Dealing with bullies is an age old issue. Bullying is actually a very natural part of human society. But how can the bully victim win?
I said that bullying is a natural part of human society but when I paused to think, I realised that it extends further, into the animal kingdom.
I don’t even need to back that up with any evidence as I’m sure you’ve all got stories of animals and pets you’ve had who have been bullies. Dogs do it, fish do it, monkeys do it. But when it comes to bullying, the best (worst?) creatures in the world are probably us humans.
It’s a game of dominance and leverage. Bullies use people, who don’t or can’t fight back, as leverage to gain dominance.
I myself have had to deal with bullies my entire life. It’s a huge issue for me because I somehow attract them. I’m quite short, of slight build and generally try to be nice to people. This is something of an antagonist to alpha males.
So what I wanted to do is throw down what I’ve learned over the decades about this very predictable social dynamic and the ways in which we can approach it and begin dealing with these pesky bullies!
Principle 1 – The different types of bully
First I would like to distinguish the different types of bully I’ve come across so as to get an idea of just who we’re talking about.
- Bully type A: The verbal bully. This kind of bully tends to put you down in front of other people in order to get approval feedback from whoever is witness.
- Bully type B: The physical bully. This kind of bully will partake in verbal bullying too but adds to the mix some physical threats or actual violence. Again, this is commonly done for peer approval but there’s an added element of self-satisfaction thrown in that doesn’t require approval to be stimulated.
- Bully type C: The advantageous bully. This kind of bully may or may not do any of the above but instead will manifest in your life as someone who has something you need and plays on that. Blackmail is a form of this kind of bullying. An authority figure is also prone to this kind of bully tactic.
There are probably other types of bully, but for this post I’d like to stay focused on types A and B, although some of the principles apply to C as well.
Principle 2 – Why are they bullying?
In dealing with bullies, we must first remove some of the drama and treat it like a cold science in an attempt to understand the bully. With that in mind, let’s get a definition of ‘bullying’ down.
A Wikipedia definition says that bullying “comprises repeated acts over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful.”
So this is a good start because they key word here is ‘power’.
A bully does what they do to increase their sense of power. I would say this is either because they have themselves a lack of power and wish to restore their own sense of it (imposed on them by yet another bully) or because they crave more power than they already have.
Either way, their sense of empathy is not developed. They won’t comprehend someone else’s suffering. Although I’m not a Christian, I like something Christ once said: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I think he meant this literally. An unprovoked aggressor has no actual idea of the pain they’re causing or they could not exact their negative will.
Any slight sense of empathy is repressed and/or the bully will tend to justify their actions somehow. If someone is actually devoid of empathy they’re called psychopaths and that’s now who we’re talking about here.
So, to briefly conclude, a bully does what they do to increase their sense of power and is not conscious enough of the consequences of acting so selfishly, and so are not hindered in their pursuit of it.
Principle 3 – Hitler loved his dog and wept when his mother died
A bully is still human and is still governed by human laws of emotion. Behind every bully is a cry for help. A bully is angry and anger is, 99 times out of 100, a reaction to fear or emotional pain. Revenge is just sorrow turned outward.
Hitler – the world’s most infamous bully - had a very stern, unemotional and heavy handed father. This should come as no surprise. One would hardly imagine Hitler to have been raised in an entirely serene atmosphere. His father once beat him into a coma! Can you imagine how the memories of those encounters as a child fuelled at least some of his rage?
When Hitler’s mother died, he was distraught. The family physician said he had never witnessed “a closer attachment between mother and son.” So, knowing this presents us with the problem of not being able to see pure evil running through the veins of this most hated of all bullies.
So what I’m getting at is the notion that bullies aren’t just ‘evil’. They’re doing what they’re doing out of a weakness, a fear. Bullying is not a symptom of actual power and strength.
Principle 4 – Why they’ve picked you as their target
Now here is where we get interesting. We know more about the bully now, so let’s talk about the other side of the bully equation – the ‘victim’ as they’re commonly referred to.
A bully exerts their will, and their intent is to achieve a sense of dominance at the end of the bullying encounter. At the end of their taunt or fight, they must feel victorious or at least like they’ve caused pain.
