“Welcome to The Mental Breakdown and Psychreg Podcast! Today, Dr. Berney and Dr. Marshall have the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Shannon Thomas, a licensed clinical social work supervisor, the owner and lead therapist of an award-winning private practice-counseling agency in Southlake, Texas and best-selling author of ‘Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse.'”
Disclaimer: For those of you who know me and my work around healing from abuse, please note that this blog is not about clinically abusive people (aka narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths). This series on adult bullies is about the other type of difficult people. The average garden-variety type of folks we run into out in the world.
The Different Types of Adult Bullies
What happens when we run into adults who don’t know how to treat other people? Our reactions can range from explosive anger all the way to deeply internalizing the ugly messages that bullies send us. Why do bullies exist in the adult world? As kids, weren’t we all told that schoolyard bullies would one day “grow up” and realize the error of their ways? I know I heard that mean kids would grow out of the need or desire to bully and yet, I see adult bullying in too many life situations.
There seems to be a few different variations of behaviors from individuals who clearly are old enough to know better, and yet, roam the adult schoolyard looking for someone to kick in the shins. Over the course of several blogs, I am going to share with you a few of the types of bullies I have either experienced myself or have been witness to through other people.
The Bitter Bully
I have personally come in close contact with this bully. It is one who appears in the form of a friendly face that is all good with you until, wait for it, the seed of bitterness comes to full harvest. What causes this person to shift from a caring friend to a snarky person who you cannot associate closely with anymore? Bitterness usually shows itself when the adult bully feels threatened by you in some way. Perhaps you stepped on their toes by achieving success in “their” self-designated area of life. It’s as if they have metaphorically tinkled on a bush like a dog to claim it as their own and you dared to come sniffing too close. You hear the low growl and turn to see their teeth showing. They don’t like you anymore. Suddenly you’re now annoying and they have numerous previously unspoken complaints of you. Their view of you has changed but the only thing that is new is your success.
Maybe your success stepped on their toes and rather than coming clean with you about their internal conflict, it seeps out through their pores in bitterness. Of course, they would adamantly deny any jealousy or bitterness. Didn’t they already tell you they are not an angry person? They are the outward picture of confidence but as an intuitive person, you feel the wave of bitterness and it pushes you away from them.
What causes the bitter bully to emerge from the outer covering of a good friend? I believe it is deeply held insecurities. When people feel overly territorial it is because they are scared that you are taking something away from them; that they will lose the goodness in their life. These individuals may have dealt with scarcity or neglect previously and they are triggered on a subconscious level by you coming to close to their now good life.
Is this your fault? Not at all. Are you expected to shrink back in life just so you don’t push insecurity buttons in someone around you? Never. We do not clip our own wings for fear we might fly too high for another person’s comfort level. Their bitterness and internal conflict is theirs, and theirs alone, to work through. However, it is helpful to pause and ponder the “why” of the bitter bully’s projection outward towards you. When we can cognitively understand why people behave the way they do, it takes the personalization out of it. We stop going over what we did to make that person change their ways with us. We start recognizing that not everyone can stay on the same road.
People say that failure will show you who your friends are and that is true. Success will show you the insecurities hiding in those around you. Sometimes, it’s not pretty. Sometimes success brings a chill of loneliness as people react in different ways and bitter is one of them.
Personally, I would rather be surrounded by a few key people who love themselves and their lives so much that anything I might have going on positively isn’t at all a threat to them. It is also my gift back to them because real friends don’t pour bitterness on one another like acid.
Keep Dreaming Big! (so big it makes people uncomfortable)
“What can therapy do?” This is a question that many people often ask, me included. With a little surfing on the Internet, it is not hard to find out the functions, techniques, or even the “promises” of therapy. However, this blog is not about any of that. Rather, it is about what therapy has the potential to be. It is about my vision of therapy with all its possibilities.
As a newcomer of the field, a Christian theologian/ethicist-in-training, and an immigrant from China, I arrived at the therapist chair from many places. From the first day I sat with clients in the therapy room, I knew that I was standing on Holy ground. I knew the presence of God had come within concrete walls. I knew the stories I heard were sacred. I knew that I was blessed to witness people’s journey of life and walk with them in their courage to heal. Through all the troubles, pain, struggles, and silence my clients bring into the room, when I look at the people sitting in front of me, I see souls that are on the journey of becoming so much more. I cannot help but wonder, maybe therapy should be a work of touching souls. Therapy should be a moment when life’s sacredness is fully realized. Therapy should be a space where one is joined by another and invited to know oneself and the world through the gentle carrying of the past. Therapy is not for the faint of heart, both for the clients and for the therapists.
I believe that the nature of therapy should be and only be about love. When clients and therapists come together, relationships are formed. When one speaks and one listens with the full self, hearts are connected. When one shares one’s self openly and freely with another, freedom is experienced. When suffering is truly acknowledged and joy is truly celebrated, love appears. Therapy is not just about changing lives. It should be about healing souls.
Healing is a path that the courageous travel. It takes more than functions, techniques, or even the “promises” of therapy. What it takes is the Divine love that first spoke the world into being and continues to make everything new. Therefore, the process of healing is holy. And the lives that are in it is sacred. Therapeutic approaches, in all its various forms, do not and cannot have the power to start this process. Before clients come to the therapy room, healing has already begun. Therefore, the nature of therapy should not simply be about tools, skills, approaches that may help clients heal. It should be about the meeting of souls and sharing of relationships between the clients and the therapists. It is finite, because of the meeting between finite beings during one session time. Yet, it should also be beyond our infinitude, because of the divine healing that is at work and the lasting comfort that one is never alone. Therapy should be a witness to the sacredness of life, the healing of souls, and ultimately, love.
