Workplace bullying: emotional abuse that happens at work
A recent policy paper from ACAS commented that workplace bullying is on the increase and a serious problem in British companies. The Guardian has called it ‘the silent epidemic’, and whilst this is no surprise to the countless individuals who endure it every year, identifying it can be problematic as victims’ experiences are often not obvious to employers.
This kind of workplace abuse thrives in the current climate of insecurity, competition for jobs and long-term dismantling of employee rights and its effects can wreak a terrible impact on the psyche of the victim.
How it starts
Often surreptitious and under the radar, from personal and client experiences I know that the early stages creep up on you in a gradual unsettling way.
One moment friendly and welcoming, the next it can feel as if the ground beneath your feet is shifting, as you notice more and more barbed, slightly off key comments, get picked up on minor details, feel slightly excluded or perhaps notice that you are given less favourable tasks.
How it builds
The thing about bullying is that it can take root and spread quickly. Victims experience themselves being silenced, denigrated, overlooked, kept down. Progression may be blocked, your workload may dramatically increase, and with it feelings of overwhelm and being demeaned because you can’t keep up. As the pressure increases, it’s hard to know who to trust or where to turn. Part of the grip of bullying is that it makes the bullied question their own competence and their own real felt experience.
More than one dragon to slay
A more disturbing aspect to this process is that of mobbing, where more people join in with the bullying, either consciously or unconsciously as it becomes a group onslaught. This occurs similarly in nature, where the most vulnerable bird is attacked by the whole flock.
It can be hard to know who to trust when there is this confusing mask on/mask off situation amongst your colleagues and this can leak over into your personal relationships.
Impact on the victim
You may be deeply affected, with symptoms of stress and unhappiness, persistent low mood, poor sleep, cravings for comfort foods or alcohol. You may notice that you laugh less, find it hard to be light-hearted.
The whole situation can feel really toxic.
Recovery and rebuilding
If it were easy to just pack your bags and go to another job, chances are you would be gone. Bullies know this and they often strike people who feel stuck or whose choices are a bit locked down, perhaps by having school age children.
Working with a trained counsellor who understands the sheer debilitation of workplace bullying can help you salvage who you are and reclaim your right to emerge from this situation, fully empowered and with a new perspective, rebuilt self esteem and increased resilience.
Counselling is such a constructive solution because it is your chance for your story to be heard and the by-products of this are that clients gain a forensic understanding of what has been going on, how it’s happened and how to reinforce their boundaries to make sure the bullying stops and doesn’t happen again.
Often it’s the one who is bullied who leaves; counsellors can work with clients so that the choice to leave or not is reinstated as fully theirs.