Half the population are bullied ... most only recognize it when they read this
1. Purpose of this document
Tim Field founded the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line in January 1996 since when the Advice Line has logged over 10,000 cases of bullying. Since the start of 1999 I've received a growing number of requests for information about local support groups. This note uses my experience by suggesting how to form and run a bullying survivor support group.
2. Aims and objectives of the group
The first objective is to determine the aims and objectives of the group. Having a meeting to chat about experiences is fine for a first occasion, but thereafter needs direction if people are to move forward from their experience.
Secondly, who are going to be your members or attendees? Whilst you might wish to focus primarily on workplace bullying, most of the behaviours (and consequences for those who are bullied) are the same whether you are bullied at work, at school, in the home, or in the services. Are you going to allow targets of harassment and discrimination to join? They've been bullied too.
Thirdly, what are you going to do for those that come to your meetings?
Fourthly, where are you going to meet and how often?
Fifthly, how are you going to fund the group?
3. Dealing with difficult people
Experience of running the Advice Line suggests that whilst around 98% of enquirers are genuine, responsible, caring people, a small number of people (around 2%) can cause difficulties. They are:
a) the type of person who is dominant, wants to take over and tell everyone else what they should be doing (the words "should" and "ought" are indicators); this type of person often has narcissistic tendencies, seeing themselves as wonderful, kind, caring, and compassionate but oblivious to their dominant and aggressive behavior.
b) the classic victim who is trapped in their state of victimhood and cannot move forward
All people suffering trauma will exhibit symptoms of victimhood in the early stages. Most will move on as they regain control of themselves and their lives, and a support group can significantly speed this process. For targets of bullying, the overcoming of denial through recognition and validation are important first steps; however, it is important to remember that recognition and validation are only a step, not a state. Classic victims show a lot of indignation ("it's not fair"), a lot of "they" language ("they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it"), dependency (wanting others to take action on their behalf) combined with a lack of willingness to take action themselves. This type of individual is trapped in a comfort loop: their anxiety (through injustice etc) is alleviated by having a kindly soul listen and sympathise with them, however the relief gained through sympathy becomes greater than the relief to be gained by resolution of their circumstances; as anxiety builds over the ensuing days and weeks, relief is sought not by resolution of the cause of anxiety but from the source of greatest (and easiest) relief. The person becomes addicted to relief through sympathy and attention and will unwittingly avoid addressing the cause of their anxiety because that will deny them the opportunity of greatest relief. When you attempt to interrupt that loop the person can become uncharacteristically aggressive.
Cost is likely to be the determining factor and whilst it is tempting to hold meetings in your home, this can be intrusive, especially if you have family. If you live alone (and especially if you are female), consider your personal security. A local pub is another option, but you have the problem of buying drinks, alcohol and driving, etc. You might find the best option is to borrow or hire a church hall or meeting room (eg Quaker or Methodist centres), or perhaps you know of other similar groups in your area who might be willing to lend you a room. A kindly employer, school, college, adult or community education centre, council, union, or other organisation may be approachable and persuadable.
Unless you win the lottery, running a support group will involve cost which somebody (initially you) will have to bear. Costs include telephone, postage, hire of venue, publicity, travel, photocopying, stationery, etc. Whilst you may be able to fund the start-up yourself, long-term survival and success depends on satisfactory on-going funding. Bear in mind it may be possible to combine publicity and fund-raising, eg cake stall in town on Saturday morning. I believe around half the population are bullied during their life, although most won't recognise it - until they read your publicity material. Get your financial strategy sorted before you start.
Running a support group can be very rewarding but also draining. Bullying is an isolating experience and it is essential to maintain a network of contacts, personal and professional, on whose experience and support you can draw. A significant role of support groups and advice lines is referral. Contact with other support groups (eg Al-Anon, Victim Support) enables you to tap other people's experience. I'm happy to act as a national contact point for bullying survivor support group organisers.
This is essential. People who are bullied are initially very fearful (partly through psychiatric injury, partly for fear of losing their job) and confidentiality MUST be respected. You will probably find that once amongst others who have suffered in the same way, much of the fear will fade away to be replaced by a determination to take action. Whilst the group can interact with the media - to mutual benefit - individual decisions on privacy and non-disclosure must be respected.
8. Related abuse
Bullying is the common denominator of harassment, discrimination, physical and sexual abuse, conflict and violence. Targets of sexual discrimination and harassment, racial discrimination and harassment, sexual abuse (especially as children), stalking, domestic violence, assault etc may also want to be involved - you need to determine the scope of your group and perhaps whether sub-groups or related groups should be formed. You might want to form a sub-group for people suffering PTSD. There is a lot of overlap. Alternatively, find out about other relevant support groups in your area and refer people on.
