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  • Writer's pictureAl Tyers Therapy

Workplace bullying and how it can activate feelings from childhood

Workplace bullying is in the news due to the Priti Patel bullying inquiry. Being bullied at work can be deeply stressful and unpleasant for all sorts of reasons, not least because it might also be very triggering for events from childhood.

Characteristic of workplace bullying is the sense of being singled out and being treated unfairly: from a psychodynamic psychotherapy perspective these might well cause unconscious connections to be made with a parent favouring another sibling, or with sibling rivalry.

Bullies often gaslight the people they target, causing the person to think that perhaps they should be doing something differently, that they are making a fuss, that it’s just a bit of fun, that it’s just the culture of the workplace. All of these will be false, constructed by the bully to disempower the person they are bullying.

This experience, sadly, can be all too familiar to someone who has suffered under this sort of parenting, or perhaps experienced treatment like this from a sibling or at school.

Also present in a lot of cases of workplace bullying is how hard it can feel to speak out. The organisation itself and other managers may collude with the bully, side with the bully, or minimise the behaviour of the bully. This can make the person who has been bullied feel a sense that it is they who are in the wrong, that they should be ashamed of what is happening to them. Again, this can be painfully reminiscent of abuse suffered in childhood, be that physical, sexual or emotional.

A logo about workplace bullying on a black background
Workplace Bullying graphic by GwenFord - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

This can combine with the present-day stress of being belittled, being over-worked and mistreated, being overlooked out of spite, being made to feel incompetent, small or deskilled and all of the other horrible factors that can go up to make being bullied at work a very unpleasant experience.

Therapy can offer you support and a space to talk about what is going on in the here and now. It could also give you a space to think about how the events you are experiencing today, and your reactions to them, could be familiar to you from things that happened in the past. It might even be that you’re not really consciously aware of just why something happening today really gets deep into the heart of you in a distressing way.

This can be a painful and upsetting journey back into stuff you might rather not think about, and a good therapist will recognise this, support you, and let you take things at your own pace.

By understanding what happened in our pasts we can understand our reactions to events today, and move forward armed with this knowledge to tackle the challenges life throws at us and makes the changes we seek.

If you’d like to talk to me starting therapy, or have any questions big or small, please get in touch with me or 07961 601 275. You can see more about how I can help you, the sort of therapy I can offer you and more at


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