Anti-bullying week; My bullying story
This week is National Anti-Bullying week and as part of that I thought I’d share some of my own experiences and learning from being the victim of bullying.
Personally I found it very hard to even admit (to myself or others) that I was being bullied. I was a grown man, working in a full time public sector role at the Legal Services Commission and I was living in a cycle of fear, misery and dread.
And one of the hardest things for me was that I hadn’t even really noticed the bullying growing and deepening through the weeks.
In fact, as someone who at the time struggled with self esteem issues and a belief that I wasn’t good enough, I thought it must just be me – that I wasn’t up to the job, I was too weak, I was a failure, I had been found out at last…
I now feel comfortable to mention some of this because in the end I raised it formally as an issue and my ‘grievance’ was upheld.
And, whilst bullying can take many forms, in my case it was from my boss, the most senior manager in the office, who undermined me and would pick me apart in reviews. She even went as far as to get someone from another office who performed a similar role to me to ‘review’ my work – and I’m sure she was disappointed with the positive feedback she received.
So I was left in an unenviable position of being regularly praised outside my office yet belittled within it – and at the same time having to put on a strong face for the team I managed even though I felt like I was about to be pushed over a cliff at any moment.
Whether or not she saw things the way I did I don’t know but that is certainly my view and it quickly led me to feel physically unwell at the prospect of having to interact with her and regularly thinking about what excuses I could give to skip work if she was going to be in the office.
Self Esteem & Bullying
Whilst bullying is unacceptable in any shape of form, I do think that it is those who have low self esteem and a low opinion of their own capabilities and even their own self, who are most likely to suffer. I know that’s how it got me – it fed into my insecurities so that I felt that being shouted down in front of others was somehow my fault.
It wasn’t until I felt stronger and was able to talk about everything to someone objective that I was able to draw the dots, understand what had been happening and take action.
And I can understand the hesitancy that people have about raising a concern; in my case I had to go outside my own office to a faceless person in head office with the risk it would be brushed aside or not ‘upheld’ and any future career prospects I may have had could have been crushed.
As an aside, after an investigation by Human Resources, my bullying complaint was ‘partially upheld’ (because apparently you can partially bully someone and partially not bully them!).
And, perhaps indicative of why people don’t raise concerns, a separate disciplinary process was held against my senior manager without my involvement where a member of the Executive Team decided that, despite the independent HR investigation, there had been no bullying after all – I was told this in a letter which arrived over the weekend when I couldn’t do anything about it.
And so followed another ‘grievance’, being called aside by another member of the Executive Team to ask whether I ‘really wanted to do this’ whilst making it very clear that it was not welcome for me to pursue it and then subsequent meetings where I had to meet with senior team members to try and negotiate a way forward (which quite simply boiled down from my point of view to ‘yes take out the bit where you said there had been no bullying’).
Take Action on Bullying
Every bullying situation can be very different and, in my case, there was no physical bullying involved.
So what have I learnt based on my own experience?
1) Talk to someone you trust. Talking to someone you trust is perhaps the most important first step in my opinion. Whether it’s a friend, family member, work colleague, helpline or someone else, you need someone (who has no agenda) to confide in and who can help you make sense of the emotions, thoughts and actions that are going on. Don’t suffer in silence.
2) Write it down. Start keeping notes of what happened and when. Be specific. It can help to just get it out of your head and onto paper and to make sense of the pattern of bullying. It also means that should you decide to take the matter further, you aren’t just relying on vague memories and timings. Even if you don’t plan to take action right now, get it down on paper.
3) Get Emotional Support. Whether that’s from a professional or a friend, get your emotional needs met so that you have the inner strength and resiliance for the future.
And remember – bullying is never acceptable and you deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.
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