Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Mental Health Professionals Targets

Trauma, Targets, and Workplace Bullying

Targets of workplace bullying experience ongoing abuse at the hands of their co-worker(s), but also from the organization when it fails to intervene. This compounded abuse causes targets to experience both primary trauma and resultant trauma. Targets are traumatized repeatedly given the fact that workplace bullying happens systematically and persistently.

Targets experience both primary and resultant trauma as a result of workplace bullying. Primary trauma is caused by the initial bullying and the cumulative compilation of the continued acts of bullying over time. This trauma is continual as long as the target is being bullied. As long as the bullying is occurring, the target experiences primary trauma. The longer the bullying occurs, the more perpetrators there are, and the rate of intensity of the bullying will determine the level of trauma experienced by the target. Primary trauma is difficult enough to deal with, but it is not all that a target has to manage in the bully culture.

Targets also suffer from resultant trauma when the organizations fail to intervene and allow the bullying to continue. Targets want the bullying to stop and therefore, seek solutions by using the policies and mechanisms that their organization has put in place. However, the attempts to mitigate a bullying situation, such as confronting the bullying or reporting the bully to human resources, can increase the bullying and retaliation. Thus, increasing the primary trauma. However, because organizations do not know how to manage a bullying situation, most of the time, the organization fails to do anything to stop the bullying. This failure to stop the bullying or protect the target causes additional trauma; trauma that results from the organization failing to intervene. For targets, the intersection of the resultant and primary trauma exacerbates the harm and for many, the resultant trauma is more disturbing, distressing, and detrimental because the organizational intervention is their only hope of stopping the bullying.

Another unique aspect of trauma for targets of workplace bullying is the state of their own personal lives. Their personal lives directly influence their professional lives. The trauma in one's personal life also intersects with the trauma from workplace bullying. What is happening to them individually outside of work can also increase or decrease a target’s resilience. For example, if a target is going through a divorce or has lost a loved one, this additional stress can enhance the primary and resultant trauma because the coping strategies of the target may be suppressed or weakened.

Workplace bullying is devastating for targets. The complex and intersecting nature of primary and resultant trauma only make the overall experience of workplace aggression more difficult. However, by better understanding the primary and resultant trauma, targets are better able to manage the effects of workplace bullying.