Bullying (2/2)

Bullying at work

The same principles can be applied if you’re being bullied in the workplace.

Remember, your employer is responsible for preventing the bullying of its staff and there are various equality and discrimination acts to protect you. Initially, try to resolve the matter by speaking to the bully if you feel comfortable doing so. You might also consider writing to them via email if that’s easier for you or if the bully isn’t reasonable when directly approached. Explain how they’re affecting your life and ask them to stop. Stick to the facts and avoid aggressive or overly emotional language. If they aren’t receptive, the next stage is to take the matter to your manager or supervisor. If this doesn’t yield results take the matter up with your union representative or HR department at your place of work. Beyond this you can seek advice from Citizens Advice Bureaux or ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). You may ultimately decide to make a formal complaint against the company if the problem is not addressed but this should be a last resort.

Ultimately, an efficient, productive and profitable company is one whose employees are happy and work well with each other. It’s in your employer's interests to resolve bullying issues so that this can be achieved.

Coping with life after being bullying

Some people are bullied for so long and so badly that even when the bullying stops the negative messages linger on inside the mind and affect their ability to enjoy life. Ex-bullied people can have problems with nervousness, shyness, low self-worth and a lack of confidence. In more extreme cases, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, self-harm and even suicidal urges can follow a time of bullying.

People who have experienced bullying might:

  • have problems trusting people
  • avoid relationships
  • avoid career opportunities because they assume they aren’t good enough
  • avoid socialising because they fear what other people think of them
  • criticise themselves harshly and constantly, even for small mistakes they might make
  • often imagine the worst case scenario and tend to expect the worst from people and situations
  • find it hard to enjoy the things they like, convincing themselves that it won’t last, or deliberately tainting it in some way
  • have problems speaking to people
  • lack assertiveness
  • spend time worrying about what strangers in the street think
  • experience strong emotions that they feel they can’t deal with
  • default to the role of 'victim' in various situations

As a once-bullied person the worst thing you can do is shut yourself away. Staying at home and avoiding people will allow your fears to go unchallenged and for your confidence to stay low. How do you find out if peoples' intensions are good toward you if you don’t go out and give them a chance? Even going for a walk on your own can lighten your mood and help you feel more in touch with the outside world. Phone a friend you haven't seen for a while, go out for a meal, see a film, plan a weekend away, join a local group that's based around a hobby or interest you might have etc. Interacting with people will build your confidence and take your mind off your worries. It will also give you a more healthy and balanced outlook on the world. It’s not as scary as you might think and there are a lot of positive activities to get involved in.

Write a letter to your old school saying what happened to you and how the bullying affected your life. Lay some demons to rest. You might not get a reply but you will have been heard and you’ll have faced your painful memories head-on. I did this and got a phone call from my old headmaster who apologised for my bad experiences in his school. He asked for my ideas around preventing homophobic bullying. It was a very positive experience.

The bullies might have said awful things to you and made you question your worth. Perhaps you’re avoiding furthering your education or pushing your career forward because of the things the bullies made you believe about yourself. Try to focus on facts about yourself instead. Think about your abilities and the things you do well. Think about your interests, hobbies and passions. Pursue them. The bullies didn’t truly know you. Nothing they said was positive or helpful or worth listening to. There’s no real reason why you can’t do the things you’d like to do with your life.

Counselling may help if you feel you aren’t coping well. I’ve had counselling in the past and it’s taught me techniques for challenging negative thought patterns and behavioural habits that were holding me back from enjoying life. You might find it beneficial to talk about the bullying you once experienced, especially if you haven’t opened up about it before. This can be a painful but is followed by a sense of released pressure that you may have been holding onto for a long time. Think of it as cleaning out the pipes in your head so that good things can start to get in. Some counsellors focus on the present and helping you to get more out of life, without digging at the past. They can teach you techniques that challenge negative thinking patterns and eventually break the hold these thoughts have on your life. This is called cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT.

Sometimes those who were once bullied keep their old bully alive in the mind, almost as a comfortable and familiar companion who's always quick to critisise and degrade. This prevents people from liking themselves and being happy. Counselling can help you to be kinder to yourself and see things in a more balanced, logical and positive way - to rid yourself of the bully in your mind.

Your doctor can refer you to counselling, but expect a waiting list on the NHS. The waiting times vary depending on the services in your area. Private counselling is also an option if you can afford it, though it can be expensive. The best way to find a good private counsellor or therapist is to ask around. You may be surprised by how many people have had therapies of different kinds, for things like giving up smoking and tackling phobias, to coping with grief and long-term emotional problems. For more about counselling see my mental health pages, and the NHS's counselling information.

Your doctor may prescribe medication for depression or anxiety problems. Try not to be scared of this or to see it as some kind of defeat. Acknowledging your problems and taking steps to solve them is a very positive thing to do. Medication is a personal choice. Some prefer not to use it, while others swear by it. It can help you cope in the short term, to feel more balanced, relaxed and in control of life. Medication can help you to be more receptive to longer term treatment like counselling and other therapies.

You don’t have to be a victim, during or after the bullying. You can take control back.

I would also urge anyone suffering from depression and anxiety to look into nutrition. A good diet plays an important role in helping those affected feel better. Junk foods, sugary caffeine drinks and alcohol will only keep you low, even if they make you feel fleetingly better while consuming them. Trust me, I've been there. Five doughnuts in a row might make you feel amazing for the two minutes it takes to eat them... but soon just as unhappy, plus angry with yourself for eating badly. Have an apple instead! Exercise is a powerful mood booster too, but you don't have to go near a gym to benefit. I've often left my home feeling awful, to return from a thirty-minute walk feeling calmer and happier. As well as releasing feel-good chemicals in your brain, exercise gives the mind some space to work creatively through problems and generate helpful ideas. I've found yoga to be very calming and helpful in tackling depression and anxiety. It's also a perfect exercise for those who aren't interested in higher impact activities, though I've found running to be life-changing if you have the urge. Many people recommend meditation as a way to handle stress and negative emotions.