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Fifty Shades of Civility

With 50 Shades of Grey making the rounds on cable this month, we have an opportunity to peek into the psyche of a psychological bully.

Woman Humiliated By Cyber BullyAt the root of this highly stylized version of the Pacific Northwest, is an impressionable young woman, Anastasia Steele, and her relentless tycoon pursuer, Christian Grey.  His charming good looks, and the endless wealth complete with helicopter rides and new automobiles whisks her off her feet.  Yet, despite the clear power differential between Anastasia and Christian, by the end of the film, we can all learn a thing or two from Anastasia.

Strip away the highly sexual content and look beneath to Christian’s character.  He must always have it his way. He must be in control and rule almost every interaction.  Certainly, he does it with charm, guile, and boatloads of money; but the bottom line, it is all about him controlling her.

He is a psychological bully.

Within this power differential, Christian also runs hot and cold… “I want you, but I don’t.  I’ll be with you, but I’m not the guy for you.“ And then he steps up his pursuit when he senses he is losing control of the power.

Anastasia, while initially caught up in the pursuit, soon realizes she is the object of such control; she is the target…. the object of his domination.  She begins by asking questions about his relationship style, and all his rules. Though he has rules, he apparently has no boundaries. She soon realizes she must take responsibility for accepting or rejecting the power differential.  The movie closes with him trying to regain power, and she simple says, “STOP.”

The psychological bullying happens for so many in our day-to-day lives. Perhaps we are not courted with glitzy dinners and five star living quarters, but the psychological bully will run hot and cold.  The bully will make promises, then break the same promises.  The psychological bully will offer to be present or consistent, yet run away or recoil at the idea of truly committing. The bully keeps the target off balance and in an inferior position.

While this psychological bully in Christian Grey is couched in some erotic backdrop of dominatrices and sex toys, absent such elements, a psychological bully still exploits a power deferential, often runs hot and cold, and uses such ploys to keep the target literally dominated.  The psychological bully doesn’t have to be a partner or lover; this behavior also is present in bosses, colleagues, perhaps friends and family.

Consider some things to learn from Anastasia:

  •  Acknowledge what you are dealing with.  Look past the initial appearance of what the bully presents.  He or she must be attractive in some way (financially, emotionally, professionally) to reel you in.  Consider, does the psychological bully control each interaction?  Is it the bully who sets the terms for engagement and conversation? Does he or she play on your insecurities and point them out? Is there a shared experience or is one party controlling the other?
  •  Know your limits.  Dealing with an insecure personality who also has power can be difficult. However, note for yourself what you will and will not accept.  Similar to Anastasia, you have the right to consider, and reconsider the terms of your relationship and interaction.
  • Recognize you can’t ‘fix’ the bully. Sometimes the psychological bully is truly a person we care about, a friend, an uncle, or a sister.  Yet recognize that bullying behavior often emerges from a deep seeded issue, or trauma.  Often such issues require counseling or coaching.
  •  Be willing to say STOP.  Set appropriate boundaries with anyone trying to exert unwelcomed control. We have a responsibility to self-advocate and self-determine our own interactions, progress, and potential.   We have a right to tell anyone if his or her behaviors are controlling, abusive, or domineering.

As noted in several studies on bullying, the bully often operates from hurt or insecurity, then uses bullying and controls to protect that insecurity. In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian admits he is damaged given his early life with his birth mother.  In turn, there is nothing Anastasia can do to help him.  Much like in real life, we need to decide for ourselves what is a healthy situation, and have the courage to stop abusive behavior, no matter how seductive the package may be.


Read more posts by Leah Hollis, Ed.D. here. Leah is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.


The online feature magazine, JenningsWire.com, is created by National PR Firm, Annie Jennings PR that specializes in providing book promotion services to self-published and traditionally published authors. Annie Jennings PR books authors, speakers and experts on major high impact radio talk interview shows, on local, regionally syndicated and national TV shows and on influential online media outlets and in prestigious print magazines and newspapers across the country.