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Our Turn: Taming Versus Tolerating an Adult Bully

Childhood bullying can create turmoil during school years to say the least, and this form of abuse can also be painful when experienced as adults. Regardless of when one encounters bullying, it can cause a tremendous amount of damage to a person’s wellbeing and if not resolved, long term harm to their self-esteem. If you’ve been or currently are a victim of bullying, and have felt embarrassed and helpless as a result, please know that no matter what the bully’s motivation is for the attack, they are the ones that should be ashamed for taking pleasure in hurting another human being. No one should feel they must tolerate being subjected to intimidation, harassment, physical assault, or simply being made to feel insignificant.

Bullying is any attempt to control or humiliate another person. It usually involves aggression and there is either a perceived or real power imbalance between the victim and bully. Bullies come from all walks of life and adults could experience bullying from any contact in their life. Bullying can be deliberately overt with a bully presenting as the loud and aggressive stereotypical type but like any abuser, they don’t always fit this profile and may be disguised as someone you would least expect to bully. Some bullies are insidiously covert using bullying in a passive aggressive manner so the unsuspecting victim doesn’t know for sure who is responsible for the damage done.

The bully may even attempt to disguise bullying in the form of fun and playful humor or teasing. But make no mistake, recipients who feel the hurtful sting of bullying know it is no laughing matter. Depending on the dynamics of the relationships, to include adult peer pressure, it is common for witnesses to also feel distress and can be at a loss for how to intervene. Group situations have the potential to become mob like in nature if the bully is successful at influencing others to join in leaving the victim feeling outnumbered. Unfortunately, victims of multiple bullies are more susceptible to developing serious mental health issues due to the overwhelming feelings of depression and isolation that public humiliation causes.

Bullying in the workplace may involve the victim being ignored or ostracized from the group. They could be left out of social gatherings, significant work events or meetings. They may also be intentionally set up to fail by being pushed to meet unrealistic expectations and then be deliberately monitored and disciplined for not keeping up. Workplace bullying is one of the most challenging for the victim since it has the potential to impact their livelihood. Workplace bullying may begin as emotional but can lead to physical violence committed by the bully or even by the victim. According to OSHA, roughly two million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year.

Bullying by intimate partners may involve withholding money and/or transportation and the bully will often shame their partner by telling them they are unattractive, incompetent or simply unworthy. Bullying that occurs between intimate partners is domestic abuse and children in the household are negatively affected either by the exposure or by being directly abused themselves.

Bullying has existed for many years but is more recognized and less tolerated in today’s society due to the heightened awareness created by prevention training in workplaces and schools. However, it still occurs far too frequently. Also, social media has created a convenient anonymous way to cowardly and relentless “cyber” bully a victim. Despite the fact that much progress has been made in recognizing, preventing and stopping bullying in the school setting, adult bullying must rise to a criminal level in order for police to become involved.

Not all bullies are worth your time, and sometimes the quickest way to diffuse a bully is simply not engaging with them. Remember that their goal is to upset you, so refusing to feed their need to degrade you by not reacting, will hopefully deflate and disappoint them and cause them to move on before they even get started.

Of course, the “ignore it” approach is not always effective, and it is sometimes necessary to take more serious action. You have the right to feel safe and respected. Giving the bully an ultimatum is one approach you can take to persuade them to rethink their behavior and help them to realize the potential ramifications caused by it. If possible, have a witness or mediator available during any in person meetings with the bully to tell them directly that you want them to stop. If it doesn’t end the behavior, you can then take the next step which would be to explain clearly and calmly that you will have no choice but to report them to either a supervisor, human resources, or the police. Of course, not all bullying will rise to this level but reminding the bully that there are formal ways to deal with the situation, may be all you need to do to discourage them and could force the bully to decide whether it’s worth the risk to continue harassing you. However, if you believe direct communication may be too risky, seek outside help first and forego warning the bully ahead of time.

If it is a work situation, and you have done all the above and the behavior continues, you may need to take the next step and report the bully to a supervisor. Be sure to present documentation on facts, issues, and significant events with accurate timelines. This documentation allows you to build a strong case of evidence against the bully. You should also determine whether there may be other victims or witnesses who can confirm the bully’s disturbing behavior.

No matter the bullying circumstances, if it isn’t resolved or escalates further, seek support by discussing the situation with one of our trusted and trained advocates. We believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and we make it our mission to support and empower you to end your abuse and regain your peace.

Our judgment-free services are free and confidential. You can reach us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-639-3130. To learn more or to chat live with an advocate, you may also visit us on the web at www.turningpointsnetwork.org

OUR TURN is a public service series made available by Turning Points Network in celebration of its 40th anniversary of providing violence-prevention education programs in our schools, services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and helping people move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1.800.639.3130 or www.turningpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook.

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