Bullying – it’s not just in the classroom

Ben Kimmel reflects on understanding the normalised bullying in the workplace. This was first published on his site.

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Bullying is an attempt of ownership. This is more than a theft of services. Bullying is an attempt to own you, to claim you, to try and keep you and push you down so this way, you will always be beneath or subordinate

It has been a long time since I’ve been on the playground in McVey Elementary School. The memories of playground dominance and the rules of interaction have changed. This is more about position now. This is more about who’s the boss, who makes the decisions, and whom-so-ever should dare go against this; nowadays, the bullies are much different than say, a kid named The Gooch in sixth grade.

Dominance is more corporate and political now. People are afraid of social and professional cancellation. This is more about control. Whereas it used to be wedgies in the locker room or some kid knocking the books from your arm in the hallways; these days, bullying is positional and often financial. “You hit’em in the pocket,” is something I’ve heard. “If they don’t listen, take away their ability to earn or be listened to and suddenly, watch, they’ll turn around!” By the way, both are real quotes from corporate bullies.

The mob mentality is still the same. Acceptance is still acceptance and unfortunately, there are people who are far more concerned with being at the cool table than being kind to the others in their corporate org chart.

There are people who are far too concerned with bringing their report card home. They are concerned about approval. They mind their grades and seek acceptance from the upper tiers of management.

And where does this come from? I’ll tell you where.

The rush to belong is a trained behavior that dates back to when we were kids in pre-school. Who has the best toys? Who has the cooler things? Who is the prettiest? Who is the coolest or strongest? Who is the most popular? And how do I make this be me? However, we are decades away from the playgrounds. We are far from childhood but the science is still the same. There is a pathology here that goes unaddressed and undiagnosed. However, this does not mean the science does not exist

The true crimes of bullying are the remnants and the left-behind words that repeat in the mind. Whereas it used to be bumps and bruises, name-calling, and public shaming, bullying is more about physiological and in the real of professional warfare—this is the antithesis of psychological safety, especially in the workplace.

Let us be clear on this; where does most of the bullying take place when we are adults. And keep in mind; we are adults far longer than we are kids. As adults, where do we spend the majority of our adult life?  The classrooms are gone but social gatherings are not. At some point, we trade our books and the hallways for a job and a workplace. The politics of the crowd do not change so much.

There is a still the social org chart. Who is popular? Who is persona non grata?Who are the cool kids? Where is the cool clique and where do they gather? This was hard enough when we were kids; and, to believe this does not exist in the corporate world would be tremendously inaccurate.

It is great to see the ideas of diversity, equity and inclusion programs. It was great to see teachers get involved when kids were being bullied at school. But yet, this doesn’t mean bullying does not exist nor does this change the reasons why people look to bully or “Own” someone else.

I am sure that I am not the only one who has seen this. I am sure that I am not the only one who has experienced bullying in the workplace or inside the different branches of corporate structures. I see this no differently than when we were in second grade. Rather than face the bullies who sat in the back of the bus on the way to school; we find ourselves, face-to-face, with corporate strong-arms who look to assert their dominance by way of position or financial influence. And why do they do this?

The reason is no different from when we were kids. They do this to keep their spot in the org-chart. They do this to show their importance, to create a fear of retaliation, to show dominance, and of course, they do this to deflect. The psychology has not changed. We are all kids in the lunchroom and just trying to find where we belong in life.

A long time ago, I made the decision to work on freeing myself from this mindset. I do not have to seek approval anymore. I am not looking to place myself in any so-called org-chart. I don’t have to bring my report card home anymore. However, I still have to interact and intermingle with people in both my personal and professional life. For the record, this does not mean when (or if) I experience corporate bullying that the pains will not hurt. I am human. I have feelings. I have thoughts and ideas. I also have boundaries now.

When I think of whom I was when I was young, I remember the remnants of bullying and the left-behind feelings. I think about the hurt I felt or the pain that came from this. And when I look back, there is a memory as well as a piece of me that wishes I had said something or done something different. Thoughts like this create a chemical change and affect my moods and emotions. However, as I have grown older. I have come to a better understanding and reached an improved level of consciousness.

