Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lawmakers Enable this Problem

Recently, I wrote a statement for SB 494 in Montana about the psychological affects that occur when peer abuse at work is occurring. A woman who was abused at work drew up the legislative information and spoke last week to these lawmakers about this. There is now a chance this bill may die.

The workplace has become a battleground in many cases. Office politics is a serious problem and like cancer, does not seem to want to diminish anytime soon. Bullies come in and keep things in an uproar. Micro inequities are an issue that nobody seems to address yet fuels this problem. Targets are developing anxiety, depression and suffer extreme stress as a result of this. Plus, work performance decreases. Who can do a good job with a bully breathing down their backs? As a result of all of this, money is lost daily within the organization. After a period of time, the politics start running rampant and people forget why they are even employed in the first place. Trust me, I have been there and I know I am not alone.

As I have written some of these lawmakers, I have been appalled at their attitudes this. One has stated that by trying to curb this problem, it equates to communism. Another let it be known that the government does not need to be sitting in the back of the office when it doesn’t need to. Communism? Nobody is suggesting this here. All someone wants to do is remedy this problem so people can go to work, do their jobs in a productive manner and go home without having to deal with useless crap on a daily basis. What kind of a world do we live in where people turn away from helping one another? Folks, this is a serious problem! When workers develop stress and depression, this a problem. When losing money these days, it is a problem and a bad one. We cannot afford to loose anymore money in this nation! When people are not living life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, it’s a bad problem and a huge violation. This is a problem and it needs to be fixed! Why do people continue to enable this bullying problem? Why don’t they call a spade a spade and see it for what it is and that is abuse?

Please, when you go to work, do what you can to keep the environment a healthy one. Do not get involved in the gossip, games and bandwagons to get others fired unless they have committed a serious crime. Isn’t there enough stress out there?

Resource Cited

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Adult Survivors Face Their Demons

This past Friday, my mother called and told me about something in her local newspaper about adults who were bullied as children encountering their former bullies on social sites such as Facebook and MySpace. As this is something I am dealing with in my own life right now, I really wanted to see this and did a search online. Its not only me but other adult survivors of peer abuse are facing this on these sites. I have had several tell me about this. One became so upset all over again that it was a shock to the system. Another set up a cause page and encouraged former bullies to donate to the bullying cause. One saw the friend request, wrote the bully back and let them know what they did and how it affected them. The bully wrote back, sent scathing messages over and over and took absolutely no responsibility for their actions. The only way the person got them to stop was by blocking them.

There are many adults out there who were abused by their peers as children and are on these sites. There is a feature for reconnecting with old friends from school and work so if you list these schools or former places of employment on your profile, with one click they can easily look and get a blast from the past so to speak. This abuse for some was mild and would be isolated events. Overcoming it was not a problem for them and probably resolved these issues with their bully before entering adulthood. Or, some may remember this, can remember it in a bad light and how it affected them but not really think much about it. So, letting bygones be bygones was not such a big thing and went ahead and accepted these tormentors on their pages. After all, life is too short, right? Yet what about those who were fed this abuse in strong doses and it affected them psychologically? The scars are there and may be there for the remainder of their lives. A daily cocktail of anti-depressants is what keeps them sane. So, they come on these social sites and see that one of the people that added to this damage is sending a friend request? What about these survivors? How do they handle this problem?

Carolyn Hax of the Washington Post gave some great advice. True, these bullies may have reformed and are different now. We don’t know whether this has happened or not. They may want to make amends or apologize. This could be a way of setting the record straight. There are some positives to this. However, those who are severe cases may find this too upsetting. A friend request is sent. No message or even “hello, how are you” in the request. The bully sends a request and behaves as if nothing ever happened. How does one deal with this? Here is what I can suggest. First off, it is basically up to the person and the severity of the abuse. We must forgive these tormenters as hard as it is. If we want to be forgiven we must forgive others. However, this does not mean we have to become friends on social sites and welcome them with open arms into our lives. One does not know if this person has changed or not and taking that risk may be hard. I do know that by them sending these requests and behaving as if nothing has happened, chances are they are still bullies. Folks, hard core bullies do not grow up but grow worse. Many are narcissistic and pathological. Those who run in and out of our lives, hurt us to the core and always come back like nothing ever happened are those who more than likely lack having a conscience. Those with a conscience are going to be remorseful in what happened and will tell you so right off the bat. It is a matter of reading between the lines here.

