“Bullying made me feel insecure, alone, ugly, powerless, and hopeless at times.” ~ Kate Gosselin
We’ve all been subjected to it at some point and time in our lives. Over the last few years, there has even been widespread coverage surrounding It. From the President of The United States to even our own friends and family, it plays a bigger part of our life than we may realize. What is it you may ask? Bullying. Specifically, Adult Bullying. I, like you, thought bullying was something that we simply aged out of. Like puberty or trucker hats, I believed that I only had to endure it for a certain amount of time. I thought that eventually, this, like most awkward phases in my life that I’d like to forget, would disappear. I thought wrong. If you are thinking right now “Ok, but I’d think I’d know if I had ever been or are currently being bulled as an adult!”. I’m sure you’re now following that up by saying, “I’m also too old to still deal with bullying in general”. Again, you, like me, would be wrong. Just like there is never a day where you stop growing up, there is never a day that bullying stopped playing some role in your (and my) adult life.
At 31 years of age, I realize that as an adult, I still get bullied. Whether through friendships, relationships with my parents, work, and yes, even in romantic relationships; there have been instances in each where I, as an adult have been subjected to varying forms of bullying to some degree or manner. And while I can not speak on what the person and/or person(s) perpetuating the act of bullying motives were or why they felt the need to react in a way that I would consider and deem “bullying” ( was it subconscious or conscious, purposeful or unpurposeful), I can speak on how each instance made me feel in varying degree. Before I can explain what bullying does to one’s mental growth and wellbeing, we have to learn what bullying is and why it is so harmful. Afterward, I’ll give one instance of adult bullying in my life, the traits, behaviors, and tactics I feel they employed, and how it directly and/or indirectly impacted my mental health or mindset at the end of this article.
“I realized that bullying never has to do with you. It’s the bully who’s insecure.”
~ Shay Mitchell
The American Psychological Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words, or more subtle actions. The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “‘cause’ the bullying.”
“Bullying happens at all ages and levels.”
~ Ralph Macchio
A bully, as described by Psychology Today, “can be an aggressive juvenile, an intimidating boss or colleague, a controlling romantic partner, an unruly neighbor, a high-pressure sales/business representative, a condescending family member, a shaming social acquaintance, or those in a variety of other types of abusive relationships”. Their actions can be as blatant as verbal name-calling, condescendence, and belittlement (see any Donald Trump tweet or related tweet or press conference), but also as subtle as repetitive and unwanted name/phrase calling in the disguise of “just joking around”. Both extremely toxic and just as psychologically damming, bullying is harmful chiefly due to the fact that it again as described by Psychology Today, carries the implicit message that aggression and violence are acceptable solutions to problems when they are not. Cooperation and the peaceful resolution of differences support an increasingly interconnected world. Bullying not only harms its victims, but it also harms the perpetrators themselves. Most bullies have a downwardly spiraling course through life, as their aggressive behavior interferes with learning, holding a job, and establishing and maintaining intimate relationships.
From “narcissistic” to an “ageist” bully, adult bullies come in all shapes and sizes. It is important to know how to distinguish the types of bullies and how they normalize their toxic behavior. Bullying Statistics state:
- Narcissistic Adult Bully: This type of adult bully is self-centered and does not share empathy with others. Additionally, there is little anxiety about the consequences. He or she seems to feel good about him or herself, but in reality, has a brittle narcissism that requires putting others down.
- Impulsive Adult Bully: Adult bullies in this category are more spontaneous and plan their bullying out less. Even if consequences are likely, this adult bully has a hard time restraining his or her behavior. In some cases, this type of bullying may be unintentional, resulting in periods of stress, or when the bully is actually upset or concerned about something unconnected with the victim.
- Physical Bully: While adult bullying rarely turns to physical confrontation, there are, nonetheless, bullies that use physicality. In some cases, the adult bully may not actually physically harm the victim but may use the threat of harm, or physical domination through looming. Additionally, a physical bully may damage or steal a victim’s property, rather than physically confronting the victim.
- Verbal Adult Bully: Words can be quite damaging. Adult bullies who use this type of tactic may start rumors about the victim, or use sarcastic or demeaning language to dominate or humiliate another person. This subtle type of bullying also has the advantage – to the bully – of being difficult to document. However, the emotional and psychological impacts of verbal bullying can be felt quite keenly and can result in reduced job performance and even depression.
- Secondary Adult Bully: This is someone who does not initiate the bullying, but joins in so that he or she does not actually become a victim down the road. Secondary bullies may feel bad about what they are doing but are more concerned about protecting themselves.
- Workplace Bully: Someone in the workplace that often makes life quite miserable and difficult. Workplace bullies often use titles of seniority, watercooler gossip, or complacency as a way to propel a cycle of fear and loathing in the workplace. From inappropriate and unwanted gestures and actions to overall and continual negative treatment, workplace bullies are often supervisors but can be, and are not limited to; peers and sometimes subordinates.
