Message From Another Bullying Victim

This is a message I received recently from someone who knows what I'm going through, because she has been through it herself. There are very striking similarities in our experiences.

I had a stress breakdown as I couldn't cope with the bullying any longer. I felt there was no support from colleagues or from managers. In fact the bullying had spread from one principal bully to several others. I have found out subsequently that this is quite common. At some level everyone knows bullying is going on. I have observed that there is usually a principal bully who is often joined by others, and who, if they are skilful enough can get the others to do the dirty work while they themselves appear to stay clean. Some people side with the bully because they are inherently bullies themselves, and enjoy the sense of power they have. Others side with the bully because they hope they will be safe, so they act from fear of being the next victim. Others keep their heads down and choose to view the situation as a personality clash so they don't need to do anything about it. They are terrified they might become a victim if they speak out. Most avoid the victim. In a strange way everyone is a victim of the bully and bullying can only exist where there is poor management. It's a bit like when harassed parents keep giving in to toddler tantrums and eventually create a monster.

I was off with stress for over 7 months during which time I took out a grievance against the principal bully which was upheld. Although my grievance was upheld, I found after I got back to work that the macho bullying culture had hardened. I think it is a pack animal instinctive thing to go for someone who is weak or wounded. It even spread to some of the students, part, I think, of the subliminal pack animal thing. I felt I was being watched all the time to see if I would slip up so they could 'get' me and the stress was intolerable. I'm sure some of it was self-imposed. I knew if I went off ill without completing my semester's teaching I probably wouldn't make it back again. I didn't want to live with being a failure.

The institution did make attempts to put support in place but no-one realised just how much support someone in my situation would need - much better to not let it get so bad in the first place by ensuring that managers are properly trained. I didn't know who, if anyone, I could trust in the department so I tended to keep to myself. I was in a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder state) and I couldn't cope with large numbers of people or a lot of noise so avoided the coffee room. I self harmed for a long time to cope with the pressures of being back, and eventually close to the end of semester I showed someone. I had discussed self-harming with my counsellor who told me there are two types of wound - one is a slashing kind of action, expressing anger and rage. The other is much more precise and controlled, just deep enough to release some endorphins after the initial pain. That kind of self harm represented despair. I was doing the second kind.

Occupational Health advised me to get signed off but I knew if I didn't complete that semester's teaching I would probaly never make it back. I did manage to find black humour in some of the situations I found myself in, like thinking about what method I might use to attempt suicide and my reasons for rejecting it - I didn't have the energy to go and fetch a knife, and it probably wasn't sharp enough anyway as I never
sharpened them, or I might damage the tree or the lorry I considered driving my car into, or if not successful I might be a vegetable for the rest of my life and my young family didn't like veg! I even had my counsellor in stitches on several occasions as we discussed some of this stuff which gave me a glimmer of hope for an alternative career.

The institution responded to the self harm and the suicidal thoughts by wanting me to be assessed by a psychiatrist. Were they just covering themselves, to show they were
being proactive or were they trying to get me on some kind of mental health retirement thing? I never worked that one out but whichever it was became irrelevant as my counsellor wrote refuting my need to be assessed by a psychiatrist as the counsellor had judged me to be 'normal' in an abnormal situation.

This all happened years ago so obviously I survived to tell the tale but for several years I was hypervigilant and could not react well to stress. Repairing battered self confidence and self esteem takes much longer and some vicitms of bullying are so damaged they never fully recover, never become fully functional again. Some are so damaged it can be years before they work again, if at all.

Allan is braver than I was in starting a blog and being so open. Although it happened years ago, I've asked him not to identify the institution where I worked and I salute his bravery.

The saddest thing about bullying is that it is people who are good at their job, or popular with students, or colleagues, or customers, who are targetted by people who are trying to distract from their own inadequacies - poor consolation though if your self confidence and self esteem have been destroyed.

Victims of bullying are generally high achieving, self motivated, empathic, trusting and a bit naive while bullies are generally inadequate, insecure, promoted beyond their capabilites and lacking empathy. In extreme cases they can be sociopaths incapable of putting themselves in other people's shoes and reckless of the consequences of their actions.

I got very interested in the topic of corporate manslaughter (corporate homicide in Scotland)- a way of making top management take responsibility if people have fatal accidents due to a failure to observe proper health and safety guidelines concerning the requirement to provide a safe working environment, which I believe covers
psychological safety as well as physical safety. So if someone had a fatal accident or committed suicide because of overwork and stress, or because of unchecked bullying the organisation could be found to be liable.

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