Workplace Bullying Is a Real Problem

cartoon person questioning angry blue people

There are some people who always seem angry and continuously look for conflict. Walk away from these people. The battle they’re are fighting isn’t with you, it’s with themselves.” ~ Rashida Rowe

Many times, in our quest to end bullying, we put much of the focus on school-aged bullying of children. But bullying does not stop when you grow up. Workplace bullying is real and can lead to the same damage that schoolyard bullying does. It is also a true risk to a company, where an employee can sue for the damage caused by workplace bullying. I have not been immune to this kind of bullying either. Here’s one of my stories.

I sat there across my boss’s boss again. I was a 25-year-old young man working at one of the top entertainment companies in the country. It should have been a dream job for someone like me, but instead, it was my lesson in having one of the worst bullying bosses in the workplace. This woman, a Vice-president in the company, was yelling at me for the hundredth time, again telling me that if I couldn’t prove whatever she was accusing me of this time, I was fired. It was always a threat of some sort. Of course, I was not alone. This woman put someone in tears each day.

The truth is that I could hardly hear what she was saying, as my anxiety and panic attacks were in full force as she attacked me. These feelings were so familiar to me because bullying didn’t start at work. Oh no, it was a much bigger story than that.

My workplace bullying started long ago when I was a young man between the ages of 6-13. I was relentlessly bullied during this time and learned much later that it would continue to affect me as a condition now known as Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). Of course, as a young boy, I had no idea of the long-term effects of bullying that are now studied and verified by professionals. But I always knew, as I got older, that I was different. What was I bullied for? I found that I am an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) in touch with my emotions and easily affected by the emotions of others.

These are not concepts that children think about while being bullied. Most ask “what’s wrong with me?” when the question they should be asking is “what’s wrong with them?” But we are not yet wise enough to know. The problem is that, once the damage was done in my youth, I spent the next 30 years dealing with low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, stress, and all the other magical things that a youth that is not helped after bullying deals with.

You probably know me, because as an adult, I was one of the many of us who struggle to let go of the past and move forward in the direction of life that we want to. Met any bitter adults in life? Ever wonder what made them that way?

But this is my story about workplace bullying. Though I think it important that I share my back story, so you know one of the reasons I was an easy target for further bullying at the hands of one of my bosses. Back to my situation at this job. My familiar panic was starting to make my ears ring as she yelled. By this point, I wished she would just fire me. But that wasn’t her game. It was just to see if I would cry. At least that’s the way it seemed to me. It really wasn’t any different than the taunting I dealt with on the playground at school.

This woman would do more than just yell at me. Many times, she would call me into her office, only to be on the phone with someone for thirty minutes to an hour as I sat there. She also would not come into work until 11 am, while the rest of us showed up early. But she expected us all to stay until she left, which was sometimes 9 or 10 pm. I recall one time when an overnight delivery I was to send for a television show airing didn’t arrive or so she thought. By this time, I was so worried about being yelled by her that I tuned into the station that Saturday and there I saw, the show wasn’t on.

I didn’t sleep at all that weekend. I knew, arriving at work that Monday, there would be a note to see her immediately. I knew I overnighted the tape for the show, but she made me doubt myself. She called me in and in a predictable way, told me I would be fired if I didn’t prove I had sent it. I was in a full-blown panic attack and ran to the restroom to throw up.

Then, I went to the computer and found the signature of the person who received the tape. I called them and they had never given it to the producer, so he just thought I never sent it. I went to explain to the Vice president what happened. She said she didn’t care and that I was to call them every time I sent a tape to make sure they got it. She still said it was my fault, but that she wasn’t firing me…this time.

That was the final straw for me. Something in me broke that day. Maybe it was the fact that I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe it was just that I hadn’t imagined a work life like this. Maybe it was the birth of my first son and the realization that, if this continued, I wouldn’t see him grow up.

I thought of something that day. It was a thought about my life. I realized that I had choices in my life and for some reason, I thought about it around my death. It wasn’t really morbid to me. I thought if given the choice, do I want people whose lives I affected at my funeral or a bunch of flowers sent by a company I worked for that would be putting an ad in the paper for my job at the same time. I decided there and then that I didn’t want to be that work-a-holic that had nothing else. Something else bothered me. Some of my co-workers actually liked this woman who abused them. To me, it was like they were enabling her. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I would go to HR about it, but I gave that advice to a co-worker and they sided with her boss and she left, so, just like when I was little and no one could protect me, I certainly had no faith in the HR department at this company.

So, I got another job and left. This job and the next few years made me realize a few things that I take with me to work today.

Work/Life Balance is a necessity at work – I have to be able to work reasonable hours and be there for my family and myself. Vacation is decompression and I do not do any work during vacation.

Find a stress outlet – You will have stress in your life and there needs to be an outlet. Don’t bottle it in. Good ways to release stress are exercise, meditation, walks in nature or doing an activity that you are passionate about.

Nobody’s Perfect so give up perfection – If your workplace expects you to be perfect, you will fail. No one is perfect. As humans, particularly ones new to the workforce, we will make mistakes. Work to live with mindfulness (in the now) and let it roll off.

Realize that you deserve to be treated well – Try to remember the “what’s wrong with them” lesson and give up self-blame when someone else bullies you.

Myself, I got a new job and never looked back. Well, that’s not really true, I did keep up with what happened to my workplace bully. A few years after I moved on, she was fired. Last I heard, she was selling handbags. I do believe in karma. Yes, it is so important that we know we are not alone and that many of us exist who have been bullied, whether at school or work. It’s not right anywhere and it is my dream now to help people recover and move on from the damage bullying causes. Every day, I feel great about doing that work and that makes a world of difference.

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About bullyingrecovery

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach with a niche in bullying and abuse recovery, Bullying Recovery activist, and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance". and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe
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