In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Rivkahh Horowitz on Bullying and Anxiety

Rivkah Horowitz has over 20 years of experience in therapy, with a BA from University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA), BSW from McGill University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) and MSW from University of Montreal (Montreal, Quebec, Canada). She talks to about Bullying and Anxiety.

The interview on Bullying and Anxiety can also be found here and here.

Below is a transcript of the interview on Bullying and Anxiety:

Rivkahh Horowitz: My name is Rivkahh Horowitz. I have a background in psychotherapy and counseling. I worked in Montreal in a shelter for battered women. As well, I studied AT McGill and the University of Michigan and now I work in Vancouver. I work with people mainly over 16 and the subject is bullying today and I have worked a lot with workplace bullying. Also, of my clients with depression or anxiety, I always ask them if they had been bullied in school, by parents or one time in their lives because it seems to be the more common type that you have to deal with than those 30. I have clients who have 40 and 50; we have to talk about this word.

Ciaran Connolly: And do you think that bullying is as big an issue today as it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago?

RH: It’s hard to say because by our measures, there’s more bullying by internet, cyber bullying, which we didn’t have in the past. I didn’t know when I was younger, bullying wasn’t taken quite seriously. So, it wasn’t measured and in the school, the boys all bully the girls and that would just seem boys will be boys. That’s what they used to say and so with these measures, it’s difficult. I can’t really judge that. I don’t know if there is more bullying today or not but definitely with internet, different types of bullying are going on.

It’s easier to do but I do remember in the 60s, there was a lot and a lot of bullying and nothing was done about it and as an issue, it’s hard to get rid of that.

CC: And do you see a difference in how bullying happens today than even with the adults that you see? I guess, we do have new technology that impacts things like social media and mobile phones. Is that affecting young adults?

RH: Oh, yes. I found that new bullying but it’s different from the other one that use to be personal. The new bullying is different and is coming more… it can trigger a lot of suicides now than it did in the past because this bullying is not just one or two kids in school but everyone; the whole school, the whole world knows about it and that’s quite…it is much more serious.

CC: And you mentioned there, you are right, the gang bullying that happens now. It can go from one person bullying to many people bullying on social media. So, it can be very tough for young adults or anyone to suffer bullying today.

RH: Yes, it’s easy to do. That’s important too. Push the button, put a photograph on and push the button. Everyone in the school sees the photograph and everybody can see the photograph. It’s really like social circle and it can be much more effective as a need.

In the past, bullying was about two or a gang of kids would pick on one other child in school. So, that was quite bad for the child but this type of bullying does spread out. Easier to do, it spreads out quickly in a greater circle.

CC: Of course and in your practice, you deal with young adults and people who have problems today that maybe you can trace back to younger years. Have you seen or have you dealt with any severe cases of bullying in your practice?

RH: Oh, yes. Like I say, I do usually ask someone who have depression and anxiety. I will ask them if there’s any trauma then I ask them “Is there any bullying?” I have to ask because they won’t volunteer and I remember this particular girl who was bullied throughout high school and through college and other one was mainly through one or two years in high school and it seem to… of course it affected her so much later or sooner. I have seen fear with people, they are not assertive, they are fearful, they have lacked confidence.

As a child specialist, I do (work) with workplace bullying which is older but children, they internalize when someone bullies them, they internalize it as who they are. So, that it affects the self-esteem, the confidence, “it’s my fault I was bullied, I’m so weak.” And once they reach that condition, when someone else is mean to them in the future, they react with fear. They won’t defend themselves.

CC: Very interesting. So, you…one of the first things you will ask someone that is suffering from depression is if they have been bullied in the past. You naturally see that as a possible link when you find anyone with depression?

RH: It’s not everyone who is bullied but there is a link between bullying and anxiety. Of course there is bullying at home not just at school. So, a brother, a father, a mother as well and at school as well. So, these are the different places that you can be bullied in, a neighbor.

It just sometimes in childhood, other times it is at school but oftentimes it’s at home too obviously. The parent or older brother or sister.

