Are workplace abusers “emotional terrorists”?

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893)

In my last post, I discussed a lengthy investigative piece in Variety magazine from December, detailing the story behind Live Nation Entertainment’s decision to place leading producer Heather Parry (“A Star is Born”) on leave, in the wake of multiple accusations of severe workplace bullying and verbal abuse. The Variety piece is loaded with anecdotes from former Live Nation employees, including this one from one-time development executive Wynn Wygal:

Wynn Wygal went to work as a development executive at Live Nation Prods. in November 2017. She said she immediately noticed that her colleagues tensed up whenever Parry walked by.

Wygal soon found that she was prone to angry outbursts, and her moods were impossible to predict.

“Heather berated me on a regular basis for a whole slew of trivial reasons,” Wygal says. “She didn’t like my tone of voice on a call. She didn’t like the way I phrased my emails. She didn’t appreciate my body language in a meeting… I braced whenever she called me into the office.”

Once, she says Parry threatened to fire her for not responding to an email within 15 minutes when she was at lunch with an agent.

Wygal says others were treated even worse, and that Parry was especially hard on the women.

“One day I was sitting in our lawyers’ office when she came in and berated our lawyer right in front of me and the other attorney,” Wygal says. “On multiple occasions I had colleagues come to me distressed and often crying about how Heather had treated them that day.”

“She’s an emotional terrorist,” Wygal says.

Emotional terrorist. Whoa, now there’s a loaded term. I was curious to see how it has been used in other contexts, and quick Google search yielded a lot of hits, especially in the realm of personal relationships. Here’s one from the Urban Dictionary, with a gendered spin:

A person (usually a female) who uses seemingly subtle or inconsequential text messages, body language, or short tone of voice to begin a surprise emotional attack against a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife or Ex. The attack usually results in catastrophic relationship damage.

A person engaging in the planning and execution of heinous acts intended to kill relationships and scare off potential relationship commitment.

I’m not sure where they got the “usually a female” angle, but you get the point. It’s about searing, surprise emotional attacks that can destroy relationships.

Of course, this is all from the perspective of the person on the receiving end of the abuse. And given that targets of workplace bullying and mobbing often invoke references to psychological torture in describing their experiences, emotional terrorist is not off the mark. 

The term itself has no clinical meaning. However, it may characterize behaviors suggestive of a mental health disorder suffered by the person who is launching the verbal attacks. In that sense, listening to targets’ experiences and labels may help us to understand more about the psychology of workplace abusers. If we are going to adequately prevent and respond to these behaviors, then that greater level of understanding is necessary.

5 responses

  1. Intentional psychological abuse/terrorism in the workplace must have consequences to those who ruin people’s mental and/or physical health. Non disclosure agreements must not hide the abusers because it may take years before a bullied person may manifest chronic diseases due to the stress triggered by the bullying.

  2. Such a tough experience to go through! I’m wondering whether being an emotional terrorist is just another word of ‘bully’ or ‘narcissist’. Of course, the latter term needs to be diagnosed which in itself, is a difficult call for the experts but nonetheless, I have come accross all sorts of bullies and tyrants in the workplace but the important thing is to remember your own needs and put them first, communciate effectively and if none of this works, consider whether it’s worth working for somebody who acts in such a damaging way. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I just read the Variety article and the person who has targeted me at work uses some of the exact same wording.

    “To be clear, I have never been sexist, racist or homophobic,” she said. “Anyone who really knows me, knows that to be true.”

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