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Unsympathetic and Bullying

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Cyberlante (2020)


A mysterious young man moves to a new town to work in a low level job in an isolated hotel, run by an unsympathetic bully who has deadly secrets of his own.

This radical ‘indie’ film was shot in England in 2019 – out in the streets, in real locations using modern lightweight camera gear. The story follows the life of Matt, an expert in cyber technology who uses his skills to infiltrate the systems of a suspected murderer.

Director: James Smith

Writers: James Smith (Story), Caroline Spence (screenplay)

Stars: Gavin Gordon, Domenic Tiberius Russo, Emily Haigh, Mark Peachey


Through a roundabout route of past and Facebook connections I decided to contribute, as a Premiere Sponsor, in support of this film production. There was also a sliver of interest from my work as a psychotherapist, and my long, past experience as a teacher. My interest was piqued by the description of the hotel owner: unsympathetic bully.

Unsympathetic and bullying experiences are aspects that inevitably figure with the adults I work with in my psychotherapy practice. Through the work I do I believe those bullied in childhood are often left with a shard of self-hatred and a self-view that needs to be hidden to avoid the experience of shame vulnerability. This can lead to other dysfunctional situations which then tend to be the ones that lead the individual into therapy.

When bullying is accompanied by lack of empathy (unsympathetic = lacking sympathy = lacking empathy) the spectrum of behaviour and personality might easily move onto and up the psychopathic spectrum.

As a psychotherapist I thought to take the Cyberlante storyline and link to related psychotherapeutic experience and theory relating explore the psychopathology of the hotel owner (and later hopefully I can do the same for Matt).

The Hotel Owner

Unsympathetic and bullying.

I want to explore each characteristic on its own and then describe the combination

At times, in my work, I find the unsympathetic attitude covers a sensitive heart; a heart that has not been able to regulate and manage the feelings received of others. Such individuals in their childhood might be recognised as a sensitive soul, if they are lucky. The unlucky ones would be ridiculed and criticised and told to ‘man up’, toughen up, to stop being hysterical, or being a cry-baby

An unsympathetic attitude might represent a defence to being taken advantage of. So, Humans are unequivocally social animals. The essence of our humanness is inextricably tied up in the ways we relate to others. We are conceived and born within a matrix of relationships be shown and others have used - abused – this. Therefore, what develops is a shutting away of the display of sensitivity which is achieved by its denial and the thinking shifts from “I am not going to be sympathetic” to “I am unsympathetic” (insensitive).

The bullying could be an extension of being unsympathetic. Bullying may be a natural outcome of denying any sense of empathy and adopting a bullying attitude helps reinforce the unsympathetic character and protects the sensitive soul of the individual. Is this the Hotel Owner?

In my work with teenagers, and when working as a teacher I often found ‘the bully’ was hiding a hurt and pained soul; the teenager had experienced their emotional needs being ignored and even rejected. Therein is the hope and trust that the bully can transform, when their unmet relational needs are met in the present and those of childhood repaired.

I have switched from emotional to relational needs because of the relational nature of our being.

Humans are unequivocally social animals. The essence of our humanness is inextricably tied up in the ways we relate to others. We are conceived and born within a matrix of relationships.

(from Beyond Empathy: A Therapy of Contact-in Relationships by Richard Erskine, Janet Moursund, and Rebecca Trautmann. Page4)

Whilst my underlying philosophy holds to the goodness of human nature this does not equate to not recognising the badness in human nature. What I mostly hold to is any dysfunctional characteristics may be transformed to allow an individual to function more sociably, more relationally. Beneath a harsh and threatening exterior is often a frightened child, is this who our Hotel Owner is?

Or is the Hotel Owner something else ...

Some characteristics are less easily transformed and for me these tend be those related to the aggressive narcissist and psychopathic traits. The latter, it might be argued, are beyond transformation. For sure, the narcissist personality traits are workable in therapy, however combined with psychopathic overtures I find myself shuddering and withdrawing.

So, an alternative explanation of the Hotel Owner is he is, simply, a psychopath.

.. studies show there are a disproportionate number of psychopaths in corporate America. (In fact, some psychopathic traits are more common in CEO’s than in mentally disturbed criminals.)


In my previous work in commercial, industrial, and academic worlds, particularly the latter, there are many individuals in a position of authority and control that I have come across that would fit a loose description of psychopath. Essentially this is about personality traits that include lacking empathy, often narcissistic, callous, and manipulative self-serving behaviours; have little or no regard for others needs or discomforts, indeed may relish the discomfort in others.

To be honest I am not sure I would be able to work with a client presenting like this; though that may also be unlikely as such a personality is unlikely to seek therapy. However, I do recall an instant, outside of my role as a psychotherapist, when I was asked by such a person if therapy might be helpful. My response was a reflex to say they were beyond help. I have a little, but not a lot of, discomfort looking back at this response. Yet, in their question about therapy perhaps there was an ember of the hurt self that wished to burn brighter but is deeply buried underneath the psychopathic personality that continues to suffocate any sensation of hurt. Or maybe this person was once again employing another ploy to illicit my attention and goodwill that would be used for their own self-serving grandiosity at my expense.

One thing is very clear for me and that is caution is required in any interactions with such individuals.

The Observer newspaper ( published extracts from Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, 2007, by Robert Hare and details how to deal with such persons at work.

Essentially, my view is to maintain a professional and polite attitude and never, ever, think the person is going to support your needs. Actually, if you are thinking any boss, or organisation is going to look after you then have a rethink. Ultimately you are paid to perform certain duties in a particular working time frame. Do not think working longer hours, taking on additional duties will mean you will be taken care of; harsh but so often true. Should such expectations resonate with you then this points towards your own unmet relational needs that you seek to resolve, or soothe, through work, rather than in your own relationships.

Meanwhile, remembering the impetus for this writing was my interest in the upcoming film Cyberlante, why not check out the film at Cyberlante (2020), and of course for therapeutic input check on my website ….

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