Life lessons from Dr. Edith Eger, Auschwitz survivor

Dear readers, if you can spare two minutes, please watch this uplifting BBC video segment featuring Dr. Edith Eger, a noted psychologist, writer, and survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Here’s the BBC description:

Edith Eger was 16 when she was sent to Auschwitz with her parents and sister. Her parents were executed. She survived – but barely. She endured unimaginable experiences, including beatings, starvation and being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. When the camp was finally liberated, she was harrowed by trauma and survivors guilt. In order to understand her experiences she trained as a psychologist, a role she still works in to this day. She’s written a memoir called “The Choice” about her experience. She tells us her top tips for living your best life.

Dr. Edie, as she is known, has experienced and witnessed the worst of what humanity can serve up. Yet she proclaims, “I want to practice love, joy, and passion for life.” She offers four life lessons toward doing so:

First, “don’t be a victim.”

Second, “love yourself.”

Third, “feed your brain.”

Finally, “forget your age.”

The video segment is two minutes well spent. And if you’d like more, then I highly recommend her memoir, Dr. Edith Eva Eger, The Choice: Embrace the Possible (2017):

These lessons are especially valuable for those who are dealing with the effects of workplace abuse. I met Dr. Edie last year at a conference sponsored by the Western Institute for Social Research. Here’s part of what I shared on this blog:

I had a chance to talk to Dr. Edie during Saturday’s conference events, and getting to know her was such a gift. During the evening session, I had the intimidating task of immediately following her moving and insightful keynote remarks with my presentation about workplace bullying and mobbing. I confessed my nervousness about comparing the eliminationist instinct that fueled the Holocaust to that manifesting itself on a much smaller scale in workplace abuse situations, especially in the presence of someone who had survived the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. When I finished, Dr. Edie applauded enthusiastically and gave me a nod of approval. Yup, her opinion of my presentation meant so much to me that I looked to her as soon as I was done.

Edith Eger offers inspiring, healing words for those who are dealing with trauma. She is a treasure.

Related post

The Holocaust is a key to understanding interpersonal abuse and systems that enable it (2018)

 

“Why do we reward bullies?”

In a New York Times op-ed piece from earlier this year, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank), ponders why our society all too often rewards bullies for their behavior. He offers three reasons:

First, people tend to be selective ethicists. The other side’s bully is a horrible person; your side’s bully is a “truth teller.” Indeed, we sometimes even flip the script and say our bully is actually a victim who is simply fighting back against even bigger bullies.

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Second, people are, paradoxically, attracted to bullies. In her book “The Allure of Toxic Leaders,” the social scientist Jean Lipman-Blumen shows that people complain about political dictators and tyrannical executives yet nearly always remain loyal out of a primordial admiration for power and need for security in an uncertain world.

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The third explanation is simple acquiescence. In a famous study published in 1999 in the Journal of Adolescence, three psychologists investigated how children act when they witness an act of bullying. Hundreds of schoolchildren were videotaped on the playground, and nearly 200 bullying incidents were recorded. . . . And how did the peers react? Twenty-one percent joined the bully, while 25 percent defended the victim. The rest — 54 percent — watched the incident passively, neither joining in nor defending the victim.

Brooks’s perspectives on bullying were shaped by his experiences performing with a professional symphony orchestra during his twenties. He calls orchestra conductors “notorious tyrants, cruel and demanding” who “turn players against one another, prey on weakness, destroy confidence.”

One of the most telling aspects of this op-ed piece is how the experience of being bullied can stick with people for decades. Brooks in his mid-fifties. He is a regular contributor of op-ed pieces to the New York Times. His editorial voice tends to be deliberate and pointed, rather than overtly emotional. Accordingly, his sharp criticisms about orchestra conductors show, in hard relief, the lasting impact of bullying.

Brooks suggests that standing up to bullies is the best way to curb their power and ability to abuse others. He may be right in some instances, but there are plenty of stories where taking on bullies has backfired badly. There is no magic response; power dynamics and surrounding circumstances all matter. What we need are more people who oppose bullying and abusive leaders, thereby creating a broader and deeper cultural norm that does not tolerate such mistreatment as a matter of course.

