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Sunday Edition #17: My Column in Yellow

Dear Yellow:

I’m struggling with a toxic working environment. I love my job and company but there is one person who is pretty much bullying me. I feel helpless in the situation and think that if HR intervenes it will only make it worse. I don’t want to quit, but I wonder if that is the only option?

We spend 28.3 years of our lives cozied up asleep hugging our beloved stuffed animal (mine’s name is Dog and yes he is a dog) underneath our most comfortable blanket, drooling onto our favorite pillow. Second to that, we spend on average 10.5 years at work. Considering so much of our lives go towards these two items, making sure we do what is necessary to enjoy them needs to be a priority.

To fix sleep we buy a new mattress and bedding when uncomfortable. We take sleep aids when our racing minds won’t silence. We throw on the sound machine to drown out the world. But, when it comes to work, it is much harder to resolve problems especially when the problem involves another human being.

Bullying isn’t something we outgrow as adults even though it seems like we should. Who really has the extra energy to use towards making someone feel bad and why would you want to?

When you are out in the world and come into contact with a Bully, the moment ends and you get to walk away from the situation. But, when they are a co-worker it can feel like it will never end and “under attack” is your new state of being. There is a sense of hopelessness and despair.

As someone who has been bullied on more than one occasion (I was never cool growing up and my lack of cool followed me into adulthood), I’ve spent lots of time Googling the psychology around it to better understand the need some have to shit on others. It really helped me through it. It showed me it is more about them and not so much to do about me. So let’s dissect the mind of a Bully.

A person’s aggressive nature starts at a young age and will continue if parents are unable to stop it. They learn they can get what they want by using force. There are studies saying Bullies have a hard time reading and understanding feelings, tending to look at all actions as hostile towards them even when it isn’t. So, they bite back at innocent interactions because they read them as threatening. It is also a power play and a way to gain control and even worship, to become admired by peers for their seemingly great strength. But is it real strength or just a smoke show?

Many of the Bullies I’ve encountered suffer from low self esteem. I didn’t realize that initially until I started paying attention to their cruel words and picked up on the fact they were throwing their own insecurities at me. I had a woman at work who bullied me regularly. She would call me ugly and a whole list of pretty terrible things. I know most people don’t know what I look like but I think those who do can agree that “ugly” isn’t what comes to mind when seeing me. I now believe she was feeling unattractive and wanted to pass off the pain of it to me. The sad part is, for a long time I believed her and took on her feelings of inadequacy.

That brings me to the next part of a Bully situation… The psychology of the person who is bullied. Here, I get to basically describe myself. I’m a people pleaser who will do anything to avoid conflict. I’m a lover and not a fighter. If you bully me, I’m unlikely to resist. I will sit there and take it with a stoic unfazed look on my face (while I’m slowly dying on the inside) which tends to infuriate the Bully even more. I’m a little weird (but what artist isn’t?) and slightly awkward. I’m perfect Bully Bait.

So what do we do?

I got so frustrated when people told me the solution was simply not to care about it. Very easy advice when you aren’t the one being verbally abused to your face on a regular basis. What you do need to do is pretend you don’t care. Keep your emotions in check because that is what Bullies feed on. Don’t let them know their tactics are working.

Remember this… They are threatened by you in some way which is why they are targeting you. It could be jealousy and fear. It could be they simply need a way to feel better about themselves and the only way they know how is by pulling others down around them.

I was able to resolve my situation by confronting it in a non-emotional way. I finally had enough and felt like there was nothing more I could lose. I turned to her and simply asked (in a non-defensive way) if she really meant all of the horrible things she said to me. I was shocked when she said no and it opened up communication between us that resulted in a better understanding for both of us about where each other were coming from.

What is most important is your mental health. No job is worth falling to pieces for. There are other companies and other positions. Yes, it might feel like defeat if you remove yourself from the situation but how good can your job and company be if Human Resources can’t help you and they continue to allow this person to get away with their actions? Your happiness is what matters, not whether you win or lose to the Bully.

(Check out this online resource for a more in-depth action plan


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My Life in Yellow is not a licensed psychologist or health care professional and the advice within this column does not replace the care of psychologists or other healthcare professionals. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a health/medical professional. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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