The following article courtesy
Bully For Me.
to support a target - from a Target's viewpoint:
(and further down the
page is an exploration of what you may experience
when acting as a support for a target:)
Supporting a target - from a
The most important thing a person
can do is believe the victim of workplace abuse and
harassment. Most people do the worst thing possible,
by denying the truth of what the target of bullying
or mobbing is going through. In order to try and "help,"
or in disbelief that it actually can be "that
bad," many people dismiss a target's feelings
by the use of standard clichés. These clichés,
which include "it's normal" or "it's
just a personality difference" and "don't
be so sensitive," only serve to silence someone
trying to speak about what is happening to them. And
worse, not only does it not help someone deal appropriately
with the situation, but it causes secondary wounding,
which only doubles the damage done to the person going
Much like in the early days of
trying to bring up the issues of sexual discrimination
and harassment, we, the targets of bullying, (until
now) have had no frame of reference. No language for
what was happening to us. Targets are often told to
just "get over it." We struggle to find
our voice and to try and express to others what is
or was happening to us.
This inability to describe what
is happening when it can't be seen in the dominant
culture, reminds me of a story I was told in school.
It was about the Native American Indians who couldn't
see the Spanish ships sailing in towards them. Apparently
they could see the ripples on the water heading their
way, but couldn't see what was causing the disturbance
on the water. They had to call their Shaman in to
figure out what it was. And even the Shaman sat there
for a few days before he could see it. But once he
did, and could point out where the sails were, etc.
the others had a frame of reference and could then
see it. Because they had no frame of reference originally,
they couldn't figure out what was headed towards them.
They could see the effects of it and what it was doing
to the water, without knowing why.
This "seeing the effects,"
but not being able to figure out what is happening
to them, is often the experience of the person being
bullied. Because they have no frame of reference,
no language for what is happening to them, they don't
understand what is happening at first. Because of
this, they do their best to endure it. If it continues,
they seek ways to make it stop. Generally they start
with themselves. They attempt to change themselves
first because they assume everyone is logical and
wouldn't maliciously hurt someone without reason.
However the reasons are not usually because the target
is flawed in some way, but because the bully is. Whether
the bully does it for jealousy, power, control or
insecurity, a bully often picks on the most diligent,
enthusiastic, creative and hard working person in
the group. Because of this, when the target becomes
completely frustrated at their inability to change
the situation, from getting no response to their own
changes or the next step, complaints to people higher
up, in HR or a union Rep., some targets get pushed
as far as committing suicide or even murder/suicide
when they can no longer take it and feel all avenues
have been exhausted to make it stop. The well used
popular term "going postal" is the serious
problem of workplace bullying at it' worst extreme.
And many people lose the support they need most, from
partners, co-workers, and friends to the management,
HR and unions that are supposed to protect them.
Most people bullied suffer in silence,
with their health being the first indicator of a larger
issue they are unable to resolve. So what can you
do - as a person who loves or is trying to help a
target? Well - it varies for different people and
for different supporters. A partner or friend of a
target may do something completely different than
a psychologist, HR person or co-worker. There are
similarities, but the following list is a start.
First of all, try to believe what
the target is telling you. As unbelievable as it may
sound, it is likely all true. Even if you know the
person and they treat you and others differently than
what the target is experiencing. Often a target will
be picked on and excluded from the "kind"
treatment others get - specifically so they are seen
as "crazy." This pulls their support system
apart and makes them question what is happening to
them. Even if you feel it can't possibly be true,
don't belittle the target. Validation is crucial.
They are telling you because they trust you. The best
way to validate their experience is by repeating back
what they are saying in your own words. Never say
things like "be logical" or "don't
worry about it."
Hear and Validate the Target:
Secondly, try not to think of how
you would deal with the situation, or how you think
the target should. Try to really hear the target,
and repeat back, in your own words, what you think
they are feeling and saying. They need to be validated
and heard above all else. This is the most crucial
thing you can do to help a target. Have the confidence
that the target will get through it. Telling them
what to do only serves to further lower their confidence
and self-esteem. This will only make them an easier
target for the bully.
The Power of the People:
If you are a co-worker or bystander
of the bullying, standing up to the bully or stopping
gossip about the target is important. Often if no
one is listening to the bully's lies, or if the target
has even one or two others saying that the bully is
lying about the target or behaving in an unprofessional
manner, the bullying can be stopped. Bystanders really
don't realize the power they hold over the bully.
They allow fear to stop them from saying anything.
But the truth is that often the bully is more afraid
of getting caught than anything else, or is somehow
being rewarded for bad behavior (think cost-cutting
and fear tactics to get staff to give higher productivity).
