Being bullied: not just the playground

I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this submission by Peridot.  I know that many women (and men) are placed under inordinate pressure in the workplace, and that they are often singled out by one person for meaningless cruelty; I now some of our readers have has similar experiences, and how  it systematically grinds you down.  But Peridot writes about more than this.  This piece deals with the issues of self esteem, of not wanting to change despite being who you are exacerbating the cruelty, of courage, of power imbalance.  Of how this happens to the wrong people.  

This is brave, wise, and will make you think.  Over to you, Peridot.  And thank you:    

Everyone knows that children can be cruel.  And it seems to be universally accepted that girls in particular can be very nasty indeed.  But when you join the adult world, there are certain worries you put behind you, right?

But here I am at the age of 41 being bullied at work.  This is the 3rd incident in my life – the first was at school and the last about 10 years ago.  And I can’t help but ask myself in the midst of my misery, is this somehow my fault?

At school I was a bit anxious, a bit geeky and never quite fitted in amongst all the oh-so-cool girls at my all female school.  Some of the coolest decided to pick on me – it culminated in one of them pushing me out of a moving train (coming to a stop – not that dramatic) whilst I was on crutches with a ligament tear.  I moved to an almost all boys
school for the 6th form, reinvented myself and flourished – boys can be crushing but they don’t gang up on you for some unimaginable way that you don’t meet their criteria of acceptableness (yeah, I totally made that word up) and if you’re a girl in a largely male environment, they’re pretty nice to you!

Approximately 10 years ago however I took a job in an almost all-male, erm ‘unreconstructed’ team who really didn’t want some posh bird with a degree in their midst when they were discussing the new page 3.  Or worse.  I’d thought, yay, boys – I can totally fit in here.  I didn’t and I couldn’t.  I left but it all got pretty unpleasant and all I
remember about those dark days was crying and sleeping.  And carrot soup, bizarrely, which I can no longer stomach.

And here I am, surely FAR too old to be feeling like this, in the same situation.  I work in a blame culture where bullying isn’t only tolerated, it seems to be encouraged; it’s pretty toxic at the best of times and this is the worst of times.  My deputy head of dept thrives on conflict and drama – she actually can’t sit still for glee when she has to slap someone down, she jumps up and down, wriggles and giggles; it makes me a bit nauseous.  She also has a long history of forcing people she doesn’t like out.  There are four that I know about in the last five years – it’s never been dealt with despite some official complaints so I imagine she feels invincible.  She has two men reporting to her who try to ingratiate themselves – and I suspect bolster their own status in her eyes – by slavishly copying her.  And she gees up her boss too.  When she was on maternity leave, all was sweetness and calm but she’s back and worse than ever.

Last time she did this to me I was working directly to her (she has, of course, been promoted since then).  I tried, in essence, to make myself small, to say often how I didn’t want promotion since I thought she might feel threatened in some needless way; it didn’t work.  I don’t know why it’s got so bad now, but for a girl who hates crying, I’ve been doing a lot.  Deadlines are suddenly moved from 3 weeks to 3 days; I’m not briefed on what is wanted and told I’m doing the wrong thing; I’m publicly humiliated in meetings and given impossible tasks to do (Phrygian stables?  Pah, that’s nothing).  A colleague I don’t directly work with messaged me to ask what was going on ‘because it feels like you’re being punished for something’.  Amazing what people notice.

And I can’t help but feel ashamed that this happening to me.  It feels like a weakness in me.  I feel… diminished, smaller, sadder, more apologetic about being me.

I am, regrettably, a people pleaser.  It’s not something I like about myself.  When I read the Philip Pullman ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy I reluctantly realised that my daemon (an outward expression of my inner self in animal form for the uninitiated.  Who should totally read these books) was probably a Labrador.  Sure, I’d rather it was a cool and elegant big cat but deep down, I have to accept that I’m a Labrador.  I think this must mean that I am ripe for bullying but it also means I am loyal and loving.  I don’t know how to be different and I’m not even sure I want to be.  I just want it all to stop.

