Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 44;   November 2, 2016: Shame and Bullying

Shame and Bullying

by

Targets of bullies sometimes experience intense feelings of shame. Here are some insights that might restore the ability to think, and maybe end the bullying.
Feeling shame

Shame can be overpowering. It can hijack your mind. It can limit your ability to think, let alone think rationally. Sleep, even fitful sleep, can become possible only after exhaustion sets in. Connecting with friends or loved ones can become so burdensome that being a friend, or being loved, can feel like a demand, or worse, an attack. Counterattack, against friends and loved ones, can be the only available response.

Shame can be debilitating.

For targets of workplace bullies, shame can be the dominant emotion. Not fear of the bully; rather, fear of being humiliated by the bully. As a target, you come to fear what others think when they watch how the bully abuses you, and when they hear what the bully says about you.

Some bullies choose tactics and timing that maintain the target's shame at the "right" level. Too little shame lets the target think clearly enough to find a way out. Too much shame is a waste of effort.

The shame that targets feel is typically out of proportion to what's actually happening. Here are some reasons why.

Targets are usually overmatched
Workplace bullies choose targets; targets hardly ever choose their bullies. Bullies usually have the advantage, because they choose targets they believe they can easily bully. If you're now a target, the bully is better prepared to bully you than you are prepared to defeat (or escape) that bully. This is the bully's doing. For targets, there's no shame in that.
Powerful bullies seek powerful targets
Every bully For the targets of workplace
bullies, shame can be the
dominant emotion
has strengths and weaknesses with respect to their effectiveness as a bully. As a target, the bully probably selected you because you're a good fit for that particular bully's strengths and weaknesses. Being the target of a particularly powerful bully means the bully sees you as powerful enough to merit attention. For targets, there's no shame in that.
The bully's bystanders are afraid
Most bystanders fear becoming targets themselves. Out of fear, bystanders maintain a sense of safety by appearing to support the bully. To targets, this stance looks like acceptance of the bully's tactics. Although bystanders do seem to believe the bully's assertions, many don't. They're just cowed. This is the bully's doing. For targets, there's no shame in that.
Bullies try to nurture shame
Shame is one of the tools bullies use to control their targets. They nurture shame. If they sense that their targets aren't experiencing enough shame, they make adjustments accordingly. As a target, if you're feeling up to it, one way to end the bullying is to refuse to feel ashamed of being targeted.

In workplace bullying, the most shameful act is the bullying. The second most shameful act is the bully's supervisor's failure to end the bullying. The third most shameful act is the bully's supervisor's supervisor's failure to … you get the idea. Go to top Top  Next issue: Solving the Problem of Solving Problems  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

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More articles on Workplace Bullying:

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Of the tools we use to address toxic conflict, many are ineffective for ending bullying. Here's a review of some of the tools that don't work well and why.
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Bullying in meetings is difficult to address, because intervention in the moment is inherently public. When bullying happens in meetings, what can you do?
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When the Chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions to please the Chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because Chairs usually can retaliate against attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.

See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

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