Signs of Emotional Abuse at Work (and How to React)
Here’s a sad but undeniable truth: abuse, in all its forms, shapes and sizes, is everywhere. In fact, it has even become part of most people’s way of life that they have trouble spotting it for what it is: a gross disrespect for one person and his rights, often with harmful and injurious results, and the only one to benefit from it is the person inflicting the abuse.
Any improper or excessive usage or treatment is termed as “abuse”, but in the human and psychological context, it refers to one’s treatment of others beings or individuals. In this context, it is closely associated with issues that relate to aggression, suppression, deceit, maltreatment and, often, violence.
We need only open the television and see displays or acts of abuse, whether on the news or in various TV programs. The most common forms are physical maltreatment, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, people in power abusing their authority, and many others.
But there is one other type of abuse that often goes undetected, mainly because of how often it is inflicted with subtlety and disguised as valid discourse or form of communication. It doesn’t get as much attention and publicity as, say, physically attacking someone and causing injuries, since it is non-physical and, therefore, does not leave any identifying marks or scars. This is called Emotional Abuse.
DEFINING EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Perhaps you have greater familiarity with “verbal abuse” more than emotional abuse. That’s understandable, because it also happens to describe the something. It has proven, however, to be quite a limiting word, considering how emotional abuse can also be inflicted even without verbalizing it. Yes, a person can abuse someone emotionally without uttering a single syllable. Thus, this form of abuse is often referred to by a more general term, which is “psychological abuse”. “Mental abuse” is also frequently used to describe this state.
There is a certain ambiguity in how emotional abuse is often described, and this made it difficult, even for psychologists, researchers and clinicians, to come up with a fixed definition for it. However, emotional abuse is loosely described as the ongoing emotional maltreatment or neglect inflicted by one person on another, seemingly weaker, person which often results in the latter developing psychological trauma, such as anxiety, depression, and other health-related disorders.
To gain a better understanding of this concept, let us break down the characteristics of emotional abuse.
- It involves non-physical behaviors, which may range from delivering threats and insults to openly doling out public humiliation and intimidation. It may even be in the form of wordless but constant monitoring (bordering on stalking) and deliberate neglect and isolation of the subject or recipient of the abuse. A person damaging property by throwing or kicking things around violently will also fall under emotional abuse, despite the use of physical force, since it the acts of physical aggression are indirectly aimed at the other person, who may also be the owner of the damaged property.
- It is often brought on when there is an imbalance of power in the relationship. One wields a higher authority or power over the other, and he uses this to manipulate, control, demean, or simply demonstrate this superiority over him.
- The abuse is intentional, with the abuser deliberate in choosing the actions he will use to attack his intended victim. He may be calculated in his approach, or he could use random and even reckless acts, but they are all meant to do one thing: to hurt his target.
- The abuse occurs on a regular basis, with the repetitions taking place for extended or prolonged periods. As it goes on, the intensity of the aggression is escalating, with each attack worse than the previous one.
Murray A. Straus developed the CTS, or the Conflict Tactics Scale, as a research tool for family violence issues. In this scale, he identified three categories of acts of “psychological aggression”. They are:
- Verbal aggression: Words can wound, and the abuser makes full use of this weapon by saying things or uttering words that he is fully aware will upset, annoy, or offend other people, particularly the person he is directing his verbal attack to. It could be a thinly veiled insult, or it could be an all-out, full-on verbal lashing that involves swearing and cursing, and it could be done either in private or in public, with many eyes watching.
- Dominant behaviors: The abuser asserts his dominance over the abused, making sure that the latter understands, in no uncertain terms, that he is the one calling the shots. For example, after an open tirade, the abuser warns the abused not to let anyone know about their exchange, or else “he will regret it”. He could also employ tactics that will isolate the abused, such as preventing him from seeking help or assistance from others, or blocking other avenues for the abused to be able to make even a token resistance against his abuses.
