Many people with experience of being bullied at work blame themselves. They feel shame at being targeted. They think that in some way they must be responsible for the bully’s use of aggressive, coercive behaviour towards them. They try and help the bully see the error of their ways, and they try and change the bully’s behaviour towards them.
Assuming responsibility for the bully’s decision to target you means that you burden yourself with a load you cannot be responsible for – the actions of the bully – while you are also struggling to handle the trauma of being targeted. The mental slide into self-blame and trying to change the bully can greatly add to your suffering and confusion.
So, with great compassion, hear this. You are not to blame for the actions of the bully. They and they alone chose to target you, to use aggression towards you in your workplace, and to square this approach with their conscience. These issues sit with them. Your responsibility is to learn to protect yourself at the time of an attack.
Any confusion or self-doubt you have about this issue may result in you adopting any or all of the following ineffective strategies when in an encounter with the bully:
- Appealing to the bully’s ‘better nature’: a strategy which pre-supposes that the bully possesses a measure of goodwill and that you can somehow induce them to extend it to you.
- Trying to reason with the bully: which pre-supposes that a logical argument will prove influential with a person whose use of angry emotion at work suggests that they are unlikely to be persuaded by rational argument.
- Trying to appease them: which pre-supposes that the bully is amenable to being mollified and soothed, and that if you try hard enough you will work out how to do this effectively.
- Feeling sorry for the bully: which pre-supposes that the bully is somehow being unfairly treated and deserving of sympathy, when it is actually they who are choosing to mistreat you.
None of these strategies is in your best interests. Each of them is based on the assumption that you have done something wrong which has caused their aggression and that there is something you can do differently which will:
- Dissuade the bully from being aggressive.
- Lower the level of their aggression towards you.
- Result in them changing their minds entirely about bullying you.
The starting point for using effective strategies is not thinking that you are responsible for the actions or the feelings of someone acting abusively towards you. The starting point is to hold that person accountable for what they are saying and doing at the time of an attack, and to use self-protective and self-preserving behaviour while simultaneously putting the issues back to them.