The Million Dollar Question: Why Me?
By Linda Crockett, founder of the Workplace Bullying Resource Centre (ABRC.ca) and Janice Gilligan White, founder of The Empowered Employee.
Hundreds of thousands ‘Volunteers, Students, Employees’ targeted by bullies in their organization ask the question, “why me”?
Whenever someone experiences a shock or trauma, people try to make sense of these confusing and threatening experiences. Like a car accident, most targets do not see the harm coming. Unlike a car accident, however, there are many unpredictable shocking and confusing offenses that continue to occur. These offences may occur several times a week for months, or years, to come.
Making the circumstance even more difficult to process, targets discover that these offenses were often conscious, intentional, and malicious. They also realize that the policies, leaders, and departments set in place to protect them not only failed to stop the abuse but aided in it.
Targeted employees are often left with the loss of their beloved place of employment, and/or careers, failing health, broken families, shattered belief systems and are also left with the question of, why me?
To help you better understand why you were most likely targeted, we have listed the top 6 key reasons workplace abuse happens to someone. What’s perhaps even more important is the reassurance that you had or have little control in what has taken place, and you are not at fault.
You may identity with one, or a combination, of the following:
1. You Were in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time (The Perfect Storm)
Have you ever been excited to start a new job only to learn later on that you have walked into a hives-nest of unresolved historical leadership and staffing issues? Perhaps the last leader was a lassie faire leader playing favorites, ignoring numerous staff conflicts along with their brewing resentments and apathy. The new leader is an authoritarian type leader who justifies his/her actions of what they describe as, ‘cleaning up the mess’ left behind. There is a perfect storm brewing with resentments and animosities all around you. You are innocently and naturally full of excitement for your new job yet, you are right in the middle of a storm – an easy scapegoat, and an easy target.
This is an example of wrong place wrong time. There is nothing you could have done to bring this on, and little you could do to prevent or change the impending storm. This storm started without you.
2. Insecure Leadership
Many employees are hired and/or promoted into positions of leadership when they have little or no training or experience. Anytime an adult is held to a higher expectation of skill level and responsible and are accountable for the organization’s success, there is a great deal of stress and pressure. People want to do well when given these important opportunities. What if they are not prepared, feel insecure, incompetent, and wish to present themselves as the opposite? Who pays for that?
If an insecure leader perceives a staff member as being more naturally skilled and competent, they may isolate, ostracize, or find ways to sabotage this employee’s relationships and/or reputation.
In this scenario, your skill set and strengths, have been seen as a threat. For this reason, you have been targeted. There is truly little you could have done to avoid being targeted. In fact, many of us try harder just to get the bully off our backs. With insecure leaders, the better you are, the worse of a threat you become.
3. Psychopath, Sociopath, Narcissist
There is an abundance of information available i.e.: research, Ted Talks, Podcasts, You Tube videos, and books to help readers understand the signs, prevalence, and impact of working under or beside a psychopath, social path, and/or narcissist.
With more information, you will come to realize that there is nothing you have done, or could ever do, to change what is happening with this person. These are the chronic abusers and their actions are conscious, deliberate, and malicious. These behaviors do not improve, in fact, they progress. Why you? Something about you has threatened them i.e.: skills, likability, empathy/kindness, success. Usually it is things about you that you can be proud of! Don’t let anyone diminish you!
4. You Are Different in Some Way
This is when we see discrimination as a factor in workplace bullying. Statistics show us that minorities are at a higher risk of being targeted. Perhaps it is race, age, gender, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation that places them at risk. For others, it could be their height, weight, hair style, complexion, medical needs, socio-economic status, high intelligence, low intelligence, and/or physical or intellectual disability. This usually begins very subtly and/or passive aggressively. Like with all cases of bullying, if left unaddressed, it progresses to more obvious offenses.
“Even if you were perfect, you would be bullied for being perfect. It isn’t about any flaws or imperfections, we all have something that makes us unique, it is about something going wrong inside the bully.” -Linda Crockett
5. You Have Become Thought of as a ‘Problem in the Workplace’.
Many employees become targeted in the workplace after speaking up about an issue they faced at work. This can include reporting harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, unethical behavior, reporting a safety concern, or taking a leave of absence.
