Original Research

A systems psychodynamic description of organisational bullying experiences

Frans Cilliers
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 38, No 2 | a994 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v38i2.994 | © 2012 Frans Cilliers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 May 2011 | Published: 20 March 2012

About the author(s)

Frans Cilliers, University of South Africa, South Africa

Share this article

Bookmark and Share


Orientation: Organisational bullying experiences manifest themselves as an intense unconscious systemic dynamic involving the bully, the victim and the organisational culture. The relatedness between the objects is characterised by valences and mutual defence mechanisms such as splitting, projection and projective identification.

Research purpose: The purpose of this research was to describe organisational bullying experiences from the system psychodynamic perspective.

Motivation for the study: Individual psychology tends to simplify organisational bullying by focussing on the bully’s symptomatic behaviour. Systems psychodynamic thinking focuses on the behavioural dynamics in the relationship between the bully and victim, and the relatedness of both with the organisational system.

Research design, approach and method: Qualitative and descriptive research, using six participants as case studies, was undertaken. Data was gathered through Free Association Narrative Interviewing and analysed using discourse analysis.

Main findings: Three themes manifested themselves, namely, snakes and hyenas, a complex interconnected dyad, and the institutionalisation of bullying. The research hypothesis integrating these three themes was presented.

Practical/managerial implications: In resolving organisational bullying Industrial Organisational psychologists need to pursue this phenomenon not only in terms of its symptoms, but in a holistic, systemic and role related manner addressing all of its parts.

Contribution/value-add: The systemic understanding of organisational bullying implies the complexity of studying the behaviour of all parts – the bully, the victim, their dyadic relationship as well as how bullying is institutionalised in the organisational setting, climate and culture.


Narrative interviewing; discourse analysis; snakes and hyenas; complex interconnected dyad; institutionalisation of bullying


Total abstract views: 4056
Total article views: 16162

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.