pervasive impact abuse can have on our perceptions. I can’t think of one.

      I do think, though, as victims/targets, we must be aware of how the impact of the abuse can ‘color’ our perceptions of situations in ways harmful (or helpful) to us.

      • I thought hard about using the word obsessive, and I anticipated that someone might take issue. I considered a lot of other terms, the second choice being “consuming.” But ultimately I decided that consuming didn’t quite capture the negative outward energy of this terrible dynamic.

  6. After a few car accidents I have become more alert to other drivers. Now I do what I can to avoid them yet there are many reckless drivers each reminding us of the risks. The goal is to live in a world where we know this dysfunction exists, our eyes are wide open … and yet still experience calm, joy, life and work satisfaction.

    This is what healing, recovery, rejuvenation, adjustments is all about. Life looks different after being abused / bullied. For me a good recovery means fully living life with the new lenses.

  7. I have been bullied since I began working at a University over 2 years ago (I’m admin) and have always raised concerns which have always been dismissed. The focus has always been on me and my perception of the event / behaviour rather than the actual event/behaviour itself. I have been told to internalise my feelings otherwise I will start to effect the whole team. Everything has been laid on my shoulders with no consideration for how badly it will break me. I began informal grievance against my line manger but it has not been taken seriously enough so now I’m making it formal. Her manager keeps advising me to do that. He has already told me he doesn’t agree with me in regards to what I’ve said about her.

    There is so much inconsistency it makes me crazy. I can’t move forwards because no one will acknowledge anything, there’s no accountability or apology. My manager’s manger tells me if I want any of that I have to make it formal. I’m sick of ruminating on it but they think I just need to “get over it” and “move on”. A part of me is scared about what will happen when the formal grievance starts, but really I have nothing to lose since I’ve already lost myself.

    • Your situation just illustrates the point that people (who are in your situation) need a safe place to go to get reasonable advice on how to navigate the situation in which you find yourself. There are so many factors to consider when deciding to file a formal grievance. And even if you don’t file a formal grievance, successfully navigating the current waters takes insight and awareness that we often don’t come by until after the fact.

      Keep in mind that the grievance process can be ‘used’ by those who have very different agendas than yours. You said your manager’s manager told you he doesn’t agree with your perspective re: your manager. If he’s already taken a ‘side’ (so to speak), why would he encourage you to file a formal grievance? He seems to be pretty sure of the outcome already. He may want to use the process against you to prove his point that it’s you that has the problem and not his manager (whom he likely sees as a reflection of his efforts to provide quality management).

      The dynamics at play aren’t always apparent and one cannot ‘trust’ the process will be just. It may appear just, but be anything but.

      Again, I know nothing specific about your situation and my comments are only comments, but people like yourself (and most of us) who find ourselves in treacherous waters need help. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many places where the kind of help we need exists.

      Best wishes.

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