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'The Help' Illustrates A Narcissistic Bully in Need of Help

Sun, 26 Feb 2012 17:29:47 EST

Hilly Holbrook is the character audiences love to hate in "The Help," a box office favorite nominated in the Academy Awards categories of best picture and best actress.

Hilly is a master manipulator and equal opportunity bully, played with panache by Bryce Dallas Howard. She enjoys dominating friends as well as the hired help, who she keeps in their place by enforcing the dictates of racial prejudice in the South. Her young socialite friends won't stand up to her for fear of being dropped from the inner circle.

Hilly is a classic narcissist, according to life coach Martha Beck's description. Narcissists bully others because they are afraid of being seen as unworthy. They need to feel perfect and can't stand any challenges to their self-image.

"To deal with a narcissist, it helps to understand that they generally detest themselves at some level," Beck wrote in the article, "How to Handle the Narcissist in Your Life," published in O, The Oprah Magazine.

To spot a narcissist, Beck recommends doing a gut check on how you feel after being with that person. Are you filled with self-doubt, confusion or shame? Do you feel invisible? If so, you're probably dealing with a narcissist, Beck says. On the other hand, "if you feel warm, nourished and valued, you've probably encountered someone with healthy self-esteem."

Beck recommends four ways to protect yourself from being hurt by a narcissist:

• Do what the narcissist wants (what Hilly's friends did)
• Refuse attempts to dominate (what author Skeeter did)
• Play to the narcissist's ego with praise and compliments
• Walk away (Beck's recommendation)

Learning how to handle narcissistic bullies is critically important for today's teens and pre-teens says Betty Hoeffner, president and co-founder of Hey U.G.L.Y. (Unique Gifted Lovable You). Her nonprofit organization is dedicated to empowering youth to be part of the solution to bullying through their website, radio show and curriculum for schools and youth serving agencies.

Hoeffner saw "The Help" twice and reacted to Hilly differently each time. First she was "deeply disturbed" by the character, then she felt compassion when she recognized the "frightened little girl" behind the bully.

"I could actually see my former self in her actions," Hoeffner said. "While I was never a bigot, I was mean, controlling and manipulative. Later in life, I found out this persona was my way of trying to fool people into believing I was cool because, deep inside, I never felt good enough."

Hey U.G.L.Y. provides vehicles for young people to avoid being preyed upon by bullies. Hoeffner was inspired to create the program "Bullying Bystanders Unite" after a teen revealed he had been thrown to the ground and repeatedly kicked in the face by a bully while 12 girls stood around and watched. "Bullying Bystanders Unite" is part of a nationwide effort to teach kids how to safely come to the aid of someone being bullied. Their "Cyberbullied Unite," an on-line club where kids talk about counteracting cyberbullying, which refers to the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices to bully others.

In preparing to play Hilly, Howard tried to understand the character's behavior. In an interview with SheKnows magazine, Howard said, "She believes in certain things. It's not only misguided, it's evil, but there is an origin for her beliefs ... it's important to understand the psychology behind it."

Hoeffner says "The Help" has a strong take-away message. "Ultimately, it's about choosing the type of people you want to hang out with. If the narcissist runs out of friends to bully hopefully they'll be forced to get professional help."

"Bullies don't have much self-esteem," says Chicago-based therapist Jill Zimmerman Rutledge has counseled teens for more than 20 years and is an advisor to Hey U.G.L.Y.. "They project the qualities they don't like about themselves onto the victim, making the victim more of an object and less of a person. It's easier to bully someone when their thoughts, feelings and humanity are not considered."

Source: WebWire

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