- Cyberbullying/Trolling: Many types of tangible, verbal, and passive-aggressive behavior mentioned above can be conveyed online via social media, texting, video, email, on-line discussion, and other digital formats. Identity theft is also a form of cyberbullying. Widely accepted and the more popular form of cyberbullying in today’s society; “Trolling”, can be viewed as the most toxic of Cyberbullying as it typically gives this bully perceived anonymity. Often, trolls enjoy belittling or demeaning you based on something that is in direct conflict with their belief or narrative. The battleground of the common troll is both in status replies and direct messaging, barraging, and subjecting the intended bullying recipient to abuse, subjectification, objectification, and slander. In its commonality and widespread acceptance, trolling is the most contagious form of cyberbullying as it gives others the ability to Secondary Adult Bully.
(These next few, I am adding to Bullying Statistics definition of types of adult bullies from my own personal experience):
- Environmental (“I’m The Product of My Surroundings”) Bully: While all bullies are a product of their environment, this particular bully adopts, repurposes, and reuses the manner in which he/she was bullied as a way to safeguard from themselves from the trauma they endured or perceive themselves as about to endure. These bullies typically have a problem with communication, largely due to the trauma created from being bullied themselves. In a need to preserve themselves, they revert to the method of communication in which they are familiar and comfortable as a way to try to communicate their emotions. Typically, these people are not constant bullies; instead only become bullies when triggered and largely as a form of self-preservation. The traits of this particular bully are typically present in people that had a tumultuous childhood or have been in an abusive relationship – romantic or otherwise.
- Familiar Bully: Not to be confused with Environmental Bullies, familiar bullies are not restricted only to bullies within the family or household as the name suggests. Concurrently, the term “Familiar Bully” can encompass anyone that you have a familiar bond with. This can be extended to family, romantic, platonic, or acquainted relationships. Familiar bullies often mimic the type of bullying seen and displayed by its group of peers. These types of bullies often seek the approval of someone considered of “importance” in this dynamic and will often copy the type of bullying projected and portrayed. An example of this type of bullying can be younger siblings or a person new to a group of friends mimicking the type of either verbal, physical, or emotional bullying as a form of bonding with the authoritative figures (i.e. an older sibling or friend/group leader). While Familiar Bullies can develop and morph into Environmental Bullies, the two are not mutually exclusive. Oftentimes the individuals who were subjected to Familiar Bullying become Environmental Bullies as a coping mechanism.
- Self Perceived/Objected Bully: This may be the most dangerous type of bully because the bully is yourself – the negative view of yourself. The self-judgment, hatred, belittlement, and objectification of yourself. This particular type of bullying often stems from depression, stress, anxiety, and feeling of failure. Either from a perception manifested from your psyche or endured by other bullies yourself, Self Perceived Bullying convinces yourself that what is being said or at your expense is true and that you deserve to be ridiculed in such away. Self Perceived Bullying often occurs from your lack of self-defense, voice, and general passive and compliant nature toward who is bullying you. As you accepted your bulliers attacks, you normalized its behavior. In normalizing its behavior, you subconsciously told yourself that what was being said or the actions in which were occurring were deserving in its repute. In its manipulation, it spawned a negative view of one’s self and justifies why you feel what you feel about yourself.
- Insular Bully: Insular bullies are typically uninterested in hearing ideas, viewpoints, and perceptions outside of one’s own experience. These bullies often are quick to reactionary and proactionary stances; stubbornly and unwillingly able to adhere to any outside perspective and/or narrative. Insular bullies are often derived from the constant belief and past experience in which their own viewpoint and voice were subjected to repetitive and constant berating and muting. In defensive to making sure their narrative was heard, they’d often resort to being more forceful and outspoken to make quill its dulling. Where this becomes a bullying trait is when that same forceful and outspokenness is triggered because of perceived similar situations contrary to its ability to have a different outcome. Insular bullies often confuse Perception; what you interpret – Your understanding of a given situation, person, or object. The meaning you assign to any given stimulus and Perspective; your point of view – it’s the lens you see the world through and determines how you view yourself, others, and everything else around you as being singular. In doing so, the perception and understanding they give on a situation, object, or person is directly tied to their viewpoint of the world and their perceived perception that the world then has on themselves, others, and everything else around them.
- Intellectual Bully: Often to cover-up trauma, intellectual bullying occurs when someone uses their intellect (often as and always perceived as factual; whether given substantial evidence in favor of or in dispute of) as a way to make you feel less than. Also known as “know it alls”, Intellectual Bully: often feel the need to subject their “intellectual superiority” into any situation, argument, or discussion. In a clear cry for help, Intellectual Bullies have been subjected to intellectual bullying themselves and now feel the need to “know” a little bit about “everything”. Self-proclaimed experts in almost every situation or topic, they often subject you to their way of thinking or acting often telling you that your way is wrong or that their way is better. Most Intellectual Bullies are almost always Insular Bullies, but Insular Bullies are not always Intellectual Bullies. Gaslighters, people who have been gaslit, and narcissists frequently participate in Intellectual Bullying.
- Ageist Bully: Agesit bully can vary on the spectrum. On one end, an ageist bully could bully someone due to their varying grasp of skill due to them either being younger or older in age or on the other end Use their age and seniority as justification in doing and/or following what they say or believe.
