More on Bullying in the Caring Fields

Blogger Leonard Nolt and his recent comment about his experience being bullied in the caring fields has prompted me to check out a Matrix Psychology blog piece by Dr. Liz, of the U.K., who has experience treating people who have been bullied at work.

Because Dr. Liz is dealing with experience instead of theory, she gets it right. Some of her astounding insights are dead on. For example, she explains the bully operates by befriending the target, collecting information that will be later used to hurt and destroy the target. And she notes that a workplace bully -- though inadequately prepared for their job -- nevertheless is inappropriately trying to control or reform the target in some way. The target is typically better at their job, and this arouses jealousy on the part of the bully.

Dr. Liz explains that the bully requires personal information about the target. The personal information has to be sensitive and relevant. The doctor says in order to obtain this info, the bully starts out by being nice to the target, and by acting like she has the target's best interest at heart.

"[the bully] knows how to get under a person's skin, he or she notices every little detail about the person to whom he or she directs their attention."

Yes, that's exactly what happened to me. At first it feels a little flattering. Then it becomes inappropriate, or can feel violating. I found myself denying the bully any access to information about me.

In particular she makes this chillingly accurate statement:

"[Bullies] find out what the [target] cares about and turn it against them - whether it is financial anxieties, family, caring for the cause or company for which they both work, a disability or just the standard of work."

Yes, this is a very good description of the process of emotional cruelty and psychological violence, as perpetrated by a bully, and as practiced in a work or volunteer environment.

Another great insight Dr. Liz has about work bullying is that the bully is inadequate at doing the job they're doing. The target is good at what they do, and this incites jealousy by the bullying boss. Here's how she puts it.

"Typically, Bullies have been promoted to jobs of which they are not capable. Nowhere is Parkinson's Law 'People get promoted to the level of their incompetence' truer. When a Bullier sees someone bright who has like them, risen through the ranks but who is brighter and more capable a Bully feels threatened. He or she panics especially when he or she has to manage the Bullee. The Bully is like a parent whose child is brighter than them. It takes a broad minded person to successfully manage a bright child or an employee who is smarter than he or she is."

This is a huge difference between bully bosses and other bosses. Generally, I prefer to work with managers and crew mates who are smarter than me, because I can learn from them, and because I know I will grow. If they're better at handling people, or technology, or creativity, or if they just have more intellectual sail power, that's great. Then I'll have more to share with the world. Then the world becomes a better place. If everyone were like this, we'd have a planet encircled with love. This is unselfish, and it's coming from a place of virtue. More importantly, many of us can actually put this value into practice by living it.

So when I'm in charge of someone super talented, I hope they will surpass me one day. I love to see them grow and develop. I take an interest in them. I mistakenly thought everyone wanted to see potential unfold. But I was just projecting goodness on to the world.

It's sad, but I see many people act like they're threatened or jealous when someone new and talented joins a staff. If a not-so-capable boss is placed in charge of someone more capable, and if the incapable boss is not emotionally mature, the situation can deteriorate into jealousy and bullying.

Next Dr. Liz speaks to the bully's motive. She understand the bully is trying to control the target's behavior. The bully has a narrow, warped notion of the ideal employee or of the human ideal, and the target doesn't fit that. Some targets may even suggest a counter-ideal, such as the values of the organization or other ethics. Here's what Dr. Liz says about the viewpoint and motive of the bully:

"The Bully is trying to do their best for the Bullee, but the Bullee does not want to improve, understand or change. This makes the Bullee a bad person."

It's good to explore what's behind this effort to control or silence the target, since it's such a core of bullying. The bully attempts to control the target in a psychological realm or in an emotional area that is private, and is an inappropriate venue for a bully's attention. The bully demands jurisdiction over areas that are inappropriate, such as friendships, alliances, mental health, professional growth, psycho-spiritual growth, etc. This inappropriate jurisdiction-raiding is done by bullying attacks on boundaries. These attacks can involve manipulations of mental health slogans, or corporate slogans, or spiritual slogans. They also take the form of punitive emotional aggression, psychological violence or simple old-fashioned cruelty.

To understand this control better, one might want to imagine the types of things a cult leader might do or say. In particular, consider the areas of control and the methods of control that would be associated with political cults, gurus or ideologies.

This gives insight into why bullying is prevalent in the caring fields. Gurus, sages and saviors can find employment there, and almost nowhere else. And in the caring fields, a guru-savior-bully has access to a steady supply of the latest one-liners, putdowns and turn-arounds to deal with clients, patients, congregants, students, etc. In the caring fields, this will be described as professional techniques. A bully will mis-use the professional skills they learn in their quest to re-shape others in their own warped image.

Let's quickly compare the aims of the caring fields with those of other professions. A farmer just wants to grow crops, whereas a guru-teacher-healer-preacher is planting the seeds of personhood. An engineer just wants a safe, efficient, useful, inexpensive process, but a guru-teacher-healer-preacher wants to shape the human process. In the caring fields, a practitioner will spend a lifetime perfecting tactics and learning to use tools for shaping human processes and planting the seeds of growth. It takes a lot of maturity to deliberately limit one's own power, and to refrain from using manipulation skills for wrongful, selfish purposes.

Make sure you check out Dr. Liz and her Matrix Psychology blog.