- Jealous behaviors: The green-eyed monster is usually seen at the root of most cases of emotional abuse, especially in relationships and, in some instances, in the workplace. Jealousy plants seeds of suspicion which, in turn, drives people to want to control others. Their need to feel secure in their current position, especially when they feel threatened, makes them even more determined to stake their claim, so they become abusive.
EFFECTS OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE
The main reason why emotional abuse is often overlooked is the fact that there are no physical signs or marks to prove that it exists. However, emotional abuse can be just as harmful, and probably even more destructive, since the damage goes deeper within the psyche of the one on the receiving end. Instead of physical pain, he is left with the harder-to-ease emotional pain, and the scarring can be more permanent.
- Emotional abuse starts hacking away at the person’s self-esteem, which is already quite low to begin with. His vulnerability to emotionally abusive attacks is brought on by existing feelings of inferiority, self-doubt, and a general lack of confidence. By piling on the abuse, the person will feel even smaller, since his initial impressions of himself are, in a way, validated or confirmed. For example, a husband never misses pointing out how incompetent his wife is, and this eats away at the wife, who is already suffering from a low self-esteem because of her current unemployed state. As a result, she tends to be sullen and quiet as she stays home to do housework.
- Repetitive emotional abuse can shape one’s self-worth. The repetition or constant exposure to the abuse is likely to have a hypnotic effect, so that the person will start to believe whatever abusive things he is told. In the example above, the barrage of verbal abuse and insult about her supposed incompetence and worthlessness may eventually become fact for the wife, who will start to believe that she really can’t do anything right.
- Emotional abuse is likely to make the recipient shoulder all the blame. At some point, the abused may start looking around and questioning why she is going through these difficulties or subjected to that abuse. But if the emotional abuse has done its job and has become deeply embedded in her psyche, she will find no one else to blame but herself. Thus, she will end up blaming herself for everything: for the misery she is going through, for her shortcomings, for every little thing that is going wrong, and even for the abusive behavior of the other person. In fact, she will even come to the point that she thinks she deserves being treated in that manner. She had it coming; her husband would not have been verbally attacking her if she had been better and more competent.
- Emotional abuse can result to trauma, which can be permanent. Psychological trauma is a likely result in the worst cases of emotional abuse. The abused may end up suffering from anxiety and chronic depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, trauma is something that cannot be easily treated or cured, and it usually takes time before one can fully get over it. For many, they are never able to completely be free of their trauma, even if they are able to put it under control. This also has an overall effect on how the person will conduct himself onward. It will cause strains in his current relationships, and may also impair him from forming new ones in the future. The effects of the trauma will be so far-reaching that life, as he used to know it, will no longer be the same.
- Emotional abuse can lead to other, more serious health problems. When their emotions can no longer deal with the blows, it is their body that will likely start reacting. The stress and trauma brought on by constant exposure to emotional abuse will take their toll on the human body, and various illnesses can come up.
EMOTIONAL ABUSE IN THE WORKPLACE
When emotional abuse is mentioned, the first scenarios that come to mind where it is likely to take place are in intimate relationships and domestic settings. We immediately picture couples and family members inflicting and receiving emotional abuse from one another. Meanwhile, the typical victim of emotional abuse, at least in most everyone’s mind, is that of a weak and defenseless child, or an adult who is visibly weaker or inferior to the person doling out the abuse.
However, emotional abuse can also take place among professionals, in decidedly formal and business-like settings. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, when you think about it, especially when you take into account the often competitive atmosphere in the workplace. Despite efforts to promote a culture of teamwork and promoting harmonious working relationships in the workplace, companies and businesses still face issues on workplace conflicts, low worker productivity, high employee turnover, and overall low employee satisfaction – all because of emotional abuse being a pervasive presence in the workplace.
The workplace is actually an ideal nesting place for emotional abuse, since it serves as a perfect breeding ground for various negative emotions such as jealousy, envy, competitiveness, and insecurity. The hierarchy usually found in the workplace means that there are varying levels of authority; in that respect, a power imbalance is already in place.
