Bullying is a topic that has received a lot of press over the last few years. Most of the articles and news items I have seen refer to children being bullied in school. The saddest reports are about teen suicides that seem to be related to bullying.
From recent personal experience, I can tell you that bullying does not end when childhood does.
In trying to deal effectively with a bully in my life, I went to my trusty friend, Google. I came across several articles online that, to be kind, were of limited usefulness. Advice to ignore a bully isn’t really helpful, especially when the bully is someone you must see daily at work or in some other setting. And while all of our technological connectedness allows our friends and family instant access to us, it also allows a bully with an e-mail address or a cell phone number to intrude. Blocking and deleting work only if a bully is not a co-worker, a boss, or in some other position that requires contact.
Adult bullying is likely to take the form of emotional attacks rather than the threat of physical violence. One website I visited
calls bullying by adults “social violence.” I think this is an apt phrase. My bully didn’t have to lay a hand on me to make me feel beaten up. Emotional beatings can cause damage that isn’t visible but is real.
Clever bullies can even trick us into participating in our own abuse. My bully knows that I want things to go well and that I try very hard when I work on projects. I’m known as a little of an overachiever, because I work to make sure things are done right. When anything goes wrong, I am quick to claim responsibility, even if it isn’t mine. It’s part of the “good girl” pleaser-type profile that I have worked somewhat unsuccessfully to shed.
Nothing is ever the fault of a bully. Choosing someone like me to pick on makes their job so much easier.
I didn’t label my treatment at the hands of this person “bullying” at first, but as time went on, and as I felt more and more attacked, I began to ask the questions I needed to answer.
Had I made a mistake that led this person to attack me? Was I truly screwing things up for everyone involved? Were the criticisms leveled at me valid? Was I, in fact, mean-spirited, controlling, over-emotional, and hypocritical?
I tried to be rational and reasoned in looking for answers. Was I totally blameless in the situation that led to the most recent emotional attack? No. I shouldered perhaps ten percent of the blame. The other ninety percent belonged to the bully. I soon realized in the cool light of reason that I was being attacked as a handy scapegoat. I also realized that the vitriolic criticism leveled at me was far out of proportion to the problem being addressed. And therein lay the solution for my emotional reaction to the bullying.
I was able to step back and see that the hateful words directed at me were not about the situation at hand. They were about the bully’s need for control and power.
Well, that bully picked the wrong girl to pick on.
I made a decision to defend my own mental health. Having performed an examination of my own actions and motives, I told the bully to leave me alone. I must have contact with this person on occasion, but when I do, I will not allow the attacks to continue to penetrate my consciousness. I will vigorously defend myself, but not by engaging with the bully. I will save my own sanity by having and executing a plan that occurs mostly within my own mind.
Little digs? I will ignore them. They are not about me; they are about the bully’s need to hurt me. Denying that will be a pleasure. Open criticism in front of others? I will respond by saying, “Thank you for your feedback.” Nothing more. Phone calls will go unanswered. E-mailed nastiness will be ignored. I have the option to decline to work in groups which contain this person, and I will exercise that option.
Do I expect the bully to get the message and go find someone else to pick on? Nope. This bully likes a challenge, and I expect there will be a stepping up of efforts to get to me. When those efforts fail to bear bitter fruit for the bully, over time, the bullying will stop. And I am strong enough to withstand the attacks.
I am strong enough because I know to remind myself of these things:
–The bully needs control and power.
–By refusing to engage with the bully, I keep control of myself and my power–my right to make decisions for myself.
–I do not have to be perfect. If legitimate criticism comes from a bully, I can choose to learn from it without accepting the whole package of blame and scorn.
–I deserve to be treated well, and it is my prerogative to decline to interact with anyone who does not respect me.
–I have control of my own life. I can remove myself from the situation including the bully, either temporarily or permanently.
When I was online, exploring the issue of adult bullying, I ran across a blog that I liked. I especially loved this quote from its author, Lisa Merlo-Booth: “Hold yourself in warm regard even in the face of their obnoxious, mean-spirited behavior.”
Warm regard is a lovely thing to offer yourself. I recommend it highly.
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