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Criticized, ignored, intimidated, undermined, never recognized? Could be bullying ... read this

Myths and misperceptions about workplace bullying
Overcoming stereotypes and false perceptions of adult bullying and workplace bullying
See also myths, misperceptions and stereotypes of child bullying and school bullying.

A myriad of myths, misperceptions, falsehoods and legends surround the subject of bullying. Studies, surveys and some academic research over the last few years have tended to perpetuate false stereotypes, however, these are often the result of notoriously unreliable self-reporting tick-sheet surveys and are rarely based on experience of case work or involvement with cases.

What some people call "bullying" is really tough dynamic management
The purpose of bullying is to hide inadequacy. Good managers manage, bad managers bully. Bullies bully to hide their weakness and inadequacy, and to divert attention away from their incompetence. Many employers don't want to calculate the cost of low morale, poor productivity, poor customer service, high sickness absence, high staff turnover and frequent grievance and legal action that are a consequence of "tough dynamic management".

Bullies don't bully, they're just being assertive
People who bully are unable to distinguish between assertiveness and aggression and when challenged will speciously claim to be "assertive". Assertiveness, which is backed by integrity, recognises and respects peoples' boundaries and values, any request is polite and unconditional and there are no negative consequences if the person being asked says no. Bullies, who have no integrity, are aggressive, demanding, and regularly violate others' boundaries; aggression does not respect peoples' rights, and requests come with a negative consequence if the course of action demanded by the bully is declined.

Victim
I prefer the word "target". The word "victim" allows disingenuous people to tap into and stimulate other people's misconceptions and prejudices of victimhood which include the inference that the person was somehow complicit in the abuse. "Target" identifies the choice of the bully to be a bully rather than the misfortune of the target to unwittingly become the latest casualty of the violence of a disordered, dysfunctional, aggressive bully. To understand how and why bullies select their targets, click here.

Victims contribute to the bullying
When held accountable, abusers, molesters, harassers, bullies and violent people abdicate and deny responsibility for their actions by blaming their victim. The "blame-the-victim" misperception is part of the same mindset that says that women who are raped were asking for it or giving off the wrong signals, that wives who experience domestic violence are deserving of it and colluding with it, and children who are sexually abused are partly responsible for the abuse perpetrated against them. Abusers, harassers, bullies and violent people seem possessed of an army of supporters, apologists, appeasers, acolytes, protectors and deniers, and appreciate all forms of support which mitigate their crime.

But surely victims must do something to invite the bullying?
Children who are abused by pedophiles do not invite the abuse, women who are raped do not invite the rape, black people do not invite harassment and discrimination because of their skin colour, gay people do not invite harassment and discrimination because of their sexual orientation, and targets of bullying do not invite abuse at work simply because they are available. The six most common reasons bullies select their targets are because of availability (wrong place, wrong time), competence (envy), popularity (jealousy), vulnerability (income and the need to pay the mortgage), emotional maturity and values, and integrity. Targets represent everything that bullies are not, and never will be.

It takes two to tango
Abusers choose to abuse, molesters choose to molest, rapists choose to rape, harassers choose to harass, bullies choose to bully. Bullying is behaviour, and behaviour is a choice, therefore bullying is a choice - a bad choice, but a choice. Abdication of responsibility for personal choice is a hallmark of bullies. Either a person knows what they are doing and is responsible for their behaviour and its consequences for others, or the person is unaware of what they are doing and therefore have diminished responsibility and are in need of psychiatric help. Bullying is in the same league as abuse, molestation, rape, paedophilia and harassment; sadly there are still some people who think that targets of these vile activities are partly responsible for the abuse perpetrated against them.

Victims are weak and inadequate
It is always the bully who is weak and inadequate. Bullies resort to labelling others as "weak" and "unstable" in order to appear "normal" in comparison. Normal people don't need to bully; only weak people need to bully to hide their weakness and inadequacy. Therefore anyone who is exhibiting bullying behaviours is revealing and admitting to being weak and inadequate.