The phrase “workplace bullying” was coined to describe this type of emotional abuse at work, and it is used to describe the acts of “harassing, offending, and socially excluding someone, or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks” and often includes “personal attacks, social ostracism, and a multitude of other painful messages and hostile interactions.”
Bullying and abuse in the workplace is claimed to be a worldwide phenomenon, not just affecting workers in the Western hemisphere. In fact, according to a study conducted by Pai and Lee on the risk factors for workplace violence among nurses in Taiwan, 51.4% of the respondents were victims of verbal abuse. This clearly proves that, despite cultural differences, bullying and other forms of workplace abuse can happen – and are happening – everywhere.
Workplace bullying can arise in many instances, and it is not just restricted between a subordinate and his superior. In fact, many cases of emotional abuse in the workplace also take place between and among co-workers, who are supposedly colleagues and, in the hierarchy of the organizational structure, are equals. This implies that differences in position and rank are not the only “power” factors at play, since it may also be attributed to a social power imbalance.
But how can you definitively tell that there is, indeed, emotional abuse at work?
Have a quick break and learn about the four bully types at work.
RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS… AND REACTING TO WORKPLACE EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Originally, the Duluth Model: Power and Control Wheel was developed in 1984 as a tool for the conduct of studies on domestic violence. Patricia G. Barnes of Abuser Goes To Work tweaked it to come up with the Workplace Power and Control Wheel, which describes all the indications that psychological abuse exists in the workplace.
This refers to the most straightforward forms of verbal and emotional aggression employed by abusers.
- The abuser takes every opportunity to deliver insults and put-downs to his target, either by saying it to the latter’s face or delivering the barbs in a roundabout and indirect manner. Some may be sly about it, pretending to be civil and nice, their body language and facial expression in direct contradiction with the words coming out of their mouths. But some may opt to do it in an openly hostile manner, clearly leaving no room for doubt that they mean what they are saying.
- Name-calling is one of the most recognizable form of verbal abuse, with the abuser using offensive names and insulting language to one-up the target of his abuse. He uses these to win an argument. He also resorts to name-calling to sway or persuade others to reject or condemn his target, or anything that has to do with him. This is also a favorite method when the abuser wants to establish his superiority over the target.
- Giving the silent treatment is a non-verbal way of toying with the emotions of the abused. In other instances, the silent treatment may be accompanied by glares and looks of open hostility. The abused will initially be baffled at the reason why he is being given the cold shoulder, and this will eat away at him, until it affects his concentration and focus at work. Usually, the abuser will not make any attempt to explain why, since he enjoys the confusion and bewilderment being experienced by the target.
- The emotional abuser will revel in publicly humiliating his target, so he may choose to deliver his putdowns and barbed remarks when there are other people around. He will deliver his attacks in front of the other employees and, worse, even in front of the bosses, especially when putting the other down may potentially benefit him. For instance, if there is a promotion hanging in the balance, or there is a project awaiting approval, and the abuser sees the target as a threat or a rival, he won’t hesitate to resort to public humiliation to get his way. This is an oft-used action for co-worker sabotage.
How to React:
- Stay calm and keep your cool. Maintain a decent and civil attitude even in the face of these emotional aggressions, even when the abuser starts to rant and rage at you. Losing your temper not only increases the likelihood of an ugly confrontation, it also puts you in a more vulnerable position. Remember, the abuser will feed off your discomfort and misery. The moment he sees that he is able to provoke you and get a rise out of you, this will motivate him to continue with his abuses, and be more creative with them. If you can’t be calm after a particularly ruthless tirade, the safest thing to do would be to walk away, get some air, breathe in and out, until you have calmed down. That is the only time you should walk back in to talk to him.
- Talk to the abuser with confidence and a rational attitude, looking them straight in the eye the whole time. If you can conduct the conversation in full view of the other employees that were witnesses to those abuses, that would be even better. Ask the abuser to stop what he is doing, and make it clear that you will not stand for it. You can also tell him that, if he doesn’t stop, you will not hesitate to report him to your supervisors.
