What's this blog really about?

You may notice a variety of topics here - from business, to charity promotion, even to local news, but the primary reason this blog was created was to alert readers to the hostile atmosphere and sexual harassment at The Danville Register & Bee. The readers and creator of this blog want a FULL FRONT PAGE apology in the Danville Register & Bee, plus the disciplining of those individuals involved. Until then, we'll continue to post regular updates. To tolerate THIS kind of behavior by a major media network is intolerable. And this isn't just ONE instance. Media General has been sued nationwide for racism and sexism, yet they CONTINUE to keep the offenders employed. Why? And why am I doing this? TRUTH compels me.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bullies at work and the trauma they cause

One of the issues I raised months ago with human resources was the bullying that goes on at The Danville Register & Bee. I even wrote and asked Virgil Goode about where he stood/voted on recent bullying legislation. (He wrote back that he voted for the recent anti-bullying legislation bill in Virginia - but there was no mention of any adult bullying legislation. That's what I've been asked to testify about next term).

Anyway, Ann Austin and Bonne Mahler of human resources claim they "investigated," my allegations, but the people I talked to said no one ever asked them about the things I reported. I was explaining this the other day to someone and they said, "Well, what is bullying?" I sent the corporate human resources people this information and more, taken from the website www.bullyonline.org. That site has since gone offline, but has been temporarily replaced by a site called www.bullyoffline.org. Just in case the information there goes offline again I've copied it here with the proper attributions they request. Most people don't realize they are being bullied until they read this. I didn't. My counselor recognized the symptoms and attributes the PTSD I was diagnosed with as caused in large part to the bullying. The Danville Register & Bee is filled with bullies:

Bullying is the common denominator of harassment, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, persecution, conflict and violence. When the bullying has a focus (eg race or gender) it is expressed as racial prejudice or harassment, or sexual discrimination and harassment, and so on. Although bullying often lacks a focus, bullies are deeply prejudiced but at the same time sufficiently devious to not reveal their prejudices to the extent that they contravene laws on harassment and discrimination.

Why me?

There are many reasons how and why bullies target others, and the reasons are consistent between cases. There are many myths and stereotypes such as "victims are weak" which I deconstruct on my myths page. Bullying often repeats because the reasons that bullies target their victims don't change, hence this section also answers the questions "Why do I keep getting bullied" and "Why do bullies continue to bully me?".

1) How do bullies select their targets?

The bully selects their target using the following criteria:

* bullies are predatory and opportunistic - you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; this is always the main reason - investigation will reveal a string of predecessors, and you will have a string of successors
* being good at your job, often excelling
* being popular with people (colleagues, customers, clients, pupils, parents, patients, etc)
* more than anything else, the bully fears exposure of his/her inadequacy and incompetence; your presence, popularity and competence unknowingly and unwittingly fuel that fear
* being the expert and the person to whom others come for advice, either personal or professional (ie you get more attention than the bully)
* having a well-defined set of values which you are unwilling to compromise
* having a strong sense of integrity (bullies despise integrity, for they have none, and seem compelled to destroy anyone who has integrity)
* having at least one vulnerability that can be exploited
* being too old or too expensive (usually both)
* refusing to join an established clique
* showing independence of thought or deed
* refusing to become a corporate clone and drone

Jealousy (of relationships and perceived exclusion therefrom) and envy (of talents, abilities, circumstances or possessions) are strong motivators of bullying.

2) Events that trigger bullying

Bullying starts after one of these events:

* the previous target leaves
* there's a reorganisation
* a new manager is appointed
* your performance unwittingly highlights, draws attention to, exposes or invites unfavourable comparison with the bully's lack of performance (the harder you work to address the bully's claims of underperformance, the more insecure and unstable the bully becomes)
* you may have unwittingly become the focus of attention whereas before the bully was the centre of attention (this often occurs with female bullies) - most bullies are emotionally immature and thus crave attention
* obvious displays of affection, respect or trust from co-workers
* refusing to obey an order which violates rules, regulations, procedures, or is illegal
* standing up for a colleague who is being bullied - this ensures you will be next; sometimes the bully drops their current target and turns their attention to you immediately
* blowing the whistle on incompetence, malpractice, fraud, illegality, breaches of procedure, breaches of health & safety regulations etc
* undertaking trade union duties
* suffering illness or injury, whether work related or not
* challenging the status quo, especially unwittingly
* gaining recognition for your achievements, eg winning an award or being publicly recognised
* gaining promotion

