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Jeff Blume, a licensed psychologist based in Beverly Hills who has worked with creative talent in Hollywood for 30 years, spoke with THR about bullying in the entertainment world, how to address it, the culture that has encouraged it and coping mechanisms for people caught in abusive situations.
How often do you see clients who have been bullied in Hollywood?
Relatively frequently. And it happens to all, from assistants to people who are super famous. When they have a good reputation, a good name, it can be hard to say something because they don’t want to be seen as a victim or seen as someone who is causing trouble. There can be physical bullying, emotional bullying, sexual bullying and verbal bullying.
What are the effects on people?
It can be devastating. It affects self-esteem. It can cause depression and anxiety and a lot of confusion because often they have trusted the person and then some line gets crossed. It’s very hard for people in this position to know how to trust. People can become suicidal. Or they will start catastrophizing and feeling like their career could be over because somebody has power over them. They can often feel quite paralyzed.
How does that manifest?
They feel like if they say something, they could lose their job or lose access. It creates such internal conflict because people feel like there is no way out. It’s that double bind. “If I stand up for myself, I may never work again, and I have a family to feed or it’s my creativity that I want to flourish.” If they don’t say anything, the situation continues or even accelerates, and they often have to amputate parts of themselves — emotionally, psychologically — to continue to perform their job.
What do you mean by “amputate parts of themselves”?
We have an ideal self, the person that we want to be. And feel. A person who is bullied may present a thick skin, but inwardly they are perpetually wounded.
What about the bullies — how did they get this way?
It can be insecurity. It can be turning passive into active, which means they are treating others the way they were treated as a child. Maybe they were bullied. And they often have self-hatred and take out their own pain on others. A lot of people want someone to think about them. It’s an odd thing where people want to be thought about even if it’s bad. Of course, there is stress, too. Some people aren’t thinking and they just bark. They lose their empathy.
Is there something unique to Hollywood that promotes bullying behavior?
It’s very cultural. It’s been reinforced for years. It’s often been seen as a rite of passage or a sign of power. In the past, there was a lot of collusion where either no one believed it or they looked the other way. Fortunately, things are starting to turn now where the victim is being heard more than ever. We are in a revelational time where the message is that bullying in Hollywood is less tolerated and there are more consequences. People are getting blacklisted. People who are bullied have much more leverage now.
What advice do you have for someone who’s in a difficult situation at work?
Set boundaries and say, “This needs to stop or I’m going to report it.” Address the situation head-on. Empower yourself by setting limits and being strong. And that starts within oneself: “Do I have enough self-worth and self-respect to set that limit?” The key is to stay focused and build that sense of self.
How do you recommend doing that?
Self-care, and that includes everything from meditation to exercise and maybe even get into therapy to find out where they may be lacking in feelings of self-worth. Some people have co-dependency issues, and that gets acted out in the workplace. Be aware of mixed signals that you may be sending that could make it seem like, “That’s OK. You can treat me that way.” You want to show the perpetrator or the bully that you mean business.
This story first appeared in the May 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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