Survivor guilt: survivors of disasters often experience abnormally high levels of guilt for having survived, especially when others – including family, friends or fellow passengers – have died. Survivor guilt manifests itself in a feeling of “I should have died too”.
In bullying, levels of guilt are also abnormally raised. The survivor of workplace bullying may have developed an intense, albeit unrealistic, desire to work with their employer (or, by now, their former employer) to eliminate bullying from their workplace.
Many survivors of bullying cannot gain further employment and are thus forced into self-employment; excessive guilt may then preclude the individual from negotiating fair rates of remuneration, or asking for money for services rendered. The person may also find themselves being abnormally and inappropriately generous and giving in business and other situations.
Shame, embarrassment, guilt, and fear are encouraged by the bully, for this is how all abusers – including child sex abusers – control and silence their victims.
Marital disharmony: the target of bullying becomes obsessed with understanding and resolving what is happening and the experience takes over their life; partners become confused, irritated, bewildered, frightened and angry; separation and divorce are common outcomes.
The word “breakdown” is often used to describe the mental collapse of someone who has been under intolerable strain. There is usually an (inappropriate) inference of “mental illness”. All these are lay terms and mean different things to different people. I define two types of breakdown:
Nervous breakdown or mental breakdown is a consequence of mental illness.
Stress breakdown is a psychiatric injury, which is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
The two types of breakdown are distinct and should not be confused. A stress breakdown is a natural and normal conclusion to a period of prolonged negative stress; the body is saying “I’m not designed to operate under these conditions of prolonged negative stress so I am going to do something dramatic to ensure that you reduce or eliminate the stress otherwise your body may suffer irreparable damage; you must take action now”.
A stress breakdown is often predictable days – sometimes weeks – in advance as the person’s fear, fragility, obsessiveness, hyper-vigilance and hypersensitivity combine to evolve into paranoia (as evidenced by increasingly bizarre talk of conspiracy or MI6). If this happens, a stress breakdown is only days or even hours away and the person needs urgent medical help. The risk of suicide at this point is heightened.
Often the cause of negative stress in an organisation can be traced to the behaviour of one individual. The profile of this individual is on the serial bully page. I believe bullying is the main – but least recognised – cause of negative stress in the workplace today. To see the effects of prolonged negative stress on the body click here.
The person who suffers a stress breakdown is often treated as if they have had a mental breakdown; they are sent to a psychiatrist, prescribed drugs used to treat mental illness, and may be encouraged – sometimes coerced or sectioned – into becoming a patient in a psychiatric hospital.
The sudden transition from professional working environment to a ward containing schizophrenics, drug addicts and other people with genuine long-term mental health problems adds to rather than alleviates the trauma.
Words like “psychiatrist”, “psychiatric unit” etc are often translated by work colleagues, friends, and sometimes family into “nutcase”, “shrink”, “funny farm”, “loony” and other inappropriate epithets.
The bully encourages this, often ensuring that the employee’s personnel record contains a reference to the person’s “mental health problems”. Sometimes, the bully produces their own amateur diagnosis of mental illness – but this is more likely to be a projection of the bully’s own state of mind and should be regarded as such.
During the First World War, British soldiers suffering PTSD and stress breakdown were labelled as “cowards” and “deserters”. During the Second World War, soldiers suffering PTSD and stress breakdowns were again vilified with these labels; Royal Air Force personnel were labelled as “lacking moral fibre” and their papers stamped “LMF”. For further commentary on this issue, click here. It’s noticeable that those administrators and top brass enforcing this labelling were themselves always situated a safe distance from the fighting; see the section on projection.
The person who is being bullied often thinks they are going mad, and may be encouraged in this belief by those who do not have that person’s best interests at heart. They are not going mad; PTSD is an injury, not an illness.
Sometimes, the term “psychosis” is applied to mental illness, and the term “neurosis” to psychiatric injury. The main difference is that a psychotic person is unaware they have a mental problem, whereas the neurotic person is aware – often acutely.
