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Hubris, bullying and suffering

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Nature is red in tooth and claw when one species preys upon another in search of food; but destructive violence between members of the same species is comparatively rare, and usually only occurs under special circumstances of overcrowding or shortage of food. The other exceptional circumstance where it occurs is among domesticated animals

Man is uniquely violent and cruel. When murder or other violent behaviour occurs, man is behaving only like man and not at all like any other living creatures in the wild. But even in the domestic setting, deliberate cruelty seems peculiar to the human species. Men seem to enjoy subjecting their own kind to violence and cruelty, even (and, perhaps, particularly), when their victims are helpless and totally at their mercy. This enjoyment is legally sanctioned when it is referred to as hunting. It is called ‘game.’ But it is also sanctioned when carried out by the 'so called' security services when bystanders watch in horror the Police choking to death an innocent man because of his skin colour, or repressing the people in the streets who are begging for freedom.

In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance. Hubris is often associated with a lack of humility, though not always with the lack of knowledge. Those accused of hubris often come from higher social backgrounds, such as politicians or wealthy celebrities. An accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow, similar to the occasional pairing of Hubris and Nemesis in Greek mythology. The proverb "pride goeth (goes) before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (from the biblical Book of Proverbs, 16:18) is thought to sum up the modern use of hubris. It is also referred to as "pride that blinds", as it often causes one accused of hubris to act in foolish ways that belie common sense. In other words, the modern definition may be thought of as, "that pride that goes just before the fall".

Luck and chance play a role in many successful outcomes, and those who fail to acknowledge the role luck may have played in their success—and thereby overestimate their own merit and capabilities—have succumbed to hubris.

All that said the purpose of this comment is to assist those of us who are victims of those with hubris. That can occur in the form of harassment and bullying, at work, school, at home and in other social environments. Unfortunately this is becoming more common and will become even more so as our population grows, space diminishes and resources become scares.

In my practice I often see those who have suffered the consequences of bullying and harassment. Their confidence is often shattered; they are anxious, with low mood and in some cases moderately to severely depressed. The common theme in their accounts is their shock to learning that those who victimized them are so cruel. That they are untruthful, devious and dishonest yet able to succeed and cause so much harm. Then comes the realisation that those people succeeded because of their deviousness and with that the fear and distrust in other people. Then come hopelessness, helplessness and despair.

The medical doctor’s job is first and foremost to relieve suffering. In psychiatry, my field of Medicine, the aim is to relieve psychological pain and heal the scarring that this kind of victimisation causes to my patients. It is complex and involves talking therapy, medication, neuromodulation (TMS) and in some cases assisting through the process of seeking legal remedies by providing expert opinions and even taking a stand in Court for our patients.

Seeking help to fight a strong adversary on your own is not a sign of weakness. Getting help and accepting your own humility is the true sign of wisdom. If you are a victim, feeling helpless and are suffering, it is fine to seek help.

Dr Rui Mendel, M.D.


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