If you hold a stock of books remember that eventually some will go missing. It's probably better to hold a list of resources, then let people obtain their own copies. Public libraries are excellent for books. College, university or business libraries hold specialist publications and professional magazines, and are often open to the public for reference. Case law is contained in Industrial Relations Law Reports (IRLR) which may be available through college libraries.
If you're planning to set up a Helpline to go with the support group, contact me for further information - I have a note of my Advice Line experience.
Once you have established the group you will need a constitution. This simply states, in writing, the nature, objectives and constitution of the group and how you will handle issues like confidentiality. Although a group doesn't have to have a constitution, it will be stronger and more professional with one. You will almost certainly need a constitution for the group to open a bank account. The Oxford group OXBOW has made its constitution available on the web site - you can use this as a basis for yours.
Most groups operate with a Chairperson, a Secretary, and a Treasurer. If you are expecting to undertake publicity and deal with the media, a Press Officer is a good idea. Someone who is articulate, can answer media questions easily, clearly and succinctly, and has tact as well as determination. Media requests tend to come in at short notice, eg on the same day or, if you're lucky, on the day before. Someone in full-time employment might find their contractual obligations make working with the media difficult.
Many local groups appoint sub-committees to focus on particular issues, eg legal action, campaigning, research, publicity, etc; this allows people with similar interests and objectives to work together and it's in these sub-committees that the real work is done. Progress by sub-committees is then reported at group meetings.
14. Publicity - announcing your presence
There are many opportunities for free advertising: when you establish the group, issue a press release to the local newspapers and radio stations - they are always on the look-out for local news, especially anything pertinent, topical, new and local. You may be able to obtain a feature in your local newspaper. Letters to the editor announcing your group, its aims, venue etc are often printed (letters must be less than 300 words). Remember that bullying (in all its forms) is a hot topic and one featured regularly in the media. Capitalise on this.
You can have a free listing on the Bullying Support Groups page. Just let me have a paragraph with all the details.
15. Meeting content
Whilst some have suggested meetings along the lines of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous programme, I prefer a more information-oriented approach. Knowledge is empowerment, and once people know why it happened to them. most quickly regain control and begin to deal with it. The answers are in my book Bully in sight and on my web site, Bully OnLine. Practical information, especially with the health and legal issues, is essential. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions:
Why did he/she pick on me? Because you were good at your job, popular with people, unwittingly invited unfavourable comparison with the bully's inadequacy simply by being competent, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because bullying is an obsessive, compulsive and addictive behaviour the bully has to have someone to bully.
Why did I let it happen to me? Because you had little or no knowledge of bullying, no training in how to deal with it, those around you denied or ignored it, you didn't recognise the bully as a sociopath, the bully disempowered you, you were vulnerable, you're honest and unwilling to compromise your integrity, the law is weak, jobs are scarce so you were frightened to report it, personnel probably didn't help or took the side of the bully, etc.
What did I do to deserve it? Nothing. See previous answers. It is NEVER the target's fault - it is always the bully who is responsible for their behaviour; however, bullies project their behaviour onto their target and claim their target is the one with the "negative attitude" who is "aggressive" etc. Treat each criticism or allegation as an admission by the bully of his or her own failings and inadequacy. A target of abuse simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - and probably has plenty of predecessors and successors.
So what can I do about it? Lots, although justice through the legal system is not always a possibility at present. Read everything (books, this web site) and decide whether you want to a) leave, get another job with an employer who values your skills and become financially stable, b) take legal action, c) fight bullying on a wider scale, d) get a settlement and do something different (perhaps more useful and rewarding) with your life, e) follow another option, or f) a combination of these. It's a personal decision that only you can make.
My union says I don't have a case. Whilst taking successful legal action is difficult - there being no law against bullying per se - there are at least twenty areas of law that apply (these are listed on the legal page). It's mainly a problem of knowledge, training and experience, so tell your union rep about Bully OnLine at Bully Online and point him/her to the training pages at successunlimited/training/t1h.htm and public seminars at successunlimited/seminars/index.htm
I feel so ill, often I just want to kill myself. These feelings, which include reactive depression, are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. You are NOT mentally ill, but psychiatrically injured - the cause is external, someone is responsible and liable. Being an injury, it will get better, although it can take a long time. Your GP and other medical professionals may not understand your trauma, so see my PTSD page.
I thought I was the only one this was happening to. Almost everyone who is abused thinks this. Abusers encourage it, for it disempowers and silences you. The truth is, there are many people in your situation - with workplace bullying, perhaps half the workforce. The reason so few people report their abusers is for fear that "No-one will believe me". They are usually correct - although things are changing. You can help the process of change.
I never thought I would be a victim. You're not a victim, you're a target. The word "victim" allows some people to tap into and stimulate prejudices and preconceived notions about "victimhood", eg that it's all your fault. It is not - the bully has deliberately and wilfully targeted you. There's more on myths and misperceptions at workbully/myths.htm
Where can I find more answers to frequently asked questions?
