In Expert Interviews

Michelle Maliniak on Bullying in America

bullying in america

Michelle Maliniak has a Masters in Counseling from the University of Phoenix and is a Nationally Certified Counselor, she also has a B.A. Psychology from the University of Arizona. She talks to about All Things Bullying in America.

The interview on Bullying in America can also be found here and here

Below is a transcript of the interview on Bullying in America:

Michelle Maliniak: My name is Michelle Maliniak and I am a licensed professional counselor and a nationally certified counselor. I have my undergraduate from the University of Arizona. That is where I live in Tucson, Arizona and after graduating from the UA I became a firefighter. So, I was a firefighter for 22 years as an engineered paramedic and then I just retired a couple of years ago and now I run a private therapy practice out of my home.

Ciaran Connolly: Brilliant! Excellent and thank you for taking time out to join us today and to talk to us about the bullying and what is happening in the US and to give us a little insight into what you see and in your practice and in your society I guess . That’s great because obviously we started to suffer from bullying and cyber bullying a lot here as well and we know that there are new laws and a lot of action and I guess problems as well happening in the US. So, it is great again to get your time. Thanks again for that.

MM: Thank you for having me.

CC: Do you think that bullying is as big an issue today as it was 10 or 20 years ago?

MM: Well, I would say it is a lot easier to do now than it was before because bullying in general is a cowardly type of behavior. It is a fear-based behavior and it is a lot harder to be a bully right to someone’s face, especially if you don’t have a lot bunch of people behind you. Which is what normally bullies do, they do it in a group.

So, now the new technology is wonderful for many things. For example, I am talking to you in Ireland from Arizona. So, you can make different friends in so many places but you are also susceptible to somebody being able to push a button with a thought that they had, an impulse. So, there is a lot less time between the thought of doing it and doing it and that’s what I think the technology has done as far as making it more of a problem. There is way more places to do it and it is way easier to do it.

CC: Of course, you have raised a very valid point there. It is … I will find myself on social media, I will press like or retweet something in a split second without even thinking about what it says and maybe without even reading the full post. So, totally right. It’s a good point that people are taking split second decisions and do you think, I am skipping ahead of myself, but do you think that when someone posts something negative on a social network and people, loads of people, engage in that post but it is negative, is group bullying happening? Is that something that actually exists? Or is everyone as guilty as the first person in that kind of an instance?

MM: Well, sure you can have group bullying on social media. That has actually happened to me on Facebook. When you get into a dialogue about something people feel strongly about, like guns or politics or sexuality, any of that stuff and again I think the problem is that people don’t really have the time to really sit and think things completely through. Back in the day, if you were angry at somebody at school, you had to think all night about telling them “You know what? I have another thing I want to tell you “and then you had to build up the courage to go up to this person or you had to get all your underlings aligned so that you could go pick on them. So, there was a lot more time to really think about it and then the humanity also; you don’t get to witness the humanity of the other person. So, a lot of times it is really hard to say something mean to somebody when they are looking at you, when you can see their eyes, when you can see their facial expressions and things like that. So, sure on social media you can get gangs of people picking on somebody who has a different view, absolutely.

CC: I am glad you raised the point about yourself and social media. I found that very interesting because I have actually seen that as well. Someone makes a statement, other the people don’t agree and a healthy debate turns into a slug fest. It starts to get a little bit personal and friends of friends get involved and it starts really sometimes to get ugly but we are all adults at the end of the day. Do even adults go crazy and lose their self-control on these social network as well?

MM: Yes. I mean, one of the big problems I had actually in the fire department was the bullying but that would be actually done face to face in the station. That is a common problem all over the world for women in any uniformed position. In the military we have seen it, police and fire and all of that. So, what was the question again about the social media part?

More on Bullying in America with Michelle Maliniak 

CC: I guess we are all adults, do even adults lose our self-control in social media? When I hear bullying I always think of children but actually, are adults the problem?