- If, despite that, the aggression continues, then it is high time to report the matter to your supervisors or higher-ups, complete with documentation on the details of the acts of abuse you experienced, and your futile efforts to fix things.
- Do not hesitate to point out the error of his ways or, specifically, his attacks. More often than not, verbal abuse involve digs and attacks on the victim’s personal life and matters. If this is the case with you, go right ahead and let him know how unprofessional he is being by getting your personal life mixed up with things at the workplace. This is also an excellent way to set boundaries and show the abuser – and other co-workers – that you are serious about separating your personal and professional lives.
If getting the silent treatment is bad enough already, completely shutting down (and out) a person is bound to achieve the same results, making him feel rejected, isolated and alone.
- The target finds himself excluded from social events and gatherings involving co-workers. Short of not being invited, he will be left alone and largely ignored. For example, in an upcoming teambuilding activity within the department, the abuser may initiate actions to have his target’s name removed from the list.
- Important meetings and work-related planning events may be conducted, and the target will only find out about them when they are already over. This is no thanks to the abuser intercepting messages or memos providing notification of the meetings.
- During meetings or important conversations about work, the abuser will refute everything the target says, and even shoots down some of his ideas, saying they are silly or not feasible, even when they have some potential. This also demonstrates how little respect the abuser has for the feelings of the target.
- Being ignored by someone for long periods can take its toll on one’s self-esteem. If the target is already having a hard time dealing with being given a rude brush-off or subjected to silent treatment without him knowing the reason for it, it is doubly worse when he is treated as if he does not exist. On the hallways, when they are about to meet, the abuser will look through him, as if he isn’t there. Basically, his very existence won’t even be acknowledged by the abuser.
- Emotional abusers have a knack for making someone feel out of place, as if he does not belong in the workplace. Fitting in is very important for employees in order to enable them to carry about their tasks effectively and productively, but if they find difficulty in fitting in for the simple reason that there is someone who makes them feel they are a wrong fit within the workplace or the company, then they will definitely have a difficult time.
How to React:
- Initiate a dialogue, and be direct about it. Ask the reasons for his actions, and request that he stop. Essentially, you will be using a defensive action that is the complete opposite of the offensive action used by the abuser. He practices evasion to make you feel isolated, so you have to be forward and honest when addressing the elephant in the room. Your directness and resolve to take them head on will likely catch them by surprise and throw them off their best-laid plans to make you feel alienated. This tough talking approach will also get you some answers that you may use in the future to improve your relationship with your co-workers. Yes, even with your abuser.
- If you do not trust yourself to be able to walk up to the abuser and have that tough talk, you can approach a neutral party – maybe a co-worker or a supervisor – and ask him to intervene, and be the one to talk to the abuser.
Try to develop yourself into becoming mentally stronger.
Fear can be debilitating, resulting in extreme psychological trauma for anyone experiencing it. This is also seen by many abusers as one of their best weapons to assert their control and authority over their targets. By instilling fear in their target, they can pretty much have their way with him, and this will lead to even more emotional abuses.
Usually, this tactic is used by supervisors or members of management, using their higher position as license to commit acts that will intimidate those who are below them, and cow them into submission. The abused will end up feeling fearful, timid, and often inadequate.
- Abusers that use intimidation don’t even try to be discreet about it. Supervisors pull rank on subordinates by raising their voices and yelling at them, even ridiculing and humiliating their victims while others are watching. The sad thing is that they will be able to make their actions seem like it comes with the territory of being a supervisor or boss, and they are likely to end up being praised for it and even getting good ratings or evaluation scores from top management. At the same time, they will also be able to make the abused employee look incapable of handling pressure at work.
- The suffocating and stifling effect of a supervisor closely observing every move of the subordinate in the workplace can be categorized as emotional abuse. This micromanagement style can intimidate an employee, constantly putting him anxious and on edge because the supervisor is breathing down his neck at every turn. Ultimately, its demoralizing and demotivating effects will cause the employee to break down.
- Supervisors or higher-ranked employees may use their higher positions to undermine their supervisor’s work outputs. We often hear of some of these people abusing their authority by making their subordinates do the work and, at the end, get all the credit for the employee’s hard work.
