Hindsight is a Beautiful Thing.
A victim of bullying: ‘10 internalised thoughts’
In September 2019 I wrote at lengths about bullying and spoke about the signs and symptoms of bullying in education. I must reiterate the seriousness of the bullying in education, its impacts on teachers and its insidious and entrenched ways of targeting people. Bullying is rarely in plain sight; it is covert which means it is difficult to detect and even more difficult to evidence. This doesn’t mean bullying doesn’t exist as Research from the NASUWT suggests 4/5 teachers have faced bullying of some kind in the past 12 months.
After spotting this on social media, I was certain many of us could spot the traits of a toxic person we have encountered in these illustrations.
As previously suggested, the signs of bullying include:
Inconsistent standards between you & your peers,
Your decisions, even the small ones, constantly challenged,
Threats to job security,
You are left feeling isolated,
Unrealistic targets set & obstacles at every turn.
Your ideas and work are publicly criticised,
Being ‘encouraged’ to work into break & lunch times to deal with workload,
Sporadic meetings which give you no time to prepare or gather thoughts,
Feeling intimidated by senior staff or management,
Made to feel guilty for taking time out for yourself & your family,
No confidentiality, the idea that ‘everyone knows my business’
Gaslighting – your sanity is questioned therefore you’re deemed ‘inept’ in making rational judgments.
Although is not an all-encompassing and exhaustive list, it does help open dialogue on the issue. The purpose of this article is to build on previous work and reflect deeply on the internalised thoughts bullying creates for the victims. I will stick to just ten and again, this is not all-inclusive, but I truly hope it offers solace to people that have suffered. These awful practices need challenging, with victims needing support and accountability and re-education for the offenders. Again, bullying is a real part of the education system and its deep-cutting impacts on the daily lives, the mental, psychological and emotional wellbeing of victims requires a discerning eye.
10 internalised thoughts of victims
“It’s my fault” – Bullies use systems and institutional structures to shift blame and make victims feel as though they are being bullied because of their own practices. As bizarre as this sounds, let me give you an example. I remember during my PGCE, a fellow trainee was constantly being shouted at by his Mentors. He would be blamed for failing to control his classroom, not having marking up to date and everything in between. The poor guy worked tirelessly and continue to dwell into a realm of self-pity. The fact was his Mentors were not there for him. They never trained him to deal with poor behaviour or manage his workload effectively. In his own psyche, it was internalised that he was to blame when, the system let him down.
“Maybe I’m not working hard enough” – From a personal point of view, when this thought process came to me, I would panic and even cry. How can anyone who leaves for work at 7am and returns as 6pm, spends most weekends working and refuses to go to family gatherings, weddings and even funerals because of work commitments, how can my commitment be questioned? Bullies thrive off catching people out and making a big deal out of even the most menial things. Whilst they do the minimum and then, rather contradictory, have sky high expectations of others, they will work people into the ground. The harder the victim works, the higher and more unattainable the expectations become. This makes the victim work harder for little or no rewards, which in turn can be incredibly demoralising.
“Perhaps this is how they are towards everyone else” – ‘Maybe it’s not just me’ was the phrase that went through my head repeatedly. Bullies will use inconsistent standards to judge you and others, it’s a trait they use to push their agenda and enforce their authority over you. An example of where I have seen this was an NQT who was asked to create a display by her HOD. She produced a fantastic literacy display emulating the London Underground but her HOD was irate that she didn’t use the school logo. Ironically, neither did she but still made her tear down her display. Bullies will use their relative status in disproportionate ways, and this creates the impression that ‘that’s just the way they are’. Victims have an internalised idea that the person bullying them isn’t malicious and their behaviour is simply part of their personality which shouldn’t be questioned.
“Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was” – These were the words of an experienced English teacher with a PHD and over 20 years’ experience in education. When we are constantly under pressure or facing scrutiny, self-doubt begins to creep in. Bullies will thrive off the false hierarchy they have created, where their own elevated position may be under threat. They want to create the idea that they are better than you, usually as a false sense of security and even as a justification for their behaviour. When we keep getting ‘RIs’ as teachers, we do take it to heart. Working the endless hours and getting no internal reward from the schools, not even a passing complimentary comment, this can really create self-doubt. I know from experience that I lost all confidence in myself as a teacher because of bullying. I would question the most menial things, I became insecure about everything and even had regular breakdowns. The self-doubting bullying creates can destroy good teachers.