MM: Yes. Well again, it comes down to impulse control and when we get angry, there is actually a shift in the blood flow in our brains that we know about now. The right side of your brain is the emotional side and the left side is the logical side and when we get scared or angry, which really anger is a form of fear, it is socially ok for especially a guy to get angry about something, it is not ok for him to get scared about something. So, we get angry and that blood flow changes and we may go into that sympathetic nervous response where it is fight or flight. So, I am either going to fight you or I am going to run and that is split thinking. So, when we really get into black or white, right or wrong, you are for me or you are against me and if we can’t settle ourselves down physiologically, physically just settle ourselves down and get that blood flow going back again. We are all susceptible to being bullied and we end up doing those things although we won’t admit it. We have all done it. We all do it. There is this point where you wanted what you wanted and you try to scare the other person into getting it and that is really a kind of a form of bullying in itself.

CC: I would always say “I have never done that”. I will always deny it but actually I am sure I could think of some incidents, maybe in customer service when I am dealing with a shop assistant maybe I am try to assert myself  in maybe not in a positive way. Maybe I will say I am more guilty of watching 50 or 200 posts and watching and reading comments and having made my cup of tea and my chocolate biscuit and reading but actually not taking any action or getting engaged, seeing what is happening but again I guess I am a guilty bystander and I am definitely very guilty of that sadly and it is something I am trying to be better on but we will see. Still work in progress and it is very strange, you know, again when I think of bullying I always have this perception of what it is in schools but I never see it when adults are doing it and I would never call it bullying. My mind doesn’t allow me to call it that so it’s  very strange.

MM: Right. A lot of people look at it like we are just doing business. “I am just taking care of business”. So, that means that I need to be fearful or I need to make you fearful and intimidate you so I can get what I want and you do see that in certain professional workplaces where it is tolerated a lot more than it would be in others.

CC: Does a lot of coverage in the media about bullying and social bullying or cyber bullying, do you think that this is helping things?

MM: Yes, I mean the great thing about technology and social media is you can raise awareness and so it is definitely raising awareness to the problem and what exactly it is. I think a lot of the bullying that happens really is unintentional. People don’t really know that they are doing it; it is kind of really unintentional racism or unintentional sexism. I don’t think that anybody wants to be known as a bully. So, of course we don’t ever think that we are doing it. So, a lot of it is really unintentional and a lot of what is bullying depends on the person being bullied too. In a fire station, you have got to have thick skin. So, a lot of stuff that might really upset a woman in a work place will just roll off my back but the moment that someone says they feel they are getting bullied, even if you don’t think you’re doing it, that’s when we should really stop and take a look “Maybe I am cranky, maybe I am just not feeling good, maybe I am hungry, I am tired and maybe my reaction could have upset this person” and so if it did, so what? It is important that we care about how other people feel and for some people, it is going to hurt them and they are going to have a reaction for that. I saw that as a firefighter. Some people would have a bump and they freak out. Others could have bones sticking out and they are “We are ok”. Who is right? So, I think we need to get away from judging what people should feel and when should feel it. If we disrespect the fact that, you know, “I hurt your feelings or I don’t like it when I say this” then “Ok, I won’t do it anymore”.

CC: And do you think there could be or have you seen any severe cases or have you seen any severe consequences of bullying?

