Hello Susan,

I am a professional woman in my early 50’s, working for a small non-profit agency here in London. I have worked at the same place for 11 years and have a good employment record. Last year, we got a new General Manager and since then my life has become a nightmare. She picks on me, yells at me in front of consumers and has said in front of my coworkers “You are only fit to sweep the floors’. I feel like in everything I do, she is watching and waiting for me to make a mistake. I am having trouble sleeping, I wake up early in the morning, sometimes I’m shaky at work and Sunday evenings, just cry. I love my job and don’t want to leave, but I can’t seem to make her stop. I have tried everything, but just feel like I am going crazy.

Unsigned


 

Dear Unsigned,

It sounds to me like you are feeling the effects of workplace bullying or mobbing. If this is the case, it is important that you realize that your symptoms are indicative of someone who is suffering a psychological injury not a psychological illness. You are being victimized and hurt, but you are not going crazy.

Workplace bullying or mobbing behaviour may include:

  • Yelling
  • Glaring
  • Swearing
  • Temper outbursts
  • Withholding of information and resources
  • Public humiliation
  • Refusal to delegate work
  • Arbitrary removal of work responsibilities
  • Unrealistic work/time demands
  • Physical aggression (slammed doors, a shaken fist)
  • It is consistent over time
  • It is designed to humiliate and intimidate the target

Unfortunately being bullied at work can be a no-win situation. Confronting the bully may set you up for retaliation, siding with her may make you more vulnerable and just hanging in or ‘taking it’, which it sounds like you have been doing, can lead to a reactive depression or another stress related health problem.

You don’t specify in your letter what tactics you have tried in effort to change her behaviour. However, research shows that people who fight back are less likely to have lasting trauma. So, whether you stay in your job, or decide to leave, doing things like documenting events of bullying, finding other people she has bullied, or filing a grievance or a formal complaint, may help you regain a sense of control over the situation, as well as some sense of integrity.

Being bullied can devastate our sense of self-esteem. Are you reminding yourself regularly of your 10 years as a respected and valued employee and co-worker? Doing so may help you see that the humiliation and/or shame you may be feeling is not there because there is anything inherently wrong with you. Rather it is something that has been projected ONTO you, as a result of your boss’s own insecurities and emotional problems.

Does your company have an EFAP or a counseling hotline you can call? You are likely feeling victimized, angry, confused, scared, and perhaps isolated at work. It may be a good idea to find a therapist who you can work with to help you develop new coping skills, repair your self-esteem, and build assertiveness skills, to help you feel more resilient in facing this very distressing situation.

Good luck, and let me know how it turns out.