I have allowed myself to create boundaries in which, I do not allow people to cross. I wished that I never allowed this to happen when I was young. And now that I am older, I look inwards to the child I used to be—and essentially, I explain, “Don’t worry. I won’t let anyone hurt you. I got this!”

No one has the right to bully. Yet, bullying is still a real threat in the working world; and the same as when we were kids, no one wants to run to the teacher and tell. We just want to be happy. We just want to get through the day, eat lunch, maybe have a few laughs, and when we come home and someone asks, “How was your day?” We can answer this positively, rather than painfully.

  • Set boundaries. Create your own safety.
  • Update your thinking and update your training.  
  • Set goals. And achieve them.

This is the bully’s kryptonite. And if this doesn’t work—
Document everything and contact a labor attorney because no matter how mighty someone is in the boardroom—nobody wants the trip to HR or to be deposed because of their behavior.

Ben Kimmel, Aug 28, 2021
thewrittenaddiction.com

By this river – journaling and meditation

Jack McKenna, on a moment of discovery, two years ago, during his time at university. First written and published on his site

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By this river, I finally understood the value of meditation. Powerful waves worked as full white noise: irregular fountains of sounds that drowned thoughts of leaf-littered sunlight spilling through squeezed eyelids and the pinprick distractions of soaring insects surrounding my stillness.

Sat by a river in the shade of a tree, with Astral Weeks by Van Morrison on in the background, watching a glowing butterfly circle by (white and orange).’ [21st April 2019]

This idyll represented a brief break from a strange time in my life: my first year of university, sandwiched between walls of new people in a new city with pressing deadlines that seemed momentous to a confused eighteen-year-old. It was a whirlpool of change, and I did little to acquaint myself with the velocity. 

I had started journaling, expressing how I was not enjoying university and even debating dropping out, a thought that seems so odd now I’ve finished my degree. Journaling is great for expressing and recognising such thoughts but does little to change them – I knew I needed something else.

Under the guise of a miniature wooden statue of Budai, who I, like most, assumed was Buddha, sat on the floor of my student accommodation room (cross-legged, as I expected any real meditator should be), I pressed play on a guided meditation. It simply asked me to visualise that I was atop a hill, that every time a thought popped into my head it was a balloon that I held; ‘let go’, it asked, and ‘watch them fly away’. 

It’s all about attachment – previously, I let thoughts linger unaddressed. By visualising them as balloons, letting go of thoughts went from an abstract to a practicable concept. Silence grew as thoughts flew: social anxieties, academic concerns, noisy-neighbour irritations, and even those random, disparate thoughts passed up and away. 

‘It’s been a hard few weeks, but I’m getting better & finding my feet, the worst of it was all in my head.’ [12thApril 2019]

Often what overwhelms you is not necessarily what is happening, but how you internally process it. By never turning inwards, we let thoughts and feelings fester, but stopping and letting them happen to us often reveals their shallowness, leaving the ones worth attending to.

What remained for me was the clamour for purpose: a reason to persist through deadlines and noisy nights. My thoughts and feelings were a by-product of these grievances, and they stopped me from doing anything about them. Negative thoughts don’t affect anything but yourself – why experience something stressful, then experience it again through these by-products? By thinking you are not doing anything about the problem. 

‘When you’re in nature, it just does its own thing, no matter what. We’re supposed to be more evolved, yet we get held back by ourselves and our thoughts.’ [22nd April 2019]

The more I realised this the more I tried new things, lots of which didn’t stick, but one that did was writing. I didn’t, and still don’t, see it as my purpose in a capitalistic way (I would’ve pursued a much more fruitful avenue if so!), but in a kind of ‘spiritual’ way, for lack of a better (or less cringe-worthy) term. It pulled the threads of my life together: a reason to continue with university, a reason to work as a dishwasher at the time and save money for experiences to write about, a reason to have those experiences that generate material, and to grow, as an individual and a writer.

I only realised this whilst meditating. Of all the random thoughts that pop up and away, sometimes one appears and resonates deeply, ‘catching the big fish’ as David Lynch calls it. By spending time with your thoughts and feelings you can correlate them to their cause, the deeper desires they are a by-product of. 

