A page for partners, friends and supporters of targets

How to support a target - from a Target's viewpoint:

The most important thing a person can do is believe the victim of workplace abuse and harassment. Most people do the worst thing possible, by denying the truth of what the target of bullying or mobbing is going through. In order to try and "help," or in disbelief that it actually can be "that bad," many people dismiss a target's feelings by the use of standard clichés. These clichés, which include "it's normal" or "it's just a personality difference" and "don't be so sensitive," only serve to silence someone trying to speak about what is happening to them. And worse, not only does it not help someone deal appropriately with the situation, but it causes secondary wounding, which only doubles the damage done to the person going through it.

Much like in the early days of trying to bring up the issues of sexual discrimination and harassment, we, the targets of bullying, (until now) have had no frame of reference. No language for what was happening to us. Targets are often told to just "get over it." We struggle to find our voice and to try and express to others what is or was happening to us.

This inability to describe what is happening when it can't be seen in the dominant culture, reminds me of a story I was told in school. It was about the Native American Indians who couldn't see the Spanish ships sailing in towards them. Apparently they could see the ripples on the water heading their way, but couldn't see what was causing the disturbance on the water. They had to call their Shaman in to figure out what it was. And even the Shaman sat there for a few days before he could see it. But once he did, and could point out where the sails were, etc. the others had a frame of reference and could then see it. Because they had no frame of reference originally, they couldn't figure out what was headed towards them. They could see the effects of it and what it was doing to the water, without knowing why.

This "seeing the effects," but not being able to figure out what is happening to them, is often the experience of the person being bullied. Because they have no frame of reference, no language for what is happening to them, they don't understand what is happening at first. Because of this, they do their best to endure it. If it continues, they seek ways to make it stop. Generally they start with themselves. They attempt to change themselves first because they assume everyone is logical and wouldn't maliciously hurt someone without reason. However the reasons are not usually because the target is flawed in some way, but because the bully is. Whether the bully does it for jealousy, power, control or insecurity, a bully often picks on the most diligent, enthusiastic, creative and hard working person in the group. Because of this, when the target becomes completely frustrated at their inability to change the situation, from getting no response to their own changes or the next step, complaints to people higher up, in HR or a union Rep., some targets get pushed as far as committing suicide or even murder/suicide when they can no longer take it and feel all avenues have been exhausted to make it stop. The well used popular term "going postal" is the serious problem of workplace bullying at it' worst extreme. And many people lose the support they need most, from partners, co-workers, and friends to the management, HR and unions that are supposed to protect them.

Most people bullied suffer in silence, with their health being the first indicator of a larger issue they are unable to resolve. So what can you do - as a person who loves or is trying to help a target? Well - it varies for different people and for different supporters. A partner or friend of a target may do something completely different than a psychologist, HR person or co-worker. There are similarities, but the following list is a start.

Believe:
First of all, try to believe what the target is telling you. As unbelievable as it may sound, it is likely all true. Even if you know the person and they treat you and others differently than what the target is experiencing. Often a target will be picked on and excluded from the "kind" treatment others get - specifically so they are seen as "crazy." This pulls their support system apart and makes them question what is happening to them. Even if you feel it can't possibly be true, don't belittle the target. Validation is crucial. They are telling you because they trust you. The best way to validate their experience is by repeating back what they are saying in your own words. Never say things like "be logical" or "don't worry about it."

Hear and Validate the Target:
Secondly, try not to think of how you would deal with the situation, or how you think the target should. Try to really hear the target, and repeat back, in your own words, what you think they are feeling and saying. They need to be validated and heard above all else. This is the most crucial thing you can do to help a target. Have the confidence that the target will get through it. Telling them what to do only serves to further lower their confidence and self-esteem. This will only make them an easier target for the bully.

The Power of the People:
If you are a co-worker or bystander of the bullying, standing up to the bully or stopping gossip about the target is important. Often if no one is listening to the bully's lies, or if the target has even one or two others saying that the bully is lying about the target or behaving in an unprofessional manner, the bullying can be stopped. Bystanders really don't realize the power they hold over the bully. They allow fear to stop them from saying anything. But the truth is that often the bully is more afraid of getting caught than anything else, or is somehow being rewarded for bad behavior (think cost-cutting and fear tactics to get staff to give higher productivity). Management, HR or union reps can help even more by letting the bully know they are keeping an eye on their behavior and setting clear guidelines for appropriate behavior of employees, even if they cannot see any "real" damage to the target. Does a sexual or racial harassment claim need to defend and prove the damage? No. Everyone is trained to look for the behavior and to call attention to management when they see it. There are clear guidelines on what to do if it happens to you. Reporting is usually confidential and helpful. Bullying on the other hand, is dismissed, joked about, and violates the victim by offering no help whatsoever in getting help from the attacks of the bully. It's far too often ruled as "just a personality conflict." In fact, management and others often make it worse for the target after a target has complained, singling them out as "difficult" and "the problem" for bringing awareness of the issue up. (Think whistleblower.) This then gives the bully free reign to further harass the target, knowing full well there will be no repercussions to their cruel behavior.