Victims are weak
Targets of bullying have no interest in power or exercising power. They go to work to work and they are not interested in office politics or conflict. Targets of bullying have high moral values, a well-developed integrity, a vulnerability (eg need to pay the mortgage), a strong sense of fair play and reasonableness, a low propensity to violence, a reluctance to pursue grievance, disciplinary or legal action, a strong forgiving streak and a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue. Weak people disingenuously confuse these hallmarks of character with weakness. Targets of bullying will withstand daily abuse for months, often years, but the first time a bully gets a taste of their own medicine they immediately run whingeing to authority demanding protection. That's weakness.

Victims are loners
Targets of bullying are independent, self-reliant, self-motivated, have no need to form gangs or join cliques, have no need to impress, and have no interest in office politics.

Victims are not team players
Targets of bullying are not corporate clones and drones. They are independent, self-reliant, self-motivated, imaginative, innovative, and full of ideas. Bullies operate a divide and rule regime and work hard to isolate, exclude and disempower their target who they then falsely accuse of "not being a team player".

Victims are isolated
This is a correct observation; bullies isolate their targets in order to disempower them. It's a tactic of control used by all abusers.

Victims are sensitive / oversensitive
Sensitivity comprises a constellation of values to be cherished and nurtured, including empathy, respect, tolerance, dignity, honour, consideration and gentility. Anyone who is not sensitive is insensitive. Targets have an instinctive ability to detect malicious intent which is often labelled by those who lack this ability as "being oversensitive". Bullies are callously insensitive and indifferent to the needs of others and when called upon to share or address the needs and concerns of others respond with impatience, irritability and aggression.

Victims are too weak to stand up for themselves
Targets of bullying are high-performing employees who go to work to work. They do not go to work with the intention of indulging in conflict. Bullies select individuals who prefer to use dialogue to resolve conflict, who have a low propensity to violence, and who will go to great lengths to avoid conflict - in other words, someone who will constantly try to use negotiation rather than resorting to grievance and legal action. When a bully is held accountable, these qualities are disingenuously described by weak people as weakness.

Why can't victims deal with bullying? They're grown-ups, aren't they?
From working on and liaising with over 10,000 cases of workplace bullying I am constantly amazed at the resourcefulness, innovativeness, flexibility, determination and stamina shown by targets of abuse. The turning point in each case comes when the target finally realises they're not dealing with a normal human being like themselves, but with a dysfunctional, disordered individual who exploits a system which favours perpetrators who excel in deceiving HR and management.

Victims are unstable and unhealthy
It is bullies who are unstable and unhealthy. People who observe targets as unstable are recognising the destabilising effect of psychiatric injury although the observers have not understood psychiatric injury or the circumstances which result in psychiatric injury. Some researchers have observed destabilisation, hypervigilance etc and made the incorrect assumption that these are personality traits which existed prior to the bullying. False assumptions like this are bad science, disrespectful, insensitive and offensive. It's like seeing someone with a broken leg and making the assumption they must have been born with weak bones.

Victims can't defend themselves
Prolonged negative stress results in trauma which inhibits articulation. People who blame targets of bullying for not being able to express themselves in an articulate manner are revealing their lack of empathy and their lack of knowledge of trauma and its effects. Many bullies are serial bullies with disordered personalities (including sub-clinical psychopaths) who excel at manipulation, deception, compulsive lying and a host of antisocial behaviours. It is almost impossible to defend yourself against a determined psychopath - who comprise at least 1% of the population.

Targets aren't really bullied / harassed - they're only in it for the money
Seeking legal recourse is very expensive both financially and emotionally. Sensational "awards" that are published in the media are rare and when personal injury is involved, are based on (less than) what the person would have earned had they stayed in their job till retirement. A bullying case which ends up in a personal injury case typically consumes ten years of a person's life. Targets have a much harder time finding employment afterward (especially if they're over 40) - and even if they do find employment they end up working at a lower position with lower salary. In rare cases where the employer sacks a serial bully, the bully feigns victimhood and sues the employer for as much as they can get.

Targets are only interested in compensation
If a person appears motivated by compensation then it's likely to be not a target of bullying but a serial bully who is feigning victimhood having been called to account. Serial bullies are notoriously vindictive and when held accountable by an employer will instinctively launch a legal action to aggressively claim their rights - whilst denying everyone else their rights.