To do this you have to let go, suspend yourself, and use your breath as a way to detach. Sometimes, not always, meditation allows you, the Freudian ego, the sense of I, to fade away. This proto-nirvanic state is called the ‘ego death’, but this name suggests violence or loss of something; I would instead describe it as a kind of becoming or realisation of what really constitutes you when all those balloons fly away. In these states, it’s much easier to realise what you want in life. 

These states are temporary, we can’t sit silently inside ourselves all day. While meditation helps you connect with yourself, it also helps you form a new relationship with your surroundings. 

Opening your eyes after meditation can be intense – you experience the immensity of apprehension, so long withered by thoughts and anxieties. There’s this transition as your mind switches back on, you see everything in a pure and vibrant way, like waking up in the morning with full sensory awareness. In this regard, some of my deepest meditations were by the River Swale in Yorkshire.

By this river, I meditated amidst all these thoughts, let go, and opened my eyes: colour appeared first, nuances in leaves and grass, green once uniform as diverse as a rainbow, little flowers sprouting pale yellows and blues; movements, the powerful stream gliding, the jagged rocks piercing through and slicing the surface of the silvery waves, the trees slow dancing with the wind; textures of light, embodying the rhythms of the waves, glinting off darting insects, piercing the leaves, and easing past the streaky cirrus clouds. All this illuminated by a cleansed awareness. 

‘And you’re high on your high-flying cloud
Wrapped up in your magic shroud as ecstasy surrounds you
This time it’s found you.’ [Van Morrison, ‘Besides You’]

Meditation takes the edge, your edge, off reality and reveals this kind of soft totality, truly beautiful and affirming. Thoughts can only be positive in this state of mind while surrounded by such a space. I opened my phone and was reminded by one of the things afflicting me, my mood turned sour immediately from something as trivial as an image on social media.

‘You only find bad if you look for it.’ [22nd April 2019]

Regardless of meditation, you still think, you still feel, you can’t and shouldn’t change that; but, if thoughts and feelings are by-products, you control them by turning to what creates them – what you see, hear, and do. If an image on social media sparked my change in mood – why would I expose myself to anything that can achieve that? 

‘Dwelling on the past brings its negativity back.’ [22nd April 2019]

Thoughts and feelings happen to you, like hunger, they are reactive – the goal is to create the external conditions necessary to experience an ideal internal condition. As for the things you can’t control, detach and let them happen, for thoughts don’t change a thing but your mood. This is easier said than done, that’s the comfort in religious concepts such as reincarnation, knowing you have many lifetimes to reach this goal. 

The beauty of it, though, is not in the end but the process, in the struggle – la belle lutte. Every meditation is like a new start, where you let go of everything and sit with yourself, your breath, to come out refreshed. 

‘To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again.’ [Van Morrison, ‘Astral Weeks’]

It takes time and work, many meditations feel fruitless, but it’s always worth it. By connecting this whole process to the breath, you are creating an association between perhaps the only thing you can do at any time and a focused state of calmness. You are using your body to forge an anchor out of your breath, so when all that is superfluous floats away like balloons, you are what remains. 

In 2019, I lacked purpose and found myself afflicted by the past, what meditation did was aid me in forming a sense of purpose, severing my ties to the past, and securing myself in the present. I still struggle with these things and likely always will, but with every meditation, I get closer to myself, and that is why I continue to do it every day.

‘To never, never, never, wonder why at all
To never, never, never, wonder why at all
It’s gotta be, it has to be
[…]
You breathe in, you breathe out
You breathe in, you breathe out
You breathe in, you breathe out
You breathe in, you breathe out.’ [Van Morrison, ‘Astral Weeks’]

By Jack McKenna, Aug 2nd, 2021
jackmckennawriting.poetry.blog

I’m just a sucker with low self-esteem

By A. M Vivian. First published on their site.

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I’m just a sucker with low self-esteem

Years ago my counsellor told me I had low self-esteem. That didn’t quite make sense because I could happily give a presentation, teach groups of people and travel the world on my own. Yet her statement made me cry so there must have been something that hit home. Later, I learnt confidence isn’t self-esteem. Self-esteem is about knowing you are worthy of happiness, respecting yourself and believing in your ability to cope with any future events. When it comes to my writing career, my low self-esteem convinces me that I don’t deserve to be successful. Stay small, don’t draw attention to yourself. If you do draw attention, people will realise you’re evil and bad and shitty. This thought’s best friend is Miss if-you-don’t-try-you-can’t-fail.’ They go to all the parties together, drink all the booze and then puke in the potpourri. 

