Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
When I was growing up, we had what seemed like more than our fair share of bullies at school. I had my own experiences with bullying, and I wasn’t alone in that experience. One of the things that I used to look forward to in adulthood was not having to be around bullies anymore.
And then I started my first job. And guess what?
I learned pretty quickly that the bullies we encounter as children grow up to be bullies as adults. And maybe some people turn into bullies as they get older. Either way, there are a whole lot of bullies out there in the world.
Bullying takes many forms
My clients often talk to me about being bullied. Maybe it’s a boss or a co-worker who seems to thrive on intimidating other people. A healthcare professional who constantly throws his/her weight around and never listens. Or someone they interact with in their daily life who apparently enjoys pushing other people around (sadly, sometimes even in their own homes).
Bullies can be mean and aggressive. But they can also be more subtle about the way they bully, asking you questions and then making you feel stupid when you answer, for example, or forcing decisions on you without asking for your input.
Even on your best day, it’s not easy to be around bullies. But if you’re not feeling well physically, or if you’re emotionally vulnerable, or if bullying behavior triggers some bad memories from childhood, than running up against a bully can feel like someone has just taken a big bite out of you. The result? A bad day. A hit on your self-esteem. And stress.
If you have a bully in your life—or a few of them—here are seven options to consider the next time your “bully-button” gets pushed:
1. Calm yourself down. Take a deep breath. Bring yourself into the current moment by reminding yourself that you are an adult with adult options and not that little kid who had to cower in front of kids who were bigger and meaner. That was then, this is now.
2. Reconsider bullying back. Sure, you can get in the bully’s face and be just as mean. Bullies are often insecure people, and they may back down if you’re even meaner than they are. But consider this: Anger can result in more anger, and the situation can escalate further. And just as important: Do you really want to stoop to the bully’s level? You’re better than that.
Try the direct approach. Tell the bully what they are doing and why that is not acceptable. Something like: “You’re talking over me and not listening. I don’t appreciate that. It’s not how I talk to people and it’s not how I want to be spoken to.” You might have to clarify how you want your relationship to work: “Your job is to ___ and my job is to ____. So let’s treat each other with respect. Okay?” (You may have to repeat this a few times to make sure the bully knows you mean business.)
Or just walk away. One of the tried and true ways to deal with the playground bully is to walk away. This can be as simple as leaving the room and getting involved in another activity. But it might also mean looking for a new job. Or a new doctor. Bullies thrive on feeling powerful. Walk away and you deny them the payback.
Don’t take it personally. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in “what did I do to deserve this” or “why does this always happen to me” thinking. Bullies generally target anyone that steps into their path if they think they can get away with their behavior. You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last.
Get support. Being bullied brings up a lot of emotions, and sitting with all of those feelings is going to leave you feeling even worse. Find a supportive listener. Vent if you need to. Let those feelings out into the fresh air. Get some perspective on the situation.
Take good care of your emotions. Every day. Pay attention to your own emotional self-care. Get rest, stay active, eat healthy. Do things you enjoy. And stay connected with your support network. Do this for yourself and you’ll have a strong emotional foundation. And you’ll be less likely to be rocked by the next bully you come into contact with.
You can’t control the bullies. But you don’t have to let them ruin your day.