Should we cringe at the workplace bullying “victim”?

As might be expected for a workplace bullying specialist, I often read articles and posts on workplace bullying. What I find is that every time someone refers to the bullying victim, I feel this bodily cringe. It has become as predicable as the cat with it’s back hair standing to attention on crossing paths with it’s K9 arch enemy.

I know that in a technical sense that victim is a only word, but is it really the best word to use? Or is it reinforcing the disempowerment and helplessness of those who have been on the receiving end of bullying type behaviours?

A quick Google search defines victim as “a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of ill-treatment”. In this sense, victim has become a belief system. It is something that someone else has done to us over which we have no control.

When it comes to bullying, this may be true for the debilitating part of the experience where one is targeted, but it does not have to be true thereafter for the remainder of a person’s existence. I have worked with a number of individuals who have adopted new approaches after being bullied to prevent future targeting. Some learnt how to handle people who use bullying type behaviours. Some moved onto new, more positive and more appreciative workplaces. Others work with therapists where they learn to identify their personal triggers allowing them to identify early the warning signs, thus allowing them to act to effectively “bully block” the behaviours.

When it comes to individuals subject to workplace bullying behaviours, I tend to use the word target. Target is a term commonly used by professionals in the workplace bullying field. There is no doubt that this is a value statement on my behalf. However, the message I want to convey by using this word is that a bullied person can move to recovery; that they will not always be, nor need to feel, helpless or passive. As painful as the experience of bullying can be for targets, there is a new bully-free future waiting in the wings. It is self identification as a positive rather than a negative.

We all try to use language that presents us in a positive light and that makes us feel good about ourselves. A quick look at LinkedIn doesn’t include ourselves describing ourselves as unprofessional, unskilled, failures or victims. Instead we find people using the opposite types of words (professional, skilled and successful). Framing ourselves with positive language creates opportunities and leads to solutions.

If you were targeted with bullying type behaviours, would you prefer to be a victim? If not, why use it as a word to describe someone else?

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