This week’s guest author is Linda Crockett, an internationally recognized expert on workplace bullying. Linda and I connected over our mutual understanding that dysfunctional workplace dynamics often mirror dysfunctional family system dynamics and family scapegoating abuse. In today’s article, Linda addresses the connection between sibling bullying and workplace / adult bullying.
My name is Linda Crockett. I am a survivor of sibling scapegoating, including bullying and physical threats; intimate partner abuse (including bullying); and workplace bullying. This article touches on the connection between sibling bullying and workplace or adult bullying. I hope it will offer you more insight and validation—and most importantly—guidance to prevent, intervene, or help repair your current situation.
Since 2010, I have been using my experiences and professional training to develop a clinic that offers resources, support, training, guidance, advocacy, coaching, and treatment for employees suffering the psychological injury of workplace bullying. I also developed a rehabilitation program to treat those who cause employees these injuries.
Over the past 10 years I have seen thousands of employees who have experienced workplace bullying. Most of the cases I work with are legitimate cases of workplace bullying. I would rate these cases anywhere from 7 to 9 out of 10 on a severity scale. When you add in childhood triggers like sibling bullying or any other trauma, the severity goes off the chart.
Recognizing Workplace Bullying as Abuse
I have noticed that most of my clients often override their own signs and symptoms of distress until they hit rock bottom, suffering chronic illness before really committing to their own recovery work. We end up in abusive relationships, burn ourselves out, and never feel good enough—often based on shame and betrayal we suffered in sibling scapegoating and bullying.
The employee’s reactions to workplace bullying are more amplified with flashbacks entrenched in their fear of not being good enough. They hear old name-calling tapes like “you are not smart enough; you are not good enough” and these words can trigger feelings associated with imposter syndrome. This is when we see concerning signs of isolation; depression; anxiety or panic attacks; suicidal ideation; self-harm; embitterment disorder, or diagnosis of adjustment disorder; and/or PTSD.
Unlike the stereotype schoolyard bullying scenario where the dominating child targets the meek or mild child, workplace bullying is often the opposite. In the workplace we see different “bully types,” i.e., those who are insecure, stressed, aggressive, mean and/or burned out, as well as the more severe types of psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists.
These differences matter when it comes to rehabilitation for the perpetrator and recovery for the targeted employee. All bully types tend to target hardworking, dedicated, loyal, and ethical employees. Research shows that up to 74% of bullies in the workplace are leaders. To be honest, if I had the capacity, I would hire 95% of the clients I see in my office. These bullied employees typically go above and beyond the call of duty. They are an employer’s dream.
The Psychological Impact of Workplace Bullying
Similar to workplace bullying, research on scapegoating or sibling bullying shows that children can develop symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, low motivation, isolation, self-harm, addictions, and more. Unlike childhood bullying (school or home), bullying in the workplace is more sophisticated, and insidious. They are often cases of “he-said-she-said.” This makes these cases difficult to prove. Let’s face it: adults know that verbal attacks or threats, rumors or lies, actions to sabotage reputation and/or relationships, gaslighting, tactics of exclusion or ostracism, and other humiliating behaviors, will get them in deep trouble.
I used to call one of my bullies “Mary Poppins versus Godzilla.” In front of other staff members, she was highly skilled, professional, charming, and successful. No one would ever believe that she would be spitting names and absurd accusations or lies about me and other loyal employees behind closed doors. She was just like my older sister, and even more like my mother.
The psychological injury of adult bullying often includes depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, ruminating thoughts, isolation, low self-esteem, grief, and loss. The loss that these employees suffer is multilayered, i.e., loss of self, loss of safety, loss of joy, and loss of a job they have invested in and very much enjoyed. Please read my article on the experience of anticipatory grief and complicated grief related to workplace bullying located here: https://abrc.ca/resources/articles/.
When Workplace Bullying Mirrors Childhood Abuse
In my work with adults, I see a pattern of underdogs standing up and fighting for every other underdog—except themselves. My clients tend to have high standards, leaving them feeling like they are never good enough. I like to tell them that I am 5-foot-2-inches. I will never be 6 feet. If I keep trying to be 6 feet, I will never feel good enough nor accept how great I can be at my best 5-foot-2-inches! These clients tend to be perfectionists or workaholics, and their entire self-worth and/or identify is wrapped up in their careers. They lack boundaries, which is another underdog characteristic indicating low self-worth.
When someone at work attacks these hard-working types of employees, and especially their accomplishments or successes, the abuse runs very deep—and right back into their childhood homes. Many of my clients were suffering from complex PTSD symptoms originating in childhood without being aware of it. Imagine the layers of triggers for them when they were abused by their families and are now being bullied at work.
I want to emphasize that there is nothing you could do to deserve someone abusing you. Bullying at any age is an abuse of power and unacceptable. Fact is: if you were perfect, a bully will bully you for being perfect. It is not actually about you; it is about something going on inside the person bullying you. Naturally, it feels very personal, especially if you carry wounds from sibling scapegoating and/or childhood bullying.
- When siblings repeatedly call you hurtful names, you carry these triggers into adulthood. These are the buttons a bully will push. Heal the trigger buttons and no one gets to bully you again!
- We often replay patterns in our lives until we prioritize our healing work. Does your bully remind you of anyone in your family? It may not be exact—but the resulting betrayal runs deep.
- Scapegoating or bullying siblings take their own pain out on you. Today they may still lack insight. This does not mean you do not get to heal! You can be free to move forward if you commit to your healing.
- Self-negative thoughts are not “hard wired.” These thought patterns can be changed with the right resources. You deserve better.
- If you ignore the abuse you carry from childhood, wounds will show up in other ways, i.e., addictions, self-sabotage, procrastination, fear of intimacy, fear of failure or success, low self-esteem/confidence. Don’t stay stuck in these cycles any longer!
- Learn about your survival responses, thought patterns, fears, and more. This will help you to step out of negative relationship patterns at work and do the right thing for you.
If you were bullied as a child, the points I list above may help you to understand some of your feelings and reactions when bullied in adulthood. Knowledge is your power so I hope in reading my articles you will find new goals to empower you through healing, strengthening your inner core, and ultimately eliminating any future bullies from impacting your life.
If you want to learn more about how to free yourself of these cycles, you are welcome to visit my website here www.abrc.ca
Linda Crockett MSW, RSW, SEP, EMDR
Founder of ABRC.ca
Alberta Bullying Research, Resources, and Recovery Centre Inc.
©Linda Crockett 2020
This guest post was written by Linda Crockett. The author’s opinions and recommendation are their own.
Photo by Tatiana12