How to React:
- Consider pursuing legal action, especially when the abuse involves theft of proprietary output (which is the case when a supervisor steals the work of a subordinate or takes credit for it), or the abuser’s modes of intimidation leads you to fear for your safety. Again, it is advised to keep notes, much like a diary where you list down all the incidents and instances that you experienced this type of emotional abuse, along with other pertinent details such as dates, the people involved, and even how the incidents made you feel.
- Unless you are very brave, which isn’t very likely, considering how you have been marked by the abuser as a target, you can confront him head-on. However, since that is not the case, get a neutral party to act on your behalf. This will show the abuser that you are not going to keep quiet, and that you are very much willing to talk to other people about how you are being intimidated.
- Get your superiors involved. Let them know what has been going on. If the intimidation is coming from a supervisor, turn to a higher supervisor for help, or maybe even HR.
Coercion and Threats
Similar to intimidation, this type of emotional abuse in the workplace aims to render the victim fearful and unresisting to the abuser’s machinations. This time, however, the abuser issues threats openly. While intimidation goes about it indirectly, the threats already contain the intent of the abuser, and that is to punish, injure or damage the employee and even his state of employment.
- Managers and supervisors often hold the threat of job termination or a bad performance evaluation over an employee in order to manipulate them into doing their bidding. In many cases, they even go as far as issue unfounded warnings and reprimands the employee unfairly, openly stating that, unless the employee falls in line, there will be no leniency next time.
- Some employees may find themselves being subjected to unreasonable demands by the abusers, with the consequences made clear to them should they fail to meet those demands. Thus, they are forced to cross some lines and maybe even break some rules just so they can deliver what has been demanded of them.
How to React:
- Do not let fear of the threat overwhelm you. Take a moment to get yourself together before you show any outward reaction to the threat. Let the heated moment pass, then carefully assess the situation so you can arrive at a decision on what to do next. Showing your temper or becoming antagonistic won’t get you anywhere.
- Again, if there are rules, laws and policies being violated, and the demands made by your supervisor may push you into violating them, you have the option of taking the proper legal action. Just make sure you have sufficient evidence to back you up.
- Enlisting the aid of other people who are neutral and not likely to take sides is also advised. It is important to show the abuser that, even when threatened or when your hand is being forced, you are not averse to asking for help from others.
- Make an attempt at bargaining. If unreasonable demands are being made, launch into a logical argument as to why you think it is unreasonable, and propose a compromise. Maybe a deadline extension, reduction of the amount of work, or a suggestion to split the work with someone else. Tack on a subtle suggestion of letting other supervisors about it – maybe even the Big Bosses? – and asking for their opinion. This may be a bit sly, but once in a while, there is nothing wrong with playing with the abusers in their own game.
This type of abuse will have the abuser zeroing in on the vulnerability of the target, specifically his financial or economic status. The abusers often see them as fair game, easy to control and manipulate because they cannot afford to lose their job and source of livelihood.
- Abusers often resort to blackmail, with the employee’s financial status being poked at. The employee is given an ultimatum: do something the abuser wants, or face the possibility of being demoted, suspended, or getting fired altogether. The fear of losing his source of income will eventually lead the employee to let himself be controlled and manipulated.
- Unfair treatment of employees is also one way of inflicting economic abuse. The target will feel frustrated and demoralized if the abuser gives rewards and incentives to other employees that are non-performing while he, the one who has been doing all the work, does not get any.
How to React:
- Inform the next higher supervisor, or even top management, of any unfair treatment you are receiving from your department or supervisor. Lodge a complaint, if you have to, but make sure it is filed in the right channels, following the standard procedures or protocols. This will also serve as a warning to the abuser that you are willing to take this matter to the right ears if you have to.
- Maintain your high level and quality of performance at work. Just keep performing your tasks and responsibilities properly, and make sure that you remain a productive member of the organization. This way, when the abuser carries through with his threat, top management will find it unreasonable to let you go or demote you. Do not give them a reason to put your economic position in jeopardy.