Victims of bullying are always suing employers
The target is placed in the position by the bully of having no option but to take their employer to tribunal or court. In the majority of cases, this is the first time the target has ever been involved in legal action, and their unfamiliarity with the legal system is a vulnerability that bullies and abusive employers exploit.

You shouldn't sue for bullying because it prolongs victimhood
Bullying is in the same league as domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape and paedophilia. Bullies at work are likely to be committing at least one of these offences outside work. Prosecuting the perpetrators and holding accountable those who have failed in their duty of care is very different to "prolonging victimhood". Whilst there will always be a few people who abuse the law of tort for personal gain, it is disingenuous to confuse this small minority (who may themselves be bullies feigning victimhood) with the majority of genuine cases. "Victimhood" should not be used as a smokescreen for evasion of accountability.

Targets are just whiners who can't get along with people
Targets are targeted because they are competent and popular. Bullies are jealous of the easy and stable relationships that targets have with others. Jealousy and envy seem to be the conduits for the release of the seething inner anger, hatred and resentment that bullies harbour.

Why do targets go after their employers too?
In the workplace, the employer bears the vicarious liability caused by the bully's behaviour. Employers owe each employee a duty of care. Employment law is framed around the employee holding the employer responsible. No-one (unless they're a war correspondent or work for the MoD) signs a contract agreeing to work in a war zone. [Bullied workers suffer battle stress]

If a target is truly bullied then why don't more employers side with the target?
Employers eliminate the target because they (employers) have failed to fulfil their legal duty and provide their employees with a safe work environment. Employers will do anything to avoid accountability and having to pay damages. Many organisations, especially in the public sector, have a bottomless purse when it comes to defending legal action for negligence. The purpose of bullying is to hide incompetence and most bullying is hierarchical. The bullying that one sees or experiences is usually the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing (contact us for details). Also, employers are more scared of serial bullies than they are of targets, therefore it's easier, cheaper and less risky to get rid of the target; by the time the employer gets to hear of the bullying case against them, the target is probably traumatised, suffering a severe psychiatric injury, facing loss of job and income, and may not have union or legal support; therefore the employer is much more likely to win their case against a target than against a resentful, determined and vindictive serial bully.

Trade unions exist to protect their members
Whilst trade unions have achieved much for workers over the years, the Number One complaint of people contacting the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line and Bully OnLine (and other support groups) is that their trade union is refusing to support them in their case of bullying. See bullying in the public sector for the reasons why.

It's a personality clash
A personality clash is where two people of equal rank or status or value or power don't see eye to eye. Bullying consists of a pattern of persistent, daily, trivial, nitpicking criticism, isolation, exclusion, undermining, discrediting, setting up to fail, etc on a target who the bully has disempowered and disenfranchised. HR departments frequently write off bullying as a "personality clash", much to the delight of the bully who is always trying to heap all the blame onto their target.

There's a fine line between bullying and tough management
I've never heard anyone say "there's a fine line between a normal relationship and sexual harassment" or "there's a fine line between marriage and domestic violence" or "there's a fine line between great sex and rape" or "there's a fine line between sex education and pedophilia". Bullying (by a serial bully) and managing have as much in common as Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa. The objectives of the serial bully are power, control domination and subjugation, achieved largely through manipulation, deception and abuse of power; "management" is a convenient cover for the serial bully's disordered, dysfunctional and always destructive behaviour.

You'll never be able to prove bullying
The same argument was put forward before the introduction of laws on sexual harassment and race discrimination. The solution is education; you can only never prove what you don't understand.

We mustn't bully the bully
Targets of bullying withstand a verbal, emotional and psychological battering for months, often years. By contrast, the first time the bully gets a taste of their own medicine they run whingeing to authority demanding protection. When called to account for the way they choose to behave, bullies use a variety of strategies to evade accountability. Denial, counterattack and feigning victimhood are common. One tactic is to claim that "you mustn't bully the bully", a disingenuous and deceptive attempt to confuse bullying (a pattern of constant daily, trivial, nitpicking criticism, isolation, exclusion, undermining, etc over months or years) with accountability (holding the bully responsible for their behaviour and its effect on others). Those in positions of authority and with responsibility for people management are notoriously vulnerable to this deception.

