Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Most people only realize they're being bullied when they read this page; what is bullying, how to recognise bullies and injury to health

On other pages:

Updated by Tim Field Foundation

Different types of workplace bullying
The difference between bullying and harassment
What Is Bullying?

Why Me?

There are many reasons how and why bullies target others, and the reasons are consistent between different cases. There are many euphamisms used to describe bullying (e.g. firm management") and myths used to justify it (e.g. "victims are weak"). None of these are true. Bullying often repeats because bullies target their victims for the same reasons each time. This page may answer the question, "Why do I keep getting bullied?".

Why do people get bullied?

Bullies can act because they are jealous of their target's status, talents, abilities, circumstances or possessions. Bullies act without integrity, and despise people who display it. Sometimes they act with no reason other than for the kick they get from realising that something they have done has provoked a reaction in their target. Making people annoyed can be a cheap source of gratification and amusement. But bullies with jobs fear exposure of their perceived shortcomings, such as inadequacy and incompetence, and these people bully not for fun but in order - they think - to survive. Competent colleagues fuel the bully's fear that shortcomings in their capabilities will surface, so they tend to select targets who fulfil some of the criteria below.

  • Being in the wrong place at the wrong time
    • Bullies are predatory and opportunistic. Irrespective of any other explanation, being in the wrong place at the wrong moment is the main reason.
  • Being competent:-
    • being good at their job, often excelling;
    • being willing to go that extra mile and expect others to do the same;
    • being successful, tenacious, determined, courageous, having fortitude;
    • being imaginative, creative, innovative;
    • being able to master new skills;
    • thinking long term and seeing the bigger picture;
    • being helpful, always willing to share knowledge and experience;
    • being diligent and industrious;
  • Being Popular:-
    • with colleagues, customers, clients, pupils, parents, patients, etc;
    • Being regarded as an expert and the person to whom others come for advice, either personal or professional;
    • having a sense of humour, including displays of quick-wittedness
  • Having strength of character:-
    • displaying integrity, honesty, intelligence and intellect;
    • having a well-defined set of values that they are unwilling to compromise;
    • being trustworthy, trusting, conscientious, loyal and dependable;
    • a sense of fairness: willingness to tackle injustice;
    • low propensity to violence and strong forgiving streak
    • refusing to join an established clique;
    • being sensitive (having empathy, concern for others, respect, tolerance etc)
    • being slow to anger
    • showing independence of thought or deed;
    • refusing to become a corporate clone and drone;
    • having high coping skills under stress, especially when the injury to health becomes apparent
  • Having a vulnerability:-
    • The need to earn a living from work;
    • being proud of one's reputation and record;
    • being too old or too expensive;
    • finding it difficult to say no;
    • low assertiveness and a need to feel valued;
    • believing everyone is on the same team and working toward the same goals;
    • being too tolerant;
    • being a perfectionist;
    • low propensity to violence and strong forgiving streak;
    • a tendency to self-deprecation, indecisiveness, deference and approval seeking;
    • high expectations of those in authority and a distaste for those who abuse their power;
    • quick to apologise when accused, even if not guilty
  • Having raised concerns
    • ... about bullying, fraud, safety or any matter where the bully feels implicated or at risk as a result.


This list of characteristics apply to "innocent" targets. However, some people respond to bullying with bullying. Sometimes they target their bully, sometimes they pass it down the line to a peer or subordinate. Some see this as a survival technique in an environment where bullying is rife, and it leads to widespread conflict. Revenge bullying does not require the target to have the sort of characteristics listed above, but any perceived weakness will do. Some would argue that bullying in revenge is justifiable, but in absolute terms it is no less unreasonable than the behaviour that provoked it. The perpetrator of revenge bullying loses any moral high ground they might have had at the outset, and ultimately they lose their right to criticise the conduct that they were originally subjected to.

Events / characteristics that trigger bullying

Bullying starts because of one of these things:

  • Structural Changes:-
    • the previous target leaves;
    • there's a reorganisation;
    • a new manager is appointed;
    • Economic forces make the bully's job more difficult than normal - a big order or a downturn;
  • Target's Popularity:-
    • The target's performance unwittingly highlights, draws attention to, exposes or invites unfavourable comparison with the bully's lack of performance
    • The target unwittingly becomes the focus of legitimate attention, making the bully jealous;
    • The target receives obvious displays of affection, respect or trust from co-workers;
    • gaining recognition for achievements, eg winning an award or being publicly recognised
    • gaining promotion
  • Target's Integrity:-
    • The target questions or refuses to obey an instruction that would require violation of law, rules, procedures etc
    • The target stands up for a co-worker who is already being bullied. This may result in instant suspension on specious grounds;
    • blowing the whistle on incompetence, malpractice, fraud, illegality, breaches of procedure, breaches of health & safety regulations etc. Again, this can lead to instant suspension on specious grounds;
    • undertaking trade union duties or performing other activities that are protected by law;
    • challenging the status quo, especially unwittingly;
  • Personal Characteristic of the Target:-
    • suffering illness or injury, whether work related or not
    • Being the wrong race, gender, gender orientation, religion, being disabled etc. While it is unlawful to bully someone for reasons related to such characteristics, a person could be bullied because they have ginger hair, blonde hair, too many spots, too few spots, are too tall, too short etc - in fact, for an infinite number of reasons.

A typical sequence of events is:

  • The target is selected using the criteria above, then bullied for months, perhaps years. Eventually, the target asserts their right not to be bullied, perhaps by filing a complaint with Human Resources.
  • It's one word against another with no witnesses and no evidence. Bullies readily lie and manipulate facts and people, so HR accepts the bully's word over the target's.
  • HR is further hoodwinked by the bully into getting rid of the target, often on concocted or false conduct or capability grounds that give bystanders the feeling that the dismissal is legitimate.(
    • (The HR manager might be a close ally of the bully, and proceeds without considering any moral or legal issues other than "is this going to come back and bite me?")
  • Once the target is gone, there's a period of between 2-14 days, then a new target is selected and the process starts again. This is because bullying is an obsessive/compulsive behaviour and serial bullies seem unable to survive without having someone onto whom they can project their inadequacies.
  • Even if the employer realises that they might have sided with the wrong person in the past, they are unlikely to admit it because of fear of legal liabilities. If the target begins legal proceedings, they often end with out-of-court settlements with confidentiality clauses.
  • Employers often promote serial bullies more readily than others, possibly because they are utterly beguiled by them, or perhaps as a form of appeasement because the manager is frightened of what the bully might do. Promotion after a bullying-related dispute is sometimes granted as if to compensate the bully for all the trouble they have been through.

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Welcome to Bully OnLine, web site of the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line where Tim Field shares his unique insight into bullying and its effects on health and profits. Explore the site by clicking the coloured text or mauve buttons at the bottom of each page. If you have question, see the frequently asked questions page.

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What's the difference between bullying and mobbing?
What is harassment and discrimination?
Why grievance procedures are inappropriate for dealing with bullying
The difference between bullying and management
Facts, figures, surveys, costs of bullying | Cost of bullying to UK plc
UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line statistics
Profile of the serial bully - who does this describe in your life?
Information for nurses | Information for voluntary sector employees
Information for teachers being bullied
Bullying of lecturers in further education
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Bullying in the public sector - the political dimension and
why trade unions fail to support their members

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 edd, edm

Most people only realize they're being bullied when they read this page; what is bullying, how to recognise bullies and injury to health

What Is Bullying?

Updated by Tim Field Foundation

"...A major barrier to organizational efficiency and productivity and a major cost to organizations and to economies as a whole." - Clive R Boddy

On this page:

Definitions of bullying:
What's the difference between bullying, harassment and assault?
Where are people bullied?
What is Workplace Bullying?
How does it happen in a civilised environment?
Who is behind workplace bullying?
What triggers bullying?
What does bullying do to health?
What happens when someone complains about bullying?
What a bully might say when held to account
Am I Being Bullied?
What can I do if I'm being bullied?
What can you do if one of your employees is accused of bullying?

On other pages:

Different types of workplace bullying
The difference between bullying and harassment
Why Me?

