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Being Ignored as a Bullying Tactic

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 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


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Topics: Uncategorized | 24 Comments »

24 Responses to “Being Ignored as a Bullying Tactic”

  1. Susan Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:34 am

    FANTASTIC, FANTASTIC, VERY, VERY HELPFUL! I will use this in my high school classes. SO glad somebody has finally put this down on paper and is doing something about it. Your work is very appreciated and valued. Keep it coming.

  2. John Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:36 am

    Hi Valerie,

    Thank you for your most recent installation. I have been struggling for about a year now with this precise issue. The bullying survey instruments were giving positive results, but the overt stuff ended at about that same time. . . a year ago. I was struggling to convince myself that being ignored, and the on-going “backstabbing” really qualified. Fortunately, this person is not my direct supervisor.

    I am wondering if we could talk about pricing for doing some consulting. I would be interested in one-on-one and perhaps some group presentations, if my boss buys into it.

    Thanks in advance.

  3. Marlena Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:38 am

    Everything I receive from you is
    correct in my personal experience.
    I always am loyal to reading your emails
    Thank you

  4. Cheri Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:40 am

    I really liked your article you wrote. The one I received this a.m. I’m going to save it and I may re-post it on my blog at a future date. It is related to what I am trying to do — coach those who are or have been through toxic or discriminatory workplaces. Your work has caught me eye. Thank for your email this morning.

  5. Helen Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:41 am

    Thanks for this, I am at the moment being actively ignored by a ‘charming’ young woman who is so socially adept it is almost unbelievable! She can be very nasty but because she is attractive an very charming to everyone else it makes me feel that it must be something about me. However, I know it’s not and I just ignore her back. I have thought of saying something to a senior nursing manager but I know that she is the ‘teacher’s pet’. What is the best way forward? I should mention that I am also attractive and intelligent. I am 20 years older than this person. What is really shocking is that she is a nurse!

  6. admin Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 7:55 am

    I ordered your ebook today and the extra bonuses too. I printed them all out and have read a bunch already. It may be too late for me in my situation but thank-you. I sure wish I had come accross this like about 5 plus years ago. Long story short I need to turn everything around by Wednesday, well from now through the next Tuesday March 15th I guess, otherwise I am not sure what will be going on. Again I wish I had your hand to hold sooner but maybe I can still salvage something out of the mess by reading very very fast.
    I am continuing to read on but wanted to thank-you so far.

  7. Mrethiopian Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I worked for Timberland the boot company and was bullied by my manager, talking to Timberland HR, I that this had been going on for the last 20 years, Timberland chose to do nothing about the harassment by this manager. Timberland supposedly prides itself on (very publically) on being an ethical company that cares for its employees. Publically Timberlands message is clear that harassment is not tolerated.

    Sadly what I found out the truth that Timberlands ethics policy is nothing more than a marketing tool to trick the consumer into thinking the corporation is somehow better for the world and hence buying their product supports that model that a corporation can be ethical and profitable, and most people in the world fall for it.

    btw- I’m handicapped

    Want more information or if I can help =

  8. "stronger" Says:
    March 24th, 2011 at 5:59 am

    My bully situation was unique; so I can’t reveal all details. I was a clerical assist person in an HR dept. I was well aware of bullying; encountered it two other times in different environments. My ‘bully’ had an office but I did not report to her/him (gender details might be too revealing) I was clerical this one had an office and administrator ‘title’ yet this one who came to dept ‘just a few weeks after me’ would do clerical work. Never asked me for assist (I conclude, that being new – this one did not know her job or why I was there) She didn’t know how to ask; without seeming to ‘not know’ so she simply did filing herself. (this is not the procedure I was told at hire) I spoke to dept. head stating: “if so and so is maintaining personnel files as well, fine, but all accountability for correctness is now off me.” New administrator stopped maintaining personnel files. This bully would enter in a.m. and say
    HOW IS MY BOSS today (to dept head) as I stood in same room. When ‘the boss’ had a birthday the first month for both of us being there, I ‘stupidly’ agreed to sign one card with me and co worker (one card signed by 2 in a 3 person dept? is ‘cheap’… if there were 10 people ok; but 2? Now that I think of it; she may have had others sign card; I never saw card after I signed. Anyway, she presented card in my presence and then ‘the two of them hugged as I stood by watching’ / I didn’t care if I was not part of the hug fest by the new co worker per se; but I saw this as very ‘poor’ in the social grace area.
    2 administrators hugging inn front of ‘the other’
    in a dept? Any comments?

    I could go on…but won’t…it’s been one year since the job ended / ended because of ‘rant’ in face as though I were a ‘child’ or ‘dog’ and not the first time. I ignored many such ‘pick a fight’ baiting to me…this time I verbalized to boss ‘why that tone?’ Dismissal was forthcoming a week later.

    I should note there is an ethnicity difference between me and the other new worker in same dept.
    This shouldn’t matter…but I believe it does.

  9. target-xyz Says:
    March 25th, 2011 at 2:28 am

    My experience is like Helen’s comment ‘
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:41 am’. I was falsely accused of ignore, Then bully turns around and amps up social activity with everybody else. Its bitterly cruel. Theres more than one bully and its not the first time. Then I didnt know whats happening so I tried keeping up. Now this time I have shut myself off.

  10. mary f Says:
    March 25th, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Just found your site this morning. I’m finding mega info on the web about workplace bullying. I was fired Oct. 2010 for the first time in my life at age 62 by a bully boss. Had I not been fired I would have stayed and endured until retirement but it took being fired to realize how stressed I actually was. The relief I feel far outweighs the anxiety of being unemployeed. I am going thru this loss as though I am in mourning. First disbelief, then anger,a feeling of great loss and now I am working thru depression. I intend to advocate for the passage of legislation to include bullied employees in the protected class of harrassed employees.

