"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." – Maya Angelou

How Not to Die from Workplace Abuse

Taking these steps in a toxic situation may save your life!

Schoolyard bullies grow older—they often don’t grow up.

That’s the bad news. The good news is you don’t need to remain a helpless victim.

The recent #MeToo campaign sweeping across America against sexual harassment of women has shed new light on the often silent and less-talked-about epidemic of workplace abuse.

Workplace bullying and lateral violence affect nearly half of US workers.

    • More than 65 million US workers are affected by bullying in the workplace. (Namie, 2014.)
    • In a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 72 percent of respondents indicated that their employer either encourages or condones the abuse.

There is considerable variation in how workplace abuse (nonphysical aggression) and lateral violence are understood.

    • We’re not talking about someone who is a jerk at work, someone being silly or making bad jokes.
    • We’re talking about (orchestrated) threatening, intimidation, humiliation, harassment, misuse of authority, interference of work getting done, and verbal abuse.
    • This practice often takes place over years.

What is alarming is the fact that the healthcare profession has one of the highest levels of bullying in the workplace. (Farouque & Burgio, 2013.) This cannot bode well for an industry that has at its heart the task to heal and to render safe and accountable care.

Lateral violence occurs when people who are both victims of a situation of dominance turn on each other, rather than confront the abusive system—they become victim-bullies.

In larger organizations where abusive behavior is condoned, the chief aggressor (bully), often becomes a “puppet master” bully. They often:

    • “Recruit” subordinates to do their bidding
    • Impregnate the entire organization with a culture of fear and intimidation
    • When the bullying culture is so widespread, the term “mobbing” becomes appropriate—the victim receives it from multiple co-workers.
    • The hierarchal structures in place often foster a passive atmosphere, one that enables bullying.

Workplace abuse and violence is not merely an occupational hazard coming with the territory, being part of the culture of an organization, often shrugged off as innocent fun, a mere “hobby of the boss,” and allowed as part of a right-of-passage.

Uncontrolled workplace abuse is bad for your health—if left unchecked, it can kill.

If left unchecked, chronic abuse in the workplace can become toxic and leads to:

    • Job dissatisfaction/Loss of enthusiasm
    • Emotional exhaustion & psychological distress
    • Destroys workplace camaraderie
    • Fosters a culture of suspicion: setting co-workers against one another
    • Deterioration of performance at work
    • Traumatization upon realization one’s organization condones abusive treatment
    • Profound feeling of isolation and of helplessness
    • PTSD – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
    • Cardiac problems and weight gain (> 60%)
    • Suicidal ideation (>30%) (10-15% will commit suicide)

Outcomes of actions by employees to stop workplace abuse (Smith, 2013):

    • 38% of victims did nothing—hoping it will improve
    • 95% of bullying situations will NOT improve if left unchallenged
    • Of those who directly confronted the perpetrator, only had 3.57% effectiveness
    • 74% anticipated support from senior management—3.69% received action
    • 43% filed formal complaints
    • 34 % sought guidance from an attorney and 9 % filed for legal action.

What you SHOULD DO when bullied at work:
    • Don’t neglect yourself—it matters how you dress, what you eat and that you stay fit! Make your personal space & home a safe haven. Display self-esteem!
    • Avoid isolation—keep contact with colleagues & friends—bullies work hard to alienate targets from coworkers
    • Approach bullying as a work project—remain ethical in your actions, take thorough notes of every incident—illustrate a pattern of bullying
    • Don’t surrender—even if you put out feelers for a new job. Don’t become a victim.
    • Remain safe—depending on the type and degree of abuse, never be alone with the abuser if you can help it.
    • Be selective about who you trust—if you plan on building up a case against your boss, be selective with whom you share information
    • Explore outside options! You’re never too old to change careers. Retrain. Become an entrepreneur. (But, do your homework. Be careful of get-rich-quick schemes.) Prepare for hard, hard work if you’re planning on leaving.
    • Point is—there is a work life out there (either working for yourself of someone else) without abuse and intimidation. You can restore your self-worth and sanity. You have value.

Here’s what I’ve found to be profoundly helpful:

Five F’s: Faith, Family & Friends, Fitness, Food, Freestyle writing & reading.

    1. Faith—me finding solace and hope in a loving heavenly Father is not a quick-fix, “all your problems disappear” endeavor. It’s a daily decision to seek the Light.
    2. Family & Friends—don’t neglect them! Nurture your relationships. Channel your pain and hurt to help others. Give emotionally. Yes, give.
    3. Fitness—stay in shape! Fitness is more than aerobic capacity—fitness is about physical, mental, emotional & spiritual strength and robustness. It works!
    4. Food—don’t stuff yourself with junk food. Eating sugar-laden, deep-fried and processed food to ease the (emotional) pain will only add to your sorrow and misery. It doesn’t help—I’ve done it. Eat a combination of fruit & vegetables every day. Color is king. Lean toward plant-based foods. Limit meats and animal products. Treat yourself to small amounts dark chocolate.
    5. Freestyle Writing & Reading (Okay—I “forced the fifth “F.” It’s Writing & Reading!) Discovering writing fiction, creative nonfiction, and blogging, certainly saved me. Then, last year, amidst deep sorrow, as I delved into writing poetry, another dimension of the healing power of writing was revealed to me.

Depending on the extent of the abuse, you may consider changing jobs, even careers and perhaps delve into entrepreneurship. The point is this: you are not doomed. There are other options. None of which will be easy—it will require hard work. Then again, such is life. Embark on another grand adventure!

Online resources/bloggers/entrepreneurs & authors that helped save me:
    1. Your First 10K Readers – Nick Stephenson
    2. Tribe Writers & Intentional Blogging – Jeff Goins
    3. The Write Practice – Joe Bunting

Perhaps you have reached the point to quit your job and venture out on your own—become an entrepreneur. Do your homework, then go! Be aware of the online “snakes’ oil salesmen.” I highly recommend Nick Stephenson’s YF10KR training course. The same can be said of Jeff Goins and Joe Bunting. There are many more excellent options. You may want to also check out if learning how to proofread may be a way to get you started:

Don’t allow the pain, the humiliation or the despair to destroy you. A bully does not define you. Don’t allow workplace (or any abuse) make you give up on life. Channel the pain and hurt toward something positive—be it a ministry, a career switch, starting an entrepreneur venture—apply what you’ve learned to help others (and yourself.)

You have a voice.

There is hope.

Call To Action:
    1. You don’t have to remain a helpless victim. Step away. Become a survivor and victor. Apply the five F’s.
    2. If you live in the US—
      • make contact with the Workplace Bullying Institute. (Drs. Gary & Ruth Namie.)
      • Or: contact Minding the Workplace, under guidance of Dr. David Yamada
    3. If you live in Canada—make contact with the Alberta Bullying Research, Resources & Recovery Centre Inc. (Linda R. Crockett & Dr. Pat Ferris.)

(The links are in the references.)

There is help.

Please—reach out.

This is not the end. Make this a grand new beginning!

Thank you for reading!

Here's a collection of some of my short creative nonfiction tales. Go check them out! 

You can also find a FREE copy of my short story, Young Maxime here. (It is the prequel to my novel, Maxime.)

    1. Ellen Fink-Sumnick. The New Age of Bullying and Violence in Health Care. Part I, II, III. 2015, 2016, 2017. Professional Care Management. 2017.
    2. Danie Botha. We can win the war on hopelessness.
    3. Danie Botha. Breaking the Silence. Aug 2, 2016.
    4. Workplace Bullying Institute.
    5. Minding the workplace. Dr. David Yamada.
    6. The Alberta Bullying Research, Resources & Recovery Centre Inc. (
    7. Rick Warren. Direct your emotions toward a positive ministry. Daily Hope.
    8. Kivamaki M. Workplace bullying and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Occup Environ Med. 2003.

© 2016 All rights reserved.

Image by Clare – September 2017

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