The serial bully’s lack of insight into their behaviour and its effect on others has the hallmarks of a psychosis, although this obliviousness would appear to be a choice rather than a condition.
With targets of bullying, I prefer to avoid the words “neurosis” and “neurotic”, which for non-medical people have derogatory connotations. Hypersensitivity and hyper-vigilance are likely to cause the person suffering PTSD to react unfavourably to the use of these words, possibly perceiving that they, the target, are being blamed for their circumstances.
A frequent diagnosis of stress breakdown is “brief reactive psychosis”, especially if paranoia and suicidal thoughts predominate. However, a key difference between mental breakdown and stress breakdown is that a person undergoing a stress breakdown will be intermittently lucid, often alternating seamlessly between paranoia and seeking information about their paranoia and other symptoms. The person is also likely to be talking about resolving their work situation (which is the cause of their problems), planning legal action against the bully and the employer, wanting to talk to their union rep and solicitor, etc.
A stress breakdown is a transformational experience which, with the right support, can ultimately enrich the life of the person experiencing it. However, completing the transformation can be a long and sometimes painful process.
The Western response – to hospitalise and medicalize the experience, thus hindering the process – may be well-intentioned, but may lessen the value and effectiveness of the transformation.
How would you feel if, rather than a breakdown, you viewed it as a breakthrough? How would you feel if it was suggested to you that the reason for a stress breakdown is to awaken you to your mission in life and to enable you to discover the reason why you have incarnated on this planet?
How would it change your view of things if it was also suggested to you that a stress breakdown reconfigures your brain to enable you to embark on the path that will culminate in the achievement of your mission? [More | More]
Differences between mental illness and psychiatric injury
The person who is being bullied will eventually say something like “I think I’m being paranoid…“; however they are correctly identifying hyper-vigilance, a symptom of PTSD, but using the popular but misunderstood word paranoia. The differences between hyper-vigilance and paranoia make a good starting point for identifying the differences between mental illness and psychiatric injury.
Our new page on Organised Gang Stalking and Mind Control explains the difference between “gang stalking”, a conspiracy theory, and bullying and other forms of abuse. The differences are analogous to the differences between paranoia and hyper-vigilance.
|paranoia is a form of mental illness; the cause is thought to be internal, e.g. a minor variation in the balance of brain chemistry||is a response to an external event (violence, accident, disaster, violation, intrusion, bullying, etc) and therefore an injury|
|paranoia tends to endure and to not get better of its own accord||wears off (gets better), albeit slowly, when the person is out of and away from the situation which was the cause|
|The paranoiac will not admit to feeling paranoid, as they cannot see their paranoia.||the hyper-vigilant person is acutely aware of their hyper-vigilance, and will easily articulate their fear, albeit using the incorrect but popularised word “paranoia”|
|sometimes responds to drug treatment||drugs are not viewed favourably by hyper-vigilant people, except in extreme circumstances, and then only briefly; often drugs have no effect, or can make things worse, sometimes interfering with the body’s own healing process|
|the paranoiac often has delusions of grandeur; the delusional aspects of paranoia feature in other forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia||the hyper-vigilant person often has a diminished sense of self-worth, sometimes dramatically so|
|the paranoiac is convinced of their self-importance||the hyper-vigilant person is often convinced of their worthlessness and will often deny their value to others|
|paranoia is often seen in conjunction with other symptoms of mental illness, but not in conjunction with symptoms of PTSD||Hyper-vigilance is seen in conjunction with other symptoms of PTSD, but not in conjunction with symptoms of mental illness|
|the paranoiac is convinced of their plausibility||the hyper-vigilant person is aware of how implausible their experience sounds and often doesn’t want to believe it themselves (disbelief and denial)|
|the paranoiac feels persecuted by a person or persons unknown (e.g. “they’re out to get me”)||the hyper-vigilant person is hyper-sensitized but is often aware of the inappropriateness of their heightened sensitivity, and can identify the person responsible for their psychiatric injury|
|sense of persecution||heightened sense of vulnerability to victimisation|