“I bet it’s like this everywhere else” – ‘The grass isn’t greener elsewhere, it’s just a different shade of green’. Many people don’t leave their toxic working environments or relationships out of fear of the unknown. My old HOD said to me before I resigned “It’s better the devil you know than the one you don’t know”. I don’t want to know any devils! When people are bullied it creates a very inward-looking cycle where we cannot look beyond our immediate surroundings. I remember hearing a colleague, who was also severely bullied, telling me that she didn’t apply for her ‘dream job’ because she thought it would be ‘worse than here’. Bullying creates this perspective and when we lack confidence, we are unwilling to try something new. We sadly become comfortable and accepting of our fate which allows our bullies to continue, usually unchallenged. A truly awful cycle.
“I don’t need breaks” – in a way bullying makes victims surrender their very basic rights as the alternatives may have more devastating consequences. The solutions a bully offer isn’t viable or conscious of workload or wellbeing. I was once told to ‘work smarter, not harder’ while trying to explain that I couldn’t possibly mark 100 assessments overnight. As a victim, we begin to lose our own sense of reality and humanity. We will put in extra work, often for the sake of work. We will work through our breaks and lunches, deny our own basic rights as human beings and as workers just to tick boxes. The days of eating lunch after work, usually in my car with a tear rolling down my cheek, gave me a profound point of reflection.
“I should try and be like someone they are friends with or someone they like” – Bullies are selective of who they have in their circle and as teacher, we just want to do the best job possible. Bullying create a real self-awareness and self-consciousness. We see the person bullying us around friends or colleagues they have a good rapport, we want to emulate them. We just want to fit in and for the bullying to stop. An NQT who was being badly treated by her department went to see everyone in her faculty teach and began to adopt their ideas into her teaching. She even shopped at the same store as her HOD and changed her entire physical appearance to fit in. we should be encouraging individuality, autonomy and diversity among our teachers. Bullying internalises the thought “what have others got that I haven’t?”.
“I shouldn’t bother to tell anyone, everyone’s busy” – When we see colleagues, all cooped up in their own lives and busy with their own work, we feel guilty. We don’t want to burden others and in the grand scheme of things, can our colleagues help us? Bullying can be incredibly intense and prevent us from making rational decisions (gaslighting escalates this). We don’t think that our circumstances don’t deserve the time of others, so we remain silent. I can almost guarantee you another colleague is going through or has gone through a similar ordeal. This internalised view stops us from crying out for the help we need.
“How do I know I can trust you?” – With self-doubt also comes the doubting of others and their loyalty. When we are being bullied, it can feel as though our every movement is being monitored. We become mistrusting of our Managers as we know they are prepared to use the system to target and harass you further. As victims, we lose sight of who we are and our own personalities. There’s a real dissonance and detachment from the structures and colleagues that could potentially support us. Our lack of trust in others comes from people senior to us not having any trust in us. This create a barrier between us and support mechanisms, the mistrust can become mutual.
“If I stay quiet, maybe they’ll leave me alone” – Bullying thrives in silence. With the accumulation of the other nine internalised thoughts, silence is the icing on the cake. Bullies do not go away without challenge. It shocks me to think that someone of them do not realise they are bullies until they are called out for it! Astounding! Remaining silent doesn’t help and although you may not want to be the person that upsets the applecart. Fact is, if you stay silent, your mistreatment will never be acknowledged by others which gives bullies the license to carry on, unchallenged and their actions unaccountable. You MUST speak up.
In summary, I think the emotional, psychological and mental impacts of bullying can never be understated. Confident classroom teachers with a real love and energy to help change the lives of their students can be left short of confidence, disillusioned and depressed. Bullying in education does exist, it is deeply entrenched and until School Leaders are prepared to eradicate cultures where it prospers, it will remain a problem. At the heart of the current teacher workload, wellbeing, retention and recruitment crisis, we must work together and help one another. The internalised questions and self-doubts bullying can create does not benefit anyone and to think the notion of ‘student progress’ and ‘resilience’ is used to veil such practices, this is abhorrent.
There are solutions. If you are a victim of bullying, you MUST speak up. The Teaching Unions offer fantastic free advice and the Education Support Network also are useful, even if you need an ear. It is important we recognise bullying in education, call it out and collectively fight it. I was once told by a senior colleague that “there is always a solution and if you cannot find the solution, keep looking for one within the problem”.
I truly hope this reaches those in need and I have left links to various support networks too. Also, I am still looking for contributors for my book ‘My Toxic School & I’. If you are interested, please let me know.
Thank you for reading.
NASUWT Helpline: 03330 145550
NEU Helpline: 0345 811 8111
National Bullying Advice: https://www.nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk/employees.html
Education Support Helpline: 08000 562561