In Bullying Facts

Mob – The Vicious Attack


When a person becomes the focal point of bullying abuse by a group of people, this is “mobbing” according to the urban dictionary. Another common term for this mob attack is ganging up on one person. It is completely unfair for any group to target a single individual. The individual is out-numbered and such attacks are unwarranted. Nevertheless, mobbing attacks occur and happen in many places, some of which are unexpected.

Here are a few FAQs about mobbing:

  • Where does mobbing occur?
    Mobbing happens at school, at work, in families, amongst peer groups, in communities, neighborhoods, and even on the Internet in social network spaces.
  • What is mob mentality?
    Mob mentality comes from a group getting excited to join in an effort to attack individuals. One of the classic examples of mob mentality comes from the movie “Frankenstein” where the villagers, as a group, join forces with farm tools and torches to attack Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. More serious real-life examples are lynch mobs. A group goes into a frenzy to harm someone. In current times, mob mentality is a group effort to attack an individual through methods of intimidation, isolation, and humiliation. In the workplace, this includes attacks by rumors, discrediting, and innuendo.
  • What causes mobbing?
    There is always at least one instigator who is the original source of the mobbing attack. In riot situations, these instigators are “provocateurs.” These instigators are the voice in the crowd that yells out “Lynch him!” to spur the mob to attack the victims. Victims are often a single person. The point is there must be an outrageous imbalance in the number of people attacking the victim(s).

Mobbing Characteristics

Mobbing takes on special characteristics depending on the location where it occurs. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize because mobs intentionally disguise their activities in places where it would not normally be socially acceptable, like in the workplace. Workplace mobbing tactics include emotional abuse in the workplace.

In the chapter five of the book entitled, “The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling, and Stopping Bullies & Bullying at Work” the researcher, Dr. Heinz Leymann delineated forty-five types of actions, which constitute mobbing attacks and categorized them. Dr. Heinz Leymann did some of the founding science identifying mobbing behavior.

The mobbing behaviors identified by Dr. Heinz Leymann fall into these five areas:

  1. Attacks on the Ability to Self-Express or Communicate – How this occurs is the individual under attack is shutdown when attempting to communicate. They are called stupid or ridiculed even when attempting to express their point of view. The group attacks them without having any empathy for the victim.
  2. Attacks on the Individual’s Social Relations – How this occurs is negative information (true or not) is spread as rumors. A false idea is spread about the individual under attack. This rumor says the individual has done something to harm a close relation, like having an extra-marital affair, which has not been publicly revealed.
  3. Attacks on an Individual’s Reputation – How this works is information (which may be false) goes around as gossip. The gossip is about things an individual supposedly has done, which destroy the person’s reputation.
  4. Attacks on the Individual’s Work, Profession, or Lifestyle – How this works is to discredit the person for being involved in a job, profession, and lifestyle, which the group can target as being different and less.
  5. Attacks on the Individual’s Health – How this works is the constant attacks on a person affect the health of the person or a false rumor is spread about someone being ill.

Mobbing in Different Environments

Family – In the family situation, when one family member becomes the target of all the others, this is mobbing behavior. One of the reasons for this mobbing activity is because the bully leader in the mobbing attack terrifies the other family members. It is easier to go along with a mob attack to avoid also becoming the victim. This is one of the main motivators of mob behavior.

School – In school, mobbing is a phenomena created by groups of students. The severity goes from bullying attacks to violent physical harm. Normally mobbing is defined as nonsexual, nonracial, and is not necessarily violent, but in school situations, it can escalate to go beyond this common definition to include physical attacks. Racist overtones can be involved as well as prejudice against LGBT students. Special needs students, with either physical or mental disabilities, can easily become the target of a mobbing attack.

Peer Groups – One of the ways a peer group separates itself from others into cliques is by defining themselves as being different and superior to others. One of the places where this is prominent is in high school. The students separate themselves into peer groups of “jocks,” “nerds,” “stoners,” “cheerleaders”, and so forth. For the dominate groups it is common for them to attack a weaker individual. There is a kind of reward system, which occurs when the crowd laughs at one person’s humiliation. There is a negative vicarious enjoyment when watching a person under attack. When a victim becomes a target, everyone in the crowd avoids the same type of attack on themselves.

Workplace – Research into mobbing at the workplace began in Europe with the work of Dr. Heinz Leymann as covered in the article entitled “Mobbing” by Susan Rae Samson. In America, the study of mobbing in the workplace is still in its early stages. Even though mobbing in the workplace is unfair, in the United States it is not yet illegal. Ms. Samson describes the typical workplace situation, which develops into a mobbing attack. When a supervisor is the source of the mobbing behavior, it is easy for the workplace to degrade into a hostile work environment for the person under attack.

Workplace mobbing has five stages, which are: 1) Conflict; 2) Aggressive acts; 3) Involvement of Management; 4) Being labeled as difficult or having mental problems, and; 5) Expulsion (being fired).