Definitions of bullying:

Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power, or unfair punishment which upsets, threatens and/or humiliates the recipient(s), undermining their self-confidence, reputation and ability to perform. Derived from "Bullying at work: how to tackle it. A guide for MSF representatives and members: MSF 1995

When considering the reasonableness of the conduct in question, the perpetrator can be expected to give an innocent reason for their actions. However, their claimed intention does not define the reasonableness of their conduct: The prime consideration must be the effect of the conduct on the recipient.

Context is everything. The persistence, the pattern and the effect of incidents which are, in isolation, trivial, creates the context in which those incidents can be regarded as bullying. Examples of the sort of incidents and the patterns are given below.

Workplace bullying is commonly sustained by denial, ignorance and indifference, often in a climate of fear, with a common result being the premature departure of the target and reward for the perpetrator. Tim Field

Making a complaint or holding someone to account for substandard conduct, so long as it is done fairly and reasonably in good faith, is not bullying.

Others have given differently worded definitions, which essentially mean the same thing:

Rayner and Hoel provide five categories of bullying behaviour. These are threat to professional status (for example, belittling opinion, public professional humiliation, accusation of lack of effort); threat to personal standing (for example, name calling, insults, teasing); isolation (for example, preventing access to opportunities such as training, withholding information); overwork (for example, undue pressure to produce work, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions); and destabilisation (for example, failure to give credit when due, meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, shifting of goal posts).

Source: Workplace bullying in NHS community trust: staff questionnaire surveyLyn Quine, reader in health psychology
Workplace bullying is defined as the repeated unethical and unfavorable treatment of one person by another in the workplace. This includes behavior designed to belittle others via humiliation, sarcasm, rudeness, overworking an employee, threats, and violence. Constance Dierickx, Ph.D

What's the difference between bullying, harassment and assault?

Bullying differs from harassment and assault in that the latter can result from a small number of fairly serious incidents - which everybody recognises as harassment or assault - whereas bullying tends to be an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Each incident tends to be trivial, and on its own and out of context does not constitute an offence or grounds for disciplinary or grievance action.

Where are people bullied?

  • in long term jobs, by managers, co-workers or subordinates, or by clients (bullying, workplace bullying, mobbing, work abuse, harassment, discrimination)
  • in short term jobs such as the performing arts, agriculture or construction, where the engager, gangmaster or supervisor has complete power over workers.(bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault)
  • in the armed forces, religious organisations and the media by "untouchable" characters (bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault, rape)
  • at home by partner, parent, uncle, sibling (bullying, assault, domestic violence, abuse, verbal abuse, rape)
  • at home by landlords, their agents, debt collectors (bullying, harassment)
  • at home by neighbours (bullying, harassment)
  • at school (bullying, harassment, assault)
  • in hospitals, convalescent homes, care homes, residential homes (bullying, harassment, assault)
  • in public by strangers (harassment, stalking, assault, sexual assault, rape, grievous bodily harm, murder)

This is not an exhaustive list and does not include activities readily identifiable as criminal.

What is Workplace Bullying?

The purpose of bullying is to hide inadequacy. It has nothing to do with managing: Management is managing; bullying is not managing. Anyone who chooses to bully implicitly admits their inadequacy.

Some people project their inadequacy onto others:

  • to avoid facing up to and doing something about it;
  • to avoid accepting responsibility for their behaviour and the effect it has; and
  • to dilute their fear of being seen as weak, inadequate and possibly incompetent; and
  • to divert attention away from the same: In badly run workplaces, bullying is the way that inadequate, incompetent and aggressive employees keep their jobs and obtain promotion.

Bullying destroys teams, causing disenchantment, demoralisation, demotivation, disaffection, and alienation. Bullies run dysfunctional and inefficient organisations; staff turnover and sickness absence are high whilst morale, productivity and profitability are low. Any perceived efficiency gains from bullying are a short term illusion: Long term prospects are always at serious risk.

Bullying behaviours are behind all forms of harassment, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, persecution, terrorism, conflict and violence. Understanding bullying gives a person the opportunity to understand that which underpins almost all forms of reprehensible behavior. Because of that, bullying remains the single most important social issue of today.

Workplace Bullying tends to happen in phases that can be called (1) Isolation, (2) Control and Subjugation and (3) Elimination. The terminology in the examples applies to workplaces but has parallels in other situations. Examples are loosely categorised under the "Phase" headings but in reality any of the example behaviours can occur in any phase.


  • constant nit-picking, fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature - the triviality, regularity and frequency betray bullying; often there is a grain of truth (but only a grain) in the criticism to fool the people (including the target) into believing the criticism has validity, which it does not; often, the criticism is based on distortion, misrepresentation or fabrication.
  • simultaneous with the criticism, a persistent refusal to acknowledge the target and his or her contributions and achievements or to recognise their existence and value;
  • constant attempts to undermine the target and his or her position, status, worth, value and potential where the target is in a group (eg at work),
  • being isolated and separated from colleagues, excluded from what's going on, marginalized, overruled, ignored, sidelined, frozen out, "sent to Coventry"
  • The above can be done with or without the cover of a formal disciplinary or capability procedure.

Control and Subjugation

  • being singled out and treated differently; for instance, everyone else can get away with murder but the moment the target puts a foot wrong - however trivial - action is taken against them;
  • being belittled, demeaned and patronised, especially in front of others;
  • being humiliated, shouted at and threatened, often in front of others being overloaded with work, or having all their work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks (filing, photocopying, minute taking) or with no work at all finding that their work, and the credit for it, is stolen and plagiarised;
  • having responsibility increased but authority removed;
  • having annual leave, sickness leave, and (especially) compassionate leave refused
  • being denied training necessary to fulfill duties
  • having unrealistic goals set, which change as they approach, also deadlines change at short notice, or no notice, and the target only finds out when its too late to do anything about it.
  • being the subject of gossip which has the effect of damaging one's reputation.


  • the target finds that everything they say and do is twisted, distorted and misrepresented;
  • is subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation, or with a sham investigation;
  • is coerced into leaving through no fault of their own, constructive dismissal, early or ill-health retirement, etc
  • is dismissed following specious allegations of misconduct or incapability which have just a grain of truth, to give superficial legitimacy to the dismissal.

One way to conceal bullying is to have regular or even continuous "reorganisations", where:-

  • targets can be "organized out" - this applies to anyone whose face doesn't fit, i.e. anyone who has identified, complained about or challenged problems with the status quo;
  • they can have their roles "regraded" or "redefined", if not being organised out.
  • The bully's allies and political pawns can be promoted to positions of influence.

Where a re-organisation seems pointless or counter-productive, or if it involves a disproportionate amount of disruption in relation to the perceived benefit of the change, it could be a smokescreen to conceal (and be a vehicle of) bullying. People are so busy coping with the chaos that bullying goes unnoticed. At the same time, the person responsible can claim to be reorganising in the name of efficiency, thus earning him or her the respect of superiors.

Business stakeholders should note that bullying, and these forms of concealment, may be distracting attention from financial fraud, corruption, misappropriation of funds and so on.

How does it happen in a civilised environment?

Bullying happens under the noses of those who should care enough to stop it but who don't, either because they simply cannot believe it could happen, or because they fear of the consequences (for them) of doing something about it. Thus, targets of bullying and abuse are often not believed when they do report it.

People who bully in adult life tend to be drawn to positions offering them ostensibly legitimate power of some sort, such as jobs that come with administrative or organisational authority over others. It is possible for a sufficiently dishonest person to abuse a position of trust to conceal negligence, incompetence, fraud and more, without ever being held accountable. Subjugation and control by guilt and by threats of worse to come allows abusers to take what they want, and to minimise the risk of being reported, or of such reports being believed by, appropriate authorities. 

It helps if the bully's superiors and peers are also bullies, or if they are so naive that bullying by this person is literally unthinkable, or they're scared of the consequences of crossing the bully. Whatever the underlying reasons, the legitimate authority that comes with a job works to protect bullies from comeback, because their peers and subordinates, HR & legal departments and other bystanders, more often than not, blindly respect the legitimacy of the "master-servant" relationship. Where there are two contrasting accounts of a situation, the default position is to respect the "master's" opinion. Thus, the perpetrator is often given support while the target is shut out and eventually forced to leave, usually under a cloud, freeing the perpetrator to attend to their next target.