Reporting abuse is the right thing to do, but sadly, this can make things worse. Especially if the person you are complaining about is a favorite. Once I (Linda) reported a woman in my office for having an affair with her colleague. He would frequently be her acting supervisor, so this was unethical. She was always taking time off, coming in late, breaking the rules with confidential files, and spending hours giggling in his office. Instead of this being addressed, they transferred me out of this office. I was devasted and betrayed.
In another case, one of my (Linda’s) clients reported abuse, and they systematically fired her. While many companies have policies in place that have the appearance of a no tolerance policy, a confidential help-line to report issues at work, and/or respectful workplace training, the reality for many employees is that they become seen as a problem in the workplace. A problem that they want to silence or get rid of.
It’s not your fault that your organization has not been accountable for following through on their own policies and procedures regarding zero-tolerance of bullying, nor for failing to protect those who have the courage enough to report the abuse. At the end of the day, what this means is that you do not fit into the toxic pool. Take a little comfort in that.
Nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.
Many targets of workplace abuse report frustration over the favoritism, unfair work distribution, unfair training opportunities, lack of recognition for credentials, and someone hired or promoted with no credentials or role experience that often plagues them, leading to being marked for elimination.
Robert began working for a company which was ‘created and owned’ by a husband, wife, and their two adult sons. The sons were always in conflict, and the husband and wife were going through a divorce. The battle of ‘who is in charge’ was a daily occurrence. Unfortunately, Robert became the scapegoat in the middle. This became extremely stressful for Robert for everything he did was sabotaged, cancelled, changed, or criticized by one of the family members. It wasn’t about his work; he loved his job and he was excellent at his work. It was about the owners who lost sight over their common goals and instead, fought for power. Sadly, this impacted Roberts self-esteem, confidence, and sense of safety in the workplace.
Bottom line: Nepotism will always be a part of the workplace. There is rarely anything you can do to change the dynamic in situations like this, regardless of how hard you work for the company.
Perhaps the most important question now is, what now?
It’s important to understand that there is no “one size fits all” explanation for why certain people are targeted. It’s also important to keep in mind that each case is as unique as each individual and the organization involved.
It is beneficial to be aware of your own biases, past experiences, assumptions, values, beliefs, and level of knowledge when it comes to workplace bullying. Be sure to clear any barriers in the way of accepting new information and different possibilities. With these steps in place, you are more prepared to assess your case with an open mind and a holistic perspective.
As you’ve seen in our top 6 “Why Me” scenarios, there is nothing anyone, anywhere, at any time could have done to deserve any form of abuse. You are never at fault when someone abuses their power over you.
So, what now?
Develop strong self-insight, confidence, self-esteem, assertiveness, and work towards the best version of you. Never stop doing your best just because someone is jealous. Take control of your voice, actions, decisions, and journey through life. Resources to educate, guide, support, advocate, and help you recover, are available.
*For the full article, including additional information, tips and advice, please click here.
Linda Crockett has 32 years’ experience in professional social work, including 10 years with a master’s degree specializing in this area. She is a Workplace Bullying Institute alumnus, and the founder of a workplace bullying resource center (ABRC.ca). After experiencing PTSD due to a chronic case of workplace bullying, she opened a center to assist Employers, Employees, Medical Teams, Insurance Companies, Investigators, Unions etc., with addressing complex cases of bullying. Linda is an activist who has lobbied for changes in legislation, and a certified trauma therapist who provides coaching and clinical treatment to those who have suffered a psychological injury. Linda also assists with positive changes in those who are identified as perpetrators of bullying. She is well known as a pioneer in Alberta, Canada with her workplace bullying resource center. Contact: www.abrc.ca firstname.lastname@example.org 780-965-7480
Please follow me on: Twitter: @BullyingAlberta Instagram: Alberta_Bullying_resources Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/abrc Facebook: @workerssafety
Janice Gilligan White is the founder of the Empowered Employee. She holds a degree in psychology and is affiliated with the Workplace Bullying Institute and End Workplace Abuse Now. She is the co-founder of Re-Define, a premier group that hosts summits, workshops, and retreats for targets of workplace abuse. She serves as a board member for the National Workplace Bullying Coalition and leads a Dignity Together peer support group. In addition, she co-hosts Two Targets Talk, a weekly chat aimed at breaking the shame and silence surrounding workplace abuse.
Follow me on: https://www.facebook.com/theempoweredemployee/