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Strategic systemic approach and hypnosis

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      In a context where moral harassment at work is increasingly scrutinized, increasingly denounced or invoked, this article offers a systemic and strategic reading of the victim-aggressor dynamic. Understanding the interactions at play to open new avenues for prevention, support and change in the face of harassment.

      Moral harassment, what are we talking about

      Moral harassment, what are we talking about? 

      Ten years since no international convention had been adopted within the international labor organization, and when its members agreed in June 2019, they adopted " the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment , ” as stated on the ILO website . The scale of the phenomenon, the seriousness of its consequences required an international response that was commensurate with the phenomenon, as highlighted in the report of the National Assembly[1] produced on the occasion of the ratification of this text. What is this phenomenon? What are we talking about ? The term harassment brings together two types of behavior, moral harassment and sexual harassment. Regarding moral harassment which we will talk about here, the concept emerged in France in the 90s, notably under the leadership of the psychiatrist, victimologist, Doctor Hirigoyen , then was recognized in the early 2000s in the labor code. From now on, according to article L.1152-1 of the labor code, constitutes a situation of moral harassment for the employee to undergo “repeated actions” “which have as their object or effect a deterioration of their working conditions likely to infringe on their rights and dignity, to alter their physical or mental health or to compromise their professional future”, definition reproduced identically in the general civil service code. This behavior is now a crime[2].

      A survey carried out by IDEWE [3], the largest external service for prevention and protection at work in Belgium, among 39,792 Belgian workers shows that in 2022, 6.4% of them were victims of harassment morale over the past six months.

      Moral harassment and psychological profiles: Who are the harassers? Who are the harassed?

      The psychosocial, trade union, legal and sociological worlds have endeavored to depict the contours of what has been described as a “scourge” (Hirigoyen 2014). Behaviors, in line with Leymann's psychological terror inventory (1990), were identified and listed. Psychologists have identified typical profiles of harassers and harassed , defining a “before-harassment” clinic and the symptoms of damage to the victim's health in a “after-harassment” clinic (Palazzi, 2010). Three phases are distinguished: a feeling of chronic exhaustion evolving into depression ; possibly secondly, a traumatic neurosis with anxiety, and a feeling of guilt; finally, profound attacks on the personality, serious depression, paranoia (Palazzi, 2019).

      Moral harassment, whose fault is it?

      Sociologists have established how changes in the world of work (loss of meaning, increased productivity, atomization of agents, loss of union collective) constitute structural factors and identified the notion of institutional harassment. We even talk about a culture of harassment in the corporate world. Philosophers, notably René Girard (1982), have shown the symbolic, cathartic dimension, by highlighting the notion of the scapegoat, an expiatory victim, who when she unites others against herself, produces an appeasement of the collective.

      The entire policy of prevention, training, audit, advice and support for companies and public structures now fights against moral harassment by informing, protecting victims, putting in place procedures for reporting in all companies and public structures. Investigation procedures are put in place, at the end of which a report is drawn up identifying an “perpetrator”, qualifying his actions. A repressive arsenal is put in place, made up of disciplinary sanctions and criminal sanctions.  

      Taken in this logic, which systemicists would describe as linear causality, moral harassment at work is perceived, both from a scientific and legal point of view, as a series of behaviors attributable to an author, harming a victim, seen as external to the process. , of which she suffers the repercussions on her state of physical and psychological health. 

      If it is essential to sanction the harassers, the sentences handed down come at the best of cases to close a slow, insidious process, made up of micro-aggressions, which can barely be objectified, a process that must be gone through as the procedures are long, a process whose We must stand up as harassment affects our self-esteem and confidence in our professional abilities. 

      Getting up for the victim means first getting up from your fault. Because this is the paradox of moral harassment. Whose fault is it ? Psychologists and psychiatrists recognize, in fact, implicitly, as in the entire depression clinic, the question of fault, of the guilt felt by the victim (Hirigoyen 2001, Palazzi 2010, Genest 2005), guilt often of elsewhere recognized by third parties (Jeoffrion 2019). Thus, Stéphane Palazzi, psychiatrist will say: “The tone of the interviews is often the same, it is a discourse of helplessness and disbelief, but also of shame and guilt. For each patient, we find implicitly, as in the entire depression clinic, the question of fault, but here the management discourse centered on the success of the person resonates with the clinic and accentuates the feeling of be responsible for its failure ” (Palazzi 2019 p.31). How can we then think about supporting the victim without integrating this feeling of fault into the understanding and treatment of harassment? Because the victim is not responsible for what happens to her, it is accepted that it would be inaudible violence for her to consider that she took part in this harassment process. But how can we overcome our guilt?

