BY GERALD ARBUCKLE
It is emotional terrorisation that can paralyse the victim. Indeed it is this powerlessness and subjugation that gives this type of violence its uniqueness.
The human and financial costs are extensive. It is estimated that in Western societies one-third to one-half of all stress-related illnesses are due to bullying at the workplace.
Bullying is the abuse of power. Individuals, groups or institutions driven by fear of their own inadequacies, seek to demean persons or groups, who are normally not in a position to defend themselves, for example women in patriarchal churches, people questioning the status quo.
Bullies will try all kinds of intimidation or terrorisation, some extremely subtle, to force people to comply. It could be constant nitpicking or fault-finding, sarcastic remarks, excessive work demands, excessive numbers of memos or letters, passive aggression, refusing to speak to a person. It could be withholding information to maintain power over the victim.
It could be breaking physical, role and emotional boundaries. For example, a bully can enter the physical territory, e.g. office space, get access to private files and computer information, without permission. Abusive language and gestures are forms of emotional invasion.
In cyber-bullying the violator uses e-mail systems or internet forums to send aggressive mails to victims. The impersonal quality of the e-mail permits the intimidator to terrorize freely.
Bullies are inadequate people, fearful of losing face, overly sensitive to criticism, deeply lonely in themselves.
Bullies rarely have any empathy for the people they harass. The welfare of others is not their concern, only what can serve their own narcissistic desires. Bullies may speak inspiringly of how people should act, but they fail to follow their own advice. Relationships are viewed in terms of dominance and submission.
Victims experience fear, self-doubt, impotence, rage, depression, sleep disorder, poor concentration, chest pains and shock that they are the object of attack. They may feel guilty, believing that they are responsible for what is happening, something that particularly pleases the violator.
Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. Often victims of bullying experience a significant betrayal of trust.
For example, the persistent refusal by a workplace managers to listen to their employees, by a bishop to his priests, by a religious superior to his/her members, while these leaders at the same time are openly proclaiming they are committed to a culture of dialogue and openness can intensify this stress disorder. There is also the betrayal of trust on the part of the organization to which the victim belongs, when it refuses to protect its vulnerable members.
Bullying is an evil because it seeks to take away human dignity, a dignity that comes primarily from the fact that every human person is created in God’s image.
Jesus Christ was viciously bullied. What did he do? He stood up to bullies, but in a non-violent way. He constantly went to the aid of victims of bullying – the politically, socially and economically powerless. He listened to their pain. He publicly stood beside them. Reminding them of their human dignity, he encouraged them to re-claim non-violently their dignity.
In imitation of Christ, victims should not be passive and accept powerlessness when bullied. Yet this can be extremely difficult. Bullying is not a rational process, so avoid, if possible, avoid being alone with them. Seek advice.
We non-victims must find ways to help. If not, we collude with bullies and share in their guilt. Yet, as Christ experienced, when we support victims we risk ourselves becoming the targets of bullies. But every unchallenged act of bullying fosters a culture in which violators have increasing power over victims.
Father Gerald Arbuckle SM is co-director of the Refounding and Pastoral Development Unit at Hunters Hill in Sydney, and author of eleven books on leadership and culture including Dealing with Bullies: A Gospel Response to Adult Bullying and Violence, Society, and the Church: A Cultural Approach.
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