Bullying Functions to Socially Anchor Their Victim in Negativity

Bullying Functions to Socially Anchor Their Victim in Negativity

I talk through the Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman concept of “Anchoring”, a deep bias created by building a context around human behavior in a way that influences their choices, then connecting it to bullying and how bullies use social anchoring to control their victim, to project negativity onto the victim and to ensure that the victim is the focus of negative attention rather than the bully.

Episode Transcript:

Good morning, everybody. I am going to take a second run at an idea, an observation, a set of ideas, a perspective that's really important to me because it underlies so much of the pain and the struggle and the trauma that comes from how human beings treat one another and why human beings are so confusing to one another and why it can be difficult to navigate people's personalities, people's perspectives, et cetera, et cetera. And I want to start with the idea of bullying. And we all know that bullying is a problem, and it's a pretty loose definition. And there are going to be people who feel bullied, who are not being bullied. And they're going to be people who are bullies, who perceive themselves as assertive or as doing what they're entitled to. And we literally don't really have a clearly objective way, as is true with a lot of sociological or psychological things. We don't have an objective scientific way of establishing this is what it is, right? So you could take someone, and you could go, well, Cortisol is a perfect correlate. High cortisol levels are a perfect correlate for whether someone's stressed or not. And so we could test someone and see if they have high cortisol levels to see if they're being bullied. But there are people who have had horrible childhood trauma who feel bullied or who feel attacked when nothing's happening. And so then that becomes unfair. If they're sort of in a somewhat paranoid state, and They're accusing someone of bullying them when the person has done nothing other than maybe set a reasonable boundary and say, I feel uncomfortable when you do this. And then the person who's really traumatized and hasn't resolved their trauma is like, well, I feel really stressed. I feel attacked. You don't have a right to talk to me this way. And so even identifying whether someone actually feels stressed or subjectively feels bullied. So this is really, really complex. And there's a lot of argument about whether someone is being mistreated or not being mistreated. And I do believe that society tends to, has a very strong tendency to ignore victims and to assume that victims are just complaining. And that's because society doesn't really want to deal with it. I mean, it's difficult to deal with. It's difficult to address when people feel entitled to treat others badly. It's much easier to encourage the victim to toughen up than it is to change a bully's behavior. But with all of that said, let's get into the thing that I see. And again, this is my second run at it because I'm writing an article and there's a lot of complexity in it and a lot of ideas. So this helps me sort of cook what my thoughts are. So I'm going to focus on one thing. In bullying that is truly the most destructive thing. If you take bullying, definitely we're talking about someone who feels aggression or feels aggressive. That aggression is not really appropriate to the situation. We're not talking about somebody who's just a really successful football player. We're talking about someone in social situations who, by definition of bullying, finds, let's say it's kids, we're talking about students or kids or young people, finds someone who's a bit shy, who has more porous boundaries, who maybe is socially not as accepted, and so there's less of a chance for them to be defended by other people. And then that person who has problems with aggression and anger will begin targeting, insulting, mocking, maybe even physically pushing them around, playing jokes on them, essentially directing negative energy and a lack of respect towards that vulnerable person in that social population. I think pretty much everyone could agree that that's what bullying is. They may try it with someone who's not in a vulnerable position, but bullies tend to be smart enough not to do that because there are bad outcomes. If you do that against someone who has strong family support or all the other kids really like that person, then the bully is going to get bullied and that thing's going to flip on them quick. So bullies have the instinct. They need to express their aggression. They have a need to dominate someone and to humiliate someone. They're going to tend to pick someone who's vulnerable, right? So you have bullying. So especially with modern psychology and therapy, we have a tendency to take things that happen that we don't like that make us uncomfortable. And we have a tendency to say, well, that's a dysfunction. That's a syndrome. That person's mentally ill. There's a mental illness going on there. There's some dysfunction going on there. And as I've watched, as I have lots of my clients or people who have been victims of being bullied by their parents or a sibling or in social situations by teachers or politicians, whomever. So from my perspective, I don't believe that this is a dysfunction, unfortunately. I believe that this behavior is incredibly common. If you look throughout history, if you look throughout human societies, even the best of societies tends to choose some smaller, more vulnerable subgroup. And in the media and in popular perception, there tends to be this tendency to really want to go, oh, these are the people who steal. You know what they're like and blah, blah, and it's like, it's not that I even kind of people will be like, well, it's not really, it's like, I don't want to be mean to them or whatever, but they kind of, you know, they've earned that because they act like this. And I am not aware of a society in which this doesn't happen, which suggests to me that this is a normal. That doesn't mean that it's healthy. So I want you to be super, super clear about this. The fact that I call something normal does not mean that I'm saying it's healthy or acceptable. In the animal world, if animal parents are stressed enough, there are certain species who will actually eat their own or kill their own children. I don't think that's healthy. I don't want that to happen. That feels very disturbing to me and I would do what I