Healing from workplace bullying

Bullying at work is a common experience and it can have a big impact psychologically. Sadly in addition of the bullying, many people come away from these situations feeling unsupported and that the unacceptable behaviours have not been addressed. Many choose to leave their employer. In this guide I’m going to talk you through the psychological impact of workplace bullying and how you can begin to heal from these experiences.

What is workplace bullying?

This excellent guide from Very-well-mind gives an helpful overview of the signs of workplace bullying. What I would add from my clinical experience is to be aware that the signs can be much more subtle when you are working in a professional occupation.

Bullies in professional settings tend to be very intelligent and well-aware of what they can get away with, and what they can’t. This means that difficult behaviours, even if persistent, can be difficult to prove. You may not have even recognised it yourself at first. Many people start to feel a growing sense of unease at work and it isn’t until they start to see a pattern or the behaviours start to escalate, that they begin to see what’s happening. There is often a sense of ‘not being able to see the wood for the trees’ when bullying first starts. In these cases it is only when we begin to look back over time, we can see the pattern.

How common is workplace bullying?

It can be tricky to accurately assess prevalence due to differences in measurement and ways of recording bullying behaviour. However, based on the statistics that do exist, it is fair to say that workplace bullying is very common. Here are some statistics from various industries that my clients commonly work in:

In healthcare, a high-quality review estimated that around 26% of nurses had experienced workplace bullying. A survey from the British Medical Association found that more more than a third of medics who responded had experienced bullying and harassment at work in the preceding 12 months.

In the legal profession, around half of female employees and a third of male employees have experienced bullying at work.

In financial services over a third of employees have experienced workplace bullying or discrimination.

In higher education settings, almost half of respondents indicated that they had experienced bullying at work.

These statistics certainly match my impression from clients that I’ve worked with in each if these industries, and others. Sadly bullying is a common problem and unfortunately is not always dealt with as we would hope.

What is the psychological impact of workplace bullying?

Bullying in professional workplaces can be extremely stressful and confusing. You may notice physical sensations of anxiety, difficulties sleeping and feeling ‘on edge’. It is common that this will start to impact on how you are feeling outside of work. As bullies can be manipulative and impact workplace dynamics, sometimes people will feel a sense that other people are talking about them or that there are things going on behind their back. This is not true ‘paranoia’ as there are aspects of this that may be true.  However clients often describe feeling ‘paranoid’ in that they interpret events at work through the lens of what strings the bully may be pulling.

When the bullying situation is over, you will probably continue to experience the psychological effects for some time. You my notice increased anxiety, lowered confidence at work and you may find that you have lost some of your enthusiasm. You may notice yourself feeling more sensitive than usual. This is understandable because tactics used by bullies can make you feel self-conscious and extra aware of how you are perceived.

There has been recent research summarising the long-term effects of workplace bullying.  One systematic review combined the results of 55 research studies, meaning that it is very high-quality research. It was found that experiences of bullying often led to difficulties with anxiety and depression (Boudrias et al., 2021). Importantly, this review highlighted that these symptoms commonly persist for one year and can be present in some cases for four or five years.

What might affect my ability to heal?

There are some protective factors that can ‘buffer’ us from the psychological effects of bullying. There are also some risk factors that may make it more likely that we will experience negative psychological effects.

Protective factors

  • Support from co-workers during the period of bullying (Farley et al., 2023)
  • Working in a psychologically safe workplace (Farley et al., 2023)
  • Having good social support outside of work
  • Satisfaction with how the bullying was addressed/resolved

Risk factors

  • Having experienced bullying in the past
  • Previous experiences of psychological trauma, as these can be triggered by recent experiences of bullying
  • Pre-existing difficulties with confidence or self-esteem
  • Lack of support from your manager and/or the organisation
  • An unsatisfactory organisational response to the bullying

How to heal from workplace bullying

Give yourself time

It is important not to underestimate how much of an impact these experiences can have. Give yourself time. Expect that there will be a process of re-building your confidence at work. Remember that it is common to not feel quite like yourself for a year after a period of bullying, particularly if there are any risk factors present.

If you have moved to a new role or organisation, allow yourself time to settle in. Many people feel a pressure of needing to ‘catch up’ in some way, which can be unhelpful sometimes. It is often more helpful to put your energy into finding your feet again at work.

Remember to continue to talk to those you trust about how you are feeling. Many people assume that you will feel better as soon as you have left the situation or if the bullying has resolved. If you are not feeling ok, it is important to talk about it. If your friends or family members struggle to understand, it may be helpful to consider therapy.

Learn to spot the signs

Bullying in professional environments often starts with confusing behaviour that can be explained away. It is not until we start to see the pattern that we really begin understand what is going on. This means that once you have experienced these kinds of behaviours, you will be much better at spotting them in the future. Many people find this comforting in itself.

In addition it can be helpful to read more about bullying in the workplace so that you can feel more confident about spotting the signs in the future. I’d highly recommend the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work and this online article about Narcissists in the Workplace.

Consider therapy

Therapy can be helpful in a number of ways. Firstly, to make sense of the bullying behaviour. Secondly, to help you to understand why it may have impacted you in the way that it did. This usually includes making sense of your history and personality and how this is relevant to how you experienced the bullying. Thirdly, therapy can help you to rebuild your confidence and any coping strategies that may help you in the future.

People will vary in when they choose to seek therapy. Some people will give themselves time to recover from what has happened to allow themselves to process everything. Others will feel the need to have a space to make sense of everything quite soon after having these experiences. There is no right or wrong.

Of course some people will not need therapy at all. If this is the case, you will  feel you have processed what has happened and will have a sense of ‘closure’.

If you have experienced any of the ‘risk factors’ in the previous section, therapy may be particularly important. This is because your response may be more complex and so a space to make sense of this can be particularly beneficial. The right time to seek help is when you feel ‘ready’ to do so. You will be in a place where you feel ok to face what has happened. You may also be wanting to make positive changes in your life.    

I hope you have found this information helpful. Please contact me if you would like to book in for an assessment.


Farley, S., Mokhtar, D., Ng, K., & Niven, K. (2023). What influences the relationship between workplace bullying and employee well-being? A systematic review of moderators. Work & Stress37(3), 345-372.

Boudrias, V., Trépanier, S. G., & Salin, D. (2021). A systematic review of research on the longitudinal consequences of workplace bullying and the mechanisms involved. Aggression and Violent Behavior56, 101508.