Workplace bullying and mobbing: Recovery and possibilities for post-traumatic growth

What are the recovery prospects for targets of severe workplace bullying or mobbing who are experiencing psychological trauma? Can they access effective treatments and help? Can they recover and heal from their ordeals to live rich, meaningful lives?

A few short decades ago, many psychological trauma experts were pessimistic about our ability to treat PTSD and related conditions. Yes, they were learning a lot about trauma, its symptoms, and its effects. However, their growing body of research and understanding had yet to yield many answers on treatment and healing.

We have come a long way since then. Today, we are at a point where the term post-traumatic growth is becoming a reality for many of those who have faced deeply traumatic experiences. This, in turn, allows us to be optimistic about recovery prospects for workplace bullying and mobbing targets who are dealing with trauma.

YES! magazine

In a feature for the latest issue of YES! magazine, journalist Michaela Haas examines the latest research on post-traumatic growth, opening with the story of an army surgeon:

WHEN ARMY SURGEON RHONDA CORNUM REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS AFTER HER HELICOPTER CRASHED, she looked up to see five Iraqi soldiers pointing rifles at her. It was 1991 and her Black Hawk had been shot down over the Iraqi desert. Dazed from blood loss, with a busted knee and two broken arms, the then-36-year-old medic was subjected to a mock execution by her captors, sexually assaulted, and kept prisoner in a bunker for a week.

Her crisis included textbook causes for post-traumatic stress — a near-death experience, sexual assault, utter helplessness — and yet, after her release and medical rehabilitation, she surprised psychiatrists by focusing on ways she improved. “I became a better doctor, a better parent, a better commander, probably a better person,” she says.

One might suspect Cornum was suppressing the real toll of her ordeal, but her experience is far from unique. “Post-­traumatic growth,” a term coined by University of North Carolina psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, describes the surprising benefits many survivors discover in the process of healing from a traumatic event.

Haas then identifies and discusses seven “strategies trauma psychologists have found particularly helpful to turn struggle into strength”:

  • “Mindfulness”
  • “Vulnerability”
  • “Self-compassion”
  • “Finding meaning”
  • “Gratitude”
  • “A holistic approach”
  • “A team effort”

She elaborates upon each of these strategies, such the value of team support:

“Nobody ever does it alone,” civil rights icon Maya Angelou recognized, years after being raped at the age of 8. Resilience is always a team effort. Moving forward after a crisis depends not only on the individual’s resources and their genetic makeup or upbringing, but also on their connections to the people around them and the quality of support. The best kind of support encourages survivors to focus on their strength but doesn’t gloss over their wounds. Nothing is as powerful as knowing we are not alone.

It’s an excellent article, with plenty of useful content for folks who are recovering from the trauma of work abuse.

An exemplar

Janice Gilligan White, a survivor of workplace mobbing in the aviation industry, is emerging as an insightful and compassionate voice on recovering from abuse at work. In a series of guest pieces posted to Dr. Sophie Henshaw’s Free Spirited Me blog, Janice takes us through her journey of experiencing, understanding, and recovering from mobbing at work. In the process, she exemplifies a path of and toward post-traumatic growth.

I’m going to highlight her second entry, “How To Find Closure After Workplace Bullying,” as I believe it speaks to many readers who have experienced severe work abuse:

Closure after workplace bullying; it’s what every target desperately searches for. The elusive treasure chest filled with peace.

If not found, we risk our health. We can lose our connection to people and our ability to find fulfilling work. We can find ourselves stuck in a current state of discord, unable to move forward. 

At least, that’s what was happening to me.

She then examines her steps towards recovery, explaining each one:

  • “Leaving”
  • “Naming My Experience”
  • “Finding The Right Therapist/Coach”
  • “Getting Past The Obsession”
  • “Countering The Power Of Bullying By Reconnecting”
  • “Finding My Voice Again”

Janice’s closure is a work in progress. She finishes this post with “Final Words” that mark where she is and where she sees herself going:

While there is still a bit more work to do, I am getting closer than ever to finding closure after workplace bullying.

I need to discover what’s next after leaving my job, naming my experience, finding the right therapist / coach, getting past the obsession, countering the power of bullying by reconnecting and finding my voice again.

I don’t know what that is yet, but I see something beautiful glistening in the distance…

It’s the treasure chest. Unburied, unlocked, and filled with peace… And a far better life than I could have ever imagined prior to this event.

There’s a lot of wisdom, humanity, and hope in these words. I’d suggest checking out Janice’s other posts if they resonate with you.

***

Note: After I published this piece, Dr. Henshaw did a 24-minute interview with Janice, which they posted to Facebook.

4 responses

  1. These are exactly the steps I needed to go through after being fired by a narcissist boss. I went through months of soul searching and agonizing self-appraisal. Ultimately, after terminating 4 people in his department and forcing one to take early retirement, the powers that be fired him. Sadly, HR sat by and watched him wreak havoc on good employees with solid track records before recognizing there was a problem with him!

    “Leaving”
    “Naming My Experience”
    “Finding The Right Therapist/Coach”
    “Getting Past The Obsession”
    “Countering The Power Of Bullying By Reconnecting”
    “Finding My Voice Again”

  2. Thank you so much David for featuring Janice’s work here. I’m enormously proud of her first 5 blog articles. They’re testimony to Janice’s openness of heart and amazing ability to let go rather than dig her heels in or seek revenge. Janice was FABULOUS to work with. 🙂

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