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Related posts

Toxic workplace cultures and bullying at work (2018)

Creating a society grounded in human dignity (2018)

 

Sarkis: How to identify a gaslighter

Joining the growing literature on gaslighting behaviors is Dr. Stephanie Sarkis’s Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People — and Break Free (2018). Sarkis is both a counselor and a mediator, and her experiences in clinical practice brought gaslighting and gaslighters to her attention. The results of her work make for this welcomed contribution to our understanding.

Dr. Sarkis writes:

Gaslighters will convince us that we are crazy, that we are abusive, that we are a huge bundle of problems and no one else will want us, that we are terrible employees who haven’t been fired yet just by the grace of God, that we are terrible parents who shouldn’t have had children, that we have no idea how to manage our own life, or that we are a burden to others. They are toxic.

…Gaslighters use your own words against you; plot against you, lie to your face, deny your needs, show excessive displays of power, try to convince you of “alternative facts,” turn family and friends against you — all with the goal of watching you suffer, consolidating their power, and increasing your dependence on them.

But wait, there’s a lot more. Among other things, in a chapter titled “Who, me?,” Sarkis asks her readers to confront the ugly question: Am I a gaslighter? Consider these queries, adapted from pp. 204-205:

  • Do I lie often, “even when lying doesn’t serve a purpose”?
  • Do I avoid being direct in sharing my needs, instead expecting people to read my mind and know what I want — and then being upset at them for not knowing?
  • Do I not know my own needs?
  • Do I try to get people to do want I want, “instead of just directly asking them”?
  • Do I not tell people what I want, then get back at them for not providing it?
  • Do I get frustrated when others take more time than they should to do what I’d like?
  • Do others tell me that my “tone of voice is sarcastic or rough”?
  • Do I “have a short temper”?
  • Do I “black out” and forget things I did when I was in an angry state?
  • Do I see people as being “mainly selfish and out for their own needs”?

For those who answer “yes” to a lot of these questions, Sarkis offers compassionate, direct advice, rather than judgment.

Gaslighting joins Dr. Robin Stern’s excellent The Gaslight Effect (2018 ed.) (discussed earlier this year) in providing wise, accessible insights on gaslighting behaviors, their impacts, and how to respond to them. Although both books focus more on interpersonal relationships, those who are interested in bullying, mobbing, and other forms of psychological abuse at work will find plenty of relevant information and observations.

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Related posts

Institutional gaslighting of whistleblowers (2018)

Reissued for 2018: Robin Stern’s “The Gaslight Effect” (2018)

Gaslighting at work (2017, rev. 2018)

Inauguration Week special: “Gaslighting” goes mainstream (2017)

Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying? (2013)

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012, rev. 2017)

 

Learning Mind: Deep vs. shallow people

From the Learning Mind site comes this neat little piece about the traits that distinguish deep from shallow people:

We talk about deep people and shallow people all the time, but what does it really mean to be deep and how can we cultivate this depth?

The article cites five primary traits of deep people:

  • “Deep people see beyond appearances”
  • “Deep people don’t believe everything they hear or read”
  • “Deep people listen more than they speak”
  • “Deep people think through the consequences of their behavior”
  • “Deep people try to get past their egos”

The piece goes into greater detail on each of these five traits. It’s well worth a click and a quick read.

Applied to organizational leaders

Think about the leaders at workplaces that you’ve experienced. Take some close looks at our civic and political leaders. How do they stack up against these five traits?

I think it’s pretty obvious that quality leaders have these traits in abundance. The not-so-good leaders come up short.

Of course, these are great qualities for all of us to emulate, both at work and in our personal lives. Sometimes simple lists like this one offer some big lessons.

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Hat tip to Del Carmen for the Learning Mind piece.

Roundup on gaslighting

(Drawing copyright Aaron Maeda)

Among the most popular posts on this blog are those dealing with gaslighting. I’ve gathered a cluster of past blog entries on gaslighting at work and related topics.