I recently spent four days in New York City for a fun girls’ trip. It is an incredible city and one that I am more than happy to visit whenever possible. The city that never sleeps also never disappoints. Each time I have played tourist, the streets of NYC provided numerous life analogies and lessons.
Our 2016 trip was full of different opportunities to be self-reflective. I don’t know if you’re like me but I am almost in a constant state of reflection. As I go about my daily life and run into different moments, I often subconsciously am filtering and filing away experiences. I later return to these little snapshots of time and apply some meaning to them. Examples? There were plenty while in the Big Apple!
The first moment of reflection came as we were flying into LaGuardia airport. We were scheduled to arrive at a specific time so when the plane started to make a clear and what seemed to be a slightly rapid decent, I began to get a little nervous. I enjoy flying and especially love taking off. The feeling of the plane’s wheels lifting off the ground is probably one of my most favorite things in life. Landing? Now that’s a slightly different story. I love landing into my home airport of Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) because it is such a smooth ride back into the Lone Star state. This particular approach into New York City was quite the opposite. It came fast and furious. As I said to the pilot as we exited, “That felt like an aircraft carrier landing.” Boom! The bird is out of the sky. As a matter of fact, we landed 13 minutes before our scheduled arrival so a part of me wonders if the traffic controller called us in early and so out of the sky we came in hot.
One minute I was reading a dumb, brainless magazine with a lot of pictures about reality TV stars and the next we were on the ground ready to start our girls’ tour of the city. There was little mental prep time for our arrival. Has this sort of experience ever happened to you? Where life just showed up and you had to adjust quickly? I am sure it has to all of us. It is usually more than just landing quickly but this served as a good moment to reflect on how well do we adjust to ever changing life situations. Some of us can switch gears quicker than others and it can often be a cause of stress for people.
My next moment for reflection came as my friend and I tried to check into our hotel. I had been in charge of this reservation and even though I am 100% sure the computer screen said “two double beds” when I booked it, the confirmation said “double bed.” Singular. Not double. We did not realize this issue with the reservation until we opened the door to our proposed room and saw one bed. Surely they just made a mistake and gave us the wrong room so we schlepped our luggage back downstairs to the lobby. Once back down there they informed us that our reservation said one bed, they were completely sold out, and did not believe the single bed mistake was actually theirs to own. I, on the other hand, felt very strongly that I travel enough and am a perfectionist enough to know that I did not book the wrong room.
This moment provided an immediate reflection of joy and excitement. What? Joy and excitement? Yes! You see, I had not really wanted to stay at that particular hotel and once I saw it in person, I was sure I didn’t want to stay there. This goof allowed me the freedom to say “adios” to the one bed hotel and high-tail it further uptown to the beautiful accommodations that I had stayed at before on a previous visit. Sure, there were issues of billing and getting my refund from the one bed dump, but I was in New York City with my best girlfriend and I wasn’t going to fret over it right then! The need to switch hotels upon our arrival to the city reminded me that sometimes things don’t work out for very good reasons and just going with the flow of life is for our benefit. As I laid my head on my pillow that night and in the hotel I felt very comfortable, I was so happy that the other reservation fell through.
The third moment I want to share with you happened while on the couture floor of Bergdorf Goodman. One of the things I enjoy the most about visiting NYC is the history of the fashion industry that flourishes in the region. I love walking along 5th Avenue and Madison and seeing the beautiful designer stores full of incredibly detailed designs and fabrics. These gorgeous items are way out of my budget and never coming home with me, but I can still get giddy and excited to visit these historical designer houses that have made heavy footprints in women’s fashion and culture.
During this trip, my friend and I walked through the incredible Bergdorf Goodman store. Even though it was painfully apparent by my casual vacation clothing that I was a tourist and not going to be trying on any items, each and every staff member was exceptionally gracious and welcoming. Immediately upon arriving to another designer’s area of the store, I happily announced to the sales person, “just looking around!” I didn’t want to pretend to be something I am not and a couture shopper at Bergdorf Goodman is what I am not. I am happily okay with that too. As I walked from designer to designer, I reflected on the fact that there are often times when we feel out of place in a particular environment and our attitude makes all the difference in our enjoyment level of the experience. Could I have felt sloppy and low-brow while walking around very high-end fashion that I can’t afford? Sure. But what point would there be in degrading myself in my inner dialogue? Instead I accepted myself as I am and enjoyed the beautiful items that will never be mine to own. Were other ladies shopping and taking Bergdorf bags home with them? Yes. Did it bring out jealousy in me? Not at all. I only needed to walk up the street towards Central Park to be reminded that some people are wondering where their next meal is coming from. Unfortunately, in our country you can see people plunking down thousands of dollars in department stores and others do not have any place indoors to sleep at night. Honestly, the spectrum is a little too wide for my taste. As I walked among the couture dresses and watched other women buying, I did not succumb to envy because I know my place in the world and am happy with it. I have the means to book a getaway with a friend but not enough for high fashion. I am okay with my perch on the tree of life.
As we maneuver through our daily lives, we should be aware of the different moments that can lead us to a quiet inner dialogue. What life reflection moments have you had recently? I hope you are gentle with yourself during these little spaces in time.