Setting Boundaries for health:
For loved ones or co-workers, compassion fatigue can be a real danger. Compassion fatigue is caused when the supporter has lost the ability to listen and care about what is happening. Because they hear the stories continually, they can easily be overwhelmed, especially if they work in the same place, as they may fear the bully will get them next. This fatigue may cause you to want to turn off, tune out and to stop listening to the target entirely. At its extreme, you may want to avoid the target altogether. Don't feel bad for not feeling entirely empathetic if you feel you've heard too much for months on end, and just want it to stop. But don't avoid them or stop listening completely. It will truly cause the target as much pain as the bullying, if not more. They will feel completely betrayed when they need you most. The best thing to do is set boundaries for the target. Express that you are feeling overwhelmed and that you need to set a certain time each day - or a limited time per week - whatever you two can agree on and what works for you. After that time, the target needs to journal, talk to a psychologist, or whatever else they can to give you a rest. They need to talk about other things with you instead of reliving every moment you have together about what's happening to them. Kindly let them know there is more to life than the bullying, and that you want to keep your relationship healthy for you both. Let them know you know the situation and they are important to you , but that you - and they - need to have some good experiences together too, to keep it from overwhelming you both and destroying the relationship.

Allow them to Heal:
An important part of helping a target is helping them realize that this is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Bullying is a deeply traumatic psychological injury. Much like any injury, this loss and hurt needs time to heal. Going straight into a "workaholic frenzy" to cover their feelings will not help. They need downtime, a good psychologist, and as much information as they can get on the phenomenon so as not to have to go through it again. The healing time is crucial, though agonizing for many people who are used to going 100 miles an hour and doing many things. This downtime is about rest, shedding tears, being angry, drawing, reading, writing letters or whatever may help releasing those pent-up emotions. Many will avoid this stage, though it is most crucial. If they don't do this, the body will eventually start feeling the physical effects of the strain, as it has to come out somehow. Let the target know it's okay to be tired, to not be able to do what they are used to. This exhaustion will pass quicker if they don't fight it.

Tolerance for time needed to heal:
A common response for a target once they realize what damage and loss this bully has caused, is to become angry, numb, or depressed. This may seem to "take forever" to "get over" to outsiders, but it is crucial time for the target. Much like the grief of death or sickness, companies and often friends and family have little tolerance for the time needed to go through all the healing steps. This grieving for their loss of self, trust and faith in the world and others can take months or years. It all depends on how long and how deeply the target was damaged. Unlike a "normal" trauma or incident where one has to get over on crucial life-changing event, bullying is a continued trauma incident after trauma after trauma, so compounded that it can take years for the psyche to pull it all apart let alone deal with each of the incidents properly. A supporter needs to have patience with the target for the time needed to heal. Know that it will end - it just cannot be cured in a few weeks or even months. Average time for a target to heal from bullying is one to two years.

Focus on Fun:
Targets also often pull away from the people they need most. They are quite rightly afraid of others and afraid of burdening the few supports they have. As a support to them, getting them to focus on going out once a week to do something fun is very important. One of the biggest losses of a target is the ability to trust others and to feel there is any joy or pleasure in the world. A good dinner, an evening out doing something interactive - not a movie as they will just escape and not really allow themselves to feel - will help the target keep a sense of perspective and help in the healing process. Talking to others, whether about the trauma or not, is one of the best healers.

Telling the story:
The first response for many targets, once they fully realize what has happened, is a need to tell everyone their story - not just their friends and family. They will want to tell the whole world about this outrageous injustice. This is because the incredible injustice stimulates a strong motivation to draw a sense of purpose out of what has happened to them. For many, it is just the start of education others of the damage of bullying, or the beginning of a campaign to reform legislation. However, before they start down this road, it needs to be a calculated effort - after they are healed. A knee-jerk reaction and a jump straight into the fire is not a good first step. This type of desire to "change the world" is not to be taken lightly. It is extremely difficult and can be very draining. It's not for everyone. For a target to truly do themselves and others any good, they need to heal first, and to educate themselves as to where and how they may want to do this - or if they even really want to. Sometimes the best revenge is just living a happy life. To help them with this, a good suggestion is help get them interested in joining a peer support group, such as No Bully For Me. This way, they will have not only people who understand, but also people who can show them the pros and cons of this route, as well as being able to help them through the healing process much more quickly. Telling everyone before they are healed, or starting a huge campaign will just drain the energy they need to heal. And how they tell the story is an important skill as well so that they don't overwhelm people who don't yet understand about workplace bullying.