could to stop that from happening, but it's normal. You want to stay away from pathologizing. You can't solve a problem that you want to demonize the problem and turn it into some weird mental health thing that you say, well, that should never happen. That's not part of human experience. And when it happens, it's because some it's like, no, if we're really going to address problems, sometimes we need to accept that this is a normal psychological function. We don't like it. It's unhealthy for the victims. It means something unhealthy. But it's normal. Human beings do this, right? And I'm going to talk a little more about one primary concept in there that convinces me that this is actually normal behavior. And if we're going to address bullying and gaslighting and these things that are built around this, we have to accept that it's normal, that we all have an instinct. It's sort of like racism, right? If you live in a society that struggles with racism, And you go, well, I'm clear of it. And those horrible people are not. And I hate them. The real danger is, is you're going to have unconscious. Racial bias or religious bias or gender bias, and you're going to pretend that you don't, and you're going to hurt people because you're so convinced that you've cleaned up your side of the street. And it's important for us to acknowledge that some things are built into us, that we all have a lifelong struggle and a need for awareness because this is part of human psychology, and it is a normal response to difficult situations. So The concept comes from, if I remember correctly, it's and . I apologize, I forget the name of the book, but they did a lot of work. They do a lot of work into finance economics, which is actually as serious about human psychology as psychology is. Because money is about nothing but human psychology. How money works and how money behaves depends entirely upon human psychology. So economists get really, really deep into human psychology and are sometimes ahead of because they need it to be concrete. They want things to be really concrete. They just can't have a theory about it. Furthermore, they want to know how money is going to act and how it's going to move. And that depends on human psychology. So they talked about this concept called anchoring. And some of the examples they used were, for example, an instructor had her students write down the last two digits of their cell phone number. And then she asked them to guess the price or the value of an object of a product. And what you saw consistently across the class is that the students whose last two digits were high, say 99 or 86 or 92, would vastly or greatly overestimate the value of the object. And the people who had a number that was low, 21, 03, in their cell phone number would vastly underestimate the value of the object. This is called anchoring. And the concept is that if I can access your brain and invite you to participate in something or to do something that anchors your mind in a certain range, you have a certain context, that then all the reasoning that you do after that is completely controlled or limited by that context, right? So that's anchoring. And the anchoring is so powerful that the instructor then informed her, I believe it was her, her students of what she was doing and said, The way this works is. I'm asking you to write down the last two digits of your cell phone number, and if the number is high, you have a tendency to overestimate, and if the number is low, you have a tendency to underestimate the value of this object. So I'm telling you what, so we're going to do this again. And even with foreknowledge of how this works, and this relates a lot to racism, even with foreknowledge of how this works, the people with a high digit still overestimated and the people with low digits still underestimated. That's how powerful anchoring is, okay? So another way of saying this is when people quietly deposit an assumption that frames a situation in a way that's going to leave you biased to make the choice that they want made. Right. And so I don't know if salespeople use this, it used to be like a really cheesy thing that maybe used car salesmen. Sorry, that's like an unfair by. The stereotype when I was a kid is that there are certain people who are dishonest use car salesmen, people who work in music stores and sell guitar like there's just this. See, so here's my own bias, right? I haven't done a study. I don't know if that's true. It was just a stereotype when I was a kid that if you say you're a car salesman, there's an assumption of dishonesty. There's a bias. I was anchored in the, I don't know that that's true. That's probably deeply unfair. They're probably not more dishonest than somebody else. So I literally unconsciously just handed you an anchor that I received in my childhood, that unabashedly, unashamedly everyone talked about. It's like used car salesman is literally the stereotype of a dishonest, a cheesy, gross, dishonest person who will lie and do anything to sell you a car that is like half the value, et cetera, et cetera. But I don't think that's true. That's unfair, right? Okay, so if you'll go with me, even though I'm being bias using a bias example about anchoring something that people would do or that salespeople would do that I don't know if they do anymore. To anchor someone that they're trying to sell to is, again, let's use the example of music. Let's say you go in, and you're pulling guitars off the wall, and you're noodling, and They'll walk up and ask you some questions to which you might answer, yes. Are you liking that guitar? It's really nice, right? Yeah, yeah, no, I love it. It's great. Plays nicely, blah, blah, blah. Oh, you've been playing for some time? Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, they can tell if you've been playing for some time. Yeah, I've been playing for quite a while, blah, blah, blah. Oh, that's wonderful. So they get you to say some yes, answer some yes questions. And here's the anchor. Well, first that is an anchor, right? They're putting you in a yes mindset that will predispose you to continue to say yes, but they'll go one step further. And this is really the anchoring. They would do this move where they would go, oh, wonderful. Well, let's grab this thing, and I'll walk you up to the counter, right? They're doing you a favor. I'll walk you up to the counter. Do you want to pay cash, check or credit card for that? They just asked you a question that has moved past your choice point. They didn't say, do you think you're going to get this today or are you interested in purchasing? Or how do you feel like, hey, if you would like to purchase this, I think it's a great look on you, whatever. No, what they did was the next question they asked. You assumed that you had already answered yes when you had not. That's anchoring. It is taking a context or taking an assumption and wrapping it around someone. Now, in this case, they're not doing it such that other people are influenced. They're doing it so that you, the possible customer is, the possible buyer is influenced. And there are lots of young people or people who are just really soft-hearted who have difficulty dealing with that because they feel weird, and they feel guilty. They said, yes, they've engaged in a conversation with this person who is so nice. And the person is like carrying their purchase for them and blah, blah, blah. And they will out of guilt purchase something that they were not sure that they were going to. They out of guilt will pay more money than they had planned to because they don't know how to go, yeah, no, no, I don't think so. Or I need 10 more minutes. Like slow your roll there, buddy. Give me a minute. Like I want to look at some other ones, and maybe I will, maybe I won't. Right, people don't feel comfortable doing that. So this is a weird, very manipulative. Well, anchoring is always manipulative, right? I'm trying to create a context in which you are biased towards giving the answer or making the choice or behaving the way that meets my needs. So let's bring this back to bullying. The argument that I'm making is that Among the more common explanations for bullying, oh, you have someone with low self-esteem and anger, and they want to vent that. They want to express that. They're probably being bullied at home or by other people. There are things going on, or they naturally have an amount of aggression that they don't know what to do with, and they need somewhere to vent it. So they're going to vent it on someone who isn't going to fight back. There's truth in all of these. But the most destructive, when people suffer from bullying, from years of bullying, the most destructive component of it, and this is often either consciously intended or unconsciously intended. In fact, I would argue that it is always intended. It is the function of it. It is why humans bully. You don't have to agree with me, right? I'm not saying this as a therapist who's done a bunch of research, et cetera, et cetera. This is just anecdotally for me. Watching humans and listening to clients who have been bullied and having had my own experiences and having sometimes been a bully myself when I was in middle school or high school, whatever, really looking at the thing, the function of the thing, take away all the excuses and, oh, this person's mentally ill or blah, blah, or dysfunction. And just look at how does it function. And in almost every case I can think of, the primary function is, aside from a bully getting to vent their anger and their desire to dominate someone, the victim is being placed, is being anchored. This is my connection. And I call it social anchoring. The victim is being placed in a situation where all conversation and all dialogue and interaction with them or a lot of interaction with them has now been colored. And they are being treated and the definition of who they are is no longer neutral. They no longer get to just be like, Oh, maybe you like them. Maybe you don't. Maybe they're good at sports. Maybe they're not, but there's all of these things going on. Maybe they're just a little shy, but no, no, no, no. This person is now. Inextricably linked to this unpleasant situation that society doesn't feel like dealing with. And it's a problem and blah, blah, blah. And we're going to have to address this. And maybe that victim should work harder to be more assertive. And you know what, if they weren't as shy, well, they shouldn't be bullied. And there's a real strong tendency in society, in schools, for parents and administrators and teachers to actually address the victim and to try to convince them that they need to be better at dealing with the bully. Because people don't know how to deal with the bully. The bully doesn't care or doesn't seem to care about how people feel and tends not to want to change their behavior. And so people don't work with the bully. They tend to always work with the victim. So the victim is suddenly anchored in the situation where the context is that they are a victim. That is the anchor. You are a victim, right? Something that people really, really struggle with is there's this binary thing when you're mistreated. Let's take a woman who's raped. On one hand, she desperately needs society to acknowledge that this terrible thing happened to her and that it has very, very significant outcomes that can ruin her life for a period of time or for extended periods of time, that she has to pay this huge price for this thing that she didn't initiate, she had nothing to do with, but it was imposed on her. She wants that acknowledged, but at the same time, that experience can then anchor her as a victim, and she may want to heal and move on. And then suddenly people will be anchored in. you're this person. And that's not always nice. Sometimes people actually feel kind of like, ooh, it's kind of gross. As if the grossness of the act of rape somehow is now colored her. She's been anchored in this thing when in fact there's nothing that attaches to her other than the fact she's having a terribly painful experience and has to spend some time working through it unfairly. There's nothing weird or gross about her. There's no coloration around her. Very few people will admit this, but there are many people, even good people, who feel uncomfortable around victims. And this is a big part of what people who dominate and hurt others or bully others are doing. Is there creating a social target? Now you can sit here in a culture like or whatever country or culture where you consider yourself advanced and morally with moral self-awareness and blah, blah, blah. And you're going to want to feel that this isn't really true. But I'm telling you as a therapist and also someone who taught and as someone who worked in schools, that it is far, far, far more common that victims get punished for what happened to them, then that perpetrators get punished or made uncomfortable. It is far, far, far more common that victims get punished. Either people call them liars, or then people lock into, well, this is the thing about