Beating the bully: How this psychologist gives bullying victims self-belief
Being bullied is a very stressful experience. But chartered psychologist Aryanne Oade tells Joy Orpen that there are ways of tackling the problem. She has written several insightful books on this troublesome topic
Aryanne Oade knows pretty much all there is to know about certain individuals who are determined to make other people's lives a complete and utter misery.
These people stalk their usually innocent prey; they pounce covertly and overtly; they lie, and they bend the truth. They are the bullies of this world.
But the good news is this: no matter how powerless a victim may feel, the bully's damaging behaviour can be limited, or even halted. However, the hapless target may need a hand from a specialist, to help them tackle their tormentor.
Aryanne, who was born in Wales, and grew up in Liverpool, is definitely well qualified to offer advice on bullying. A degree in psychology from Durham University was followed by an MSc in occupational psychology from Sheffield University. She then worked in the field of business psychology, advising clients on customer service, conflict management and leadership issues. But she didn't feel fulfilled by the challenges.
So, in 1994, Aryanne began coaching business people, who were mostly based in the City of London. Investment bankers, lawyers, accountants and technologists consulted her about issues such as lacking confidence, or having a low impact in spite of their undoubted talents. "My job was to help them develop more confidence, so they could present more robustly and be heard," she says.
Nine years later, Aryanne made the momentous decisions to move from the intense buzz of the City to the countryside. "I bought a small farm in the wilds of Yorkshire," she says. "I've got eight sheep, a hairy lurcher, and a sweet cat called Esmerelda. When I look out of my window, all I can see is nature."
Today, Aryanne runs a vibrant practice from the idyllic setting of her home in the north of England. She has written and published several books about bullying - her most recent being Bullying In Teams: How To Survive It And Thrive. She consults with clients from all over the world, including Ireland; in some cases, it's online, through Skype; while in other instances, she coaches clients over the phone.
However, some fortunate people are able to make their way to Yorkshire. "If they're coming from far away, we'd generally work together over two days," she says. "They stay in Haworth, a beautiful village nearby, where the Bronte sisters lived. I combine business psychology and acting. My associates are all professional actors. We recreate the most difficult situations my clients have encountered, in the safety of the coaching room, at my property. This allows them to learn how to handle even the very worst cases of bullying."
Aryanne uses a three-pronged approach to tackling the issues, and these are: detoxification; self-protection at the time of a future attack; and developing a bulletproof mindset. This is true for all bullying situations, including those within teams, the focus of her latest book.
She begins by helping people understand the bullying dynamic, so they can better understand how they lost their power. "Most bullies are motivated by fear, jealousy and envy," Aryanne explains. "They have the fear that they might fail; that someone is better than them, and that they will take kudos away from them. They may be jealous of someone's skills, success, or social qualities. So, they target what they perceive as 'the opposition'."
Aryanne says the bully will try to target three areas of power, and these are: your self-esteem or self-belief; your reputational influence (among your peers or work colleagues); and your organisation status (your ability to do your job well).
"So, if the bully is your manager, they have loads of room to target you, by creating bogus accusations about your performance," she explains. "If you allow this behaviour to continue unchallenged, your mental and emotional health may be seriously compromised. This can have devastating consequences for someone who is conscientious and always strives to do their work well."
Aryanne says her most distressed cases have been those clients who have borne the brunt of someone's bullying behaviour for a very long time. Making matters even worse for them is the fact that even though it was plain to other people what was going on, no one did anything. "The experience of feeling powerless is very, very distressing," she says.
So, the next stage is to look at how you might begin to recover from previous assaults and respond differently to the bully in the future, while at the same time protecting yourself from the toxic damage they are seeking to cause.
"Bullies who misrepresent facts run the risk of being unmasked by the truth," says Aryanne. "Truth always trumps lies, and when truth is put on the table in the moment of an attack, it alters the evolving bullying dynamic, sometimes even stopping it dead. In circumstances where a bully is lying, slandering or otherwise misrepresenting you, there will always be facts you can use to confront bullying behaviour."
Aryanne believes the main battleground between you and the bully is what goes on in your mind. "What you believe about yourself and your work is your shield against the lies and slander that the bully generates," she explains. "You have to learn to protect yourself at the time of an attack," she advises. "However, some people can only work out how to respond appropriately afterwards, when it's too late. That's where our actors come in; we recreate scenarios, and coach clients on what to say and do while under attack. This allows them to retain some control, to clarify truth from fiction, and to put the issues back to the bully. The main tool for this is what you think about yourself. Bullies are on the lookout for signs of vulnerability and confusion, which they will try to exploit."
But what if, like many of us, the client lacks confidence in themselves personally, socially or in the work they do? "People who have been bullied experience plummeting self-belief, because of the campaign against them," explains Aryanne. "But I take the view that confidence is a skill that can be learned with some effort, even quite late in life. Some of my most successful cases have involved clients who worked very hard on developing self-belief. So when they leave the programme, they have much more confidence than they ever had, even before they were bullied."
For more information on 'Bullying In Teams: How To Survive It And Thrive', and Aryanne Oade's other books, see oadeassociates.com/books-publishing