There is little to differentiate this cycle of abuse from the situation of child-abusing priests, where children were too frightened to complain, or were not believed, and where the priests were allowed to continue to destroy the lives of children in their "care". The worst that happened to those who were identified as abusers was a move to a different location.

Following the death in 2011 of UK TV and radio presenter Jimmy Savile, stories of abuse by started to emerge from hundreds of adults, claiming to have been abused by Savile as children. Much of Savile's career involved working with children and young people, including visiting schools and hospital wards. He spent 20 years presenting BBC's Top of the Pops before a teenage audience, and another 20 years presenting "Jim'll Fix It", in which he helped the wishes of viewers, mainly children, come true. He was renowned for his charitable work. In October 2012, when the police were pursuing 400 separate lines of inquiry relating to Savile, John Cameron of the NSPCC said Savile was "a well-organised prolific sex offender, who's used his power, his authority, his influence to procure children and offend against them."  The Savile situation demonstrated the propensity among victims of abuse by a popular figure to remain silent, probably because, among other things, of a fear of not being believed. That fear may well be justified: There were police inquiries while Savile was alive, but none led to any charges being brought, because there was "insufficient evidence".

Subordinates bully their bosses too. The power or "advantage" which a bully uses is not restricted to that which comes with position. Power can exist in many forms, including the potential to destroy the boss's reputation with false or unfair accusations, or a threat that someone could make an excessive fuss if they don't get their way, or it could take on the form of spreading malicious rumours, saying things that would never be said to the target's face. In summary, a bully needs to have some form of advantage over the target, and that advantage can take on many forms.

Tim Field wrote that in environments where bullying prevails, most people will eventually either become bullies or targets. There are few bystanders, as most people will eventually be sucked in. It's about survival: people either adopt bullying tactics themselves and thus survive by not becoming a target, or they stand up against bullying and refuse to join in, in which case they are at risk of being bullied, harassed, victimized and scapegoated until they have to resign, and/or their health is so severely impaired that they have a stress breakdown, take ill-health retirement or are dismissed on capability grounds, or otherwise find themselves unexpectedly selected for redundancy, or being dismissed on grounds of misconduct.

Who is behind workplace bullying?

Most workplace bullying is traceable to a person with several of these traits, some of which might only be evident to those who are being or have been bullied themselves:


  • May occupy a role that is important in some way;
  • Very self-assured;
  • May be believed to be doing or to have done something selfless or of great value, eg charitable work or turning a failing department or business around;
  • May give off an impression of trustworthiness and reliability.
  • Has an air of untouchability: questioning this person's actions or decisions is taboo especially among peers and superiors.


  • compulsive liar: spontaneously makes things up to fit the needs of the moment; routinely embellishes stories for effect;
  • convinces superiors and peers by seeming plausible and convincing, sometimes by copying others' behaviour, words or work;
  • portrays him or herself as kind, caring and compassionate but only behaves this way where it leads to personal gain;
  • doesn't listen, can't sustain a meaningful conversation;
  • hollow, superficial and glib;
  • seems to have an overbearing belief in his or her qualities (especially as a leader or manager);
  • apparently cannot distinguish between leadership, management and bullying;
    • i.e. cannot distinguish between maturity and immaturity, decisiveness and impulsiveness, assertiveness and aggression, personal objectives and corporate objectives, eloquence and crassness; honesty and deceitfulness;
  • is oblivious to the difference between how he or she would like to be seen, and how he or she is seen.


  • is drawn to positions of power;
  • wants to control everything;
  • has a subjective sense of right and wrong.
    • "Right" is whatever he or she can get away with, such as falsifying time sheets to inflate income;
    • "Wrong" could be anything done by others, justifying the bully's punishment, threats, control etc, such as refusing to falsify time sheets for the bully or, indeed, falsifying them under duress;
  • projects his or her own shortcomings onto others;
  • distorts peoples' perceptions of reality through falsehood and gossip;
  • rewrites history to paint a better picture of him or herself and/or a worse picture of someone else;
  • Tells different people different things, causing confusion, disruption, division and conflict;
  • is selectively (un)friendly and (un)cooperative:-
    • is mean, officious and inappropriately inflexible with some people; but is generous, relaxed and very accommodating with others;
    • may motivate allies with the prospect of reward; but motivates most people with fear and guilt.
  • threatens dire consequences for people under his or her influence, who think or act for themselves. Threats could be made directly in private, or indirectly in front of witnesses;
  • warns targets that no-one will believe them if they report the bullying;
  • once called to account:-
    • aggressively denies and refutes any criticism, counter-attacking the critic with fabricated or distorted counter-criticism;
    • claims to have been bullied by the complainant, feigns victimhood, ("poor me"), uses amateur dramatics (bursting into tears etc), to avoid the question and evade accountability,
    • makes others feel guilty for daring to suggest that he or she might have done the slightest thing wrong;

Jekyll & Hyde nature

  • can be innocent and charming some of the time (typically in the presence of witnesses), but vicious and vindictive at other times (typically where there are no witnesses).

Ruthless and unpleasant

  • lacks a conscience, shows no remorse;
  • has a compulsive need to criticise;
  • is often devious, manipulative, spiteful, vengeful;
  • becomes impatient, irritable and aggressive if asked to address the needs and concerns of others;
  • may be emotionally cold, humourless, joyless;
  • may exhibit inappropriate or unusual attitudes to sex, gender, race, disability and other personal characteristics.

Tim Field estimated that one person in thirty has several of these traits, describing them as aggressive but intelligent individuals who express their aggression psychologically (constant criticism etc) rather than physically (assault).

(More information on the Serial Bully)

What triggers bullying?

Where a person displays some of the above traits, bullying can start simply because the target is there, and does nothing at all to provoke it. Bullying may be unwittingly provoked because the target is competent, popular, successful, has integrity or otherwise characteristics that the bully perceives as a threat to their own status, fearing that the target will - inadvertently or deliberately - expose some negative aspect of their activity. Bullying is a common response to raising concerns about malpractice (eg fraud, health and safety breaches and bullying), sometimes called "whistle-blowing". Where a bully wants an employee dismissed, but there is no legally fair reason, a bully-tolerant employer will apply conduct and capability procedures, inappropriately and unfairly, to superficially justify the employee's elimination from the organisation and thus reduce the prospect of being sued for unfair dismissal. Used in that way, such procedures are themselves vehicles of bullying by the person(s) conducting them.

What does bullying do to health?

Bullying can cause injury to health and make people ill, with some or all of the symptoms below. Many, if not all of these symptoms are consequences of the high levels of stress and anxiety that bullying creates:

  • shattered self-confidence, low self-worth, low self-esteem, loss of self-love, etc
  • reactive depression, a feeling of woebegoneness, lethargy, hopelessness, anger, futility and more
  • hypersensitivity, fragility, isolation, withdrawal
  • obsession, not being able to stop thinking about the experience in all its detail
  • hypervigilance (feels like but is not paranoia), being constantly on edge
  • uncharacteristic irritability and angry outbursts
  • tearfulness, bursting into tears regularly and over trivial things
  • sweating, trembling, shaking, palpitations, panic attacks
  • bad or intermittently-functioning memory, forgetfulness, especially with trivial day-to-day things
  • poor concentration, can't concentrate on anything for long
  • skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, athlete's foot, ulcers, shingles, urticaria
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • flashbacks and replays, obsessiveness, can't get the bullying out of your mind
  • tiredness, exhaustion, constant fatigue sleeplessness, nightmares, waking early, waking up more tired than when you went to bed
  • headaches and migraines
  • aches and pains in the joints and muscles with no obvious cause; also
  • back pain with no obvious cause and which won't go away or respond to treatment
  • frequent illness such as viral infections especially flu and glandular fever, colds, coughs, chest, ear, nose and throat infections (stress plays havoc with the immune system.)

For the full set of symptoms of injury to health caused by prolonged negative stress (such as that caused by bullying, harassment, abuse etc) click here. For details of the trauma that can result, click here.

What happens when someone complains about bullying?

Given the character traits of a typical workplace bully, they can give very plausible accounts of what has happened so, when the target makes a formal complaint, and if the employer takes any notice, they are often convinced by the bully, dismissing the target's account of things.

