When considering the phenomenon of adult bullying (in cyber-space, at the workplace, or anyplace) an image and metaphor that aptly describes the experience is the scene from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, in which Alice floats and spins down the long and meandering tunnel of the White Rabbit’s obscure rabbit hole.
Although Alice’s rabbit hole was both whimsical and surreal in that fictional portrayal, today, the reality and the terror of such a plunge is very real.
The world is no fantasy for the target (i.e. victim) of bullying. There is emotional violence at play. Yes, it’s violent behavior.
The reality for the victim of bullying is persistent emotional aggression that is aimed directly and persistently at them. Self respect can go right down the proverbial rabbit hole when it happens.
Down, down, down. Would the fall ever come to an end?” (Carroll, 1865)
Borrowing an Alice in Wonderland metaphor, when a target is under siege and gets swooped into a rabbit hole of bullying by aggressors, they begin an implausible and impossible decent into a cold reality that is similar to a prisoner held in a land of lawlessness. Similarly, authors Tracy, Lutgen-Sanvik, & Alberts, in their Nightmares, Demons, and Slaves: Exploring the Painful Metaphors of Workplace Bullying, present an exhaustive study that illustrates how targets of workplace abuse use various metaphorical frameworks to describe the pain and the hurt of their workplace bullying experience:
…battle, water torture, nightmare, or noxious substance. Abused workers frame bullies as narcissistic dictators, two-faced actors, and devil figures. Employees targeted with workplace bullying liken themselves to vulnerable children, slaves, prisoners, animals, and heartbroken lovers” (Tracy, et al, 2006).
Such metaphors serve to describe the extreme psychological pain felt by the victim.
…Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well. (Carroll, 1865)
Workplace Bullying has grown pervasive in the 21st century. The evidence suggests that bullying robs targets (i.e. victims) of dignity, and employers of productivity, and has grown as pervasive as sexual harassment. (Davenport, Schwartz, & Elliot, 2002, Namie & Namie, 2007, Daniel, 2006)
Authors Tracy, Alberts, and Rivera, in association with Arizona State University, for the Arizona Board of Regents, provide a self-help article for victims of bullying to help emotionally devastated victims tell their story so it is cohesive and expressed as an unemotional narrative. (Tracy, et al, 2007)
In How to Bust the Office Bully: Eight Tactics for Explaining Workplace Abuse to Decision-Makers (2007), Tracy, et al., explain that, because of the emotional and painful nature of the trauma, targets of bullying face a bigger challenge when they attempt to explain their plight.
Victims who have descended into a state of emotional despair and have difficulty expressing their story without becoming emotional, are less likely to be credible to a Human Resources (HR) group. As it is commonly seen in today’s academic literature, the fact is that very frequently targets who tell their stories are often deemed “petty…a problem employee” and often end up holding the blame (Tracy, et al, 2007), and descending further into the rabbit hole of despair.
I wish I hadn’t cried so much!’ said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. `I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! (Carroll, 1865)
In their popular text, The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job, Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute , and pioneers in the grassroots awareness campaign about bullying, provide a widely quoted definition of bullying:
Bullying….. is the repeated, malicious, health-endangering mistreatment of one employee (the Target) by one or more employees (the bully, bullies). The mistreatment is psychological violence, a mix of verbal and strategic assaults to prevent the Target from performing work well. It is illegitimate conduct in that it prevents work getting done. Thus, an employer’s legitimate business interests are not met (Namie & Namie, 2003).
A chief difference between targets and bullies is the result of a dichotomy between cooperation and control. For the bully, there is a need and desire for total control. Control is the foundation of all bullying. The bully’s deliberate and insidious methods to hamper the Target’s ability to succeed in either word or deed, are typical examples of a need for control resulting in aggression.
…for it might end, you know,” said Alice to herself, “in my going out altogether, like a candle…” And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out… (Carroll, 1865)
An insidious offshoot of the bullying phenomenon is called mobbing, or bullying by a group, which refers to how, either purposely or in ignorance, the target (of the bullying) is driven from the workplace by more than one person. This is also a phenomenon that has caught on via the internet.
Psychological terror or mobbing in working life involves hostile and unethical communication which is directed in a systematic manner by one or more individuals, mainly toward one individual, who, due to mobbing, is pushed into a helpless and defenseless position and held there by means of continuing mobbing activities. These actions occur on a very frequent basis (statistical definition: at least once a week) and over a long period of time (statistical definition: at least six months’ duration). Because of the high frequency and long duration of hostile behavior, this maltreatment results in considerable mental, psychosomatic, and social misery (Namie & Namie, 2003).
Currently, there is no federal or state legislation banning workplace incivilities, aggression or bullying (HR Focus, 2008), and HR professionals are aware that the law rarely provides protection for generalized harassment claims. (Namie, 2007)
Alice felt so desperate that she was ready to ask help of any one…. she began, in a low, timid voice, `If you please, sir–‘ The Rabbit started violently, dropped the white kid gloves… (Carroll, 1865)