3) Personal qualities that bullies find irresistible

Targets of bullying usually have these qualities:

* popularity (this stimulates jealousy in the less-than-popular bully)
* competence (this stimulates envy in the less-than-competent bully)
* intelligence and intellect
* honesty and integrity (which bullies despise)
* you're trustworthy, trusting, conscientious, loyal and dependable
* a well-developed integrity which you're unwilling to compromise
* you're always willing to go that extra mile and expect others to do the same
* successful, tenacious, determined, courageous, having fortitude
* a sense of humour, including displays of quick-wittedness
* imaginative, creative, innovative
* idealistic, optimistic, always working for improvement and betterment of self, family, the employer, and the world
* ability to master new skills
* ability to think long term and to see the bigger picture
* sensitivity (this is a constellation of values to be cherished including empathy, concern for others, respect, tolerance etc)

* slow to anger
* helpful, always willing to share knowledge and experience
* giving and selfless
* difficulty saying no
* diligent, industrious
* tolerant
* strong sense of honour
* irrepressible, wanting to tackle and correct injustice wherever you see it
* an inability to value oneself whilst attributing greater importance and validity to other people's opinions of oneself (eg through tests, exams, appraisals, manager's feedback, etc)
* low propensity to violence (ie you prefer to resolve conflict through dialogue rather than through violence or legal action)
* a strong forgiving streak (which the bully exploits and manipulates to dissuade you from taking grievance and legal action)
* a desire to always think well of others
* being incorruptible, having high moral standards which you are unwilling to compromise
* being unwilling to lower standards
* a strong well-defined set of values which you are unwilling to compromise or abandon
* high expectations of those in authority and a dislike of incompetent people in positions of power who abuse power

* a tendency to self-deprecation, indecisiveness, deference and approval seeking
* low assertiveness
* a need to feel valued
* quick to apologise when accused, even if not guilty (this is a useful technique for defusing an aggressive customer or potential road rage incident)
* perfectionism
* higher-than-average levels of dependency, naivety and guilt
* a strong sense of fair play and a desire to always be reasonable
* high coping skills under stress, especially when the injury to health becomes apparent
* a tendency to internalise anger rather than express it

The typical sequence of events is:

* the target is selected using the criteria above, then bullied for months, perhaps years
* eventually, the target asserts their right not to be bullied, perhaps by filing a complaint with personnel
* personnel interview the bully, who uses their Jekyll and Hyde nature, compulsive lying, and charm to tell the opposite story (charm has a motive - deception)
* it's one word against another with no witnesses and no evidence, so personnel take the word of the senior employee - serial bullies excel at deception and evasion of accountability
* the personnel department are hoodwinked by the bully into getting rid of the target - serial bullies are adept at encouraging conflict between people who might otherwise pool negative information about them
* once the target is gone, there's a period of between 2-14 days, then a new target is selected and the process starts again (bullying is an obsessive compulsive behaviour and serial bullies seem unable to survive without a target on to whom they can project their inadequacy and incompetence whilst blaming them for the bully's own failings)
* even if the employer realises that they might have sided with the wrong person in the past, they are unlikely to admit that because to do so may incur liability
* if legal action is taken, employers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep targets quiet, usually by offering a small out-of-court settlement with a comprehensive gagging clause
* employers are often more frightened of the bully than the target and will go to enormous lengths to avoid having to deal with bully (promotion for the bully is the most common outcome)

Where are people bullied?

* at work by their manager or co-workers or subordinates, or by their clients (bullying, workplace bullying, mobbing, work abuse, harassment, discrimination)
* at home by their partner or parents or siblings or children (bullying, assault, domestic violence, abuse, verbal abuse)
* at school (bullying, harassment, assault)
* in the care of others, such as in hospital, convalescent homes, care homes, residential homes (bullying, harassment, assault)
* in the armed forces (bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault)
* by those in authority (harassment, abuse of power)
* by neighbours and landlords (bullying, harassment)
* by strangers (harassment, stalking, assault, sexual assault, rape, grievous bodily harm, murder)

How do you know if you're being bullied? Bullying differs from harassment and assault in that the latter can result from a single incident or small number of incidents - which everybody recognises as harassment or assault - whereas bullying tends to be an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Each incident tends to be trivial, and on its own and out of context does not constitute an offence or grounds for disciplinary or grievance action. So, ...

What is bullying?

* constant nit-picking, fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature - the triviality, regularity and frequency betray bullying; often there is a grain of truth (but only a grain) in the criticism to fool you into believing the criticism has validity, which it does not; often, the criticism is based on distortion, misrepresentation or fabrication
* simultaneous with the criticism, a constant refusal to acknowledge you and your contributions and achievements or to recognise your existence and value
* constant attempts to undermine you and your position, status, worth, value and potential
* where you are in a group (eg at work), being singled out and treated differently; for instance, everyone else can get away with murder but the moment you put a foot wrong - however trivial - action is taken against you
* being isolated and separated from colleagues, excluded from what's going on, marginalized, overruled, ignored, sidelined, frozen out, sent to Coventry
* being belittled, demeaned and patronised, especially in front of others
* being humiliated, shouted at and threatened, often in front of others
* being overloaded with work, or having all your work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks (filing, photocopying, minute taking) or with no work at all
* finding that your work - and the credit for it - is stolen and plagiarised
* having your responsibility increased but your authority taken away
* having annual leave, sickness leave, and - especially - compassionate leave refused
* being denied training necessary for you to fulfil your duties
* having unrealistic goals set, which change as you approach them
* ditto deadlines which are changed at short notice - or no notice - and without you being informed until it's too late
* finding that everything you say and do is twisted, distorted and misrepresented
* being subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation
* being coerced into leaving through no fault of your own, constructive dismissal, early or ill-health retirement, etc

How do I recognise a bully?

Most bullying is traceable to one person, male or female - bullying is not a gender issue. Bullies are often clever people (especially female bullies) but you can be clever too.

Who does this describe in your life?

* Jekyll & Hyde nature - vicious and vindictive in private, but innocent and charming in front of witnesses; no-one can (or wants to) believe this individual has a vindictive nature - only the current target sees both sides
* is a convincing, compulsive liar and when called to account, will make up anything spontaneously to fit their needs at that moment
* uses lots of charm and is always plausible and convincing when peers, superiors or others are present; the motive of the charm is deception and its purpose is to compensate for lack of empathy
* relies on mimicry to convince others that they are a "normal" human being but their words, writing and deeds are hollow, superficial and glib
* displays a great deal of certitude and self-assuredness to mask their insecurity
* excels at deception
* exhibits unusual inappropriate attitudes to sexual matters or sexual behaviour; underneath the charming exterior there are often suspicions or intimations of sexual harassment, sex discrimination or sexual abuse (sometimes racial prejudice as well)
* exhibits much controlling behaviour and is a control freak
* displays a compulsive need to criticise whilst simultaneously refusing to acknowledge, value and praise others
* when called upon to share or address the needs and concerns of others, responds with impatience, irritability and aggression
* often has an overwhelming, unhealthy and narcissistic need to portray themselves as a wonderful, kind, caring and compassionate person, in contrast to their behaviour and treatment of others; the bully is oblivious to the discrepancy between how they like to be seen (and believe they are seen), and how they are actually seen
* has an overbearing belief in their qualities of leadership but cannot distinguish between leadership (maturity, decisiveness, assertiveness, trust and integrity) and bullying (immaturity, impulsiveness, aggression, distrust and deceitfulness)
* when called to account, immediately and aggressively denies everything, then counter-attacks with distorted or fabricated criticisms and allegations; if this is insufficient, quickly feigns victimhood, often by bursting into tears (the purpose is to avoid answering the question and thus evade accountability by manipulating others through the use of guilt)
* is also ... aggressive, devious, manipulative, spiteful, vengeful, doesn't listen, can't sustain mature adult conversation, lacks a conscience, shows no remorse, is drawn to power, emotionally cold and flat, humourless, joyless, ungrateful, dysfunctional, disruptive, divisive, rigid and inflexible, selfish, insincere, insecure, immature and deeply inadequate, especially in interpersonal skills

I (www.bullyoffline.org - not Becky) estimate one person in thirty has this behaviour profile. I describe them as having a disordered personality: an aggressive but intelligent individual who expresses their violence psychologically (constant criticism etc) rather than physically (assault). For the full profile, click here; to see and be able to recognise the four most common types of serial bully, click here.