you, and people feel uncomfortable. It's weird to them. You know, it's kind of like when someone loses someone close to them, there's like so many people don't know how to deal with grief. And there's this discomfort. It's like, uh, like I kind of want to go support them, but it's like, it's so terrible. It's like, it makes us feel uncomfortable. Don't kid yourself. This is a normal part of human society. That society is uncomfortable with the victims. They're more comfortable with the perpetrator because the perpetrator often is not uncomfortable with what they did. And society is uncomfortable with uncomfortable emotions, right? So the perpetrator, the more sociopathic they are, the easier they are for society to deal with because they are not feeling uncomfortable emotions. They'll move on without any discomfort, and they'll lie, and they'll talk about it as if it really wasn't what that person said and blah, blah, blah. And they will actually manipulate society and give society what they want. What society wants is I don't want to feel really, really uncomfortable. I don't want to deal with how disturbing it is that human beings do these things to one another. And it makes me uncomfortable that this happens. So I'm far more willing to sort of believe that what the perpetrator says is that it really wasn't what the victim says it is. Because when I go to the victim, there's all this distress and fragmentation and overwhelm, and they're struggling. And if what's happened to them has been bad enough, they're struggling. And maybe they become a bit dysfunctional, et cetera. We're like, oh, nobody wants to see that. Nobody wants to deal with that. So we get uncomfortable. And we have this bias to disbelieve them and to believe the perpetrator. Because the perpetrator is telling us, don't worry about it. You don't need to feel bad. This person is just a victim. They just, sorry, just a victim. This person is just overly sensitive. Or they misperceived it, or they're playing the victim to get some social value out of it. And that sometimes happens, right? But far, far less than you think. Okay, so the primary function of bullying is that consciously or unconsciously the bully or the perpetrator is socially anchoring the victim. So let me be more specific and bring that back to the concrete examples. You take someone with really low self-esteem, maybe they have a parent who bullies them a lot at home and in response, they've developed this frustration and this aggression, and they feel bad about themselves, and they feel uncomfortable in social situations. What you need to understand if you don't know this yet, what you need to understand is that a way for that child or young person to alleviate their discomfort, they go into social situations, and they're afraid that people are going to see that they're dirty, and they're gross and that they are in fact the target. And it's okay to target them because their parents targeting them. They come into social situations feeling gross and bad and with an unconscious or conscious worry that they will be a target. And something that makes them feel very, very safe is to direct instead of waiting to see, Oh, negative attention doesn't get directed. People are not going to just come out and be negative towards me. Their first survival instinct is socially, is found someone more vulnerable than me and direct negative attention at them and anchor them, socially anchor them so that they are perceived as a problem. They are perceived as whiny. They are perceived as feeling bad. Furthermore, they are perceived as having their feelings hurt. All of these uncomfortable things that a bully feels but won't admit that they feel and can't deal with, they have now created around their victim. And the victim is anchored in it. So there's the emotional, social, emotional component of this person is colored with this. Then other kids will relate to them like that. Other kids will avoid them. It's like, I don't know. It's like, they're always pissing and moaning and, you know, maybe they get treated badly, but oh my God, like they become uncomfortable. So they become the person that society avoids rather than the bully. Again, the bully is doing something that people are not necessarily uncomfortable with as long as the bully doesn't show uncomfortable feelings that you have to deal with. You can see this. I see this. There are people who don't criticize and bully in certain situations. Kids that get bullied by parents who are somewhere in the middle. They're not completely a personality disorder, but they but their parents have serious self-esteem issues, and they're seriously uncomfortable. Those parents could be loving to those kids in the home. And the second there's a social situation. The parent gets intensely uncomfortable, experiences social anxiety, feelings that there's something wrong with them, they will unconsciously instantly start controlling and criticizing their own child. Controlling and criticizing, controlling, yeah, like, and they're not going to do it in an obvious way. They're not going to do it in a way that people are like, oh my God, this parent is just horrible. They're going to do it in a way that it looks like I'm a distressed parent dealing with a difficult child. That's the anchor. I am a distressed parent dealing with a difficult child. Who doesn't relate with that? Oh, we all have a hard time. Like raising children is difficult. How insidious and sneaky this is, whether conscious or not. I'm not making that argument. I don't know. And I've seen this, I'll give you a one off example. I had a neighbor at one point who was badly alcoholic and emotionally and psychologically very unstable. The other neighbors, when she would have like these screaming episodes that would go on for one or two hours, screaming, F you, oh, like it's on and on, this strident voice. And they would say, you know, she's off of her medication. And they would even sometimes go and knock on the door and say, hey, so-and-so, like, you got to calm down, you got to take your medication, whatever. And this person had a daughter who I had, I lived in that place for a period of time and had watched this young lady grow up. She was a lovely human and kids who grew up in abusive systems often are very, very sweet because they've had to be like, there's no, their parents is behaving like a bratty child. There's no room for the child to be a child. And so this girl was a very sweet, very respectful human being and This was one of these apartment complexes where everyone