Workplace bullying and mobbing: Rumination, obsession, and the challenge of getting “unstuck”

Seeking the light

Two weeks ago, I highlighted Janice Gilligan White’s insightful and hopeful writings about recovering and healing from severe workplace mobbing. Among other things, Janice’s recollections of obsessing over the details of her experiences capture what so many bullying and mobbing targets go through:

Getting past my own personal circumstance was very difficult for me. I found myself constantly trying to piece together every last detail of my story.

I had to decide how much more time I was willing to spend on all of it.

There is a truth to workplace bullying / mobbing I had to accept; much of what happened I would never know. The destruction of my career and reputation was done behind closed doors of which I had been denied access.

It’s part of common, larger dynamic that I’ve characterized as the challenge of 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.

A more clinically accurate term for much of this behavior might be rumination. Here’s what I wrote in 2015:

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.

Work abuse can inflict considerable emotional harm. It’s no wonder that many targets of bullying and mobbing have trouble getting unstuck. However, finding their way toward doing so may be the key to their recovery and renewal. After all, to borrow the lyrics from a song by the band Creed, “…what consumes your thoughts controls your life.”

Related posts

Coping with workplace bullying and mobbing: Letting go of the story (but not completely) (2016)

Post-traumatic embitterment disorder as a consequence of workplace bullying (2015)

The obsessive filter of workplace bullying (2015)


6 responses

  1. For me, the ruminating had to do with not wanting to forget any incident for fear it would mean it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I finally wrote down a chronological account of events on a Word document. Every time I thought of another incident, I added it to the list. When the list was finally exhausted, I had 20 pages and I no longer had to keep searching my memory banks for more incidents. Eventually, one of my friends in our Healthy Workplace Advocates group was able to synthesize my account into two paragraphs…it was amazing. We used our abbreviated “stories” to give legislators when we went to lobby them about the Healthy Workplace Bill. This group has give meaning to my experience and I no longer feel driven toward or away from it. Healing is a process. Doing something meaningful with the experiences has helped me and many others. Thank you, David…you are definitely a part of my healing process!

  2. This really hit home with me as I am no stranger to rumination over a job loss and agonizing self-appraisal and criticism consumed me for almost two years. It was a sad and lonely place to be hidden by forced smiles while trying to “carry on.” Although the manager who terminated me was eventually fired for cause, it was only after he had harmed four employees, including me, (all of us were employees in good standing with satisfactory evaluations) and the company was threatened with a lawsuit from one of the employees that HR finally took notice. The depression and anxiety alone experienced by job loss can be unbearable and I found the biggest help came from several job loss/search support groups. There are still far too many bad bosses in the workplace and inept HR departments.

  3. this is helpful: “….much of what happened I would never know. The destruction of my career and reputation was done behind closed doors…” another thought I’m finding helpful, is claiming the paralysis/staying down as a choice I can, and may continue to make. Hopefully that will help me create room for making other choices.

  4. Pingback: Not Ready To Forgive? Go From Bitter To Better Anyway! - The Empowered Employee

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