February 20, 2016

Adult Bullying is Real! How to Identify a Bully and Tips to Handle Them

Bullying is real and there is no denying that there will always be people who will try to bully someone at certain point in time. It does not end at high school. In fact those bullies or people with tendency to bully others grow in to adults, join work force, start businesses, meet you in social gathering and whenever they find a power differential, they start bullying. They are not as obvious as a teenage bully who uses swear words or openly humiliates you. Adult bullies are more subtle and use intimidation, shaming and silencing tactics to make you feel like there is something wrong with you.
Adult bullies make their target feel uncomfortable at an emotional level. They try to manipulate their target by using derogatory words, insults and humiliation. The whole objective of adult bullies is to lower the self esteem of their target and make them feel inferior.
The surprising thing is that when I was growing up, I was never bullied! I always had a great bunch of friends and we sang songs, ate a lot of pizza, played together and life was quite awesome to say the least. As I grew up in the age of social media, I experienced Facebook bullies first hand. I always knew I could just block them and get out of the situation, but when the person bullying you is a friend or an acquaintance or a relative or someone of influence, I did feel a need for conversation and I engaged in an online dialogue. The bad news is that this does not work! It never did for me. Being an adult, I felt that I could handle it but I was wrong.
Talking to bullies and trying to find a solution or asking them to stop, never worked for me. In fact at each instance of online bullying the situation got from bad to worse when I engaged in a conversation. And yes, I had to hit the block button at all instances.
So why would any adult want to bully someone? They have one thing in common - they are insecure about their life and accomplishments. So, when they see someone with lesser power than them, who has accomplished more than they could - they feel insecure.
But wait! They have more power! More power in the sense of having more authority, bigger social circle,  more influence, higher qualification, more wealth or even age. Some adults bully others only because they are older and they feel that they can pass their frustrations and insecurities to others using bullying tactics.

In the examples below, I have shared common bullying behaviours that adults can experience at workplace, online and in social gatherings. These examples might help you identify an adult bully, so you can take actions to prevent their bullying behavior from affecting you emotionally and physically.

Example: New Technology? Who Cares?
Consider Mark a young graduate with exceptional abilities and skills. Everytime he tries to impress his supervisor (a senior) with his innovative presentation techniques, his supervisor shows his disapproval by his body language and facial expressions, pretends getting bored and at the end of the presentation negatively criticizes him for his work. Then the supervisor emails everyone about how he likes his presentation the 'old school' way and belittles Mark's efforts.
Mark is not acknowledged for his techniques or the work he presented. Later in the week, his supervisor used words like, "wasting time", "stupidity"and "lack of focus" to describe Mark's way of accomplishing tasks. This kind of behavior should immediately be identified as bullying at work place and actions must be taken to mediate it. In more severe cases, a supervisor uses abusive language to control his/her subordinates and gives them insulting nicknames.

Example: The Frenemies
Ever heard your frenemies say things like, "You definitely have more than you deserve" or "How can you stay happy at work with your kids crying at day care", "Oh, I love my family so much, I would never do what you do to them". Understand that it's your life and you decide what you want to do. While friends do help you out of situations, they don't repeatedly make you feel uncomfortable or unworthy of what you have or what you are doing or did in the past.
With friends/frenemies, I would always suggest that you look for repeated behavior. Like repeatedly talking about something that is hurtful to you or makes you uncomfortable, such as, "That color suits you. Your ex loved it on you, right?".
All you can do is tell them, it does not matter to you anymore. Or start talking about something completely different. Adult bullies often will try to bring you back to the same topic because they feel better about themselves when they see you getting uncomfortable or hurt by their words. If you are constantly feeling hurt and emotionally exhausted after meeting someone, you must identify the unhealthy behavior as bullying.
Jealousy plays a role in adult bullying too. A person who is insecure about their own abilities, will do a mental comparative analysis of your accomplishments and their owns. They only do this to tell themselves that they are better off. Sometimes this person will pass mean judgements about your accomplishments and will be critical of you. They will also try to tell you that their life is better than yours. It is not. Trust me!

Example: Facebook Business Gone Bad
You purchase something from a Facebook Page and are dissatisfied with the product. You post a negative review on the page. The owner of this Facebook Page deletes your review and privately messages you on Facebook, threatening to sue you if you try to 'defame their business'. You tell her, its what you think about the product and that your review can be helpful to others ordering the same item. And that is when the hateful messages begin. They send you message after message saying things like, "You think you are very smart?", "Shame on you for not supporting us", "You are so stupid", "You made a big mistake by doing this to US" and they would send laughing emojis all the way to make their point that they are unaffected by your review.
Understand that this is not the customer's fault. Every business has some good products and some not so good. A business will only respond this way if they are insecure about their offering and would like to silence the person who reports dissatisfaction. Online bullying is most brutal because you are not confronting the person and a bully continues bullying because they are in the comfort of their own homes/offices. Block them from messaging you and block their profiles, so they can't search for you on Facebook anymore. Avoidance strategies and blocking them from sending messages to you is the only thing that has worked for me so far. Some bullies go the extent of searching you other social networking sites. Again, just block. The more you respond the worse it gets.

What can you do?
There is a lot you can do to stop the bully from affecting your mental and physical well being. Here are some tips that you might find useful.

Tip #1: Don't say it out loud.
Like "Hey! You are bullying me" or "you need to stop". It does not work. It only acknowledges the bully that you are getting affected by their behavior.

Tip # 2: Use sense of humour to get out of the situation.
I am practising this and it works. However, this is a skill that has to be developed. I am not naturally inclined to smile at people who pass rude comments about me or things that are important to me. There are always situations when I react instead of ignoring it or saying something funny to have a light hearted laugh with the person bullying me. This tactic is best if the bully is a relative or someone you will be meeting again and again. If you show them that their words are hurting you they will make sure they lower your self esteem and confidence to the point that you stop believing in yourself.

Tip # 3: Don't listen.
Just pretend you missed their comment and continue talking/doing what you wanted to do. Making a bully feel unheard or unnoticed is the best way to stop them from bullying again.

Tip # 4: It is not you who has a problem.
Many times bullies will blame you for creating a situation and they will use derogatory words to make you feel horrible about your decisions. Stop blaming yourself.

Tip # 5: Get legal help
If nothing is working and the adult bully is still on the mission, always know that there are laws that protect you. Make sure you have recorded the instances of bullying. Keep copies of emails, screenshot of text messages, calls or any other thing that can be used as evidence. A quick google search like this one will give you useful links to the laws applicable in your region.

At the end, I would only say, that it's hard to identify an adult bully because as a good citizen we respect others and expect the same. As adults, we often tell ourselves that may be this person was just having a bad day, or may be they are right about me. Look for repeated instances of bullying before identifying someone as a bully. Try using the tips mentioned above and stay positive. You are worth the happiness and peace in your life. Don't let a bully take that from you.
Identify. Don't react. Take Action. Be Happy!

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