MM: Oh, yes. In my own case two. You can develop post-traumatic stress and I do have other clients definitely that they have anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress from bullying, even bullying from their own parents or bullying from their families, bullying in the workplace, all of that stuff because what happens is when you get into that fear-based mind, remember when I was saying the right side is the emotional side and the left side is the logical side. The bold flow starts switching and you get into that sympathetic fight or flight response. Overtime, that could kind of get stuck so you lose the ability to be able to relax. This is where we see the guys coming back, the men and women who are fighting over serious stuff, when they come back they are just on edge and they have post-traumatic stress. So, they hear noise and they think “Oh oh! It’s the same thing”. That is because their thinking is skewed because of the blood flow. So overtime, if you are exposed to hostility and bullying, you don’t have a positive social support because this is very important for our brains. If we don’t have positive social support, if we are not accepted by our tribe, our brain sends off an alarm “Oh oh…that there is something really wrong and we are going to die” because you can’t survive without the tribe. So, you can actually see neurological, physical neurological, changes in people who have been exposed over and over again to hostility and bullying and like I said, the problem with cyber bullying is that it makes it so easy to do it. It is so accessible and we do also connect in positive ways and we do have community in a sense of being in a tribe on the internet. We have Facebook friends, a lot of people have their gaming groups that they belong to. So, it is the same. Our brain doesn’t know the difference between an online group of people and a real group of people. So, if those people start to reject you and pick on you and bully you, your brain is going to have the same physiological physical response as if it was really happening.

CC: What advice would you give to someone who is actually suffering from bullies?

MM: Oh, well I would say you definitely have to get support. You are not alone. We have all been on the other end of it. I guess I kind of think that bullies are like…I am into zombies and you know how zombies their brain have been overtaken and all they do is bite you. So, bullies are kind of…their brains are kind of in the same place. They are upset, they are scared, not to excuse the behavior it is not an excuse for the behavior and we certainly don’t hurt them back like you do with zombies, but you want to protect yourself. So, it is ok. Get away, get away from somebody who is doing that to you and get support, go get somebody else to help you with the situation and don’t stop until you find someone who will listen and understand because there are people that will. They will believe you and they will know what is happening to you. They are not going to question it or blame you for it because sometimes that’s what happens often is that the person reporting the bully ends up getting the, “Well, you made them do this “. Well, everybody is responsible for what they choose to do and for their behavior. That’s the choice you make in your mind. So, you choose to be mean or do something awful to somebody, that’s on you but definitely don’t poke the bully, don’t provoke… stick up for you but if it looks it is going to get bad, just get out of there just like the zombie apocalypse. You don’t go walking in when you know that the zombies are in there and you think you can talk them out of it. You can’t talk the zombie out, “Please, don’t eat my brain” and that is the same kind of logic you are dealing with when somebody is upset.

CC: Very good. Do you think there are long-term effects on the people who are bullied and I am thinking of people who have been bullied as children and now they are adults? Is it something that can live with someone for a long time and actually impact their work and their future relationships?

MM: Sure it is. When we are growing, our brains are growing and so your brain is put under stress when it is developing. That can affect your neurobiology for later in life and so if you are in a fear-based mode for most of your childhood because you are afraid of bullies or whatever, that is going to probably create anxiety for you, anxiety and depression.

So, we are trained in a kind of a stimulus-response. There was this guy Skinner and he put a pigeon in a real closed box and he put palettes of food behind a blue button and nothing behind the red button and the pigeon kind of bummed  around until they finally hit the blue button so it got a piece of food. So, they were like “Oh! Blue button…food…blue button…food”. So, they hit the blue button and they’d just about to starve to death before they would think to hit the red button or accidentally hit the red button and start to get food.

So, that neuro-pathway was grown. So, sometimes what will happen with people who have been bullied is that they will think “Oh! People are not good, all people” or they will generalize all men are not good because they were bullied by men or all women are good because they have good experiences with women and then we have this stimulus response set up. So, then they probably start to isolate more and when you isolate, again your brain goes “Wait a minute! Something is wrong because we are not in the tribe and you will actually get depressed as a physiological way to prepare you to die because it is easier to die if you don’t care and you don’t feel good and so that’s where some people sadly, very sadly, decide in that moment in that pain, and it is an actual physiological pain, they decide to take their lives. So, I would say you can get past that point, you can call somebody and talk to somebody. You can think people out there don’t care you are wrong because I care, you care, right? And we know that this is happening. We know it’s real and that it’s happening. It is very painful.

