I could hear the anger in my friend's voice as she told me about helping to organise a charity event. She'd put up her hand to provide a meeting place. Not only did she open her home, but also spent time and money preparing food. Karen is well-known for being a great hostess.
It was just awful, Karen blurted out when telling me about the co-ordinator.
Every time I expressed an opinion or made a suggestion, she rolled her eyes and laughed. She just continually snickered and put down any idea I had.
Karen is legally blind. But that doesn't stop her volunteering her time and energy to a good cause. What upsets her is being treated as though she's useless and feeling bullied. Karen continues
I really think she has an issue working with someone with a disability. She's carried on like this a couple of times before. But seeing she was a guest in my home, I thought she'd have more respect.
Sometimes, bullying knows no bounds. And although there have been many changes made over the years, those with disabilities can still be targeted.
A 2011 report
Understanding Disabilities by the World Health Organisation (WHO) states
Negative imagery and language, stereotypes and stigma – with deep historic roots – persist for people with disabilities around the world.
The report goes on to say these negative attitudes usually result in the negative treatment of others. Such harmful behaviour also includes bullying.
So what exactly is bullying?
Our Community is a support organisation for community groups across Australia. It defines bullying as
Any behaviour that is offensive, humiliating, intimidating, degrading or threatening and
repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a person or group of persons.
Bullying can happen anywhere, any place or at any time.
MindMatters, a national mental health initiative for schools says,
Not only can it happen in any situation, but sometimes by those you least expect – workplace, volunteering, families, friends, others with disabilities.
Health and well-being
Bullying is soul-destroying and has long lasting effects for all concerned.
Toni Mellington is a psychologist with many years of research and practice in workplace bullying. Her expertise is utilised by many including universities, employers as well as the Supreme Court.
For the targets and colleagues who witness bullying, it can lead to health problems such as anxiety, social dysfunction and depression.
Toni says her research found that
health suffers not only whilst the person is being affected, but well after the behaviour has ceased.
It's not your fault
Rather than understanding the basics of bullying, many people believe it's their fault. They think it's something they've done or haven't done to cause this negative behaviour.
Toni agrees that believing it's your fault can cause a decline in a person's ability to defend themselves.
She goes on to say,
Internalising bullying is an unfortunate common practice, which makes accessing help and resolving the matter early very difficult.
If we think we are being bullied what can we do?
Some of Toni's suggestions include:
Keeping a diary with notes on the time, place, date and witnessesExpressing your concerns with the bully. If possible, ask them to stop.Telling an appropriate person what is going onSeeking support, help and advice.
Bullying policies are there to help. But first we need to assess if we are being treated unfairly. And is it bullying we are confronted with.
We also need to check our own resilience and have the courage to speak out. And as for Karen, she says it will be a long time before she puts her hand up again.