Bullying isn’t always obvious in any circumstance or age.

Many of us think we know bullying when we see it but in adult situations it can fly below our perceptual radar.

I noticed a search” tired of being bullied at work” and recalled an article I read recently in the Milwaukee Journal on  May 19, 2009 a column by  Philip Chard. Mr. Chard has a website “I am a nature therapist (a psychotherapist who uses nature interaction to foster emotional healing), a newspaper columnist, book author, nature photographer, nationally acclaimed speaker and trainer, accomplished wilderness backpacker and Great Lakes sailor.” I will link this on the sidebar.

Mental maladies have many causes, but whenever I’m assessing someone who complains of depression, anxiety, self-destructive tendencies or out-of-control anger, I always include this question:

“Have you ever been bullied?”

This inquiry may conjure images of some ruffian or gang of miscreants pounding on a smaller kid, but bullies come in many guises and operate in a variety of venues, including the workplace and, increasingly, on the Internet.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the majority of bullying is not physical. Rather, most of it involves slander, mockery, taunting, exclusion and other forms of verbal and interpersonal abuse. While most who bully physically are male, the mental variety is distributed fairly evenly between both genders.

Research has documented the wide ranging and grave psychological damage wreaked on the victims of bullying, particularly those who are chronically picked on while young. And these wounds do not easily heal, even with time. Teens and adults who were bullied as children are at a far greater risk for developing depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal impulses and even psychotic symptoms.

Many of us think we know bullying when we see it, but in adult situations it can fly below our perceptual radar. In the workplace, it is usually termed “harassment” or “hostile environment,” and its perpetrators often demonstrate sophistication and stealth in how they single out and torment others.

This can involve behaviors such as the silent treatment, ambiguously sarcastic remarks, innuendo, glaring and subtle insults packaged as humor. These so-called passive-aggressive tactics afford their user some degree of protection, meaning if the bully gets “called out,” he or she can deny sinister intent (“I was just joking” or “You misunderstood me”).

Not surprisingly, there is evidence that workplace bullying is on the rise, in part because of the increased stress of job insecurity and “doing less with more,” which can catalyze competition, conflict and jockeying for power and recognition. So even adults who were never bullied as children may find themselves in the same interpersonal fix as that proverbial kid on the playground beset by the local goon squad.

The considerable power of bullying to wound the human spirit stems from our desire to belong and be affirmed by others, which forms the foundation of self-esteem. While children are more needy and vulnerable in this regard than many adults, these needs are basic to the vast majority of humans of all ages. After all, we are social animals.

Some of us are more sensitive in this regard than others, but most individuals craft their self-image from the feedback they receive from their social group. Repeated negative input, combined with the learned helplessness that often accompanies being victimized, can create a lasting imprint that is difficult to erase.

But make no mistake, even if fists don’t fly, bullying is an act of violence.

Its wounds, while less visible than those from physical assault, are just as severe and often harder to heal.

Philip Chard is a psychotherapist, author and trainer. Names used in this column are changed to honor client confidentiality. E-mail him at pschard@earthlink.net or visit www.philipchard.com.

I hope this helps….some.

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