While there is a variety of terms and variations (mobbing, psychological violence, emotional workplace abuse, abusive supervision, workplace bullying), the following definitions are a helpful starting point for understanding the general phenomenon of workplace psychological abuse in its many forms.
Bullying at work is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of a person by one or more workers…It is psychological violence–sublethal and nonphysical–a mix of verbal and strategic assaults to prevent the Target from performing work well. It is illegitimate conduct in that it prevents work from getting done. (Namie & Namie, 2009).
Bullying is different from harassment due to the subtle and often invisible nature of the aggression. (Crumpton, 2014).
Mobbing is not a "garden variety workplace conflict...[it] begins with a triggering, unresolved conflict and then develops an enduring, remorseless course which professionally, emotionally, and often physically harms the target. (Hecker, 2007).
The mobbing syndrome is a malicious attempt to force a person out of the workplace through unjustified accusations, humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse, and/or terror. (Davenport et al., 1999).
Emotional Workplace Abuse involves "abusive practices and behaviours which are enabled and fostered in toxic working environments...it is repeated and...the abuser deflects the responsibility for their behavior and projects it onto the target." Additionally, "abusive behaviours form a pattern between abusive and non-abusive cycles...Calm phases are followed by more active violations, and thus the calm phases should be seen as part of the pattern of violence." (Penttinen et al., 2019).
Behaviors can range from subtle to conspicuous. They can be very difficult to detect, identify, and prove. There is typically a pattern of calm and storm, abusive and non-abusive cycles, similar to domestic and intimate partner violence. Abusers typically deny any abuse, and frequently claim victimhood.
A few examples of behaviors and tactics include: