32 thoughts on “4 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Vulnerable to Workplace Bullies

  • October 6, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    I am 64, suffered severe emotional, physical, and emotional incest abuse. I am just learning to stand up for myself mainly avoiding toxic and aggressive people. Started going to church to surround myself with loving people, helps a lot and helps me to heal.

    • October 6, 2019 at 7:17 pm

      Finding loving people is important. Great solution, Sandy.

      • October 8, 2019 at 11:20 am

        Thank you Dr. Webb!

  • October 6, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    I left a job last year due to workplace bullying from the manager. This person not only escalated their abuse to me, but encouraged co-workers to join in. One day I was treated well, the next horribly. A task that was considered well done in the past was suddenly all wrong. Etc., etc…

    In the beginning, I “knew” something wasn’t right with how my manager was talking to and treating me. I just didn’t know what it was. I thought it was just me and being too sensitive. At some point I realized what the manager and co-workers were doing to me was wrong. It was more than micromanaging and a personal dislike of me. It was abuse. By then I didn’t see a way to turn things around. Besides I didn’t know how. And really, still don’t.

    I know better what signs to look for in bullies and abusers though. Good start, but not enough to protect me. What can I say and do at the first sign of those test balloons that bullies send out?

    • October 6, 2019 at 7:17 pm

      Subtly calling a bully on his/her test balloon is very important. When they see that you see them, they leave you alone.

    • October 10, 2019 at 6:29 am

      I’ve had that problem: I tried ‘resisting’ to the bully at the very beginning of our ‘life together’ (I’d been hired against their will, and they wanted to have me fired asap), I was told I was too sensitive, and I’m the one who ended up with a disciplinary procedure, for ‘not getting along’ with my team leader, or because she ‘didn’t like me’…
      Unfortunately, I think the best way to survive in office environments is to work as slowly as possible (don’t do your best… aim for mediocrity), hide your achievements and skills (like the fact you’ve studied a musical instrument or can speak one or more foreign languages fluently), pretend your life outside the office is boring (hide the fact that you are studying part time or going to the gym or doing sports or that you’ve been to a concert or have visited a museum), don’t tell people you are hoping to get on the property ladder… and whenever people criticize your lifestyle (for example, I’m on a gluten-free diet and eat a lot more vegetables than the average person) invoke a higher authority, i.e. ‘My doctor told me to do this…’ Otherwise the bullies will try to put you down: managers and team leaders can’t stand to have a subordinate who is better than them at anything, or who knows things they don’t, they want their staff to look up to them, like children to their parents, even if you’re several years and even decades lower than them! The joys of working in an office…

      • October 10, 2019 at 9:43 am

        I’m sorry you had that experience Yolande. But not all offices are like that. Many are encouraging and positive toward their employees. It is very painful to find oneself in a discouraging and punitive one as you did.

  • October 6, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    This is a bit off the actual subject, but I believe is related. Those of us who experienced childhood emotional neglect and now experience bullying in some form, also experience varied reactions to that stress. I have been reading about CEN for quite a while, and completely identify with it. I have just been diagnosed with IBS, and wonder how common that diagnosis is among those who experienced CEN growing up.

    • October 6, 2019 at 7:16 pm

      Dear Pat, I do think that internalizing our emotions causes multiple physical symptoms like headaches, back problems, and GI issues like IBS.

      • October 9, 2019 at 8:05 pm

        Yes totally agree. I have suffered with IBS most of my life and have also been the target of bullying at school and work. I have said I feel my “toolbox is empty” when it comes to dealing with these kind of personalities. Reading info such as this is helping to give me the tools I need. I love the balloon analogy, it describes perfectly what I’ve experienced/felt but couldn’t give a name. I’ve found recently that using humour is a good way to deflate the early balloons. It sends a message to the bully that you don’t take what they’re saying too seriously, can put the ball back in your court and also lighten the mood. Having said that it’s hard to do if you’re feeling stressed.

      • October 10, 2019 at 5:43 am

        Hi Pat,
        I was dx with an IBS like condition (lymphocytic colitis) when I was in my mid 30s, following a gut biopsy. I have a long history of incest of physical abuse and sexual abuse (including being raped vaginally, but not anally) from the time I was in kindergarten until I was in my 20s (I really struggled to leave my family as I could not find a job and I could not find accommodation, so I ended up on the street several times). I was also raped by two of my employers (undeclared, live in jobs), and that included anal sex.
        For years I wondered whether my digestive symptoms were caused by the fact that I’d been raped… but I also knew that my father had had a partial gastrectomy and a partial colectomy when he was 25, and that auto immune diseases (especially MS) had a high incidence in his family. He split from my mother after only a couple of months and refused to have anything to do with me (especially supporting me financially or acting as a guarantor to help me find rental digs!) once I was an adult, so I could not ask him for more information.
        In my 30s, I was bullied by my team leader and the managers were totally unsupportive of me (I had refused to have sex with one of them). I was an immigrant, ‘squeaky clean’, ‘a stick insect’… and I was studying p/t to try and get an online university degree (since I’d been unable to go to uni when I was 18-25: I was too busy trying to earn a living and to escape from my family!). I eventually saw a gastroenterologist, who said he needed to do a gastroscopy (I had also severe stomach pains, and would vomit in the morning before going to work, and sometimes during the day at work) and a colonoscopy. My managers were afraid I might have cancer and refused to let me take holidays for the next 18 months… Eventually I managed to have to book a week off (I also wanted to have a dental check-up and have my thyroid checked – I have mild hyperthyroidism). The dx was a relief: it was not in my head! The gastroenterologist recommended I ditch gluten, pulses, and dairy. I did so… and within 2 weeks the symptoms had vanished! And whenever I eat biscuits or bread… I get bloating and diarrhea again. I’ve since had genetic testing, and I do have risk factors for gluten intolerance, coeliac disease, and various other auto immune diseases, including Graves disease, which I have, MS, lupus, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
        What is interesting is that stress (being bullied, having to apply for jobs and go through interviews, having to look for accommodation, struggling to make ends meet financially) does make my hyperthyroidism worse, it’s given me dermatological symptoms on occasion, and when I was eating gluten/dairy/pulses, it was definitely making my symptoms worse, and more frequent. My gastroenterologist had also advised me to look for a new job and new rental digs :where I was, we had squatters, the fire alarm would go on several nights a week… and stay on all night, so I was constantly sleep deprived, especially as I had to leave at 6:45am in order to be at work at 7:40am! I think the lack of sleep definitely played a big role in my episodes of diarrhea, as well as the constant worrying about losing my job, not being able to pay the rent, ending up on the street once again, being sent home to my ‘family’, the physical and the sexual abuse starting all over again (they didn’t lose interest in me once I became nubile, or turned 18).
        So if people tell you it’s in your head, don’t believe them. Your condition probably has an ‘organic’ cause, like mine… and stress just makes it worse! My GP sometimes says that I’ve have the foot on the accelerator since my early years, I need to learn to lift my foot off the accelerator… and to apply the brakes (brakes? I don’t know the meaning of that word!).
        One thing that helped me with my ‘gut’ is Pilates: you work on your pelvic floor, but that helps you ‘inhabit’ that part of your body as well… and to learn to stop fearing and hating it, if you’ve been sexually abused.
        I’m 10 years post dx now, and have no trouble staying on top of the condition. I cook from scratch and refuse to eat biscuits, cakes, breakfast cereals etc., making myself quite unpopular in the office! Still it works… and I’ve put on weight! I had a BMI of 17 before the dx, now I have a BMI of 19! I have also more energy and I no longer have to worry about ‘Where are the nearest toilets?’ I can take the bus: even if we get stuck in a traffic jam, it’s not an issue! Once you get on top of your condition, which should be possible with a ‘restrictive’ diet, you will have a much, much better quality of life, even if you’re still bullied at work, still struggling to make ends meet etc. My very best wishes to you!

  • October 6, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    Thank you Dr. Webb for another great article.

    Could you please provide some pointers for developing assertive skills, ie books, courses?

    Thank you

    • October 6, 2019 at 7:15 pm

      “When I say no I feel guilty” is a classic book; “Your perfect right” is another. Both are good in different ways.

  • October 6, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    This is good! Thank you.

  • October 6, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    Beautifully put together!
    Simple, Short and not only sweet, but also packed with helpful information and useful tips that I feel just about anyone can understand and benefit from!

    • October 6, 2019 at 7:14 pm

      I’m glad you find the article helpful, Jessie!

  • October 6, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    I just bought the book after the last article I read introducing me to CEN. I am 100% positive this is me and am relieved.. it’s like struggling with an illness for a while and going to doctors who can’t figure it out or tell you it’s all in your head until one doctor finally listens to you and gives you a correct diagnosis and you start a treatment that works and finally feel better. I’m looking forward to feeling better.

    • October 6, 2019 at 10:37 pm

      I know exactly what you mean, Lisa. And as long as you work through the steps of CEN recovery, you will feel better, I assure you.