As mentioned above, if the bully is further up the hierarchy than the target, the bully's peers, HR & legal departments and other bystanders will often believe the bully by default, just because of the office they hold. (The actions they take next also constitute bullying).

For the target, the experience of being "swept under the carpet" in such circumstances can be equally or more traumatic than the original bullying, and where the employer is determined not to acknowledge the problem, it can lead to prolonged absence that ends with resignation, ill-health retirement or dismissal of the target on specious grounds of conduct or capability, as well as legal proceedings.

Where there have been previous similar complaints about a person's conduct, and where those complaints have been followed by illness and/or untimely departures of the persons making the complaint, one might imagine that any HR officer it would spot the similarities, think "enough is enough", and do something about it. However, the HR officer might be beguiled by or terrified of or dependent upon or be the bully, and find it easier to dispose of new complaints in the same way as before.

Where a business opts to protect a bully, the business takes on the task, costs and liabilities associated with resisting and eliminating the target, freeing the bully to focus attention on the next target.

What a bully might say when held to account

This is a real-life text book example of a bully's response to accusations of bullying, when his game was almost up. In May 2013, former TV presenter Stuart Hall pleaded guilty to 14 charges of indecent assault involving 13 victims, over a period of 18 years. Four months earlier, however, Hall spoke to reporters after his initial appearance in court. Hall's words are in italics, with our understanding of what he meant in brackets:

  • "May I just say these allegations are pernicious, callous, cruel and above all spurious.
    • (TFF inference: "I project the key qualities of my sexual deviancy - perniciousness, callousness, cruelty and spuriousness - onto my victims' allegations.")
  • "And may I just say I am not guilty and will be defending these accusations.
    • ("I am prepared to waste taxpayers' resources and commit perjury")
  • "Like a lot of other people in this country today I am wondering why it has taken 30 or 40 years for these allegations to surface.
    • ("I want you to doubt the credibility of my victims")
    • NOTE that Hall inadvertently gave a bit of the game away by using the word "surface", implying that he knew there was substance to the allegations and that it had thus far been hidden beneath the proverbial surface.
  • "The last two months of my life have been a living nightmare. I have never gone through so much stress in my life and I am finding it difficult to sustain.
    • ("Poor me. Please share the contempt I have for my victims, by focusing on the terrible harm they have done to me")
  • "Fortunately I have a very loving family and they are very supportive and I think but for their love I might have been constrained to take my own life.
    • ("I need you to associate me with the image of a loving family, which has also been harmed by my victims. Poor family, poor me. What a close shave I am having.")
  • "They have encouraged me to fight on, to fight the charges and regain my reputation and good name and whatever I have represented to this country down the years.
    • ("I have lied to everyone - those closest to me and the general public - for years. Even my family think I am innocent. Most people have always thought I was wonderful and I need that to continue. Who gives a damn about the children and young women I assaulted.")
  • "With that I would like to thank everybody who has supported me for their good will which has sustained me through this absolutely horrific ordeal.
    • ("In case I have not already made the point, my victims are audacious and horrible for coming forward. I genuinely hope that you feel sorry for me.")
  • "As I say I shall be defending myself. I am 83 years old. I was a healthy 83 year old, but I am now incubating a heart complaint and I'll be very lucky to survive another couple of years.
    • (In case you don't already feel sorry for me, feel sorry for me because I am frail and I've got a heart condition, and it's all my victims' fault. To help me get away with this, I need you to feel really, really sorry for me, and I need you and the general public to share the disdain and contempt I have for my victims.")
  • "But I hope to survive those two years and regain my honour and reputation and more than ever, my life."
    • ("My reputation and being untouchable are what let me get away with these crimes for so long. If I can just sustain those things I might reach the end of my life without being punished, like Jimmy Savile. To that end, I intend to continue fooling my family, my lawyers and the courts, you reporters and the whole world, into thinking that I must be innocent.")

Stuart Hall's comments to news reporters after his initial court appearance were just what you should expect a bully to say when they are being held to account. Their words are meant to make the listener feel sorry for the accused and contempt for the accuser. In Hall's case, they were intended to manipulate public opinion in his favour because, in his case, having a jovial reputation and the public on his side had been enough to deter his victims from reporting his crimes.

If you question an alleged bully, and the response is a "poor me" melodrama, punctuated with expressions of contempt and disdain for the accuser, it could well be an implicit admission of guilt.

Am I Being Bullied?

Some people are bullied for years without actually realising it, and others, who are not being bullied at all, claim that they are victims and seem to revel in the drama. (See the Stuart Hall example and "Who is Behind Workplace Bullying", above.)

Anyone thinking they might be being bullied needs to step back from the situation and be as objective as possible. This can be difficult for someone who is being psychologically manipulated. They can feel guilty about things that are not their fault. A person on the receiving end of abuse might have become convinced that it is futile or dangerous to make an accusation about someone who is in fact abusing them. Its a good idea for them to discuss it with a trusted friend or someone who is completely independent.

Before you accuse someone of bullying, make sure it is really happening. Think it possible that you may be mistaken. Rule out possible alternative explanations for your experience, such as:-

  • Some things that feel like bullying are not bullying: for example, if you know you have broken some disciplinary rule, you will know that your employer is allowed to use a fair disciplinary procedure to deal with that. If you have behaved badly yourself, then the way you're treated might be a reaction to that, but, unless you know you have behaved badly, talk about it to a friend before judging yourself.
  • If you don't like the way someone is treating you, have you made allowances for the way they are behaving? They might be having a bad day or week. People can lose their temper under pressure, and it might be a short term issue. They might be being bullied themselves. Has this happened before? Is there a pattern to their behaviour?
  • Does your unhappiness stem from this experience, or from something else?

People who are bullied find that they are:

  • Isolated
    • isolated and excluded from what's happening;
    • denied information or knowledge necessary for undertaking work and achieving objectives
    • starved of resources, sometimes whilst others often receive more than they need
    • denied support by their manager and thus find themselves working in a management vacuum
    • either overloaded with work (this keeps people busy [with no time to tackle bullying] and makes it harder to achieve targets) or have all their work taken away (which is sometimes replaced with inappropriate menial jobs, eg photocopying, filing, making coffee)
    • have their responsibility increased but their authority removed
    • overruled, ignored, sidelined, marginalised, ostracised
    • given "the silent treatment": the bully refuses to communicate and avoids eye contact (always an indicator of an abusive relationship); often instructions are received only via email, memos, or a succession of yellow stickies or post-it notes
  • Controlled and Subjugated
    • do not have a clear job description, or have one that is exceedingly long;
    • set unrealistic goals and deadlines which are unachievable or which are changed without notice or reason or whenever they get near achieving them
    • frequently or constantly criticised and subjected to unwarranted, destructive criticism;
    • encouraged to feel guilty, and to believe they're always the one at fault
      • when they defend themselves, their explanations and proof of achievements are ridiculed, overruled, dismissed or ignored;
    • frequently subject to nit-picking and trivial fault-finding. The triviality reveals an absence of any serious concern
    • subject to excessive monitoring, supervision, micro-management, recording, snooping etc
    • undermined, especially in front of others. Concerns are raised, or doubts expressed about a person's performance or standard of work, but the concerns lack substance and cannot be quantified, or are simply false;
    • threatened, shouted at and humiliated, especially in front of others
    • taunted and teased where the intention is to embarrass and humiliate
    • singled out and treated differently, e.g. being disciplined for arriving one minute late, when others stroll in late without penalty;
    • belittled, degraded, demeaned, ridiculed, patronised, subject to disparaging remarks
    • regularly the target of offensive language, personal remarks, or inappropriate bad language
    • have their work plagiarised, stolen and copied - the bully then presents their target's work (eg to senior management) as their own
    • the subject of written complaints by other members of staff (who have been coerced into fabricating allegations - the complaints are trivial, often bizarre ["He looked at me in a funny way"] and often bear striking similarity to each other, suggesting a common origin)
    • forced to work long hours, often without remuneration and under threat of dismissal
    • refused requests for leave, or unacceptable and unnecessary conditions are attached
    • denied annual leave, sickness leave, or - especially - compassionate leave
    • when on leave, are harassed by calls at home or on holiday, often at unsocial hours
    • receive unpleasant or threatening calls or are harassed with intimidating memos, notes or emails with no verbal communication, immediately prior to weekends and holidays (eg 4pm Friday or Christmas Eve - often these are hand-delivered)
  • Eliminated
    • are invited to "informal" meetings which turn out to be disciplinary hearings
    • facing unjustified disciplinary action on trivial or specious or false charges
    • subjected to unwarranted and unjustified verbal or written warnings
    • are denied representation at meetings, often under threat of further disciplinary action; sometimes the bully abuses their position of power to exclude any representative who is competent to deal with bullying
    • dismissed on fabricated charges or flimsy excuses, often using a trivial incident from months or years previously
    • coerced into reluctant resignation, enforced redundancy, early or ill-health retirement
    • denied the right to earn their livelihood including being prevented from getting another job, usually with a bad or misleading reference

If you're reading this because you think someone you know is being treated this way, send them a link to the page or print it and give it to them - it might be the best thing you ever do for them. If you're reading this because you're worried about the way you are being treated by someone, Read more of this website to find out what courses of action are open to you.