Categories: Life Experience, Money and Career
30 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Sandra C
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Practicalities first, are you recording these instances should you need the information for grievance proceedings? It’s extremely useful should you need it. Have you considered a greivance?
    You don’t need to be different, she does. Like you say, why can’t she see that if she treated you nicely, you’d be loyal and hard-working? She’s a bully and they don’t like being stood up to. Do you feel able to throw a wobbly at her? I know it worked for me recently. Whilst I was more being victimised than bullied, it’s stopped her in her tracks. Do you have any support from ‘higher up’? You can gain a lot of strength from an important ally.

    There’s nothing wrong in being a labrador. There’s nothing wrong with whatever you happen to be. It’s so wrong to treat anyone like that. I’m fuming on your behalf, as I know exactly how you’re feeling. And I’m a terrier. I’ll be nice as long as the other person is being nice. Piss me off and I’ll have your bollocks in a sandwich pronto. And I’ll smile whilst I’m doing it.

    Thinking of you today. Don’t let the bitch grind you down. She’s not fit to breathe your air. Think terrier and bollocks. xx

    • Peridot
      Posted August 29, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Oh that really made me laugh – “piss me off and I’ll have your bollocks in a sandwich pronto”, Love. It.

      • Lara Blue
        Posted August 29, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        Ha ha, me too :)

  2. pickle
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    So sorry to hear you’re having such a rough time Peridot, women can be SO horrible to other women in the workplace.

    I ended up leaving a job last year because I was being bullied by my (female) boss; it took me a while to even realise that was what was going on but she was massively insecure and couldn’t cope with the fact I was really good at my job and was getting recognition from other people for my abilities. I tried to complain about her behaviour but it was a small organisation and the big boss had a complete blind-spot where this woman was concerned (he was pretty ‘special’ himself). In the end 3 out of 4 of her team left within a month as we couldn’t work with this woman, we all told it like it was in exit interviews and from what I hear nothing at all has changed because the senior management are too spineless to make any changes.

    I learned a whole lot from that episode; I learned how not to manage people, I learned that respecting the people I’m working for is massively important to me and I learned that I need to value myself as more than my job title. But… if I’m honest my career (and certainly my bank balance) has suffered from leaving that job and some days I do wish I’d had the self-confidence to stick it out and try harder to address the problems rather than quitting as I did.

    Good luck finding a way through that works for you.

  3. Vivienne
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Labradors are also great guides and protectors – and you need to protect yourself. That means logging incidents and conversations, and discussing your concerns – two heads in this situation are definately better than one.

    It makes me feel a little sad and sick that adults still do this to each other – and the pain felt is the same, if not worse, than that felt if you were bullied at school


  4. Katielase
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I am so, so sorry this is happening to you. I want nothing more than to give you a huge huge hug and slap the horrid cow who’s making you feel like this into next week. Or further. This happened to my mum a few years ago, and watching the shift in her confidence made me so unspeakably angry. It is not okay.

    First, are you a member of a union? What she’s doing to you sounds like bullying, victimisation and harassment and is categorically not allowed. Log every incident that occurs, and try and get some device maybe? I’m not the person to advise you, but I do know someone who might so email me ( if you’d like me to forward details.

    Second, know this, there is nothing wrong with being a people pleaser, with being YOU, it does not give anyone the right to put you down or take advantage, it just makes you a lovely, caring, empathetic person. I’d be a Labrador too (or a Border collie, apparently), and that doesn’t make us bad people. This woman is obviously insecure and deeply unhappy, to need to put others down to feel okay about herself. She’s probably targetting you because she feels that you’re a threat to her (whether that’s in her imagination is beside the point, sadly). So I know it doesn’t help, when she’s hurt you and when you’re being squashed down, but try and remember that she will never be happy. You can be happy, you can leave or get out, one day you can smile and laugh and be joyful again, and she does not have that option. She is miserable too. It doesn’t give her the right to make you miserable though, and you need to remember that all this shit comes from HER issues, not yours. This is not you, not your fault, she has no right to impose her issues on you with such viciousness. Try and remember that, it is all her, you’re so lovely, you don’t deserve this.

