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Entries categorized "Lashing Out"

Bullying and Disrespect: the Supreme Court Hearings and on the Oscars Stage

by Elayne Savage, PhD

Canstockphoto3918241          ©Can Stock Photo / gina_sanders


When I’m around bullying behavior my reaction is visceral - the queasy, scary, yucky feeling that is connected to these disquieting childhood memories and makes me want to pull the covers over my head. Or throw up.

And that feeling sure took over during the last few days watching the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and watching Chris Rock tease and make a joke at Jada Pinkett Smith’s expense with husband Will Smith defending her honor and feelings and bullying back by slapping him across the face!  

Bullying is the intentional use of power over
another person to humiliate that person or make
them feel rejected and ‘less than.’

These are some common bully behaviors:





















Spreading rumors









Verbal battering

Picking fights

Assaulting, ‪shoving

Taking cheap shots

The “can’t you take a joke” variety – at someone’s expense.


These kinds of behaviors can feel hurtful and rejecting even when they are not malicious.


Can you add to the list through your observations or personal experiences?

There were a wide variety of these bullying behaviors at the Judge Jackson's Senate Judiciary hearings. I was stunned at the barrage of disrespect, bigotry and hostility directed at Judge Jackson. It actually seemed to me as if some of the Senators might be feeling threatened by the fact that she is a brilliant, educated, accomplished Black woman.

Then just a few days later we saw the teasing ‘can’t you take a joke’ variety of bullying by Chris Rock and the boundary-less defensive reaction by Will Smith that it caused at the Oscars ceremony.

With the onslaught of all these bullying happenings, no wonder I was having a PTSD-like experience.


A Major Truth About Bullies

The Judicial Committee Senators behavior illustrates a major truth about most bullies:

The bully is most likely not feeling very good about him or herself. In fact, they are probably feeling insecure, anxious, scared, hurting, weak, ineffectual, and/or vulnerable.

So to feel better about themselves they take a 'tough' stance and puff themselves up by trying to diminish the other person.

Another thing: bullies need an audience.

And some bullies lack empathy. Because they seem not to have a conscience they feel little or no guilt for hurting others.

The discomfort I was feeling about the Judge Jackson confirmation hearing was most likely my impression of the condescending attitudes, the tones of voice, the sarcasm, the badgering, and the constant rude interrupting of the candidate’s answers. 

However I think for me the most unsettling aspects of the questioning was the undercurrent of hateful anger and the obvious grandstanding at the expense of Judge Jackson in order to enhance the Senators visibility and to positively influence future office-seeking. 


It Starts in the Sandbox

I wrote in Don't Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection:  

"It doesn’t take much for feelings to get hurt. A lot of times it 
starts in the sandbox, when one child flicks sand at another.

picked-on child feels hurt and confused. 'Why me? What did I do?  
Do I just sit here and take it? Do I try to ignore it and pretend 
nothing happened? Or do I up the ante and flick sand back?'”

Bullying surfaces in the form of verbal battering - criticizing, 
belittling, shaming, or publicly humiliating someone.

But rejection 
doesn't only spring from harsh words or actions. It's also present in 
more subtle forms - demeaning looks or tones of voice.

We all want to feel respected. And bullying is big-time disrespect 
which we perceive as rejection.


Bullied Much of My Life

 You may have guessed that I was bullied often. I was a skinny little runt and without social graces  — and I was an easy target for older neighborhood kids and classmates to pick on.

One reason I had such painful visceral reactions to these recent bullying instances was because they brought back vivid memories and the fears associated with them. Memories of all the times someone teased me, taunted me, humiliated me, or spit at me.

Yes, spit. That's what my next door neighbors did –

They spit across the screen separating our row houses in D.C. as they called us ‘Dirty Jews.” And their teenage son Johnny used to block me with his bike in the alley and threaten to beat me up.

How sad and confusing for me at 7 years old – I really liked Marian, the little girl who lived in that house next door. We would spend hours in her basement practicing song and dance routines to popular songs.

And Marian taught me the words to

"Chi-baba, chi-baba, chi-wawaMy bambino kook-a la goombah Chi-baba, chi-baba, chi-wawamy bambino go to sleep!" 

This lullaby still lives in my head.

And I’ll always remember the day Marian and I took a long walk together and as we were passing her church she invited me inside, led me to the alter and showed me how to light the candles.

Sadly these pleasant experiences became a little more tarnished each time her parents spit at me or my family, acting like they hated us.

Even in college I was bullied when a sorority sister repeatedly ‘cobwebbed’ my lower bunk bed by tightly stretching thread from post to post so on the dark sleeping porch when I climbed into bed, the thread would cut my skin.

I’ve done a lot of interviews. I can remember one particularly difficult interview on a national TV show. I was the newbie on the 'panel' and one of the regulars made great sport of being condescending. I managed to hold my own, but it was not a fun experience.

After the show the cameraman came up to me and asked if I was OK and tried to reassure me I did fine in spite of the bullying.

 I don’t get bullied so much any more or at least the occasional comment doesn’t upset me quite as much as it used to. It usually involves teasing which can sometimes be hurtful even when unintentional.


Different Degrees of Resilience

Because we have different degrees of resilience or because we don’t know how to check out someone’s intent, we might find ourselves:

- Misinterpreting an ‘attitude’ or look or tone of voice

- Misunderstanding what someone says or means

- Getting on each others nerves

- Overreacting to perceived slights

- Feeling ‘dissed’ and taking something personally


Let’s face it; some of us are more sensitive to words, actions, attitudes and tones of voice than others.

The more sensitive we are, the bigger the emotional imprint of bullying might be on our adult lives.

It’s easy for most of us to occasionally feel bullied or harassed and this could have an effect on how we view our world, what we tell ourselves about the safety of our world and our ability to trust the people in it.


Respecting Personal Space and Boundaries

Seems to me part of the problem regarding bullying is folks often don't have a much of 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 and show respect for the personal space of others?

If you are unable to notice and recognize your own inappropriate behavior, how can you choose to change it?

For most of us on the receiving end, bullying is disrespectful and rejecting behavior.


Here’s a reprint of my Diss List

DISS LIST.jpg 00


I would love to have a dialogue with you about all of this . . .

Regarding the Chris Rock/Will Smith debacle: there have been several angles for reflection on the backstories. I know from my work as a social worker and psychotherapist there are some points worth considering in this piece from the Harvard Gazette: Wait — what if Will Smith was just being a man?

Until next month,


Elayne Savage is the author of ground-breaking relationship books published in 9 languages.
Both books are now available on Kindle!


You can reprint any blog from 'Tips from The Queen of Rejection'® as long as you include an attribution and, whenever possible, a live link to my website. And I'd really appreciate if you'd notify me where and when the material will appear.

The attribution should include this information: Elayne Savage, PhD is a communication coach, keynote speaker, and trainer, practicing psychotherapist and author of Don't Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection and Breathing Room - Creating Space to Be a Couple.

To find out more about my speaking programs, coaching and consultation services visit: // or call 510-540-6230 if you or your group can benefit.

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