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From Psychological Abuse in the Workplace

by Robyn Mann

Biderman's stages of coercion Abuser's actions Victim's response
Isolation Befriends the newcomer. Introduces to others with high praise. Monopolises until other staff begin to reject. Warns of the perils of associating with other members of staff. Deprived of developing social support with colleagues. Initiates total dependence on abuser. Acquires a false feeling of security. Confuses reality.
Monopolisation of perception Informs victim through stories about power alliances. Outlines superior knowledge and skills. Intimates that victim does not possess necessary knowledge and skill but may be able to acquire it through association with abuser. Loses self-esteem. Doubts ability to perform. Self-blames for accepting a position because unworthy. Consumed completely by introspective thoughts.
Induced physical and mental exhaustion Overburdens victim with time consuming and/or physically demanding tasks. Places unrealistic standards of acceptance on these tasks. Becomes physically and emotionally too weak to resist or challenge. Loses ability to reason rationally.
Threats Reminds of power over victim's workload, promotional opportunities, and acceptance in the hierarchy of the company. Warns with stories of the demise of predecessors who did not reach the acceptable standard. Complies with demands to escape retribution. Displays anxiety about every action performed. Despairs of any change in the situation. Shows symptoms of depression.
Occasional indulgences Praises victim's work in a public forum. Believes they have finally reached the accepted standard and pattern of abuse will stop. Doubts that the abuse really happened because everything seems all right for the moment. Becomes reliant on the abuser for further praise.
Demonstrating 'omnipotence' Demonstrates: Complete control over the victim who is taken for granted. 'Read my mind' expectations. Martyrdom for the company. Affects of being indispensable to the company. Claims victimisation by those who challenge any behaviour. Accepts powerlessness. Accepts the pattern of behaviour as normal.
Degradation Perpetrates derogatory stories about the victim on work and personal topics. Feels disgraced and humiliated. Loses all will to resist.
Enforcing trivial demands Continues to remind victim through innuendo, suggestion, and stories that demands will be complied with. Accepts habit of compliance.

Developed from Biderman's Chart of Coercion in Amnesty International (1975) Report on Torture, London, Gerald Duckworth & Co.

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