What does bullying do to my health?

Bullying causes injury to health and makes you ill. How many of these symptoms do you have?

* constant high levels of stress and anxiety
* frequent illness such as viral infections especially flu and glandular fever, colds, coughs, chest, ear, nose and throat infections (stress plays havoc with your immune system)
* aches and pains in the joints and muscles with no obvious cause; also back pain with no obvious cause and which won't go away or respond to treatment
* headaches and migraines
* tiredness, exhaustion, constant fatigue
* sleeplessness, nightmares, waking early, waking up more tired than when you went to bed
* flashbacks and replays, obsessiveness, can't get the bullying out of your mind
* irritable bowel syndrome
* skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, athlete's foot, ulcers, shingles, urticaria
* poor concentration, can't concentrate on anything for long
* bad or intermittently-functioning memory, forgetfulness, especially with trivial day-to-day things
* sweating, trembling, shaking, palpitations, panic attacks
* tearfulness, bursting into tears regularly and over trivial things
* uncharacteristic irritability and angry outbursts
* hypervigilance (feels like but is not paranoia), being constantly on edge
* hypersensitivity, fragility, isolation, withdrawal
* reactive depression, a feeling of woebegoneness, lethargy, hopelessness, anger, futility and more
* shattered self-confidence, low self-worth, low self-esteem, loss of self-love, etc

For the full set of symptoms of injury to health caused by prolonged negative stress (such as that caused by bullying, harassment, abuse etc) click here. For details of the trauma that results, click here.

* * *

Near the end of April, right after the Cunningham fatality, I took sick leave because I could not function. I had already been diagnosed with PTSD because of the bullying, but being forced to go out to take photos (that the paper would never use) of what Bernard Baker hoped was the body of a young girl (he kept saying, "I heard it's a young girl, get pictures,") and angry that I needed to get both gas money and gas to get out there (Register & Bee re-imburses gas expenses, so when your gas expenses run $240 a month or more depending on how many fires and accidents there are, it is possible to run out of both money and gas two days before payday when you have to make unexpected runs). It was too much.

In the months prior to that I had taken photos of a woman who poured kerosene on herself and set herself on fire...and photos of an elderly couple who had just celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary then both died in a house fire. I sat in the mud with their adult grandson and held him and we cried and prayed while we sat 30 yards from his grandparents who were covered with sheets. So many fires, so many bodies. Then to have to go back to the newspaper and be bullied, picked at was too much. I could not continue to work.

My brain simply quit functioning. I couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus, couldn't write. The bullying and retaliation continued. I had been home only two days when I was told to return all the camera equipment. None of the male photographers had ever had to return camera equipment - not when on leave. I was/am the only one at the paper who knows how to use the newspapers cameras. At that point I wasn't even sure I would be out more than a week. They kept on and kept on. I filed for disability and the insurance company (Sedgewick) denied it - based they said, on my doctor's report. The problem was - my doctor had not yet submitted anything other than a note addressed to The Danville Register & Bee's HR department excusing me from work. Fraud?? How can you claim to have looked at non-existent reports and deny a claim based on that? Well - the Register & Bee again - hard at work. And so it goes...they (R&B) continues to lose paperwork my doctor has faxed and when a piece of information is critical they sent it to the wrong address and then waited until the deadline had passed to ask about it. Things that could have been emailed weren't. It was all calculated to force me to quit.

If Human Resources had spent half that energy investigating and acting on my complaint about the bullying or the video tapes of women Mac was taking - none of this would have happened. Bullies. Plain and simple.

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