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Entries categorized "Abuse"

Predatory Behavior, Bullying, Screaming and Smashing – Oh My

By Elayne Savage, PhD


Power-Control-Authority            © Can Stock Photo / Zeferli

The news is overflowing again with accusations of bullying, harassment, traumatizing verbal abuse, predatory sexual behavior and exploitation.
The press is full of examples of Producer Scott Rudin’s various out-of-control behaviors. The Hollywood Reporter Headline shouts: "Everyone Just Knows He's an Absolute Monster" and the New York Times headline screams “Volatile and Vengeful: How Scott Rudin Wielded Power in Show Business.”
About volatility: “he is also known within the entertainment world for terrorizing underlings, hurling staplers, cellphones, mugs and other improvised projectiles in moments of rage.”

About being callous and vengeful –– sounds like payback for perceived slights. It’s a good guess he is most likely taking something personally and reacting by lashing out.  
Ex-staffers describe how Rudin routinely screamed at them:

“Why are you so stupid?”
“You’re a hopeless idiot.”
“A clown car is running this office.”
“You’re a pathetic loser.”
Rita Wilson describes how she felt “worthless, unvaluable and replaceable.”
These are the same phrases I hear from so many of my clients as they describe  traumatizing words they repeatedly heard from family, teachers, mentors, coaches or bosses.
Bullying is usually a big part of the experience. And accompanying feelings of rejection, betrayal, and loss of security and trust arising from hurtful bullyingcan continue to affect relationships for years to come.
I know about this firsthand. I can tell that I’m feeling threatened and unsafe when I have a visceral reaction. Bullying and harassing will do it every time. Even teasing, whether obvious or subtle, can feel abusive to me, just like it did in my childhood.
More Stories of Inappropriate Behavior

At the same time as the Rudin reporting, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times was reporting on the sexual assault and rape allegations about Blake Bailey, the author of a recent biography of Phillip Roth. Almost as soon as the book was published this story broke, and it was taken out of print by publisher W.W.Norton.
Stories began surfacing from several of Bailey’s students about when they were 12 year old eighth graders in the 1990s when he was teaching English at a New Orleans charter school.
These now-adults are describing how he singled out his “special girls,” making inappropriate comments about their bodies and wondering aloud when they might lose their virginity.
Some of these same "special girls" are now reporting that he forcibly initiated sex once they became adults and he confided how  he has “wanted” them since they were in eighth grade but waiting until the age of consent which is 17 in Louisiana.
“Grooming them” is the term being used.
And notably, all of the women who spoke to the Times-Picayune are reporting they viewed their encounters with Mr. Bailey as fundamentally unbalanced because of their student-teacher relationship.
Let’s look at the ways these unbalanced power relationships may have caused confusion and long-term problems for these students.
The Real Problem: Imbalance and Misuse of Power and Authority
Power relationships can exist in a wide range of industries and venues:  teachers, coaches, bosses, mentors, physicians and other health professionals, social workers, psychotherapists, attorneys, religious and spiritual leaders and cult-like figures.
Yes, it is this imbalance in relationships that can lead to much confusion when students, patients and clients understandably look to and depend on their ‘helpers’ as all-powerful experts and authorities.
In their need to see the ‘helper’ as all-powerful, they may find themselves giving up their own power in the presence of the helper. This imbalance can add to their confusion about the relationship.
It is this imbalance and misuse and abuse of power, authority and control that I’m addressing here.
There has been way too little written about the long-term effects of this abuse of power and authority.  I have blogged about this a few times in the past and as I write, I’m borrowing freely from previous pieces, including my focus on bullying behavior.
Abuse of Power Exists Everywhere

The problem is more pervasive, more systemic and often more subtle than the more obvious sense of entitlement that exists and drives some people in powerful positions to blur, transgress and breach personal boundaries.
Seems to me part of the problem is these folks often don't have a clue about what respectful personal space and personal boundaries look like. If you have a blind spot to what boundaries are, how can you respect them? If you don’t even recognize your own bad behavior, how can you choose to change it?
Some Power Abuses are Low Visibility but High Frequency . . .
Subtle and overlooked misuses and abuses of power and control exist all around us.
Abuse of power and authority exists due to some form of status imbalance in both personal and professional relationships. Abuse of power can be obvious or understated, intended or not.
In my consulting and therapy practice, I hear descriptions of all kinds of disrespectful, dismissive, and discounting interactions. I hear about faulting and blaming and not taking responsibility for actions by making the other person ‘wrong and bad,' a form of gaslighting.
You can probably guess how often I can hear the hurt and pain when these memories resurface and are described.
Controlling and sometimes coercive interactions are all around us, yet clients and workshop attendees seem to be surprised when they realize how much power doctors or coaches or teachers or psychotherapists may actually have.
They begin to see the bigger picture as I describe how students, patients and clients understandably look to their ‘helpers’ as experts and authorities. Yet in their need to see them as ‘all powerful’ they may tend to give up their own power, self-confidence and self-sufficiency.

Many years ago when I was a first-year psychology graduate student, I was required to read Power in the Helping Professions by Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig.
My dusty, dog-eared copy is 41 years old now. I find myself re-reading and re-thinking these important power and authority discussions.
Because I’ve been in the ‘helping professions’ for decades as a Child Protective Services social worker  and as a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in rejection, I’m reminded often that power is often bestowed upon me –– especially if I notice ‘the helper’ role creeping in. It’s difficult to shed; after all, it’s been my ‘job-description’ since I was a child!
The situation with helpers becomes more complex when someone puts them on a pedestal and wraps them in unrealistic expectations. What happens when the 'helper' disappoints and falls off their pedestal?
As I often say: disappointment often feels like rejection . . . and rejection hurts!
"It’s about getting away with something....that's exciting"
I want to recommend a fascinating piece by Mimi Kramer on ‘The Double Life of the “Respectable” Men Who Harass Women.’  I don’t agree with everything she writes, however her personal observations are a good read and I love this paragraph:
"That, right there — I’d argue — is the impulse behind sexual harassment. It’s about getting away with something. It’s about seeming to be one sort of person.…while really being A Very Bad Boy. That’s exciting for some men. Not the being bad part. The getting-away-with-it part. It isn’t just about power over individuals, the women you victimize. It’s about power over society and the court of public opinion, the thrill of risking everything on one roll of the dice, knowing that it isn’t really all that much of a risk — because nobody will believe her.”
Reliving the Trauma
As more of these kinds of stories emerge I find myself respecting the courage of those who have come forward. This has been giving many of us permission to tap into our own courage to remember and tell our own stories of inappropriate power plays.
We all have different ways of processing and different degrees of resilience.
These kinds of traumatic experiences are powerful. Even seemingly subtle experiences – can be traumatizing — and might affect each of us in different ways.  Sometimes buried memories begin coming back which often involves reliving the trauma. Sometimes memories and visceral reactions can resurface when there is a new experience of feeling fearful and unsafe. 
This is Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) which is associated with repeated trauma.
We each have our unique responses, including experiencing long-term repercussions and easily recognizable visceral reactions to inappropriate or abusive personal boundary crossings which affect our feelings of safety and trust.
We each have absorbed messages from these traumatic experiences –– messages about ourselves, about the safety of our world and whether we can trust the people in it.
What do you know about your early messages from adults who you looked up to?

How do these experiences and messages affect your relationships now?
For more info, here are a few links:
About Scott Rudin:

About Blake Bailey:

More on Bullying from
More about PTSD
© Elayne Savage
Until next month,
Elayne Savage is the author of ground-breaking relationship books published in 9 languages.
Both books are now available on Kindle!


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