You mustn't demonize the bully
Your behaviour profiles are a character assassination of the bully

The behaviour profiles are the result of long-term observation of the behaviour of serial bullies. I am only the messenger. As bullies have free choice over their behaviour (if not, they have diminished responsibility and need to be under the care of a psychiatrist) then serial bullies are choosing to demonize themselves or assassinate their own character by their choice of behaviour.

Your behaviour profiles serve only to vilify bullies
I observe bullies' behaviour and report it; I am only the messenger. Bullying is behaviour, behaviour is choice, therefore bullying is a choice. A rapist deserves to be called a rapist because of their choice to commit rape. A pedophile deserves to be called a pedophile because of their choice to commit acts of pedophilia. A bully deserves to be called a bully because of their choice to exhibit bullying behaviours. Normal people do not choose to bully. All a bully needs to do to no longer merit the label "bully" is to change their behaviour and stop bullying. It really is that simple.

Bullies have high self-esteem
Bullies exhibit arrogance, narcissism, plausibility, certitude, self-assuredness, selfishness, untouchability, a sense of invulnerability and an unerring belief in their rightness and infallibility. Bullies also excel at deception and evasion of accountability. Some people mistake these for high self-esteem, which they are not. People with high self-esteem manifest their high self-esteem in having only positive interactions with others. Bullies have only negative interactions with others; negative interactions are a hallmark of low self-esteem. Bullies are motivated by jealousy, envy and prejudice which are indicators of low self-esteem. Bullying is the antithesis of high self-esteem. People with high self-esteem have no need to bully.

The notion that the workplace is full of psychotic bullies is preposterous
Firstly, the number of bullies in any workplace is always small (sometimes only one) but their influence is disproportionately large and their negative behaviour can spread through the entire organisation like a cancer. Bullies excel at deception and manipulation and are adept at co-opting others in their defence. Secondly, bullies are not psychotic. A psychotic person is unable to differentiate between reality and delusion and is mentally ill. Bullies have a clear understanding of the difference between right and wrong but consciously choose to not conform to socially acceptable standards of behaviour. When held accountable, bullies consciously use deception to abdicate and deny personal responsibility for their actions and the consequences of their behaviour for others. Bullies are sane in every sense of the medico-legal definition of the word.

Bullies are nice people really, they're just under a lot of pressure
Abusers, violent partners, harassers, rapists, molesters and pedophiles are also nice people really, it's just that they're under a lot of pressure. Lack of knowledge of, refusal to recognise, and outright denial of the existence of the serial bully are the most common reasons for an unsatisfactory outcome for employees and employers. When a serial bully is present, many people join in with the bullying, either wittingly or unwittingly. Some of these minor bullies may be nice people under pressure, but they are not the source of the bullying. One needs to look further.

There's no such thing as a "difficult person"
Over 90% of Advice line cases involve a serial bully with a disordered personality who has a history of conflict (including manipulation, lying, deception etc) with everyone. In every case it is the lack of knowledge of, or the unwillingness to recognise, or the denial of the existence of the serial bully which is the most common reason for an unsatisfactory outcome for both the employee and employer.

Bullying is more than just a serial bully
The serial bully is present in over 90% of the 10,000+ cases reported to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line and Bully OnLine. Denial of the existence of the serial bully is the most common reason for an unsatisfactory outcome for both employees and employers. Serial bullies excel at deception and a surprising number of people are easily fooled by not having the emotional maturity, the experience and depth of perception to see through the deception and see behind the mask. If a serial bully is not present, it's probably not bullying you're dealing with. As the issue of bullying becomes more prominent, some people are jumping on the bandwagon and using the label "bullying" for any type of behaviour they see; in these cases it may be more appropriate to use terms such as "change management", "time management", "performance management", "organisational development", etc. There may be some bullying behaviours present but they are not what is meant by "workplace bullying".

