Bullying Ends with Childhood...Right?
Updated: Feb 17, 2018
It’s sometimes hard for people to understand how, as adults, some of us fall foul of bullies, but unfortunately it happens and it happens for many reasons. Race, religion, gender, disability and sexual orientation are common reasons why bullies select their ‘victims’. But what happens when the reason isn’t that obvious; when someone just doesn’t like us and no matter what we do we continue to get tormented? How horrible can life become when it’s a boss or someone superior at work that is causing us this torment? Work place bullying is real, it is dangerous and we need to make people realise that bullying is not ok in any form or any place.
Bullying UK define the act of bullying as “repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically” and although physical bullying in a work environment may be a bit more difficult than say the school playground, the effects of emotional bullying can be much more detrimental to both physical and mental health. Unlike when we are at school / college where there is a time-frame for when we will leave and (hopefully) escape from our tormentors; this time-frame isn’t as well defined when we enter the work of work. Even a casual part time job can be difficult to walk away from, but imagine when it’s a career – the job we’ve spent years working towards, the place where our only source of income comes from, the income that pays the mortgage, bills and everything else we need to look after ourselves and keep our families safe. What happens then?
Having experienced work place bullying myself I am going to answer that question from my own experience and the one word I would use to describe that experience is “Hell”. Every waking hour of every single day was a living hell, whether I was in work or not – because thanks to modern technology and mobile phones when do we, as ‘successful career people’, ever switch off? In short, we don’t and that just makes it easier for bullies to drain our already depleted resources.
I’ve always had a successful career. I pushed myself to achieve what I wanted to from a young age and never had any issues with work colleagues; whether superior, peers or employees before. Having achieved all I could at the place I was working at the time I applied for a job with a different company and not only was I successful at passing the interview for the job I’d applied for, I was actually offered a more senior position that had become available. I was ecstatic...unfortunately that feeling didn’t last for long.
For the first few weeks everything went ok. I got on well with my new boss and absolutely brilliantly with everyone else – and that was the problem; my ability to connect and build rapport with the rest of the team was something my boss wasn’t able to do and it began to cause problems. At first it was small things, snide little comments about being “too friendly”, “maintaining professional boundaries” and “spending too much time with staff” – all of which are a normal part of my management style, but as time passed and my reputation for being approachable and available grew so too did the bullying behaviours.
Nothing I did was ever good enough, I was constantly criticised and expected to work long hours; no matter how much I gave it just wasn’t enough. I was secure enough in my own abilities to not let this criticism affect me at first, but when the comments starting getting more personal it became much more difficult. It suddenly became appropriate to comment (negatively) on what I was wearing, how I looked, whether I was wearing enough make-up etc and having to listen to that negativity on a daily basis began to wear me down. As my self esteem started to deteriorate, so too did my mental health – the confident, outgoing, successful business woman I prided myself on being disappeared and I became a shell of my old self. I couldn’t sleep, struggled to eat and was so afraid of my boss that I would take a 5 minute detour so that I didn’t have to walk past his office when I left mine. In short, it was hell! When I had days off I would still get text messages telling me that I’d forgotten to do things, or reminding me that what I’d done wasn’t good enough, it was just relentless and it felt like I was never going to be able to escape.
The problem was, thanks to my drained emotional state and weakened self-esteem, I wasn’t able to see what a big problem this had become or the effect it was having both on my personal and professional lives. I thought this was “normal” and because I worried that staying at the company for only a short period of time would be detrimental to my future career, I just accepted it. And that is how bullies win. Bullies get their power from taking everything from their victims; their confidence, their esteem, their resilience are slowly stripped away and the more powerless they feel the more power and control the bully has over them.
But the ‘victims’ of bullying aren’t the weak ones. They are the ones that survive this daily torment, they are the ones that don’t give up, they are the ones that stay strong no matter what is thrown at them. The bullies are the weak ones; they need to belittle, terrify and torture their ‘victims’ just to make themselves feel good. They are the ones that think the only way to feel powerful is to steal that power from someone else and they are the ones that will derive satisfaction from seeing their ‘victims’ feel as isolated as they truly feel themselves.
And I guess that’s where my story is different from many other “survivors” of bullying. Despite only having been at the company for a short time, my colleagues realised what was happening – in fact in hindsight they realised long before I did and while supporting me they sought out help when I couldn’t. Just like isolation can cause mental health problems to get worse, so to can it have the same impact on bullying. My colleagues weren’t afraid to talk about what was happening, they weren’t willing to stand back and accept what was happening and they weren’t afraid to raise awareness about the situation so that something could be done about it!
So it’s time to start talking about bullying in the work place. It’s a fact, adults get bullied too. Bullying can happen anywhere at any time and although they may not realise it at the time, the ‘victims’ have nothing to be ashamed off. They are strong, courageous survivors who are worthwhile and deserve to work in a place free from torment.
Bullying is talked about so often nowadays...whether its school bullying, cyber bullying or anything else. But the profile of work place bullying needs to be raised – the message needs to be loud and clear...
"No one should have to live each day in fear of another human being."