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Bullying, Mobbing, PTSD and Moral Injury

©2012 Gail Pursell Elliott

* Bullying Column from the Workplace Violence Prevention E-Report December 2012 issue.

A recent study showed that about 35 percent of students who are bullied experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.  This study echoes the findings of workplace mobbing research done by Dr. Heinz Leymann in the early  1980’s and has been validated many times by targeted individuals with whom I have worked. If we understand that bullying and mobbing attack the spiritual, psychological and emotional health of the individual as well as the physical, we also must consider that the damage done in an organization by this behavior goes beyond those directly involved.  

Many of us are familiar with the PTSD terminology which became more widely understood in the post Vietnam era and its current impact on returning soldiers, although the syndrome itself is nothing new and is not restricted to the military.  There is plenty of information on the VA website about PTSD, and it is disturbing to realize that bullying and mobbing can have such an impact on an individual.  I intended to write this month about how post traumatic stress impacts not only the target but also those not directly involved, when I received an article from a colleague Dr. John Willis of Leadership Ethics Online, which addressed the concept of Moral Injury (MI).  The entire article can be viewed online at the following link: http://www.leadershipethicsonline.com/2012/11/27/moral-injury-executive-morality-toxic-organizations/

 The VA webpage provides the following definition of MI:

 “Events are considered morally injurious if they “transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations”. Thus, the key precondition for moral injury is an act of transgression, which shatters moral and ethical expectations that are rooted in religious or spiritual beliefs, or culture-based, organizational, and group-based rules about fairness, the value of life, and so forth. The lasting psychological, biological, spiritual, behavioral, and social impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”

MI is a relatively new classification that partners with PTSD and is being discussed by psychiatric and psychological professionals.   As we consider the definition of MI, the connection between MI and an organizational culture in which mobbing and bullying exist becomes apparent.  While the target of a bullying/mobbing process can obviously suffer this type of injury, similar symptoms can appear in those who are not directly involved.  Feelings of uncertainty and doubt plague coworkers who watch but believe they either cannot intervene or who may feel forced to participate unwillingly. Some may compartmentalize their immediate reactions with justifications such as it being none of their business or that if they don’t go along it will be their turn next or dismissing the situation as being just business, this last reminiscent of Don Corleone in the Godfather.  Upon being introduced to the topic of mobbing, many individuals have said that they remembered doing this to someone or participating without realizing it.  Some were appalled to learn that their actions had damaged another human being to that extent.  

Disassociation from others as human beings, lack of empathy, and concern about workplace survival all play a role in how people become caught up in the process of mobbing and bullying.  These attitudes become the status quo for those who wish to belong, regardless of whether they must engage in moral compromise to do so.  They also play a role in the mindset of perpetrators of workplace violence. 

Making an honest assessment of your workplace with regard to conflicting values, vacillations between what is stated as the company mission and what really happens on a day to day basis between people is an important first step.  Think about the company’s position with regard to the value of the people who are employed.  Ask yourself if you walk your talk, where and how is the organization being inconsistent?  Think about times in your career when you felt caught between your moral values and what was asked of you professionally.  What did you do about it?  Did you risk your job in order to do the right thing or something else?  How did your learning in that situation influence you in terms of attitude and expectations with regard to the workplace?

Most professionals have had to confront situations that created a personal moral dilemma and the decisions they made have left their mark.  Although not the battlefields that impact our veterans, such situations still have the ability to confuse, cause disillusionment or to transform.  In cases of workplace mobbing and bullying, in the extreme they can become truly matters of life and death. 

*  *  *  *  *  *

Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace.  Her weekly Food for Thought is read by people around the world.  Gail trains employees for corporations, associations and universities, designs sessions upon request to address specific needs and timely issues, and is a featured speaker at conferences as well as a sought after media expert on workplace and school violence.  Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio. 

Contact Gail through her website:  http://www.innovations-training.com

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3 comments on “Bullying, Mobbing, PTSD and Moral Injury

  1. This is a total and complete accounting of what Workplace Bullying Abuse does to all.

    Thank You

  2. Gail, Thank you for keeping us current on what is happening regarding mobbing and bullying. I agree that people often do not consider, realize, or care about the moral injury that they are creating against others with their words and/or actions. Ours is a society that is focused on people’s personal self-interests, and people always believing they are right and correct. Few people are willing to place themselves in another’s shoes, and have concern and compassion, as I was taught. And, too many workplace and/or organizational leaders are the bullies – they create an atmosphere that is conducive to their own bullying of others. All too often – because there are no laws against it in our country as there are around Europe – the bullying continues in a vicious cycle. In fact, I often find that it is the bullies who may get more promotions or more perks or more rewards…because they put on a great face, know how to be dishonest, and typically blame others rather than themselves. This is how our society has become all too much. Thanks, again, for sharing your article and perspectives!

  3. Reblogged this on blogbymichele and commented:
    Gail, Thank you for keeping us current on what is happening regarding mobbing and bullying. I agree that people often do not consider, realize, or care about the moral injury that they are creating against others with their words and/or actions. Ours is a society that is focused on people’s personal self-interests, and people always believing they are right and correct. Few people are willing to place themselves in another’s shoes, and have concern and compassion, as I was taught. And, too many workplace and/or organizational leaders are the bullies – they create an atmosphere that is conducive to their own bullying of others. All too often – because there are no laws against it in our country as there are around Europe – the bullying continues in a vicious cycle. In fact, I often find that it is the bullies who may get more promotions or more perks or more rewards…because they put on a great face, know how to be dishonest, and typically blame others rather than themselves. This is how our society has become all too much. Thanks, again, for sharing your article and perspectives!

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