“All cruelty springs from weakness.” —Seneca, 4BC-AD65
I think most of us have found ourselves on the receiving end of adult bullying – perhaps it’s your boss at the office, or maybe it’s a manipulative friend, or an abusive boyfriend. Today, we see toxic behavior in the forums and in the comments section of social media posts. This poison spreads and penetrates all of us in big ways.
Just last night, I received a handful of hateful comments on Soul & Scribble. I was essentially laughed at. I was judged for living in a shelter – that I was hardly qualified to give advice and write about the topics I am passionate about because I, apparently, suck at life. Bigoted statements were made. Pain was inflicted. And, I was hurt.
Unfortunately, this ignorance is the same exact ignorance felt by the entire homeless community – it is the stigma that we’re stupid, irresponsible, and make bad choices. That we’re bums, degenerates, and unworthy of basic human rights, respect, and dignity.
What’s even worse? These comments are suspected to have come from an acquaintance I once admired and respected. A fellow writer, in fact. For the better half of a year, myself, as well as numerous others, have been at the receiving end of such behavior, coming from this old friend of mine.
Suffering at the hands of an adult bully can become very consuming, even drowning, if not addressed early on. “Bullying takes a real and profound toll on stress levels, self-confidence, and even our grasp on reality if the bullying is prolonged and unfettered…” says author Ellen Hendriksen, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders.
In How to Successfully Handle Aggressive, Intimidating, and Controlling People, author Preston Ni M.S.B.A. shares key ways in successfully handling adult bullies. One of the first steps is knowing your fundamental human rights – this way, you can know when they’re being violated.
Some of our fundamental human rights are as followed:
You have the right to be treated with respect.
You have the 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 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.
A close friend and I were once mutual friends with this bully. Over a year ago, his behavior changed drastically and he became the toxic person in our friend group. His once friendly and kind demeanor turned oppressive, abusive, and tyrannical. He continued to treat my close friend poorly for the majority of their remaining friendship. Because I attempted to speak out about it, I soon became his enemy, completely removed from his life, and have remained so ever since. Until now, I continue to watch him wreak havoc in the lives of those who care about him most, and he remains unpunished for his vile, disgusting, and quite unacceptable behavior.
So, I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself why I didn’t try to stop him. Well, it’s easier said than done!
Unfortunately, from the very beginning, I did the one thing I wasn’t supposed to do, and that was ignore it. Again, Dr. Hendriksen explains that we must call out the bad behavior when it happens, and that it is essentially the most important rule in dealing with a bully. You guessed it – no one has ever, not once, addressed this bully’s behavior directly – certainly not when it started. Hundriksen also stresses the power of “strength in numbers”. Again, we failed. Although many of our peers shared the same sentiment towards the situation, we were all too afraid to act. It did not take long before cowering in fear, obedience, and walking on eggshells was the norm.
Months later, we tried to “dish it out”, mediate the situation, and problem solve. To no one’s surprise, the bully was disinterested. In fact, Hundriksen would have also advised against this. Odd you might think, right? Well, studies have shown that mediation does not work on bullies, and it makes quite a lot of sense too. According to Hundriksen, “Mediation is great for resolving conflict, but conflict implies equality and a desire on both sides to come to a solution. By contrast, the bully has nothing to gain from mediation.” The bully does not care about you. The bully does not respect you. The bully is a bully – remember that.
The biggest piece of advice from any expert is this: Get out. It is my best piece of advice to you as well. If you can deflate the bully early on, do it. If not, leave early.
If I had the emotional strength at the time, I would have encouraged my dear friend to do the same. But, I admit, as weak as any bully is, I am weak too. Even now, the pain inflicted remains, and I reflect on those moments with despair. My bully was one of the best. He hit me where it hurt most, when I was going through some of the hardest months of my life, and kicked me when I was down. In my most venerable time, he attempted to turn a friend, a woman I consider my sister, against me and continues to do so now. If I were to go back, I would have prayed for an ounce of strength to defend myself, my dearest friend, and all those who suffered with us.