Basically, its up to the person and if they are ready to do this or not. I do know some are not ready and that’s okay. One went into shock at seeing these people on there. It is upsetting to see these people and if it is too upsetting, that person needs to block these people. You wish them well and forgive them but block them until ready to do otherwise. They are no longer a part of your life and why add any pain to it? Not only block them if upsetting but observe their behavior through mutual friends on the site. See if they are exclusive in who they will accept as friends or not. Are they seeking attention in some way or minding their own business? Bullies love to be in charge and in control. Something to consider here. However, if you can add them and not be upset, do so. Again, a lot of this is a matter of the severity of the abuse and whether the person can handle it or not. If you are a survivor with a severe case, don’t do anything to add to the trauma. If you are one who is and can let bygones be bygones, go ahead. Just be careful is all I can say. After all, what happens when a rape victim comes face to face with their rapist? Or, a child faces the parent that abused them and left deep scars? Do we suggest happily ever after in these cases? Something to really think about in all of this.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Please! No More Relational Aggression!

I was in the waiting area at H&R Block the other day waiting to get my taxes done. There was a Seventeen Magazine lying on a chair and I picked it up and started flipping through it. The one thing that grabbed my attention was a quiz called What Draws You In? This is geared towards girls fighting within their “crew” or clique. Two members of the group will be in a fight. There are other bystanders who are left wondering what happened in the first place for a fight to erupt.

This quiz has three categories for results. The first is “you love the attention.” This describes the person who draws themselves into the middle of the conflict to gain attention from everyone. Play mediator yet by placing themselves there, they are only keeping the drama fueled. Another result is “you want to feel needed.” Members will get involved to be the support system for their friends. However, this only leaves the person feeling abandoned once the fight is over. The final result is “you want to bond” meaning the group member will take a side and be close in the moment to one of the two friends. However, this bonding is only occurring during the negative and not the positive stuff.

I am sure that whoever created this quiz was well meaning as it was geared towards helping teen girls deal with these situations. I commend the person who created this as I know their heart was in the right place. However, I want to take it up a notch. By even encouraging this in the first place, we are only fueling teen girls to behave this way in conflict. Why does there have to be a middle man? Do they have to take sides? Is playing “therapist” really helping the conflict or confusing the whole group as to where you stand? My response to this quiz is that bystanders get together and help their two friends work the conflict out. Take both parties aside and get to the bottom of the story and talk it out. Get together in a group and talk it out. Why is that so hard? The problem is over a boy? Maybe the group can try and remember that guys will come and go but friends can last forever and no guy should come between them? Or if it is over clothes or an item, talk it out and figure out who can borrow what at a particular time. Most importantly, why does there even have to be a clique? Groups are fine as long as they are not exclusive. I do not encourage clique behavior at all as it is hurtful and destructive.

I am sure people will think I am naïve in speaking this. Believe me I am not. Teens are self centered but also have the capabilities to talk their problems out in a rational manner. I have seen it done with my own two eyes. What teens do not understand is that by feeding into these three areas of conflict, they only increase the drama and the problem only grows worse and not better. These three areas are a part of relational aggression. Its important that they do know this. Fighting between teen girls is normal. Handling the problem in these three areas only makes the problem worse and this is what teens do need to understand. If it helps, get an impartial adult to help mediate in the problem solving. The bottom line is that conflict is not healthy. Friendships form out of mutual interests and these are important during the teen years. Keep the situation real but deal with it in a healthy manner for everyone. At the end of the day, we all need our friends.

