There’s no one right way to stand up to bullies, because all bullies are different, all those who are bullied are different, and people are bullied in many different ways. Some bullies are sly and use passive aggressiveness, some use intimidation and threats, some use snide and cutting remarks, and some withhold love and affection.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on handling bullies. I’m just a girl who’s been bullied (as have most of us at some time or another) who is finally, at age 33, finding her voice. (If you didn’t get a chance to read my last post on bullying, you can find it here.)
Where is the bullying happening? A little bit of research online and some informal surveying on my Facebook page gave me some answers. Roughly a third of employees have experienced bullying in their workplaces, and this was the number one place friends of mine mentioned they were being bullied. Other top places people told me they had been bullied (as adults) were in their relationships with family members, with “friends,” and in church.
As an adult, I have found less bullies in my grown-up world, but when I have encountered them, they’ve been just as scary. And adult bullies are incredibly powerful. They can have the potential to screw up your job, to destroy your confidence as a parent, to steal away your spouse or friends, or just flat-out squash your personality and cause you to live out only half of who you are instead of all of you.
But they can’t do it unless you let them.
Easier said than done, but true. We have to decide: are we willing to finally stand up for ourselves, or are we too terrified of the consequences, deciding instead to choose the consequences of living a less than full life?
So what can we do?
Sometimes the answer to breaking free from bullying is to leave. To walk away. To quit the job where your boss cruelly mocks your every effort. To leave the book club whose members roll their eyes behind your back when you offer your opinion. To unfriend the person on Facebook who feels the need to write a snide comment each time you post.
But other times, walking away isn’t that simple. You can’t avoid an ex when you have shared custody. You might not be able to quit a job for a while until you’re able to find a new one. And if you’re on a sports team you love, you might not want the bullying of one person to ruin the rest of the enjoyment for you. So then what?
Remember how in my last post I mentioned my top three StrengthsFinder strengths were Harmony, Empathy and Positivity? As I shared before, these aspects of my personality used to be the perfect recipe for bully fodder. But I’ve now realized how to flip them on their head and actually use them to make me stronger.
I used to let my desire for harmony keep me from speaking up. Now, I realize that true harmony exists when people are honest and open with one another. A relationship built on one person bullying and the other taking it isn’t harmony. Harmony isn’t the absence of conflict. It’s being able to talk about and work through tough issues and find a true peace.
As you seek harmony and “make every effort to live in peace with everyone,” as Hebrews 12:14 says, realize that at some point the best way to seek harmony is to distance yourself from a person. Never stop loving them, never stop praying for them, but do stop letting them hurt you.
I love to try and understand why people do what they do. I’m the person who always feels sad for the “bad guy” in the movie when he finally comes to his destruction. In fact, I don’t even let our kids use the terms “bad guy” and “good guy” in our house. We say “the person who made bad/good choices.”
Why? I believe that all people contain the potential for good and bad in them, and their choices and life experiences determine which side of them develops. My goal, as a parent, is to nurture the beauty in my children and through showing them how much God loves them, cultivate a desire in them to love him and love others.
We often repeat the saying, “Hurt people hurt people,” when my daughter comes home from school and has been bullied. This helps us understand, forgive and pray for the person. Our empathy helps us imagine that they might have parents who are distant or an older sibling who is bullying them or they might be be struggling in school.
But we don’t let it stop there. We then practice ways she can stand up for herself. My daughter’s personality is a lot like mine, so I want to teach her both compassion and self-confidence. When she brought up the idea of participating in after school debate club, we supported her in it.
At home, we talk about not giving bullies power by showing them that they’ve hurt your feelings. We talk about standing up for others who are being bullied, even when it puts us at risk. And we practice quick retorts back to rude things bullies might say – not mean retorts, but smart ones. We talk about putting on a nonchalant, indifferent face and simply walking away, because many bullies feed off of emotional responses. And we talk about always loving and not letting our anger convert into hate.
Bullies can break you down or make you feel jaded. My positivity beforehand used to be a naive “believe the best.” A believing that “next time will be better.” Or thinking that the next time they pretended to be nice to me, maybe they actually meant it this time! This kind of positivity gets you burned. After a while, you began to distrust people and think they’re all out to get you.
A healthy positivity says, “I believe there is hope for this person. I believe God has a beautiful plan for his or her life and someday I look forward to seeing this person healthy and whole. But in the meantime, while I will continue to love, I will not continue to be stepped on.” Healthy positivity chooses to not be jaded or distrustful but believes that there is love and goodness and kindness in the world. They always believe the best but also learn from their past. They fully forgive, but don’t quite forget. They forget enough to trust again but not so much that they aren’t more careful about who they trust next time.
A positive person looks life in the face honestly and says, “Man, this is tough! But it is NOT going to hold me down. I CAN do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. I CAN somehow be strong and loving at the same time. I CAN show my children what speaking the truth in love looks like. I CAN surround myself with people who love me and make me feel valued. I CAN find my worth in what God says about me instead of what others say.”
I speak from recent experience.
I’ve never been one to come up with fast retorts. I’m the girl who goes home and replays the conversation and imagines all of the things I could have said. Or have you ever had an imaginary conversation in the mirror where you rehearsed all the things you were going to say next time? Me too. However, when it came down to the next face to face interaction, I almost always chickened out.
But in the last year and a half, I’ve found the courage to stand up for myself twice. (That may not sound like a lot, but it was for me!) The first time I was terrified and shaking like a leaf, but I was so glad I honestly shared my feelings because I discovered the bullying had been unintentional and the person was shocked to realize what their actions and words had really been.
The second time I chose to speak the truth in love, the person mocked my feelings and shut me down. I told the person I loved them but refused to be treated this way any longer. Sadly, things don’t always end in reconciliation. I haven’t lost hope for our relationship to one day be restored, but I refuse to let it continue on the way it was.
Finally, thanks to all of you who wrote me and shared your stories of bullying. Some of you have made it through to the other side and finally found the courage to stand up for yourselves. Some of you are still struggling and wondering how you’ll be able to break free from the oppression. But it helps to know we’re not in this alone.
If you’ve found your voice, help others to find theirs. If you’re still searching for courage, find strength in the stories of others. And let’s determine to not let our experiences be in vain, but together, to teach our kids and our friends the right way to treat others. Let the end of bullying begin with you.
I know this post is focused on adult bullying, but I just found out about this incredibly impacting silent short film on YouTube that addresses bullying in schools. My cousin, Michelle Page, is an actress and stars as the girl who is bullied. It’s worth the watch.