-The man who quits his job because of harassment. – The woman whose husband stays out late at night repeatedly and tells her he is entitled to do what he wants. – The child whose parent tells him often “you are lazy”.
What do these people have in common? All of them have relationships with bullies.
Bullies can be anywhere, at work, at school, on the road (road rage), in the mall or in the family. Whether you are a bully yourself, a target of a bully or even a witness, abusive behavior can you make you sick!
When thinking about the term bully, most people think of the kid on the playground who threatens to hit you if you don’t give up your lunch money. This is your typical overt or garden variety of bully. When you were a kid, how did you feel about these bullies? Anxious? Afraid? Angry? Avoidant? Victimized?
What happens to the schoolyard bullies as adults? If they aren’t in prison, they are in our workplace or on the street, basically anywhere. Most people around them recognize the negative behavior and they usually pay the price for it pretty fast. However, many of these folks have an undercurrent of hidden anger and hostility which puts them at greater risk for heart attack, stroke and self destructive behaviors.
Overt bullying is pretty easy to recognize because the body language and tone of voice is threatening (booming). Sentences like “you don’t know what you are talking about or what’s your problem?” are said. If a person is in a business meeting shouts out one of these sentences, attendees would be shocked, and think “Wow, he or she seems angry. That behavior is not appropriate¨.
What about the more covert types of bullying? Covert bullying can be much more frightening, because it utilizes a vicious combination of verbal and emotional abuse. It’s insidious. It’s stressful. It’s not obvious. It’s confusing.
How do you recognize a bully when they aren’t threatening to beat you up? Words, body language and just plain old trusting your feelings are key. All of us get angry from time to time, but bullies tend to ooze hostility much of the time. There is a tendency for them to believe that others have malicious intent towards them when they don’t.
Covertly hostile people, on the other hand, leave you with nagging wonder. “Did I really do something wrong?” They display a public persona of a nice guy or nice girl, so the targeted person is quite surprised when they are treated terribly in private People who employ covert bullying tactics are adept at using deception to escape accountability often blaming their accuser. If you, the targeted person try to fix the problem(s) you were accused of making, it doesn’t seem to help. There is always something else that’s wrong. Why?
The hostile person has decided to target YOU. This is part of the personality of the hostile person. Many don’t even realize why they do it or why they target a particular person. It’s up to them to recognize that their behavior is unacceptable and decide to stop.
Patricia Evans, the author of “The Verbally Abusive Relationship”, “Controlling People” and others, says it is all about CONTROL. Evans notes that men are the majority of verbal abusers (sorry gentlemen); but the number of women seems to be increasing. She theorizes this is due to socialization: for centuries, men were given the cultural message of the right to dominate.
According to Evans, “verbal abuse is hurtful, it attacks the nature and abilities of the target, may be overt (angry outbursts, name calling, blaming, accusations) or covert (very subtle, like brainwashing), may be voiced in a concerned way, is manipulative and controlling, insidious, unpredictable, expresses a double message and it ESCALATES over time!”
The following is a list of categories with some examples that Evans sites in her book:
1. Withholding. “You never let me talk”
2. Countering. “You are wrong”
3. Discounting. “You think you know it all”, “you don’t know what you are talking about”
4. Disguised as Joke. “What else can you expect from a woman”
5. Blocking and Diverting. “You always have to be right”
6. Accusing and Blaming. “I have had it with your constant complaining”
7. Judging and Criticizing. “You are crazy”
8. Trivializing. “Your concerns are not important”.
9. Undermining. “No one asked your opinion”.
10. Threatening. “Do what I want or I’ll leave you”.
11. Name Calling. “Jerk”.
12. Forgetting. “I never agreed to do that (when he/she did)”
13. Ordering. “Shut up”.
14. Denial. “You have got to be crazy”.
15. Abusive Anger = Violence.
Emotionally abusive tactics include, but aren’t limited to, lying and deception, lack of consideration, humiliation, exclusion, abandonment, ignoring, incessant teasing, and starting rumors.
Both covert and overt bullies have a great deal of difficulty in work life and interpersonal relationships. Even the covertly hostile person who seems like such a nice person will show tell tale signs like more than one divorce, few close friends, difficulty keeping a job or chaotic relationships of some sort.
The closer the target is to the bully (such as spouse) and the longer it goes on, the more damage can be done. Even if the target doesn’t have physical injuries, over time he/she can develop symptoms of traumatic stress or become depressed requiring medical and psychological help. Long term stress and depression can lead to a whole host of physical ailments and self destructive behaviors.
We tell our kid’s when harassed by a playground bully to tell them to stop, run away, talk to an adult about it, stay away from the bully and stay with other people so that the bully can’t catch you alone.
This seems to be good advice for adults too. If you are being emotionally or verbally harassed, tell them to stop it, leave and tell other people about it. If it’s covert, the people you tell may seem at first to not believe (they seem so nice.), but, after some thought, usually it dawns on them that they too had an encounter with this person that didn’t feel right.
In short, if you are harassed/bullied:
1. Say Stop it!
3. Tell someone.
**If you feel you are in physical danger, SCREAM! RUN! CALL the POLICE!**
If you have found yourself feeling bullied, YOU are not causing the problem. You are the current target. There’s nothing you can do except leave. If you try to tell them what they are doing to themselves and others – be prepared for denial and possible anger. The bully has a personality characteristic that only they can change. Leave them alone and they will move on to another target.
Do you recognize your own behavior or the behavior of a family member, peer or work colleague in this article? Do you feel that this behavior is affecting you or your loved ones? There are lots of books, web sites and counselors trained to work with bullies and their targets. Get knowledge and help to change your own behavior whether you are the bully or the target.
Your health is at stake!
Resources: Bully Busting By Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Laney1.html Pity, Not Love. By:Hara Estroff Marano http://psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20040726-000008.html I’m Rubber and You’re Glue: Handling Emotional Bullies By: Edel Jarboe http://www.pioneerthinking.com/ej_rubber.html Workplace Bullying. By Martin Maylor http://ezinearticles.com/?Workplace-Bullying&id=445916 Evans, Patricia. The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Adams Media, 1996. Evans, Patricia. Controlling People. Adams Media,2002.
Copyright (c) 2007 Ainsley Laing