What can I do if I'm being bullied?

  • Put your health before anything else
    • However strong your personality, no one is immune from mental health problems. Unexpressed anger and fear can lead to depression in "normal" people. If you're reading this in time, take evasive action before it gets that bad.
    • Be aware of and monitor your stress levels. Try not to allow your stress to get so serious that you become bogged down with it, mindful that it is difficult to recognise the extent of the problem yourself. Ask family, friends and doctor to help as appropriate
    • Avoid having one-to-one meetings with the bully if you have already complained about the bullying
  • Document everything
    • Maintain contemporaneous notes of what you said and did, and what others said and did
    • Keep memos, emails and other documents that are evidential of bullying
    • Especially if you get bullied in private, consider using a pocket voice recorder (smartphone) to obtain a verbatim transcript.
  • Think and operate strategically
    • Remember there are things in life you can control, things you can influence, and things you cannot do anything about. Ultimately, the only thing you can control is you. Attempting to persuade your employer to act responsibly can be pointless and thus painful, but it is in your interests to try not to fret about it if it does not work. Focus your attention on what you can do and are doing.
    • There is a risk that any mistakes you make as a result of being bullied, any sickness absence, and any illness will be used by a bully to discredit you. Most of what a bully throws at you is designed to provoke a response that can be used against you.
    • Understand this and avoid responding directly to such provocations;
    • Always act reasonably and in doing so, a contrast will emerge between your behaviour and the bully's;
    • Accept that this probably is not enough to make it stop;
    • Remember that there is more to you than your job, and try not to take it too seriously;
    • Remember that once you decide to resist the bullying, you may be in for the "long haul";
  • Seek but do not depend on support from other managers or trade union.
    • If they give tell-tale signs that they do not believe you or do not support you, do not keep hoping that they will support you.
    • Seek independent support from neutral third parties.
    • Get some help, but think about the interests and personal agendas of the people you hope to trust;
    • Consider who is or might be facilitating the bullying, and avoid confiding in them.
  • Equip yourself with your employer's policies and procedures, and make sure that YOU follow them, and encourage others to do the same;
    • Be 100% fair and reasonable, even when standing your ground;
    • Always maintain your dignity and be polite, even in the face of rudeness;
    • If you can, have a trusted companion with you as a witness in any meeting to discuss bullying. If you don't have a companion you can trust, make sure you have an audio recorder;
    • Remember that everything you write, say and do might one day be discussed in a court or tribunal, so make sure your actions are beyond reproach and justifiable. Don't do or say anything that you would not wish to repeat in public;

Notes of formal and semi formal meetings often contain omissions or note-takers' conflicting perceptions of what was said, leading to disputes over the accuracy of the minutes. Eliminate the possibility of such disputes by making audio recordings of meetings about the bullying, even if there is a note taker present. You do not need permission to make accurate notes, and it is very telling when someone who hopes to create a record of the meeting they want, rather than the meeting they had, objects to you making an audio recording. If there are objections, record the meeting one way or another.

Keep any recordings and notes strictly confidential and use them only for legitimate purposes. A covert recording of a confidential meeting could be perceived by an employer as a breach of trust, leading to disciplinary action A court or tribunal might only consider covert recording as legitimate conduct where the recording discloses a more significant breach of trust by someone else.

  • If you have tried the above and it is not working out, seriously consider changing jobs.
    • Even though it is unfair that you should have to leave, it is better to do so on your terms, when you choose, with your mental health, disciplinary record and sickness absence record intact, than to stick it out, battling an insuperable force, and being dismissed on some specious misconduct charge after exhausting your entitlement to paid sick leave, suffering from depression.
    • If you are considering leaving, consider your legal options as well - you may have recourse through the legal system but remember to put your health and wellbeing before any other consideration.

What can you do if one of your employees is accused of bullying?

  • Do not ignore it
  • It is possible for a complaint to be faked, or for a complainant to be mistaken. It is also possible that they may be right. Therefore, do not presume anything and do not make decisions based on rumours.
  • Be aware of the modus operandi of bullies and their special talents for flattery and for acquiring a following.
  • In a dispute over bullying, the bully is likely to be the one with the most witnesses until enough people decide that it is safe to speak out.
  • Do not try to understand what drives the bully's behaviour. Concentrate on their actions rather than psychological causes.
  • Get support. Use HR professionals and occupational psychologists. Use external specialists if your environment might restrict the freedom of an internal partner to objectively assess the situation
  • Be prepared to dismiss an employee that bullies others. The more influence they have over your results, the more they should behave well. If you tolerate bad behaviour among people who drive your bottom line, you will give the message "We want the results and we don't care what you do to achieve them". This is the worst message you could give when you remember that bullying at work destroys teams, collaboration and willingness to contribute; it increases staff turnover and puts your business at risk of lawsuits, as well as indicating a high potential for fraud and corruption.
  • Leave no doubt in your employees' minds that it is always safe to speak out.
  • The fact of the complaint discloses something serious, so aim to get to the bottom of it as promptly as possible
  • Listen very carefully to the complainant
  • Establish whether the incidents complained of actually occurred
  • If you do not believe the complainant, get some help from an expert
  • Put your employees' health before anything else
  • Think about the interests and agendas of the people who give you evidence
  • Follow policies and procedures
  • Be 100% fair and reasonable
  • If bullying is occurring, do not make excuses for it - it will happen again and be worse next time.

Elyssa D. Durant © DailyDDoSe™ 2007-2008

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Last Writes: A Letter to Ned Vizzini

Unwritten:: A letter to my first Editor, Ned Vizzini 

From: “Ned V” 
Hey, sounds like me!  I’m headed towards ruin quick.  Hope all is well

-------------- Original message ---------

From: “Ned V”

I’m not good, Elyssa. Very depressed.  I was such a different person when I knew you.  But maybe I will be different soon. 


From "Elyssa D:

god ned-- I wish we could talk—based upon what I’ve read (what you’ve posted on line and through your interviews) it seems as though you are going through all the emotions and emotional chaos that I was experiencing the first year we met back in new York.

Another friend of mine just checked himself into a psych ward after a suicide attempt and I feel so helpless because I care and respect you both so much.

it is funny because I always thought that if I could just finish that damn book I was working on ten years ago—or just finished law school, my PhD. or any number of things—everything would be okay.

It confuses me because you finished your book—rob finished law school- I finished nothing.

A few weeks ago, I “lost my shit” so to speak, came across your interview, and was completely blown away—I used to be the crazy one—now I have my sanity back but nothing else.

having been through several crises myself, I came to believe that when you see someone in crisis, they become so overwhelmed and confused that they do not know what to do first—and how to dig out of the hole they have dug for themselves.  I decided that rather than asking, I just try to figure it out and give it to them, no questions asked, no thank you necessary.

