‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’
Was a saying that I was taught by my Granddad when I was just a small child in response to name calling from children in school. The saying implies that you may be able to hurt me by physical force but not by calling me names and insulting me. Nevertheless, does this rhyme really hold true in today’s society where no physical contact is actually required to hurt someone – mentally and emotionally? Sadly bullying has become commonplace: in our schools, our workplaces, leisure activities and clubs, homes and within our families and on social media - just about everywhere.
Counselling Directory ran a survey in 2016, which found that 72% of clients that presented in therapy with anxiety or depression actually had bullying related issues. As a counsellor, I am familiar and saddened by this situation. Often we think bullying stops at the school gates but unfortunately, it all too often carries on into the workplace. I often notice that clients tends to feel embarrassed and ashamed to admit to themselves let alone another that they are being bullied.
So what is workplace bullying?
www.GOV.UK defines bullying as a behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended and can happen face-to-face, by letter, email or by phone. Examples of bullying include (though not an exhaustive list):
Gossiping about or spreading malicious rumours about someone behind their back.
Verbal insults or abuse to include derogatory or stereotypical comments, name calling, inappropriate jokes, ridicule, innuendo.
Unnecessary excessive or domineering supervision/management.
Excluding, isolating an individual.
Purposefully undermining competent work.
Putting excessive and unreasonable pressure on an individual.
What can be the impact of bullying on an individual?
Bullying tends not to be a one-off event; usually, it takes place over a prolonged period of time, chipping away at an individual, causing them distress and impacting on their self-confidence and self-esteem. Often individuals will become anxious and depressed and their ability to cope with their day to day life will become affected, impacting on not only their working life but their home, family and social life.
Bullying affects individuals emotionally and physically; emotional changes range from anxiety, panic attacks to depression; physically an individual may experience headaches, feeling or being sick, raised blood pressure, inability to sleep and loss of appetite. An individual’s behaviour may change too, becoming irritable, aggressive, withdrawn or increasing their consumption of alcohol or tobacco.
How can counselling help?
Often with bullying, you can feel alone in your experience, embarrassed and ashamed; counselling can give you a safe space to talk without fear or judgment about what is happening to you with support and encouragement. It is possible that bullying can trigger any pre-existing insecurities, which can affect your well-being and increase the negative impact that bullying can have on self-esteem.
In counselling sessions, you are able to unpack and understand what is happening to you whilst also having the opportunity to explore what your options are, whether it is to confront the behaviour or to seek help via a formal process, and how you may feel about your options.
Sometimes counselling can bring to the forefront feelings of wanting to change the working environment but also feelings of fear of being stuck with no options, which can often exacerbate the existing problem. Through exploring options counselling can empower individuals to look at opportunities outside of the box and can help rebuild confidence.
“When a person realises he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense he is weeping for joy. It is as though he was saying, Thank God, somebody heard me, somebody knows what its like to be me.” - Carl Rogers.
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