Because bullying is such a shameful and childish behavior, we are often quick to dismiss the issue as something uniquely belonging to children. Children are still feeling their way through life, forming morals and values, and emerging through experiences with a developing sense of self. It's far easier to excuse this type of behavior from little ones, as we can easily justify that "they didn't know any better," or "they are still learning right from wrong." As their little bodies and minds continue to develop and strengthen, it is our responsibility as adults to teach them traits like compassion, empathy, kindness, acceptance, and inclusion of others. So then, what happens when - as adults - we experience this wretched behavior from another adult? It can only leave you to wonder, what went wrong? We have zero tolerance for the bullying of our children, why should it be any different for adults?
Most people will experience a bully at some point during their life; I just didn't expect to meet mine as a 30-year-old adult. You would think that as a grown-up, I would have the expertise necessary to quickly identify the bully, and deal with the situation with efficiency and ease. The sad truth is, my bully had the extraordinary power of making me feel like an unlikable, unworthy, powerless and submissive child. Although I always pretended to be calm, cool, and unaffected by her aggressive tone and cold remarks, in reality I was a shaking, terrified, shameful mess. Our toxic encounters always left me feeling damaged, shaken, and unsure of myself. Which brings me to the first rule of getting rid of a bully.
1. Take Back the Power. My bully had all the power from the start. She immediately treated me with so little respect, that I began to question whether I deserved her respect at all. Looking back, I wish that I would've had the strength and awareness to stand up to her right away, to take the power back into my own hands. I was naïve enough to let this behavior drag on for far too long. She was a person intertwined with my life, and I truly felt that it was my obligation to make our interactions more pleasant and tolerable. It was my duty to try. And I did try. I tried my very best for an entire year. And then she slipped, and went too far - and I took back all the power.
2. Kill them with Kindness. An age-old idiom. Does it work? I have no idea, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Even though I had daydreams of screaming in her face (You are an ugly person and you have an ugly soul!), fantasies of dumping a bowl of vegetarian chili on her head, and literally spent an entire afternoon Facebook stalking her with my sister screaming about her "leathery and weathered skin" - still I treated her with only kindness. She was such a cruel person to me, I decided that she desperately needed some niceness in her life.
3. Bring a Buddy. When I knew that we would be at the same event or party, I often asked a friend to come with me. Mostly because she scared the shit out of me, but also because I urgently wanted someone on "my side" to witness the horrific behavior. Instead of having a miserable time, my friend and I could give each other eye rolls, knowing glances, and fleeting looks of disapproval. Wow, did she really just say that?!
4. Don't Argue. Don't bother arguing with a bully. They are often driven by anger, which means that all logic goes out the window. You can't win.
5. Cut Ties. Although I endured being bullied for far longer than I should have, I ultimately reached the point of no return - and this is where I cut my ties. This time, she had gone too far, she had pushed me into a dark corner that would take years to escape from, she had humiliated me for the last time. As I turned my back to her and walked away, I knew it would be for the last time. This was not the type of person I wanted in my life -ever. This moment was painful, but I knew after the storm passed, I would be free.
It took me a very long time to let this go, to release the blood-boiling anger, to stop re-playing things in my head, to get back to where I used to be. Actually, I'm not sure if I ever got back to where I used to be. The whole experience made me second-guess myself, as if she were preying on - and confirming - all of my fears (Am I boring? Am I worthy? Am I interesting? Am I smart?).
But in addition to the grief I felt, the experience also forced me to grow. It pushed me to examine why I was letting her affect my life so much. It made me dig a little deeper to understand why I allowed that behavior to persist for so long. It made me stronger. And it made me better.
The memory of hurt is seared into my brain, but now I decide who is worthy of being in my life. I decide how I let people treat me. I decide if I am interesting, fun, important, and beautiful.
Grown-up bullies are real, and you do not have to let them in. But, if they somehow creep their way in, as they sometimes sneakily do, refer to the steps above.