Management, HR or union reps can help even more by
letting the bully know they are keeping an eye on
their behavior and setting clear guidelines for appropriate
behavior of employees, even if they cannot see any
"real" damage to the target. Does a sexual
or racial harassment claim need to defend and prove
the damage? No. Everyone is trained to look for the
behavior and to call attention to management when
they see it. There are clear guidelines on what to
do if it happens to you. Reporting is usually confidential
and helpful. Bullying on the other hand, is dismissed,
joked about, and violates the victim by offering no
help whatsoever in getting help from the attacks of
the bully. It's far too often ruled as "just
a personality conflict." In fact, management
and others often make it worse for the target after
a target has complained, singling them out as "difficult"
and "the problem" for bringing awareness
of the issue up. (Think whistleblower.) This then
gives the bully free reign to further harass the target,
knowing full well there will be no repercussions to
their cruel behavior.
Setting Boundaries for health:
For loved ones or co-workers, compassion
fatigue can be a real danger. Compassion fatigue is
caused when the supporter has lost the ability to
listen and care about what is happening. Because they
hear the stories continually, they can easily be overwhelmed,
especially if they work in the same place, as they
may fear the bully will get them next. This fatigue
may cause you to want to turn off, tune out and to
stop listening to the target entirely. At its extreme,
you may want to avoid the target altogether. Don't
feel bad for not feeling entirely empathetic if you
feel you've heard too much for months on end, and
just want it to stop. But don't avoid them or stop
listening completely. It will truly cause the target
as much pain as the bullying, if not more. They will
feel completely betrayed when they need you most.
The best thing to do is set boundaries for the target.
Express that you are feeling overwhelmed and that
you need to set a certain time each day - or a limited
time per week - whatever you two can agree on and
what works for you. After that time, the target needs
to journal, talk to a psychologist, or whatever else
they can to give you a rest. They need to talk about
other things with you instead of reliving every moment
you have together about what's happening to them.
Kindly let them know there is more to life than the
bullying, and that you want to keep your relationship
healthy for you both. Let them know you know the situation
and they are important to you , but that you - and
they - need to have some good experiences together
too, to keep it from overwhelming you both and destroying
Allow them to Heal:
An important part of helping a
target is helping them realize that this is a normal
response to an abnormal situation. Bullying is a deeply
traumatic psychological injury. Much like any injury,
this loss and hurt needs time to heal. Going straight
into a "workaholic frenzy" to cover their
feelings will not help. They need downtime, a good
psychologist, and as much information as they can
get on the phenomenon so as not to have to go through
it again. The healing time is crucial, though agonizing
for many people who are used to going 100 miles an
hour and doing many things. This downtime is about
rest, shedding tears, being angry, drawing, reading,
writing letters or whatever may help releasing those
pent-up emotions. Many will avoid this stage, though
it is most crucial. If they don't do this, the body
will eventually start feeling the physical effects
of the strain, as it has to come out somehow. Let
the target know it's okay to be tired, to not be able
to do what they are used to. This exhaustion will
pass quicker if they don't fight it.
Tolerance for time needed to heal:
A common response for a target
once they realize what damage and loss this bully
has caused, is to become angry, numb, or depressed.
This may seem to "take forever" to "get
over" to outsiders, but it is crucial time for
the target. Much like the grief of death or sickness,
companies and often friends and family have little
tolerance for the time needed to go through all the
healing steps. This grieving for their loss of self,
trust and faith in the world and others can take months
or years. It all depends on how long and how deeply
the target was damaged. Unlike a "normal"
trauma or incident where one has to get over on crucial
life-changing event, bullying is a continued trauma
incident after trauma after trauma, so compounded
that it can take years for the psyche to pull it all
apart let alone deal with each of the incidents properly.
A supporter needs to have patience with the target
for the time needed to heal. Know that it will end
- it just cannot be cured in a few weeks or even months.
Average time for a target to heal from bullying is
one to two years.
Focus on Fun:
Targets also often pull away from
the people they need most. They are quite rightly
afraid of others and afraid of burdening the few supports
they have. As a support to them, getting them to focus
on going out once a week to do something fun is very
important. One of the biggest losses of a target is
the ability to trust others and to feel there is any
joy or pleasure in the world. A good dinner, an evening
out doing something interactive - not a movie as they
will just escape and not really allow themselves to
feel - will help the target keep a sense of perspective
and help in the healing process. Talking to others,
whether about the trauma or not, is one of the best
Telling the story:
The first response for many targets,
once they fully realize what has happened, is a need
to tell everyone their story - not just their friends
and family. They will want to tell the whole world
about this outrageous injustice. This is because the
incredible injustice stimulates a strong motivation
to draw a sense of purpose out of what has happened
to them. For many, it is just the start of education
others of the damage of bullying, or the beginning
of a campaign to reform legislation. However, before
they start down this road, it needs to be a calculated
effort - after they are healed. A knee-jerk reaction
and a jump straight into the fire is not a good first
step. This type of desire to "change the world"
is not to be taken lightly. It is extremely difficult
and can be very draining. It's not for everyone. For
a target to truly do themselves and others any good,
they need to heal first, and to educate themselves
as to where and how they may want to do this - or
if they even really want to. Sometimes the best revenge
is just living a happy life. To help them with this,
a good suggestion is help get them interested in joining
a peer support group, such as No Bully For Me. This
way, they will have not only people who understand,
but also people who can show them the pros and cons
of this route, as well as being able to help them
through the healing process much more quickly. Telling
everyone before they are healed, or starting a huge
campaign will just drain the energy they need to heal.
And how they tell the story is an important skill
as well so that they don't overwhelm people who don't
yet understand about workplace bullying.
Is there Justice? And how can -
or how willing are you to help?
Often a target's next step is to
search for justice in the form of legal or other battles.
They will need your support. But to help them, you
will need to ask them some difficult questions. What
exactly do they expect from this course of action?
How do they see their future if they go this route?
And how do they feel justice will be served in their
eyes? Often this injustice will make them extremely
angry and unable to differentiate between what they
want or need, and what is simply a reality they must
accept. Some want the bully to recognize what they've
done and to apologize; others want the company or
bully to pay for what they've done. And sometimes
they just are angry at the cruelty and cannot see
what they are searching for. No matter what they decide,
you need to decide if you are able to help them, how
specifically you will help, and to what point and
degree. This needs to be clear so that a target does
not feel further abandoned if you are not willing
to help them in all areas of their need for justice.
Often the best way to help them is to help them get
medical leave so they have the time they need to heal.
This in itself is the first step before one even considers
any other projects or attempts for "justice."
There are many more things you
can do to help a target, but these ideas should help
you get started. The main thing to remember is that
you can make a difference. The target of bullying
may not tell you right away, but they do need and
appreciate all the support you can offer.
If you would like more info, feel
free to e-mail Karen (or Stephen) on a specific question
it's like to be a supportive loved one - one partner's
When you're the spouse of someone
who is being bullied at work, what does that mean
for you? Well, it depends a lot on the people involved,
but it probably means some difficult times ahead.
How difficult it will be can vary depending from the
state of your relationship to the state of your finances.
Whatever your circumstances, it is most likely you
will experience stress in both these areas. How bad
it gets depends on your ability to understand and
come to terms with what is happening to your spouse
and how it is affecting your life.
It's quite likely most people will
not understand that what is happening to them until
it has been occurring for quite some time, let alone
conceptualize it as bullying. What happens is your
spouse comes home from work increasingly more stressed,
depressed and upset. But as it progresses, your spouses
stress inevitably becomes your stress as well. First
it just sounds like complaints about difficult people
at work. We all encounter difficult people everywhere,
including work, and most people will try to help their
spouse cope. But when these attempts fail, and the
problems and stress continues, you may begin to feel
resentful. You could even start to think that your
spouses' inability to deal with their work issues
is their own fault. If this occurs, your spouse may
soon be experiencing not only a hostile work place,
but a destructive and unsympathetic home environment
as well. Even while all your attempts to help are
sincere, until you truly understand that your spouse
is experiencing, it will be difficult to provide the
kind of support that will help both of you deal with
the bullying and its affects.
Even the most empathetic person
may have a difficult time understanding what a bullied
person feels if they have not had similar experiences.
When you've done everything you can think of to help
them, and your spouse says, "I've tried, nothing
works," what do you do? For most people, it's
no small task to truly put your self in somebody else's
shoes. Ultimately, you will have to make the choice
to simply believe what they tell you is happening.
Imagine having to deal with a person who is acting
hostilely towards you; you attempt to befriend them,
it doesn't stop; you ignore them, it continues; you
challenge their behaviour, they deny it. On and on
it goes, one way or another. They gossip about you,
they complain about you to your boss, they're hostile,
disrespectful; they sabotage you at every opportunity.
What if your co-workers are their friends? What if
your boss is their friend? What if they're your boss!
Every situation is different. But for your spouse,
they likely feel helpless, trapped, and with few options.
This is what it may take for you to fully appreciate
their situation. If you can, congratulations, as it
wasn't until my spouse became physically ill that
I fully came to appreciate what was happening, and
accept the situation as truly something more that
typical work problems.
It is only once you've accepted
the reality of the situation your spouse is experiencing
that you will be able to help them. That is when you
will be their ally in helping them, rather than trying
make the problems go away that are causing you stress.
Until then, all your good advice isn't what they need
- they need validation and to feel you hear them.
You may need to accept reality and face some difficult
decisions you'd rather not. Whatever action you decide
to take, be it legal action, leaving the job, or staying
and taking on the bully, your spouse will need you
there to support them. It won't make all the stress
go away, or alleviate the financial difficulties that
may result from changing jobs or taking legal action,
but two people working on a common purpose will be
better off than the alternative of conflict at work
and at home.
By a Supporter of a Target who
six years of bullying in the workplace.
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