child abuse

How Toxic Workplaces Can Lead to a Bullied Childhood


When bullying is all you know as a child, it tragically becomes your foundation; escaping these patterns becomes your biggest struggle and a lifelong challenge. While some familial bullying is the result of generational programming, a fair share of it arises from what I call “the continuum of bullying” – a parent bringing home reactive stress from a toxic workplace where bullying is the culture.  

A recent article in The Globe and Mail by Dave McGinn discussed emotional abuse in childhood and how a therapist can often help by bringing to light, for the child and the parent, just how insidious and long-lasting a pattern of emotional abuse can be. Even with this type of professional support, divorcing oneself from abusive parent(s) is frequently the best solution.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye – Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss the continuum of bullying: The shareholder bullies the board; the board bullies the CEO, the CEO bullies the executive committee, the executive committee bullies the managers, the manager bullies their employees, and the employees bully their families. This is a toxic dynamic. I assert that creating psychologically safe, healthy, fair and productive workplaces will go a long way in curtailing this horrible chain reaction.

Organizations must become aware that bullying is a present danger and threat to their sustainability. If this does not begin with the CEO, often the chief bullying officer, the required systemic change cannot occur. Sadly, because many employees live in a state of fear as the result of bullying and emotional childhood abuse, they are resistant to speaking up, fearing retribution.  And the cycle continues.

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Speaking Ill of The Dead

I was taught not to speak ill of the dead, but I feel like I have to make an exception here. If this testimony is true, and Joe Paterno knew of Jerry Sandusky’s rampant and longtime sexual abuse for years without taking action, his legacy needs to be reevaluated. If true, he is a monster who cared more about the money, power and control he gained through his institution than about the young student athletes who revered him as their coach. This is an extreme case of a situation I’ve come across numerous times in a variety of organizations – the people at the top protect their favorites at the expense of other employees. Here, it seems as though Paterno protected Sandusky, not only at the expense of the other workers under his management, but at the expense of Sandusky’s many, many victims. There are clear parallels between this situation and the scandals the Catholic Church has dealt with in terms of child abuse – horrible abuses were shoved under the rug by higher-ups (possibly even previous Popes) instead of being called to attention. This is sickening news, and if it’s true, the Paterno family should adjust their defensive responses. Who is the bigger villain here – the man who perpetrated a heinous crime, or the man who knew about it and could have stopped it, but did nothing?

You can read more about the new testimony at The New York Times.

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