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High Achievers Are the Target of a Bully’s Insecurities

Have you heard of the Tall Poppy Syndrome? In Australia, where poppies grow, they for the most part grow to the same height. Every once in a while, one poppy grows higher than the rest. What do you think they do? You got it…they come along and chop the poppy down to match all the others. This is the same methodology a bully will take with a superstar or high achiever.

Workplace bullies by nature are very insecure people. It is their mission to not be “found out” as they delude themselves into a false sense of power while they secretly plot to subjugate their target. Superstar employees are frequently the targets of bullying at work.

The insecurity of workplace bullies is far reaching. They feel socially inadequate, behaviorally and morally. While they present a public image of superiority, supremacy and bravado, underneath it all they feel profoundly inadequate. Workplace bullies, rather than facing their inferiorities, choose instead to lash out at people who threaten their superiority.

When competent, bright, self-assured people enter the domain of workplace bullies, their bullying strategy is to attack rather than avoid. This gives them a sense of power and control, convincing them that despite their deep inadequacies they still rule.

What Do Bullies Do To Superstars?

Bullies at work use a myriad of covert methods to sabotage the competent employee. They spread rumors, misrepresent the accomplishment of the target, and often take credit for the target’s work. They gossip about the individual. All of this chicanery is used to prop up their need for feeling ‘better than’. You may have worked very hard on a project or assignment only to be snubbed by a bully, or maybe you were put down with a comment such as ‘stop taking the limelight’ or ‘there are other people who want to contribute here, tone it down’. This is not an effective leadership strategy! No one does better when we think less of them. Be aware of these tactics and know it comes from the bully’s insecurities. A great leader would thank you. A great leader or co-worker would acknowledge you. A great leader would not try and shut you down, even if you were on the wrong track; they’d re-direct your enthusiasm.

Bullies at work will frequently constrain the work of their employees. How? By piling unreasonable amounts of work on a target, restricting budget, constantly criticizing, and anything else to undermine the target’s success and sense of competency. Being in control by wielding power is an addiction for workplace bullies.

They will be unreasonable in their demands, so they can witness the failure of someone else, giving them a sinister rush as they witness the failure of one who is more competent.

Workplace bullies assume the role of overlord as they demand that the target produce something out of nothing. Workplace bullies enjoy watching the target ‘sweat under the load’. They cover up their own sense of nothingness by their repetitive, intoxicating power fix.

By constantly criticizing competent employees, workplace bullies don’t feel so lonely in their haunting self-criticism. In undermining the competent employee, workplace bullies convince themselves that they are still able to subjugate another, despite their brutal self-perception.

Some workplace bullying targets are savvy enough to see through the ‘bullying game’ and find ways to outsmart their nemesis. Eventually however, they are likely to look for greener pastures, refusing to endure the aggravation.

However, others, who do not recognize the game or choose not to compete with the bully, are not so fortunate. They will try harder and harder to please, but to no avail. Eventually they will be worn down by the bully and begin to sustain severe psychological damage.

Competent employees who become targets of bullying in the workplace are very often ethical, just, fair and honorable people. Naively, many of them expect the same of others as well. Sadly they become fodder for hungry workplace bullies waiting to satisfy their compulsion for control.

Workplace bullies need to be ‘brought to heel’ by exposing their Machiavellian tactics and seeing them for who they are. Employers and law-makers cannot afford to ignore this workplace epidemic any longer. They must act now to protect their brightest and best from unnecessary and deliberate ruination.

If you are a superstar, and feel that you are becoming a target of bullying in the workplace, know that you have every right to continue being the superstar in everything you do. You are more than the workplace bully’s low self-image; you are a ‘superstar’.


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17 responses to “High Achievers Are the Target of a Bully’s Insecurities”

  1. Pen says:

    Great article and I’ve always said bullies are insecure. A secure person doesn’t need to bring anyone down for their own self worth, especially someone who does better work. Anyone smart and secure would support a high achiever and realise they make the whole team look better. Bullying is an epidemic in the workplace and creating a sense of fear in your team from a bullying leader results in less productivity.

  2. Wanderer says:

    Love the comments and glad i’m not the only one to experience this treatment. I personally didn’t know what to do, was the females in the HR department who orchestrated it because i wouldn’t hookup with them. Was basically a narcissistic sex cult that targeted me, vile bubble gutted old roasties and their simp orbiters who think they are special boys for placating to their bs. The culture is off the deep end, worse than the fall of rome in my opinion.

