Bullying and Emotional Abuse

I have now retired but will continue to keep this web site live for  year as a resource in case it is helpful to people. 

Bullying can happen anywhere.

Awareness about bullying is better than it was but still isn’t being dealt with effectively in many places. In fact it is increasing as stress increases due to the financial climate in many areas of industry and in many differing established areas like education, finance, politics and the health service. We see bullying at work, school etc. in families and in social situations, in clubs, societies and even in churches or religious institutions.

For many people, bullying at work and at home can be seriously damaging to their health and sense of being OK.

What is workplace bullying?
A definition from the Unite Union is that bullying is ” Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress” 1994

The late Tim Field’s (founder of the extremely useful bullying web site from which much of this material is sourced www.BullyonLine.org) definition of workplace bullying is;   “Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression.”

Bullies are invariably feeling and expressing their inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural or professional) by projecting it onto others by trying to  control and subjugate. They use many techniques to do this, including criticism, exclusion and  isolation etc. They continue to bully by  abdicating responsibility – they deny, use counter-accusation, pretend to be victims themselves. They also manage to continue to bully by creating or perpetuating a  climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief or even deception. They  evade accountability,  and in such a climate they are often rewarded  (e.g promotion). This has been seen in many of the large Corporates and in the collusion within politics and other large Establishments ( Education, Industry and the NHS).  Whistleblowers are still finding it hard to expose this insidious behaviour, but slowly the culture is beginning to change.

Bullying is a form of abuse, and a bully is a person who

  • hasn’t learnt to accept responsibility for their own behaviour
  • wants to enjoy the benefits of living in the adult world, but who is still childlike in his perception of the World.
  • abdicates and denies responsibility for his or her behaviour and its consequences and effect on others (abdication and denial are common features of bullying)
  • is uninterested in learning better ways of behaving

There can be bullying of peers and upward bullying.

75% of cases of workplace bullying involve an individual being bullied by their manager. Around 25% of cases involve bullying and harassment by peers (often with the collusion of a manager either by proactive involvement or by neglecting to take action). Around 1-2% involve the bullying of a manager by a subordinate.

So- you may ask yourself, “Why me?”

Bullies target others for many reasons & there are many myths and stereotypes such as “victims are weak”. Bullying often repeats because the reasons that bullies target their victims don’t change:

  • bullies are predatory and opportunistic – you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; this is always the main reason – investigation will reveal a string of predecessors, and you will have a string of successors
  • they’ll target people who are good at their job, often excelling
  • being popular with people (colleagues, customers, clients, pupils, parents, patients, etc)
  • more than anything else, the bully fears exposure of his/her inadequacy and incompetence; your presence, popularity and competence unknowingly and unwittingly fuel that fear
  • being the expert and the person to whom others come for advice, either personal or professional (i.e. you get more attention than the bully)
  • having a well-defined set of values which you are unwilling to compromise
  • having a strong sense of integrity (bullies despise integrity, for they have none)
  • having at least one vulnerability that can be exploited
  • being too old or too expensive (usually both)
  • refusing to join an established clique
  • showing independence of thought or deed
  • refusing to become a corporate clone

Jealousy (of relationships and perceived exclusion therefrom) and envy (of talents, abilities, circumstances or possessions) are strong motivators of bullying.

Events that trigger bullying include:

  • the previous target leaves
  • reorganisation
  • a new manager is appointed
  • your performance unwittingly invites unfavourable comparison with the bully’s lack of performance
  • popularity with co-workers
  • refusing to obey an order which violates rules, regulations, procedures, or is illegal
  • standing up for a colleague who is being bullied – this ensures you will be next; sometimes the bully drops their current target and turns their attention to you immediately
  • blowing the whistle on incompetence, malpractice, fraud, illegality, breaches of procedure, breaches of health & safety regulations etc
  • undertaking trade union duties
  • suffering illness or injury, whether work related or not
  • challenging the status quo, especially unwittingly
  • gaining recognition for your achievements, e.g winning an award or being publicly recognised
  • gaining promotion

The difference between bullying and harassment

Acts of harassment usually centre around unwanted, offensive and intrusive behaviour with a sexual, racial or physical component.

Bullying tends to be almost exclusively psychological (e.g criticism), it may become physical later, especially with male bullies, but almost never with female bullies. Anyone will do, especially if they are competent, popular and vulnerable.


Updated 5/6/19