If you have been through workplace bullying, whether it was mental or emotional bullying, you definitely know how it feels. You probably didn’t wanna wake up each day with the thought of going to work again. You might have experienced daily anxiety or an elevated level of stress.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying at work is a repeated mistreatment addressed to a coworker in the form of threatening, humiliating, verbal abuse (including yelling), work sabotage or intimidating. A National Survey conducted in 2014, found out that 27% of Americans experienced workplace bullying.
Moreover, the health effects of workplace bullying are not encouraging at all.
A Zogby International Survey found out that 45% of people who were bullied at work suffer from debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, cardiovascular disease and post traumatic stress disorder.
The signs of workplace bullying are sometimes hard to spot. However, there are times when the mistreatment is clear. For example: yelling or swearing at the employees, micromanaging the workers and correcting their actions or controlling what they are doing. Less obvious signs of workplace bullying are: exclusion from meetings or from social gatherings at the workplace, unequal pay, having your work or contributions purposely ignored, and so on.
Unfortunately, not many workers will even recognize they are abused.
I guess it is because there is a certain shame in coming to terms with the abuse. This might make you deny there is a problem at work and choose to suffer instead of making room for change.
My experience with workplace bullying is not something I like to talk about.
More than two years ago I quit working as a nurse and school assistant for a sweet, paraplegic girl. Me and her were the best buddies. We’d often talk, listen to music watch cartoons or read together.
We also loved going to concerts together, eating a cinnamon bun or two in a coffee shop, on a peaceful Sunday evening. My enthusiasm for this job changed when I first saw two bruises on her both cheeks. They were covered with make up so that, I assumed, the person who gave her the bruises was somehow ashamed for what he/she did. After reporting the problem to her parents, nothing was done.
Another year went by, and, a new bruise appeared on her face. This time it was circling her right eye. This bruise made its appearance while she was in the care of her second (male) nurse.
Realizing that my workmate caused this second bruise (the parents were not home when these things happened), I reported the situation again. To my surprise, I was told that the bruise was a mistake and, after a doctor appointment and an apology from my colleague, life went on as if nothing happened. (this is called ‘gaslighting‘, an emotional abusive technique used to distort the meaning of the abuse, making it look like it’s not that of a big deal)
After these incidents, I’d leave work thinking I am exaggerating for wanting to incriminate my workmate for a ‘mistake’ he did. But I also thought that, it wasn’t possible for a parent to take abuse so lightly. Or to belittle the victim by labeling the abusive conduct a ‘mistake’.
Later on, I developed severe anxiety, (thinking that, if my coworker was able to get away with his deed, he might have felt entitled to show aggression towards me, too because, why not, he will be excused anyway. He indeed showed aggression by yelling at me one day. This incident was again swiped under the rug) and a feeling of helplessness that I can’t describe. My mental health collapsed in the sixth year of work and I had to quit the job entirely.
Even after two years of being away from my toxic workplace, I still find myself bursting into tears whenever I hear that a vulnerable person is abused. It is very hard to wrap my mind around the idea that someone would choose to help others but ends up mistreating them instead.
However, I am much better now, even with the flashbacks and intrusive work-related memories.
I learned that yelling at work is not OK, that one needs to have clear boundaries and make sure they’re not crossed.
Now, the way you are treated by your boss might be different from the way I was treated. Maybe your employer is more overt in showing disrespect to you. Maybe they yell at you or threaten you with being fired. Maybe they micromanage you or are not paying you what you deserve.
Or maybe you don’t have any rights in your current workplace and no matter how much you try to assert yourself, your efforts end up being sabotaged.
If you find yourself at loss with your current job and discover signs of workplace bullying, there are few things you can do.
1. Open up
Please, don’t isolate yourself. It is important to open up about the things that you go through at work. Invite your friend over for a cup of coffee and tell her what bothers you. She might not know what to say but, at least you’ll feel heard and listened to. You might also have a shoulder to cry on. Crying releases the tension and the anxiety stored in your body, which will make you feel better.
2. Label the problem
I know that it is probably shameful to say out loud that you experienced workplace bullying. But labeling might make you accept what you’re going through, rather than fighting it.
You can use your diary for this. Write down exactly what you think it’s happening to you at work, using the very words that scare you. It is known that journaling help us cope with anxiety and depression. Check out this article that talks about the health benefits of journaling.
3. Walk away
It is no use reporting the workplace bullying to a superior in your company.(although you can try) It will anyway take a long time until something will be solved, and, meanwhile, you will have to face the abusive boss or colleague who will be enraged with the fact that you reported them.
That might make things difficult for you to handle.
All in all, the long term effects of workplace bullying are damaging to your mental and physical health, thus, the best way to deal with it is to make a clean break. No job out there is worth being mentally harassed for.
Remember the story of Lady Gaga’s assistant who sued her for the mental stress she went through at work? She apparently had to bend over backwards for her, and take care of her even when she was sleeping. No matter how glamorous your job is or how much money you’re paid, if it doesn’t fulfill your needs for physical and emotional safety, it’s not worth it.
Your mental health should be a priority.
If you liked this post, please share it with someone who experienced anxiety or bullying at work. Thank you.