  3. Lucy says:

    Thank you. This makes a lot of sense & sadly ticks a lot of boxes in my past roles. Not very often you hear stories of the bully attacking the strong one. Very interesting & uncovers a lot of home truths I think.

  4. Bully Free at Work: Valerie Cade says:

    Hello there and thank you for your comments. Just a reply to your comment: Nowhere in the article does it state that bullies have low self-esteem ~ and I agree with you, bullies have reported having high self esteem which is the belief that “I am deserving of happiness”. Bullies absolutely believe they “deserve” happiness, perhaps too much! The article does refer to bullies being insecure. This is different than having high self esteem. A bully has high self esteem and low self worth (insecure). People who are secure have a disposition of peace. Bullies do not. Bullies are not necessarily “well-adjusted” in terms of relating to others, however, they do “go for it” however, with little regard for others. No doubt, bullies (can) get things done and in fact can be over-achievers. There are many ethical well adjusted over achievers and this is what the article is referring to ~ these folks (May) tend to be bullied due to over-achieving ethically (which the bully sees as a threat).

  5. Unfortunately, this is not true, for a long time this theory was well established, but recent research strangely shows that bullies are well adjusted, with high self-esteem, and with the lowest rates of depression.

  6. Mariam says:

    Great article! We are superstars and we wont let bullies bring us down. Bullies only chance are thier victims being gullible but if the target is smart bullies are little petty people who will never be as smart as thier target and can be easily taken down. And for the guy who called Aaron sawnson. Dude you are great and dont let these bullies make you feel otherwise.:)

  7. Merrilyn says:

    I am a high achiever and boy does it come at a cost!
    In the too ten in the country ( Austrslia) at 14/15 in classical ballet, noted as extremely gifted and Caltain of the softball team, playing A level competition tennis as well , on the athletics team always winning in the 100metres, the most perfect ballet body one very famous ex ballerina pointed out I front of 25 of my peers when 14, a natural born snow skier , brilliant at table tennis , spelling bees , very very pretty too SO I was bullied to the point of being admitted to a psychiatric ward age 23 after relentless bullying by the lead dancer of the professional dance show I danced I. Every night every night for almost six months she belittled me , I collapsed physically and so catatonic , 20 rounds of ECT in 1983 which is traumatic but not even effective , told by professors of the hospital to my mother ‘your daughter may never recover’ she is so so traumatised and has shit down , catatonic .
    I did recover but it was thanks to a doctor who did the tough love and huge effort on my part , I did not even resemble myself , the beautiful confidant talented dancer , I was so so broken but I did recover but has it ever stopped ? The bullying , the put downs by especially my older sister ( has never seen me dance ) everyone except those who see the beautiful compassionate kind soul I have also and my everyday kind acts to even strangers who maybe homeless or anyone who is obviously broken , I have been bullied now in the work place and this article will be used against the manager who obviously saw me as a threat as his treatment of me was worse than any bully I have had and there have been many!
    How do I become more resilient because I am so broken right now i write my feelings on paper ( exceptional at writing articulating expressing ) and it was me saying that maybe the only place to have peace and a long road far away from these bullies who hurt me beyond words just because I am gifted is to take my life, end my life so there is no pain no more cruel people bullying me including my sister , there may be peace and its criminal because I would take my most recent just appalling treatment of me who is always kind to others and friendly , accepts everyone , further , you can do that in Australia ) and Ai told Bruce the malicious manager this two days ago but my daughter still works there and begged me not to in fear of her losing her job ! can someone please tell me not to completely fall apart hurt myself because of these bullies and the effects on my sensitive soul ! That I can learn resilience and smile and not react to them ( they want you to react big course)!” Just tell me I was given gifts for a reason , one thing no one can take from meis my gift to dance but importantly my gift of love and joy and passion when I dance and teach others to dance . It’s mine ! They may break me wear me dien but I am 56 fit as a 27 yo and back dancing better than before because I no longer pose a threat on other dance students ! Bullying can lead to suicide it needs to be take seriously My genuine love to all who have read my story and all victims

  8. Kieran says:

    I was badly bullied as a mature student at university over a number of years, because I was seen to achieve high marks consistently; it was only a minority of students (all female, as it happens; I’m male) but they were unrelentingly nasty. I have had, unfortunately, similar bullying experiences in the workplace, again mainly from females (just saying; not implying only women are bullies, not at all.). I had one female supervisor who tore my confidence to shreds, another who terrorized me within academia, and in both cases, I eventually left the job in question. I felt it was impossible to combat the bullying, there was no organizational support in either case, despite my complaints.