I like to understand the why of things; why is my self-esteem so low? Depression and low self-esteem are a chicken and egg situation or maybe a wolf in a fox outfit so trying to figure out that why didn’t help. It had me ruminating over pasts events—a nice way to reinforce my negative opinion on myself and life.  Instead, I decided to focus on fixing it. The Blindboy Podcast, the Gabor Mate film The Wisdom of Trauma and his series of lectures, and The Six Pillars of Self-esteem by Nathaniel Branden have been helpful. Here, I want to share what I learnt.

I’m no worse than anyone else

No one is better than me and I’m not better than anyone else is Blindboy’s affirmation. I’ve studied psychology and so I understand the concept of intrinsic value—every human being has worth strictly because they’re a human. I know this. I can intellectualise it but it doesn’t feel right. My brain rebels, tells me ‘a Doctor is more important than you. They save lives. They matter to more people than you do.’ We’ve all done that exercise where only a certain amount of people can get on a lifesaving raft and you have to decide who to leave behind. It’s meant to teach you not to judge people but all it does is show you that you probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s raft.  

In CBT therapy we’re encouraged to look at the evidence for our beliefs so we can test their validity. Trouble was I found lots of evidence that said I must be a shitty person. I looked at my married friends with their lovely partners, their dream jobs, and their beautiful children. My brain told me I didn’t have those things because I wasn’t good enough. My friends were perfect and good people.  I’d had an abusive relationship, a miscarriage and was unemployed after a nervous breakdown because I was a useless piece of shit that deserved bad things to happen to her. If I’d been better none of those things would have happened.

While researching I read about the Quakers, they believe everyone has good and bad in them. Such a simple and obvious concept but it was a revelation. It permitted me to forgive myself for my mistakes. Other people can be bad and wrong too. It was such a relief. I wasn’t being punished for being bad, not if everyone else makes mistakes and is wrong sometimes. My friends didn’t get to have those things because they were perfect and better people than I am—it’s just, well, shit happens. And I realised, I’m not ready for Blindboy’s statement yet. It’s asking my self-esteem to complete a marathon when it’s been sat on the couch crying over Netflix for years. I’ll use the baby-steps affirmation of ‘I’m no worse than anyone else’

Pause, rewind, replay

I’ll be going along with my day and suddenly I’ll get a jolt of anxiety and back comes a memory of something I did wrong. For some reason, it’s normally when I’m washing the dishes or cleaning my teeth (maybe I should just get a dishwasher and false teeth). The emotions are as strong as the day of the event. Shame. Frustration at not doing the right thing. My most recent one was not standing up for myself when I was told I had to do a test and possibly attend a course for key skills English and Maths because my GCSE’s were too old. Now I knew this was bullshit because I had set up similar back to work courses in the past and had also been a career advisor. Less than a year before this I’d been a classroom assistant in GCSE English and Maths. I also have a degree and two MAs all in English language-related fields. But I didn’t say anything. The next day I had a panic attack on the way to the test—the first in 4 months. So I get angry at myself for not speaking up and for causing my panic attack.

When the memory returned I decided to explore the events in a bit more detail. The first thing that hit me was that it happened in May 2019. Yet, it feels like the event happened yesterday. What bigger sign did I need that I was stuck in that moment? It was like re-watching the same scene over and over, only on some dodgy streaming site where it keeps buffering. Imaging the event and memory as a scene in a film helped. I could watch myself there and un-stick that me by visualising hitting the play button and watching the next part of the film—me leaving that scene and walking home

You got that crazy little lizard brain

I’m pretty sure lizard brain isn’t the technical term but it works for me, mainly because I picture an ex’s leopard gecko bashing and wiggling up against the glass of the vivarium, panicked yet aggressive. The lizard brain is the primitive part of our brain—the bit that only cares about fighting, fucking and feeding. And it might be the biggest bastard of all. It tells me that receiving a badly worded email is the same as a great big lion coming to rip my face off. Its favourite thing is telling me I’m going to piss myself in public, even though I only went for a pee 5 minutes ago.  ‘Hey,’ it whispers, ‘everyone will look at you, record you on their phones, crowd around you and pull your soul out of my body.’ And then, bang, panic attack time and I need to pee even more because the lizard brain wants to shed as much weight as possible. Just how heavy does it think pee is?

