Psychological Harassment Case Example

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An email conversation

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Email Received:

I want to mention a tactic I believe was used against me here at work. Tell me what you think. This one particular employee would stand to the side of me or behind me and stare at me continuously (let’s say anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes). He would only stop when I would return his stare. I soon started doing the same to him and he now doesn't do this anymore.

Was he purposely trying to induce paranoia?

Email Response:

How do you know he was staring at you if he is standing behind you?

Standing behind a person and talking or whispering threats is a tactic and usually a serious one but this isn’t what’s happening.

I don’t think this person is trying to induce paranoia in any way.
You are not in a psychological war and there are no other psychological manipulations used. Who is this person and has anything else happened in the past?

It’s common for people to stare at other people for a great number of reasons. Why don’t you ask him the next time? Not in an angry fashion but just “hey, how come you’re always starring at me?” don’t assume negative or bad intentions.

Email Received:

I know what I know and this guy would repeatedly stare at me, I would describe it as eyes burning a hole in my back! He would also do it in my peripheral vision and so I knew for a fact he was doing it. No one else would do it but him and like I said he got a taste of his own medicine a few times and now he's stopped doing it, coincidence? And yes other things have happened in the past too. As for whispering things behind my back, from the little foreign language he was using that I know I would say yes. The word xxxxxx (which means 'no good') were repeated many times in my presence (it is the only word they taught me in this foreign language)... coincidence? I'm not saying that there is this big conspiracy against me, but these were tactics used against me during my first 2 years of employment here. Most of them have stopped. And as for saying something in response to being stared at, I would say stuff like 'what do you want' or 'how can I help you'.

Email Response:

If it is true and the intent is used to induce paranoia don’t let these ideas get the better of you. You need to control these ideas and the paranoia that is tried to be induced. See the What To Do page and there is a part about paranoia.

I don’t really believe that this person is really using these tactics. It could be a number of different things. You don’t know what this person is thinking. Maybe he is trying to annoy you. Maybe he does know it’s bothering you but I doubt that he thinks he’s inducing paranoia or trying to induce paranoia.

People do stare at other people all the time.

As for behind your back, I meant literally stand behind you and whispering threats.

Email Received:

The paranoia isn't that bad, perhaps the word 'makes me more self-conscious' would have been better. Yes they weren't death threats said behind my back but after hearing the words "no good" in your presence a couple a hundred times (literally) you would begin to wonder. I don't believe that threats have to be vicious to inflict harm on someone!

Yes there is always the benefit of the doubt that these acts were not deliberate. However, after repeated gestures and using different tactics, I am 100% certain these tactics were deliberate. The people I work with are not stupid; most of them have a PhD or medical degree from other countries.

There are many other ways to induce paranoia and psychological harm on people that aren't mentioned on your website. One of them is staring as I spoke about. Like I said, I did it to him many times now and I know he doesn't like it and so he stopped doing it to me. Maybe this isn't easy for you to understand and I wouldn't want you to be subjected to it either. And what can bother one person may not bother somebody else. For example, dragging ones feet on the floor can be bothersome to some people but not to others. Further, someone may feel that the other person is deliberately dragging their feet to annoy them. However, dragging of the feet is a bad habit and done everywhere and at all times, it is not intent on one person. I hope you understand what I'm trying to convey.

Email Response:

Ok, let me know what else they’ve done.

If they taught you and know you understand the foreign words “no good” and keep repeating it near you and aimed at you indirectly or indirect insinuation it probably is an attempt to attack your self-esteem.

If they have started using these tactics read the What To Do page and create your journal but don’t change your behavior, or try to do the same, and try not to let it affect you. Expose their incompetence and the fact they are cutting corners in your lab. Use HR to voice your concerns about the lab procedures and quality control. Etc..

If they are using these tactics to induce paranoia it’s to make you look unstable or look bad if you plan on filing a complaint. Maybe they want to put themselves up as the dominate lab group. “do it our way or we are the bosses”. Expose their incompetence, you do work there and if the reputation of the lab is harmed it can also harm you since you worked there. If you see a problem with quality control or see them cutting corners let HR know and the manager as well. Keep the emails you send them.

Trying to associate threats or negativity to common gestures is a tactic or psychological manipulation. It’s called classical conditioning. It’s used to induce disorders such as paranoia and to discredit the victim.