On gaslighting specifically

Institutional gaslighting of whistleblowers (2018)

Reissued for 2018: Robin Stern’s “The Gaslight Effect” (2018)

Gaslighting at work (2017, rev. 2018)

Inauguration Week special: “Gaslighting” goes mainstream (2017)

Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying? (2013)

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012, rev. 2017)

Related posts (most mention gaslighting)

Workplace bullying: Blitzkrieg edition (2017)

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Toxic systems and the eliminationist mindset (2017)

Workplace bullying and mobbing stories: “Do you have a few hours?” (2017)

How insights on abusive relationships inform our understanding of workplace bullying and mobbing (2017)

Workplace mobbing: Understanding the maelstrom (2016)

Workplace bullying as crazy making abuse (2014)

The bullied and the button pushers (2014)

When superficial civility supports workplace abusers (and their enablers) (2014)

Targets of workplace bullying: The stress and anxiety of figuring out what the h**l is going on (2014)

Notes on law, psychology, and therapeutic jurisprudence

Image courtesy of clipart panda.com

Dear readers, I’m pulling together a few items related to law and psychology: 

Trauma and mental disability law online course

I’m taking an online continuing education course, Trauma and Mental Disability Law, taught by Michael Perlin and Heather Ellis Cucolo, two leading experts in mental health law and fellow trustees of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence. It’s a 10-week course designed for anyone who is interested in learning more about how psychological trauma and the law intersect. Michael and Heather are mixing a webinar format with slides and assigned readings, and it can be accessed at any time convenient to the enrollee. They estimate a time investment of about 2 hours per week. The course just started this week, so there’s still time to sign up!

International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence

If you’re interested in how the law can advance psychological health (rather than the other way around), please consider joining the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (ISTJ). We officially launched the ISTJ this year, and we’ve got several hundred members from around the world. It’s not just for lawyers, either. Many of our members are trained in other academic and professional disciplines, such as psychology and social work. Membership dues are a very reasonable $25/year (free for students), and if you join now, your membership will be good through 2019. I’m serving as the first board chair of the ISTJ, and I’m happy to attest that this is a wonderful, intelligent, and caring group of scholars, practitioners, and students.

When policymaking stokes anger, fear, and trauma

Recent events have underscored my conviction that we need to be much more attentive to how policymaking processes (i.e., actions by legislatures, elected executives, and administrative agencies) can stoke fear, anxiety, and trauma among the populace. On that note, I’ve posted an author’s pre-publication draft of a forthcoming journal article, “On Anger, Shock, Fear, and Trauma: Therapeutic Jurisprudence as a Response to Dignity Denials in Public Policy,” to be published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. You may freely download a copy here.

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Rumination, obsession, and the challenge of getting “unstuck”

Seeking the light

Two weeks ago, I highlighted Janice Gilligan White’s insightful and hopeful writings about recovering and healing from severe workplace mobbing. Among other things, Janice’s recollections of obsessing over the details of her experiences capture what so many bullying and mobbing targets go through:

Getting past my own personal circumstance was very difficult for me. I found myself constantly trying to piece together every last detail of my story.

I had to decide how much more time I was willing to spend on all of it.

There is a truth to workplace bullying / mobbing I had to accept; much of what happened I would never know. The destruction of my career and reputation was done behind closed doors of which I had been denied access.

It’s part of common, larger dynamic that I’ve characterized as the challenge of getting “unstuck”:

One of the biggest challenges facing many people who have experienced severe workplace bullying is getting unstuck. Some may feel trapped, helpless, or victimized. Others may be caught in a cycle of anger, defiance, or battle-like conflict. Oftentimes, these thought patterns and behaviors are associated with psychological conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.

A more clinically accurate term for much of this behavior might be rumination. Here’s what I wrote in 2015:

Bullying targets often ruminate obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.” She continues:

Rumination usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.

Graham encourages her clients to engage in self-compassion, which includes “evoking a sense of kindness and care toward one’s self.” Her full article delves deeper into nurturing practices of self-compassion, and for those who want to learn more, it is well worth a click and read.

For some targets, self-compassion practices will prove helpful and healing. For others, however, it’s awfully hard to avoid dwelling upon the negatives. I frequently invoke the findings of a 2006 study by communications professors Sarah Tracy, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, and Jess Alberts, who found that bullying targets’ narratives of their experiences “were saturated with metaphors of beating, physical abuse, and death.” That’s a pretty dark place to be, and it is not uncommon.

Work abuse can inflict considerable emotional harm. It’s no wonder that many targets of bullying and mobbing have trouble getting unstuck. However, finding their way toward doing so may be the key to their recovery and renewal. After all, to borrow the lyrics from a song by the band Creed, “…what consumes your thoughts controls your life.”

Related posts

Coping with workplace bullying and mobbing: Letting go of the story (but not completely) (2016)

Post-traumatic embitterment disorder as a consequence of workplace bullying (2015)

The obsessive filter of workplace bullying (2015)

 

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