shares the laundry, whatever. So I would go down to my laundry and run into this neighbor, and they thought it was fascinating. You know, she talked in a very quiet voice and was like, hey, I just want to make sure that my daughter doesn't bug you. You know, she just like cranks her music and just plays it over and over really loud. And I hope it doesn't bother you. And, you know, blah, blah, blah. I was like, no, like your daughter seems really wonderful. Like, I don't know. We sort of had this unwritten contract in this place. That No, like everybody annoyed everybody and nobody complained about anything unless it was just absolutely egregious. So other people could hear your music and whatever. And just people sort of screened it out and put up with it. What's interesting now, this is social anchoring, and you can see clearly that this parent was projecting and moving the possibility of blame away from her. Because the daughter never played a stereo. I know because I know when the daughter went to school, and she would go to school and her mother, probably to self-soothe whatever, meaning no judgment, would crank her stereo and play the same songs over and over and over for two, three hours, cranked with the bass thumping etc. The daughter never, never, I never heard the daughter's music. When the daughter was home, it was never cranked. I think also because the boyfriend was also home and wasn't into the loud music, whatever. It was the mother a thousand percent. It was the mother who would crank the stereo, and she was literally coming down. Furthermore, it was also the mother who would have screaming fits. This is social anchoring that failed because I was aware of what was going on and also because this woman sadly was psychologically and emotionally so dysfunctional that nobody was fooled by what she was doing. She was literally coming down. She was not doing a lot. Furthermore, she literally came down to try to convince me that her daughter And she was worried that I might be bothered by the behavior upstairs, but it was her behavior. Furthermore, she was the one who would crank her stereo and she was literally trying to convince me. Furthermore, she was trying to anchor the context such that if I became frustrated, my frustration would be directed at her daughter, not her. Parents do this. That's an egregious example. But there are lots of parents who get nervous in social situations and will start talking about their kids' failure. Well, you know, like we really tried, and we took her to her swimming class and I don't know, she just like seems really anxious, and we worked with it. We tried to get her a therapist and blah, blah, blah. Oh, this is just a concerned parent. Yeah? Is it or is it a parent who immediately goes to some uncomfortable negative thing about their child as soon as there's a group of people around? And if these are people that are not close enough to see what that parent is like in the house, and then if they were there in the house, the parents probably going to do the same thing. Everyone in society assumes that this is a loving parent dealing with a child who has an issue. When I can tell you that it's far more common that the parent has the issue, far more common that the parent has the issue, that that parent compulsively talks about and complains about that child negatively. That's social anchoring. That's also a mild form of bullying. That's a mild form of bullying. Now you can call it gaslighting, right, in which you convince the victim that how they perceive reality and what's going on isn't what actually is going on. And they start to feel a little crazy. Well, that happens to those kids or those students or whatever, right? If you have a student who's being bullied, and they know that And they go on the playground, and they follow the instructions, and they stay away from the bully, and they say no, leave me alone I don't like that. And the bully finds ways to like quietly like reach around and pinch them in line or whatever and do stuff with like how like he did whatever blah blah right. And then the administrators are like, well, we didn't see it happen. And we've talked to you about this. And it doesn't seem like the bully is doing anything. Guess what? Bullies are perfect at figuring out how to get at their victim without authorities seeing it. If you're an authority or a teacher, you need to understand that, that most of the time when kids report to you, They're not lying. It's just that the person bullying them has figured out how to play angelic. Like they know how to do that. I'll tell you when I'm saying this, I'm not just sort of like generating this, making this up. I worked in education research for six years and 80% of my work aside from like processing data and writing it up and whatever, was to sit in a classroom silently and be as unobtrusive as possible, to not even be noticed, and to sit there and write down what's said and what's happening for data collection to evaluate different programs. Well, as a one-off, what happens is you see stuff that overwhelmed teachers, teachers who have 30 kids in their classroom, they're having to teach, they're generating content, right? They don't have time to see and track all of this stuff. Well, you're sitting there, and your only job is just sit there and watch. How often you see that the class angel that the teacher perceives as the child who's not a problem, When they're having a bad day, we'll take the problem student and do something mean like trip them or take their crayons or whatever. And when the problem student protests, the teacher has already anchored that. The teacher is always like, you're always the problem. They don't say it, but in their head, it's like, you're always the problem. And they'll be frustrated with them. Teachers are lovely people. I'm not saying that they are abusive in any way, but everyone in the class, including the victim of that, knows that the teacher's frustrated with the victim, not the person who did it. Because they're like, well, I've seen patterns of behavior, and I know that you're not always honest. They're talking to the victim. I know that you're not always honest. And I didn't see them do that. And they have a tendency to follow the rules. I'm going to just have to assume that you're creating a problem. And so you're going to get a demerit or whatever. So the victim gets punished. This happens way more often than anyone wants to believe. And here's how insidious this is. What do you think happens if you do that to a child or