    The offer to help you get advice stands, also feel free to email me just to rant or be sad, but also just read these comments today and hold onto the fact that people who have never met you think you’re goddamn ACE. That is truer than what tht horrible woman makes you feel.

    K xx

    • Katielase
      Posted August 29, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      *get some ADVICE, not DEVICE. Ugh, autocorrect!!

      • Carly
        Posted August 29, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        I thought you meant some kind of listening device and could put Peridot in touch with a spy who could help her.


        • Katielase
          Posted August 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          I wish I knew a spy. Sadly, I just know expert HR advisors.

          K x

  5. Posted August 29, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Not only does this make me feel a little bit sick, I also want to come and punch your boss in the back of the head. I am 23, and have been bullied in every education institution/work place I have ever been in. Only now in my office do I feel comfortable in my surroundings, and yes – I have lots of male friends instead of girls. They just accept everything a whole lot more.

    Having worked in employment law for a fair stint, I can definitely say SHE CANNOT DO THIS. Record everything. Ask your colleagues to take note if they think of something is out of order. I would march right up to HR and tell them how hard it is for you to work when you are treated this way.

    If you need a pep talk, or HR/employment law advice please get in touch. I cannot abide to hear people think it is ok to treat colleagues this way.

    L x

  6. Posted August 29, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Oh Peridot I’m so, so sorry to hear that you’re going through this. I hate that adults (particularly women) can do this to each other. Sometimes life can be hard enough without having to deal with this shit day in day out at work.

    As the others have said, you need to focus on the fact that these are her issues that are causing this awful situation and isn’t a reflection of you at all. Being a Labrador is NOTHING to be ashamed of – I can’t think of better qualities in a person than being loving and loyal. If you feel able to then perhaps channel some of that terrier and see if you can bring it up with her or somebody more senior than her, but if you suspect that it will either be ignored or get worse (which lets face it in this situation is perhaps only going to further knock your self confidence) then take it to an outsider – a union, your HR department etc.

    Given that somebody else has noticed, the chances are this will be taken seriously and can’t be written off as you being ‘over sensitive’ or her just ‘having a laugh’ that you can’t take. Could you maybe ask this person if in theory they would write you some kind of supportive statement should you take some course of action? It could be anonymous I’m guessing – sorry this area isn’t my expertise – or at least be kept from your boss if they’re worried about her turning on them too. But as the others have said please, please, please keep a record of all the things she does even if right now you don’t feel strong enough to get the ball rolling. Hopefully one day in the not so near future you will feel able to even if you can’t right now. And who knows just the process of writing it might make you feel empowered as you’ve got all this crap on her that she can’t defend.

    Whatever you do though please don’t blame yourself. It’s her – she’s being a total bitch for whatever reason and as Katie points our she will most likely be miserable forever. I just hope that justice is served at some point soon because you don’t deserve this.

    As ever, we’re all here for ranting, raving, cheerleading and virtual (or not so virtual!) gin drinking sessions. Lean on us – we’re pretty fricking awesome!


  7. Zan
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I don’t think I could give any better advice than has already been given, but just wanted to give you a big virtual *hug*. I know it’ll be hard, but please please get some advice on dealing with this so this awful woman doesn’t get away with how she’s treating you any longer.


  8. Posted August 29, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Being bullied at work is awful and completely saps your confidence because we’re lead to believe that bullying stops when you leave school and that work is supposed to be hard. Neither of these things are true and you should instead focus on the fact that what is going on is WRONG.

    Although it might feel pointless, I would echo what others have said and recommend you write down details of any incidents – it might give you back some of the power. If this woman is well-known, have you spoken to anyone in HR? When I was in a difficult work situation and went to HR the response I got was ‘join the queue’, i.e. I was just the latest person to make this complaint. Although they couldn’t do anything in the end, it made me realise that it wasn’t me.

    Good luck.