      Furthermore, the victim perceives themselves as helpless and helpless because they do not understand what they took part in. She will, in fact, generally after a period of time off work, at best be moved, or she will leave her work environment. In any case, she will remain in a situation of vigilance and fear that the scenario will happen again since she would have no control over him. How to support a victim of harassment without taking this fear into account? How to overcome this fear without giving meaning to what she experienced? Understanding that harassment is a scenario, an interactional “game” where the two protagonists are actors, gives meaning to a process. Including the victim in this process does not mean minimizing their suffering but giving them power over it and making them an actor of possible change .

      The sanction of the author is necessary. It resolves nothing, neither for the victim, nor for the “culprit”.  

      The sanction is not, for him, a source of change. It is often accompanied by denial, victimization, or a superficial modification of behavior, following coaching experienced as "punitive", due to the accused's failure to understand the game in which he is playing. was caught and abused his power. He too has something to learn from this process in order to hope to change.

      The systemic and strategic approach thus emerges from a paralyzing judicialization at the risk of jarring ( de Scoraille, Brosseau, Vitry, 2017, p. 211 ) and shocking, by providing tools for understanding the system in which the actors are caught and ways to avoid falling into a relational trap or to emerge from it grown. It is about understanding that inappropriate behavior is responded to by another which, through feedback , will act on the initial behavior. Harassment is an “interactional dance” (De Scorraille, Brosseau, Vitry, 2017) between two protagonists who fuel the movement of this dance.

      The whole challenge of supporting victims is to start from the place of the victim, and to try both through the tools of characterizing the facts, through strategic questioning when collecting their words, to pass from writing a police report to writing a screenplay. Once the scenario has been identified, strategic support will then be carried out in several stages: giving up, going through, changing to thwart the harassment.

      systemic and strategic approach moral harassment 

      The systemic and strategic approach to moral harassment 

      The systemic and strategic approach considers moral harassment not in a linear causality but as a relationship that the redundant solution attempts of the actors caught in a rigid interactional game have transformed into a problem that is a source of suffering. 

      Moral harassment is a conflict that cannot be opened 

      “The harassment process is a bit like an interactional dance between two partners who are respectively stuck in a high position and a low position, each seeking to defend their vision of the situation” (de Scorraille et al. 2017, p.212). 

      In a symmetrical relationship, where the partners are equal, the escalations which stiffen it occur in the event of rivalry or one-upmanship. Attempts at control are reciprocal (Wittezaele, Nardone, 2016 p. 141): the control of one responds to the control of the other. They can lead to arguments and anger.

      In a rigidified complementary relationship, control of one corresponds to avoidance of the other. “A relationship of the “executioner/victim” type can be established with unilateral violence, anger from shared complaints and demands, guilt fueled by the reactions of the “victim” (ibid).  

      Watzlawick indicates (Watzlawick et al. 1972 p.106), “a typical problem arises in a complementary relationship when sees X. Y finds himself placed in a very special dilemma: he must change the definition he gives of himself for a definition which completes and therefore corroborates that of

      It seems to us that, if there is no typical profile of the victim, very often, the person who feels harassed is seen, by the said perpetrator, as atypical for different reasons (which often relate to their skills, to his professional conscience…). The victim most often detonates . She may have a form of professional scruple which leads her to dissociate herself from the practices of the group, to refuse certain practices accepted by the group or the hierarchy. She may also have a particular professional skill that arouses a form of jealousy or envy. There is therefore an otherness (Hirigoyen 2014). In the case of a descending hierarchical relationship, it seems to us that it is this otherness that will have to be subjugated, controlled, by the reaffirmation of a rigid complementary relationship as if to make it disappear under something else. more known or familiar. Basically, the so-called harassing person (X) would like the other (Y) to look like him or would like to look like the other. She will seek to control her difference, to impose mimicry on her. This is an issue of identity which is defined in interaction.

