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June 24, 2011

Dealing With Adult Bullies

IStock_00contemptll I was just reading an advice column on the Psychology Today website about how to handle an adult bully.  The 42-year-old woman who sent in her question wanted to know how to address her female neighbor who was calling her nasty names at a party.  The advice given was to ignore the woman.

UGH!!!  Really?  Ignore her?  Since when does ignoring a bully help?  How is it helpful to stay silent to mistreatment?  I can’t tell you how much advice like this grates on me. 
Women, please, do NOT stay silent or ignore mistreatment.  In fact, the best way to ensure continued mistreatment is to ignore it.  When we stay silent in the face of disrespect or abuse, we send the message that this treatment is okay.  Implicit in our silence is acceptance.

Here’s how to handle a bully:
1.    Do NOT silence.  If someone is bullying you, stand up to it.  If your neighbor or colleague is saying hurtful things to you, STAND UP for yourself.  Do not yell, scream or go crazy on the person—effectively stand up.  Be clear that what they’re saying is not okay.  Tell them the conversation will be over if they can’t speak to you respectfully and then follow through and end the conversation.
2.    Do not cower.  If someone threatens you, be clear that if they threaten you again you will report them to the police...or to your boss if it’s work related.  Don’t back down and don’t allow their threat scare you into submitting.
3.    Address the issue on the spot.  Often bullies say things in front of a large group and count on your not saying anything.  Don’t cooperate.  If they call you out or make an obnoxious comment in a meeting—have your own back and address the comment.  Hold a figurative mirror up to the person: “Wow, that was a cheap shot” or “That was a pretty rude comment.”  Be sure that you are respectful when you do this.

4.    Stay grounded.  When you respond, make sure you do so from a very healthy, centered place.  You are trying to set a limit and stand up for yourself; you are not trying to seek revenge.  Do not stoop to their level or your response will be ineffective.
5.    Use excellent boundaries.  When you are in a bully’s space, know their behavior is about them and not about you.  Hold yourself in warm regard even in the face of their obnoxious, mean-spirited behavior.

When it comes to bullies, they have many unresolved issues that they have not addressed or been willing to look at.  Know that.  Do not take personally their treatment of you.  Make sure that you are not making yourself an easy target by just taking the bad treatment.  If you do, you will be like a bully-attracting magnet.  Speak up for yourself, set limits and be clear you will not take bullying lying down.

Challenge: If there’s a bully in your life, ask yourself if you’ve been standing up or stepping down in the face of their behavior.  Commit to stepping up and addressing the behavior directly.  Even if they get angrier, be proud of yourself for having your back. Don’t allow their anger to result in your cowering.


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I had what I considered a friendship with two persons who are brother and sister. I cleaned their house and did yard work in exchange for an unheated barn loft to avoid homelessness until I could afford my own place. I was talked to as if I were a stray dog. After I left and moved out on my own, the sister insisted she was still my "friend" and so I wrote to her and she wrote back in letters. She constantly complained about her brother and family members who were problematic for her as they were extremely less than perfect in her eyes, and she told me horrid details about their behaviors. she also always commented on my life as it appeared to her in the letters, she was controlling and told me what was wrong with me. She loaned me a vehicle and money both of which I returned and repaid in full, but she tried to find ways to control me through ridiculous favors I did not agree to do for her. When I lost my parents to death and I wrote a letter to her about my sisters rudeness, she responded by telling me she did not want to hear my problems. When I responded to her that I would be a friend, but I would not be her co-dependent whipping post and she would not be a bully to me any longer, she responded that a friendship between us was not possible. I have concluded that she is not capable of being a friend as she learned how to be a bully from her father as she was his favorite and he despised her brother who was his mother's favorite. The father, sister and brother have all verbally and emotionally abused the mother and made her think she couldn't do anything right and that she needed them to take care of her needs. The mother (widow) appreciated my help when I was there, but she was tormented by her adult children's behavior toward her.

I think standing up to adult bullies is a waste of time. I have had to deal with 2 adult bullies in the last few years. When I look back at the relationship I can clearly see I allowed them to treat me as badly as they did. I should have walked away the first time they were disrespectful to me. Instead I wasted precious time thinking I could help them change! I know, go ahead and laugh:) I used to be a teacher and I never wanted to give up on helping a child become a better person. I do think when it comes to adult bullies the best thing to do is to accept they are who they are and they will not change their behavior just because you are willing to stand up to them...and than get as far away as from them as you can. I am very lucky to have a good group of friends (and a wonderful husband) who have made it easy for me to walk away from the bullies. The women who bullied me had several things in common: very harsh opinions of others, control freaks, troubled relationship with their family, and neither one was ever willing to accept they might be wrong about something.

What happens when you are an adult female being bullied by an adult male? Not a workplace thing, but neighbor?

I agree Marjan. It is a waste of time. Bullies bully to get a reaction, either fear or anger. That is how they gain control. Take your control back and don't react. They don't know how to handle it and lose control. I once had a student tell me that the reason she smiles when people are angry and yelling at her is because she knows it the opposite of what they're expecting and it makes them angrier. Of course she had some serious personal issues but I have to admit she was right. Miserable people want to make you react so don't! Walk away, smile and move on.

I am against this kind of attitude. do not tolerate such bad action specially when children are looking up they can adopt the same attitude.

I like this entry very much, so much that I quoted it on my blog, Healthy Thinking Practice at http://louannclark.com. Thank you for the good resource you provided.

It is the responsibility of the parents to secure their children in various ways. That is why parents intervene when they recognize that their children are being bullied at school. It is natural for the parents to feel anxious when they saw their child being bullied. Of course, if you’re a parent you will never tolerate this, in order to overcome the bullying problems of the child the first thing you can do is that, talk to them and make them feel that you support them no matter what happens. Parents must be actively involved to assure proper handling problems. I would like to share this link, about a service on how you can protect your children. Check it here: http://www.SafeKidZone.com/

A male neighbor who lives in the apartment below me approached me rudely not to water my plants on my balcony. He requested that I move them to another location or else he was going to climb up to the balcony and place them somewhere else. I hear how he treats the woman who comes over on his sexual demand. He abuses her and reduces her down to tears.

My neighbour has bullied me from the day I bought my house. I tried reasoning with her and all I got back was "get over it". So now when she mouths off I just laugh and whistle over her bad mouth and didn't walk away but contined what I was doing. I will continue doing this until she gets the message that I won't listen to her anymore.

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