Thursday, August 28, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: My description of the typical bully

Warning signs.  We see them in many places.  Take, for example, this sign set up on the beach on South Padre Island, Texas.  The surf was definitely up and there were signs similar to this one 
up and down the beach with a red flag attached to a sign telling what colour flag meant what. 

A closer look reveals that red meant heavy surf and dangerous conditions.  The highest level of warning there was.  Definitely a dangerous condition.  Definitely a stay out warning.  One most people will take heed of.

I was in the middle of abusive workplace situation #2 at that time, and I've often wondered what would happen if we put cautionary signs up for our workplace.  What would they look like?  Perhaps:  "Caution: toxic atmosphere present"?  Or how about:  "Enter at own risk:  Bullies work here"?

We all know that signs like this would never happen.  


Besides the fact that it's not politically correct?  

Because the bullies are, in my opinion and from my experience, a protected species.  They are also, unlike the surf conditions I witnessed that day in the Gulf of Mexico, which were visible to the naked eye and, therefore, very easy to identify with - or without - the signage.

Workplace bullies are not that easy to identify.  They're sort of like the printer in the office - a part of the scenery.  Here is my basic description of what the basic female workplace bully looks like:

  • A woman in her 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's with long, short, medium length blonde, brown, auburn or black hair – and anything in between.  Including grey, tinted, highlighted, etc.  
  • She would be short, average height or tall, slim, average build or stocky and of average to high intelligence.  
  • She has a high school, trade school (college in Canada) or university education.  
In short, there is nothing to make her distinguishable from anyone else. 

She does not have two heads, conspicuous warts, buck teeth or any other anomaly.  What makes her different from the average co-worker is not her physical appearance or description, but rather the baggage she's carrying inside her.  The insecurity.  The deep down emotional wounds and scars she carries with her from way back, maybe even childhood.  These are the same insecurities and inner wounds that compelled her to bully as a pre-teen (my assumption).  Unhealed and tended to, these insecurities and wounds are still there.  Motivating her to continue the cycle of passive violence.  Not only will the people around her not recognize these inner wounds, but most likely the bully herself is not even aware of what is causing her to behave in this way.  It's like the furniture in her bedroom.  It's part of the scenery.  It's part of her life. She may even say, “This is just the way, I am.”  She might even go further and say to the target, “I've learned one thing that you haven't.  You can't change people.  And this is just the way I am.”

Sad but true.  

The bully is in denial.  Denial about her bullying.  Denial about the pain inside of her that causes her to lash out at people she deems as weaker than herself.  Denial about the seriousness of her actions.  Even denial about her own part in the on-going workplace drama.  

In her eyes, there is nothing wrong or abnormal about what she is doing.  Since she feels that she is doing nothing wrong, she feels further wounded and victimized if the target brings the behaviour up to management.

She - and possibly her friends - become involved in the vicious cycle of retaliation against the target and her claims.  She presents herself to those in authority has being articulate, well-spoken, etc.  She is perceived of in the workplace as a nice person.  She is in a way like the proverbial Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  She presents herself to management and indeed everyone else in the workplace with the exception of the targeted co-worker as one person - a very likeable one at that, while she reveals all the junk inside her to the selected target.  Others in the workplace are simply not able to comprehend what is happening to the one person in the workplace who becomes the target, because they simply don't see it for themselves.

This is one reason why there will never be signs placed in the workplace warning employees of the presence of bullies.  They simply are not easy to identify.  Even when the situation gets out of hand, like mine did with most of the workforce in one office involved, people in high places tend to believe that it is the bully who needs protecting from the target.  When that happens, the tables become turned and it is the target who becomes perceived by just about everyone as the bully. 

This is not the post I meant to write today.  I meant to go into the on-going saga of what happened after I had the second stress breakdown and was way too fragile to work.

Yet, the words seemed to flow from my fingertips - and the pictures selected themselves.

It also outlines the dynamics that were present in the workplace at the time I had the two breakdowns and puts the context of everyone's subsequent actions in perspective.  It is, in effect, background for the next part of the story.  How I left the workplace.

I think it's important to realize that no matter what these people did, they are still human beings.  From my observation in the workplace, they are wounded human beings.  One of the huge differences between myself and them is that I have recognized my woundedness - even before the situation in the workplace started - and took steps to begin the process of recovery.  Those I worked with, did not.  Why?  Because they could not see their own woundedness and their own part in the on-going office drama.

In the end, they got to keep their jobs.  For a while.  Until the workplace close.  And I got to continue on the path of recovery.  Ultimately, who was the winner?

Until tomorrow....

Man of War jelly fish on the same beach as the signs above.  Definitely not something one wants to tangle with.

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