CC: Of course and you mentioned that it impacts the person’s, I guess, personality and how they interact with the world and deal with situations in their future. Is that something that is very tough to deal with it as a Doctor, when someone as a patient comes to you? Does it take a lot of care and attention to try and help people come out of their shell so to speak?

RH: It is, it does because it is not easy just not… sometimes it just the bullying as the main ingredient. Sometimes there are whole other factors of their lives and the bullying as just one main ingredient but it does because it has at a young age… when we are old, we can somewhat even…when you’re bullied as an adult, it’s hurtful but you know it’s the other person not you but when you are a child is very hard, you don’t have a mean to defend yourself. If you are shy or sensitive and you keep going on and on thinking to yourself, you create yourself an identity that makes it hard to work with them and some people dismiss the bullying and they try shaking it off. It is a major factor and the study shows how it does affect depression, self-esteem, many factors in life. It’s time to get people to notice that those people are bullied and how people react to people round them like parents.

Like someone said to me“They were bullied quite badly in the school and the parents did stop it but it was kind of dismissed, never talk about it again. Nothing was said to heal it. The bullying went on for a long time because we stopped and did not punish and that affected her. No one defended her. So, it is not just the bullying but what is down to stop it and how the child is treated at that time.

CC: Very good and do you think… No, it’s a very valid point because while the bullying might stop today, the victim might suffer the consequences of what’s happening for many months and years after. So, it is quite interesting and do you think that even the bully, someone who is actually bullying young people or other adults, do you think they need some help or some care as well?

RH: Oh, definitely! They need more help than the people who have been bullied because it’s like boys, you know, they grow up often not always through bullying also some victims will become bullies. It’s a cliché, you know when you have been a victim of such abuse, they become abusive themselves.

So, in some case that will happen and… but the bullies often do look at their home. Did something happen in their home or it just that they are going through a large, stressful period in their lives. I assume humiliation is linked to them being bullied. So, if someone has been bullied, then there’s humiliation. It’s a big factor to get them to press and want to always hide it, you know but the child is been bullied too, something has made them desire to boss around other people; it’s a sign of insecurity.

So, I think they do need help too. I mean some bullying may be playful at times but again these grow up to be bullies at the workplace.

CC: Yes and this is it. You know, you have pointed out, it can be a vicious circle and since you deal with workplace bullies or people who deal with this, is bullying in the workplace really that common? Because I think now, all the great companies and over the years, the best place to work for and how office environments have changed in the last years but bullying at work is…

RH: It is worse. It is much worse now because one, they can’t leave. Before, at least in Canada with the unemployment laws, if you quit a job, you get unemployment compensation. That was a long time ago, you are not… you are safe.

If this job is available and you even quit your job, you don’t get unemployment compensation. Now, you can’t even quit your job. You don’t get unemployment compensation if you quit.  There are no other jobs around, hence you are trapped and this is something about bullying; being trapped.

Even a child, you are trapped in your school. You know, if you have that friend who is a bit of a bully, you stop seeing them, right? But at school, you stuck in that school unless you talk to your parents and have you transferred from school and same thing in the job now. If the job isn’t good, you just leave, you don’t have to worry about it and it is hard in bullying because you have to prove it to HR and they are likely to say “It’s a personality conflict” that’s HR, I was told often they want reports because if they have 2, 3, 4 reports about someone then they can take action.
It’s just something to bug you. This is your boss, you can’t complain about it. It is not that easy to prove it.

CC: No, it’s very tough. No, no. I can imagine being in that situation and maybe a boss or someone’s boss who has been in the company for a long time and has a power and authority in the business and is respected but as a subordinate working for them, you see, maybe people see a different side and especially if the boss is recording performance issues and I can imagine. It can be very tough and as an adult being bullied, it must really be tough on someone’s self-esteem and I guess even in their family life and everything. I can imagine this impacts all sides of their life.

