WPB & PTSD form an intriguing set of acronyms. What they stand for is Workplace Bullying and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. And there is more than just a casual link between the two.
Workplace Bullying has a real link to PTSD. Workplace Bullying (WPB) is a traumatising experience, largely because of what is at stake. Recent research has highlighted the fact that what is experienced by targets of Workplace Bullying has much in common with what those who experience PTSD.
Work, as I am sure you are aware, is a focus of respect and status in our lives. Work is emotional and it isn’t just where we spend 30% of our time― it very often defines what and who we are.
Remember. The first question that we usually ask of each other when we meet new people in social situations is always: “What do you do?”
Can you empathise with people who have no answer to that question? Or with people who may wish to reply: “I don’t do anything because I am off work ..." or "I lost my job, through bullying”?
There is always an element of shame, in fact, when someone has been bullied at work and this is far more significant than the persona of the bully or even what the bully did. Part of what bullying behaviour involves is shame, and that is a whole book in itself. But for the time being, we must return to focusing on the health of those targeted.
Those who have lost their jobs or have had to take time off work because they have been bullied, may have become traumatised not because they are scared of the bullying person ― but because of the implications of the bully’s behaviour. Losing a job is bad enough, and with that loss a person is deprived of security, status and more. Losing confidence is also traumatic.
This is why it is common for people who counsel those who have been bullied at work to report that these individuals show signs of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome).
Here are some of the common symptoms of PTSD, many of which are experienced to varying degrees by a person who has been bullied at work.
These ‘memories’ can manifest themselves as nightmares, or even flashbacks, or they can simply point to someone dwelling on the subject long after it has happened. It can be very hard for those who have been bullied to move on, because memories keep returning to bother them. In the case of nightmares, targets will be reliving events as if it's happening for the first time.
These memories can cause a person to feel anxious, afraid, guilty, or suspicious, and can manifest physically in the form of shaking, headaches, heart palpitations, and panic attacks.
Avoidance is common in those who have been bullied and is a strong sign in diagnosis of PTSD.
People who have been bullied often steer clear of everyone and everything that reminds them of their work. That is why they are so often signed off work ― because it includes the work itself. It can include the building, or even the area where the work is, and it can include the mention of the work or the company in question.
Avoidance can also mean staying away from people in general and not just people connected with the events associated with the bullying. This can cause a target not just to feel detached and alone, but to become detached and alone.
These are what doctors sometimes call ‘arousal symptoms’. The idea is that traumatic experiences can not only make your emotions more intense, but they can make you react differently than you might otherwise. The most common manifestation of these symptoms are angry outbursts, but crying at minor upsets is also common.
Others who are experiencing trauma might find it hard to focus. For targets it can be like a threat hanging over them and keeping them from finishing even the most straightforward tasks. This in turn leads to things like difficulties with sleeping and from there ― the grim cycle worsens.
This can be good news for bullies and abrasive managers who are looking to see their targets fail. Once a target has been triggered by emotional abuse from a bullying individual, the response of the target can easily be made the issue.
Mood swings are common in targets of bullying and are also a common symptom of PTSD.
Some people become aware that they are being bullied because of the negativity coursing through their thoughts. Targets may feel hopeless, numb, or just simply bad about themselves and others. Thoughts of suicide can spring to mind and then disappear ― a process known as ideation. Feelings of guilt and shame are common and are very much part and parcel of the bullying experience.
Finally, activities that a target normally enjoys may not interest them anymore. This is a matter of motivation. We don’t realise how much work we put into our closest relationships, but when brought this low, these close relations become harder to maintain.
Note that workplace bullying does not in most cases cause diagnosed PTSD. That is not what this article is saying.
What this article does argue however is that if the symptoms of PTSD are placed on a spectrum, then targets of bullies at work will inevitably find themselves on that spectrum. The difference is in most cases the degree.
While those who have been bullied at work can be treated for any resulting health conditions, targets of bullying are not generally diagnosed with actual PTSD which arises from serious violent attacks, or other extreme causes.
However it has long been observed that there is a similarity in what is reported. Most people who have been bullied at work, especially those who have had to leave a job because of bullying, will be aware of this, as they will have experienced to a certain degree, much of this.
Therapists, counsellors and academic studies on Workplace Bullying do generally report therefore, that the feelings targets report are consistent with the symptoms of PTSD. Once again this does not mean that if you are bullied you have PTSD.
However, these symptoms are a very good way of looking at what is happening. There is a reason that it’s important to hold on to this ― because the bullying doesn’t stop the day a target leaves their workplace.
In a manner of speaking, the bullying stops for the bullying individual, as they have removed somebody they didn’t like working with.
But for those targeted, the journey can be very long indeed, and sometimes even a life sentence.
On Leamington Books website you can download a free sample chapter of BULLY, INC.