Social Harm


Coworkers Ostracism: Shunning through Rejection to Abandonment


Humans are social animals. We need validation and confirmation of our humanity and normalcy with others. That's why social norms and the pressure to confirm determine so much of our behavior (though we like to think we are rugged individualists, masters of our own universe) as so much research proves. Thus, when we have the bonds with others stripped away, we suffer a loss.

Kip Williams, the Purdue Univ. expert on ostracism, writing in the Annual Review of Psychology in 2007, has found that when an individual is exposed to social exclusion in a simulated game experiment, responses follow a predictable sequence: (a) a reflexive painful response, (b) increased sadness and anger stemming from threats to our need for belonging, self-esteem, control and meaningful existence, (c) a reflective, cognitive stage to appraise the situation, the reasons for and sources of ostracism, with individual differences guiding the resulting conclusion. If relational needs (belonging) are most thwarted, then the person might behave in a prosocial manner. If one's need to be recognized is most affected, then the person may result in attempts to regain control through provocative or antisocial actions. With repeated incidents of ostracism, the ability to respond at all is depleted, leading to feelings of helplessness, despair and alienation.

There is also neuroscience evidence that social exclusion triggers pain and trauma pathways in the brain. In 2011, there was an explosion of research on the feelings of physical pain related to breakups in romantic relationships. This is consistent with Williams' work. Advice for dealing with love lost was to take 2 ibuprofens! It helps.

A 2010 study found that groups tend to expel members whose generosity exceeds their own. The group throws out altruists because, by comparison, the greedier and more self-interested within the group, can't stand the goodness of the one person. So, they expel them so they stop looking bad. The other reason is that people think the altruist fouls up the group's norm, pushing the group to be better than it actually is. It pushes the group toward a higher ethical standard than the average group member wants for the group.

The point should be clear. When people with whom we have daily intensive contact shun us, it hurts us and challenges our assumptions about our world.

Principal Findings from the WBI 2008 Co-Workers’ Response Study


Online sample of 400 visitors to the WBI website, August, 2008. A self-selected sample of respondents, 95% of whom described themselves as targets of bullying in the workplace. 85% of survey respondents were women.

Here's what targets said their coworkers did in response to the bullying (of which they said 95% of coworkers were aware):

Even Family & Friends Tire


Spouses are the most supportive. However, we found in our year 2000 online study that women spouses sustained their relationships with bullied husbands longer than husbands stayed with bullied wives. Though family members give much more support than coworkers, they tire. Evenings, weekends and vacation time lost to the bullied target's obsession over her or his fate takes its toll on families. The target finds it impossible to turn off the agony after work. The family wants their spouse, father and brother back. Resentment grows. Family counseling could help. It also helps to share information at this website and the book, The Bully At Work, with family so they understand the pressure generated by bullying on the involuntary target.

It really makes sense for targets to make a deal with their families. While under duress from bullying, the family agrees to grant the target "emotional credits" and temporarily sacrifice a normal life. In exchange, the target agrees to work to end the bullying and get safe so those "credits" can be repaid and the family can once again have unlimited time with, and attention from, the now-former target. It's a payback for compassion extended during the acute phases of the bullying.

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