For 10 years I have heard variants of the same sad story coming from adult clients. These intelligent, capable and emotionally savvy adults file into my office and describe the same symptoms- nausea, fear of going to work, low mood, trouble sleeping, difficulty getting out of bed, difficulty making decisions, irritability, dry mouth and unexplained crying.

They are astounded to hear their symptoms are not unusual, and even more so when the cause is named, “bullying and harassment.” So long considered the purview of the playground, bullying doesn’t stop at the school gate. Adults can be brought to their knees after going through these experiences, followed closely by some self-flagellation for “not being stronger.”

Not only is the client isolated in the workplace, they then isolate themselves personally, afraid of hearing “just get over it” and “aren’t you overreacting a bit?” The target of the bully already feels incompetent in their job and their resilience, they don’t need to hear it from anyone else. Meanwhile, everyday they front up to work feeling completely naked, waiting for the attack that will violate their entire sense of security and trust in the world .

The brain cannot tell the difference between a psychological threat and a physical threat, it responds the same way to the thought of going near a bully as it would to approaching the crater of a live volcano. The old “sticks and stones” rhyme doesn’t apply in these situations because we’re ‘trapped’ by our workplace- not many of us can afford to just walk away without notice. Our personal boundaries are violated, whether they be physical, emotional or psychological, the impact is the same – blood-chilling fear.

There is so little understanding about the impact of bullying and harassment (sexual or not) on the target (I refuse to use the disempowering word ‘victim’) by family, friends, insurance companies, employers and personnel departments that support can be difficult ask for. It really is difficult for anyone to understand fully without having experienced it themselves, and the target risks condescension, disbelief and disrespect if they do ask for help. There is no ‘quick fix’ recovery and it can take up to two years with a highly supportive environment, even longer with ongoing issues and lack of support. So if someone tells you they’re not feeling good about a situation or person at work, please remember, just because you can’t understand their response doesn’t mean it isn’t real to them.

If you’ve been bullied or harassed, or are trying to support someone who has, knowing where to go for help can be difficult. Bully Wound: A guide to recovery from workplace bullying and harassment has been written for people in these situations to help with understanding the how, why, how long and what now. People who have been bullied or harassed once, tend to find it happens again largely due to not recovering and repairing fully before they enter a new workplace. This e-book will arm you with tips and strategies to help ensure this is the last time you feel this way, and build your bully-proof vest.