There is a lot in the news about bullying, which seems to have accelerated with social networking sites – however, I’m not sure there is more bullying, cyber bullying is just another method and a public one.  Bullies of school yard and office space often work in a more isolating and secret way against their victims, now the pain of public humiliation gives rise to an extra dimension to this evil practice.

It has been said – a little harshly perhaps? – That there would be no bullies if there were no ‘victims’ to torment.  Hmmm.., it is true to some degree:  (There will also always be the perpetrator victims themselves of course). Bullies aren’t born, they develop due to what they learnt, and how they learnt about their lack of value in the world, usually from early childhood, they almost always lack any empathy with others.  Enough about them, more about YOU as a target of bullying.

3 Things to know about Bullies:

  • They ‘need’ POWER to make themselves feel better about their own empty sense of who they are.
  • They may be People with particular PERSONALITY DISORDERS-e.g. sociopaths, psychopaths – those having no compassion for others.
  • Bullies are usually COWARDS at heart and usually need a group of *cronies around them to applaud them for their perceived power and control.

*Cronies = people who also feel empty inside but don’t have the disposition to be the main bully but need a ‘gang’ to validate their very existence.  ‘Who’ would they be otherwise….?

3  Things to know about being a Victim:

  • May have:- Low self-esteem, low sense of any importance as an individual, sometimes ‘learnt’ from earliest childhood by experiencing abusive, neglectful, chronically ill, alcohol/drug addicted, mentally ill, or otherwise non-functional parenting.
  • May be:- Lacking in socialising skills, making friends; nervous or sensitive personalities; regarded as ‘different’ from the greater group at school or office;Aspergers, Gifted,  or Autistic children/adults.
  • May be: – Simply in the wrong place at the wrong time!
  • Victims always try to RESPOND to the bullying, perhaps in an over-defensive, sometimes aggressive manner.

For children and adolescents of school age, the most effective way of managing the bully is to simply DO NOTHING.  By that I mean give no response i.e. ‘entertainment’ for the bully and his/her group.  Bullies target their victims – often choosing a child on their own. The child who yells, cries, tries to kick out etc will be identified as the ‘perfect victim’.

Consider the scenario where a playground bully taunts a child who is on his/her own.  Visualise that child making no response (maybe even yawning in a bored manner), and walking away.  The bully knows he is not going to get any ‘entertainment’ there, on the contrary, he/she may end up looking very silly in front of the cronies.  Time for them to move on to find a better, more responsive ‘victim’.

Now we all know how much courage it will take for a single child to act in that way in the face of a group of would-be ‘torturers’! However, keeping that picture in mind is very important for all ‘victims’.  Considering too why certain other children are NOT targeted, observing those who may also be a little isolated and yet don’t become victims. It’s very likely that they will not allow others to manipulate them.

Now think of a string puppet – the puppet master is the bully who attaches and then pulls the strings on that puppet to do his bidding.  Consider one very large pair of scissors and cutting those strings and walking away – or –shutting down that particular social network site without making ANY response at all, this is the ‘cyber yawn’!

There are countless ways that bullies at school, in the work place, in social groups, operate.

The key thing is safety – before attempting any non-response behaviour, you need to know you are not at risk from physical harm.  At school, you do need to walk firmly and fast to the school office and stay there until the principal or another senior teacher listens to you.  I met one young lady once who found it difficult to get teachers to listen to her. She was often told to go back out there and say ‘STOP’ – not terribly effective with big time bullies I’m afraid.  On the occasion when the bully pulled out a knife and got hold of her hair, she ran to the Office and repeated over and over “Help, help, help, help, help…..”  Until she was given serious attention. Sad it took this to get the help she, and others, needed to stay safe from bullies.

In the work place there can be a great deal of bullying either from the Top down, sometimes within a work Team.  But exactly the same pattern occurs.  (Keep in mind that bullies do get jobs!)  The targeting of a victim is done to see whether a worker will respond by either allowing the manipulation to continue beyond the first ‘trial run’ by the bully, or by being isolated and offered ‘special’ favours by a senior staff member.  This ‘grooming’ may lead to pay back on favours accepted.

EXAMPLE:   A young worker started her first job within a work team, she was nervous, lacking confidence and was overly thankful for a seemingly kind, benevolent Team Leader (TL), who took her under her wing.  Little by little her family realised that she was working ‘all the hours’ – quite voluntarily but not paid Overtime – to please the TL.  Only she never did manage to please the TL, instead she became tired, snappy, irritable and often close to tears at nothing in particular.  She was being very effectively manipulated to produce a whole lot more work than the others, and to give her TL a huge amount of ‘power’ satisfaction- covert workplace bullying.  Her fellow staff members were unimpressed with her seemingly boot-licking behaviour and excluded her.