RH: Yes, it takes a lot of nerves to leave especially if it’s a new job. I recently had someone who just got transferred for the same company but his boss was a bully so he couldn’t take it anymore and some times it’s people who had been bullied in the past. So, the response to the bully is fear and they don’t say anything but this one man, he had never bullied in his life and he was shocked. You know, he acts immediately…he went into stress right away, you know and they transferred him finally to another job because he refused to work with this one person.

CC: And how do you think companies… do you think companies are starting to realize that this is happening more and more especially in this environment? Did generally companies care or worry or they…do they ignore it like we had the bullying many years ago in schools?

RH: I think it become more of something talked about especially in government. I think government is trying to talk about it more. The small businesses, it depends on the owner, the managers.

It’s a complex question with international companies where the owners are quite far away and so there is not very much to do. So, each company is different, I want to say, you know, all comes the same and just the same thing with the company in one place, the company did not know what to do either because the person is in a position of power, security, you know, seniority, strong personality and so, they themselves felt kind of trapped. They are trying to think what we do with this manager who is a top manager. You know, the company can’t just get rid of them. So, that it’s a big problem and then if the top manager is a bully then it goes downwards and for people at the bottom, it’s usually… sometimes it’s a coworker too, we call them coworkers, sometimes it is just the coworkers because they do have people to come and mediate and say “Stop fighting or you’re both fired”.So, that when somebody who is higher manager up and it is going to get pretty tricky.

CC: And if there’s anyone who is listening or watching this video now who is being bullied in work, what advice would you give them? What steps should they take and how should they try and deal with it?

RH: Is this somebody working?

CC: Yes, someone is in employment now and their manager or someone, a colleague, is bullying them. What do you think they should try and do with the first steps?

RH: Ok, the first steps they should do, it depends on the circumstances because in some places going to HR is not a good idea because the HR has company dynamic and looking at the company dynamics. So, if you go to HR definitely or there is a union, somebody there to represent you, go and speak to them.

The same thing at school, go and talk to your parents or the school principal. At the workplace, sometimes it is harder in those contexts but HR usually is good. You make a report and they will see what they can do.

Some places HR, you know, the managers is going to find out you can get in more trouble, you don’t do that at all. You write down everything that happened, you have to keep records because you have to have some proof and that has to be written down. This is better. Everything has to be written down and I also teach the clients emotionally what bullying is to detach from it not engage. Kind of smile, be quiet.

You know, because some people when they have been bullied, they get very upset especially bullied again in childhood, you can more susceptible like anything. You have been bruised, you can be hit again, it hurts, you know. So, I teach them to detach from it, take deep breaths. Sometimes I have them visualize like TV shows, what’s the show? House I think.

I have seen them visualize him in that show and that gives them a sense of humor and how to get along with the guy. So, a sense of humor can help them because basically they are not going to change.

Some people want to change their boss; they want him not to be so awful but you can’t change him and just have a sense of humor about him, don’t take him so seriously and just kind of let it go. It is hard though. Some people can’t do it and then the next step is to HR, Union and eventually changing your position in the company or finding another job is the final step.

In total, gain support from friends and things like that but there are different techniques you can do but the detachment part is important to you because they do tend…like to feel powerful so they will attack somebody who doesn’t have a reaction to them or doesn’t defend himself probably.

You can defend yourself with just with words or jokes, you know, your body language speaks and you look afraid, encourages bullies.

CC: Very good, it’s… I’m sure anyone listening or watching will be very happy to hear, you know, it’s happens a lot. It is common of course but take comfort to hear it’s a common problem and actually some great advice that you have given there to try and start the process of changing things in the workplace environment and if anyone wanted to talk to you to get more advice or to get some help in dealing with workplace bullying, what is the best way for anyone to contact you?

RH: I mentioned by email. I do telephone and Skype counseling as well. I do have email and phone. So, my email is [email protected] and can I say my phone number too?

CC: If you are happy to give it out but we will also type underneath this video. We will make sure we have got all your details. So, anyone can reach out and get you. So, great they can get you by email and the phone.

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