My new perspective on adult bullying

I’ve been called a doormat by many of my acquaintances and some family members. My usual response was to say, “Yeah, I am a real bleeding heart when it comes to someone else’s needs and wants.” This summer, though, my personal outlook has changed and it’s time to consider being pushed into something I don’t want to do versus being compassionate and truly helping someone through a difficult time. My mom* was one of those wonderful people who would jump in and try to fix any problem as soon as she learned of it. When she reached 80, she told me something interesting. “I’ve learned to step back and wait for someone to ask me for help, rather than jump in with what I saw as a solution to their problem.”

Valerie MacEwan - Assemblage She said  that all this standing aside and allowing someone to fail or flounder was a terribly difficult thing to learn. Those of us with superior intellectual capabilities, and by that I mean really quick moving minds that can access a situation and determine outcomes in a flash, we leap forward into the abyss with solutions and help — often when we should stand back and allow people to figure out, on their own, what needs to be done and how they need to be helped. Robert learned this at BCDC while working with intellectually disabled adults. Rather than jump in and complete a task, he learned to stand back and allow the individual to figure out the solution. This is also true, he learned, with physically disabled individuals. There’s a whole series of posts I could write on that subject and eventually that’s a good direction to follow.

With bullying on my mind, I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

I haven’t paid much attention to bullying information, except to make sure the grandpoohs aren’t picked on at school but this stuff is fascinating — reading online — the adult bully profiles and descriptions of actions has truly changed my perspective on many events in my lifetime. I think, as adults, we see the word “bully” and think of schoolyard intimidation. Now I see the need to step up and recognize it in the workplace and in the family.

then after other’s “liked” my post and a few commented, I added this:

I worked for an attorney in Greenville, Michael Fox, he and his wife were horrid bullies and they made me cry. Another attorney with Fox threw files at me. Fox once threw a computer. Physical and verbal bullies. I was afraid of them, can’t believe I was so timid.

I walked right out the backdoor of that attorney’s office, more than 10 years ago, and yet the thought of how he and his wife behaved still makes me cringe. What is this power bullies hold over us, even as adults?

Someone recently told me about a conversation they were in the middle of at a party, you know, the kind of dialog you are part of but not contributing to? A woman proudly stated to the group, “I finally made X cry!” (X obviously not being the name of the person, duh) Another person said, “Yea!” as if this was a cool thing. Adults, supposedly mature women, not high school age “mean girls”, picking on the weaker member of the group dynamic. At a workplace these days, this type of behavior is grounds for a lawsuit. It’s more than that, though, isn’t it? More than something to address legally… it’s unethical and immoral.

This new idea — becoming hyper-aware of bullying tactics — has truly made a difference in how I view what is going on around me. I have a friend whose job involves invoicing customers for monthly service fees. Last week, a man called her “crazy” and said his company didn’t owe anything, despite his having signed a contract stating they would indeed pay a monthly fee for X amount of years (or months) and how he’d been receiving the “service” for over 18 months. He then snorted (literally) and remarked that the woman previously in charge of “paying bills” couldn’t figure out that “he” didn’t owe anything and now she was fired. I find myself stepping back and reviewing this story — realizing this is my friend, a sweet southern-accented young woman and she is being bullied.

My response to such stories is different today than it would have been a few months ago. First I told her that no one gets to make her feel like shit; it’s simply not acceptable. Then I told her to have her boss, the owner of the company she works for, take over the account. This kind of bothers me — the idea that a man has to step in and take over when women are are being steam-rolled into accepting something that isn’t true — but I feel this is necessary. Reminds me of when a man shops for a car versus a woman trying to talk to a dealer about anything other than liking “the pretty blue one over there.”

One possible step toward eliminating bullying behavior is calling the person out — realize you are being railroaded or bullied. Get someone else to step in and handle the person — sometimes it’s necessary to call in the cavalry and enlist some support to back you up. I say it’s not always about standing up to bullies, sometimes it’s about finding a big dog to bark for you — rather than your carrying a big stick. Or maybe another way to put it — let another person be your advocate, your protector, to show you are not alone.

*I will write about how my mom’s family bullied her — well into adulthood — soon. My dad stood up to the bullies and after he died, it became my job, until she finally outlived them all, dying at 93. How odd…

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