A Bully is a Bully at Work or at Middle School

Bullying in all its forms is cruel. There are times, though, when the bully is so subtle, so devious, that we wonder, 'Am I wrong? Am I making this up?'

The bullying I encountered in my first job as a psychologist, from not just one, but two,  people, was like that. It took over a year for me to figure out that the reason my self-esteem was crumbling was that my bosses took every opportunity to find fault with me in the form of "constructive criticism". Direct harassment I could recognize and do something about. This was worse. I was just beginning to develop my identity as a full-fledged professional. That made me vulnerably dependent on the feedback of my supervisors, those people who had the responsibility to train me and and help me gain confidence as a professional. They abused that power.

Then there's middle school. My high school age kids say that all those TV shows about high school drama really have it wrong. If you are looking for drama go to a middle school. My daughter, S, had a similar experience to mine. My daughter wrote:

"A few years ago, three girls, one of whom I had known for three years, turned on me for absolutely no reason. And that wasn’t even the worst part. I mean obviously it hurt a lot that they suddenly pretended I didn't exist, but what hurt even more was how they would whisper and make fun of me at school.

Obviously it wasn’t like the kind of teasing that is shown on television; the clichéd tough bully praying on a small defenseless geek. No, it was three girls going around being sly and evil, which in my opinion is worse.

During all of this I felt miserable. I cried myself to sleep many nights. I most definitely let these girls get to me and I began to question myself in a million ways. One day, as I was listening to my iPod in my room, as I do almost everyday. I came across this song, and suddenly the meaning behind the words sunk in, You're Exceptional by Jojo. I realized that these girls could do anything they wanted, but they would not destroy my self-esteem. That's when I finally told my Mom what was going on."

In middle school, like in your first job out of grad school, you are vulnerable to the feedback of others. You aren't fully formed yet and every hurt sticks, hard. Mean people smell weakness and go for it because doing so makes them feel powerful. See Queen Bees and Wanabees

S was not herself, but she needed to tell me in her own time. I would ask her how she was, take her out one-on-one, make sure she knew I was around ready to listen. When she started to open up about her friends turning on her I had to rein back the impulse to say they were all garbage and good riddance! That wouldn't be helpful to S.

She had to live with these people. S couldn't quit middle school the way I ultimately quit my job when the bosses became toxic. We needed help. I was grateful that our public school district has excellent behavioral health staff. S and I talked with her school counselor, Ms. C, who was perfect. Ms. C took S's concern seriously, helped her confront her tormenters directly and as a result they backed off. When the same thing happened a year later with another set of girls, S was able to handle it. It still hurt, but she had the confidence to deal with it herself. 

Similarly, years after I quit the earlier job with the horrible bosses, I found myself with another bully/supervisor. He appeared to enjoy giving me mediocre performance reviews. He actually said he couldn't give me higher scores because then I wouldn't have anything to work toward! No opportunity to make me feel small was left unturned. Like my daughter, the second time around it still hurt but I was quicker to see the bully in the bad boss. Wiser, older and with a stronger self-esteem I was able to leave quicker, too.

My daughter and I both felt confused, depressed and helpless until we shared our story with someone else. She talked to me, I am proud to say, and when I was having trouble with my boss I spoke to my husband. That was the turning point. If you think you might be bullied, harassed or in any way taken advantage of, talk to a friend, your parents, your spouse, anyone who you know for sure will have your back. Talk to them today.

Taking the Panic out of the Period: 8 Tips to Explain Menstruation to Your Daughter

My mom was a nut in many ways but I always knew that she loved me. One way she showed her love was by setting aside the time, when I was about nine years old, to tell me what a woman's period was all about. It was just her and me in the house, I don't remember where everyone else went, what happened before or what happened after. What I do remember is sitting on the nubby couch in the living room as she drew a rough sketch of the the female reproductive system. It looked like the head of a cow with horns.

I was lucky. Thanks to my Mom's example, I was able to provide the same to my own daughter. Sadly, I know a lot of women who didn't get the "wondrous mystery of becoming a woman" explained to them in any manner whatsoever or, worse, in a way that was traumatizing. Maybe they just started bleeding "down there" one day, and someone, usually their mom, threw them the necessary sanitary device and that was that. The underlying message was, "It's shameful and dirty, therefore you are shameful and dirty. Deal with it."


10 Reasons Why Someone in Therapy May Not Be Getting Better

This morning I was called to be an expert witness at county court. Not my favorite thing to do. What makes it hard is the tendency lawyers have to ask complex questions and expect a "Yes" or "No" answer. I have learned to slow myself down, detach myself from the process, and be absolutely truthful while remaining as unprovoked as possible. Otherwise it is an exhausting exercise.