16. Compassion fatigue
Helping others who have been abused is draining and many people will eventually start exhibiting symptoms of compassion fatigue which include irritability, disinterest and fatigue. The average time for this to start appearing is about 18 months. These symptoms start to intrude, for instance, when a person describes their experience in minute detail. Compassion fatigue is a sign that you need to take action, and that perhaps the time is right to move on.
See also my frequently-asked questions (FAQs) page and the page on bullying which answers the question Why me?
People who have suffered injustice often make excellent and tireless campaigners. The group has to decide whether local or national campaigning is an objective. I am happy to act as a national contact point for local bullying survivor support group organisers.
Connect Self Help UK, ISBN 0 9521031 1 7
Self Help Groups - Getting Started, Keeping Going, Judy Wilson and Jan Myers, ISBN 1-874259-00-3
Founder, UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line
Webmaster, Bully OnLine at Bully Online
Document last updated: 14 October 2004
Bully in sight validates the experience of bullying
Bully in sight
How to predict, resist, challenge and combat workplace bullying
Overcoming the silence and denial by which abuse thrives
Foreword by Diana Lamplugh OBE
Published by Success Unlimited 1996, reprinted 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2004
Paperback, 16 chapters, 384 pages, resources, index
Click book cover (left) for more information
"Will be eagerly read by those waiting for an
update [to Andrea Adams' book]"
Times Educational Supplement 7/3/97
"Powerful, compassionate, practical" Nursing Times, 1/1/97
Readers' feedback and comments.
Written with the experience and insight only a fellow experiencer can impart, Bully in sight validates the experience of bullying when everyone else is trying to deny it. The injury to health caused by stress resulting from bullying and harassment is described in detail.
Bully in sight identifies bullying as a major cause of stress and the common denominator of harassment, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, conflict and violence. Bully in sight provides a chillingly accurate portrayal of the principal perpetrator of psychological violence, the serial bully.
Packed with insight, ideas and direction, plus sources of help and suggested reading.
Bully OnLine is funded by sales of this book.
Order a signed copy:
Online with secure credit card ordering
By fax or letter with printed order form
Recommended reading on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and recovery from trauma
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The invisible injury, 2005 edition
Published by Success Unlimited 2004
Paperback, 16 chapters, 224 pages, resources, index
Click book cover (left) for more information
"This is the book I so badly wanted when I was traumatised."
David Kinchin, Author
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: the invisible injury provides clear, practical advice for recovery from major traumatic experiences, including bullying, harassment, violence, assault, rape, accident, fire, explosion, disaster, or witnessing such events.
PTSD is a natural emotional reaction to a deeply shocking and disturbing experience. The symptoms include sleep problems, nightmares and waking early, impaired memory, inability to concentrate, hypervigilance (feels like but is not paranoia), jumpiness and exaggerated startle response, fragility and hypersensitivity, irritability, violent outbursts, joint and muscle pains, panic attacks, fatigue, low self-esteem, exaggerated feelings of guilt, feelings of nervousness and anxiety.
Order a copy:
Online with secure credit card ordering
By fax or letter with printed order form
Lots of information and ideas for tackling bullying including the legal aspects
Action Home Page | Action to tackle bullying
Guidance for employers on policy development
Bullying and the trade unions | Bullying and the law
Case law on bullying, harassment, stress and personal injury
Court judgements in cases relevant to bullying
Long v. Mercury Mobile Communications Services
Hatton Barber et al: 16 practical propositions for a personal injury case
Right to be accompanied | The need for risk assessment
High Court injunction to prevent unfair dismissal | Obstruction to justice
Bullyonline action forum for validation and re-empowerment
UK Dignity at Work Bill | Swedish law on Victimization at Work
Bullying and human rights | Waters v. London Metropolitan Police
Barber v. Somerset County Council
Zimmerman: retaliation in the US courts
Bullying history: books, articles and publications since 1992
How to lobby your MP: example letter and summary of inadequacy of UK law
Amicus Campaign Against Bullying At Work (CABAW)
Tim Field's written submission to the Dignity at Work Bill debate
Getting another job after bullying | How to recover from bullying
Setting up a bullying survivor support group | Sample support group constitution
Using the search engines to find other sites on bullying etc
Dealing with viruses, worms, spam etc
Designing and building your own web site
Advice and guidance for new Internet users
Tim Field's book Bully in sight validates the experience of bullying and
defines the injury to health caused by bullying and harassment
The Field Foundation | Bully OnLine
Workplace bullying | School bullying | Family bullying
Bullying news | Press and media centre
Bullying case histories | Bullying resources
Stress and PTSD
Action to tackle bullying | Related issues
Books on bullying and psychiatric injury