Firstly – to check with her family and/or experienced working friends, whether it was OK to be asked to do all the extra hours work which no-one else was asked to do.  Reassured that this was quite wrong, she needed to say “Sorry, no” – with a smile is really good (and yes this may take a bit of practice.) And then to politely explain that she wasn’t prepared to work over-time and that if the TL felt she wasn’t fulfilling her role, perhaps they could have a meeting with the Manager present to discuss it since she clearly wanted to improve at the job – finished with another smile, if at all possible. This is basic assertion.


This takes courage but also a realistic view of a stress-filled, imagined, worst case scenario:

Getting the sack? Talking (calmly), with the Manager is a mature and responsible step to take and is never a sack-able action.

Putting the TL offside? The TL in this case isn’t ON her side. There’s nothing to lose.

Bullying is a form of violence, and within a relationship that is Domestic Violence (DV).  Neither bullying behaviour, nor DV need to include any physical violence. Many who have experienced DV will often say physical violence would have been easier to manage than psychological/emotional violence. The latter is very hard to report or describe accurately enough for the police, family or friends to act appropriately to keep you safe. It is insidious and can lead the victim to doubt her or himself, questioning that perhaps it IS her or his fault as the perpetrator may suggest, constantly.  NOT true.

Assertion works – but ONLY when there is no personal risk involved.  Making it known to friends and family members and letting the perpetrator know that it’s no longer secret will also help.  Finally, if all else fails  – shout ‘HELP, HELP’ to school staff repeatedly if you’re at school, report the bullying to Human Resources staff if it’s happening at work, call the Police if it’s happening within a relationship.  Remind yourself that you will NOT be a VICTIM and ‘feed’ a bully’s sense of power.

ANXIETY – NOT the enemy?

Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety……. you don’t want it, you dread it, it makes your body feel very uncomfortable, it stops you doing good things you might otherwise do, it can also save your life – “sorry, WHAT…?”

Anxiety symptoms are very like Stress symptoms.

Stress is good for us: It is what gets us up in the mornings, if we never experienced any stress we would not have evolved as a species in the ways we have. It helps us to be creative, it helps us to learn, to accomplish goals, it helps us to interact with others and assists us in many other ways, and yes it can save our lives in emergencies.

Stress is the fight or flight function that is triggered by your brain when it perceives danger. However – sometimes when there is no danger at all and the symptoms (of hyper-arousal), are present and you don’t fight or flee but remain frozen, and give in to the feelings of fear anyway, Stress can turn into Anxiety.

Avoidance becomes Anxiety’s best friend.

But I wonder how it would be if we made Anxiety our ‘friend’?

Consider this scenario:

Imagine the person feeling the terror in his tummy, in his racing heart, and in his tense shoulders at the top of the roller-coaster which, against his better judgement, he was talked into riding? The ‘car’ has travelled a little distance, gaining speed on the flat before accelerating up the first hill. Tantalisingly, perhaps cruelly, it slows down a little right at the first hill crest, giving just enough seconds for the stomach clenching and sweaty palm sensations to take hold… And then – and then – – – – – Oh that wonderful feeling of relief and release as the ‘car’ races madly down, down the hill, faster and faster to the very bottom of the ride. And then – and then it begins to travel back up to the next crest. But now you are ready for it, you know those tummy rolling sensations just add to that greater feeling of release as, now even with laughter, you swoop down again. Without that tension, that stress in your mind and body, you would not experience that wonderful thrill of overcoming the fear and feeling the release of all tension, as the ‘crisis’ is over.

That can be like accepting your anxiety, even inviting it to bring it on, in order to release it, to defeat it by your own activation.

Avoidance: Remember that behaviour which is Anxiety’s best friend?

Now imagine the person alone in that ‘car’, which has just reached the crest of the hill, who knows he simply cannot face the downward ride. He is able to pull the emergency cord which stops the ‘car’. There he is tottering, teetering right on the top of that mechanical hill, terrified to look forward. Perhaps he tries to get out of the car in order to go back, to retreat away from the forward impulsion. There he is, trying to climb on the rails behind the ‘car’, he will not go forward with the car, he is effectively FROZEN in fear.

Avoidance = Increasing Fear, feeling ‘frozen’ while Anxiety

takes a greater hold, not just this time, but the next, and THE NEXT.

So back to life saving: I will tell a story to illustrate:

I once fell asleep whilst driving. I have little detailed memory of the event except opening my eyes as the car was bouncing along a rough verge and seeing a huge tree trunk filling the view from my windscreen. The next thing I was aware of was being safely parked at the side of the road, most of the left hand side of the car all but ripped off. Stress saved my life. Had I begun to think logically on opening my eyes, I would probably have crashed into the tree trunk, been severely injured or killed.

Logical thinking takes TIME. Instinct does not.

Let me explain. Stress and Anxiety are functions of our Right brain, an amygdala there takes care of our emotions, senses, intuition, instincts, it also triggers those uncomfortable stomach and digestion problems, a dry mouth, racing heart, shallow breathing symptoms. All of those symptoms are there to make us run as fast as we can away from danger, or stand and fight it.