How many people have told you, “Call if you there is anything I can do” and when you do call—nothing!  Nothing but disappointment and regret.  So I have decide never to ask somebody what they need—

Mostly because they don’t even know themselves— hen I came to the realization a few weeks ago that my transient existence is so tangential that no one would notice if I never took another breath—I tried to figure out what I needed so that I could give it to myself.
So I started going back through my old journals to see if I could identify the missing element of my life—you know that “thing” that would both make it all go away and make all come together so I could be a whole person again.
That thing is a figment of my imagination.  I used to think it was being loved by a man—I had that.  Wasn’t it.
Then I thought it was having money.  I had that.  But that wasn’t it either.
Then I thought it was health insurance—but no, that was not it either.
Then I thought it would be having that oh-so-critical Ivy League degree.  I have that.  That still wasn't it. 
So obviously, none of those things could have been “it.”
The thing I need most, I lost long ago, and that was hope. Perhaps I never really had it at all.

So I guess some things just can’t be bought, learned, earned, or acquired. 
I think of the long twisted road, and I remember one of my favorite childhood movies, where a girl named Dorothy was so determined to find her way home after a great storm.  Disillusioned and distracted, Dorothy would not yield to the many obstacles that had been placed in her way.  Determined to meet the great Wizard, she stayed one path. 
Yes, there were detours, obstacles, and the Wicked Witch of the West.  Each of these obstacles may have taken her of course, yet she never once lost sight of the road home.   She believed in one thing, the Wizard, and his ability to bring her home.  

Having great faith and determination, she never strayed far off the path to righteousness.  Dorothy had a clearly defined goal, a means to get there, and a bright yellow brick road to guide her.  Through her determination and unyielding faith, Dorothy never once doubted that she was on the right path. 
In the Wizard of Oz, the yellow brick road may have been the path she was taking, but through her determination and blind faith, she was able to bring others onto the road t enlightenment.
The lion found his courage; the tin man got a heart.  The scarecrow got some brains—and even Dorothy got what she needed most. 
Dorothy began her journey looking for one thing.  She needed to get back to place she began, and find her way home. Dorothy teaches us a valuable lesson, but she was lucky enough to know what it was she so desperately longed for... home.
If all I had to do was click my heals three times and find my way home, well, sadly I would not even know where home is.  Yes, they say home is where the heart is, and perhaps that is part of the problem.  But for some of us, out childhood homes were not places of happiness and nostalgia.  They are places from which we run, searching endlessly for that magical place and can only hope that we have come across a road that is clearly marked to guide us in our destination. 
Of course, we know there will be that take us off course, and it will up to us to find our way back.  Unfortunately, there is a certain point when we lose our direction and we lose our faith.  As I grew older, I came to realize recognize that my feeling of detachment went far beyond having a dysfunctional childhood a broken family life that even my sister and I never lived in the same house for more than a year or so in the summertime.

So no matter how long I have been in Nashville, in many ways I am, in fact still a stranger.  I am a stranger because homeless is a state of mind. 
In my mind, I like to think a home is a place of acceptance, shelter, and a place you can find forgiveness, comfort and recognition.  For most, going home means to reconnect in a way so that you are reminded that you have something, someone, who will always have your back. 
Homer represents more than a structure; it represents a strong foundation that will always be there whenever you need to feel safety and comfort.  For me safety is marked by the boundaries that are supposed to keep me safe and protected. 
So this is my home.  I don’t necessarily feel safe here, but I do feel consistent.  I do not have to worry that I will be forced to switch schools, neighbors or friends every six months just because my parents could not get it right.  What they failed to realize is just how very wrong it really was.  Changing schools, changing friends, changing siblings; changing myself just enough each time so that I could fit in. But after 16 years of constant change, I never got the opportunity to find out anything real about myself.  Even my name was changed when I moved--- dad called me Liz, and my mother called herself any number of last names as she desperately tried to hold on to her youth, her beauty, and delusional fantasies of entitlement and sacrifice that I think she may actually believe. 

I have never had plastic surgery, could not afford it anyway, but what do have is a clear memory, vivid nightmares, and a place of my own.  What I also realize, is that until I can live free from fear and dependence, I will never truly be able to know what it feels like to be at home.  If home is where the heart is, then homelessness is clearly just a state of mind.  And today I have some hope that I might someday no longer feel just as homeless at home.  So now I know more than ever, that homelessness is a far more than a concrete structure or family property. 
I will always feel a little homeless at home.  It is knowing that you are the thing that remains constant—regardless of any dreams I may have, I will never have the constant I would need to get bring a child into this world--- as much I  would like to. 

I envy those who feel they have so much in their lives that they can trust without any reservation that the world is a loving enough place they want to share with a child. Especially a child of their own.  No, my mother told me long, long time ago, that I can never have children.  

She also told me last year, that I could not have a dog.  My own mother does not think I am capable of raising a puppy.  Maybe she’s right.  She did put her fears into action when she once donated my cat of 14 years to the animal shelter under someone else name so that I truly was left without any ties to the condo I stayed in for a few short months while I tried to come up with a plan to take him and myself far from a place where we could be safe and live free. 

I adopted him back from the animal shelter 40 miles out after learning that she had used someone else’s name at the agency so I could not find him on my own.

I will not look elsewhere to find the essentials things healthy children receive that in turn makes them healthy adults. 
I will never be “healthy” but I do think I wish I could give more than what I have received.  I regret never being the kind of “community member" I think I could have been, and I doubt I will get over the sheer humiliation of having to love this way for so many years when I should have been doing so much more.
in having truly been able to do the great things for society that I believe I could, but I can’t regret not giving no longer need constant reassurance, recognition, or validation, but I will always question whether things could have been different if only one person had taken the time to show me I was worth it.  That I deserved more than what I could actually afford and realize that I do give so much in so many other ways.  

The ways that people cannot calculate or see just how badly the ones who received them needed those gifts.  It was the little things.  It was Kody, it was Desiree, but above all else, it was me setting goals, the feelings of that my feeling I would never and was no longer subject to bi-annual custody disputes and shifts  and us to realize that homelessness is merely a state of mind. 

Where would I go?  10 years “down the road” and now, more than ever, I realize I am truly and deeply, “homeless at home.”  
You see it is not so much that I doubt myself, I just don’t trust that people will not do horrible things even if that means doing nothing at all. 
I do have much love to give.  Actually too much.  So much that it often pours out of me in inappropriate sentimentality.  I know when I need to keep to myself, and I know when my anxieties starts to make others a little anxious.  I know because as I see you react to me be anxious, it only makes me that much worse. It is one of my worst, but at times sometimes, that sensitivity is also at times a wonderful attribute and god given gift.

But should that prevent me from getting out into the world just because other people think I should be don’t like me … that’s not my job.
I have spent more than half of my life in self-imposed isolation, and the other half wondering how I can be less annoying and high strung so others would want me around.  The sad truth is, yes, I am annoying, but also, I am perceptive and very aware.  

Sometimes I do it purpose. 
I should not have to live in isolation because I have nervous tics or sometimes say the wrong thing.  But regardless of what people seem to think about welfare recipients being lazy bums guess what—FUCK you right back.   I have chosen to keep to myself just in case I really am so horrible to be around and my parents were right. Even my own mother thinks I would be better off dead.
and the rest is still unwritten... 

Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M. © 2008-2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013


ed phoning home ouch

After being rejected from a job that pays $18,000 / year at the women’s prison, a job that pays $21,000 teaching Head Start, getting fired from Red Lobster (because apparently, I am just not Red Lobster “material” I decided to go to the Tennessee Career Center to take advantage of their high speed internet, free printer paper, and ink…

I was hooked up with an excellent counselor earlier this afternoon. He has two master’s degrees-- one in Educational I Career Counseling, and a second in counseling psychology. This is the guidance counselor I have been asking for since..., well, since... I was in a school long enough to have a guidance counselor, but I never got.

Because I simply refuse to take any more of those tests. Not really an issue any more, since they clearly do not fit into my budget anyway! Nope. I will not take ‘em for Vanderbilt, and I will not take ‘em for law school. Not for Harvard, not for Tennessee, and I most definitely will not take ‘em for Dave Cordray (and yes, Dave, you are still in fact, such an asshole!)

Who gives a shit anymore??? If you told a me a fat bearded lady at the circus could decide my fate and tell me what direction I should choose next-- I would take it! and throw in a fat tip for being smart enough to know that any answer-- no matter how grim, is far better than just wandering aimlessly through life looking back on what might have been-- at THIRTY! AT THIRTY! !