young adult? Do you think they have the psychology and the emotional wherewithal to deal with it? They don't. What do they do? They start acting out. They start playing the role. Furthermore, they start doing the things that they are being accused of doing. And maybe they were before. Maybe they're a distressed student. They start acting out, and they become the character that has been imposed on them. They have been socially angered. And that's where it really becomes gaslighting. Because what they know and feel to be true, which was it being not my fault. I didn't do what you're accusing me of doing. And they are correct. They get gas lit until they start believing. It doesn't matter whether you did or did not. You're a bad person, and you deserve to be treated this way. It goes from social anchoring to gaslighting. It doesn't matter what actually happened. You're a bad person and no one likes you and the teacher doesn't like you. They might be kind, but you can tell that they're really frustrated with you. And even when you didn't do something wrong, you still get in trouble. You're a bad person. That's what happens. That's what happens. And then Those people, if they get some self-awareness, or they work with that, they end up in my office doing therapy. Trying to sort out. How did this happen? How did I come to feel so bad about myself? How did I come to feel so bad about myself? Why is it that even when I didn't do anything wrong, when someone else does something wrong, I feel guilty, and I feel scared like I'm going to be attacked. Why is that? Well, because that is what happened to you for a significant portion of your childhood. Then narcissists around that adult will see that wound, they smell that wound, and then they will start gaming them in the workplace. And then I have these conversations with these clients. If you had that childhood, you've been set up to instinctively, emotionally feel guilty and to feel bad and to feel that you deserve punishment even when you didn't do anything wrong. God forbid when you accidentally make a mistake, which by the way, you shouldn't feel guilty about that. If it was an honest mistake, and you're just like, okay, I made a mistake, I'll correct it and take responsibility and move on. They feel horribly guilty. They already feel guilty when they didn't do something wrong. All it takes is an accusation or not even accusation, just something went wrong. They will feel guilty. This is how insidious and how powerful social anchoring is, which is the primary function of bullying. If you need any motivation to take bullying seriously, believe me when I say I've spent years now helping people heal from having been bullied, from having been socially anchored by dysfunctional people, people with low self-esteem, parents with low self-esteem, parents who are super anxious or have social anxiety, who get into a social circumstance, and they suddenly start quietly picking or directing attention at that person, directing attention to like, Oh, well, you know, this and that. Yeah. You're like, I don't know. It's been pretty difficult. Like we're working really hard. I really feel for my son. I really feel for my daughter. There are lots of parents who will talk that way because they're not idiots. They know that you shouldn't say negative things. So they will frame it. As if they are concerned and no one on the face of the planet is going to go, wait a minute, I need to wait and see how big of a pattern this is. I'm a therapist who specializes in complex and developmental trauma. So I do, right? If parents call me, and they're like, well, this is going on, this is going on, and I'm just really concerned, blah, blah, blah, that might be true. Sometimes kids get bullied, it's not the parents, like you can't blame the parents for everything. Sometimes kids genetically or wiring goes wrong and something goes wrong and that child really struggles or maybe is a predisposed to depression. Just because parents express that they're concerned doesn't mean that you get to make a snap judgment and go, oh, that's a parent who low-key bullies their kid. No, but if you sit there and watch it and watch it and watch the investment, the depth of the investment that that parent has where it's always about something's wrong with my child, something's wrong with my, something's wrong, something's wrong, something's wrong. That is a parent who feels uncomfortable, has very low self-esteem, feels socially uncomfortable, and instinctively, unconsciously, they're expressing negativity, and they're projecting their discomfort with themselves onto their child and anchoring that situation socially. So someone's like, oh, your child's a mess. We like, okay, we need to deal with this. You are a long-suffering parent. I addressed this adjacently in an episode called the emotional version of Munchhausen syndrome by proxy. I forget which episode it was, but go back and look at it because these are perfect companions. And so social anchoring, bullying can happen for a complex number of reasons, but it is a person with a problem with aggression who enjoys dominating other people, but also who feels pretty bad themselves and likes directing negative attention to anywhere else and anyone else. And they will choose vulnerable people who have a harder time defending themselves. They'll choose vulnerable groups. This doesn't mean that vulnerable means weak. Right? It can just be a social group that's much, much smaller or has belief systems that are not shared by the overall belief system. And so they're a bit more embattled. They have to work way harder. Every time that group navigates reality, their belief systems have some disconnect with the overall belief system. So people tend to feel friction and to sort of feel dismissive about what that group believes. Okay, well, society will socially anchor them. Well, if there are problems, if they're experiencing problems, it's because they're like this. It's because they're like that. It's because blah, blah, blah, blah. If you're reading what I'm talking about, if you don't know that black people in have been socially anchored for hundreds, if you don't know that, you have not been paying attention. Black people in , no, let's flip it. Let's not make it about them. White people in relating to black people in are literally almost like a scientific demonstration of social anchoring. Everything is about the victim. Am I saying black people are always, no. Am I saying that black people don't behave badly? No, they're human beings. Sometimes