Handling Bullies

Oh no — here he comes again, headed my way.  I just know what’s going to happen; he’s going to be nice at first, and then there will come that thing that he does — he’s going to attack.  He’s going to want me to do something I don’t want to do.  He’s going to tell me something I don’t want to hear.  He’s going to get mad at me because my hair is parted on the left side and not the right.  He’s going to be so charming and so flattering, and I always fall for that kind of behavior, and then …

Do you have a “friend” like that?  What I’ve described is various forms of bullying.  It’s a way one person says to another person, “I’m more powerful than you; I’m going to take your power and you’re going to give it to me.”

It happened to me a while back at a family team meeting I was facilitating.  An attorney walked into the room and began interrogating the mom on the case.  We were waiting for everyone to get into the room to start the meeting, and she continued interrogating, getting loud, persistent, dominating, rude, and even mean.  This was such unusual behavior for her, I let it go for a while and was puzzled and rather flabbergasted at her behavior.  Eventually people began looking to me to make her stop.

Some people are really invested in this energy.  They get into places of power, jobs where this kind of behavior is condoned and expected, and they get to do it more — people like judges, attorneys, doctors, bosses, “experts” in all sorts of fields.  Priests for far too long have gotten away with bullying in the form of child molestation.  Bullying children can even do it with their parents.

Bullies enjoy the feeling they get when they’re creating a fearful response in someone else.  They enjoy feeling dominating, enjoy knowing someone else will be scared, fearful, submissive.  People are so easy to control when they’re in fear.

This is what feeds bullies and gives them energy; when they see you coming, it’s aha!  A feast! 

The bully’s fear is just as magnified as the person they’re attacking.  They’re saying “If I roar, you have to run.”  It’s like animals in the wild, puffing up their feathers or their fur, extending their claws, magically expanding parts of themselves to make themselves seem bigger, scarier.  It’s all a performance.  It’s a game.  Underneath it all, are bullies different than the people they’re bullying?  No, not at all.  They’re just as afraid.

When someone comes at you with aggression, looking for another feast, expanding her wings or showing her fangs and talons, the wrong thing to do is to respond back with aggression.  Aggression only begets more aggression; aggression escalates, and where does it stop?

Actually, the aggression is thrilling to the bully, too.  Keep the conflict going; the bully is an expert at this, and the bully will win.  In a verbal battle with the female attorney I mentioned, I would have been toast.  There’s no doubt in my mind she would have won.  That’s what she does best:  verbal jousting.

This is the fear-based operating system at its finest.

So, when the bullying is happening right in front of you, happening to you, happening in your presence, what do you do?

  • Stay in your core, your heart center, your now moment, whatever you want to call it. Breathe.  Feel who you truly are inside, your strength.  Listen to yourself within.  This is really hard to do with a bully yelling at you, being disrespectful or rude or hateful, attempting to connect with the truth of who you are in this moment, to connect with your inner strength and wisdom, because the bully is expert at trying to pull you out of that core center.  Do your best to stay centered.
  •  Believe that you and the bully are no different at all; she’s coming from a place of fear.
  •  It’s a performance.  She’s blowing herself up like one of these fancy lizards in the picture because she’s scared.  Of you.  Imagine her puffing herself up like one of these lizards.  Thinking about that might even make you laugh,which will definitely throw the bully off her game.
  • Don’t allow others nearby to feed into the drama.
  •  Stop it.  Stop the interaction by holding up your hand and firmly saying, from your innermost strength, “No more.”  “That’s enough.”  “Stop.”  “We need to change how this is happening.”  But not with an anger, and not with a martyr feel to it. Rather, command the energy:  “No more.” Be a true master of the energy of “No more.” Do it with the idea, “I’m doing this because I’m going to break this feeding,” not from fear or anger.  Simply stop the interaction and don’t add to the drama.

Approach a bullying situation from this place within:  “I honor that this is how you choose to have this experience, but there’s a purity beneath here that I’d love to connect with.”  You, coming from your heart space, are asking to connect with her heart space.

***

In my case, I stopped her, and it felt like I was turning around a speeding train going in one direction and we got going again in the “right” direction.  I started the meeting all over again, using the format of the meeting agenda we were all used to.  It was a good thing we continued on with the meeting, because if we’d stopped the meeting, that would have fed her drama.  She would have left, would have felt like she’d “won,” and would have left the meeting thinking that she was bigger and badder than ever, and wow, she can really put people in their place, can’t she, and know that she can use her power, and she can dominate any family team meeting she walks into from now on.

How would it feel to know about yourself that sometimes your power hurts people?  Is that the way you really want to live with yourself?  Is that the way you imagine others want to live their lives?  Maybe the attorney in question had gotten so used to getting her way this way, and was uncomfortable with her own behavior, and was looking for someone, anyone, to do something to get her attention so that she could stop this behavior.

***

I adopted an 8-week-old Brittany Spaniel seven years ago; he was my best teacher in learning to say “No more!”  At age 12 weeks he was old enough to go to puppy training class, and I took him.  Those classes saved my sanity and allowed me to keep my dog.  I was seriously thinking about giving him back to the breeder, he was so hard to handle.

What I learned from the puppy training classes was that I was creating the dog I wanted to be partners with for the next five, ten, twenty years.  Five years from now, did I want him peeing in the house like a puppy?  Eating my shoes?  Biting my hands?  No?  Well, then, I needed to learn how to set appropriate boundaries with him.  I needed to get him to listen to my “No!”  The “No!” couldn’t come from an angry place; it had to come from a place of love, of wanting the best for both him and me for the future.  I was learning how to create a best friend, a beloved companion.

The trainer taught us how to say “Ahht!” with a loud, forceful voice when the dog was doing something it must stop right now, and to not be embarrassed about saying it loud.  I’ve used that a number of times with my dog, and with dogs running loose when I go out walking in the neighborhood.  She also taught us to turn our back on the dog if, for example, it jumped up on us when we didn’t want it to do that, or jumped up on people coming in the door.  Lesson to the dog:  I will pay attention to you when you’re behaving nicely.

Handling a bully is doing essentially the same thing.  You’re wanting to create a relationship that will be a good, collaborative, partnership relationship over time, where one does not dominate the other, where there is no fear or drama or energy feeding going on.  You’re saying to the bully, “I see you.  I know there’s someone in there who doesn’t want to do what you’re doing.  I choose to work with that part of you now.  I won’t be working with the ‘bad dog’ part of you, though.  That must stop.”

Love and respect yourself — and the bully — enough to say it so she’ll believe it:  “No more!”

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