One question today did get me going, though. It revolved around whether or not a person can change and what causes a person in therapy to improve or not improve. The conversation below is a dramatic re-enactment of real events:

Lawyer: Under what circumstances does a person in therapy not get well?

Me: Are you assuming the therapist is perfect? Because one reason a person does not improve may be the skills, knowledge and training limitations of the therapist.

Lawyer: Assume the therapist is perfect.

Me: So the lack of improvement is totally the responsibility of the patient?

Dear reader, this is never the case. Therapy by definition involves a minimum of two people who are human. In which case perfection is impossible because to be human is to be imperfect. But we are in a court of law where reality seems always to be in question so…

Lawyer: Yes. Would level of intelligence be a reason?

Me: No. People with very high intelligence can be resistant to treatment, just as less intelligent people can.

Lawyer: Could the presence of a diagnosed mental illness or personality disorder be a reason?

Me: The presence of a mental illness diagnosis or personality disorder alone is not a reason for lack of improvement in therapy.

Lawyer: Then what would be a reason?

Me: There could be many reasons but underlying them is often anxiety. 'What will happen to me if I change?' Fear, basically.

At this point the lawyer switched to a completely different topic. My answers probably weren't suitable to his argument so he gave up on me. Fine, but these questions kept echoing in my head.

Any therapist worth their salt will admit that they have had patients who seem to stay stuck for session after session. Maybe you have been in therapy and wondered if anything is really getting any better after making a big investment of time and money. What could be the reasons for lack of improvement?


Does Tiger Mom have a point? 6 parenting tips to raise successful children.

I'm no Tiger Mom. In fact, Amy Chua, (who wrote Why Chinese Mothers are Superior and created quite a stir), scares the bejeezus out of me. Her three hour piano lessons, 'reject your four year-old's last minute hand-drawn birthday card' mothering style seems so downright mean to me. On the other hand, the coddling, "everything you do is wonderful, honey" approach strikes me as pretty lame, too.

I am not a child psychologist. I am a psychologist who happens to be a mother. A mother, I am proud to say, of two amazing teenagers. Grown-ups compliment me all the time about how great my kids are: polite, funny, kind, smart. Was this my doing?

If we don't take the full blame for when things go wrong, can we accept reponsibility for good results? How much of what makes up our kids are just a throw of the genetic dice, the temperament they are born with? Thank God, my son didn't get the angry temper gene from his grandfather and what a relief my daughter was born with remarkable resilience, not thin-skinned like her mother. Then again, they didn't raise themselves, so I've got to think my husband and I did something right.

Most of us are good-enough parents doing the best we can with what we've got. That means we are a bit better at parenting than our own parents were. That's the way it should be, each generation improving a little on the one that went before. Maybe even a lot.


5 quotes that brightened my mood when I needed it.

On Saturday, due to what I choose to call a freak accident (but was really the result of not paying attention), I gave myself a corneal abrasion. If you've ever had one of those you know it hurts like hell. A tiny, all but microscopic, scrape that anywhere else would go un-noticed, on the surface of the eye throws the entire body into battle mode. Which is to say, not only does it hurt, it's exhausting. After a quick visit to my neighborhood urgent care center to get help (they gave me this wonderful eye numbing drop but it only lasted an hour!) and antibiotics I spent the rest of the weekend huddled in a ball waiting for the pain to go away.

When I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself long enough to blurrily look around, I remembered this old post and reading it really did brighten me up. Maybe you could use a little brightening up too, so here it is, from the archives.


The last few weeks have been rough mood wise. I have no idea why, and like I sometimes say to my patients, does the why really matter? The dark, shadowy mood just descended for no good reason. I needed help. Sometimes help comes in funny packages. For me it started with a series of quotes that seemed to appear out of nowhere but actually were delivered via friends, Twitter and Facebook. They aren't earth shattering, they just spoke to me and the weird mood I found myself in at the time. I'm sharing them with you just in case they speak to you, too…

"Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment." ~Dale Carnegie

"If you just try hard enough and long enough, you can always manage to boot yourself in the posterior." ~A.J. Leibling

"Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart." ~Swami Kripalu

"Self-confidence is the best accessory and cheaper than a new pair of shoes."  ~Annie Fox

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." ~Anais Nin

Do you have a favorite quote you save for when you can use a lift? Please share!