  9. Truthy says:

    I’m a tall beautiful blonde woman. I’m 5 ft 9 and have been harassed and stalked by a former employer and his wife for twenty years! It is if you are writing about him. He told me he only wears dress shoes with 1 1/2 to 2 inch heels with lifts built in so my estimate is that he is the size I was at age ten which was 4 ft 11. The animosity and envy they have for me and the way they talk down to me reminds me of the crazy guy in California that hated all tall beautiful blonde smart athletic people. I went to college at 16 so I’m sure being smart and athletic doesn’t help. He’s a lawyer too!

  10. LS says:

    In the US where I grew up til 19 yrs, any success was treated with respect.In Australia, any success is treated with suspicion.Bullying is rife in both countries. The USA bullies what is perceived as weaker or disadvantaged.Australia bullies what is perceived to be privileged.Bullying is the same, regardless.I fit into both categories and amexhausted by both.Still I shall live with joy and enthusiasm. I will win in both countries before I am dead and expose all of you shameless bullies, doesn’t matter why.Ultimately I am going to change this for those interesting and clever, if not perfect, spiritual people who are growing up now.

  11. Gayle says:

    Wow great article, rings very true for describing under achieving bullies I’ve worked with before. Just pathetic really.

  12. Paula says:

    I absolutely love this article!! Been dealing with a bully for way too long. He’s pure evil and this is exactly how I’ve dealt with him. I am me and he can’t have that

  13. NG says:

    Well you might have had an argument against bullies if you didn’t come across so superior and hostile yourself–all the unnecessary name calling does not support your cause whether you are 6’6 or 5’8

  14. Snowy Day says:

    Wise words from Valerie, excellently written. Agree with what you have said and I have to say that it is very hard to be harshly criticized when you know you are ethical and fair, and doing a good job. It seems very unfair, and – it is.Agree with our farmer friend above about the bullies pleasure in being insulting and rude. The “fox’s smile,” as he beautifully describes it. I have had this experience with bullies more than I would like to count and each time it is the same – the same behavior, same smirks and laughter at their cruelty and your hurt response. It’s hard not to be even momentarily set back and hurt at some of the things they say and do, we are human and compassionate and so that would be a healthy response. I try and just be myself, be my best and let their behavior be their own – they can keep it. Yes, I might have had these difficult situations more that I would like, but I have learned from each one and while their behavior is the same each time (even in completely different companies!), my behavior evolves and changes and I learn more and grow from each experience. They say that’s the sign of a healthy person, that we can grow and change – while the unhealthy person does not learn from their experiences, and will simply repeat the same dysfunctional behavior over and over again. Expecting difference results perhaps, I don’t know. In the rooms of AA and Al-Alanon they say that is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Thanks Valerie, for doing this great work and fighting a good fight.

  15. Aras says:

    I love this article!