  9. Posted August 29, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I was bullied by my boss in my old job (for a well known childrens charity!) and it was hideous, I really feel your pain! One time she pulled me aside and had a massive go at me for my ‘negativity’ which amounted to having corrected some mistakes in a document and ‘sighing’ a lot (breathing). I left after less than a year. My advice would be to confide in a colleague (it turned out there were a couple of us enduring the same thing), and to keep a record of what happens – you might not want to do anything with it but it’s good to have it there in case you somehow end up the subject of a disciplinary from her.

    And I can’t believe some horrible girls pushed you out of a train! That’s just about the worst thing I’ve ever heard!

  10. Peridot
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Wow, after laughing at Sandra’s comment I then ended up in tears – moved by how lovely it is to find support here in the virtual world.

    Since writing this I am working very hard to escape. I’d love to think that the union or HR would do anything but they haven’t for others who have gone before me in this. She’s even been taken to a tribunal but it hasn’t altered her behaviour a jot – if anything, it’s escalated in the last year since her boss joined who is another bully. Most people are trying to leave and I hope that some frank exit interviews may effect some change but I doubt it.

    I have an interview next week – like Pickle it would leave me worse off financially, but as difficult as that will be, I don’t feel as if I have an option here for my health and sanity.

    And Amy – I reckon I know what charity you’re talking about, I’ve heard things. But really, breathing – couldn’t you just stop being so subversive?!

    Thanks everyone – you’re great. Now, couldn’t we all set up a business together?!

    • Posted August 29, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      If I knew I’d go to work in a lovely environment every day I’d quite happily be your tea (and cake girl) :) x

    • Lara Blue
      Posted August 29, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Everyone has said everything I was thinking when reading this but I’d like to send virtual hugs and anti-bully cupcakes- they’re your favourite flavour iced with sayings such as “Jealousy makes you nasty” and “It’s not you, it really is her” and “Don’t let the b*tch get you down” etc. one possibly even topped with a Boudoir biscuit “middle finger” or cute iced kittens/puppies or whatever will make you smile.

      • Posted August 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        I love the idea of these cakes!

  11. Posted August 29, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Bullying is so hard to prove at work. So hard.

    I’ve been there and it sucked. One thing I’ve learned from it though is that now it is very hard to bully me. In the previous job it prevented me getting promoted and a whole host of things as the person was in a position to block me, and my confidence stayed low for about two years despite getting a great job later where the appreciated the qualties that made me seem weak. The job I got was a promotion from the job I’d been in so it did not hurt my career in the end.

    I hope you can get out. And that it works for you. But sadly proving bullying at work is so hard and unfortunately her previous experience with being caught out will probably make her better at hiding her tracks. You seem ace though. x

  12. Posted August 29, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Peridot, thank you for being so brave and sharing this.

    I’m so sorry to hear you’re being treated like this. It’s not right. You’ve had some great advice up there and I shan’t repeat the wise words save to add that she must be pretty unhappy herself to treat people this way. I bet she wishes she had the qualities you have. I just want to gather up all of you who’ve had shitty experiences at work, give you a big hug and then give you a seat at Sarah M Inc where the boss is lovely and encourages long lunch breaks in the sunshine and the purchase of fabulous shoes. x

  13. Posted August 29, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Ah, Peridot. You lovely person. I can only really echo what everyone else has said-from sending hugs and chocolate and cakes to the more nitty gritty-
    1. Record EVERYTHING
    2. If you feel your concerns won’t be listened to ‘in house’ ie. your own HR dept is crap/scared of the skinky cow don’t be afraid to go to an independent HR advisory service.
    3. Record EVERYTHING
    4. If you feel you have it in you, try and stand up to her. I did this recently when my boss took his issues out on me and it frightened the living daylights out of him because I’m normally so quiet and happy to do whatever he needs.

    Big love to you and really truly do record absolutely everything she does, nothing wrong with a bit of ammunition…

    A x

  14. Carly
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Again, I have nothing to add to the amazing advice above. I have been there though and it was awful. I got out and the sun started to shine again.

    Sending you a huge hug and rest assured that if any of us ever run into your boss we’ll be opening up a massive can of whoop ass on her. Horrible cow.


  15. mysparethoughts
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a HR expert.

    But have a friend who is a HR manager and she has successfully taken a previous employer to a tribunal for constructive dismissal – she was forced out of her job by bullying in the workplace. Perhaps something to consider if you’ll be taking a wage cut by moving on. Although you’d be better off taking advice from someone with actual expertise rather than anecdotal opinions.

    Bullying in any situation is horrible and there is very little you can do when it is at work. Good luck with the hunt for something new.

  16. Mary
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree with the standing up to them argument but understand if it’s not in your personality to do that. My boss has been on a downward spiral recently and the whole team were called in to discuss how he had been behaving in a meeting which we were promised would “not go beyond these four Walls” the next day I was confronted by my boss and he demanded to know why I had conspired against him to ruin his life. As one if the most junior members of the team at 24, I hadn’t said much but it was so shocking that my boss who was almost 50 could think that. I got so upset….. And then I got angry and just thought I will not be put in this position. I emailed my boss’ immediate boss and told him that until I received an apology I would not be returning to work. It was a risky move but I received a phone call pretty soon after. My boss however just got a quiet word in his ear which I’m still angry about.
    The point I’m trying to get at though is that no one deserves to treat you that way and as I was told in my apology phone call “work is supposed to be fun” so get angry and reclaim what’s rightfully yours as she does not have the right to make you feel like this- no one does.

    • Posted August 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Well done Mary. What an unpleasant experience but glad you dealt with it straight away. WHAT IS WRONG WITH SOME WORKPLACES!!!??? AAAAARGH!

  17. Anne
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    It’s easy to think it is somehow your fault – I’ve been there, I’m just as quick to think it was something I did somehow without intending to. But it’s really not you, it’s really her. No one ‘deserves’ to be bullied.

    You can’t control her but you can control your reaction to what she does. You’re in control, even if you don’t feel like it. I’d get some professional advice (see comments above) and then make an informed decision whether you want to fight or whether a fight is not worth your sanity and just walk away. But that’s your choice. That’s how she doesn’t win.

  18. Rach M
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Peridot, I’m so sorry to hear what you’ve been going through. You are so brave to share it with us. I don’t have any expert advice to add – I think the AOW crack team of bully-beaters above have got it covered, but I wanted to say I am thinking of you and sending you a virtual hug too. I really really hope it ends soon. Remember there’s a whole virtual gang of us here, in your corner, standing right behind you, giving her evils. x

  19. Posted August 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Peridot I am rubbish at commenting at the mo but I read every word of what you’d written and just wanted to send you my good wishes, and echo the frankly amazing advice and support from everyone. Aisling is right about recording everything – your situation sounds quite serious especially if other colleagues are noticing it – and having notes of it all may be useful if you ever decide to take it further. And I just want to say it is ABSOLUTELY NOT YOUR FAULT that this is going on. Good luck and remember you are very much in the right x

  20. Peridot
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    I can’t tell you how delicious I find the thought of you all metaphorically duffing her up! Thanks all.

  21. Isaiah I.
    Posted January 2, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I was also bullied at a young age, by both male and females. I live in a small town and here people can be cruel. I went through it through 2nd to around 6th grade, i was eventually able to get kids to “bullying” (i hate that word i feel as though it makes me sound weak) by simple small talk and conversation, being a good listener as i am, and stuff like ignoring insults, laughing at stuff people call you (i always appreciate a good insult), or simply just shaking my head. With this i became an observer, due to all the time i spent alone. Im also a loner, witch im not ashamed to admit. and the bullying made me stronger. But it has affected my self esteem and confidence for years. Im shy around strangers witch has mostly been my issue, low self esteem dosnt get you far, as humans we look for confidence in a person, so do wolfs (an interesting fact wolfs base the ranks of there packs based on there confidence lowest confidence usually ends up at the bottom of the pack, im guessing same goes with humans) I am currently working on trying to improve my self esteem and social skills, i am 14 years old and im hoping to get my charisma up by the time i turn around 16-20. Your story makes me mad. your boss thinks of you as a threat, so the best thing you could possibly do is BE A THREAT if she wants a threat. Give her something to be worried about

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