they do really F'd up things. They're responsible for their life and their world. They're responsible. But if you don't understand that there was a massive amount of social anchoring happening around them where we kept creating a context and where it's like, well, it's about them being this kind of person. That's why there's always an issue. That's why there's always an issue. It's never an issue with how overall white society behaves. It's always an issue with how they behave. Furthermore, it's about them. That's social anchoring. I had planned not to get into that stuff because I know it's complex and people have knee-jerk reactions, and it makes them mad. And I really wanted to advocate for kids. But it deserves to be said. But let's bring it back to a place where everyone can agree. We don't want this to happen to children or young people. And you don't have to believe me. But I'm telling you from decades and decades and decades of experience of watching some of this being an observer in classrooms who had nothing to do other than to watch the subtleties of the dynamics that are going on. I'll share with you an anecdote about a master teacher who I observed is one of the best teachers and one of the best human beings I've ever met, Mr. , who at the time was teaching at 28th Street Elementary School. I don't have time to tell you truly how exceptional this human being was as a teacher, a master teacher who teaches other teachers. And I observed quite often in his classroom and something I almost get choked up when I think about it because it's the value of his skill and what he was able to do was so massive. He and I would chat, we became kind of friends, and we would chat after classes or whatever. And sometimes he would refer to things that had happened and say, you know, this is what I'm doing. Because I also interviewed these teachers and there was a really sweet little girl, like I think he was teaching first grade. There was a really sweet little girl who would fold her hands on her desk, and he tended to elicit this kind of behavior from his students because it was so good. And then there was a rowdier, students. And something had happened. I didn't catch it, but the rowdier student was kind of walking and then kind of tripped and banging into a desk and then kept going. And there was some bit of a brouhaha. And Mr. told me, he said, he said, I don't know if you saw it, but that little quiet girl stuck her foot out and tripped him. And he addressed it with her, right? And he held her responsible because this master teacher, and as far as I'm concerned, a master human being was well aware of these dynamics that sometimes the angelic students will actually direct negative attention toward the student that struggles, that has emotional issues from home, that is a vulnerable member. Good-hearted people. And this is where I'm arguing that this is a human-animal instinct. This is not some aberration or mental illness. And the reason I'm arguing for this is not to say, oh, well, it's okay then. The reason I'm saying this is that it's imperative that you understand how ubiquitous this is. how insidious and that it's in you, and it's in me, and it's in everyone, and we do it all the time. And if we are going to elevate our consciousness and stop doing this, stop victim blaming, stop gaslighting, you have to understand that your ideal children and your ideal students and people who look like ideal people have the same deep instinct to sometimes or even sometimes consistently direct negative attention and to very quietly pick on people who have emotional issues or vulnerable members of society and to anchor them. Right. This brings in the final concept. I wasn't going to address all of them that I'm addressing in the article, but scapegoating is part of it. Right. Human society is difficult. Even good people, we have difficulty dealing with the darkness inside, anger, rage, or that society is a mess, or that we hurt one another, blah, blah, blah. Even good people with good intentions would rather believe that the vulnerable person who acts out and makes things uncomfortable, we would rather demonize them and go, well, they're bad. They're bad people. Because that's way easier. That's way easier than dealing with the complexity of this person may have had received horrible treatment from society and is struggling to function in any way, or this person may just be a vulnerable smaller minority and is misunderstood and no one has offered them basic humanity. And so now they're defensive and angry. It's easier just to go, well, you have an anger problem than it is to go, as a whole society, we have ignored the humanity of this group. As a whole society, we've ignored the humanity of that child, why that child acts out. And then good people will scapegoat. I would rather just dump the sins of society on that vulnerable member and send them into the desert. I don't know if this is true, but the explanation I've always heard, and I think scapegoating comes from the Old Testament or from the Torah, is essentially the tribes of had this ritual. That they would do is periodically they would take an innocent goat that was free, a kid, a young goat or whatever, that was free of blame. God cannot blame this goat. And they would take the sins of the tribe, all the wrongdoing, and they would sort of spiritually, psychologically dump the sins of the tribe on the goat and then sacrifice the goat. A way of saying, God, here's this innocent lamb, right? This even gets pulled into. The idea of being sacrificed for the sins of the human race, is the idea of the scapegoat. I'm going to take this innocent thing, I'm going to heap our sins upon that innocent thing and sacrifice the innocent thing as an offering to God. Of course, when you say it out loud this way, it sounds like a really primitive, terrible thing to do, but in defense of the tribes of or any other culture that does this, and most cultures do this, we haven't stopped. We haven't stopped. You can consider that primitive, but we have not stopped. All we've done is hidden it. All we've done is convince ourselves that we don't do this anymore. But I see it all the time. And I have people who come into work on complex trauma where this is done all the time. They've been bullied or mistreated. And suddenly this becomes a context in which they operate. Something that I used to experience, my first understanding or experience of this, I had an older sister who had a problem with aggression and frustration or whatever. She was four years