Female bullies bully because they're under more pressure than men to succeed
A female serial bully, like all serial bullies, bullies because she chooses to bully. Bullying is behaviour, and behaviour is choice. Whilst women may face more pressures and demands at senior levels, the most successful females are not bullies - they get there because of their integrity, ability to plan and organise, and achieve. Bullies are non-achievers. The view that women must become bullies to succeed is insulting and offensive to the majority of women who succeed on hard work, persistence and skill.

Victims have problems with people in authority
This is one of the tactics that bullies and abusive employers use. They claim that the target who is busy exposing incompetence, negligence etc has "a problem with authority". Some less-than-competent mental health professionals claim this too. The truth is that targets have an uncanny knack of spotting fakes, fraudsters and weak, inadequate and incompetent people abusing their position of power; said incompetents also have an uncanny knack of being able to spot who can see through them. Targets of bullying are accountability-focused so they must be ruthlessly controlled, and if this doesn't work, they must be eliminated by all means possible. Labelling whistleblowers and targets of bullying (who have often unwittingly blown the whistle on a number of antisocial activities) as mentally ill is a tactic often used by abusive employers to deny responsibility and evade accountability. [More | More]

Victims are suffering from learned helplessness
Only about 2% of people reporting their case to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line exhibit any symptoms of learned helplessness. Over 90% of cases involve a target who has exhausted all possible means of resolution but who has only just realised that they are dealing with an individual exhibiting a disordered personality with whom it is not possible to negotiate or mediate. The moral courage of targets is demonstrated by their ability to withstand abuse for months, and sometimes years, but still remain determined to resolve the conflict; by contrast, bullies run whingeing to authority demanding protection the first time they are faced with accountability. When people use the term "learned helplessness" they are often seeing the symptoms of trauma resulting from prolonged negative stress (which includes confusion, bewilderment and incoherency) but wrongly assuming that these symptoms were character traits present before the abuse, which they were not.

There's no such thing as the serial bully
Denial of the existence of the serial bully is the most common reason for an unsatisfactory outcome for employees and employers. The world is full of deniers. There are those who deny that the earth is round, those who deny the Holocaust, and those who deny the existence of the serial bully. Denial of the existence of the serial bully also serves to discredit the bully's accuser. Serial bullies always try to discredit anyone who can help others see through the bully's mask of normality. By some strange coincidence, those who most vehemently deny the existence of the serial bully are those whose own behaviour most closely matches the profile at serial.htm

Victims who are bullied at school are more likely to be bullied at work
The reason people get bullied at school and again work is because they retain the same qualities throughout life - qualities which bullies despise and respond to with aggression.

Victims were abused in childhood and have unresolved issues from this
From dealing with over 10,000 cases, the number of targets of bullying who were abused as a child is similar to what you would expect to find in any random sample of the population. People are not bullied because of unresolved issues, they are bullied because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, they have many personal qualities that bullies like to exploit, and an aggressive, dysfunctional, disordered person chose to exhibit sustained psychological and emotional violence towards them. This myth is mutually exclusive to the belief that "bullies bully because they were abused in childhood".

Targets of bullying who experienced bullying or abuse in childhood are more likely to suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), social anxiety disorder, clinical depression, etc.
This may be true in some cases but is not true in every case. A small percentage of cases show predisposition to retraumatisation because of unresolved trauma in childhood, but this is because there are few diagnostic facilities and even fewer treatment opportunities. PTSD is a psychiatric injury and predisposition to psychiatric injury is the same as predisposition to physical injury. If you break your leg it is because the force applied to your leg is greater than the structural integrity of the bone, not because you fell and banged your knee in the playground thirty years ago. If you suffer a psychiatric injury as an adult it is because the severity and length of abuse is greater than humans are designed to withstand, not because of bullying at school or abuse in childhood.
An interesting observation to come out of studying PTSD is that the one sector of the population that does not develop PTSD is psychopaths.
The two problems with bullying are that a) bullies are rarely held to account and are often encouraged by being protected, supported and promoted, and b) we don't teach people how to stand up to dysfunctional disordered aggressors whose sole intent is violence (physical, psychological, emotional etc). I believe lessons in physical, psychological, emotional and verbal self-defence should be on the National Curriculum.