Resource Cited

Elizabeth Bennett is the author, consultant and speaker for Peer Abuse Know More! Bullying From a Psychological Perspective and resides in Los Angeles, California

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

90210 Naomi is not a Bully

In the 1990’s, I was a fan of the show Beverly Hills 90210. I watched it in college and during most of the decade. So, when a new 90210 came this season to the CW, I watched some of it as it had some of the old characters come back like Brenda and Kelly. The premise for this new show is about a family from Kansas who come to Beverly Hills to move in with their mother/grandmother who is an actress and getting older needing help from her son and his family. They have a adopted son and daughter who attend West Beverly High. This is the alma mater of the group who attended back in the 1990’s. I have only watched this show in spurts. However, from an anti-bullying perspective, I have to recommend this show as it is a good one.

There are four main female characters who I would say are friends but have had their share of problems. Two of them use to be best friends (Naomi and Silver), one is a child actress supporting her mother (Adriana) and the other is the one from Kansas (Annie). Naomi and Adriana are BFF’s while Annie and Silver (Erin Silver from the original 90210) have grown close. Naomi told everyone about Silvers parents divorcing in middle school which left Silver bitter. Adriana was sent to rehab for a drug problem and is now pregnant. Annie and Naomi have fought over a boy named Ethan who was Naomi’s boyfriend and is now Annie’s. There is a good chance that Silver will be diagnosed as bi-polar this season and she keeps a blog where she expressed her anger but she has stopped posting so much and channeled her energy into her boyfriend Dylan. Despite this drama, there is not any relational aggression going on in this. At first, I figured Naomi would be the mean girl but not only did she apologize to Silver for doing what she did but the girls are learning to get along. When Adriana was in rehab and became pregnant, Naomi turned out to be a loyal and supporting friend to her despite her strong personality and that she did get mad at Adriana while she was in rehab. Naomi did ruin Annie’s 16th birthday party because Annie stole Ethan from her. However, neither girl has allowed their angers towards one another out of control. As a matter of fact, the feud stayed between them alone. Naomi can be nasty but I have found that she reacts only when she has been offended. She shows her anger and moves on and does not dwell on the issue at hand. Also, Annie and Ethan were talking to a girl from their school who talked about have a devastating experience at the hands of mean girls at a former school and you could see the pain in her face. Instead of making it worse, Annie and Ethan both expressed compassion towards her, not rejection. Even though events occurred. The most important thing is that there are no queen bees emerging nor are there power trips and feeding into anyone one persons relationally aggressive behavior.

I will come out and say it. Despite Naomi’s strong will, need to be cool, the fact that she is spoiled and tends to seek revenge when offended, at the end of the day, she is not a bully and here is why. When two girls fight and hurt one another, this is not a situation of bullying. Even though Naomi hurt Silver with her words and Silver retaliated in her blog posts, Naomi took her responsibility in what happened and made things right between them. Even though Naomi and Annie fought over Ethan, this did not filter into other relationships or fester on involving bystanders. Bullies keep drama going and allow their power to get out of control while their targets do not retaliate. What has occurred on this show is typical adolescent drama. It is normal for girls to get angry over a boy. Both Annie and Naomi behaved badly towards one another. This is what happens when two people are in a fight. People are going to disagree and get angry. However, they keep it between each other and nobody is trying to overpower the other. Bullies also do not stand by their friends when they are in trouble unless it benefits them in some way. What does Adriana have that Naomi wants? Naomi comes from a much more affluent background. She lives in an upscale hotel unlike Adriana lives with her mother trying to help made ends meet each month. Maybe Naomi does not see Adriana as a threat but she has shown compassion and support to her and stood up for her. She does not seem to have any hidden agendas in this. I believe she honestly cares for Adriana. Bullies do not have this capacity within them.

