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Trauma in the Workplace: Bullying and Abuse

Posted June 20th, 2017 in Anxiety, Featured, Individual Counseling, Trauma, Uncategorized

A client came to me a while ago and asked me if I had heard the term “workplace mobbing.” I had not, but she had some articles to explain what it was because she had been a victim of workplace bullying.

Mobbing is described by Andrea Adams and Tim Field as “an emotional assault. It begins when an individual becomes the target of disrespectful and harmful behavior,” and continues until that person is so psychologically and emotionally damaged that they are forced to leave. The psychological damage is incalculable, and some victims never recover.

Mobs have been around for centuries – it was a mob who called for the crucifixion of Christ, and mobs who have created havoc for societies for as far back as we have human memory.  So when we talk about “mobbing” we are referring to a mob-like mentality led by bullies.

If someone in the workplace decides that another person needs to go, they often enlist others to help them bully and abuse the victim to the point where that person has no choice but to leave the company.

Mobbing doesn’t just happen to those workers who are unproductive or unpopular. It can also happen to exceptional individuals who are perceived as a threat to someone else.

In the 70’s, Peter-Paul Heinemann applied the concept of mobbing (workplace bullying) to a child facing aggression by a group of children. In the 80’s, Heinz Leymann applied the term “mobbing” to an individual being ganged-up on in the workplace.

Mobbing is an emotional assault on another individual. The individual becomes the target of malicious and harmful behaviors by others as a deliberate attempt to force him or her out of the workplace through humiliation, harassment and emotional abuse.

Mobbing of an individual occurs on a frequent basis and over a long period of time – at least six months or more. It creates a mental strain on the victim trying to navigate through this environment and is often led by a supervisor or manager, which makes it even more difficult for the individual.

Professor Kenneth Westhues, in his article entitled “At the Mercy of the Mob: A Summary of Research on Workplace Mobbing,” says that “Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors. It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker.”  These workplace bullies are very good at convincing others that the target is deserving of the treatment, and will enlist others to join in. Eventually, the victim will become too exhausted to continue working in this environment and will be forced out.

As a result, victims of workplace bullying often suffer from mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder. They experience anxiety and depression, which sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. When the bully is the boss or a group of coworkers, a victim is often as traumatized as someone who has been in a war zone. We tend to think of post-traumatic stress as belonging to those who have been to war, or first responders to tragedies, or people who have suffered physical or sexual abuse by someone, but workplace bullying also falls into this category.

They are often forced out of their chosen professions, and as a consequence suffer from anxiety, depression, physical illnesses, and other disorders – including post-traumatic stress.

These individuals have lost their reputation, their identity, and their job or career.

In the United States, approximately one third of employees report having been bullied. And, sad to say, according to a study by a group named Workplace Bullying Institute, it is particularly common in female dominated professions.  The vast majority of targets are women, often by women. Also, it rarely happens to someone who is able to easily find employment elsewhere. Thankfully, mobbing is relatively rare, but one estimate says that between 2 and 5 percent of adults are mobbed during their working lives.

If this has happened to you and you have been forced to leave a job or career, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress. Not all people who have been victimized in the workplace develop post-traumatic stress, but some do. If you find yourself having flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, or other symptoms, there is help.

For more information, please contact me at Seattle Christian Counseling.  I’d be happy to help.


“Rainbow in a Storm,” courtesy of Pacheco, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0; “Tunnel,” courtesy of darkday, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0; “Goat Island,” courtesy of Alistair Paterson, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0; “Rainbow from Pima Point,” courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

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