Every one of us, at some time in our career has faced the challenge of working with a bully: be it a client or a colleague. Webster defines a bully as a ‘noisy, overbearing person who tyrannizes the weak.” Even though we don’t start out as weak, being on the receiving end of hostile treatment quickly lends itself to becoming poor in spirit. As a result, we may start perceiving ourselves as “weak” or inadequate in our work. We may feel anxious or depressed. We begin to manifest symptoms of trauma. Do you know why people bully other people? Because they can.
The gut-kick we get when someone is being out of line is a physiological call to remember our higher purpose. Many times remembering our higher purpose is, in and of itself, enough to keep us confident and centered without taking on the bully’s inappropriate remarks. If we are struggling with Vicarious Trauma, we are challenged with remembering our higher purpose and are at high risk to believe the bully’s negative evaluations. When a person seems more interested in being abusive than in working with us as a client or collegially, it is important to stay conscious and cordially set a boundary.
When you find yourself in the position of being bullied we suggest sharing your purpose or Mission Statement with the bully and then requesting what you need from him/her in order to make it happen. We once worked with a young lawyer who was having difficulty with a belligerent client. The client was accusatory and rude on three occasions. Three was a charm. Once we had worked with the lawyer to understand that letting go of the client might be the only way for a more rewarding helping relationship to flow in, the lawyer was ready to share with the client how she needed to work.
The next time the client took out his frustrations on the lawyer, she listened to her gut ‘kicking” and took a risk. Coming from a neutral position, the lawyer told the client: “Family law is very important to me. I am honored to help people in need and I work hard to do a good job for my clients. Your relationship with me is also very important and in the spirit of having a great working relationship together, I need to tell you that sometimes I feel uncomfortable in how you approach me. Now, I realize that you are a busy man who is anxious about this divorce and you want results. Well, I want what you want. I’d like you to know that I work at my absolute best when I am feeling respected. I make a commitment to use my legal knowledge to the fullest for you and I’d like you to demonstrate your trust in my ability to do so. With that combination, we will succeed.” The client thought for a second and then apologized for his abruptness. He then remarked that he really had complete confidence in the lawyer’s abilities to get the job done. In time, he asked the lawyer to help him with several other issues and referred her several new clients. The lawyer felt great about her work and her stress level diminished.
Every bully is really a blessing because he/she offers us the opportunity to reaffirm our Mission Statement. Sharing our higher purpose and requesting what we need to make it happen serves both the bully and the helping professional reciprocally. In our example, the bully is given the opportunity to get his needs met through practicing courtesy and respect and the lawyer was empowered to do her job without suffering. This sets the stage for a win-win relationship, which helps keep us rich in spirit as we continue to meet the challenges of Vicarious Trauma in our work.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Ellie Izzo has been in clinical practice for over thirty years. She developed Rapid Advance Psychotherapy, a standardized five session brief model of counseling which was presented at the American Counseling Association convention in Atlanta in 1993 and again in Honolulu in 2008. She is the author of The Bridge to I Am: Rapid Advance Psychotherapy, co-author of Day After Day the Price You Pay: Managing Your Second-Hand Shock™ and The Second-Hand Shock Workbook™. She is co-director of the Vicarious Trauma Institute and presents extensively on the subject. Her website is www.VicariousTrauma.com

Ellie conducts all phases of psychotherapy. She also serves as a Divorce Coach, Child Specialist and Team Manager in the process of Collaborative Divorce, whereby a team of professionals help a couple move through divorce respectfully, without litigating.

Ellie presents for various conferences and conventions. She hosted a call-in radio show in Phoenix and served as Self-Help Editor for a nationally syndicated trade magazine. Ellie is currently the psychology advisor for AZ Teen Magazine. She runs several ongoing groups called the Encouragers, where people meet to offer each other peace, support and acceptance.

She is a member of the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Mental Health Counselors Association and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, and Collaborative Divorce Professionals of Arizona.

Ellie is married with children and grandchildren. Her office is located in Scottsdale, Arizona.