So, how do you stop emotional intimidators? This is how!
Supervisory or Management Privilege
This is blatant abuse of authority on the part of the abuser. He sees his position as some sort of a license to be abusive to his staff, and that the lower ranked employees should defer to him by virtue of his higher position in the organization structure.
- The supervisor or manager treats his subordinates like they are his servants or slaves, jumping up to please him and do his bidding, and be at his beck and call at any time of the day. He might call an employee in the middle of the night to do a personal errand for him such as pick up his dry cleaning or drive his kids to school because he is in an important “golf” meeting with a client.
- The refusal to give credit to whom it is due is also one form of a wrongful exercise of supervisory or management privilege. Say an employee has done excellent work on a specific project, and the supervisor is tasked by top management to deliver their positive feedback to the employee. However, out of envy and spite that the employee was able to do a good job despite having butted heads with him over the project, the supervisor does not deliver the message, and the employee is allowed to stew in his nerves, wondering what top management thought about his performance.
- Delivering criticisms in an unnecessarily harsh manner, and refusing to give compliments for satisfactory work are other forms of bullying by supervisors. They have a lot of words when it comes to less than stellar work, but they are also very stingy in expressing personal satisfaction as a supervisor on a subordinate’s work. And when he has no choice but to do so, the compliment is likely to be offered grudgingly, so that it won’t sound like a compliment at all to anyone hearing it.
- Favoritism practiced by supervisors almost often mean that there are some employees that are sidelined or always left out of the priority list. The supervisor may expressly prohibit the employee from undergoing trainings and seminars meant to equip him with new work skills or hone the ones that he already has.
- Whenever he is not pleased with the employee, he will assign undesirable work to him. You will find that abusive supervisors will never run out of unpleasant tasks to assign to their targets. If they run out of undesirable tasks, they can increase the workload and even set unrealistic deadlines that must be met, otherwise there will be a corresponding punishment.
How to React:
- Learn to say no. One of the reasons that your supervisor considers you easy picking is because you are always receptive and obedient to everything he says. Admitting your limitations may throw him off a bit, especially when he expected you to meekly do as he says. However, say no in a courteous and non-offensive manner.
- Let another person in authority know about what is happening, preferably someone with a higher rank. Or you could approach the HR about this. In many cases, the victim may hesitate, afraid that their job will, indeed, be compromised. While that may be true, that is no different to the situation where you will do nothing and let your supervisor trample over you. Better take the risk than to allow yourself to be broken.
- Use legal action as a last resort, when the problem cannot be fixed at your level. Again, keeping notes is recommended.
The workplace may be likened to high school; there are cliques, factions and groups, with each unit having their own loyalties. This is what the abuser will capitalize on. The abuser is not above using whatever tactics he has up his sleeve in order to inflict the most pain and misery on his victim. Therefore, he won’t hesitate to use others to aid his “cause”.
Mobbing, according to Dr. Heinz Leyman, is a behavior where a single individual – the victim – becomes the recipient of abuse from many abusers. The abusers, on the other hand, sees strength in numbers, and will enlist the help of other people to terrorize the victim.
- With just a few well-placed words and thoughts, the abuser can successfully create a conflict with their target caught somewhere in the middle. It is quite common to see a workplace that is overran by unfounded rumors and baseless gossips, often directed at one person. This will definitely cause distress to the subject of the rumors, compounded by how the number of attackers are overwhelming him.
- The abuser will charm the other employees into making the victim feel isolated and completely alone, further fueling the fire of the seed of thought previously planted in his mind about him not belonging in that workplace.
- It is also possible for managers and supervisors to be pulled into the abusive cycle, whether they are aware of it or not. They may blatantly lie about the victim’s performance so that he will get poor evaluation scores and will look incapable in the eyes of top management. The victim may be suddenly made to defend himself against made-up accusations – either personal or work-related, or both – volleyed at him. The abuser can convince management into making things at work more difficult for the victim, who will feel more hopeless, considering how even members of management are involved.