Email Received:

Apparently (as informed by a colleague who interviewed her) there was a woman of the same ethnic and nationality who also applied for the position I currently hold. She didn’t get the job, I aced the interview and she didn’t (she couldn’t answer the simplest questions about PCR!). These lab people wanted her there and so too did the lab director (one day he actually told me that this woman had more experience than I did). It’s a good thing these guys weren’t the ones making the final decision in hiring.

During my first two years of work, the lab people of this same ethnic and nationality kept telling me to find a better job, that there was more out there for me. So this plus the tactics makes a clear picture that they want their own person in there. I was also told by the lab director that my job there was temporary.

The funny thing about this one person is that at times he can be real nice and then commit to these behaviors?

I do document irregularities.

You learn soon in life that having good intentions at work isn't enough. I went there hoping to make a difference, for the good, help society. But soon work politics and psychological harassment takes place. I guess that’s how it is.

Email Response:

Who hired you and made the final decision to over ride all these people and what they wanted?

Is your position permanent or temporary?

Don’t let this nice to bizarre behavior act fool you. It’s really just used to confuse and manipulate you. To leave you wondering why they are acting this way or doing this.

First they gave you hints that they didn’t want you there. And then probably started with subtle bizarre behavior to let you know something was going on to make you paranoid and seem unstable. They taught you one word “no good” and used it and did the staring thing. What else have they done? Try to remember.

Email Received:

I've been there for over 4 years now. The lab director is not of this ethnic and nationality, but the lab workers of this group are of the same ethnic and nationality and really like him (apparently he gave them a big raise, overtime hours and work premiums i.e. $).

I was interviewed by a genetics’ councilor who used to work in the lab (apparently she didn't get along well with one of those guys) and by a fellow lab technologist. I'm assuming she had the final decision.

The position is permanent.

The only word they taught me was this word “no good”. When I started saying “hello” in this language, they told me that people don't say this (I get the impression the only word they wanted me to know was “no good”).

Yes his nice act is confusing. One minute he's nice and the next he's coughing phlegm and gob all over the place. This was a tactic he repeatedly used. I'll try to describe it the best I can. He (and the other employee of this group) would clear the phlegm from their throat whenever they would approach me, whether it was in the lab, coffee room or bathroom. At first I wasn’t sure whether they had TB or were trying to annoy me. Then I realized they would do it directly behind me. Also, they only seemed to do it when they were close to me and never far from me, say down the hall. I was continuously bombarded with those noises.

No staring in a long time and no “no good” said in a long time. It's like they’ve given up on trying to get rid me.

Our positions in the lab are rotated after a period of time. My position hasn’t been rotated in several years.

Other tactics include trying to belittle me in front of newcomers. He once introduced me as “this is a lab technician” and then introducing the other lab technician from our lab as “this is our very best lab technician so and so.” He would also ask me personal questions like 'do I go to massage parlors?' or 'you are (an ethnic or nationality), you must snort coke right?' or telling me that 'homosexuals should be killed' (what if I was gay).

The lab director also did a few strange things. He once asked me if I can get him some pot (I said no of course). He also mentioned that he smokes every night but that he should quit. He also took me out for coffee once to confide in me that he has a terrible crush on the lab secretary. After an AIDS awareness meeting we both attended, he asked me to come over his house, hit the hot tub and sleep over (just the two of us?).

I know many of these arguments must sound silly but I would take work real seriously and these types of questions and scenarios were demeaning.

This is all that comes to mind for the moment, I'm sure there is more that will pop in my head while sleeping tonight.

As for cutting corners this is not allowed. What you can do however is try new procedures to cut time and if these work, change the protocol so that it becomes official.

I hope this doesn't sound too off the wall.

Email Response:

This does not sound off the wall at all.

These are tactics. And they probably did try to get rid of you.

Coughing phlegm and other similar actions done behind you or around you is a tactic. There’s a pattern that it is only done when behind you are in close proximity to you. It also started and ended. It’s a kind of projection towards you of something unwanted (rejection) and gross or revolting. You should address this kind of issue with them directly or with HR to let them know that it’s not just annoying and distracting but also rude, disrespectful and improper social etiquette.

They intentionally taught you one word “no good” and didn’t want you to use any others like “hello” and then used this word in their psychological manipulations. They used it to attack your self esteem and induce paranoia. Rejection or social rejection can also affect your self-esteem. (Disapproval)

The lab director and this group seem to have an understanding or alliance for their own benefit and not that of this lab.

Belittling other people is also a tactic.

Personal attacks or an attack to your ethnic or nationality is another.

Claiming that your position is temporary instead of the fact that it is a permanent position is a kind of threat.

