In Expert Interviews

Daniela Roher on Bullying Statistics

Daniela Roher lives in Arizona where she has a private psychotherapy practice working with individuals and couples who want to achieve their goals of living more fulfilled lives. She talks to Ciaran Connolly about All Bullying Statistics.

The Interview on Bullying Statistics can also be found here and here.

Below is a transcript of the interview on Bullying Statistics:

Daniela Roher: I’m Daniela Roher, I’m a psychotherapist. I have a private practice in Arizona. I’m Italian originally. So, I studied in Italy, graduated at University Turin in Italy then I went to England, I was at University of Cambridge for my graduate studies. From Cambridge, I went to Michigan. I went back to England and I was at Oxford for a year as a visiting fellow. Still like Cambridge more than Oxford thou and then I came to The United States, I trained as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. So, I do a lot of in depth work with people and from Michigan, I moved to Arizona.

I have been here in Arizona for 18 years now and I’m in private practice here. I’m interested in my work with people. I do a lot of work with couples too and I’m very interested in the brain. So, I’m very interested in the new science of effective… science which really advancing very fast and allow us to understand better. That a lot of things that we knew already, we thought we knew psychologically but now they are confirmed by a lot of scientific research.

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent, very interesting and thank you for taking time out to talk to us today about bullying and helping us understand a little bit more on what’s going on. So, I appreciate your time in that respect. Do you think that bullying is as big an issue today as it was maybe 1o or 2o years ago?

DR: Yes, it is a bigger issue actually today for several reasons. First of all, people are more aware of it. So, there is much more talking about it and identifying the fact that it is a not a normal stage of growing up. In the past, people said “Oh, you know, kids will hit each other. Will bully each other, that’s part of growing up.” And they minimized it.

Now, people are aware that no, it doesn’t have to be part of growing up. There was something wrong with people are aggressive, hostile. They have an intention to harm other people. They do it repeatedly and so, people are much more focusing on what’s happening and why do certain kids tend to act in ways that are very inappropriate and very hurtful.

In addition to that, there is also the issue of cyber bullying which did not exist 10 years ago or even longer than that and in The States, there are indications that about 1/3 of kids are bullied in schools or on, you know, sports or whatever but about 60% of children and teenagers are abused through the computer.

So, it’s much more wider spread than it is… than the regular bullying is and it’s actually more ominous and more insidious I would say because it infiltrates people in their homes where they feel safe. You know, if a message comes in your phone, on your Ipad, on your computer, you are at home where you feel… you should feel protected, safe and here it comes.

So, there is a feeling of not being protected and being exposed and the other thing is that it’s… you are exposed to, you don’t know how many people you are going to be exposed to. Whereas if you are in school and there are 2 or 3 kids watching what’s happening, those are the kids that will know about the bullying, nobody else will but in cyber space, anybody can know anywhere else and so, it’s much more dangerous and much more scary.

CC: And do you think that the current media coverage on bullying and cyber bullying is helping? Or hindering the champions against bullying?

DR: Well, I think it is helping because it raises awareness. As I said earlier, people, they don’t talk about it and people assume that it was normal and so, people were not really aware that, this was an issue that needed to be addressed.

Media exposure allows people to be much more aware of it and it also encourages children to talk about it because unfortunately, about 60% of children who are bullied don’t talk to anybody, don’t talk to any adult about it. Meaning, they don’t talk to their parents. They don’t talk to their teachers. They don’t talk to other people in any authority position and so, it becomes much more difficult to fight it because they feel isolated.

Now, if social media and any kind of media talks about it and raises it as a problem then there are much more likely to say “Well, it’s not happening to me only, it’s now a right, it’s not me and I can do something about it.” It’s a little bit like, similar to what happened with rape, you know, in the past people did not talk about rape.

It was… and women felt it was their fault or were made to feel that times, it was their fault if they were raped and so, it was all underground and nobody talked about it.

Once it became an open issue, more women came forward. They were less embarrassed about saying “Hey, it happened to me too and it is not right and something needs to be done about it.” And the same situation, I think it is happening with bullying and I think it should be solved.

CC: Very interesting and you study a new sense and the brain, something that always puzzle me. I guess, do you think that people’s, I guess mind changes when they are being bullied and may be being a victim? Is there a chemical change in our brains so to speak? Does there… is there physical impact or changes in people’s personalities?

DR: Oh yes and these changes are both short term and long term changes. The short term changes of course, have to do with being uncomfortable and feeling unsafe, feeling isolated, feeling anxious, feeling scared, feeling confused as to why is this happening to me, feeling afraid.

