Nobody likes a bully. It’s simple enough to say – a blanket statement that in a way, can be as aggressive as bullying itself. It’s something that resonates with most of us though. I mean, really… who could like a bully? A person who, via some possible tactics of intimidation, coercion, or even possibly abuse, attempts to change discourse. It could be psychological or physical, but the damage can be equally as destructive.
However, the problem with blanket statements, stereotypes, and other pigeon-holing, is that it dismisses anything that might not quite fit into the nice, neat little box.
Let me be absolutely clear; what I write here is not defending bullying in any way. Anyone who knows me, or has read a number of articles I have written giving extreme, lived examples of bullying knows that I deplore the behaviour. All of that being said, it is extremely important for all of us to remember that we are all humans. Except Galen, you pesky Cylon!
We are all fallible. We all make mistakes, and we all live our lives. Many of us experience trauma, heartbreak, or upset through our lives, and those experiences shape us. We react to them in unique ways, being the individuals that we are. Trauma and experiences from our past stories will shape the way we act today, and these actions can take all different forms – including bullying. Knowing this and remembering that even an aggressor may be reacting out of fear, learned behaviours, or from past trauma themselves allows us to reframe what is going on. This even allows us to respond differently when a bullying experience arrises.
And that is key – one of the most successful ways to disable a bully is to respond differently to them. Empowering ourselves by understanding and identifying our own reactions to their behaviours.
An initial step is to call out these behaviours in the moment. Addressing things in real-time has the ability to empower the recipient of such behaviour, and sets the dialogue immediately going in an alternate direction. Simple phrases like “stop it!” or “I don’t like it!” provide clear feedback in the moment.
Victims of bullying who tell other people about the abuse find support and strength, and are better equipped to stay clear-minded when incidents occur. That being said, recipients of bullying behaviours must be careful in their selection of support people. If someone in your circle consistently tells you, “you’re making more of this than it is”, or they insist the one who is bullying is a good person, then they’re not appropriate support. This includes HR. Often, stories trickle out of organisations about victims who have had concerns brushed aside without respect of the situations of all parties concerned. Off the back of another article I wrote, my inbox is full of such stories. This is how HR can fail its people in a crisis that includes bullying.
Psychologically, each bullying situation will include three things: an event, the victim’s beliefs about the event, and the victim’s resulting feelings or behaviours. Much of the time, we jump from the event straight to the feelings or behaviours without considering held beliefs and past experiences about the event, or similar events. If victims change their beliefs about the situation, possibly recognising that the bully is also going through or reliving something themselves, then their emotions and behaviours change, too.
We can then go further, to recognise the difference between healthy negative emotions and unhealthy ones. Victims who create beliefs that produce unhealthy negative emotions will feel things like rage, self-hatred, and anxiety. However, victims whose beliefs create healthy negative emotions experience feelings like frustration, disappointment and sadness. Healthy negative feelings are appropriate, as no one would be happy about being bullied. However, unhealthy feelings can spiral the victim into counter-productive behaviours and a feeling of being stuck in a horrible situation. Taking control of their own reactions will enable victims to change the discourse away from a negative experience, and into a space where they are not as lost.
Setting personal boundaries on behaviours that are not acceptable from other people is then extremely important. Personal boundaries are occasionally infringed during bullying, as the bully can gain access to the victim’s feelings of safety and security. Setting personal boundaries mostly reminds the victim to be on the lookout for these behaviours, recognise them, and protect themselves from emotional or mental harm.
Once here, circling back to the support network armed with a new preparedness for bullying behaviour will enable anyone to have more meaningful dialogue about what is really going on, as opposed to a ping-pong match that one can never win.