How to React:
- Remain accessible. Do not make the problem worse by doing some avoiding of your own. This will only dig the wedge in deeper and drive you farther away from the others. Carry on as you always have and maybe even make a conscious effort to reach out to the others. Do not give them the chance to completely shut you out. Remind the ones that you had good relationships with why they liked you in the first place.
- Do not cower before them. The abuser is counting on the strength in their number to break you, which is why he is involving other people. Keep your head up, and never let them see you falter. Upon seeing how gracefully you are taking this, the others may start doubting their decision to band with the abuser.
- Do not think that they are all against you. Never forget who the main abuser is, and how some of the ‘mob’ may have only been talked into it with falsehoods and deception perpetuated by the abuser. That means you still have a chance to turn them back around, and you can do that by calmly sitting them down and talking to them, setting them straight on a few things. If you confront them and argue with them, you may only turn them into new enemies, which will work to the abuser’s advantage.
Minimization, Denial and Misplaced Blame
Abusers will never readily admit that they are, indeed, committing abusive acts. In the first place, they are convinced of their own entitlement to act the way they do. These abusers are, by nature, selfish, so they are always looking out for their own interests.
- When confronted with their abusive acts, they will actually make light of it and minimize the negative impact. They will treat it as if it was just a joke, and everything was done “in good fun”. This nonchalant and uncaring behavior can further cause offense to the victim, seeing how the abuser refuses to acknowledge how his actions have had adverse effects on him.
- The abuser can turn things around and make the victim look like he’s the bad guy, unable to take a joke and being too sensitive for his own good. He will accuse the victim of not being able to deal with work-related stress and maybe even call into question the victim’s ability to interact and work with others, including him.
- One of the worst claims that an abuser can make in his defense is to say that the victim’s misery and pain were all self-inflicted. Everything was the victim’s fault, and he whines too much while making others accountable for something that was entirely of his own doing. Try directing this line of reasoning with a victim already suffering from a low self-esteem, and there is a high probability that he will cave and believe that he is, indeed, to blame.
How to React:
- No matter how eloquent and convincing they are, never accept the blame that the abusers are pinning on you. Inflicting abuse is a conscious decision, and not something that is committed because “they were forced or coerced into it”. The abuser will attempt to break down your defenses, brick by brick. Don’t let him.
- When confronting the abuser, it is preferable to have a mediator to intervene and keep things on an even keel. In fact, you should consider asking a supervisor or superior to be the mediator or witness to your conversation, since this will pressure the abuser into defending himself. Who knows? He might just be the one to dig himself into a hole while scrambling to find a way to justify his actions.
- Stay calm and serene when talking to the abuser. Seeing you like that is bound to discomfit him and make him lose his footing, figuratively. Then he will start doubting the wisdom of turning things around on you.
In all the emotional abuses discussed above, the employee subjected to them cannot be blamed if all he wants is to get as far away from that workplace as he can. They start to think that the ideal solution would be to hand in their resignation and look for another place or company to work at where, hopefully, they won’t be bullied or abused.
But that is not always the best solution. There is always that risk that the emotional abuser you were planning to sever ties with is also the one to give you a reference when you leave, and he may purposely provide a negative reference, destroying your chances of finding another job.
The first course of action you should always attempt is to face the music, instead of turning tail and running away from it. There are several options available to you, and we have gone through several of them.
Also, this is something you should never forget: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AS AN EMPLOYEE. Familiarize yourself with the Labor Laws and other workplace and worker welfare legislation. Be aware of the specific policies of the company, especially with regards to employee welfare and protection. By arming yourself with these knowledge, you will be better able to protect yourself from any type of abuse.
Emotional abusers will continue to inflict misery as long as there are people who are willing to take these abuses and do nothing about it. Showing resistance and actively taking action to stand up to them is likely to dissuade them and make them back down. Once they realize that you are not the type to take their abuses sitting down, and that you are strong enough to withstand their attacks, there is a great chance that they will leave you alone.