So, all of those feelings happen right away and it can lead to actually, if continue to severe enough, it could lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. We know that, there are children have committed suicide because of bullying.

I was reading The New York Times just in August 31st.  So, 3 weeks ago, a young kid in New York committed suicide because he was bullied in school. He was Polish and so, he spoke with an accent and kids made fun of him because his English… he had an accent and he tried to tell people about it. The school got involved but nothing happened and he committed suicide, he killed himself.

So, that’s awful that things like this happens, unfortunately bullies have the uncanny ability to target areas that are the most sensitive for a child. You know, because we can all accept a certain amount of criticism and survive it, right? But we all have areas are very sensitive and so, if we are touched there, we can do all the react, we feel very deeply affected.

We cannot just push it away. You know, it affects our self esteem, it affects our self image, it affects self worth and it’s much more difficult to get rid of it and bullies have the ability to sense what it is about that person that they are very sensitive about and that’s how they get bullied.

Now, one of the most sensitive areas for teenagers is not feeling like everybody else. You know, teenagers are at the staging life where they don’t really have an identity yet.

They are trying to develop an identity and their identity is be like everybody else. They want to be accepted, they want to be included, they want to be liked. At the time when they don’t really like themselves because their bodies are changing, their minds are changing and they don’t know who they are anymore.

So, they are looking for models to follow. If they are accepted by other people, it becomes much easier process. If they are not accepted, then they feel different, they feel there is something wrong with them. They are more likely to pathologies their feelings and there are emotions and so, they become even more isolated and that makes it much more difficult to get through adolescents and being in a healthy place and so, bullying makes them feel unaccepted.

With boys, it is usually with physical violence, you know, getting to a fight. So, competitions, whatever where they feel, they cannot… they are not the strongest, the other one and so, they are not as good as the bully and so, that’s one way which they feel not accepted, not included, they feel embarrassed, they feel ashamed by the fact that they are not strong like the other person or as tall as the other person or as muscular, whatever, is brave and girls use more of a relational way of bullying where they make people feel, the other girls, feel excluded. “You are not like us.” But the end result is the same, the means are different but the end result is the same.

In both cases, boys and girls feel “I’m not accepted for who I am, I’m not appreciated, I’m not valued for who I am.” And therefore… and that’s the danger and therefore “I’m not valuable.”

See, so, they internalize that image and that’s how they see themselves. They make fun of me, it means, I deserve it. it means, I’m not really as good as the other kids. I don’t have much to offer and so, once they internalize that and you see yourself that way then even if you are no longer bullied, it stays with you because that’s your own self image you see.

CC: And this is what may be drive some of the young girl children to suicide then. They are getting this message over and over and over again and they break, they can’t take it anymore.

DR: Exactly, they cannot take it anymore and they don’t feel they have anybody to go back to for comfort because remember that, adolescent is the time when we separate from our parents. The worth of adolescent is to separate and become independent from our parents and so, it‘s no cool to go to your parents and say “That kid is bullying me or is writing something nasty on Facebook on me or sends me nasty emails.”

You know, they cannot do it anymore. So, the main support that used to be parents is gone. Teachers are often included like adults, you know, like parents and so, again it’s no cool to go to teacher and complain. You have to be tough. You have to handle it on your own.

Your peers are not really strong enough to provide the support you need often and so, you are completely isolated at the time when you are scared but you don’t have any resorts to go to.

CC: And a child who is… or teen who is may be listening or watching this video and is feeling like this, what they can do? What should they do that they don’t feel like talk to the parents or teachers? Are there things they can do or they should go and talk to the parents?

DR: Yes, it’s important that they talk to an adult whether it’s the parent, whether it’s a priest or a rabbi or a neighbor, somebody that they trust, extended family member, grand parent, an uncle, an aunt, you know, somebody that they have a good relationship with. It’s important that they talk about it but the most important part that they need to say to themselves is that, it’s not about them, you know, it’s not that, they are bad or they are, you know, inadequate or they are limited or they are different and that’s why they get bullied. It’s about the bully not about them and so, word cannot internalize those negative images as I was telling you earlier and then see themselves that way because once, you see yourself is being inadequate then there is no way out then it’s not even worth for reaching out to anybody.

It’s you, you are the bad one and so, once you see yourself that way then you won’t just disappear and suicide of course is the extreme form of this disappearance.