In addition to these traits, bullies also employ common tactics as described by Psychology Today including (there may be some traits and tactics that overlap):
- Physical bullying: This refers to the use of physical intimidation, threat, harassment, and/or harm. Examples of physical bullying include physical attack, simulated violence (such as raising a fist as if to strike or throwing objects near a person), extortion, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work, personal space violation, physical space entrapment, physical size domination, and numerical domination (ganging up on a victim).
- Tangible/material bullying: Using one’s formal power (i.e. title or position) or material leverage (i.e. financial, informational, or legal) as forms of intimidation, threat, harassment, and/or harm. In these scenarios, the bully uses his or her advantage in stature and/or resources to dominate and control the victim.
- Verbal bullying: Threats; shaming; hostile teasing; insults; constant negative judgment and criticism; or racist, sexist, or homophobic language.
- Passive-aggressive or covert bullying: This is a less frequently mentioned form of bullying, but in some ways, it’s the most insidious. With many bullies, you can see them coming because they are quick to make their intimidating presence known. A passive-aggressive or covert bully, however, behaves appropriately on the surface but takes you down with subtlety. *Authors Note* Some forms of passive-aggressive or covert bullying can be seen through the lens of sending overt and covert texts, images, or memes; continued and persistent name, statement, or phrase calling after being asked to repetitively stop, or Saying small targeted offhanded, “petty” remarks during otherwise uncalled for times (verbal bullying).
“For too long, we’ve allowed ourselves to equate targeted bullying with innocent teasing, or dismissed it as pranks and ignored the torment and long-term impact that an incident like this has on young people.”
While we may have now successfully classified and determined what a bully is, we have yet to see an example in action or understand and classify ways in which to combat it.
In my adult life, I have been bullied in every way you may think of. From narcissistic to ageist bullying, I’ve experienced bullying in some way, shape, or form. From people that I consider close to me as well as acquaintances I’ve never personally met. One particular incident springs to mind. On numerous occasions, I have been the victim of Impulsive, Environmental, Insular, Passive-aggressive, and Verbal bullying. Often, varying traits overlapping and occurring within the same person or throughout a group of people. Examples of this that I can personally attest to is constantly being asked passive-aggressive questions despite continual requests to stop. Or Insular bullying from a person who despite hearing other perspectives, is not willing to respect any viewpoint other than their own or lastly self-perceived bullying of my self, allowing other peoples said the perception of me dilute the progress that I have made in a journey to better understand myself and my surroundings. In allowing people closest to me to bully me and not set respectful boundaries, my own self-view has currently become dim, keeping me from taking pleasure in things that once did. Because the voice in my head now bullies me, telling me that I am worthless of expressing my feelings, that if I do, I will only be shut down in justification of someone else’s narrative of myself. I now have bullied myself into believing and second-guessing not only who I am as a person and the strides to better myself, but what I am doing in the response of providing for family and as a providing my own professional growth. Even now, I am forced to choke back tears from swelling, consciously berating myself of having these feelings, to begin with. I write this to you not to dim your hope, but to caution you to the effects of bullying as well as realistically stating that you may never fully be able to fully understand and counteract bullying in all of its forms. There will be times that even though you’ve done all that you can do, you can never truly counteract or effectively stop someone with the intentions of bullying. Nonetheless, here are some basic principles that are taken from Psychology Today, U.S. News, that you can use to possibly end or lessen the burden:
- Acknowledge The Situation: Dealing with or being in a bullying situation can become draining and taxing. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the situation at hand. Doing so can allow you to gain perspective on the situation and validate your feelings that the situation isn’t being imagined.
- Set Boundaries: You have to remember, people only do things to you that you allowed them to do. Unless you have the ability to be strong and establish effective boundaries, the bully is likely to repeat and intensify the abuse. Many bullies are also cowards: When their victims begin to show backbone and stand up for their rights, a bully will often back down. This is true in schoolyards, as well as in domestic and office environments.
- Seeking Profesional Help: Seeking help from professionals when dealing with bullying is also highly encouraged. Sometimes getting an outside opinion from an unbiased source is what you need to be able to diagnose the problem and find a possible solution or ways to cope,
- Self-care: Practicing techniques that are considered self-care to you are highly stressed. Whether its mediation, getting sufficient rest, exercising, or participating in any other stress-relieving activity can allow your mind to reset and look at different solutions and possibilities to resolve your current issue.
- Limiting Your Exposure: According to Dr. Charles Sophy, an osteopathic psychiatrist in private practice and medical director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, “When a bully does come after you, ‘don’t react to the attack – bullies live for the reaction,’ Yeager says. ‘It’s reinforcing and enables the bully. Instead, listen carefully and respond as the voice of reason.’”
Sometimes we can lose sight of who we are because of bullying. In times like that, it’s always important to remember that no one can steal your light but you. When you give in to people’s perception of you, it gives way to bullying in its purest form. Never forget that you, despite your flaws are worthy of mutual respect, openness, and understanding. Until next time.
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