Who is the real bully?

You thought bullying just happened to little kids at school, right? Wrong! This week, I experienced grown-up bullying. The thing about grown-up bullying is that it comes in many forms. Some of it is obvious, like the customer who is rude to the sales rep or the driver who yells at you from inside his car. The kind of bullying that gets under my skin is the sneaky kind. You know, the little sarcastic comments that are supposed to be “a joke” but cut like a knife. When I was going through it this week, I knew I was being bullied because all of a sudden I felt really small and unsure of myself. I found myself faltering in my own area of expertise and second-guessing my knowledge and my approach. When I had a night to sleep on it, I realized something profound. People can only push you around if you let them. This is true from the playground to the boardroom. So I had a decision to make. Was I going to continue letting someone treat me this way, or not? The response from deep inside was a resounding “NO!” Here are the steps I took to get my power back.

How to Deal with Grown-Up Bullying

  1. Tell a friend – this gives you the re-assurance and courage you need in order to move on, reminding you there is someone in your corner
  2. Replay the scene – look at the scenario as objectively as you can, noticing the details
  3. Get in their shoes – people bully to hide their fear, so what are they so afraid of?
  4. Set a boundary – only you can decide how you will let people treat you, and then stick by it
  5. Practice forgiveness – this is the only way to truly heal a hurt
  6. Feel full again – think about a time you achieved the impossible, and reclaim that powerful feeling

Simple on paper, harder in life. As most things, standing up to a bully takes practice. And unlike what Hollywood would have you believe, you don’t have to have a show-down or a confrontation. The key is a subtle shift in your thinking and a commitment to reclaim your power. The next time that bully is in the room with you, they will notice something different. Once you stop being scared, they can no longer smell your fear!

Why do Kids Bully?

Lots of people have opinions and research on why kids bully. The most comprehensive answer to this question is a simple one: kids bully because adults bully. When children watch bullying in their homes, whether it’s between the adults or parent-on-child bullying, they begin to believe that bullying is acceptable, and perhaps even required. When children feel powerless in their homes, they will tend to look for those “feel-good feelings” somewhere else. Some may play sports or join the debate team, while others find it easiest to unleash their internal volcanoes on other kids. Adults bully children all the time, especially when they are rushed, stressed or distracted. Parents who use intimidation and threats to get their kids to comply are simply adding another mean kid to to the proverbial playground.

Why do Adults Bully?

Many adults who bully were bullied themselves as children! When they grew up, something deep within them vowed never to let it happen again. And the lie they told themselves is that the best way to stay safe is to be the one with the power. So what happens? They become mean, angry, and bitter. And when they act out, the good part of them (the part that remains even when we act in hurtful ways) knows they have done something wrong. So then guilt gets piled on top of their insecurity, and the cycle continues. Whether the adult is someone who was the bully or the victim as a child, both sides need to recognize their true power in order for the healing to happen and for the cycle to dissolve. True power comes from knowing oneself, feeling supported, and having compassion for others. So if you know an adult bully, help them to see who they really are, and things may change.

I sincerely believe people can change. And if people can change, the crisis of bullying we are facing will also shift. The secret ingredients are personal accountability and self-reflection. The era of bad-guys has passed, so to correct this cycle of bullying, you must welcome back both the victim and the bully, and recognize that while you may see examples of them outside of you, the most vicious bully and the most terrorized victim actually live inside of you. If you can begin to forgive your own inner bully, everything changes.