Often times when the term “bullying” is mentioned, the first thing that comes to many people’s minds is a bunch of big, older kids with dominant personalities intimidating younger children at school. Bullying is beyond that, and no, it doesn’t only happen to children in schools. The truth is that a bullying culture can develop in any context in which humans interact with each other; it can happen among adults at home, in the workplace, and in other settings.
An aspect of bullying that is seldom discussed is workplace bullying and we need to be talking more about this as it has detrimental effects on mental and physical health. Workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm. It can include non-verbal or verbal violence, humiliation, as well as psychological and physical abuse.
This type of workplace aggression is particularly difficult because unlike the typical school bully, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. In the majority of cases, bullying in the workplace is reported as having been done by someone who has authority over the victim. However, bullies can also be peers, and occasionally subordinates. In general, for actions to be categorized as “bullying,” the act is repeated over time.
Actions classified as bullying in the workplace include:
- Intimidation: This may include outright and subtle threats, intentional social exclusion in the workplace, spying, or other forms of invasion of privacy.
- Verbal: Humiliation, gossip, mockery, hurtful jokes, and other spoken forms of abuse.
- Work-performance related: This could include stealing or taking credit for ideas, wrongful blame, interference or work sabotage.
- Institutional: This kind of bullying happens when a workplace allows, accepts, or even outrightly promotes and encourages bullying to occur. Practices that can be classified as institutional bullying include derogatory singling out and picking on those who can’t keep up with work tasks, unrealistic project targets, and forced overtime.
- Retaliatory: Sometimes talking about bullying experienced may lead to refused promotions, further social exclusion in the workplace, accusations of dishonesty/lying, or other forms of retaliation stemming from reporting bullying experienced.
Psychological effects of workplace bullying include low self-esteem, self-doubt, suicidal thoughts, increased risk for depression and anxiety, obsessive thoughts about work even when you’re not working, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more.
Not only does workplace bullying affect mental health, it can also be detrimental to physical health and, according to healthline, lead to high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive issues, increased risk for type 2 diabetes, decreased appetite, headaches, and more.
Practicing mindfulness can help you cope with workplace bullying. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness can help to quieten the mental noise and cognitive dissonance we feel when we are in uncomfortable situations. When you practice mindfulness, things and people do not trigger you in the same way; you take control of your mind to the point where external situations do not affect your sense of self worth.
As you contemplate ways to tackle workplace bullying and figure out your next course of action, here are some mindfulness practices you can do to help you mentally cope with the uncomfortable situation in the interim:
- Journaling about your bullying experience: This is a therapeutic mindfulness practice that can help you get a clear perspective on the situation, and can aid in brainstorming about what you can do about it. Also, in case you choose to purse legal action, your diary entries could be used as valuable evidence if you ever need to present your case to external agencies, your lawyer, or the court.
- Mindfulness meditation: This is a valuable stress management tool. The goal of mindfulness meditation isn’t to transform a stressed-out mind into a joyful, happy mind. Rather it allows us to reconnect with what we are actually thinking and feeling.
Speaking on the efficacy of mindfulness meditation, mindfulness practitioner, Anton Hout says, “Too often, we find ourselves operating on auto-pilot – being pushed and pulled through the day by what seem to be valid and natural reactions to stressors. So often we hear people saying that someone “made me” angry or upset. The fact is that it was the mind’s automatic thoughts and reactions to the external stimuli that resulted in the emotional response. Mindfulness meditation brings this reaction to the attention of the conscious mind so it can be observed and released.”
This meditation practice helps you take control of your state of mind, so bullies no longer have power of your mind.
- Find emotional support: To unburden your mind and achieve better mental clarity, find people you can trust and speak with them about the situation and about how you’re feeling. Sometimes, just having a reliable listening ear and a shoulder to lean on can serve as great mental relief.
- Make your health a priority: In moments of silence, listen to your body. Targets of workplace bullying often deal with a range of health issues. If you notice you are beginning to feel unwell, do not delay in taking care of yourself, as ignoring your symptoms can lead to a host of other health issues. Visit your doctor as soon as you can. Seek the help of a licensed mental health counselor as well.
If you’ve tried your best efforts to make the bullying stop, and it still persists, leaving the job or changing departments, if possible, may be the only options you may have. Unfortunately, for many people, even when they remove themselves from the toxic environment, the impact of bullying can last long after bullying has stopped, and as aforementioned, can be quite detrimental to physical and mental health.
This is why we can’t afford to stay silent. Let us all raise awareness, speak out against workplace bullying, and spread the word about how the power of mindfulness can help victims and survivors cope better.