22 June 2017

Bullying 101

by Eve Fisher

DISCLAIMER: Almost 40 years ago, a dear friend of mine
committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his running vehicle.
I claim no objectivity in what follows.

Earlier this week, Leigh Lundin posted The Wickedest Woman in the World, a great blog post about the Michelle Carter case. A lot of us chimed in. During the discussions, I agreed that an article about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome would be valuable, along with a little thing on hybristophilia, but later, later, later… And I will. But after I listened, briefly, to Rush Limbaugh (I try to keep an ear on what the self-proclaimed Doctor of Democracy is up to) and got ticked off, I've decided that the REAL description of Ms. Carter's behavior is bullying.

You see, Rush was defending Michelle Carter, saying that the case against her is nothing but liberal BS, because liberals don't believe in free speech (oh, Rush, if you only knew!). He said, "this woman, Michelle Carter, she may be just downright mean. She may have no heart. She may just be brutal, getting on the phone and telling this guy to kill himself, ’cause he said he was going to, and if he doesn’t now he’s a coward and whatever. But she didn’t kill him. And yet so many people are coming along thinking he didn’t do, he’s a victim, she did it. This is 180 degrees out of phase. If we’re gonna start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do — now, I know what some of you think. “But, Rush, you just got through saying that the Democrats turned this Hodgkinson guy into a lunatic.” I do believe that. But..." (See full Transcript for more of the typical Rush twist on how it's different when…)

Well, first off, sorry, Rush, but we already penalize people for things they say. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences of said speech. But more on that later.

Secondly, what Rush presented was the standard bully's defense:
  • "I didn't MAKE them do anything."
  • "It's THEIR fault if they can't take a joke."
  • "Can I help it if they're a loser?"
  • "I didn't do anything wrong."
  • "Hey, 'sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me'. So what's the problem?"
Okay, show of hands, how many people out there have ever been bullied? How many felt helpless? How many felt afraid?

Scut Farkus
Scut Farkus
Let's use Scut Farkus (of "A Christmas Story") as an example: Scut had all the neighborhood boys terrorized to the point that, when he came up and yelled at them "Come here!" they came. No, he didn't lasso them or hold a gun, he just yelled and they did it. And there's at least one scene where a boy turns around and gives him his arm to twist. They were thoroughly cowed.

But it can get infinitely worse than that.

When we first moved up to South Dakota, I subbed at the high school for a while, and a student there committed suicide because of the constant, non-stop bullying that he received. That was before internet and cellphones. Google bullying and suicide and see the number of hits you come up with. And cyber-bullying, with teens and adolescents, is pushing the number of suicides up.

According to PEW research on teens and cellphones, one in three teens sends 100 text messages a day. 15% send 200 text messages a day. And a certain percentage of that is cyber-bullying. And a certain percentage of that leads to suicides. Michelle Carter exchanged over 1000 text messages with Conrad Roy, encouraging him, telling him, badgering him to commit suicide. What makes it worse is that she knew that he had attempted suicide already, back in 2012, and that he was battling anxiety and depression. After learning that he was planning to kill himself she repeatedly discouraged him from committing suicide in 2012 and 2014 and encouraged him to "get professional help". But then her attitude changed and in July 2014, she started thinking that it would be a "good thing to help him die" (Wikipedia) Thus the 1000 text messages. That's cyber-bullying, and it worked. She even admitted it, in an infamous text to a friend - “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I f***ing told him to get back in."

And why did Michelle Carter want Conrad Roy dead? Because she wanted to receive the sympathy of her classmates as the grieving girlfriend, who only wanted the best for her boyfriend, and the best was that he die.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo talks to Michelle Carter in court.
Michelle Carter - from CNN,
"Text Messages Michelle Carter Used
How many of you have been or have known the victim of domestic abuse? There's often more verbal than physical, because it's all about control. Here are some of the many signs of domestic abuse, a/k/a bullying (from the Domestic Violence and Abuse Checklist.):

Does the abuser:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?
Notice that I did not include any physically violent act. All of the above are verbal, emotional abuse; and they're enough to leave the victim answering "yes" to, Do you:
Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight"
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Domestic abuse is bullying, carried on into adulthood. There's a direct link between bullying in childhood and domestic abuse in adulthood (Psychiatry Online): "Men who had bullied schoolmates once in a while were twice as likely to have engaged in violence against a female partner within the previous year as were men who said they had never bullied their school peers. And men who had admitted bullying frequently in school were four times as likely to have done so as were men who had never bullied in school."

On top of that, there's a direct link between domestic abuse and mass shootings (see here and here, too.) Because bullying is all about control and fear. Domestic abuse is all about control and fear. Mass shooting is all about control and fear.

Okay, that was quite a long and winding road. And not every bully, cyber-bully, or just narcissist is going to end up a mass shooter. But I noticed this in the Wikipedia article cited above: This decision "could set legal precedent for whether it's a crime to tell someone to commit suicide." My response?

I CERTAINLY HOPE SO.

Why wouldn't it be a crime to tell someone to kill themselves? Why wouldn't it be a crime to gaslight a person? Why wouldn't it be a crime to do your best to INCREASE someone's mental illness? Or to use their mental illness to your advantage?