|the sense of persecution felt by the paranoiac is a delusion, for usually no-one is out to get them||the hyper-vigilant person’s sense of threat is well-founded, for the serial bully is out to get rid of them and has often coerced others into assisting, e.g. through mobbing; the hyper-vigilant person often cannot (and refuses to) see that the serial bully is doing everything possible to get rid of them|
|the paranoiac is on constant alert because they know someone is out to get them||the hyper-vigilant person is on alert in case there is danger|
|the paranoiac is certain of their belief and their behaviour and expects others to share that certainty||the hyper-vigilant person cannot bring themselves to believe that the bully cannot and will not see the effect their behaviour is having; they cling naively to the mistaken belief that the bully will recognise their wrongdoing and apologise|
Other differences between mental illness and psychiatric injury include:
|Mental illness||Psychiatric injury|
|the cause often cannot be identified||the cause is easily identifiable and verifiable, but denied by those who are accountable|
|the person may be incoherent or what they say doesn’t make sense||the person is often articulate but prevented from articulation by being traumatised|
|the person may appear to be obsessed||the person is obsessive, especially in relation to identifying the cause of their injury and both dealing with the cause and effecting their recovery|
|the person is oblivious to their behaviour and the effect it has on others||the person is in a state of acute self-awareness and aware of their state, but often unable to explain it|
|the depression is a clinical or endogenous depression||the depression is reactive; the chemistry is different to endogenous depression|
|there may be a history of depression in the family||there is very often no history of depression in the individual or their family|
|the person has usually exhibited mental health problems before||often there is no history of mental health problems|
|may respond inappropriately to the needs and concerns of others||responds empathically to the needs and concerns of others, despite their own injury|
|displays a certitude about themselves, their circumstances and their actions||Is often highly sceptical about their condition and circumstances and is in a state of disbelief and bewilderment which they will easily and often articulate (“I can’t believe this is happening to me” and “Why me?” – click here for the answer)|
|may suffer a persecution complex||may experience an unusually heightened sense of vulnerability to possible victimisation (i.e. hyper-vigilance)|
|suicidal thoughts are the result of despair, dejection and hopelessness||suicidal thoughts are often a logical and carefully thought-out solution or conclusion|
|exhibits despair||is driven by the anger of injustice|
|often doesn’t look forward to each new day||looks forward to each new day as an opportunity to fight for justice|
|is often ready to give in or admit defeat||refuses to be beaten, refuses to give up|
Common features of Complex PTSD from bullying
People suffering Complex PTSD as a result of bullying report consistent symptoms which further help to characterise psychiatric injury and differentiate it from mental illness. These include:
- Fatigue with symptoms of or similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome(formerly ME)
- An anger of injustice stimulated to an excessive degree (sometimes but improperly attracting the words “manic” instead of motivated, “obsessive” instead of focused, and “angry” instead of “passionate”, especially from those with something to fear).
- An overwhelming desire for acknowledgement, understanding, recognition and validation of their experience.
- A simultaneous and paradoxical unwillingness to talk about the bullying (click hereto see why) or abuse (click here to see why).
- A lack of desire for revenge, but a strong motivation for justice.
- A tendency to oscillate between conciliation (forgiveness) and anger (revenge) with objectivity being the main casualty.
- Extreme fragility, where formerly the person was of a strong, stable character.
- Numbness, both physical (toes, fingertips, and lips) and emotional (inability to feel love and joy).
- Hyperawareness and an acute sense of time passing, seasons changing, and distances travelled.
- An enhanced environmental awareness, often on a planetary scale.
- An appreciation of the need to adopt a healthier diet, possibly reducing or eliminating meat – especially red meat.
- Willingness to try complementary medicine and alternative, holistic therapies, etc.
- A constant feeling that one has to justify everything one says and does.
- A constant need to prove oneself, even when surrounded by good, positive people.
- An unusually strong sense of vulnerability, victimisation or possible victimisation, often wrongly diagnosed as “persecution”.
