[From acute victimization at chronic victimization: socio-cognitive approach of differential tolerance threshold].Encephale 2006 May-Jun; 32(3 Pt 1):356-68E
Work, for many years reduced to a purely instrumental dimension, proves to be a true microcosm of society, with its informal modes, its emotional networks and its series of evils and dilemmas. This human apprehension of the professional sphere tends to reveal a pole with multiple facets, some of which have long been concealed, but whose individual, social and economic extent can't let people ignore them. This social perception, which contributes to regard work as sacred and makes it impervious to any aggression, should be abandoned. Bearing this in mind, our study endeavours to show that "work" and "victim" are far more overlapping than antagonistic realities; it aims at determining the impact of two aggressive methods via the professional pole, namely: moral harassment at work and armed attacks within bank premises. Such an approach tends to unify health psychology, occupational psychology and victimology, thus opening a breach in the stereotyped view which crystallizes the professional sphere into a kind of representative noose devoid of the most human bases. We then suggest, as a first hypothesis, that the nature of the victimization process, resulting from specific aggressive scenarios, would determine different psychological, physiological and relational consequences, apprehended under the generic expression of tolerance threshold. In other words, "mobbing", through its proactive, intentional and obsessional dimension would tend to lower the victims' threshold more than hold-ups, which are characterized by a reactive aspect, and obey unfavourable socio-economic contingencies. Our research also aims at apprehending this dynamic relationship binding victimization types to tolerance thresholds through two analysing factors. These psychological mediators are derived from Lazarus and Folkman's "transactional model of stress", which postulates that stress would rise from the perception people get of the transaction between the requirements of the situation and their own resources. These modulators would correspond to the social evaluation of the stressor and the adjustment strategies adopted by the victims. We then postulate the fact that these interfering variables would determine a connection between the type of victimization and the series of signs and symptoms generated. In other words, the aversive modes would refer to a process of significance via these interpolated socio-cognitive factors, thus forming a trace of the traumatic event according to the tolerance threshold expressed. More precisely, our assumption consists in postulating that the insidious and latent aspect of harassment which is supposed to support a dispositional attribution of the harasser's intrigues as well as the preferential adoption of coping strategies centred on emotional control, would lower the victims' tolerance threshold further, than a visible and instantaneous hold-up which is supposed to condition an essentially situational perception and the adoption of strategies mainly directed towards the problem.
Since this study is the subject of a comparative research strategy, its required the constitution of three independent samples: ten harassment victims; seven armed attack victims; ten witnesses, all salaried employees; they had not been subjected to either type of attack but were questioned about a working life event seen as stressful. The three groups, set up according to sex and age considerations, agreed to be subjected to a semi-directive interview. Considering the exploratory nature of this present research, the process proved to be most suitable since, through the filter of the people's subjectivity, it clearly determined the meaning granted by the victim to the aversive situation. In order to comply with a standardization preoccupation, each interview was identically structured using a preset question grid and similar operating conditions. The data collected were then subjected to four levels of analysis. An analysis of contents, centred on a logic-semantic frequency dimension of speech, obtained a simplified representation of the whole of the data. This first level of analysis, supplemented by descriptive statistics, validated, in the second stage, the significance of the differences in the semantic categories. In the third stage, an "analysis of adjacency" associated with a factorial analysis of the correspondences, delineated the differentiating values of the three groups of subjects. A final stage of analysis, centred on a multiaxial dimension [DSM IV ], permitted the constitution of clinical pictures.
In accordance with the general assumption, the results show that the victims reveal a dominating presence of mobbing signs related to depression and anxiety symptomatology with an acute emotional threshold. Hold-up victims also show undoubted but significantly less harmful consequences. These victims have turned out to be more centred on the anxious pole and the social and family fields. Moreover, while the victims of harassment unanimously evoke the emergence of a break-up in dynamics conveying a freeze of the social matrix, some of the victims of armed attacks express "secondary benefits" through the setting-up of gregarious dynamics on professional as well as on family level.
Considering these results, there seems to be a double induction of such a difference. The social evaluation tends to be a first explanatory inference as for the expressed tolerance level. As a matter of fact, the frequential analysis reveals a different perception of the attacker. The supernumerary evocation of dispositional factors, supposing a personal motivation marked with intrigues concealed behind an apparent legitimacy, draws a very personological profile of the harasser. This majority of intrinsic determinants reveals an increase in the causal weight of the harasser; at the same time, it disregards the possible influence of extrinsic factors. In that respect, the harasser is seen as the only instigator of the attacks, which consequently worsens his/her responsibility and culpability. No difference appears between the harasser himself and the hypothetical causes of the aversive situation: the harasser is seen as the source of the attacks and the attacks as the concretization of the harasser's state of mind. On the basis of this report, the victims of harassment tend to amalgamate the personality and the situation. The victims of armed attacks, as for them, are characterized by a more situational evaluation of the stressor, revealing an apparent will to segment the aversive situation: on the one hand the act, and the other the attacker, as though, eventually, the latter was but one element depending on a specific situation. The majority enunciation of extrinsic factors supposes an obvious intention to diffuse the hold-up man's responsibility over contextual attributes. The second inference lies in the strategies used to adjust to the situation. Whatever the type of victimization, the passive coping system reveals as dominating. However, this tendency seems to be more moderate with hold-up victims, who tend to counterbalance the strategies centred on emotional control with strategies directed towards an active resolution of the problem.
Considering these first results, which call for further study, our impression is that it seems to be relevant to consider the setting-up of psychological therapy programs adapted to the very nature of each victimization case.