Here's the deal, Rush and followers: I believe 100% in free speech. You can say anything you please, anywhere, any time. But I also believe that free speech has consequences. After all,
  • If you yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, you're liable for the results.
  • If you threaten the President's life, you're going to get a visit from the Secret Service.
So why, if you badger someone who's battling depression and mental illness with over 1000 texts telling them to kill themselves, and they do it, why wouldn't you be culpable?
Of course, the bullies would totally disagree: to a bully, all the consequences flow one way, onto the victim, who is solely responsible for what happens to her/him. And so we have Michelle Carter, new icon of free speech, who told her boyfriend to "get back in the f*****g truck" so that she could go cry about his death to her friends.

Next time, Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and hybristophilia, or why Erik Menendez has a wife.

25 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

All this time, I thought it was ‘Scot’ Farkus. Scut is far more appropriate.

Eve, your gut instinct and gut intelligence shine through the article. Often the far right diverge from conservatism, particularly Bush’s compassionate conservatism, but I have to wonder what circle of Dante they’ve wandered into. Where are their Christian values? Is the implication that a victim like Conrad Roy somehow deserves his sad and miserable fate?

While I agree with the bullying assessment, I also respect the Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome you and Fran thought of. Doesn’t it also include elements of bullying?

Suicide is a terrible event and I cannot imagine the hopelessness, desperation, and heartache of a victim. I’m well aware medications can sometimes trigger suicide, but chemically altered thoughts are no better. I have to admire those who man(woman) suicide hotlines.

Thanks, Eve. I’m sorry about your friend and students.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, if the legal community truly sees this as a watershed ruling and it goes really, really wrong, I can’t imagine the mayhem that follows. Our most vulnerable will be at risk, especially our children.

Just a thought: In grade school, would you say Limbaugh was the bully or the bullied?

Steve Liskow said...

A thoughtful and disturbing post, Eve.

I was occasionally bullied in school, but I turned out to be fairly athletic, even though I was small, studious, and wore glasses. That solved most of the problem. I know other kids who weren't so lucky.

Many comedians and actors tell of being bullied as kids. Humor was both their defense AND their way out...

Your link between bullying and abuse is intriguing and worth pursuing, though. We know that children do as they are taught. A child who grows up in an abusive household is likely to continue the pattern (either aggressor or victim) into the next generation. In fact, that's an issue that becomes a subplot in both my roller derby novels.

And yes again there IS free speech, but DOUBLE YES on the consequences...although I don't remember 45 getting any visits when he incited the NRA to handle his HRC problem. I'm concerned about all the accusations and name-calling flying around in the wake of the Scalise shooting because it simplifies a complex social issue that we're not really willing to grasp in its entirety. I don't know the answers, but I think your article hear leads us toward the important questions.

O'Neil De Noux said...

Well written and thoughtful piece. Did not work many bullying cases when I was a young cop in the 1970s-80s but when I returned to law enforcement in the 21st Century at a university, we had them. The Louisiana laws on stalking and cyberstalking are strong and we enforced them. Unfortunately, unless the victim came forward and wanted to press charges we could not arrest. But being cops we knew how to warn off bullies. We also had excellent physicologists on campus (free service to students, faculty and staff) who helped victims and helped turn bullies around.

Fran Rizer said...

Eve, I have nothing intellectual to say about this post, except

I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING (and yes, I know that the caps mean I'm shouting)

The first year I taught, one of my sixteen-year-old students committed suicide in October. Since then, I've had several friends take "the permanent solution to a temporary problem." That description sounds so slick, but it doesn't touch the anguish of those left behind or the torture of the victims (and yes, I consider those who commit suicide as victims). Many of you know that my best friend was beaten to death during an in-home invasion nine years ago. Three weeks ago, her ex-husband committed suicide. It is destroying my friend's daughter and three children.

Eve, I bow to your intelligent approach and am proud that I agree with you.


Eve Fisher said...

Thank you, all of you.
One more point - it is illegal to threaten to take someone's life, so why wouldn't it be illegal to manipulate someone into taking their own? I can't see why not.

I too was bullied in school. I withdrew into myself (and the world of books) for a long time. It was after I ran away from home that I discovered my anger, and discovered I had learned (from my home and school) how to stay calm while thoroughly pissed off and frightened. It was a short step to being able to use words as weapons (sarcasm, argument, logic - whatever worked). And so a verbal warrior was born.

As for Rush - who knows? I think he's always been the bully, but I could be wrong.

Robert Lopresti said...

Thanks for this, Eve. Well said. By the way, I grew up listening to Jean SHepherd on the radio everynight, so I knew about Scut Farkus and Grover Dill long before the movie came out.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was bullied. I still feel the scars. Male teachers don’t realize how much girls bully or that they bully at all. Boys throw punches. Girls throw words that cut through flesh and tear the heart to shreds. I pray Ms Carter's judge isn’t swayed by Limbaugh and his sort and puts her ass where it deserves to be, in prison. I'm frightened because he's let her out on bail.

Anonymous said...

