February 23rd, 2012

Bullies at Work: Bushwhackers by Design

People targeted by bullies for humiliation and degrading treatment always get a head start because their initial attacks surprise targets. You may ask, always surprise? Yes, they get bushwhacked.

It’s explained by the stark contrast in worldviews and developed personalities of the two, bully and target.

Most bullies are verbal jousters, on the attack and aggressive by nature. This comes from a lifetime of rewards for “beating the other guy” in a myriad of ways. They have learned that a “winning” strategy is to strike first, to verbally pounce so the other person is on the defensive. It’s not about giving people choices or inviting participation. Rather, it’s about boxing them in with no options.

Sometimes, we think they have to rehearse the nastiest thing to say that instantly destabilizes another person. With practice and age, we think it comes spontaneously to them. The only time they act in a deferential way to others is when those others have more power than them or model aggression so that they are the bully’s idols. Otherwise, everyone else is beneath their station in life.

On the other hand, targets were socialized to be more genteel and polite. They are “nice.” Interactions, they were taught, should begin with “icebreakers” and niceties, chit-chat to warm up before diving into discussions over serious matters. They consider it rude to move too quickly or too bluntly to an important point.

So, when the blustering, bold, arrogant, aggressive bully plows into a target with opening line attacks, neglecting any semblance of respectful interactions, targets are taken aback. Nasty comeback lines are beyond their grasp, and that is what is required to put bullies back on their heels.

Unfortunately, while backing up, bullies figuratively steadily invade the target’s world. Targets ruminate about the motivation for what, to them, is shocking behavior. While the cognitive wheels are turning, they are frozen into a “deer in the headlight” numb mask. The bully reads correctly that no counter-attack is forthcoming, and the toxic exploitative relationship begins with the target always one step behind.

Surprises are what give magic its entertainment value. Surprises are for birthdays, and then only positive ones.

But surprises of unrelenting incidents that trigger stress levels beyond a person’s coping ability are the antithesis of fun. They are horror. They create terror. In so many ways, bullies are organizational terrorists generating fear that ruins health, careers and families.

Trauma-inducing environments have three properties — the deprivation of control over situations, denial of security and safety, and unpredictable onset of negative events. That is why work trauma from severe bullying can generate PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). The element of surprise, unpredictability coupled with an absence of control, is an important element in PTSD, whether the source is familial violence between spouses, siblings, at war, or at work. The traumatic experience is similar.

Because the perpetrating aggressor is in charge of the timing and location of her or his assaults as well as who will be targeted, the target should never feel responsible. Society harps about “there are two sides” and everyone has to take “personal responsibility.”

Balderdash! The responsibility is the bully’s alone. If you are a target, stop blaming yourself for the very natural and scary reaction to surprising assaults. You didn’t ask for it. And unless you possess your own ability to bury the bully in a matched counterattack, you could not defend yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty for being surprised. You are the better person.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 at 5:12 pm and is filed under Tutorials About Bullying. 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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