Compliments of Anish Kapoor via Flickr

PTSD (from bullying) can leave targets forever changed. Hyper-vigilant anxiety1 can reactivate in the most innocuous of circumstance – even with original trauma removed by six degrees of separation. The bullied live with an unrelenting imminent fear, the porcelain of a once normal thought process shattered in pieces. Millions of tiny larvae embedded within one’s mind waiting to hatch into full-blown worry.

Lurking obsessive-compulsive shadow figures hurl doubt, then reappear in the next millisecond to repeat the process. “Amygdala hijacking” creates an unbearable drum beat awareness, an inescapable mental purgatory absent peace.

It is as if doubtful thoughts selectively turn up the volume full blast – until obsessive-compulsive checking/reassurance seeking temporarily scales back the settings. Intentionally manning one’s mental dashboard (so as not to succumb to involuntary maelstroms) takes a herculean amount of effort, requiring a withdrawal like process until triggered anxiety resolves on its own (Lazarus, 2014). An almost insurmountable task for those who psychologically self-medicate through a series of rituals. The legacy of PTSD leaves smoldering brain on fire, from which escape (in the throes of panic) seems impossible.

The shifting quicksand of sanity (in bullying’s aftermath) can be difficult to describe, for the danger lacks physical presence. As in the movie The Matrix, it resides in a parallel, unrecognizable thought universe, a mental angst which if outwardly manifested would resemble a hideous half-eaten creature. Bullied targets live with their suffering swept under the rug by managers, human resource professionals, and even the shamefaced worker him/or herself. They silently learn to deal with private worldviews gone awry, outnumbered (and outmaneuvered) in a game not of their own making. Their new companions include the frequent, intense radiation of internal solar flares.

Workplace bullies are not just shorting workers’ stock, they are shorting employees in the exchange of office politics – and they are using organizational capital to accomplish their objectives. The angry mob finds the weak link in the herd, in which red droplets of humiliation precipitate an office feeding frenzy. Abusers create a dormant Pandora’s Box that can resurrect full blown at any time, leaving shells of a once “normal” human persona – individuals who can topple, like feathers, if similar provocation occurs. Flames of past abuse become conflagration.

Bullies relish in the untethering of others’ reality. Cortina (2008) suggests that organizational climate presents either restrictive or permissive conditions for bullying shenanigans. In laissez-faire cultures, employees with implicit biases (those who would normally keep prejudicial attitudes under wraps) might test the waters by engaging in covert office crimes. In a similar vein, those who possess overt prejudice might choose to openly bully their peers. Much needed (at work) is managerial vigilance to root out discriminatory hatred, and stealth exploitation of at risk workers.

In organizations that choose to disinhibit bullying, once abused employees may reincarnate as a mutant breed. Bigger, stronger, faster, able to annihilate the very inept policies and practice that willed their dissolution in the first place.


1associated with an overstimulated amygdala

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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