Going to Battle with a Bully? Think Post Traumatic Growth

by Jul 17, 2012

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often associated with major life events such as going to war and domestic violence. It includes a list of feelings and behaviors such as high levels of insomnia, apathy, anxiety, depression, aggression, and lack of concentration, to name a few. Although perhaps lacking in the attention it deserves, targets of workplace bullies also experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2004 for more information).

With record numbers of Army soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD and committing suicide, Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum came up with an idea. She wanted to know the difference between a soldier who returns from war suffering from PTSD and one who returns stating they have better leadership and decision-making skills. According to Cornum the answer is Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). How you come out of an experience depends on how you go into it.

She figured the Army is sending its soldiers off to war physically prepared – handling a gun, physical fitness, etc. But, they aren’t being mentally prepared.

So with the help of Martin Seligman, the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Army is rolling out a new program to build emotional strength. According to him, the difference between PTSD and PTG is optimism. Optimists see setbacks as temporary, and something they have the power to change.

Seligman is also an advocate for the concept of resiliency. Resilient individuals are optimistic and energetic, curious, and demonstrate positive emotionality. Resiliency is about being flexible in stressful experiences and bouncing back when they are over.

What does all this have to do with workplace bullying? Well, if the Army thinks they can help ward of PSTD with PSG, shouldn’t workplace bullying scholars be paying attention?

Ultimately, it’s clear that people have very different reactions to workplace bullying. One person might perceive behaviors as bullying, while others are annoyed but do not find themselves so emotionally wrapped up in the aggression. What’s the difference between these people? I’m thinking optimism and resiliency has something to do with it.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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