By Valerie Cade CSP
Think of a time when you were ignored. Think of how you felt. Hurt, sad, puzzled, stressed… Did you think, “What’s wrong with me?” or “How come I was left out?” Or how about when you were brave enough to reach out and ask ‘why is this happening?’, and were met with a polished answer from the person that left you with more self doubt and no answers?
Now think about being ignored, left out and pushed aside…day after day…after day…after day…This repeated ignoring is one of the worst types of bullying known.
Social or interpersonal rejection occurs when an individual is deliberately excluded from an interpersonal or peer relationship. A person can be rejected by an individual or by an entire group of people (mobbing). Furthermore, rejection can be either overt, with acts of aggressive bullying; or passive such as ignoring a person, shunning or shaming.
Being Ignored as a Bullying Tactic:
Being overlooked can feel distressing; we’ve all felt this from time to time. Being perpetually ignored feels rotten.
To the degree a person is important to you, or to the degree you have expectations of that person that are not met, the more pain and rejection you will likely experience.
Being perpetually ignored is a bullying tactic and it involves what might appear as slight brush off’s to the target in order for the bully to gain the upper hand. Remember, when these ‘slight brush offs’ happen over and over again, they evolve from slight to deliberately drastic from their continual impact of isolating the target. Examples are:
- Not making eye contact with you in a meeting, but making eye contact with everyone else;
- Walking into a social situation and reaching to shake another’s hand but brushing by you; not giving you the same level of interaction;
- Engaging with others in conversation, asking them questions, perhaps joking around, then being tight lipped, formal and professionally polite for appearances sake, but by no means displaying the connect-ability they are with others, toward you.
- Leaving you out of email loops, formal information sharing and informal information sharing.
Have you ever been the last person to find out about the holiday schedule or have you ever been going about your work happily and you see a flock of co-workers discussing something in an unofficial capacity, but you were not asked your opinion; you were not invited in the first place?
But Wait, There’s More: How the Bully Further Isolates a Target:
Skilled charming bullies will quickly double up their social interaction and attention they pull away from you and deposit it into others in order to gain favor with others…against you. Has this ever happened to you:
- You have friends at work and you see the bully talking to these friends; joking around, really connecting and you are not invited.
- The bully starts to create social situations, even talking casually at work, but always with you absent.
- The bully shares ideas, jokes, social time with everyone else but you. There is an event; everyone is invited except for you. Everyone else thinks you couldn’t make it, but you know differently.
- The bully starts to spread false innuendos about you to this group, further isolating you.
- People that don’t even know you start to believe what is being said. Ever heard of ‘group think’?
- These new people start talking about you to others based on what they’ve heard and think to be true.
Why Is It So Painful?
Rejection is emotionally painful because of the social nature of human beings and our basic need to be accepted in groups. Abraham Maslow and other theorists have suggested that the need for love and belongingness is a fundamental human motivation. According to Maslow, all humans, need to be able to give and receive affection to be psychologically healthy.
Psychologists believe that simple contact or social interaction with others is not enough to fulfill this need. Instead, people have a strong motivational drive to form and maintain caring and respectful interpersonal relationships. People need both stable relationships and satisfying interactions with people in those relationships. If either of these two ingredients are missing, most people will begin to feel lonely and unhappy. Thus, rejection is a significant threat. In fact, the majority of human anxieties appear to reflect concerns over social exclusion.
The experience of rejection can lead to a number of adverse psychological consequences such as loneliness, low self-esteem, aggression, and depression. It can also lead to feelings of insecurity and a heightened sensitivity to future rejection.
So How Can You Cope?
Many people will advise you to ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’. Most of the time, people say this because it makes them feel better to say it! What about you? Your feelings are real; the bullying is real. It can be very difficult to ‘just get over’ being ignored, isolated and abandoned from expected social interactions.
But your big question might be ‘but why me’? Excellent question. It is not fair to be perpetually ignored.
So, here are my top 5 suggestions for coping with being perpetually ignored:
- First of all, practice acceptance of the reality, not necessarily the behavior. The more resistant you are, the more pain and anger you will feel. If you accept the fact that you are being ignored no matter how good of a person you are, it will make it easier. Even if you don’t agree with it, it is the first step.
- Put a time limit on the time you devote to trying to figure out ‘why this is happening to you’ and then have something else you can focus on; this really works!
- Know you are not alone. This can help one feel connected to the 1000’s of others who have suffered as well and to know that you are not being isolated because of anything you did…it has more to do with the bully. Every negative feeling the bully has about others is really a reflection of the negative feelings they have about themselves. What drives bullying? A need for control over another, rooted in envy. This is about the bully, not you.
- Seek out a community or group that you can feel love, acceptance, kindness, generosity, tenderness and support. You might wonder if such a group exists. Try http://emotionsanonymous.org. We are all in recovery as human beings!
- Stay plugged in and protected. Keep learning so you are empowered. If you haven’t walked through the Bully Free at Work exercises and self-tests yet, be sure to do this soon! What gets measured gets treasured; you are a treasure; don’t forget!
I’ll leave you with this: some things we will not understand. Some things we will be unable to change. One thing we can change, protect and empower is ourselves. Keep protected. The truth will rise to the top and keep shining…
Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of “Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!” which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to http://www.bullyfreeatwork.com.
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