older. So when I was like five, she would be nine years old. And she bullied me quite mercilessly for whatever reasons. And when I defended myself and fought back, it was always they're fighting, right? And then we would both be whipped. It's fair. You're both being whipped, right? But the truth is, is I was being bullied by a much older child, a much larger, more aggressive child, being pulled into a fight. And then it was like they're fighting. Right? That in fact is not the case. One child was being bullied, the much smaller, more vulnerable child was being bullied. And then when that child responded naturally, in the absence of parents sort of dealing with the situation, rather than deal with the complexity and the difficulty of like, oh, you have a lot of kids, and it's hard to watch all this stuff and parents are overwhelmed, you know, whatever's going on, it's just easier to go, well, you're both a problem. Right? So that's another case of social anchoring. The victim has been anchored in this narrative where it's like, well, you're also part of the problem, right? Just like a woman who's raped. No one will say it, but for society, to a certain extent, there's kind of like this gut level unconscious feeling that now she's a problem. All of her suffering and pain and accusations, and then we have to do something about it. Do we pull this person into court, and can we hold them? It's so much easier just to force the victim to deal with the damage. Don't kid yourself. That is the most dominant response to someone being victimized badly to the point that they have to struggle with what was done to them. Most, we convince ourselves that we're empathetic and society wouldn't let this happen. And we really have mechanisms for dealing with this BS. The most common response by society is distaste for the fact that we're going to have to deal with the suffering of this person. And now this person becomes this person. They are now defined by this terrible thing that happened to them that they had nothing to do with. Right. You see this in the dialogue of like, well, maybe you shouldn't have been raped. But what were you wearing? All of that comes from this unconscious desire to go. I don't want to deal with the misery and how disturbing it is. that one human would dominate another in such a cruel and intrusive way that does such major damage. I don't want to deal with that. It's disturbing and difficult. I would much rather go, even if it was wrong, and it happened, you had something to do with it. Therefore, you are now anchored into this situation where something happened to you, had nothing to do with you. Well, why were you at a club? How many drinks did you have? All of that comes from social anchoring. You take someone, move them past their choice point. Do you think that victim wanted to be raped? They did not. But what we do is we go, well, I'm going to move past the point where you had no choice in what happened to you. I'm just going to pretend that you kind of chose it. Right? It's exactly the same function as a salesperson saying, before you've decided to buy it, do you want to pay cash check or credit card? We do that to rape victims. Well, how do you want to deal with this thing that you kind of bought your way into? And go to therapy, whatever it is, don't make too much noise. Don't bug us with it. Don't make us feel disturbed and uncomfortable. That this is something that happens disturbingly often. By the way, it happens way more to boys and men than anyone will talk about, including the boys and men that it happens to. Social anchoring, and then that becomes gaslighting. Because you're convincing that person that they did make a decision to somehow participate in or accept something that they did not want to participate in, and they did not accept. And then it becomes the surrounding narrative. And so what they experienced, which was this random thing that I didn't deserve and had nothing to do with me, now becomes part of who they are. They're being gas lit. And then there's the scapegoating, which is people just going like, I don't know, like our society is full of sins, but if it gets heaped on this person, and they get sacrificed, you know, of course we're not doing this consciously. Don't make the mistake of, I always forget to tell people, people like, what, you really think? People sit down and think that? No, it's an unconscious instinctive function. Sociopaths do. Psychopaths do. There are some people who are so narcissistic that they take pleasure in their ability to pull this stuff off and to do it. There are people like that. But no, most people, it's unconscious. Most people are good people, but this is why I'm arguing that this is a fundamental, basic function of human psychology. When humans are stressed and overwhelmed with disturbances and how people relate and things that are going on. We find it much, much easier to go, well, the victim was already weak enough for it to happen to them. And it's already happened. And we're uncomfortable confronting bullies because they tend to have some level of power or aggression that they're willing to use. That's uncomfortable. Speaking truth to power, that's where that phrase came from. Speak truth to power. If that person is in power, but they're a bully, speak truth. Speak truth to power, right? So we're working on this stuff, and we're doing fairly well. And it goes sideways sometimes. Sometimes someone plays a victim and accuses someone of something they didn't do. And then that person becomes a victim and that person is being socially anchored. So it's complex. I don't know what the answer is. I'm only telling you that this happens way, way more often than you think. And I'm giving you the anatomy of the thing. And I'm arguing that this is normal human social behavior, that it has happened since the beginning. It is happening now. Don't pretend that it's not, because we can't solve the problem if you pretend that we've eliminated this and this is just some one-off psychological illness that only sick people do. It's not. Everyone does it. It's in you. It's in me. Furthermore, it's in everybody. And if we're going to manage it, we have to be really, really aware of the tendency to do that. All right, folks, I'm glad I got through it. That was an important one. I'm sure I'll speak to that again. But I hope you guys have a wonderful day and I will talk to you next time. Take care.

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Jon Sorensen


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