I remember standing in line at the airport a few years ago.  In front of me was the most ghastly woman I’ve ever come across.  Her husband was carrying all her bags along with his own.  She was relentless in making insulting, demeaning and abusive remarks to him like, “Are you an idiot?  Who dressed you today?  What good are you to anyone?” It went on and on.  I felt like leaning over to him and saying, “Why do you tolerate her?  Why don’t you leave her?  She’s horrible to you?”  But I didn’t.

I later wondered if he was staying out of guilt and believed he had to be tormented?  Did he lack so much self esteem that he didn’t feel he had the right to be treated respectfully?  Had he been bullied as a child and just accepted this as his lot in life?

Let me be clear.  No one deserves to be bullied.  It is an assault on a person’s dignity and is never ok.

Bullies are tough people to deal with. Here are some characteristics:

  • Punishes you, threatens you or hurts you (verbally, emotionally, physically) if you don’t do what they want you to do
  • Intimidates through their words, actions, tone
  • Is difficult to reason with
  • Uses manipulative tactics to get you to do what they want
  • Withholds affection, attention, children, money, help, kindness etc. if you don’t do what they want
  • Can leave people feeling demeaned, disrespected, intruded upon, abused, hurt, helpless, afraid, diminished and feeling like they’re walking on eggshells

If you have a bully in your life there are a few strategies you can employ.

First, look inside yourself.  How does that person make you feel?  Scared, terrified, guilty, powerless, angry, offended, helpless?  To deal effectively with a bully we need to understand our own vulnerabilities first and focus on strengthening ourselves from the inside before dealing with a bully on the outside.

Second, learning which type of bullies to avoid and which type to deal with directly is essential.

If you have a choice and don’t need the bully in your life, then why are you tolerating him or her?  What is it about you that keeps you in a relationship with someone who hurts and intimidates you?  In these cases sometimes avoidance is the best solution.

But if the bully in your life is a co-worker or boss it becomes more challenging.  Be sure to check into your company’s harassment policies and procedures.  Bullying and harassment are not to be tolerated in workplaces although often they are.  Check out our harassment compliance program for more information here as well as watching some of our other courses.

If the bully is a partner, child or parent you have a lot to consider.  As long as there is no danger of violence or serious repercussions (taking or cutting off your children from you, violence, doing damage to you, your property or other friends or family members etc.) there are some strategies you can use when dealing with a bully.  Here’s a model you can try when you’re feeling calm:

Express Empathy and Cooperation:  I’d like to be able to talk about this situation and resolve it with you…

Identify the Action or Behaviour that’s a Problem for You:  But when you raise your voice/pound the table/blame me for all the problems/threaten to not talk to me/tell our family how terrible I am/not listen to my side with an open mind… I don’t feel safe to talk with you.

Identify a Solution:  Let’s talk about this some other time when we can just stay focused on solving our problem together.

Close with Empathy:  I really want to come up with a solution that works for both of us.

If you try this approach a few times and the person continues to bully or threaten, you have a more challenging situation on your hands.  Please watch two of our programs to get some ideas:  Managing Conflict (3 parts) and Dealing with Difficult People (3 parts) with relational psychologist Dr. Stephanie Bot. And, if possible get some professional support from a good therapist.

Key Thought:  If you’re being bullied you need to find a safe way to respond and protect yourself.  Bullying is never OK.