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chronic Illness: How to be honest about your limitations.

When someone accuses us of not doing enough we feel terrible. Worse if we are doubting our own judgment and wonder, “Am I capable of more?”

This is a hard concept when we have a chronic illness. Our energy levels and pain threshold can change from day to day. Sometimes we doubt ourselves so much we get confused about what we are capable of doing which causes havoc in how we see ourselves in our various roles as partner, parent and productive member of society.

Defensiveness in the form retreating like a turtle or snarling back like a cornered rat, is human nature when we feel we are attacked. We can often feel attacked when we are flat on our back and our spouses or kids are pulling on us to do more.

When you know the truth about your limits there is less need to be defensive. When you have the truth in your corner it is easier to stay calm, accepting and centered in confidence.

OK, so how do we know our real limits?


Our Reaction to The Arizona Shooting

Without doubt the Arizona shooting is a tragedy for the entire nation. I cannot imagine the grief of those directly effected.

As citizens it is important to be responsibly informed, so we watch the news on television, read live coverage on the Internet and Twitter feeds. How do we balance all that overabundunce of data with our gut reaction to what we are taking in?

It is a human reaction to try to make a tragedy conform to something that we can understand. In my post about the Fort Hood shootings I wrote:

"In our efforts to wrap our brains around a senseless event, we look for cause and effect. We desperately want to to see if we could have prevented it somehow. It's only human to wish to control. Unfortunately that process can mean demonizing the perpetrator, making him a monster, something, anything, 'not me.'"


Top 10 Posts on the EWN Blog in 2010!

Encouraged by my friend Carolyn Thomas of Heart Sisters, I present to you the ten most popular posts at EWN for 2010! I enjoyed bringing you every single one of them!

1) 7 Ways to Start Being Nicer to Yourself

2) 10 Things to Say to a Sick Friend

3) 8 Steps to Find Hope After an Affair

4) 10 Ways to Find a Good Therapist

5) 12 Links about Finding & Keeping True Love

6) 3 Big Danger Signs Your Partner may be Having an Affair

7) The Relationships Page

8) The Self-Esteem Page

9) 10 Steps to Lower Anxiety & Find Empowerment

10)  The Chronic Illness Page

What strikes me as I look at the list is that all these posts and pages provide feet-on-the-ground, get-to-the-point, practicle advice. In 2011 EWN will our best to continue to deliver quality guidance and information with humor and not a lot of foo-foo.

If there is a particular subject or situation you would like see us tackle, do not hesitate to email (explorewhatsnext@gmail.com) or leave a comment for us below!

By Taking Risks, 2010 was a Good Year for Explore What’s Next!

"It's All About Taking Risks" was the title of my very first blog post ever, published in February 2007! What a great title! Who knew how significant it would become?

Three years ago. Wow.

Since starting the blog so much has happened at Explore What's Next. Most of them involved holding my nose and taking a big leap. Here are a few highlights:

Expanded by adding a new associate therapist! Welcome Dylan Broggio!

Started a book to help anyone living with chronic illness live fully one day at a time.

Became a regular contributor to Psych Central, a mental health mega-blog followed by hundreds of thousands of people.

Sited on the New York Times 'Well' blog.

Was interviewed and quoted in Parent's Magazine.

EWNblog was named one of the top 100 blogs about depression by nursingschools.net.

Skyped consultation and counseling sessions from all over the US and five of the world's continents! (Have not had a client in Australia or Africa yet. Call me, people!)

Developed true friendships with other professional writers and therapists from around the world.

Opened Twitter and Facebook accounts where I enjoy a fun, lively, informative conversation with even more people!

Joined the Movement is Life Wellness Center as an associate professional.

Lost 20 pounds by counting calories and exercising. This is a personal one but it effects my energy levels and what I can do for EWN, too. It means a lot!

There is probably more but I'm still not great at this self-promotion business (see Mom Did Not Teach Me How to Brag). That's something I really need to get over once and for all. It's just annoying at this point. I will work on that in 2011.

Other goals for 2011 are:

Finish the damn book! Because it isn't helping anyone while it's in a drawer.

Start a new one! Because I have at least five more in me.

Video blogging. Still an area I would like to get into because I think I'd be good at it.

Finding the time to do the above by being better about saying "No". Speaks for itself, don't you think?

Meditate more because it makes me feel even-keeled and happy.

Continue to serve, to the best of my ability, the people who come to me for help and guidance. Because that is the greatest reward. Corny, I know, but so true!

Thank you for letting EWN be a part of your life.

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