  • October 7, 2019 at 8:16 am

    Throughout my working life of about 40 years now, I have felt intimidated and controlled by certain people. I have never been able to effectively stand up for myself with these people.

    • October 7, 2019 at 9:36 pm

      Dear Lisa I assure you that it is never too late to learn how to protect yourself!

  • October 7, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Good read, like the test ballon analogy. My mom was an alcoholic and mentally ill. So I probably went to over 50 schools and I didn’t even go to school in the 9th grade. My survival technique was simple, second ballon delivered and I would physically impose my will over the bully.
    Many of times in the principles office being asked why i instigated a fight. I never could explain the second ballon to the principle or teachers.
    Amazing how weak and insecure bullies are,
    I turned into the anti bully growing up. To this day I feel the triggers in me when I see bullying towards people.

    • October 7, 2019 at 9:35 pm

      It is true that most bullies are very insecure. I’m sorry you had to endure so much as a child and glad that you are a survivor.

  • October 9, 2019 at 8:22 am

    As someone who had been the poster child for victims, I did not identify strongly with CEN, but rather experienced significant bullying growing up as well as later in life. I experienced emotional abuse from my parents as well as occasional physical abuse. I was the target for abuse among my parents’ three children……the designated family scapegoat. When I was the recipient of bullying as the years passed, I never felt that I “deserved” the maltreatment. It was simply that I was quite accustomed to it. Therefore, although I detested it, it was nevertheless the expected, predictable development. BUT now at 71, it is a matter of honor and self-respect to fight back whenever the situation demands it. I just dreamed of doing so in my youth, but now that dream has come to fruition. I have indeed morphed into quite a worthy adversary.

    • October 9, 2019 at 9:30 am

      Good for you Ellen! You are living proof that it’s possible to change.

  • October 11, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    I left my very rewarding job after 9 years. My last six months, our department had a new department head, which totally negatively changed the culture of our department, within the organization. My office co-workers changed to a bullying attitiude against me because I was very insecure, because of the CEN, but I was very well liked by others in the organization, and I had an impressive skill set for handling my job. They sensed the divisiveness, and jumped on board his attitudes. I’ve read that workplace bullies are threatened by those main two factors.

    In six months time, my depression, anxiety, and heart problems became utterly debilitating. Chronic stress was affecting every part of my body. I felt incredibly trapped and alone. I had to choose to leave in order to help myself. I very much wish I had the strength to report the abuse to HR, but I had to remove myself and get well.

    Now, I regret not standing up to the bullies. I didn’t know how to handle the situation well enough, because I was getting abused from more than the department head, but the people who worked 10 feel away from me. It was a miserable situation for me. I had no supervisor support from the two directors who worked off-site, and they were unaware of the situation. They weren’t the type to go to bat for me, anyway.

    • October 11, 2019 at 5:27 pm

      That sounds like a terrible situation, Desertgirl. Now that you are out of it, I hope you will work on trusting your feelings and your gut, and standing up for yourself better. These are things you can learn and get better at!

  • October 12, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    I regret that I used to try to befriend my bully. I thought if my bully is so insecure, surely my kindness will win them over!

    Huuuuuuge mistake on my part.

    Bullies ARE insecure, yes.

    But they are also controlling, manipulative and abusive.

    I learned that one must starve bullies by not giving them any attention.

    I know it’s difficult because sometimes they invade your space.

    Plus if you obviously avoid them, this just feeds their ego and gives them fuel to further demean you.

    That said, one tactic that always works for me is picking up your cell and have a conversation with someone.

    Big bonus points if you engage in a conversation in another language.

    Your bully is paranoid, feels diminished for not understanding the conversation you are having on the cell and he/she is just left there, standing, all alone!

    Another tactic that worked for me with a particularly overt bully is I would only communicate with him via email.

    Stupidly, my bully name-called me and tried to threaten me in writing.

    I let him think he was getting away with it and he became more and more bold in his contempt to me in every email.

    Forwarding his hateful emails to others—thereby exposing him—humiliated my bully and he simply stopped contacting me altogether. Yay!

    • October 13, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      Dear Sunny, those were excellent ideas to undercut your bully! Good job and thanks for sharing.

  • November 18, 2019 at 3:39 am

    As long as man continues to destroy all life forms, which he considers inferior, he will never know what health is and will never find true peace. The men will continue to kill each other as long as they slaughter the animals. He who sows killing and sorrow cannot gather joy and love. “https://bit.ly/2QcaPAR


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