Its important to understand these differences between strong personalities and outright bullies. People will probably say Naomi is nasty and yes, she can be. However, this is only when someone has angered her first. She is not targeting people to intentionally inflict pain for the heck of it. There is nothing wrong with being angry nor is there anything wrong with having a strong personality. Naomi is not perfect by any stretch and she has done some bad things. However, she took responsibility and right there that shows she is not a bully. Please, learn to distinguish between the two. Know that a fight is just that; a fight. Disagreement and anger between people is normal. What is not normal is when it festers, gets out of hand, people take sides, someone starts gaining power and queen bees materialize. On 90210, there is not a queen bee and for this reason alone, this show is much better to watch than others out there. On the anti-bully scale, I give it a thumbs up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sexual and Peer Abuse in Wisconsin

Over the weekend I was sent a message about recent events in New Berlin, Wisconsin. This latest escapade is a mind blower yet not surprising. Normally this would fall under sexual predator behavior but I consider it a problem of Peer Abuse as well.

A young man, Anthony R. Stancl, who is 18 years old got on the popular site Facebook and pretended to be a girl. As a girl, he got 31 boys, from ages 13 to 19, from his school to send naked pictures to him on the computer. He used this to his advantage by blackmailing these boys into performing sexual acts on him or he would show their pictures all over New Berlin Eisenhower Middle/High School. Some of these assaults occurred on school grounds while others occurred elsewhere. Stancl had over 300 movie clips and pictures on his computer of his victims plus many more of children. If this was not enough, Stancl sent a bomb threat to the school via an email. This prompted an investigation into what was occurring when one of the boys came forward with what had been going on with the sexual acts. If charged, Stancl could face up to 300 years in prison. From what I understand, he has shown no remorse in these events.

Even though Stancl is only 18, he is still an adult. His victims are still underage. However, they are amongst his peer group. This right here makes it an issue of peer abuse and bullying. Also, he used false identification online which is normal in bullies as they enjoy impersonating others online. He blackmailed to get what he wanted and threatened his peers into doing his bidding. If that’s not enough, he made a bomb threat and then showed no remorse for his actions in court. Folks, these adult bullies are predators and these tactics used were not uncommon in bullying behavior. Manipulation, threats and then pictures of children and peers on his computer in suggestive manners? This is the stuff that bullies are made of. My guess is this young man had been manipulating and threatening others for a long time. For him to devise a plan so devious and vicious, he had to have been learning these skills of manipulation for quite some time now. As you see, at 18, he behaved as a sexual predator would. I think its a good thing that he was caught before he brought more damage to others. Even though the police did not find him to be a danger after the bomb threat, I disagree. This young man is dangerous and I hope he is locked up for a long time.

We need to stop “believing these people are not dangerous” and get educated on the makeup of a bully. From reading about this case, its hard not to see someone with abusive tendencies. Not to mention someone who is behaving as a sexual predator. Please, get educated on these folks. At least the police have investigated further on this case and uncovered what they did. Please, help stop bullying and peer abuse when you see it so these children do not grow up to be like Mr. Stancl. It takes a little education one day at a time.
Resource Cited
Elizabeth Bennett is the author of Peer Abuse Know More! Bullying From a Psychological Perspective and resides in Los Angeles, California

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Juicy Campus is no More!

Well, good news travels fast I must say. I just caught word over on facebook that the college site Juicy Campus will be shutting down in the near future. They are taking the site down and leaving cyberspace and for good lets hope. I, for one, am rejoicing.

This is the website that was started by a man named Matt Ivester. His intentions were good initially. As he had not been out of school for long, he thought it would be a good idea to set up a website for college kids to go, mingle and share stories at their respective universities. There is no harm in that and I am sure the site started out as a fun place to visit. However, within the last months, this site started to take an ugly turn. Slander was posted about other students and even faculty at the schools. The person was always allowed anonymity which gave them ever more of an incentive to go on there and say degrading things such as “you are a slut” and others. Some are so bad they are not worth repeating. One student had been raped on campus and she had only told three friends about what happened. Nine months later, the story wound up on the site and the responses were “good, she deserved it!”. Eventually, the site came under fire with the legal system. Ivesters story was that the site would not censor anyone and therefore, these lies and slanderous messages were allowed to stay and he hid behind the First Amendment of free speech. After this, the site become more popular than ever.