      However, Y refuses to do so because it would mean losing his own otherness, or identity, but assuming it in front of conflict, is not “displayable”. 

      It is in this sense that Dr. Hirigoyen defines harassment as a conflict that cannot be opened up. 

      In the context of a symmetrical relationship, where one would not have a high position (for example, the hierarchical superior or the experienced colleague, or the irreplaceable collaborator) nor the other in a low position (the "subordinate", the new arrival, or the inexperienced leader...), an escalation would take place and would allow everyone to recognize the other as legitimate, to recognize their identity, to name the reproaches and, even painfully, to introduce a change in the relationship: “the stakes of a conflict are never reduced to what we say about it. It has its dark side in search of identity ” (Hirigoyen, 2001, p.30).

      In moral harassment, the two attempts at solution, control and avoidance, intertwine 

      The victim will in fact initially submit to a logic of avoidance. However, “in the avoidance of relational confrontation, we generally witness a profound deterioration of the relationship because regulation has not been done (…). This often leads to additional rigidity which can lead to abusive behavior” (Wittezaele, Nardone, 2016).

      This avoidance as a first response to harassment is widely characterized in the clinical literature. Thus, “in light of the testimonies heard, it is possible to observe a gradation of these manifestations among people who experience harassment. Initially, we frequently observe people who refuse to admit what they are experiencing, believing that it is impossible, that they are imagining it. Victims may also underreport the violence they experience. They then try to ignore their feelings by listening to anything that helps convince them that the violent behavior they experience is part of the job, that it is a normal way to behave in their profession or in their environment. We then frequently witness an internalization of the fault: The victim convinces himself that it is he who has "a problem", who has acted badly, who is not in his place, who is too sensitive, who does not give adequate performance, who does not have the required skills, etc. » (Genest et al. 2005)

      A logic of avoidance feeds back into an attempt at increased control by the harasser.

      Increased control through fear:

      The alleged victim makes the alleged harasser feel unsafe, because she has expertise that is needed, for example, which creates dependence or because she would be the guarantor of the rules. It creates insecurity because it would reveal one's own lack of expertise or one's propensity to free oneself from the rules. The harasser will then try to regain control. This hypercontrol, finicky, is experienced by the victim as a questioning of their legitimacy, their autonomy and in turn makes them feel insecure. When one has a fear of being revealed as incompetent (imposter syndrome as defined for example by Cannone, 2005) or low self-esteem, this control can be accompanied by the excessive need to establish one's dominant position. . We can then want the person who mirrors our own feeling of imposture to be isolated, called into question, delegitimized, belittled. Harassment can take place.

      Increased control by obsessive tendency:

      This same relational game is put in place when the alleged perpetrator of harassment has perfectionist behavior, with a strong reluctance to delegate out of scrupulous attention to details. His attempt at a redundant solution will be to control excessively (Chaperon et al. 2014).

      Increased control through inability to trust. 

      When we are excessively overwhelmed by doubts concerning the loyalty or fidelity of others, when we constantly fear the wrong move, betrayal, when we see meanings, hidden allusions in trivial remarks, we can believe that hypercontrol is the only possible solution, fussy, suspicious hypercontrol. The alleged victim may first respond with additional justifications which will never be enough to reassure the person they are talking to but, on the contrary, encourage their distrust. If, on the contrary, she responds with avoidance, with vague answers, we see this as a sign of distrust which reinforces hypercontrol. Furthermore, and concomitantly, this logic of avoidance is accompanied in this same presumed victim by an attempt at increased control but in a different type of language.

      Indeed, the control of the harasser will generally respond in feedback to the avoidance of the victim as an attempt at a redundant solution but an avoidance coupled with control . The presumed victim of this control will in fact submit to the control, through avoidance, all the more so since she has a strong need for recognition, may be fragile from a narcissistic point of view and draws her self-esteem from herself in the relationship with the other. People who have built themselves “on merit”, for whom professional recognition is fundamental in their balance and their self-esteem, will seek to continue to give satisfaction to others, at all costs through an avoidance which takes the form of forced submission. This avoidance can be exercised in a digital language of acceptance, verbal agreement for example or absence of verbalization of their disagreement.