Back in ye olde cavepeople time, social acceptance was essential for survival because it was too hard to hunt and stay safe alone. Rejection meant death. No wonder I have social anxiety—my lizard brain hasn’t worked out that time moves forward and things change. This knowledge was kinda helpful because I like understanding why my brain is being a bastard and I feel less of a freak because everyone else has a lizard brain, but this nugget of knowledge wasn’t enough by itself.

When the panic starts I picture that lizard in the back of my head, just by my nape. It’s flipping and jumping and wiggling for attention. ‘FUCK, FUCK, FUCK,’ it says because it hasn’t quite developed proper language yet, after all, he is still stuck in cavepeople time. I talk to him and myself. ‘It’s fine. It’s just my lizard brain having a moment. Chill out, little dude.’ Of course, I don’t say this out loud. I don’t want to be socially rejected and left to be eaten alive by a rogue traffic light—seriously, some of those beeps are proper aggressive.

Keep on keeping on

So do I now have a sparkly crown of self-esteem? No. But that’s ok. I’ve accepted it’ll take time to build up my self-esteem.  I’m working towards it. Just recognising the problem helps, like realising you’ve got a stone in your shoe might be the first step to walking comfortably. It’s had some positive effects because I’ve started working on a website to showcase myself as a writer and taken steps to grow my Instagram following (@A_M_Vivian if you’re interested). Oh and I also manage to fend off a panic attack in the dentist which is much better than a crown anyway.

A. M. Vivian, 28 Aug, 2021
publishordietrying.wordpress.com

Struggling alone – studying and anxiety

Lori describes her difficulties with social interaction and integration, pressures of study and efforts to support herself. The piece was first published on her site.

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Life continues to be a rollercoaster, as I navigate online Masters coursework alongside my trauma recovery, continuing to do life in lockdown amidst the global pandemic (hi yes still here), and trying hard to interrupt my doom-scrolling of geo-political instability and the increasingly banal levels of corruption evident among Australia’s political elite. It sounds like I’ve tried to construct a complex sentence but in reality this is a cross section of my brain at this moment. It’s exhausting.

My mental health has taken a turn. I’m experiencing intense social anxiety that is ever-present, making it difficult for me to do anything without being triggered. Talking to neighbours, buying a coffee, uni classes (on zoom), group assignments, messaging friends, communicating with networks, teachers, former colleagues. I even felt worried my therapist hated me, which led to a very fruitful session exploring the therapeutic relationship. There’s my everyday interactive space where I feel stuck with a mean voice in my head pointing out all the ways everyone is judging me and how much they loathe me, that there’s something inherently weird and awkward and repulsive about my presence, that I’m an awful person. This changes the way I present to people, and I can tell they sense it and it is awkward. It leaves me feeling so deeply ashamed and alone. Then there’s the forays into memory when I’m idle, thinking of all the times I’ve humiliated myself, exposed my hideousness, ruined my reputation for good.

I’m not yet giving in to it fully, which is different and new for me. It’s strange. In the past, this level of social anxiety would have me spiralling into despair and I would lose control of my emotional responses and have to deal with the fallout. I would take the mean voice seriously. Now I question that voice, and I have a bit more ground under me. But it is still there. It is still mean. It still hurts. It’s awful, and exhausting, and makes connecting with other people excruciatingly difficult. In lockdown, when everything is on zoom and messenger, it’s magnified and I have all the more opportunities to interpret ordinary communication as attacks, rejection and humiliation. A part of me still thinks it is true, and is despairing, but there seems to be another part who is holding strong, observing it all. So I’m just hanging on, feeling pretty alone and sad, trying to keep caring for myself and loving myself, even if only a little.

This didn’t end up how I thought it would. I could go into so much more detail, but exhaustion wins tonight.

Lori, tojoinwithgold.wordpress.com, Aug 26, 2021