Overwhelmed

Being bullied is a gateway to feeling inadequate, not worthy and faulty. Within some big organisations bullying has become a fierce problem and it’s often the clinical staff who are enduring other people’s baggage. Helping others as a means of alleviating your own neurosis has been common for a long time and is a socially accepted form of occupational therapy. I do not mean this in a cynical way, all forms of work are a distraction and it took us millenia to construct the discourse that is occupation in its current form. Needless to say that with the current technology the discourse is rapidly changing, a universal basic income may soon be trailed in Scotland and many of our jobs are hanging by a thread.

Bullying and harassment, as defined by ACAS, means any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It is not necessarily always obvious or apparent to others, and may happen in the workplace without an employer’s awareness.

Bullying or harassment can be between two individuals or it may involve groups of people. It might be obvious or it might be insidious. It may be persistent or an isolated incident. It can also occur in written communications, by phone or through email, not just face-to-face.

Negative acts from one person towards another happen often when there is an imbalance in power. Sometimes the negative acts are subtle, it slightly distorts your perception, makes you wonder whether you made it up or whether it really happened. It is easy to doubt yourself, and therefore helpful to have colleagues opening up about bullying as this can verify your feelings and viewpoint. We have an innate need for connection; to be seen and heard and believed. We urge our children to tell us when they are bullied, to acknowledge their feelings and to help them to stand up to any form of bullying. Because we know how hard it is to live with this feeling of being faulty, and of shame; nothing less than the feeling that we are unloved! Being singled out, undermined or excluded are in our minds proof of our underlying belief that we are unlovable, not good enough, not worthy of belonging. Shame is the fear of disconnection.

Hazards to health: the problem of workplace bullying May 2007, by Cartwright and Cooper published by the Psychologist BPS and NHS staff lay bare a bullying culture October 2016, by Sarah Johnson published as Bullying survey.   are examples of articles verifying the increase in bullying over the last decade. We all know that bullying can be caused by sociopathic tendencies in managers. A heavy workload that leads to stress is not helping, but being bullied or undermined on top of that easily leads to depression. Where is the acknowledgement in the organisations we are working for?  A quote from the Bullying survey: Sometimes a big organisation  “….becomes defensive and takes the corporate line to protect themselves from a legal challenge and puts it down to your perception. You are then managed out of your job through contrived actions designed to make you leave. All this leaves you broken and with no strength to fight. You go if you can find another job. Otherwise you suffer in silence”.

Personally I experienced that opening up about being bullied in the workplace is discovering an abyss of hurt and unacclaimed pain in others too. We are not alone, but often feel like we are. Mindful self-compassion provides a powerful tool for emotional resilience. Feeling able to turn toward and acknowledge our difficult thoughts and feelings (such as inadequacy, sadness, anger, confusion and shame) with a spirit of openness, kindness and curiosity.

Talking about the difficult experiences we have faced, exploring whether these were cognitive distortions (our mind convincing us of something that is not really true) or serious bullying. Let’s name our experiences and then sit and turn towards our difficult thoughts and feelings in a kind way. Not abandoning ourselves in this process is a challenge as we are so used to look for experiences that confirm our beliefs that we are faulty and wrong and bad, instead of sticking up for our kind assumptions of worth and belonging, believing in our true nature.

If there is a possibility to teach others where they crossed our boundary we should do so, and speak up for ourselves. Unfortunately not all organisations are equipped for this and only a very small percentage of employees who are bullied are fully seen, heard and acknowledged, for a few there is an outcome that makes life in the workplace worth staying for, for others this isn’t the case. Many people do not get any help with the emotional turmoil they are left with. According to the Bullying survey: “Only 17% of those who reported bullying said they received pastoral support from their organisation – and less than a quarter of these were satisfied with the result.” So in terms of organisational climate, HR and occupational health in organisations; improvements are very easy to make.

For me personally it has been an eye opener to participate in an 8 week Mindful self compassion course; to be able to endure and acknowledge those difficult feelings of failure and shame and to learn to soften, soothe and allow, which is nothing less than letting the bruised and broken heart lie open, so the wind from the good old sea can blow in…. A very different way of being with myself, and speaking to myself. It has become an opportunity to look outward with an open heart, be it bruised and all.

The Heart



When the heart is cut - bruised or broken

Do not clutch it - let the wound lie open.

Let the wind from the good old sea blow in

And bathe the wound with salt

And let it sting

Let a stray dog lick it

Let a small bird puts its head inside the hole and sing

A simple song - like a tiny bell,

And let it ring.
by: Micheal Leunig  (www.leunig.com.au/works/poems)

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