CC: Of course and we are talking… you mentioned earlier cyber bullying and so many social networks and internet sites and so much of our communication now is going online. We don’t talk to people as much as we used to. We like to sit behind the computer and text and message and update our status that we are having a cup of tea or we have just watched some TV. Is… the people get satisfaction from that? Do you think something changes again in our brain from being able to do that? Or is it part of the wanting to feel popular and have all these friends? Is it again another part of our brain that drives this?

DR: Well, the main form of dealing with stress for all of us, human beings is to reach out and get help from others. Of all the mammals, we are the most social, we don’t… that’s how we protected and defended ourselves and evolved. We don’t have big muscles. We don’t run particularly fast, we are not that strong, we don’t have big fangs, you know, big claws.

So, the only way in which we protected and defended ourselves through our evolution was by banding together. We find strength in groups, right. So, the first… when we are under stress, the first way in which we respond to stress is go out and reach for somebody that can help us. When that is not available then we become anxious.

Our sympathetic system gets going, that fight to flee response, you know, intervene. Since so, we start sweating, we get agitated, we get anxious, we can’t sleep at night, we don’t eat well, we have all kinds of fears all the time, we cannot relax and then if that doesn’t work then we are going to the parasympathetic system which is when we pretend we are dead, what the snakes do, you know, snakes freeze, right and it’s no good for us.

We don’t have the ability to do that very well. So, the first way, the most important way in which we deal with stress is reaching out to others. When we feel isolated and we feel, we cannot do it, we are in trouble.

So, to all kids who are listening to this interview, I would say reach out to somebody. That’s the first step, when we get depressed, for instance, one of the symptoms of depression is isolation. Depressed people don’t want to see anybody, don’t want to talk to anybody, they stay home, they stay in bed with the blankets over their heads but then by doing it, they don’t reach out and don’t get help, they get worse and worse.

CC: Of course and I guess in your practice, have you seen any severe cases or have you knowledge of cases of severe bullying where there has been long term effects on the victim?

DR: I have seen cases where adults still remember what happened when they were kids and they were bullied and they see that as a sign, as the beginning of seeing themselves in a negative way, feeling insecure about themselves, not being assertive, isolated, becoming more shy, not taking advantage of opportunities and then isolated, becoming depressed and so forth and so on as well.

CC: And do you think bullies themselves can… we can stop them bullying? Do you think we can stop a bully, a young child who is bullying becoming an adult who bullies?

DR: We can stop it but we cannot work with them alone. We need to work with the system. Meaning, we need to work their families. We need to work with their schools, their environment, their community because often times children who become bullies value violence, physical violence, physical aggression and at times, they see it at home.

Now, I’m not saying that all bullies were… come from violent families but often they do. You know, all day watch programs, they are not supervised enough. They have parents that are not watching what they are doing. They watch violent programs on TV.

You know, they value violence for the sake of it. They are often children who have poor self esteem, who feel isolated, who are no good at school, have problems with, you know, the academic area and so, bullying give them an opportunity to get attention and remember one thing, we all crave attention in children learn very early in life than bad attention is better than no attention.

So, if they become bullies, that’s a lot… they get a lot of attention. Now, we may not be the good kind of attention but it still better than no attention and there is nothing worse for children than having no attention.

CC: Very good and I’m going back to an early answer, what you said as well is being social creatures, we all want the social interaction.

DR: Exactly and in times, unfortunately victims of bullying give them attention. You know, if somebody is being bullied about something they do, let’s say about the accent, I was telling you of that kid that just committed suicide and this kid response by isolating, by not talking around kids, by letting the bullying know “Hey, your behave, you affects me very deeply.” The bully will continue to do it because he or she gets what they want.

You see, so, ignoring that is probably one of the best things they can do. Give the message to the bully “You don’t get to me. You don’t affect me. I’m not letting this get to me.” As much as they can, obviously it is not easy and that’s why they need to get help and get the whole system involved.

When you deal with bullies, I think parents need to be involved in the treatment too. They need some parenting classes. They need to be aware of what’s happening with their kid. You need to have a sense of what’s happening in that family because we are the products of our upbringing, right.

You were asking earlier about neuroscience. Well, one thing that we know about neuroscience is that when we are born, our new cortex which is the thinking part is completely blank. There is nothing there, we are not born with all kinds of things. Everything is introduced there from our parents or whoever raised us.

The first 2 years of life being the most important, the first 6 months of life being actually the most important. That’s when we learn, we are loved, we are not loved, we are responded to, we are given attention and then we… and that, we internalize that and then we develop feelings about my mum loves me that means, I’m a loving person myself and so, I can ;love myself too.

CC: Very interesting and you said that at the start of the conversation that you deal a lot with couples, do you ever come across bullying in couples? Do you see that?