The other tactics are pretty serious. They didn’t try to use any personal information in their tactics but they did try to get personal information from you. Remember that phrase “get me some dirt on that guy”. I believe they tried to obtain this kind of information from you. Some people will also act as friends for several months to get this kind of personal or confidential information. An example of this may be the lab director confiding personal information to you for you to do the same. These people are not your friends. The lab director also used a degrading theme, homosexuality, and it had a desired effect on you. I’m sure they know you are not homosexual but it is an attack to your dignity. Using false insinuations is also a tactic. The comment about killing homosexuals is probably an indirect threat and yes, what if you were homosexual. That would make it a more direct threat. Sometimes a lot of maneuvering is used to hide threats or the obviousness of a threat. Having illegal drugs on you or giving illegal drugs to a fellow employee in the workplace is usually grounds for dismissal and this could have then been used as a threat in the sense of leave or we will harm your career and personal life. The same is true for your lab director, asking employees for drugs can also be grounds for dismissal.

The affects are reduced when you realize the intentions are to cause a desired affect by attacking your dignity. Laughter is the best medicine.

Be respectful and polite at all times. Don’t confuse this with not being professional and exposing incompetence or procedure failures if you see any and you should also address the issue of position rotations. The lab director should or is well aware of the fact that your position has not been rotated as it’s supposed to have been for a very long time.

What was your stress level during this time period or the first 2 years? What is it now?

Email Received:

Stress level during the first two years was very high (I constantly felt guilty of something). One student from a neighboring lab once asked me why I look guilty. I am much less stressed now, but because of that conditioning thing, I sometimes expect a stare or a cough / throat clearing event to happen when they are in the vicinity.

As for the homosexual incident, it was the fellow lab technologist who said 'homosexuals should be killed'. I then went to see the lab director about this, hoping he would do something about this, but he just simply replied something like 'we are all adults here and people can say what they want and there is nothing I can do about it so just get used to it. This wasn't the response I was hoping to hear.

Email Response:

When the fellow technologist said homosexuals should be killed. How did you feel? Did you feel threatened or as if he had just threatened you?

It’s like this, If a group makes subtle hints or insinuations about you being of a certain ethnic for example (even though they probably know you are not), and then one of them says something like all the people of this ethnic should be killed, it’s an indirect threat to you because of the maneuverings or less visible or obvious but still a direct threat to you.

Another thing is that degrading themes are often used to prevent people from coming forward as mentioned on the website. This may or may not have been his intention by using a degrading theme to threaten you but it is often the way it is used. For example the person may have some reservations about claiming that he felt personally threatened by a threat that is made towards homosexuals.

As for your lab director, you addressed the issue. His response is a typical one but given the fact that he is also a participant, it is also probably a planed or calculated one.

How did you feel during that period of time?
How did you see yourself or value yourself?
How would you rate your self-esteem during this time period?
Did you feel depressed during this time period?

Email Received:

At the time I was recently divorced and single. And yes I did feel it was a threat as in their minds I may have been gay (i.e. divorced guy no girlfriend). I also felt that it may have been a tactic to eliminate gay people from working in the institute (i.e. only heterosexual’s work here). This was an educated man saying this, not some ignorant relative.

Working here didn't feel good. Among other things, there was constant bombardment of noises, the staring, and the 'no good' being projected... I was able to withstand this treatment, in my opinion, due to my perseverance and putting up with the shit around you just to make a living. At first I thought my bad experience here was some kind of initiation rites (like university kids trying to get into a frat but are being mistreated at the initiation party), but it dragged on too long. At other times I felt this mistreatment was a control mechanism of theirs and in my head I kept telling myself they can try all they want but I won't be theirs. At times I wasn't sure if they were trying to get rid of me or purposely mistreating me to lower my self-esteem (as a consequence self-worth and self-esteem take a toll), resulting in me feeling of 'I'm lucky enough to have this job'. (Similar to Stockholm syndrome where the victim falls in love with his captor). But I survived and compared to people working in small time factories for example, I still believe I am still better off.

I wouldn't say I was depressed as I would jog a lot and go to the gym to 'release' the toxins of work.

Email Response:

I don’t think I got a reply about this question.

Did the phlegm thing start from day one?
You noticed it all of sudden. Why?
They were doing it in different places and all of sudden it was always or concentrated behind you or in your proximity?
Did they associate it to something? For example did one of them say something like “no good” and then do the phlegm thing?