I wish I could say that after all this time I developed other ego strengths and finally felt okay with whom I am, you know.... “just being me.” but I am sad to report that my “condition” (diagnosis) was amazingly accurate and predictable. just like all the doctors said! I wonder if they derive joy out of being right— if they crack open a bottle of aged liquor in my father’s office and say, “see, we told you so. we told you their was nothing you could do. and so nothing he did. By doing nothing and I do mean nothing-- the illness take will its course, and I am now, in fact, nothing. Nothing costs nothing (at least to him) and daddy made another fine investment, on the other hand, nothing has drained every hope, fear, security— chance-- every last breath from my body. I might have believed in me. And I know I’m alive because a tear just rolled down the side of my cheek. I am home.

I am the exact same 5 year old who needed to win the spelling bee. In college, I was the one to set the curve, not just make it, break the rules, and, break [them] I did. There is no glory in being second best. Second smartest, second brightest, or second anything.

But I still have not learned, for some reason with all of my failures, I am reminded of in so many ways. Me, myself watch them play out every time I shut my eyes or open them. Yes- blink, sometimes I ask myself, how did I get here? How did this happen? What happened to all of the plans I made for myself~ where did they go? Where did I go? Constantly replayed over and over and over again in my mind, 1 must be FUCKING CRAZY! But at this moment, here, even as I say the words, I am not truly insane. 1 am merely in pain, what a tragedy that those two words rhyme-- they ruin what could have been a very profound misnomer of the human condition and the labels we hold so dear.

And so my search for mediocrity continues, and I wait for it each and every day, hoping it will find me beaten and worn from the stoma. All of the storms, but damn-it it is still there. I still have questions those damn elyssa questions that made all my professors so proud, damn ideas, damn thoughts, damn hope.

My mother still calls me everyday to see if I went down to get food stamps to feed myself, flick her, and her fucking things. Flick diamonds and couture and fuck that life. I was here mom, the whole god-damned time. Just not pretty enough with out any surgery. Not pretty at all with all those damn scars,

I am the exact same 5 year old who needed to ACE the spelling bee, set the curve, not just make it, break the rules, and, break. them I did. There is no glory in being second best. Second smartest, second brightest, or second anything. Being second sucks. it sucks every goddamned second of the day.

Goodnight my dear friends, lets all try to have sweet dreams. Pepe awaits, as does Alanis and a pack of smokes that 1 can already taste. I hope you all still love me. I do actually believe that I deserve love and kindness despite the obvious fact that I am a royal pain in the ass. I refuse to work in Burger King.

What could have been, what should have been-- what might have been if you let me be


When in Chinese, the word Crisis is composed of two characters: One represents danger and the other represents opportunity...


Elyssa D. Durant © 2003-2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Health Care Reform Requires Regulation

I have a serious problem with the most recent health reform effort. Asking or expecting the health industry to reduce costs through self-regulation without accountability is simply ridiculous. Health care is already completely self-regulated and controlled. A person does not have free choice when choosing a provider. Due to an unholy alliance of provider networks, insurance underwriters, pharmaceutical conglomerates and private for profit hospital corporations such as HCA. By negotiating with providers and developing one-size-fits-all prescription formularies and treatment protocols, we remove the ability for the consumer to make independent informed decisions about the value of various treatment options. We rely upon one the ratings of physicians who have self-interest in controlling access and information to accurate information through their reliance upon Certification and Licensing Boards. By limiting access into the profession, health care costs are inflated and it is near impossible for the consumer to determine the fair value of a health care service. Second, the consumer is far removed from the negotiating process, so we do not have a good sense of the fair, free market value of one particular service in comparison to another. All you need to do is look at any EOB (explanation of benefits) report for your last trip to the hospital. Billing codes are used and assigned through various service departments and the insurance carrier then decides which services are covered and at what rate. They use the terms like "Reasonable and Customary Rates%u201D and then choose to pay 80% of that. Therefore, by definition, that 20% must be built in to the billing rates to adjust for the actual (and expected) rate of reimbursement. Such complicated billing procedures and methods are so complicated and technical that the end recipient of services (the consumer) really has no idea if an X-ray costs $90 or $73. Add into that a separate fee for the radiologist, and sometimes a charge just to use the facility, and even smart people find it difficult to understand. The bills are then processed by an insurance adjuster who must determine primary and secondary (supplemental) plans and determine who is responsible for what, the end cost and intricate design is truly "priceless." Good luck to those people who actually purchased supplemental plans they saw advertised on TV, you have been duped. Giving people (especially the infirm and the elderly) a false sense of security is unfair and unjust. Without regulation, intervention and enforcement, many people will continue to believe they are prepared and protected from that ultimate for "just in case" scenario that results in major, catastrophic medical loss. The administrative cost alone on the part of the "Responsible Party" is probably more costly than the initial service they received at whatever hospital for whatever condition. You cannot apply basic economic theory and free market principles to health care. Health care is fundamentally different and should be considered a public good. I would write more, but unfortunately, I just realized that I have some forms I forgot to file an authorized statement regarding the assignment of benefits form. It only seems fair that the appropriate party is paid for providing services in good faith despite TennCare's history of delayed payment. Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M. © 2007-2014

In God We Trust: The Lemon Test and Public Funds for Parochial Schools

In God We Trust: 

The Lemon Test and Public Funds for Parochial Schools

Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M. 

Guiding Questions

1. How can school vouchers reach a balance between serving the public interest and preserving individual freedoms and rights?

2. What additional arguments can be presented for against the use of school vouchers for parochial schools?

3. How is the issue of school vouchers for sectarian institutions different or similar from issues surrounding prayer in school?

4. What are the common issues relevant to both charter schools and voucher programs?

This article will address concerns regarding the long-term outcomes of school choice and voucher programs. Specifically: do school vouchers exacerbate the inequality between the rich and the poor?

Since I believe that health care and education are both social goods, I have some reservations about letting the free-market run amok during such a critical point in history. Is it wise to allow for-profit market forces to dictate public goods when natural rights are at stake? The shortcomings of the Medicaid managed care programs, Medicare supplemental insurance policies, and demonstration projects such as the privatization of prisons provide sufficient evidence of the dangers of profit driven corporations in American culture. Corporate scandals with food and other suppliers contracted by the Board of Education in New York City in the late 1990's provide excellent examples of how easy it is for private companies to manipulate funds away from the target recipients.

It was not too long ago that private managed care companies offered gifts to boost enrollment by enticing desperate Medicaid recipients to join their plans. This marketing strategy is simply offensive when we are dealing with a social good albeit health care or education. Vulnerable populations are frequently exploited through corporate contracts and there is little reason to believe that for-profit conglomerates would treat public schools or economically disadvantaged students and families otherwise.

Arguments on both sides of the school voucher issue are very similar to those presented for and against charter schools and free-market school choice. Smrekar (1998) presents four key issues that have been at the center of the school choice debate: (1) economic, (2) political; (3) social justice; and (4) pedagogical.

The economic argument in favor of school choice points out that our current public education system resembles a monopoly. Proponents argue that the introduction of choice into the educational marketplace will promote competition and force schools with poor performance records to improve or close (Friedman, 1968).

The political argument is centered on the democratic ideal that the freedom to choose where your child attends school is a fundamental right. The political argument also triggers strong feelings about the role of education in a democratic society. There are those who feel that the public school is intended, at least in part, to create a common set of core values that is best served by the public sector. At the core of the political school choice argument is a debate regarding the benefits of providing a common set of experiences in a democracy versus promoting individual choice and liberty (Smrekar, 1998). This issue, while not dead, was challenged in 1925 when the Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510 (1925)) in favor of parents who sent their children to private school. This argument continues today and is at the center of both school choice and curriculum debates.

The social justice argument is a bit more complicated and there is little agreement on any front. Proponents argue that school choice empowers the poor to participate in the education of their children by giving them the same options available to wealthier families in the United States. According to a 1997 poll in USA Today, 47% of parents would send their children to private schools if they had the financial resources (Doyle, 1997).