Is there Justice? And how can - or how willing are you to help?

Often a target's next step is to search for justice in the form of legal or other battles. They will need your support. But to help them, you will need to ask them some difficult questions. What exactly do they expect from this course of action? How do they see their future if they go this route? And how do they feel justice will be served in their eyes? Often this injustice will make them extremely angry and unable to differentiate between what they want or need, and what is simply a reality they must accept. Some want the bully to recognize what they've done and to apologize; others want the company or bully to pay for what they've done. And sometimes they just are angry at the cruelty and cannot see what they are searching for. No matter what they decide, you need to decide if you are able to help them, how specifically you will help, and to what point and degree. This needs to be clear so that a target does not feel further abandoned if you are not willing to help them in all areas of their need for justice. Often the best way to help them is to help them get medical leave so they have the time they need to heal. This in itself is the first step before one even considers any other projects or attempts for "justice."

There are many more things you can do to help a target, but these ideas should help you get started. The main thing to remember is that you can make a difference. The target of bullying may not tell you right away, but they do need and appreciate all the support you can offer.

If you would like more info, feel free to e-mail Karen (or Stephen) on a specific question at nobullyforme@gmail.com

What it's like to be a supportive loved one - one partner's view

When you're the spouse of someone who is being bullied at work, what does that mean for you? Well, it depends a lot on the people involved, but it probably means some difficult times ahead. How difficult it will be can vary depending from the state of your relationship to the state of your finances. Whatever your circumstances, it is most likely you will experience stress in both these areas. How bad it gets depends on your ability to understand and come to terms with what is happening to your spouse and how it is affecting your life.

It's quite likely most people will not understand that what is happening to them until it has been occurring for quite some time, let alone conceptualize it as bullying. What happens is your spouse comes home from work increasingly more stressed, depressed and upset. But as it progresses, your spouses stress inevitably becomes your stress as well. First it just sounds like complaints about difficult people at work. We all encounter difficult people everywhere, including work, and most people will try to help their spouse cope. But when these attempts fail, and the problems and stress continues, you may begin to feel resentful. You could even start to think that your spouses' inability to deal with their work issues is their own fault. If this occurs, your spouse may soon be experiencing not only a hostile work place, but a destructive and unsympathetic home environment as well. Even while all your attempts to help are sincere, until you truly understand that your spouse is experiencing, it will be difficult to provide the kind of support that will help both of you deal with the bullying and its affects.

Even the most empathetic person may have a difficult time understanding what a bullied person feels if they have not had similar experiences. When you've done everything you can think of to help them, and your spouse says, "I've tried, nothing works," what do you do? For most people, it's no small task to truly put your self in somebody else's shoes. Ultimately, you will have to make the choice to simply believe what they tell you is happening. Imagine having to deal with a person who is acting hostilely towards you; you attempt to befriend them, it doesn't stop; you ignore them, it continues; you challenge their behaviour, they deny it. On and on it goes, one way or another. They gossip about you, they complain about you to your boss, they're hostile, disrespectful; they sabotage you at every opportunity. What if your co-workers are their friends? What if your boss is their friend? What if they're your boss! Every situation is different. But for your spouse, they likely feel helpless, trapped, and with few options. This is what it may take for you to fully appreciate their situation. If you can, congratulations, as it wasn't until my spouse became physically ill that I fully came to appreciate what was happening, and accept the situation as truly something more that typical work problems.

It is only once you've accepted the reality of the situation your spouse is experiencing that you will be able to help them. That is when you will be their ally in helping them, rather than trying make the problems go away that are causing you stress. Until then, all your good advice isn't what they need - they need validation and to feel you hear them. You may need to accept reality and face some difficult decisions you'd rather not. Whatever action you decide to take, be it legal action, leaving the job, or staying and taking on the bully, your spouse will need you there to support them. It won't make all the stress go away, or alleviate the financial difficulties that may result from changing jobs or taking legal action, but two people working on a common purpose will be better off than the alternative of conflict at work and at home.



No Bully For Me - adding insight to injury

A campaign to support and inform the targets of workplace
bullying and to promote respectful workplaces.

We are physically based in Vancouver, B.C., Canada