Monday, December 28, 2009

Going to Battle with a Bully? Think Post Traumatic Growth

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often associated with major life events such as going to war and domestic violence. It includes a list of feelings and behaviors such as high levels of insomnia, apathy, anxiety, depression, aggression, and lack of concentration, to name a few. Although perhaps lacking in the attention it deserves, targets of workplace bullies also experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2004 for more information).

With record numbers of Army soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD and committing suicide, Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum came up with an idea. She wanted to know the difference between a soldier who returns from war suffering from PTSD and one who returns stating they have better leadership and decision-making skills. According to Cornum the answer is Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). How you come out of an experience depends on how you go into it.

She figured the Army is sending its soldiers off to war physically prepared – handling a gun, physical fitness, etc. But, they aren’t being mentally prepared.

So with the help of Martin Seligman, the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Army is rolling out a new program to build emotional strength. According to him, the difference between PTSD and PTG is optimism. Optimists see setbacks as temporary, and something they have the power to change.

Seligman is also an advocate for the concept of resiliency. Resilient individuals are optimistic and energetic, curious, and demonstrate positive emotionality. Resiliency is about being flexible in stressful experiences and bouncing back when they are over.

What does all this have to do with workplace bullying? Well, if the Army thinks they can help ward of PSTD with PSG, shouldn’t workplace bullying scholars be paying attention?

Ultimately, it's clear that people have very different reactions to workplace bullying. One person might perceive behaviors as bullying, while others are annoyed but do not find themselves so emotionally wrapped up in the aggression. What's the difference between these people? I'm thinking optimism and resiliency has something to do with it.


Matthiesen, S.B., Einarsen,S. (2004). Psychiatric distress and symptoms of PTSD among victims of bullying at work. BRITISH JOURNAL OF GUIDANCE & COUNSELLING, 32(3), 335-356.

New Army program aims for emotional fitness and 'post-traumatic growth', Retrieved December 28, 2009 from:

The eBossWatch Worst Bosses of 2009

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