This month’s subject for our Focus Group discussion was about “Understanding the Impact of Dealing with Difficult People and Different Personalities.”
It was a brutally honest portrayal of what it is like to be a victim of workplace bullying in its full-blown form. What it is like to be constantly victimised, denigrated and singled out for demoralising treatment.
Before our speaker (who I will call Dawn), told us her story, we all helped John Lennon sing “Imagine” and then got to know our speaker a little better. We already know that Dawn has a wicked sense of humour, is a good listener and comes across always as her unique, authentic self.
What most of us didn’t know, was that she has a love for learning, and personal development, which saw her return to the class room, long after her peers had hung up their school bags. She had left school at age fifteen, with no qualifications, and it wasn’t until after the break down of her marriage that she decided she needed to educate herself. Not only for herself, but also to support and encourage her two daughters.
After eventually getting her Certificate three in Nutrition and Dietary Practices at TAFE, she decided to study for another six years at university to get a degree in Health Science, which has enabled her to work in a Government Department for the last ten years, supporting the disadvantaged, which was something she had always wanted to do. And until the recent past, she loved going to work and doing just that.
Knowing that she planned to retire somewhere within the next ten years, she was thrilled to get a transfer to the east coast of NSW, where she was happy to relocate.
I’m going to take a break here from Dawn’s narrative, because I found her story harrowing. And I was only listening to it, not living it day in, day out.
Most of us were in agreeance, that over the period of our lives, we had encountered numerous difficult people. Often it is something in passing, or at least a situation we can remove ourselves from.
When it is something we feel we can’t just up and walk away from, it becomes much more sinister. Things like workplaces, families, or even just organisations we are affiliated with for some shared purpose. There are many situations when walking away is not a simple option. And that’s when having to deal with difficult people can be very, very damaging to our health and well-being.
In Dawn’s case it was workplace related and the perpetrators were very aware of what they were doing. They usually are. They know how best to undermine their victim and the most effective and demoralising behaviours to weaken their prey. It is rarely an isolated case. They hone their artful skills with practice.
Like the schoolyard bully, they either work alone or in a group, ingratiating themselves to their superiors, standing over their subordinates and isolating anyone from the group who they feel threatened by.
They know they have the silent support of the herd through their shameful, weak, shared history. Anyone who stood up to the bullies is no longer there and the remaining group feel too threatened and vulnerable to speak up.
This has been Dawn’s horrendous predicament for well over twelve months, with no positive change in sight.
It is a story that is all too often played out in large organisations and Government Departments, where CEO’s and Ministers can be kept totally in the dark of the toxic scenario being orchestrated all around them. Even when and if the victim is able to access the ear of someone further up the chain (where they hope to have a just appraisal of the situation), more often than not, the bullies are able to taint, twist and in many cases, outright lie about and deflect blame back onto the victim. The bully has already portrayed the victim as a troublemaker, dishonest, lazy, whatever suits their purpose, to those higher up in the pecking order.
Gaslighting, takes place. The victim is manipulated by psychological means into doubting their own sanity! They even begin to question the veracity of their own stories. With all the snide, hidden things said and done, demoralisation sets in. Add to that, the things said and then denied, or “that’s just your perception.”
Constantly undermined, manipulated, screamed at, and thwarted, the victim is broken down, piece by piece, dreading going to work each day.
The victim is starved of options (no support among peers and no support above), exhaustion and desperation inevitably sets in and the will and ability to continue to struggle on becomes impossible. They accept the life-line of Worker’s Compensation hoping, that in their absence, something will be done to correct the situation. Surely those in more senior rolls will look into it and get to see what is really happening. Previous staff have suffered exactly the same fate.
This pernicious behaviour totally destroys people and these scenes are being played out all over Australia.
After hearing Dawn’s tragic story and witnessing how it has devastated her once happy working-life, I felt like a hapless bystander, witnessing a murder, but not knowing what to do.
“It has robbed me of all my joy. It is with me, every minute - night and day,” (she is currently on indefinite Work-cover and just wants to be able to resume her career), and I live in a state of anxiety, limbo, depression and total uncertainty “.
These systems must change!
For the foreseeable future mankind will continue to have people who want to oppress others. What we mustn’t do is continue to provide them with the avenues in which they can do this. They might still be able to wield their way into management positions, but with a different and better regulated system, they will be identified and brought to account. Not rewarded with a free licence to abuse people in this way. There will probably always be manipulative people, but there need not be systems that can be manipulated by unscrupulous, amoral people.
Employers in Australia are bound by law to provide a safe working environment for employees, so it is high time that those empowered to oversee these things, be held accountable.
If psychological malpractice was given the same status of care that physical neglect in the work-place is, this behaviour would no longer be possible.
Likewise we, as fellow citizens, must allow our higher self to operate from its place of love to speak out and call out when we witness this ugly, soul-destroying mis-use of authority.
In all walks of life, the limitations and destructiveness of “Domination Over” are becoming more and more apparent and increasingly people are welcoming in the new practice of “Partnership With”. In work-places and communities world-wide, there is an unstoppable movement of awareness, that recognises mankind’s new dawning.
As a community, we at EWP – TLC, will all help and support Dawn navigate her way through this devastatingly painful time.
We know, that eventually, Love always trumps tyranny.