By Silja Litvin
Few people are aware of the psychological and emotional effects it can have on the victim, says Silja Litvin
There has been a topic on my mind for some time now that I have been wanting to write about: Mobbing has become a keyword in media and news, also known as Bullying and Cyber Bullying (the difference between Mobbing and Bullying is that Mobbing refers to a group of people emotionally abusing a person in a social setting such as school, workplace, neighbourhood while Bullying means an individual is emotionally abusing a person), but few people actually are aware of the psychological and emotional effects it can have on the victim.
I meekly have to admit that I have been on both ends of the Mobbing spectrum: In sixth to eighth grade there was a socially awkward girl in my class that simply drove me nuts. All she had to do was enter the room and I would get upset. Even though I was not a vicious kid, I did encourage and participate in attempts to make the poor girls life more miserable than it already was. Even though I have had the opportunity to express my genuine regret (which she generously accepted), I still cringe at the memory of my undeserving contempt towards her.
Those of you who believe in Karma will enjoy hearing that I got it all back: during my education as an Occupational Therapist, the other girls in my class strongly disliked the fact that I put myself through school by modelling. Part of it was my missing classes due to travelling, and part of it was simply my being different. It got so bad that I would fall sick before going to school because of fear of what I would be in for when I entered the classroom…
Both experiences have left me with a raised awareness of Mobbing - as well in others as in myself - and my education as a psychologist helped me understand the psychological processes occurring before, during and after a Mobbing situation.
We are social group beings designed to seek company and strive on human contact. When a victim is being mobbed in a social setting such as the workplace or a school, the underlying goal is often to drive the person out of that environment, not just to emotionally abuse them. The problem is that the victims often have no possibility to leave. Maybe their parents won’t put them in another school, or they cannot find another job to sustain the needs of their family.
Being cast out of a social group can trigger an evolutionary response mechanism that evokes a fear related to the fear of death. Back in times when humans only survived in groups, being expelled from the protection a group provided lead to certain death either through starvation, the elements or predators. Of course nowadays, being mobbed objectively means that the victim is isolated, insulted and often hindered in their work, not certain death, but our brain (mostly the amygdala) doesn’t know that.
Not only does one feel quite miserable being the victim of mobbing attacks, but studies show that the immune system of mobbing victims are weaker as well as more vulnerable to sickness than others. Not only medical issues arise, but they are also more prone to depression, burnout, alcoholism and many other psychological disorders.
While I strongly emphasize that it is not the fault of a mobbing victim and that self-blame will only make the situation harder to bear, there are a few things the person concerned can do to stabilize his or her situation…
1) Find a person you can trust to confide in and help judge the situation. I would recommend going to a therapist, but if you do not have the means or possibilities to find one, then look for a level headed person you can talk to, and who will give you honest feedback. Someone who will just get upset and counter-attack the mobbing group is not going to help in this situation.
2) Figure out who is the head of that group. Sometimes the loudest bully is not the one who fuels the mobbing. See how they are connected. Office politics are often twisted and complicated, you need to know who you can trust in and who you are safe with. Do not talk to people you are not sure about
3) Try to figure out the main points of attacks. Is there something you could change? Then decide if you want to change whatever it is they are complaining about: you do not need to bend backwards to please your attackers.
4) Stay professional. Keep and file any offensive emails and texts. Always, ALWAYS answer in a professional and polite manner, even if you are deeply upset. Make notes on what incidents happened, when and who caused them. Protect your workplace with passwords and lock your desk. Do not retaliate by gossiping and complaining aimlessly.
5) Treat the situation as a puzzle. Once you have figured out who is offending you and why you are being attacked, try to communicate with the person who fuels the mobbing. Often singling out and approaching the leader of the attacks face-to-face can help to establish a positive connection.
6) Have a “plan B”. If the mobbing gets unbearable, start looking for a transfer or a different job. Some situations - sad as it may be - cannot be changed until one or the other party leaves the social constellation.
7) Many workplaces have a Human Resource representative who can help you file a complaint. You can also ask your Boss for help, just make sure they are not a part of the mobbing group.