      But this avoidance is accompanied by a logic of control which most often takes the form of an analogical language contradictory to the verbal language displayed .

      Bateson showed , the analogical language is that of relation (Bateson, 1955). Thus, “all communication has two aspects: content and relationship (…) In all probability, the content will be transmitted digitally, while the relationship will be essentially analog in nature. (Watzlawick et al, 1972, p. 61). The victim will, for example, show disapproving non-verbal language, or if his otherness, his skills for example, his vision of the world, are contested by the alleged perpetrator of harassment, he will seek to reinforce this otherness, deploying his skills, thus believing to convince the other of the importance of respecting this otherness, that is to say of what constitutes his identity: “in a certain way, he (the victim) says “yes” to the proposed rule but in interactions he acts as if he is questioning his “yes”. (…) The defense of one fuels the insistence of the other which reactivates the defense of the first in return” (de Scorraille et al. 2017, p. 212).

      Quite legitimately, the alleged victim will seek to restore a relationship of trust. She will tend to try to convince the other of her professional skills; she will commit herself even further to her tasks; However, this commitment, seen as an absence of submission and/or delegitimization, will in turn fuel additional control on the part of the perpetrator of harassment. The victim can also seek to regain control over their activity, to regain their place, to defend it if they perceive their skills to be compromised through this control. In the case of a hierarchical relationship, she will both submit to the directives given which nevertheless seem unfair, unfounded, excessive to her while resisting them through non-verbal language or remarks.

      The dance is about avoidance and control, for both . If one of the typical harasser behaviors identified is that of isolating the said victim, it is because the aim is to avoid him by controlling his space.

      Everyone will try to give meaning, in their vision of the world, to their helplessness, each becoming the victim of the other: the victim for the said harasser is said to be unmanageable, incapable, the harasser for the said harassed person is delinquent (guilty) or sick (narcissistic pervert) (de Scorraille et al. 2017, p. 210). It seems to us that once the relationship is “rigidified”, the dynamic is maintained around a logic of belief confirmation. “Couples” are set up: according to Giulia Rinaldi (de Scorraille, 2017): “emotionally illiterate/emotionally starved”; “devaluing/need for recognition”; “demanding/sacrificial”.

      The profile of the so-called perverted narcissistic identified in the clinical literature in a linear causality seems to us to be able to be approached here in a circular causality through this logic of destructive belief, thus reconciling the different apprehensions of the notion.

      The narcissistic pervert needs the other to be confirmed in the “grandiose” image (Hirigoyen, 2019) that he has of himself. He may first seek, in a conniving game of seduction, to use the other's competence for his benefit (Chaperon et al., 2014), then as soon as he feels threatened by the other, The more inclined to help him the more he feels valued, the narcissistic pervert will seek to discredit him, for fear that his imposture will be revealed; the logic of belief aimed at restoring oneself, to the detriment of the other (the harasser: “I need to believe that you are bad to feel excellent”) is put in place. It in turn fuels the victim's attempts to convince the other of his value (the victim: “I'm going to show him that he can always count on me”). The logic of belief ultimately results in a belief shared between the narcissistic perverse harasser and the harassed that the harassed person is worthless. In this, it seems to us that the logic of belief is the most destructive of all attempts at redundant solutions .

      [1] Report No. 4366 of the National Assembly recorded on July 13, 2021.

      [2] According to article 222-32-2 of the penal code, “the act of harassing others through repeated comments or behavior having as their object or effect a deterioration of working conditions likely to infringe their rights and their dignity, alter one's physical or mental health or compromise one's professional future" is punishable by two years' imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 euros.[3] Statistical studies in France combine the notion of moral harassment with any form of hostile behavior, violence including sexual harassment, blurring the objectification, hence our choice of Belgian statistics.


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      A team of more than
      50 trainers in France
      and abroad

      of our students satisfied with
      their training year at LACT *

      International partnerships

      The quality certification was issued under
      the following category of actions: Training action


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