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 emotionhas 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. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Deniable Intimidation
- Some people achieve or maintain power by intimidating others in deniable ways. Too often, when intimidators
succeed, their success rests in part on our unwillingness to resist, or on our lack of skill. By understanding
their tactics, and by preparing responses, we can deter intimidators.
- The Paradox of Structure and Workplace Bullying
- Structures of all kinds — organizations, domains of knowledge, cities, whatever — are both
enabling and limiting. To gain more of the benefits of structure, while avoiding their limits, it helps
to understand this paradox and learn to recognize its effects.
- Social Isolation and Workplace Bullying
- Social isolation is a tactic widely used by workplace bullies. What is it? How do bullies use it? Why
do bullies use it? What can targets do about it?
- Overtalking: I
- Overtalking is the practice of using one's own talking to prevent others from talking. It can lead to
hurt feelings and toxic conflict. Why does it happen and what can we do about it?
- Look Where You Aren't Looking
- Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can
also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve
our ability to prepare for adverse events?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 28: Four Overlooked Email Risks: II
- Email exchanges are notorious for exposing groups to battles that would never occur in face-to-face conversation. But email has other limitations, less-often discussed, that make managing dialog very difficult. Here's Part II of an exploration of some of those risks. Available here and by RSS on March 28.
- And on April 4: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people. Available here and by RSS on April 4.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.