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The Silent Effect of Workplace Bullying: PTSD

We often associate bullying with playground harassment and mean-spirited teens. But even adults are prone to bullying. Harassment in the workplace can take a physical, mental, and emotional toll on the victim. In fact, intense workplace bullying over a long period of time can even lead to a serious condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is often associated with military veterans, but anyone who experiences trauma can suffer from PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Erratic mood swings
  • Angry outbursts
  • Feelings of dread
  • Negative changes in feelings or beliefs
  • Lack of pleasure in daily activities

What Is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying comes in many forms, but experts agree that the most common type is verbal. Types of verbal abuse may include insulting, ridiculing, making mean jokes, or being offensive in general. It’s also possible for workplace harassment to be physical: shoving, pushing, or assaulting. In some cases, workplace abuse is situational, such as when a coworker or boss deliberately sabotages your efforts for the purpose of humiliation (or to create grounds for demotion or firing).

Sexual harassment at work is another growing concern. According to a study from the University of Maine, as many as 70 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Men are not immune, with 45 percent reporting sexual harassment at some point in their careers.

Several studies have established a link between sexual harassment and PTSD. Victims of sexual harassment may relive the experience over and over, and avoid “triggers” that remind them of the incident. In terms of the workplace, a victim of PTSD may dread coming to work every day and facing their abuser.

Effects of Workplace Bullying

No matter which tactic the bully uses, the end result will be the same. Victims will have to return to a toxic workplace each day, which will have a negative effect on their emotional state and their sense of self-worth.

Why does workplace bullying exist? Experts point to the presence of one or all of the following major components:

  • A dysfunctional system. The entire structure of the workplace may be unhealthy. The kinds of workplaces that encourage bullying generally lack communication, don’t have a good decision making system, and lack accountability.
  • A bad leader. Bad leaders are not only incompetent at leading employees, but they are also manipulative, narcissistic, and steal credit from others.
  • Dysfunctional colleagues. Bosses aren’t the only ones capable of abuse. Toxic employees may have chronic problems with anger management, drug and alcohol abuse, may have difficulty holding down a job, or may frequently lie. Often, employees who bully others are experts in playing the “blame” game, creating conflicts between other people and dodging responsibility to create a protective smoke screen for themselves.

What Can Victims Do to Protect Themselves?

Employees often feel trapped in abusive work environments. They believe that if they report the abuser, they risk getting fired and will have difficulty finding another job. That increases the pressure they feel to keep the job and maintain their income. This is one reason why being a victim of workplace bullying can be so traumatic – victims might feel trapped in a cycle of abuse, which only makes emotional side effects worse.

You don’t have to continue in a toxic work environment. You have options if you or someone you love is being abused at work. Sometimes, getting the law involved is the best way to stop the cycle of abuse. No one should have to endure abuse just to keep a paycheck. If you have questions about your legal options, speak to an attorney.

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