May 2nd, 2013

The Courage to Face Workplace Bullying Demons


Are bullies demons? Bully apologists abhor “demonizing” abusers in the workplace. What’s the alternative? Revere them. Thank them for showing us how loathsome and dark can be the human condition? Ignore their cruelty foisted on the best and brightest workers whose principal goal of every day is to be “left alone” to do their jobs? Of course, that’s exactly what bully apologists do. We think they stand on the wrong side of the moral fence.

We at WBI are target-centric. We’ve chosen the other side. We didn’t start the U.S. Workplace Bullying movement to treat it as an academic exercise in neutrality. Targets deserve and need support. Institutions do a fine job of defending perpetrators.

In our nearly 16 years of listening to bullying tales, many targets have spoken of “seeing evil” in the faces of their bullies. The dictionary defines a demon as “a source or agent of evil, harm, distress, or ruin.” What bully has not caused harm or distress? So, when many bullies are demons, holding them accountable is accurately labeling them. Call it what you want. Wonder what transitive verb there is to describe the act of defending demons? I’d rather occasionally and justifiably demonize than be justifiably demonized.

Certainly not all perpetrators are evil. In our books and all of our speeches, we believe that most bullies are responsive to rewards inherent in the work environment that promotes aggression. In other words, good people outside work are transformed into antisocial actors. They are playing a role. Over time, rewarded bullying becomes the expected way to behave in a toxic workplace.

Given how cruel and vicious some bullies can be, it is amazing that anyone stands up to bullies. The empirical evidence — anecdotal tales told to WBI by callers and research studies by others and WBI — shows that overwhelming number of coworkers who witness workplace bullying do nothing to stop the bullying of a colleague.

However, at a public meeting in Minnetonka on April 30, I met the rarest of all people — those with courage to stand up to their bully demons.

Starting with the most bullyproof, a woman guided by a strong rule for self-preservation, in her words — f*** that sh**. You have to admire that. Its the strongest of boundaries, impregnable, letting no one with the intent to hurt her near her most private sacred identity.

Another pair of wonderful women demonstrated how vital it is to not allow our friends and colleagues suffer. One was the target, one was the witness. Together they faced down the bully, thwarting her at every turn. They never allowed the bully to get satisfaction from her meddling with the target’s career. The target moved to safety and still the bully pursued her. Justice was realized when the target was able to send a final e-mail to the bully signed “Peace,” which surely infuriated the frustrated bully.

Another pair was bonded by the strength shown by one woman who filed a suit after a failed union grievance and won. To her friend and all coworkers she had shown the power of not giving up. In the pair, one was a hero to the other. The “hero” was too humble to acknowledge how much she had helped the others with her moral courage. However, it was apparent to all of us in the room.

Another woman had wonderful advice for those seeking effective counselors. She credited two clinical techniques with making her treatment more effective than it had ever been. One was Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). There were others in the group that seconded the benefit from EFT. The second technique was EMDR. We agree that it might help to ask your counselor if she or he is familiar with one or both techniques. Anything that helps bullied targets is worth trying.

A daughter was instrumental in forcing her mother to spring into action against the bullying, to not passively absorb the pain and become immobilized. It was a great illustration that family is the deepest spring from which social support comes.

There were two husbands in the group who had steadfastly supported their bullied wives. Though it sounds like automatic behavior, weathering the obsession, anxiety and depression, shame and guilt that targets experience, it takes courage to stay with your loved one. Lots of men leave. They tire easily. Bullying is a family experience. It tears at the fabric of families. So, thanks to all partners, spouses and adult children who uncritically support their aggrieved and assaulted family member.

Kudos to the courageous among us who never accept workplace bullying as acceptable. You inspire us!

And thanks to everyone who attended the Minnetonka meeting. In the early years, Ruth and I were in constant personal contact with targets of workplace bullying. Seeing the faces and hearing your stories validates the years we have invested in struggling for change in our country.

We wish you all recovery and a return to as near a normal life as you can achieve.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 at 10:15 am and is filed under Target Tale, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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  1. yeskia says:

    The one image I have indelibly etched in my memory of the person who bullied me, is that smug grin, and every time I saw that grin, it turned my stomach.

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