CC: It is true and it actually…you raised a point, I will be honest, it has touched my life and I am sure it has touched many people’s lives, suicide. We always find it hard to understand why someone would commit suicide and it just doesn’t make sense to most people like “What could they actually be feeling that makes them take such a drastic step? That they can’t talk to people and can’t seek help” but you are saying that actual feeling really hurts and they see it then as a way of stopping the pain that they are feeling?

MM: Yes. If I had a headache that was so bad, so if somebody had a switch on the wall you can click…you click it to get rid of the headache, no matter what the consequence was or taking something for it…I mean have you ever had a pain that hurts that bad? The depression can definitely cause that kind of pain. So, that’s why…I don’t know what the gun laws are over in Ireland but you know over here, especially in the wild wild west in Arizona where I am from everybody has a gun and I am not against guns, but I am for us being very careful about guns because if you have someone in your house who is depressed or suicidal, you’ve got to get these guns out of their reach and sadly enough we have an epidemic over here of people shooting themselves or going out and wanting to shoot at schools and stuff like that because their brain is upset, they don’t feel good physically.

Physiologically, there is something going on in their brain and they are going to take action on it impulsively and it is so easy to have a weapon to do that here. That’s why we are seeing I think a lot of increase in these shootings and suicides and suicide by cop. Over here, we have people that will provoke a situation by taking a gun somewhere and wanting the police to shoot them and again it comes to impulse control and what you have available. I think we have been part of this big experiment in the last sixty years.

Sixty years ago…I have a dear friend. She is in her nineties and we play music together at church and I was at her house yesterday and I had my phone and I was doing some email and stuff. I could tell she was kind of like getting a little annoyed with me and we talked about it. I said “This is really different. You have seen so many changes in your lifetime with technology and stuff” and she goes “Now, it’s all different. When you sit down with someone, you don’t just visit. They have to have their phone and look at things” and I was like “Yes, right. I was just doing that”. It is a whole different shift and a whole different change. So, we talked too about how sixty years ago there weren’t supermarkets and 24 hour places where you could go to get whatever you possibly wanted. If you wanted alcohol. if you wanted caffeine, if you wanted cigarettes, if you want pornography, if you want to gamble and do the lottery -I don’t if you guys have that over there- but all those things you can just go get them anytime and back in the day, you couldn’t. You had to wait till Billy bob Thornton made a batch of booze or Auntie May made those cookies you like. You couldn’t just instantly gratify yourself and it is the same thing with technology. You can instantly say something to somebody and it goes out and there it is.

CC: And very hard to take back once it goes out on to cyberspace.

MM: I had a good conversation with my nephew when the entire internet and everything came out and text messages and cellphones and stuff and I told him “You have got to be careful with what you put in the internet because say you meet a nice woman you want to marry her and her dad Googles you up and sees these pictures of you naked or upside down doing crazy things or an employer. That’s another thing that’s happening with the internet where young people are putting pictures of their bodies out there and that’s going to make them more susceptible for bullying too because in that moment of impulse, you think it’s a good idea but you have got to realize you are putting yourself out there for everybody.

CC: And I will be honest, if we were hiring someone, we check their Twitter, we try to find them on Facebook and to see what they are saying, to see what their personality is like, to see if they are a positive person or they are always complaining and their outlook on life is negative, to see what language they are using because we feel that if someone on the social network is cursing and using very touch language, then maybe that’s not someone who would actually fit into the environment we have. So, actually you are very right in what you are saying and did your nephew listen and understand?

MM: He really did. Actually, I wish he used his Facebook more and his email because I would like to get in touch with him that way. He will do the text message stuff but we had a real serious talk about it and since that time he listened to that. So, there was a question that he asked me which was funny. I said “You have got to be careful with what kind of pictures get to your wall”, he goes “What if my friends take a picture of me?” and I said “Well, that’s where you’d better know what your friends are like. You’d better not hang around people that are going to do that to you and put you in a position to take a picture that is not a good picture or post something about you that is not good or whatever”.

