How to Deal with Adult Bullying
By: Kristen Sohlman, MACP, RP
The definition of bullying is to seek harm, to intimidate, to threaten, or to coerce. Bullying is often thought of as an issue that only happens to children and teenagers. The fact of the matter is that bullying can happen at any age or at any point in one’s life. What remains the same? Bullying is not alright at any age.
Whether you are experiencing physical, material, verbal, passive-aggressive or even cyber bullying as an adult, here are some things to consider.
The most important thing is your safety. If you do not feel comfortable, do your best to leave the situation. If you are alone, seek out other people or go to where other people are. If possible, find someone who you feel comfortable with and reach out.
Seek Out Help and Support
Seek out help and support as needed. Talk with your family, friends, etc., about the bullying you are experiencing. Seek out counselling or therapy, call crisis support, or call law enforcement or legal representatives if appropriate.
Keep Your Distance
No interactions with bullies are worth your time and attention. Your happiness and wellbeing are important. By keeping your distance, you are making a conscious decision to not make yourself a part of someone else’s negativity.
Keep Your Cool
A common characteristic of bullies is that they project their aggression onto others, to push buttons, and try to keep others off balance. By keeping your cool and avoiding reacting to your own feelings and emotions, the better equipped you are at coping with a difficult situation and the better equipped you are to use your own judgement in being able to handle the situation.
Use Effective Communication
When you are faced with a situation where you are stuck dealing with a bully, use effective communication. Assert yourself, keep calm, be confident in your own abilities, and carry on.
Know Your Rights
Remember that if you react to your emotions and bully the bully, you are forfeiting some of your own rights.
You have a right to be treated with respect.
You have a right to express your feelings, opinions and wants.
You have the right to set your own priorities.
You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.
You have the right to get what you pay for.
You have the right to have opinions different than others.
You have the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally.
You have the right to create your own happy and healthy life.
Talk About Your Experience
Talk to others about your experience. It is likely that this is not the first time that a bully has used threats, intimidation, or coercion. By speaking up you are not only taking care of your own mental and emotional health, but you are reducing the likelihood that the bullying will repeat. Silence in some situations only reinforces and increases the intensity of aggressive behaviour.
Avoid Immobilizing Yourself by Seeing Yourself as a Victim and Take Action
Set consequences to compel respect. In some situations, it may be appropriate to ask for an apology and/or a change in behavior. If the bully approaches you to further engage in an unhealthy manner, ask that they stop engaging you. If appropriate make a formal complaint. The ability to identify and assert consequences is an important skill that can help defuse difficult situations and a difficult person. Firm and reasonable consequences give pause to the adult bully and compels them to shift from violation to respect.
Understand the Bully
By being able to understand the bully and what motivates them, helps you to understand the behaviour that is affecting you. The bully is almost always struggling with some presenting issue that is either known or unknown to others. If the presenting issue is unknown to you it may be helpful to remind yourself that there is more to this person’s story. By considering the bigger picture, this will help you to manage your own feelings of hurt, fear, etc., to accept the difficult situation, to take care of your needs, and to cope in a healthy manner.
Radically accepting that your bully is coping with a presenting issue in an unhealthy way, establishes a healthy boundary. Radically accepting that your bully is doing the best that they can, which may not be their personal best or their actualized self, establishes a healthy boundary. Radical acceptance allows you to consider someone else’s perspective, and to show empathy while respecting the healthy boundaries of both individuals involved. Villainizing a bully is an emotional reaction to hurt and pain and does not help the bullied or the bully get better, in fact, it reinforces unhealthy behaviour. Radical acceptance and maintaining healthy boundaries helps to make healthy changes like setting good examples, teaching, reassessing the situation, reassigning emotions, feelings, and energy, and letting go.
Kininmonth, C. (2019). Brene Brown top tip: Assume others are doing the best they can. [Web page] Retrieved from https://www.thegrowthfaculty.com/blog/BrenBrowntoptipassumeothersaredoingthebesttheycan
Ni, P. (2016). 8 Keys to handling adult bullies. Psychology Today. [Webpage] Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201611/8-keys-handling-adult-bullies
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