DR: Oh absolutely, bullying in couples is very common unfortunately because I was telling you earlier, bullies have the ability, that kind of ability to know where to hit you in your most sensitive area. Well if you are a couple, you know each other enough that you know exactly how to get to the juggler, right.

You don’t have to play around, you know exactly what to say to hurt the other person and they do it and so, I see that a lot and in couples probably like in a lot of other relationships, people use anger and hostility because they feel hurt and so, when we feel hurt, when we feel lonely, when we feel isolated, we tend to become angry and we use anger to express it because anger protects us.

Nobody can get to us when are angry. People want to stay away from us, right. So, we don’t make ourselves vulnerable and when we don’t feel safe and that’s what is most important, you know and I mean physically safe but also emotionally safe.

Like in a couple, I know you have my back, you know and I have your back that we count on each other. I can be open with you and you are not going to use that against me. That kind of safety, now if that safety goes away then people attack each other and they know… they attack each other in a very vicious way.

The other thing is at times, teachers can be bullied too. Now, in the past, much more so than now because you know, let’s say 20, 30, 40 years ago, I mean… you may not want to have this part because maybe a lot of people may not like it but a lot of stories that I heard was from adults who went to Catholic schools where nuns were really very vicious, very vicious almost sadistic, that was bullying you see but nobody talked about it and that was part of what was supposed to happen, right.

They were the authorities and nobody challenge them but people in authority bully and in fact, one of the keys of bullying as you know is discrepancy in power. The person who bully… bullies have more power than the person who is being bullied who feels powerless.

So, there has to be a difference in power in order for bullying to take place. So, in the workplace, you know, a boss can be or managers, supervisors can bully the employees. I mean this can happen at all levels.

CC: Wow and again I guess a lot of this probably stamps from the person’s youth and being a bully in their childhood or being a victim in their childhood and then developing into the adult that they are so.

DR: Yes, now one thing that we know about children who are bullies is that they tend to have… to be very impulsive and they tend to have no empathy. So, they don’t think too much about precautions of their behaviors on the other people. They don’t think “Well, if I act this way, the other person is going to feel hurt, to feel humiliated, to feel upset. You know, they don’t think about it. That’s why they can do it.

While those kids if they could allowed, they are allowed to act this way, they can become anti social individuals when they are adults. So, they can get into truancy, into violence, they can get into criminal activities because they don’t think about their actions affect other people and that’s a very serious issue.

CC: Of course and going back to couples and I’m thinking of adults that have had problems. Is the best way to solve the bullying problem, to get these adults to sit down and talk through it? Or how do you deal with a couple that come in and actually are really bullying each other? I know, this is probably underlining issues with other problems as well but I can imagine from my own experience as well, when you are in a tense relationship, things can be, you know, quite tough and it’s very hard to see the light. Is actually sitting down and talking about it, does it really help?

DR: Yes, sitting down and talking helps, now when I work in therapy with couples, I try… if I work with a person who is doing the bullying, I try to go beyond the anger and the hostility and the aggression and trying to get to what other feelings are really there.

“Well, she doesn’t listen to me. She doesn’t care, she doesn’t want to make love to me anymore. She is not interested in me.” Whatever it is, right, so, it’s the feeling, excluded, ignored, hurt, devalued, you know and those are the feelings that really are important to address and if you address those feelings then they are less likely to use bullying as a way of challenging them

CC:. Very good, very interesting, well thank you again for you time today. It was very interesting to get your insight into our minds and what’s actually happening in bullying. One thing you did say when I was looking at my notes before we started that, there is actually all the States except for one in The US now has an anti bullying laws.

DR: Yes, 49 states have accepted, have approved anti bullying law with the exception of Montana. I think there are 47 laws now for anti bullying, for cyber bullying, I’m sorry but there is only one state that has approved it and that’s Illinois and the other states have not… they are still struggling with allowing people to freedom to express themselves and you know, there still issues, legal issues there trying to work around to implement these laws but they are working at… trying to contain this and you know, manage the problem because it’s getting really bigger and bigger.

CC: Of course, well excellent, thank you again for your insight and your advice. If anyone watching this video or reading the transcript wanted to reach out and contact you. What is the best way for someone to do that?

DR: Well, they can go to my website which is www.droherphd.com and all my information is there, my telephone numbers, everything else is there.

CC:  Brilliant and we will have your website as a live link just underneath this video. So, anyone can quickly click below now and visit your site. So, again, well thank you very much for your time today. That was brilliant.

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