CC: I have has to ask friends to take down the odd pictures. Thankfully, they were good friends and took them down from late nights out, but nothing too serious but still, you are right. You need to be careful with your circle of friends. Someone might think something is very funny, but actually it could damage your reputation and…

MM: So, you have to protect yourself. One of the many things when it comes to bullying, when it comes to all these other issues we are bringing up is that you do need to protect yourself because these things can happen. They can and they do happen and you can’t just stick your head in the sand about it. Eventually, you will probably be bullied or feel like you have been, which is the same thing and you are going to have to have these skills to deal with it. That’s the other thing I think. Sometimes we like to pretend “You should trust everybody, everything is good, and people are all good”. Well, the truth of the matter is that this is not the case. We are not always good. None of us are always good, even me. Sometimes I am not at my best. I always try but that doesn’t mean that is how it is. So, I think if we can all admit that, then it is always easier to build the skills we need to just either gently nudge somebody to the right direction and if that isn’t going to work, then we need to protect ourselves.

CC: Of course and I will be very greedy and ask one last question if you don’t mind. We have talked a little bit about kids and more about adults actually I think. So, in general I feel all of the society, all of us, have work to do to improve our behavior online and not to be a bystander and to think before we say something to people in person and on social media. Do you think we can actually improve? Do you think we can get closer to winning the fight against bullying and improve our society?

MM: Sure we can. We can do it and the key is that we all have to keep trying. Relationships in general are just a big hot mess all the time; we screw up, we make mistakes, we are going to hurt people’s feelings. If you have relationships with people, you are going to say something or do something that bothers them or hurts their feelings and that doesn’t mean you have done something wrong. You know, like I was saying earlier, you can have a family who thinks it’s fine to sit down and yell and scream at each other at dinner or throw a roll at each other but they all love each other and they understand that this is how they communicate and they are fine with it and it doesn’t hurt them but then you have another family…put somebody from another family in that family and they will be horrified, you know, their feelings will be hurt. So, that’s why I think if we can all just be mindful of caring about what other people feel and really find the diversity in that. We all come from histories and backgrounds and childhoods and stuff. We don’t even know what somebody else has experienced that we might trigger in them and it is not like we are trying to hurt them but we are wrong. So, I think if we can realize that and then get together and say “Hey! I don’t want hurt your feelings. I am sorry and what can I do to make it better now?” and then forgive; that is the other piece. We need to be willing not to hold grudges and when somebody is sorry, we accept it and we move forward. So, I think if we get on that path, which I think I am hopeful because I see some really good things like what you guys are doing with your site and stuff to educate people, and that’s the key which is just educating people because I think a lot of people are unintentionally doing that stuff. They don’t want to be hurting people. Some people do want to be hurting people but those are the people that you really have to watch out for but most of the people, they just want to try to do it in a good way if they knew the rules had changed, you know. They would want to be on the good side if they could understand it and so we have to teach them that. Bullies have been bullied themselves that they have learnt it. That’s what they’ve learned. So, if they can learn something else and they are willing to learn something else, then we’ve got a lot of room to make a lot of really good change for everybody.

CC: Thank you very much for your time today. It was excellent and great insight and a great conversation. If anyone wanted to talk to you and reach out to you and have a chat about anything we have talked about, how could they contact you?

MM: Well, I have a website. It is and I have contact information there. It has my phone number and my email. So, it is my website for my private practice and can I also put my website that I have for women in uniform who might be getting bullied or having problems? That one is and that is also on the first website, you could see where that is too because I want to get out and reach to not just women in the military but there are men also in the military that are getting bullied and sexually harassed and that’s part of what I am trying to do as well as raise the awareness about that and support for those people so we know it is happening.

CC: Brilliant and we’ll make sure we have live links to that underneath the video so anyone can quickly click and of course in the article on our website as well to make sure that anyone can quickly have a look at these websites and reach you as well.

MM: Great! Thank you so much.

Ciaran: Thank you so much.

We hope you have enjoyed our interview with Michelle Maliniak on Bullying in America

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