You can't get PTSD from bullying
Those who promote this view are out of touch with both reality and research. This view is also offensive to those who suffer PTSD as a result of bullying (and harassment, stalking, domestic violence, abuse, etc). See denial above. The late Professor Heinz Leymann established the link between bullying and psychiatric injury (PTSD) in the 1980s and his research and experience is available on his web site. The European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology (EJWOP), 1996, 5(2), devoted a whole issue to bullying and its effects, including PTSD. New research is also confirming what targets of abuse have always known: bullying causes PTSD.

Bullies bully because they were abused as children
Bullies do not bully because they were abused in childhood, although bullies are adept at claiming this as a way of mitigating their crime and diverting attention away from their failure to accept responsibility for their behaviour. Many adults and professionals are deceived by this specious excuse. A large percentage of the population are abused as children (perhaps as many as 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys), but only a small number choose to become bullies in adulthood. Most abused children do not become bullies. Therefore, whilst abuse in childhood may be a factor in bullying, it is not a cause, otherwise every child who was abused would become a bully. It is the choice of the bully to bully. A bad choice, but a choice nevertheless. This myth is mutually exclusive to the myth that "people become victims because they were abused in childhood".

Bullies are being bullied
Some minor bullies may be being bullied because of the enormous pressure they are under, however, all bullying has to start somewhere and most bullying starts with a serial bully who is the source of bullying. This individual's bullying behaviour can spread through an organisation like a cancer.

Bullies should be included in support groups because they're victims too
Serial bullies with any of the profiles at serial.htm are not victims as they are adults with a free choice over the way they behave. The caring and voluntary sectors are rife with serial bullies who find the endless supply of vulnerable clients and vulnerable workers irresistible. Many people in the caring professions have vulnerabilities (developed from suffering their own pain) which provide them with the high levels of empathy necessary for specialist client care; these vulnerabilities also mean that such people are ripe for control, manipulation and punishment which are favourite pursuits of the serial bully. If a serial bully infiltrates a support group, the group will divide, polarise, fracture and collapse within three acrimonious months.

Bullies need help too
The definition of an adult is a person who is capable of and willing to accept responsibility for their behaviour and the consequences of their behaviour for other people. Any adult who is unwilling or unable to accept this responsibility is exhibiting diminished responsibility and needs to be subject to the provisions of the Mental Health Act and be under the care of a psychiatrist. Bullying is behaviour, behaviour is a choice, therefore bullying is a choice. Many bullies are in positions of management or power and therefore do not require help - except in their specious attempts to deceive others and to evade accountability and sanction. Bullies rely on naivety, inexperience and people feeling sorry for them and will ruthlessly exploit decent people's urge to "help" and "forgive" them - such people unwittingly swell the bully's army of supporters, enablers, apologists, appeasers, acolytes, protectors and deniers.


More information

Definitions of workplace bullying.

More questions are answered on the frequently asked questions page.

See also myths, misperceptions and stereotypes surrounding school bullying and child bullying.


Where now at Bully OnLine?
How can I recognise that I'm being bullied?
What is bullying and why me? | Definitions of bullying
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about bullying
Overcoming myths, misperceptions and stereotypes
The answer to Why don't you stand up for yourself?
Bullying and vulnerability
Why have my colleagues deserted me?
What's the difference between bullying and mobbing?
What is harassment and discrimination?
Why grievance procedures are inappropriate for dealing with bullying
The difference between bullying and management
Facts, figures, surveys, costs of bullying | Cost of bullying to UK plc
UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line statistics
Profile of the serial bully - who does this describe in your life?
Antisocial Personality Disorder | Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Paranoid Personality Disorder | Borderline Personality Disorder
Bullies and attention-seeking behaviour
Munchausen Syndrome and MSBP
Information for nurses | Information for voluntary sector employees
Information for teachers being bullied
Bullying of lecturers in further education
Bullying of lecturers in higher education
Bullying in the social services sector
Bullying in the public sector - the political dimension and
why trade unions fail to support their members

Bullying in the military | Bullying of students
Scheduled training and conferences on bullying | Other events about bullying
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