I want to begin this post by thanking my readers who commented on yesterday’s post and who also sent me emails. I really appreciate your comments and that you have trusted me with your stories.
The biggest theme I noticed running through your comments was the sense of confusion about identifying if the things that are happening or have happened are really bullying.
First off, I want to say, it is okay to trust yourself, and the things that you are thinking and feeling. As one reader wrote, “Finally I decided if it looked like a duck and it walked like a duck and it quacked like a duck … it was probably a duck.” If you think that you are being bullied, I am willing to walk out on a limb here and say the odds are very, very good that you are.
To help sort this out a little bit more, I thought a definition might help. I went shopping for something that might help us to identify bulling in a really simple and clear way, but what I found is there are many definitions of bullying which occur across a continuum of increasing complexity. In the end, the one I liked best is this:
“Bullying is repeated, deliberate, disrespectful behaviour of one or more people toward another for their own gratification, which harms the target“. – Valerie Cade
The other theme that I noticed in your comments and emails was that many people assume that the targets of bullying are always weak and helpless and this is what makes them targets. Sometimes this is true, but often the targets of bullying are not weak or helpless. In fact, another very common reason that we might become targeted by a bully is because we are strong, and capable and attempt to be assertive and self-protective. Either way, whether we start in a weakened position and feel unable to stand up or defend ourselves (for any variety of reasons) or whether we actually begin confident and capable of self-protection – when we are targeted, we are all impacted.
Carol asked in her comment yesterday, how do we do better?
This is a worthy question, and the answer is we start by naming what is happening to us. We become conscious and aware. We take the above definition and we ask ourselves …. is the behaviour of the other person repeated … has it happened before … more than once … more than three times … or ten times?
Is the behaviour deliberate? That is to say, is the other person consciously doing something that is hurtful? Another thing about many people is we are very good at giving room for other people to give us rationalizations, justifications and excuses for poor behaviour. “I was having a bad day”….”I didn’t know that bothered you, you should toughen up”… “I’m under a lot of stress “…”You made me <insert feeling> …. Bullies prey on our sense of understanding, caring and compassion. You may be sure that they are not being empathetic or caring or compassionate about how their behaviour is impacting us! Stop making or accepting excuses … there is NEVER an excuse for abuse.
Is the behaviour disrespectful? Does it seek to demean, diminish, ridicule, or otherwise hurt or shame us? The intention doesn’t matter here … the ACTION does! We stop listening to the talk, and we start carefully observing the action. The words mean less and less, the action means more and more. Pay attention!
We ask ourselves … who is involved in this behaviour? Make this really clear!
“When John calls me an idiot and says that I am useless, I feel disrespected and embarrassed.”
“When my mother tells me she has seen cats who are better mothers than I am, I feel hurt and ashamed.”
“When my sister tells me I am a spoiled brat who has never had to earn my way, I feel angry and defensive.”
“When my boss called a meeting with all our staff and raised his voice to me and questioned my work and my ethics I felt confronted, shocked and angry. When the rest of the staff joined in I felt ambushed and attacked.”
Name the behaviour, name the person/people.
Is this behaviour in some way gratifying the person doing it? Does it make them feel stronger, more powerful, does it allow them to build themselves up at the expense of knocking you down? Do they seem empathetic or remorseful after the fact, or are they self righteous and secure in their ability and “right” to treat you poorly?
Finally … does the behaviour have a negative or hurtful effect on you? Does it make you feel hurt, angry, ashamed, betrayed, powerless, helpless, defensive ….
Run through these questions, take your time, think carefully … As long as we are denying, minimizing, or ignoring bullying, it will continue. The first step in handling bullying, is to know that it is happening!