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Empower yourself: Beat workplace bullying

Apr 3, 2022 | Blog, Flavor Of The Month, Newsletter, The Juice

Empower yourself: Beat workplace bullying

There’s no two ways about it: being bullied isn’t just tough in the moment, it continues to take a toll in other areas of your life.

Bullying leaves a trail of destruction in its wake. It shatters your self-esteem and increases your risk of anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and self-harm. It can even result in physical health problems like high blood pressure, stomach pain and poor appetite. At work, it can lead to poor performance, absenteeism and reduced productivity.

When someone repeatedly and deliberately aims to cause you physical or emotional pain, it casts a cloud over your life. While bullying can be physical, workplace bullying does tend to be more subtly psychological. So in reacting you may even feel like you’re being too sensitive. It could take the form of malicious gossip against you, making sexual comments, humiliating you in front of others, or even deliberately setting you up for failure in work projects.

How can you break free from the burden of workplace bullying?

Speak up

Bullying will not go away if you ignore it, and the longer you wait, it’s likely to get worse. Try to nip it in the bud before it starts by speaking up calmly and assertively. If it’s been going on for some time, or dealing with the bully directly isn’t possible, you may need to inform your employer’s human resources department or follow a formal grievance process. The CCMA advises that you document any incidents of alleged bullying when they happen; note if any witnesses are present and keep this as evidence. This will be vital to prove the allegations. It’s also important to unburden yourself to someone supportive outside the organisation, whether it’s a friend, family member, religious counsellor or licensed therapist.

Remember, it’s not your fault

It’s natural to blame yourself for being targeted and to internalise the cruelty, but a bully’s behaviour says much more about them than it does about you. By beating yourself up about it, you essentially become your own inner bully. Remember that people hurt others for many reasons, including mental illness, past abuse, poor social skills, resentment and narcissistic personality disorders. This doesn’t excuse their behaviour but understanding that it’s not your fault will help to reduce their power over you.

Strengthen your sense of control

Bullying can make you feel like you’re at the mercy of another person. When you feel in charge of your life, you’re better placed to cope with stress and escape bullying. A study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Promotion concluded that by increasing our awareness of our resources (both personal strengths and external factors, like support networks) and learning how to utilise them, we can transform stress into coping. It may be helpful to see a counsellor to help you realise your worth and learn how to make the best of it.

Take self-compassion seriously

Self-compassion – mindfully treating yourself with care and kindness – builds resilience and helps you weather storms in your life. Think about how you would support a loved one or friend in a similar situation and extend the same kindness to yourself.

Find support

Contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) for advice on how to access mental health support if you, or a loved one, are struggling with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, anxiety and other symptoms of depression. You could also contact the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) if you have exhausted your organisation’s formal complaints process.

Remember, standing up for yourself is not a selfish act – by your courage in  confronting bullying you may be standing up for someone else even more vulnerable than you.


  • Ditch the Label
  • Malcolm Lyons and Brivik Attorneys Inc.
  • PositivePsychology.com
  • TEDx Talks
  • World Health Organization

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