Our RIGHT brain doesn’t need as much oxygen to function as our LEFT brain. Part of the function of the hippocampus in our Left brain is to think logically, our Education system mostly teaches via Left brain – number, reading, writing etc. When everything is normal, messages fly back and forth between both sides of the brain. However, when I was about to crash into a massive tree trunk my RIGHT brain effectively switched OFF my logical thinking: “which foot operates the brake, which way do I turn the steering wheel, what else is there ahead or behind which may threaten my safety” etc – precious seconds are lost and I don’t have any TIME at all to spare. Thank goodness for the high level of Stress that kicked in.

So, maybe Anxiety (frozen Stress), CAN be our best friend. Not only can it spur us on to DO those things which are a little scary, a bit challenging, a little heart-stopping, to then experience that great release of euphoria that we went and DID it!! We achieved something new, learnt something new, met someone new, whatever it was we feel GOOD about ourselves. And that isn’t something that giving in to avoidance strategies, ever helps us to feel.

It also serves us well to help us react instinctively in order to save our lives.

Maybe you can think of an example or 2 of your own “roller coaster” moments, maybe even visualise that poor man still stuck on the cold, hard rails up there, waiting for someone else to DO something, for him. That simply ISN’T you now is it…..?

What Are Codependent Relationships

This question is often asked now, as the term has become more widely recognised amongst the general population. Originally, codependency was identified in the literature as based on alcohol dependency within the family of origin, or within an intimate relationship.  As with Alcoholics Anonymous, a 12 Step Programme was encouraged in releasing the dependency, which was also identified as a need to rescue or change ‘the other person’.  

There are many identifiable symptoms of this dysfunctional relationship style, however, many of those symptoms may also be common to other types of relationships, which may be ‘struggling’, but are not codependent. Talking with a Couples Counsellor will help to identify what is not working within your relationship.

Here I am going to try and simplify what is a very complex system of relating:

Codependency thrives on negative attributes, such relationships are often based on high emotion, which may translate into 

•Strong sexual chemistry 

•Imbalanced power and control

•Narcissism in one partner

•Overpowering need to be in a relationship, fear of being alone/unloved

•A lack of self-esteem 

•A denial about the need for intimacy

•A sense of helplessness to resist continuing or returning, to the relationship.  

You may recognise some of those attributes as belonging to dependency on harmful activities such as alcohol abuse, pokies gambling, illegal and legal drug dependency etc.

Narcissistic personalities are often found in codependent relationships – meaning someone who derives gratification from the adoration of his/her physical or mental attributes (sometimes compared to a baby who has a naturally egotistical level of personality development).  A narcissist is likely to be highly involved with him/herself, until they feel threatened by their partner’s interest in someone else, they may then exhibit possessive and jealous behaviour for fear of the loss of adoration.

Codependent relationships reflect an ever fluctuating balance of power, one may be a pleaser, in effect constantly looking for approval, one may be a rescuer, convinced he or she can change the partner or help the partner beat their own dependencies.  The power base of such a relationship shifts between blurred boundaries – they can feel responsible for the other person, even to the point of blaming themselves for abuses that they may receive.  They can sometimes be very closed off from their partner, unable or unwilling to share feelings, this can sometimes be used as punishment for unspoken, perceived offences. 

Codependents usually have problems in sharing their feelings, because they cannot open themselves to own their thoughts and feelings.  Confusions and miscommunications can occur.  Codependents are shy of the truths about themselves since they may reveal imperfections which are not acceptable.

There is often an obsessional quality about these relationships, based on fear of loss even though the relationship is less than satisfactory. Many codependents have a very strong fear of rejection or abandonment and this fear may well stem from a childhood with an addictive parent (alcohol, other drugs), or a chronically ill parent.  The child identifies a lack of attention and approval from a very young age and experiences deep emotional neglect due to the attention given to the addiction or the illness.

A further, obsessional quality refers to a belief that the other partner does not understand how important their relationship is, so if it is threatened by a third party, stalking and obsessing can become another dysfunctional feature.

Codependent relationships are abusive.  The problem however, is that  codependents don’t usually understand this without a lot of help and support to leave the relationship, and then therapy/counselling to help them build self-esteem and self-worth.  Once a codependent is able to function entirely well independently, they will come to recognise that the most important relationship is with themselves first. 

After all, if you don’t love and respect yourself, how can you ask someone to do itfor you.   And that applies to all intimate relationships.


Some further reading:

•P. Mellody et al., Facing Codependence, (1989).

•Wyn Bramley, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered: How Couples Really Work  (London 2008) 

•Simon Crompton, All About Me: Loving a Narcissist (London 2007)

•Melody Beattie,  Codependent No More  (2nd ed. 1992)

•Birgit Weber,  Love is Not For Cowards    (2007)