I have had the good fortune throughout my working life to work with talented, intelligent and creative people. In almost all cases my colleagues have been completely blind to any special skill and expected nothing more than to work alongside others to do a good job, to improve their circumstances and those of the wider community.
Very occasionally I have met and worked with people whose principal goal in life seemed to be that others should recognise their extraordinary talent, intelligence and creativity. In most cases such people have been loathed but tolerated in so far as far as they have been effective. Very, very occasionally they have overtly bullied those deemed ineffective or inadequate according to their superior standards. Such bullying is usually recognised by the institution and the individual and constrained within limits just short of anything materially damaging to either party. And bullying is not only a top down phenomenon.
While I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work alongside some remarkable people, it can be difficult at the same time not to feel at least a wee bit inadequate, and sometimes quite a lot more. For some reason some people seem to walk into a new environment supremely confident in their own abilities, while some of us in the same situation are just waiting to be found out. Not really good enough to be in the room.
Child psychiatrist John Bowlby theorized that the tendency to see oneself as unworthy of esteem or affection can be a consquence of the bond a child forms with its primary care giver. That bond informs the internal working model we develop of ourselves in relation to others. It is, as Kristen Neff writes “an unconscious, deep seated mental portrait of who we are and what we can expect from other people. If children are securely attached to parents they feel they are worthy of love. They typically grow up to be healthy and happy adults secure, secure in the belief they can count on others to provide comfort and support. But if children are insecurely attached, they tend to feel they are unworthy and unlovable , and that other people cannot be trusted. This creates a pervasive feeling of insecurity that can cause long-term emotional distress and affect the ability to form close, stable relationships in later life.”
US writers have described psychological maltreatment, the systematic lack of nurturing, attunement or responsiveness to a child, or overt acts of verbal and emotional abuse, as a breach in attachment. How many workplaces show a systematic lack of nurturing, attunement or responsiveness to their staff, or permit verbal and emotional abuse? None. No organisation or institution with HR policies aimed at ensuring compliance with labour laws would permit such behaviour, yet it happens in every type of organisation and institution.
At its worst work is an environment ripe with bullying opportunities. Any organisation will be made up of secure and insecure adults. Bullies seek out and exploit others’ insecurities. For Bullying at Work week psychologist Dr Mary Lamia wrote that bullying is a response to shame “Typical coping responses fall into four types: attacking others, attacking oneself, avoidance and withdrawal. When shame threatens people who bully – for example, when they risk looking incompetent at work – they will attack others.” Bullying damages individuals and organisations and institutions. People leave and others won’t want to work there. Bullying cannibalises the economy.
Strong or poor attachment is not contingent on economic circumstances; poor mothers can build strong attachments with their children and wealthy ones can build poor attachments but Bowlby writing in 1951, was clear that: “Just as children are absolutely dependent on their parents for sustenance, so in all but the most primitive communities, are parents, especially their mothers, dependent on a greater society for economic provision. If a community values its children it must cherish their parents.”
In an utter perversion of a child-valuing community this government’s welfare reforms will make children directly responsible for the wider security of their parents and siblings and penalise children for being born. Dear reader, let me hazard a guess, this will not end well.
Neff, K., (2001) Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Your Insecurity Behind – Self Compassion, William Morrow, New York