  11. Michele B Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I wish I had known of this site last week, I was hired for a clerical position in a mental health clinic.

    I lasted only 4 days due to the stress of being ignored, isolated, rude comments about patients and one doctor who actually stated in front of me “this is so and so and she knows everything, and this woman (me) here knows nothing”.

    I was floored, that was at the beginning of my shift on the fourth day and I only worked 4 hours per day. Each day at that job was worse than the previous day but I told myself to hang on, it had to get better. That rude doctor’s comment to his teenage patient’s father sealed my departure from that clinic.

    I went to HR about that office and was talked too as if I misunderstood the doctor and was over reacting and very sensitive.

    I handed in my resignation that day with a very sad heart but I have to much stress in my life with a hostile divorce and than I take on more stress with that job.

    I would assume they felt HIPAA was a joke….

  12. Call Me Brian Says:
    December 15th, 2011 at 6:06 am

    I have been with a company for more than 4 years, and have been constantly ignored and ostracised.

    Tasks that should have be given to me have sometimes been intercepted and passed on to others less qualified (or not even qualified) to do, and this has become more frequent recently. Sometimes these tasks that I can easily do have been asked of others right in front of me!

    For anyone reading this, take my advice: DON’T waste your time complaining to HR! They are there to PROTECT their company, NOT YOU!

    My complaints to management (even working my way up the ladder to the General Managing Director) have gone nowhere! The only thing that happens after this is that they get rid of you!

    It is much easier to replace a low-level employee than to replace a manager!

    What job do I do there? I’m the only IT Engineer there.

    The same thing happened to me also with a previous company, when I was in a different line of work, where the manager there wanted to give my job to a friend of hers that wanted to quite his job where he worked so he could be given mine.

    I fought tooth and nail to show that every allegation she made about me and my work was false (and I proved it every time!), but in the end the good ol’ HR department gave her the choice of sacking me, which she did.

    Oh, and here’s how: On the FIRST day of my holidays they sent me a registered letter telling me that as of that first day, my position was made redundant. How’s that for nice…?


  13. meri Says:
    April 28th, 2012 at 5:11 am

    I never really knew whether what this guy does was bullying. It hurts all the more because I know what a nice person he can be. Basically we have a group of about 4 people and what continuaally hurts me is that with the other two he jokes and stuff and then with me he is super cold, not showing any eye contact, ignoring my attempts to talk to him. When I talk to him about it he bursts angrily, like really agressive and angry. The things he has done hurt so badly – ignoring me when we are supposed to work together, joking with everybody else, referring to me in third person as if i am not in the room. when ever i approach him and ask have i done something wrong he says no blabblaa blaa. I have often thought it is only me being sensitive and that he does not need to like people he simply doesnt like but everyone else in the group has realised it. it is horrible because one day hes nice with me the next day he blatantly ignores me – this is just to me! he doesnt want to stay alone in the same room with me and tags along with other group members who had to go and look for something. any conversation i try to have with him ends up in an argument. the thing is we need to get along because we are meant to perform a play together, yet every practice session we have is emotionally draining an often ends in tears because i feel like a bad person in some way :(

  14. Darol Dean Says:
    June 30th, 2013 at 1:23 am

    I always take the bus to work dailey I do get frustrated at time but I sacrafice my time going to work as I enjoy working there. This is a turn around what I have to say, for I have been an employee for 15 years in 2011 now it is 2013. what I mean by turn around is what happened to me in 2011 my 15th year at my work place I have been acused of bullying. Nothing has happened to me all these years. Not only bullying for on the paper it also mention I said “tick-toc”. I asume what some of you are thinking; what’s tick-toc? I am a quiet person a little fear in me. Here’s how it started. This new employee has sasked my how long I worked there , I answer 15 years. ” do I enjoy working there? have I thought of looking for another job?” she asked me. I took it as just talk. but then it has been mentioned to me again from the same person as time went by. I got a little frustrated but just went on to not let it bother me. But then came a time I had to use help for of we were getting busy, when she came in the area I hear her say “I can be in here and not ask for help.” When I heard them words I had to step out of the work area go into the office I could hardly talk I had to almost speak with my teeth shut to control myself. I asked just talk to her and leave me alone, I tell the office I don’t want her in trouble, just talk to her please. 2 months later I am asked to the office to sit down and read a paper, on it mentioned I bullyed fellow employees, said “tic-tock”. the tic-tock still bothers my mind, it is a words a 5 year old would say. As I ask my question of who have I bullyed and what did I do. They tell me the victums I bullyed don’t want their names mentioned, I think to myself if I bullyed them I should need to know, “refresh my memory” I think to myself. And not being told what I did. I am told by someone it is called a payback for when the moment I asked for help. I’ve been working there for 15 years and suddenly it happens. I get wondering who is outhere as I see other employees in the break room or in other areas. Who is it I wonder. It has been 2 years now and it still gets on my mind at times I went to the EEOC for answers, I’m told they poisoned my mind. Who’s the one who was bullyed?

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  19. Jennifer Says:
    March 8th, 2014 at 2:34 am

    I’ve not encountered being bullied at work until my present job. There’s a clique that somehow never grew up after high school. I find them pathetic. My frustration increases when they jeopardize my ability to do my job by slacking off on theirs. Unfortunately, my job relies upon them completing theirs. I’ve started documenting everything. Their behavior, what they say, overdue assignments and put all things in email. I’m trying to find another job with high caliber employees.

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