  16. Aaron Swanson says:

    As a farmer and a man who’s 6’6″ an really good looking, I am bullied my entire life by these nasty “small little men”. I’ll skip to one particular story that rings true to this article. Since I have the family farm to work on, full time job is out of the question. Some guy my neighbor knew needed someone to run a tractor an work his field for seeding. At the time I was catching a F-load of shit & harassment from these ugly nasty lil men, so naturally this guy who’s also a nasty lil insecure guy figured he would join in. The pattern is always the same, they are weak, their financial status if low or suffering, they have no luck with women, etc, etc. When working for this guy, he tried the ol “setup to fail” tactic where he would give me these ridiculous impossible to follow instructions. Now the task was to hook up a baler to the tractor, something I can do no problem. The only question was “how do you want your levers set up”?. This runt then troddled off an incomprehensible babble on the hoses, an I knew he was either “stupid or trying to fuck with me, I’ve dealt with this kinda shit before from other employers & co-workers on other jobs with such consistency that I’m surprised when I don’t get it. So I told him I’ll hook up everything an leave him to do up the hoses, only takes 5 seconds an he knows which hoses go where so the controls are just the way he likes them. He freaked the fuck out an had a hissy fit, an the tell tale sign he was getting off on this was how he held his head with his hand, just like I noticed that women will brush their hair with their hand a certain way when they are attracted to me, I noticed behavior traits with men who try to fuck with me like “fox smiles”, an their snotty smug tones of voice, or the “projecting” stigma/failure/weakness etc. That’s when I quickly did the job an never answered any of his phone calls ever again. Year later he tried to get me to “do some tinkering work around his shop”. Another thing I noticed with these runts when they do some really underhanded nasty stuff to me is when they are leaving the area. One guy who owned the local Canadian tire falsely accused me of shoplifting an faxed the entire town about what he said I did (sued him, won). He did that because he sold the store an moving back to Ontario. Now back to that farmer runt, since I knew what kind of fucking scumbag runt that he is, I knew that he was just trying to get me back into his net so he could cause me harm. Sure enough when he caught me at the hardware store he at first came forward all sweet & nice. When I brought up what I was doing in building a shop of my own, he turned away an choked a bit, clearly my ambition caused him pain. Then he smugly told me that I would be doing “his yard” an walked away sticking his nose up in the air. Now I help with my neighbors yard work, but he’s a good man an helps me out so that’s why I do it, but this shitbag thinks a tall good looking guy like me doing his yard is the equivalent of him being the better man. Since I got good at spotting these runts, I turned him down while playing ignorant, an that’s when he let it slip, he was quitting farming, obviously because he’s too weak & stupid to do all that hard farm work. But before he left farming, one final chance to “play with me”. The behavior of these nasty lil men is consistent, you can set your watch to it. What set all these guys off more so than usual was I pissed off the “female herd” with some stuff I said on Facebook an with Mens Rights. Typical vicious mean ugly stupid women, piss them off an the “dogs” get sent after yah. Now runts always been trying to cut me down at every opportunity, but pissing off the women made it all 10x worse. Here are the top 10 behavior traits of runts.1. The runt is only driven by his lizard brains desire to mate2. The runt can not compete with other men, so he must eliminate by any means necessary3. The runt is weak, so he is a schemer, a gossiper, a plotter. He will try to manipulate other men or society at large to do the dirty work for him4. The runt has no friends, only other runts like him who he’ll fuck over or use as tools if it suits his needs, he has no honor, no loyalty, he would fuck his best friends girl if the opportunity presented itself.5. The runt is like any predator, he’ll attack at the moment he see’s weakness, as a man such weakness perceived by him is lack of financial or social status since these are the only two things he can acquire because he is a runt, he can not rely on his body alone. He has to make $300K a year just to stand a chance against the tall good looking guy only making $100K an the really good looking guys can get women with less than that an so he will do whatever it takes to ruin a mans financial or social status.6. The runt derives great pleasure at the torment of better men, so much so it’s a drug an he’s a drug addict always seeking his next fix.7. Every deal the runt offers is a scam, every gift is poison, every bit of advice is the path of failure. Every time the runt suggests a business deal to me, it was a business that makes no money. Every women he suggests I date, is a single mom or his ex wife. 8. The runt is a projector, he will call other men gay or faggot because projecting homosexuality on other men is wishful thinking. He will label other men creepy, scary, bad in bed, small dick, crazy, anything & everything in his mind to make them unappealing to women an stigmatized by society9. The runt will do everything he can to deny you success, this is why the runt loves big tyrannical governments, trigger happy cops, college campus speech codes, an rigged in his favor environments because these are tools he will use against you. He is an Einstein an figuring out how to use any & all external power structures as weapons. The runt will even resort to breaking the law by stealing or plotting to take something good away from you because the thought of you having it causes him horrible horrible pain.10. Your success is his pain, if you have a nice new car, he must figure out a way to take it from you, if something you own or possess makes you more popular with people, the runt will try to take it from you. Finally the runt is built this way by nature, this is no mental disorder, its’ sadly human nature, deal with it or deal with him, best advice, get him before he gets you. Show no mercy to him for none will be given.

  17. Ellie says:

    Walking in the presence of giants here. Cool thinking all around!

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Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of "Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!" which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to

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