- Occasional violent intrusive visualisations.
- Feelings of worthlessness, rejection, a sense of being unwanted, unlikeable and unlovable.
- A feeling of being small, insignificant, and invisible.
- An overwhelming sense of betrayal, and a consequent inability and unwillingness to trust anyone, even those close to you.
- In contrast to the chronic fatigue, depression etc, occasional false dawns with sudden bursts of energy accompanied by a feeling of “I’m better!”, only to be followed by a full resurgence of symptoms a day or two later.
Excessive guilt – when the cause of PTSD is bullying, the guilt expresses itself in forms distinct from “survivor guilt”; it comes out as:
- An initial reluctance to take action against the bully and report him/her knowing that he/she could lose his/her job.
- Later, this reluctance gives way to a strong urge to take action against the bully so that others, especially successors, don’t have to suffer a similar fate.
- Reluctance to feel happiness and joy because one’s sense of other people’s suffering throughout the world is heightened.
- A proneness to identifying with other people’s suffering.
- A heightened sense of unworthiness, un-deservingness and non-entitlement (some might call this shame).
- A heightened sense of indebtedness, beholdenness and undue obligation.
- A reluctance to earn or accept money because one’s sense of poverty and injustice throughout the world is heightened.
- An unwillingness to take ill-health retirement because the person doesn’t want to believe they are sufficiently unwell to merit it.
- An unwillingness to draw sickness, incapacity or unemployment benefit to which the person is entitled.
- An unusually strong desire to educate the employer and help the employer introduce an anti-bullying ethos, usually proportional to the employer’s lack of interest in anti-bullying measures.
- A desire to help others, often overwhelming and bordering on obsession, and to be available for others at any time regardless of the cost to oneself.
- An unusually high inclination to feel sorry for other people who are under stress, including those in a position of authority, even those who are not fulfilling the duties and obligations of their position (which may include the bully) but who are continuing to enjoy salary for remaining in post [hint: to overcome this tendency, every time you start to feel sorry for someone, say to yourself “sometimes, when you jump in and rescue someone, you deny them the opportunity to learn and grow”].
The fatigue is understandable when you realise that in bullying, the target’s fight or flight mechanism eventually becomes activated from Sunday evening (at the thought of facing the bully at work on Monday morning) through to the following Saturday morning (phew – weekend at last!).
The fight or flight mechanism is designed to be operational only briefly and intermittently; in the heightened state of alert, the body consumes abnormally high levels of energy. If this state becomes semi-permanent, the body’s physical, mental and emotional batteries are drained dry. Whilst the weekend theoretically is a time for the batteries to recharge, this doesn’t happen, because:
- the person is by now obsessed with the situation (or rather, resolving the situation), cannot switch off, may be unable to sleep, and probably has nightmares, flashbacks and replays;
- sleep is non-restorative and unrefreshing – one goes to sleep tired and wakes up tired
This type of experience plays havoc with the immune system; when the fight or flight system is eventually switched off, the immune system is impaired such that the person is open to viruses which they would under normal circumstances fight off; the person then spends each weekend with a cold, cough, flu, glandular fever, laryngitis, ear infection etc so the body’s batteries never have an opportunity to recharge.
When activated, the body’s fight or flight response results in the digestive, immune and reproductive systems being placed on standby. It’s no coincidence that people experiencing constant abuse, harassment and bullying report malfunctions related to these systems (loss of appetite, constant infections, flatulence, irritable bowel syndrome, loss of libido, impotence, etc).
The body becomes awash with cortisol which in high prolonged doses is toxic to brain cells. Cortisol kills off Neuro-receptors in the hippocampus, an area of the brain linked with learning and memory. The hippocampus is also the control centre for the fight or flight response, thus the ability to control the fight or flight mechanism itself becomes impaired.
Most survivors of bullying experience symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – see health page for details.
-Source: http://bullyonline.org/old/stress/ptsd.htm#DSM-IV Diagnostic criteria