NeighborhoodsMobbing in a neighborhood is a gang-related behavior. In certain inner cities, territories are marked with painted graffiti called “tagging” to show what areas are claimed by certain gangs. It can be life threatening for anyone from one gang to enter the territory of another gang. Regular people, who are not gang members, are also at risk of violence, which may include robbery, physical attacks, and even murder by simply entering an area dominated by a gang.

Community Mobbing – Middle to upper class neighborhoods are not immune to mobbing behavior. Take for example an instance of a home in a gated community, which does not fit in according to the community standards. The persons living in such a home become pariahs. Homeowner’s associations can turn to mobbing behavior when a particular homeowner has a unique lifestyle. Holiday decorations can be enough to attract mobbing behavior.

Academia – One might think the hallowed halls of Academia would be the last place to find mobbing behavior. Surprisingly, mobbing behavior is rampant in Academia and supported by the internal politics of higher educational departments. According to the book Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions, mobbing puts victims under so much stress, they leave a university. Even in the case of professors with tenure, who cannot be terminated, mobbing results in them being held in disregard and not worthy of having any respect from other colleagues. Kenneth Westhues documented the presence of mobbing behavior in his book Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process.

How to Identify Mobbing Behavior

Kenneth Westhues came up with a checklist of mobbing indicators in the workplace, summarized here:

  1. The job performance of the person under mobbing attack is at least as good as anyone else in the organization, Sometime their performance is even higher than average. Mob attacks can occur towards a good worker due to envy.
  2. Gossip is rampant about the person under mobbing attack.
  3. The person under attack cannot participate in meetings or group activities.
  4. Criticism of the person is excessive.
  5. There is agreement amongst the mob the person should be punished.
  6. Punishment and reprimand is not according to the normal schedule of regular employee reviews.
  7. Communication about the person under attack is overly emotional.
  8. There is a negative group sentiment about the person under attack.
  9. Confidentiality and secretive behavior are manifest amongst the mob as they make plans against them.
  10. There is no value given to the point of view of the person under attack. They cannot speak for themselves and no one in the group defends them.
  11. Small transgressions, of the person under attack, total up to support a demand for action.
  12. Dehumanizing the person under attack convinces all they have no good qualities.
  13. Regular procedures of organizational policy or legal action do not stop the mob from taking the matter into their own hands.
  14. Resistance of outside independent review of the circumstances arises.
  15. If the person under attack seeks outside help, this causes outrage.
  16. There is fear of violence from either the mob and/or the person under attack.

The Roles

When mobbing behavior is active each person takes on a role, which Dr. Westhues in his article entitled “At the Mercy of the Mob” identifies as the following:

  1. The Victim or Target – May be more than one person, but usually a target is only one person.
  2. Perpetrator(s) – Frequently, these are people in positions of leadership or organizational power.
  3. Enablers – These people join in with the efforts of the perpetrators and participate in the attacks either directly or indirectly.
  4. Observers (also called Bystanders) – They see what is happening, do not really participate, but also do little to stop what is happening.
  5. Rescuers (also called Guardians) – These are very rare. They are people who stand up to the group and come to the defense of the victim. They run the risk of becoming a target themselves, when defending another person.

Even though the expectation is teenagers will engage in mobbing behavior, it is surprisingly common as well with adults.

The Effects of Mobbing

The target of a mobbing attack often demonstrates symptoms normally equated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The victim suffers a kind of mental breakdown. Debilitating psychiatric damage is one outcome of persistent mobbing attack. According to Dr. Westhues, physical illness may also be the result, which includes hypertension from stress, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Of the many case studies documented by Dr. Westhues in his articles, mobbing causes a loss of reputation and decreases in income. In severe cases, it disabled the person from continuing to work. Dr. Westhues reports marital problems occur as damage to the self-esteem of the victim causes isolation from friends and family. In the worse case scenarios, the victim commits suicide after being mobbed and/or creates a violent attack as retribution at work. One such case, described by Dr. Westhues resulted in the death of four people during 1999. A co-worker, named Pierre Lebrun, in Ottawa, Canada, shot them and then at the end of his shooting rampage, took his own life. The mobbing of Pierre Lebrun included his co-workers constantly ridiculing him for a speech impediment. Just because of his stutter, the man was under constant attack at work. The result was his violent deadly outburst.

What to do about Mobbing?

Mobbing behavior has some deep psychological roots in human behavior. Because of this, creating laws to prohibit such behavior may not be effective. In fact, they may create even more intense attacks to prove there is some real reason to get rid of a specific person, thereby making the mobbing behavior harder to define, more intense, and surreptitious. Some organizations now have policies against mobbing behavior, but these are still very few. Ultimately, all bullying behaviors need to be held up to scrutiny and then discarded as human-beings raise their consciousness and treat others as they themselves would like to be treated if they were in the same circumstances.

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