Email Received:

The phlegm thing started from day one. At first I thought it was just their usual self (I’m sure they do this at home too) but they started doing it directly behind my head, beside me or as they would pass by or when they were in my vicinity. To add a funny story to this, there were times when they needed a favor from me (let’s say to help them fix an ill functioning machine) and I knew they needed a favor as they would stop the throat clearing and phlegm sounds for a while, ask me for the favor and soon after start with the sounds again. It was a game to them. This and the fact that they slowed down in frequency when I started doing it to them, made me realize that this was a tactic. I don't believe they associated it to any word however (I guess they weren't that smart after all). Actually, the only association was when they needed a favor, they were nice to me, didn't make any noises and then after the favor would make noises again (this really drove me mad).

The more questions you ask the more that comes to mind, I guess I repressed some of it.

Email Response:

So that would indicate that they know or are aware that it is affecting you in some way. They used what maybe a common behavior to them and modified it. One of the ways they used it was to frustrate you.

Associating different common actions, words, or noises to a threat or negativity is also a tactic. It’s also used to induce paranoia and leave the victim wondering who else is participating or if a common action from an individual was just a common action or intent on psychological harassment. This also places innocent people in other environments or other locations at risk. An unsuspecting person could provoke a victim of these tactics by using a common word, action, or noise. (see also Constant State of Interrogation on the Psychological Manipulation page)

What you did is ok by imitating them but keep in mind that you should never do like them or try to use these kinds of tactics back on them or engage them in this kind of a war. It’s not part of your beliefs or values and there are many reasons why you shouldn’t. Being true to your beliefs and values is also a self-esteem or self confidence factor. It also involves negativity instead of positivity. Create your journal. (see the What To Do page)

It may not be obvious to you but by them stopping it doesn’t mean you had a kind of victory, it may be the case that you did. I don’t want to take anything away from what you did because I think at least you fought back in some way. The reason is because when you engage them using these kinds of tactics they want to manipulate you into acting or behaving the same way they are and fight the same way they are or using the same tactics. This will go contrary to your personal beliefs or values and can affect your self-esteem. They may even try to reverse it claiming that you are the one using these tactics and they never were, something wrong with you, or you are sabotaging the work or productivity of others. If you do mimic them or use the same tactics you can’t really deny that you did. You’ll claim that you did but they started and they will say no, it’s all in your head and you started doing this to them and effected productivity. This could be grounds for dismissal.

In some cases they may even ask for you to consult a qualified medical professional, a psychiatrist, which would probably further discredit you by claiming that you are suffering from a psychological disorder or paranoid delusions and that this was all in your head. Your continued stay in this employment would then probably be attached to a condition of you undergoing therapy which would involve you taking medication and acknowledging the fact that this was all in your head or caused by a psychological disorder.

Use the Journal. Document what they do and expose them. Do not do the same as they do. I know you wouldn’t but I wanted you to understand some of the reasons why.

Email Received:

Another justification came to mind as to why they would make those noises: to make me a tougher guy. I know this one sounds weird, but maybe in their minds I was a bit weak and so by constantly making those noises it would get me used to this and in effect a stronger person. But then again as I said in the previous email, they wouldn't make them when they needed a favor, so maybe that theory can be blown out the window.

Perhaps I expected a perfect world with perfect people, perhaps I always saw the good in people and not the bad, gave them the benefit of the doubt. Like I said they were nice to me at times and I found this very confusing.

Could it be that they were doing this to make me a stronger person, were they trying to help? Were they trying to control me and make me stay there (as I do value myself as a valuable asset)? Or am I deluding myself, maybe they do want me out? These questions will not have definitive answers, only time will tell.

Email Response:

Like I mentioned before don’t be fooled by their nice guy to bizarre behavior routine. It’s meant to confuse you.

It’s all right to think of any possibilities as to why they would do this but don’t be fooled. As a person who has benevolent intentions and good values you may believe or examine the possibilities that their intentions may somehow have a good intention, benevolent, or beneficial to you. You will also normally reject the idea that their intentions are to harm you, why would anyone want to harm you or the fact that anyone would do this to another person or someone else. This is a normal phenomenon for victims of these tactics. This phenomenon is exploited or used, but again, don’t be fooled.

Trust me; there was nothing beneficial, benevolent, positive, or good in their intentions. There is a positive result because of the way you conducted yourself, what you learned, and you are probably a wiser and stronger person because of it. It’s also a phenomenon that they may also try to take credit for or try to lead you to believe was their intention. You should note that when you take action or fight back it can build self-confidence and self-esteem and this can also be an attempt to reduce that phenomenon.