The Target

What makes a target?

  • Wrong place/wrong time ie. works for a dysfunctional organization.
  • Unresolved dispute with bully - escalates the bully/target game.
  • Previous target leaves.
  • Different to others, eg different culture, over qualified, socially disengaged.
  • Shows vulnerability.
  • Bully is a new manager.
  • Conscientious, agreeable, quiet achiever.
  • Bully is jealous or threatened.
  • Inflame bully game by revealing distress eg 'doing nothing'.
  • Socially unassertive or avoid conflict.
  • Whistle blow: mismanagement, malpractice, fraud.
  • Inappropriate social and communication skills - others bully as payback.
  • Padlocked to the job and can't leave.
  • Physical injury and can’t work as hard now.
  • Paralysed due to earlier but totally different traumas or other personal difficulties.
  • Support a colleague who is being bullied - you're next!
  • An active trade union official.
  • And many more...

Audit your beliefs

Research by Thylefors (1987) and Zapf (1999) demonstrate that before being bullied at work, targets were competent functional contributing employees.However after workplace bullying, most targets are injured in some ways, some permanently. Most don't understand what went wrong, as they believed themselves to be loyal, conscientious employees. They don't realise when and why they were injured, as the bullying occurs over a period of time, nor the high degree to which they have been injured, when previously they had regarded themselves as being strong.

Research in psychological trauma provides evidence indicating that the meaning an individual attributes to a traumatic event impacts symptoms and recovery. Thus although we don't know what causes some employees to be more injured by workplace bullying, it appears that faulty belief systems may contribute.

Evelyn M Field did a simple survey of the beliefs bullied targets and those who have not been bullied (control group) hold about themselves, their employer and their workplace.

It was based upon replies from this website and was presented at the IAWBH conference in Milan (2014). If you want further information, then contact her.

  1. All bullied targets believed that their beliefs led to an increase in their being injured by the bullying.
  2. There was no statistical difference between employees with these beliefs, ie

    "If I am nice to people they will be nice to me."

    "I am prepared to stand up for what is right to make the workplace safer."

    "Medico-legal professionals, insurance companies, rehabilitation providers can manage cases professionally and ethically."

    "Legal action provides validation, compensation and justice when there is bullying at work."

  3. There was a statistically significant difference between bullied targets and control group. Targets were more likely to uphold these beliefs -

    "I am a strong person and can manage challenges"

    "If others can manage bullying behaviours, so can I if it happened to me."

  4. There was an extremely statistically significant difference between bullied targets and control group. Targets were more likely to uphold these beliefs -

    "I am a hard-working employee and expect that my employer will respect me."

    "If I report the bullying, my employer will intervene effectively"

    "My colleagues would always support my concerns."

    "Employees should not report their co-workers."

    "My company has excellent values and implement their workplace safety policies."

    "Past traumas and current stressors would not affect me at work."

    "The consequences of losing a good job or taking action are worse than being bullied."

  5. Most (66%) of targets of bullying believed that “The bullying cannot get any worse."
  6. This simple survey indicates that while some beliefs are universal, major differences were found between the beliefs of bullied targets and the control group.
  7. Bullied targets may become further injured by workplace bullying when they hold certain beliefs about their own strengths and the role of their current workplace.

    Perhaps targets have unrealistic, politically naive belief systems or assumptions, which lead to their blind spots, ignoring warnings or feedback from others. Few people realise that bullying causes a brain injury,so some minimize the dangers, and as bullying is a slowly, growing insidious injury and less identifiable than a major assault. Maybe the shock of being sabotaged by faulty belief systems renders the target powerless, helpless and paralyzed. Maybe the belief in their own powers propelled them to take action when it was not safe to do so, thereby exacerbating the bullying.

  8. Whereas the control group appear more aware of their limitations in dealing with bullying. Perhaps they would be more realistic or politically savy when bullying occurs and have less trust in their workplace to intervene effectively. Consequently, they would have taken action earlier or find other ways to manage it or leave. Perhaps they are more resilient, adaptable, less stubborn, less naive or just lucky.
  9. Being bullied changes one’s beliefs about oneself and workplace, perhaps unrealistic beliefs account for the high degree of ruminating that we observe in most victims of workplace bullying. Could they be searching for missing link which explains their workplace bullying trauma. ie What is my blind spot? Why did I ignore my gut warning? Why couldn't I protect myself?” Why was I injured?
  10. Therefore, we could hypothesize that all employees share some common beliefs about themselves and their workplace. The control group appears to have a greater awareness of reality, an awareness of the political climate and an instinct to protect themselves. Whereas targets may maintain some beliefs which prevent them from reading the warning signs and taking action to prevent, reduce, block, move away from the bullying until it is too late and they are injured further.

Thus, if you are being bullied, then do a safety check. Are you beliefs practical and reasonable in your current workplace or do you need to trash or reprogram them?

How targets can be injured by workplace bullying?

Physical injuries, (e.g. sleep difficulties, nightmares, weight loss or gain, gastro difficulties, headaches, blood pressure, skin disorders, muscle and joint pain, hair loss, voice changes and many reports other symptoms such as heart rate changes, palpitations, fatigue, eye sight difficulties, shortness of breath, tics, Graves disease, thyroid, increase smoking, drinking, deep vein thrombosis, auto immune conditions, jaw pain, suicide ideation, heart palpitations, low blood platelets, incontinence, sweating, fibromyalgia).

Psychological injuries, including depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorder. When the injuries last longer than six months it cannot be described as being an adjustment disorder (McFarlane) but becomes a posttraumatic stress disorder.

According to Dr Patricia Ferris (2014) Evelyn M Field ( 2012, 2104) and others, the most seriously injured victims of bullying also display common symptoms including a high degree of ruminative thinking, hyper-vigilance and psychological paralysis.

Cognitive changes - Targets find it hard to concentrate on anything but the bullying, learning new work is hard, etc.

Social life - Change’s in one’s social life that lead to reduced social interaction, this includes going to the supermarket, shopping centres, catching up with extended family or friends.

Personality changes - most victims describe themselves as being different, “I am not the same person I used to be”.