Counselling for Victims of Workplace Bullying & Harassment
There is no official definition of bullying, however the description below describes its essential elements:
‘A destructive process, characterised by a series of hostile acts, which taken separately may be seen as inconsequential, but when repeated may have pernicious effects’
Heinz Leymann 1996
When do you know you are being bullied at work?
Because the process may be stretched over time and consist of many small and seemingly unimportant events, it may be difficult to define what has actually happened and when the ‘banter’ turned into bullying.
When you begin describing it to others or even to yourself you may feel that you are being silly, or not relaxed enough, or not having a sense of humour. You may start doubting yourself and stop talking about it to your work colleagues, because you don’t want to be singled out as ‘odd’. If the person who bullies you happens to be your superior e.g. manager, team leader, supervisor, you will worry about possible implications “if I am wrong, my chances of career development may be gone”.
The most important thing to know in this situation is:
Do not doubt your feelings and intuition. The indicator of whether you are bullied or not is your perception and emotional response, because ‘acts of bullying’ can be disguised as ‘only a joke’ or relevant ‘feedback’ or ‘criticism’, of your work.
If you are bullied at work you may be feeling or suffering
- Anxiety and dread at the thought of going to work, worried about making a mistake
- Sleeplessness – thinking about work next day, trying to anticipate all the scenarios which may cause you distress, and plan ahead to avoid them
- lonely, different (isolated from?) to others
- like other people know something, that affects you, that you don’t
- anxious and agitated at work
- distracted, unable to focus
- that you can’t talk to your co-workers because they won’t understand you
Is there one person who is somehow connected to all those feelings? Most of the time it will be obvious, but a workplace bully is not always overtly hostile. It may be someone who claims that they want the best for you and by admitting to feeling all the above emotions you would appear ungrateful…
There are some behaviours that are clearly part of the bullying tactics, and some which are more subtle, when you think “but if my friend said that I wouldn’t be so upset”. Remember that bullying consists of many little actions which may seem almost benign on their own…
If you are being bullied by colleagues you may be experiencing
- being given work beyond your abilities, without training, maybe made believe it is a ‘challenge’
- being criticised excessively, and possibly publicly in front of your colleagues
- not being given a chance to discuss your performance
- being ignored or omitted in promotion or training opportunities
- suffering comments about your personal life style, appearance, beliefs intended as an insult and humiliation but masquerading as a joke or ‘banter’
- being ridiculed for not getting the above ‘banter’ and therefore being seen as being too sensitive
- passive aggressive behaviour escalating to verbal or physical abuse (mostly without witnesses)
The emotional impact of workplace bullying can be immensely destructive. You may feel distraught to the point of not being able to go to work anymore. You reach for the last resort, being signed-off with work related stress.
Most employers have policies and procedures for dealing with workplace bullying. However, it is also a catch 22 that a victim of bullying is often too emotionally unwell to embark on the arduous process of complaints and investigations.
How can counselling for workplace bullying help?
You may feel worried and not trusting enough in your employer’s impartiality, at least until you gather confidence and voice to tell your story and seek justice
Engaging with a non-judgemental, compassionate therapist who will offer a confidential space to hear and validate your bullying experience can be of tremendous value to your emotional well-being and consequently to your ‘well-doing’ i.e. taking actions so confront the work bully and stop their behaviour.
If you are a victim of bullying in the workplace, counselling can help
This is a useful article I wrote for Counselling Directory to help you determine whether you are bullied, or maybe whether you can be seen as a bully: