By the time I realised I was being bullied both my mental and physical health had been negatively affected. We were going through a turbulent organisational restructure that became the backdrop of an extended period of bullying by a senior colleague.
I had problems sleeping and eating. I had lost weight, dreaded going to work, had trouble concentrating, focusing on and completing tasks and I was often anxious and tearful. At work I had lost my confidence, my enthusiasm and my voice to speak at all, let alone to tell my close colleagues what was happening to me.
I avoided certain meetings and felt powerless to address (let alone change) that I was being bullied by someone in a senior executive role — someone in a position of power and influence in the organisation where I worked.
I didn’t just avoid telling anybody else about the bullying. I struggled to admit it to myself. In hindsight I think I denied the reality of it because I felt ashamed that it was happening. I blamed myself rather than my bully. Also it was difficult to admit to because I convinced myself that I was being singled out because I wasn’t good enough at my job.
Me, of all people. I’d rarely lacked confidence before. I’d seen myself as a professional leader who was hard-working, fair, firm but generous. I had a strong work-ethic. I was often in the office before others and frequently last to leave. I had the respect of my program colleagues and my immediate team. I’d always been articulate and sure of myself at work.
I became someone who felt alone, isolated, unsure of my abilities and incredibly unsafe in the work environment. My sense of esteem and efficacy plummeted. The bullying introduced a pervasive sense of self-doubt across all of my work activity.
I was subjected to humiliation in meetings, given unreasonable and unrealistic performance targets. In individual line management meetings, I was intimidated and cross examined about matters outside my role — matters that I had no responsibility for or knowledge of. I was made to feel incompetent and useless for not having the answers. Frequently, I left the line-management meetings in tears.
There were few people to trust and even fewer to reach out to. I did, however, have enough psychological strength and the knowledge to seek out a meeting with Human Resources —though I believed that this was a risky thing to do. Not for a minute did I trust that the conversation I had with the Human Resources staff would remain confidential. I was careful not to disclose too much for fear of recriminations and the likelihood that the colleague who was bullying me would find out.
I requested the support of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to manage the stress of the organisational restructure, rather than say out loud what was happening to me.
Thankfully, the EAP and my own external clinical supervision saved my mental health. Not my job — I left some months later —but my mental and physical health and wellbeing.