Overcoming Adult Bullying - Tips on Getting Support, Documenting, Boundaries and More
Bullying is a form of psychological and emotional abuse that may incorporate veiled or clear threats and/or other forms of aggression. Overcoming bullying in our adult lives requires a change from within. If we choose to berate or otherwise reject ourselves for the abuse bestowed upon us in the past and/or present, then making positive change remains unattainable.
Step 1. - Silence Your Inner Bully
We want to be more assertive with those who treat us poorly, yet we cripple ourselves with self loathing. We subconsciously rely on maladaptive forms of control – our self abuse becomes greater than the abuse inflicted. We focus not on the injustice inflicted but upon our failure to right it. This serves a function: As long as we are redirecting negative emotions back at self, we will not face our external fears.
Were we to direct our energies outward, we would behave powerfully. Sadly, most of us do not trust ourselves to be powerful. We fear loss of control and expect things to only get worse as a direct result. This is due in large part to context. In our adult lives, bullying most often occurs in the workplace, in our partnerships and in our social circles.
The Perils of Coping Alone
Left to our own devices, we embrace black and white thinking. All we see is fight or flight, stay or go, stand up or take it. We tend not to seek support and guidance because we are lost in the shame and humiliation of being a target for bullying. No matter how much we learn and grow and become; we still feel like the last kid picked for dodge ball. That feeling of being exposed and vulnerable was instilled and remains.
We fear further retaliation if we tell. In this light, going to our work supervisors or Human Resources feels like telling the teacher. Going to a marriage counselor feels like seeking an unlikely ally. Sharing with mutual friends feels like teenage drama. Our propensity to allow emotions to dictate decisions leaves us crippled.
- If we were to imagine someone we cared about in our shoes, we would urge them not to go through this alone. We would have empathy for them and wish to be a support. If we choose to take the advice we’d gladly give to others, we allow ourselves to reach out.
The Value of Soliciting Support
When we choose to expose our fears by holding them up to the light of an objective observer, they appear very different than they do when they exist only in our mind. Options and reasonable courses of action become apparent. Our employers, our clinicians and those who truly care about us – each of these people have moral, ethical, and even legal mandates to uphold. Their outrage on our behalf is affirming but their willingness to support us is what we need to draw from and incorporate.
The Importance of Documenting
Bullying in any context can be difficult to prove, which is why we urge those experiencing it to document each occurrence. We seek to identify what happened, when and where it happened and who witnessed the event. The act of writing about something makes it more “real.” It allows us to cease minimizing our experiences and it makes denial all but impossible. Seeing our struggles in black and white allows us to see a progression and/or pattern of behavior and the dynamics that perpetuate it.
Never React Always Respond
Our greatest downfall in moments of being bullied is that we react in a manner that is geared towards avoiding or at least minimizing harm instead of seeking resolution. We have a tendency to endure until we cannot tolerate a single moment more and then become explosive or implosive. This undermines our ability to use our voices and to be taken seriously. In this manner, we set ourselves up for further humiliation.
- The more we consciously choose a course of action, the less stress we experience in each interaction because we have already determined how we will respond. Alleviating this pressure is not a product of rehearsing exactly what we will say or do; it’s more often the choice to be true to ourselves.
Sometimes life really is a matter of choosing the “lesser of evils.” We are reasonable people in unreasonable situations dealing with an unreasonable person and our goal is to find ways to get them to be reasonable. Dealing with unreasonable people requires a different approach than what we use with everyone else.
Our goal must be to create boundaries and set limits. Boundaries are as simple as saying to someone, “Here is what I am willing to do/tolerate and here is what I am not.” Limits are clarifying and specific, “I can work until six pm but not 7pm as you request. Or, “I am willing to work overtime this weekend but I cannot commit to doing this in the future.”
In general, the more anxious and fearful we are, the more we talk and the less effectively we communicate. Using an “economy of words” is our most effective strategy. Saying things simply and directly ensures to the greatest degree possible that we will be understood.
When All Else Fails - Plan Your Exit
If we cannot achieve resolution with those who bully then ultimately we must make difficult choices regarding not only our own best interest but also how we will cope. If it’s an option to leave a position or relationship in which we’re experiencing bullying, by all means do. If it’s not an option then consider and plan the changes that need to occur for it to become an option. Either way we must be sure to integrate active personal supports – good people who will affirm our worth and the truth that not only do we have nothing to be ashamed of, but also that we have a responsibility to be fair to ourselves.
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