I mean I'm frightened he might give her little or no time. But maybe vulnerable people should be frightened too and about the messages this sends.

Melodie Campbell said...

I've done a lot of research into sociopaths (I was a hospital director.) One of the things that research tells us: what sociopaths want most is your sympathy. If they have your sympathy, then they can exert control over you. People feel sorry for them. Thus, people will allow the pitied one to get away with things. Most people (like me) hate to be pitied. Not so, sociopaths. They love it, and will strive for it.

Eve Fisher said...

Excellent point, Melodie. Sociopaths will tell you anything you want to hear, will weep on cue, make promises, etc. - and then, when they've gotten the OK, go skipping off with a big fat smile on their face because they got away with it. Again.

Rob, I didn't listen to Jean Shepherd, but I read "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" when I was a little kid and loved it.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, keep those types of articles coming. People can't hear that information enough times.

not fooled said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ou47n22nEWQ
I thought it was only guys stupid enough to excuse Carter, but there’s one idiot girl too who seems to say Carter was funning, she didn’t really mean it. The comments on her youtube mention Charlie Manson used only words, he didn’t physically FORCE anyone to do anything, but they sure did.

Elizabeth said...

Unfortunately, I know more than I want to know about bullies. Part 1: When my daughter was 16, another girl at school punched her in the eye, detaching the iris almost 90%. Went to an eye specialist in Phila. & she was given a couple of kinds of ointment & frequent exams. The thing we were so afraid of was glaucoma. If she went five years with no vision problems, we could figure we dodged the bullet. Thankfully, that happened.

So, we lived in a small town & long story short, since the assault happened on school property, all the lawyers I attempted to retain to sue the school for medical expenses, pain & suffering etc., claimed conflict of interest as they represented the school system in other matters!

As to the perp, her plan had been to join the Air Force after high school. But the Air Force wouldn't take her after she committed aggravated assault. It seems she may have had a prior offense.

Part 2: The son of an old friend was stabbed to death in a road rage incident in Los Angeles in 1999. The perp served nine years for manslaughter. Why he wasn't found guilty of murder, I don't know. Anyway, he was released in about 2008 or 2009 & at some point after that, my friend (his mother) was drinking one night with another lady, whom I knew slightly. The other lady was drunk & wanted to hunt the perp down & kill him, but the mother managed to talk her out of it!!!

Eve Fisher said...

Notfooled, I suspect that the girl defending Ms. Carter might have a history of cyberbullying herself. If nothing else, she certainly lives in a bubble of self-righteousness.
Elizabeth - thank God your daughter kept her eyesight. And that your friend talked the other lady out of killing the perp - it would not have ended well.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, I came across this brief clip of a larger program, which offers a number of illuminating points including Munchausen and referring to Carter as a teenage black widow.

The other point worth noting is an answer to the grey matter deficited who claim a defense of free speech, she used only words and words can’t hurt… reminding us that Charles Manson merely spoke to his followers, using neither physical force nor obvious coercion, and yet Manson was held responsible as the central figure in the murders of several people.

Leigh Lundin said...

Whoops. I see another reader brought up Manson. I'm impressed by the insight people like our readers such as NotFooled and Elizabeth, and you and Fran have brought together here. Bless Elizabeth, too. What an ordeal.

Eve Fisher said...

Leigh, you're absolutely right - Charles Manson wasn't at any of the murder sites, and was convicted and given life in prison anyway.

And I think the classic answer to everyone who says, well words don't matter, and you can't talk someone into doing what they don't want to do, is, Really? What about advertising? Corporations spend billions of dollars every year on advertising specifically designed to influence our behavior, so either (1) yes, they can influence our / your behavior or (2) they're flushing all that money down a toilet. Which is it?

Elizabeth said...

I heard about a case years ago, don't remember names or anything, where a very depressed woman threatened to jump out a window. Boyfriend or husband said, "Go ahead." She did. It killed her & he was convicted of murder.

Elizabeth said...

Apologies for making this comment thread so long. But I was thinking about my friend Barbara & her son David who was killed. I wouldn't kill anyone out of revenge, but if it would have brought David back to life, I would kill the perp with my bare hands.

Leigh Lundin said...

Elizabeth, don't mind the number of comments… it helps us know people are reading!

When I was a student, a girl I knew had climbed up on a Staten Island parapet. I'm convinced a wrong word would have made her jump. I was able to get close enough to sling her over my shoulder to safety, but that was a scary moment.

P Dizzle13 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P Dizzle13 said...

Great article. I believe that most of the people who defend Michelle Carter (including Limbaugh) didn't actually read the texts that she sent. I think they are under a false impression that she became fed up and fired off a few hurtful messages. The way Limbaugh discusses the issue really seems like he has no understanding that the texts were over the course of months and that Michelle Carter was systematic in her persuasion of the victim.

Thomas Pluck said...

Great article. Emotional abuse is often accepted and tolerated. We're told "sticks and stones" as you mentioned, as if continued belittlement has no consequences.

Eve Fisher said...

Thomas, I've heard a lot of people who've been abused emotionally say that it would have been better if they'd just been physically beaten.