Folks, there is nothing wrong with speaking ones mind and being honest. However, when it goes into affecting people and harming them, it becomes problematic. Calling someone a “slut” is not right nor is telling a rape victim that “they deserve it.” This right here has gone to show how insensitive we have become towards one another and the lack of empathy that I have been talking about on here. Nobody likes censorship but like anything else, there are limits. The young lady who was raped was traumatized by the words and actions of this site. I have seen other college students speak online about it. I spoke to a reporter about this particular site and the psychological damages it brings. A group of students got together on face book and stood up to Juicy Campus and saw the ugliness and harm that it created. I commend these kids for taking up the cause and speaking out. It does leave some hope that there are people of our future who have some compassion and an understanding of right from wrong.

I wish Mr. Ivester well. This started out as a good idea at the time. College is a good time in ones life. It is a time of learning and becoming an individual. Some of the stories along the way are fun to remember. However, Ivester allowed things to get ugly on there and people were affected by this stuff. So, from that perspective it’s a good thing the site is coming down. If a site like this is ever created again, I hope it will have some rules, dignity and respect to go along with it. In the meantime, we can rejoice in the fact that Juicy Campus will soon be gone. However, the wounds from those who have been hurt will still be fresh and will take a long time to heal.

Resource Cited

Elizabeth Bennett is the author of Peer Abuse Know More! Bullying From a Psychological Perspective and resides in Los Angeles, California.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

As I was sorting through my daily Google Alerts, I found this article amongst the bunch. As a rule of thumb, I try and write about bullying and abuse by peers that occurs in the United States. However, this article which came from India really jumped out at me. If the title alone is not discouraging, the article itself is chop full of reasons to defend this problem we face. How can bullying be a good thing?

I understand the fact that children need to learn that life is hard and not always nice. That’s true; this is a dog eat dog society and people will throw one another under the bus to get what they want. It can be a vicious cycle. I think its important to teach children to stand up for themselves and take an assertive approach to the world. Also, its important to learn good leadership and healthy social skills so they can learn to get along with others and be productive. Conflict resolution is vital in the world today. Children do need to grow up learning these things.
One the flip side, when is abuse good? Abuse is not healthy folks. Constantly verbally, physically and sexually attacking others is not healthy. Since when is it good to beat someone down and break them to a point where some never recover a good thing? I guess this means someone developing depression, PTSD and social anxiety is a good thing too? This stuff happening daily in schools and the workplace is a good thing?

It’s a matter of limits folks! Knowing when it’s a matter of standing up for oneself and others and when it goes into abuse is vital in this. Children can learn healthy behaviors and grow up to be productive without this nonsense occurring. The bottom line is that people need to understand when and where to draw the line. Its pretty simple once you think about it. Teasing, joking around and such is just that; teasing and joking around. Friends do this and all in fun. However, it becomes an issue of peer abuse when the person says “Stop! Its not funny” or other things indicating that the situation is not but hurtful. “No means NO and stop means STOP.” When someone indicates they are bothered by the behavior then its time to stop! You can tell when someone is being hurt or affected as its not that hard. Really, it’s a matter of teaching this to children. Once they learn this, as adults, they will have this understanding can set these limits for their own children.

Limits and knowing them are everything in this. Bullies have no sense of boundaries and while they are young, its important to catch this and teach them this. Otherwise, they grow up believing rules do not apply to them and they have carte blanche to do as they please. Rules and laws exist for a reason. People just have to learn them and understand them. Its not different with the problem of bullying. In my opinion, this is healthy for everyone.

Resource Cited:

Elizabeth Bennett is the author of Peer Abuse Know More! Bullying From a Psychological Perspective and resides in Los Angeles, California.