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Power and Control

©2018 Gail Pursell Elliott

Bullies and Mobbers are invested in power and control. This is important to watch for when disciplining someone who has been proven to have perpetrated this behavior or instigated others to do likewise. Maintaining that power and control is of utmost importance and in the extreme, may manifest in both overt and covert ways. How does one rehabilitate a serial Mobber or bully?  When I participated in an international online chat of experts on the topic, most concurred that this is a sociopathic personality style that is difficult, if impossible to rehabilitate. Those who have consistently dealt with life, people, and environments in this way are masters of manipulation and head games.  When thwarted, they may become vicious or potentially violent, the proverbial iron fist encased in a velvet glove. It can be seen either in process or potential in all sorts of situations, as well as in the media. Once you understand the process, it is easier to recognize whether a situation is really the result of mobbing or whether it is something else.

Whenever there is a shooting reported, I pay close attention as many do, looking for motivation. What I do see in all the perpetrators is that investment in power and control, whether the issue is workplace related, domestic, political, ideological, or something else. Regardless of whether the violence seems senseless, it makes sense to the perpetrator. We have also seen situations in which that sense of power takes over the individual, resulting in more victims. Unfortunately, in some of the mass shootings that we have seen recently, innocent victims were simply collateral damage from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, seen as objects rather than as human beings.

Mobbing and bullying involve power and control like any form of violation whether physical or emotional. In fact, this has been described as a rape of the spirit, destroying self-esteem and shattering the person’s sense of identity. It is important to remember that targets feel robbed of control over their lives and destiny. It has been demonstrated numerous times that the aftermath of being violated in this way often lasts for years and influences the target’s perceptions and actions in other environments. Hypersensitivity to interactions with others, reactions to and misinterpretations of innocent comments and other anxiety-based responses may result in new isolation experiences for the target. Anger, fear and paranoia responses are often noted in extreme cases. Over time and with validation of the dignity and respect the target deserves, just as much as any human being, these reactions can be alleviated and even healed. If not, anything is possible from suicide to homicide, to dissociation, to a life of quiet desperation.

Power and control are two of the basic human needs described in the work of William Glasser, M.D. Human beings will fight to regain it if it is threatened or taken away regardless of the circumstances, whether at work or in other environments. In normal amounts, power and control are part of who we all are.  In excess they result in abuse, tragedy, or at the least a loss of balance. A simple example can be seen in the classic holiday film, A Christmas Story. Our hero has had a rough day and is again confronted by the local bully on the way home. Instead of running he explodes in rage and starts punching his nemesis and cannot be stopped until his mother intervenes. His friends look on in horror not understanding that the rage is triggered by finally taking control of a situation when everything else seems out of control.

All that any of us can do is pay attention, watch ourselves and our interactions with others and what is going on around us. In our workplaces, do we sense an air of conditioned helplessness on the part of employees? That no matter what their input, nothing changes? That there is no feedback? Are threats to staff by customers ignored? Do people feel safe coming to and going home from work? Do they feel safe at work? Do they feel safe making mistakes? Do they over react to situations? If some of these questions seem worth asking, please do so, even if it is a blind survey so that staff do not have to identify themselves. It will give you a sense of a dimension of the climate in your workplace that may be valuable. If nothing else, it will let your staff know that you are paying attention and that is of value itself.


Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, is a Professional Speaker, Consultant, and Author. She is available to assist you with Mobbing, Bullying, and soft skills Human Resources issues. Gail had over 20 years’ experience in middle and upper management before founding Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998. She is coauthor of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace and is an expert in this field. Contact through her website:   innovations-training.com



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