Okay, I just made that up.
But it feels that way, right?
Every day, we’re having a new discussion about being bullied, spotting a bully, knowing a bully, how to deal with a bully and, of course, defining a bully. Despite all of those words, however, it’s rare that parents address bullying in the context of themselves.
This is unsurprising. Researchers have uncovered that once a large human is assigned the responsibility of raising tiny humans, adult human brains create a series of neural pathways that cause them to bypass thinking about themselves for any definitive amount of time other than in the context of whether or not they’re doing a good job of raising said tiny humans. Simply put, we forget to ask ourselves if we are as emotionally equipped to handle the more unsavory elements of life in a way that reconciles well with how we want to prepare our children for those same events.
I try to treat others with grace and dignity. I’m sure you do, too. Maybe, like me, you’re carrying lessons forward from your childhood that resonate with, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Just maybe, though, like me, you’re more focused on what you’re doing to others than what they are doing to you. And that’s the way it should be. I think. See, it gets problematic.
If you don’t stop and take notice of how you would like to be treated, you compromise your ability to transmit basic principles of self respect to others. Specifically, small humans.
The thing about adult bullying that’s very ninja is that people who are bullies as adults have been doing this for a long time. It takes roughly eight years of post high school learning to earn a doctorate. If we assume that most adult bullies in their thirties started bullying people around eight years of age, they have something like four doctorates in bullying. I imagine one starts off in the less selective Wedgie Pulling degree program and ends with a highly coveted position in the International Association of Covert Water Cooler Rumorologists.
While it’s important to model strength inspiring behavior for children, it’s also important to model a healthy degree of self protection. As adults, we have to realize that we have more choices in terms of who we engage and what level of respect we require. It’s also important to remember that it’s very hard to change a person and much easier to change our company.
Here are five ways to recognize the sings of being bullied by another adult as well as some techniques for diffusing the situation.
1. Being Yelled At. Bullying is generally defined as an attempt to coerce someone through intimidation and that’s not limited to physical force. If someone is screaming at you, you’re definitely being bullied. It seems obvious, but it’s strange how often people will remain deep into relationships in which verbal force is a key player. This is a sensitive issue that can often escalate into physical force and it’s an occasion where you probably need to seek outside help. If it’s a work situation, document it and go to HR. If it’s a domestic situation, find a good counselor to help you evaluate your next step.
2. Getting Loads of Deconstructive Criticism. It’s tricky because you have to know the difference between someone being constructive in an effort to help you do something better and someone undervaluing your efforts. For the most part, I would suggest that unless it’s a boss or a co-worker, unsolicited criticism from your friends is questionable. If you feel you’re being unfairly criticized, say something. If you think the criticism is fair, but don’t like delivery you should mention that, too. A good friend will back down, give you space to live life on your own terms and, most importantly, support you.
3. You Don’t Think It’s That Funny. Look, I came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, and I’m pretty we were the generation that invented the phrase “whatEVER.” Still, it doesn’t matter how masterfully a sarcastic quip is constructed, if it hurts your feelings, it isn’t okay. Remind Daria that you really like her and know she’s trying to be funny, but she’s starting to hurt your feelings.
4. Exclusion, Gossip and Rumors. If it feels like you’re in high school, that’s a bad sign. The best way to combat this type of bullying is to refuse to participate. This proves difficult because one of the quickest ways to bond with someone is in a mutual disdain for a third party. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. Ask yourself about the last time you found out someone was Team Angie/Team Jennifer like you. How much more did you like them after they agreed with you? Next time someone tries to pass on a rumor about someone else, remember that you’re probably next. As good as it feels to be part of a clique, it’s really important to move on.
5. Competitiveness. Healthy competition is wonderful. Unhealthy competition is not. Signs of unhealthy competition rears itself in an inability to praise or feel joy in the accomplishments of others, being the subject of high levels of scrutiny and outright jealousy. For the most part, being in a relationship with someone who is constantly evaluating their own performance against yours isn’t just exhausting, it’s toxic. In this case, if simply moving on isn’t an option (I don’t know, maybe it’s your sister-in-law or something?), then the best thing is to just keep your distance and your accomplishments to yourself. You know you’re doing good, that’s all that matters, right?
The word “bully” is loaded and has taken on so many different meanings over the last few years. Despite all the nuances, though, there is a basic definition regarding the behavior that most will agree on. Bullying makes a person feel bad about themselves. It’s an attempt by someone who feels small to create a false sense of bigness. The best way to teach your children how to navigate this journey safely is to step out bravely and check the path yourself.
Faiqa Khan has been blogging for nearly five years, but has been planning world domination since she was three. A writer, teacher, wife and mother, she maintains her personal blog at Native Born. She also produces and hosts an interfaith podcast with her Abrahamic homey, Mike Scheinberg, at Hey! That’s My Hummus!. Faiqa is also trying to get her mediocre on as the Managing Editor for the popular humor site Aiming Low. Connect with Faiqa on Facebook or Twitter.