Anyone who has been bullied on the job knows how miserable it can be. I've been there, and I know firsthand about the stress it causes.
I have always wondered what turns adults into bullies. I can understand children doing it -- they're not fully formed humans yet, so they make mistakes. But adults?
Dr. Mary Lamia, a clinical psychologist and professor, writes that people often think that bullies have low self esteem, but they're really just people who are acting out because of internalized shame.She explains that bullies attack others "to take away their shame -- which allows them to remain unaware of their feelings."
I've often seen bullies attack those who are competent at their jobs. Lamia explains that when bullies fear looking incompetent, then they attack others. So, if you're doing a great job and are competent at your job, you could become the target for a bully who sees you as a threat.
But here's another interesting thought: Lamia says that those who become bully magnets tend to be "sensitive people likely to attack themselves in response to shame."
So, if you're someone who puts yourself down in front of others or blames yourself openly for failure, then you could make your situation even worse when the bully decides to step in and join the blame game. I'm not saying you shouldn't admit mistakes, but it might be a good idea to frame it in a way that makes you less vulnerable to bullies, such as "I didn't correctly interpret this data, but I've now learned to consult a second source before drawing a conclusion." This way you don't put yourself down by saying something like, "I'm such an idiot! How could I make such a stupid mistake with the data? I just feel so awful!"
Lamia says that you're never going to beat back the bullies at work as long as you still believe that the bully is aware of his or her shame and cam feel remorse.
She suggests the best way to deal with bullies is to rally your team. If co-workers stand together, you can support one another and show the bully that he or she risks being isolated.
Other ideas from the Workplace Bullying Institute include:
- Naming it. You can begin to heal by naming the behavior for what it is: BULLYING.
- Taking time off. Bullying causes a lot of stress, emotionally and physically. Such trauma is overwhelming -- get the professional help you need to deal with it.
- Developing an action plan. Use resources from the institute to make a business case for stopping the bully. Stick to the bottom line -- emotional pleas can be discounted by the bully.
- Giving the employer one chance. If they side with the bully, you will need to start looking for another job for your health's sake.