Information is an essential component to any school choice program. In order to ensure social equity in school choice programs we need to be sure that the "poor" are fully informed of their choices and are not taken advantage of in the open market. Research has shown that the act of "choosing" has positive effects on the school environment and promotes parental involvement in their children's education (Doyle, 1997). Additional components of the social justice argument have focused on the nuts and bolts of choice programs, and point out how there are several different ways that choice programs may (wittingly or unwittingly) promote social inequity (Cookson, 1995). Such arguments focus on transportation problems, admissions policies, the availability of information, and how we define "choice" and implement policies regulating recruitment, enrollment and performance of participating schools, (Cookson, 1995; 1997).

The pedagogical argument points out that school choice programs are better suited for the individual needs inherent to a pluralistic society. Although some feel there is value in providing core curriculum and a common set of basic skills, there is a current trend towards specialty schools that focus on the arts and sciences, technology, vocational training, etc. Educators look towards successful magnet schools as examples of the pedagogical success that demonstrated the importance of school choice and parental involvement as indicators of educational outcomes. Some educators fear that the introduction of school choice and voucher plans would prompt the best students to leave public schools and that this would have a negative effect on the overall climate of public classrooms.

Among the various school voucher programs, there is considerable controversy surrounding the program design that gives qualified individuals the choice to attend parochial schools using public funds. Traditional arguments against this type of school voucher program have focused on the constitutionality of using state funds for sectarian institutions. In theory, public schools are believed to be completely independent of religious institutions and provide a place where young adults can join together and develop a core set of "American" values and "democratic" principles. Just this year, states such as Tennessee have modified the curriculum to include Bible class in publicly funded classrooms. It is not yet known how this will be implemented given the number of students who did not meet the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) benchmarks. They are just now trying designing the course content and have not yet selecting the text to be used next fall (2008).

Historically, the church had a key role in the education of children in America. During the National Period (1780-1830), churches were used to educate children, and the King James Bible was used as a reader in these classrooms (Smrekar, 1998). Derek Neal (1997) points out that much of the current sentiment against Catholic schools is not a reflection of their excellent performance record, but rather an indication of the anti-Catholic sentiment which swept the country during the late part of the 19th Century (Neal, 1997). Neal argues that until that point, there was no contest to religious education as long as it was Protestant.

Catholic schools have traditionally served the children of the working class. They were a major socializing force earlier in the century and continue to succeed with children who might otherwise fall through the cracks in public schools. Despite tapering enrollment, Catholic schools remain a viable force in the private sector providing a reasonably priced private education to American children. Neal conducted a study that looked at the graduation rates of minority children attending Catholic schools compared with children attending public schools in the inner cities. Controlling for demographic variables, (parent's education, parent's occupation, family structure, and reading materials at home) closer analysis revealed graduation rates for urban minorities are 26% higher in Catholic schools compared with public schools in the same communities. Although Neal found similar benefits for whites and in suburban communities, this effect was most profound for urban minorities.

Other studies have focused on identifying the qualities that make Catholic schools successful. A number of factors have been identified by Bryk and Lee, including active parental participation and the benefits of school choice in creating an inclusive community that fosters a common set of values and ideals (Bryk & Lee, 1995). Interestingly, the very same variables found to enhance the performance of Catholic school students are remarkably similar to the reported benefits of magnet schools and choice programs. Despite the excellent performance records of Catholic schools, there are currently no voucher programs that allow parochial schools to participate in state funded voucher programs.

The reason for this is quite simple, but not necessarily correct or in the best interest of our children. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the use of public funds in religious institutions. However, it can also be argued that it is unconstitutional to exclude parochial schools from voucher systems because it violates the student's free expression of religion. In addition, voucher programs require a conscious decision on the part of the student and the parent. The state does not enforce a blanket endorsement of any one religion. I use Catholic schools as an example because they represent the majority of parochial schools in urban America.

Voucher programs typically undergo strict scrutiny for all four reasons mentioned above, but this issue is especially true of any choice or voucher program that channels funds into Parochial schools. For this reason, Catholic schools and other schools with religious affiliations have been excluded from voucher plans up until this point. It is not politically viable to institute a choice or voucher program at any level (at the district, state or national level) since similar plans have historically presented long-standing, hard-fought, legal challenges to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Since the Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue, most challenges up until this point have taken place in state courts[1]. These state decisions have been split, and while there are a few voucher programs operating in Wisconsin and Ohio, neither permits sectarian schools to participate in their programs. Milwaukee designed a voucher system that included parochial schools in 1995 but later revised their proposal after the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction against expansion into religious schools (Kremerer & King, 1995).

School choice programs that involve vouchers have not been tested in the Supreme Court, but there is a long history of court cases that challenge the flow of money from the public sector into private, sectarian institutions. The recent pattern of Supreme Court rulings has lead some legal scholars (Kremerer & King, 1995) to conclude that school vouchers would pass constitutional muster under the following circumstances:

1. Provides payments in the form of scholarships to parents of school age children

2. Allows parents to choose among a variety of public and private sectarian and nonsectarian schools for their children

3. Gives no preference to sectarian private institutions

Voucher programs up until this point have encountered substantial resistance from the legal community and a number of civil rights and political organizations. This becomes more pronounced when the voucher model includes sectarian institutions in the model plan and state court rulings have been inconsistent in decisions surrounding the constitutionality of voucher programs.

The definitive case regarding school voucher programs is Lemon v. Kurtzman (403 U.S. 602 (1971)). The Court's ruling in Lemon was based on three components that came to be known as the "Lemon Test." The Lemon Test applies the following to any Constitutional challenge of the Establishment Clause:

1. The government action must have a secular purpose

2. The primary effect must neither advance, nor inhibit religion

3. It must not result in excessive governmental entanglement with religion

Since voucher programs do not generally provide support directly to the institution, individual freedom and choice remain intact. Individual families are empowered by educational vouchers since they choose the school and religion appropriate for them. Qualified schools are not determined by religious affiliation and all schools are required to adhere to state and federal regulations that increase accountability. Similar issues came before the courts in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510 (1925)) as well, however Lemon v. Kurtzman (403 U.S. 602 (1971)) is considered to be both the landmark and test case currently before the courts.

The reason for this is quite simple, but not necessarily correct or in the best interest of our children. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the use of public funds in religious institutions. However, it could also be argued that it is unconstitutional to exclude parochial schools from voucher systems because it violates the free expression of religion. In addition, voucher programs require a conscious decision on the part of the student and the parent. The state does not enforce a blanket endorsement of any one religion. I use Catholic schools as an example because they represent the majority of parochial schools in urban America.

Teacher's unions are resistant to bring in a new system that has the potential to upset their job status and security. It will likely be a number of years before we truly understand the effects of magnet schools and can evaluate the implementation of school choice programs that are already in place. Because we are dealing with such an essential human, social good, it is my recommendation that we do not implement a large-scale voucher program until issues of access and equity are resolved on other public fronts. We must ensure real choices for the students and families who are not information savvy and may be limited in their ability to recognize the real value of their options. We must find a way to ensure the equitable distribution of resources so that education truly does will empower the poor.

Is it time to apply the Lemon Test to school vouchers? 

You decide.


Cookson, P.W., Jr. (1994). School choice: The struggle for the soul of American education. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Cookson, P.W., Jr. (1995). ERIC Digests: School Choice.

Doyle, D.P. (1997). Vouchers for religious schools. Public Interest, 127, 88-95.

Haynes, C.C. (1993). Beyond the culture wars. Educational Leadership, 51(4), 30-34.

Houston, P.D. (1993). School vouchers: The latest California joke. Phi Delta Kappan, 75(4), 61-64.

Kremerer, F.R. & King, K.L. (1995). Are school vouchers Constitutional? Phi Delta Kappan, 77(1), 307-311.

Kremerer, F.R. (1995). The Constitutionality of school vouchers. West's Education Law Reporter,101 Ed. Law Rep. 17.

Kremerer, F.R. (1997). State Constitutions and school vouchers. West's Education Law Reporter, 120 Ed. Law Rep. 1.

Neal, D. (1997). Measuring Catholic school performance. Public Interest, 127, 81-87.

[1] Including a decision that was handed down regarding a choice plan in Ohio. (12/18/2000)

Elyssa D. Durant © 2007-2014