Henny Penny and the Great Conflict

Jasmine came to see me about her anxiety. She couldn’t identify the source of her anxiety was, she just knew she spent her time worrying about what might happen.


I often work with stories. It can be helpful sometimes. I ask if there is a fairy story/myth that you can think of that relates to your situation.

When I asked Jasmine she replied the story of Henny Penny related to her.


Jasmine wasn’t sure why, but thought it was because Henny Penny was constantly anxious about things. In this case, that the sky would fall on her head.

Henny Penny was a hen living in a barnyard. One day as she was pecking up food from the ground an acorn fell off a tree and hit her on the back of her head. She didn’t know what hit her. She jumped to the conclusion that a piece of sky had fallen on her head. She was terrified. The sky was falling!

The story continues but it was this fear of the sky falling that struck a chord with Jasmine. This was her feeling of dread. The same dread henny penny experienced at the looming danger of the sky falling.


Over time I taught Jasmine to be more aware of her feelings and to explore her anxiety when she noticed it. As she became more proficient at identifying her anxiety she identified her biggest anxiety being around work.


The biggest problem there was James. He was brash and loud and very toxic. James liked things his way. He liked to be the centre of attention. Everyone was expected to like him and he decided who was in the in crowd.

Jasmine’s manager thought James was wonderful and never offered her support or asked James to stop his behaviour despite being witness to it on a number of occasions.

James didn’t like Jasmine. She didn’t go along with his games, preferring to get on with her work. James did not like that and went out of his way to exclude her and interfere with her work.

He made noise, took things from her desk and spoke disparagingly about her sometimes within earshot.


One day Jasmine had enough. James took her last pen from her desk. She was stuck in a meeting with no pen to write notes with. So she went to James to speak about it.

Jasmine had rehearsed in session with me how to talk to James in a “win-win” conflict resolution way.


There were a few rules to adhere to:

• Decide what you want to resolve and stick to that

• Be a broken record, repeating what it is you want

• Use I language such “When xxx happened I felt xxx and I would like xxxx.

• Avoid the use of “you” which can be threatening. Of course you may have to use “you” on occasion but use it sparingly and in a non threatening way

• Don’t be led astray by “red herrings”. These are things the other person may throw in to take you off topic. Just say “We are not talking about that we are talking about …” and back to the broken record.

• If things get heated, or the other person refuses to participate in a healthy way with the conversation walk away after announcing that the conversation is getting heated/unhelpful etc. and it is a good idea for both parties to have a break.

• When you feel the conversation has reached a point where you have got your point across and the other person is still not accepting that. Reiterate what you want and walk away.


So that is what Jasmine did.

James did not like Jasmine having this discussion with him. He tried all sorts of tactics to gain control of the conversation.

“You did such and such to this other person”. We are not talking about that, we are talking about the things that are being taken from my desk.

“No-one likes you”. We are not talking about that, we are talking about the things that are being taken from my desk.

“You have never said this was a problem before”. Yes I have, I raised this on xxx occasion and you reacted by excluding me from the office team.

Whatever James threw at her Jasmine ignored it. She became the broken record that kept to task.

When she had her say she ended the conversation and walked away.

James tried to keep it going with more red herrings being hurled at her as she walked away, but she ignored it.

Jasmine also reported the incident to the HR department, in line with company policy.


When Jasmine came to see me she felt great. She wasn’t sure why but after discussions she realised that in this conversation she had been able to express herself.

Her voice was not silenced as it had been in the past. She had held on to her power.

James’s behaviour had been making her feel powerless and he continued that in this conversation, but she did not allow him to take her power this time. She held on to her power and controlled the conversation her way.

Jasmine was initially worried she would get into trouble with her boss but discovered James had said nothing to the boss.. James did not have the power she had given him.


Bullying is very common. It can occur in families, in friendship groups, among neighbours, in communities, in the work place.

There is a fear in this society about bullying and calling the bullies out.

Most people who were bullied as children will recall being gaslit when they tried to get help.

• “what did you do to start this?”

• “We must teach you to behave so that the bullies won’t target you”

• “You’re overreacting”

• “Xxx is such a nice person”

• “You just have to learn to get along”

• “In the Bible it says you must get along with people/submit to this person/honour this person”

Even adults seem paralysed when it comes to standing up to bullies, even when the bullies are children.

Most people prefer to keep their heads down and try not to get noticed. This is behaviour learned in childhood.

Few people have the courage to stand up to bullies or defend others from bullying.


Bullying is frightening and disempowering. Even if you resist and stand firm, there is always that fear of the next time they try it.

Thus starts the Henny Penny anxiety.

I see a lot of people who are being bullied. It is awful to be on the receiving end of this behaviour. It is also awful to see how others are too frightened to stand up and support you or happily join in the bullying.

If it happens to you:

• Keep a record of every incident, no matter how trivial.

• Record anything that is said.

• Take photos of any damage/vandalism.

• Seek help. Ask the police if this person is doing anything they can act on. Ask your local council if this person is doing anything they can act on.

• If the person is a neighbour and is renting, make a formal complaint to the managing agent, listing the behaviours and providing evidence you have collected.

• If the person is a family member or part of your friend group seek help within the group. You may not get help, but it is important to try. You may find others in the group share similar experiences or a prepared to support you. If need be, separate yourself from this person and any who back them. That is hard to do, and it is unfair, but you need to keep your health and people who won’t support you are not necessarily the best people to be around.

• If the bullying is in the workplace report the issue to your superiors. Workplaces are supposed to have policies around reporting of bullying. If there is no policy contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.

• Seek counselling support to help you with the trauma and hurt.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your anxiety and being bullied, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

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