For a long time I found it really difficult to stand up for myself around bullies. I was fine asserting myself with most other types of people, but not the irrational, aggressive, in-your-face bully. I felt intimidated, teary and humiliated every single time.
I realised later that I tended to lose my voice and myself around bullies because they are so unfair. It’s so hard (and pointless really) to argue with someone who just wants to make you look small so they can feel bigger. I also think that bullying can be quite subtle and pervasive so that you are almost questioning yourself whether it is actually happening.
Bullying for kids is a different field and one I’m not experienced in. But if you are facing bullying of the adult kind, my main strategy has always been to stay well away. But if you really can’t avoid them…
1. Stand tall and proud
Make eye contact. Don’t flinch. Be solid. Practice deep breathing. Listen to what they have to say, but don’t own it. Be a wall with ears.
2. Don’t get angry
Distract yourself with a poem, counting, a song. Our huge repertoire of nursery rhymes comes in handy right about now. It’s hard to get angry when your head is singing “a’tissue a’tissue we all fall down”.
Remember the golden rule with bullies: whatever their problem is, you are not it.
It won’t do you any good to try to ‘win’ a confrontation with a bully. This can be frustrating because it’s just not fair to let someone so awful and undeserving be the ‘winner’. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it’s just the way it is.
3. Stand up for yourself
When the time is right, interrupt them in a calm, measured voice. Saying their name again and again in a firm but gentle way tends to get their attention. Say “I don’t like the way you’re talking to me. I’m happy to have this conversation, but not like this. Maybe you should come back when you’ve calmed down.” Note that you are putting the onus on them here. Walk calmly away. Ignore the insults that they will shout after you.
4. Be honest about how you feel
The temptation is often to keep a bully at bay by being kind to them. When I was younger I used to do this, but although it smoothed the way, it sure didn’t make me feel good about myself. These days I tend to be upfront with bullies and also about how I’d prefer to deal with them. This makes me feel better and it also makes me less likely to be bullied by them again. For instance, at work I tell them in no uncertain terms that I find talking with them face to face difficult and would prefer to use email.
5. Let people know
Don’t feel ashamed that you’re having problems dealing with someone like this. Let other people know so that you are not alone. Most bullies are harmless, but some can turn very ugly, very quickly. It’s good to know you have back-up. Be proud of the fact that you have people you can rely on in this way. Bet your best knickers the bully doesn’t.