Bullying is a very emotional experience for the ‘victim’. It taps at the very core of our being. So, how do we react when we are being bullied? Is there something in the way that I, as a victim, respond that lets the bully know that s/he is pushing the right buttons in order for them to get the satisfaction they desire? What can be done about it? If it is in the workplace we may be able to seek support from superiors but if it is a superior doing the bullying we may have difficulties. We may ask HR, or our union, to intervene but the process may be lengthy and we may not get the kind of support we would expect and more importantly deserve. The situation could even be made worse. As a last option we may choose to leave and find a job elsewhere but that may mean we leave a situation in which, apart from the bullying, we find enjoyable and in which we are happy. If we do move we take the risk of not resolving the underlying issue and, therefore, taking it with us.
If the bullying is currently happening we need to ask ourself ‘Have I been in a similar position before?’ If so, what are the similarities? Is the focus of the bully the same as a previous one? More importantly, am I responding now as I did then? How do I see the bully? Do I see him/her as a parental or authority figure? As someone who has power over me? It may be that someone is abusing their power. Line managers etc. do have a power over their subordinates but that doesn’t mean they need to be parental. They can still be authoritative but need to be understanding of their co-workers. How do I react? Do I behave like a small child and cower and retreat? Do I have a choice? The answer is ‘yes’! I can choose to continue to respond as a child or I can choose to act as an adult! However, to do this something needs to change.

We certainly aren’t going to change the bully – so that leaves his/her target. We need to ask ‘what can I as the victim do to change?’ The first thing we can do is probably the most difficult and that is to accept our responsibility for what is happening. It may be difficult because we have up until this point been unconscious of our part in it. So we need to ask ourself ‘What is it about me that the bully perceives to be a weakness?’ The focus of the bully’s attention may appear to be our body shape, our appearance, our height, the way we dress or speak, the colour of our skin or our efficiency at work etc. Some of these we cannot change but others we can – if we choose to. However, the real target is something else. The bully attacks and threatens our self-esteem. If it’s not very high to start with s/he is on a winner. So, we need to build up our defences. We need to increase our self-esteem. How do we do that? We need to recognise that, in at least some aspect, our self-esteem isn’t great and, consequently, if we don’t feel that good about ourself how can we expect or hope others to do so? We need to gain an understanding of ourself. Why do we think and behave as we do? Are we autonomous i.e. are our thoughts and behaviours our own or are we repeating those of our parents (See ‘Do you have a backseat driver on board?’ 12th Nov. 2010). If the latter we need to sort out those with which we are now comfortable, take ownership of them and discard the rest. The bottom line is – we need to act in our own best interest. Then we need to learn to love ourself. To some that may sound a bit silly but, again, if we don’t how can we expect anyone else to. We would be expecting others to do something we cannot do ourself! (See ‘No expectations – no disappointments.’ 16th Jan 2011).

What is not a good idea is to blame the bully for our feelings. S/he is not responsible for them perhaps surprisingly – we are! We cannot make others feel anything. We actually choose our feelings – or it may be we are conditioned to feel a certain way when in certain situations – an unconscious reaction. That’s why it’s important to check whether or not we have experienced similar feelings before. Blaming the bully for our feelings only accentuates the feelings of being a ‘victim’.

We may consider why the bully behaves as s/he does and what that possibly says about him/her? What insecurities does s/he possess that creates a need for them to attack and belittle others? Is the bully projecting his/her own insecurities onto his/her victim? If we understand these possibilities we may realise that it is not ‘me’ who has a ‘problem’.

Recognising our responsibilities and learning to understand our self are the defences we have against bullies. In the course of this process we will learn something about ourself and as in all seemingly negative situations we encounter in our lives we are offered an opportunity to learn more about ourself. We may even appreciate the bully for giving us such an opportunity.

I would like to thank one of my Blog readers, whom I met recently, for inspiring me to follow up my previous post on this subject. I trust you know who you are. Good luck in the resolution of your issue with bullying.