Who do they choose as their target? Someone who won’t resist or can’t resist. Simple as that really. Also, someone who reacts to them. These two ingredients are golden to a bully!
If a bully was having a go at someone and that person didn’t fight back but instead came across as not giving the slightest shit about the bully’s taunts, you’d soon see said bully go elsewhere for their power surge.
The other factor as to why they’ve picked you goes back to my previous mention of how bullying manifests in the animal kingdom. It’s part of our primal nature to fit into society in whichever way we see fit. For some this means trying to be the alpha.
For others it means not trying to be the alpha. The alphas will throw their weight around to just about any non-alpha, but the non-alphas will, in turn, throw their weight around to the members of the ‘tribe’ or ‘pack’ that seem particularly vulnerable i.e. show distinct differences or weaknesses.
This means that the poor hen-pecked non-alphas at least get to have a little taste of pseudo alpha status by taking their frustrations out on the even less dominant individuals.
You can see how this works out in day to day life as well. Most bullies are themselves, victims of another layer of bullying, and so on. This is called a ‘pecking order’ and, unfortunately for some, it is natural and it is therefore common.
It’s so interesting because you can even take the example above of the last victim in the ‘bully chain’ and if they get the chance to find someone even more timid, there’s a chance the chain will continue via what we thought was the last victim, onto another victim layer.
Principle 5 – Why you don’t fight back
There is usually a simple reason for this and it is the nimbus of the whole bullying paradigm. A poker game is usually fought and won on this principle.
The victim sees the ill effects of the bullying and subconsciously weighs them against the consequences of fighting back and thinks that NOT fighting back is optimal. In all but rare cases, they’re wrong!
The bully sees you as low risk. You see them as high risk. In a game of poker, if you’re afraid to lose your chips, you’ll lose your chips. I should know, I played it day in, day out for about a year in an attempt to turn professional.
As a kid, when I got bullied, I was so afraid of fighting back in case I lost or got hurt that I just let everyone walk all over me. Even as a young adult. Alone in my room, I would swear revenge but when confronted with my fear, it just overwhelmed me.
It happens to lots of people. I have a friend who used to be a doorman and grew a fierce reputation, but in his early days of working on the door, used to completely freeze up in terror when confronted with local trouble-makers.
These days I don’t get as much grief. I’m more confident so my body language is different and I don’t give off the same victim vibes but I know that to not fight back is a kind of suicide. It took almost 30 years to realise that.
Principle 6 – Choosing to fight back
It’s not until you realise your own self worth and, coupled with that, realise that you’re taking a big risk by NOT fighting back, that you will take a stand.
You also need to remember that you only need to take a stand to cause an interruption to the pattern. Remember, the bully wants it easy. Wants a victim who does nothing. You don’t need to win, just show resistance.
What I find tragic, and also illogical, is that some victims of bullying take their own life before fighting back! The prospect of death is somehow better than standing up for themselves. Imagine if, instead of committing suicide, these people risked their lives standing up to the bully. And really, how many would be actually risking their lives in making a stand?
Principle 7 – How to fight back
I don’t wish to advocate violence as a method for dealing with one’s problems. That said, it is sometimes a path that is available and, when compared to years of suffering at the hands of a bully, relatively safe! We shouldn’t shun either path.
The bully merely needs to know that you’ve ‘done the math’, so to speak.
Remember before we talked about weighing up of consequences? Well, on an unconscious level, the bully just needs to get the sense that you’ve weighed it up and would rather deal with the consequences of making a stand – regardless of what those consequences are.
As a step further, it is advisable to come across as actually wanting to deal with the consequences. You’re quite enthusiastic to see what the bully could actually do that’s worse than putting up with their shit for years to come! Bring it!
Now this showdown may well be just verbal with some physical threats thrown in i.e. it may not even become physically violent, but you may want a little something up your sleeve in case.
What I’m saying is that it won’t hurt to join a martial arts class. This can help with physical confidence but in the case of settling things verbally, it will give you the confidence to do that too. See, you may not have the confidence for a verbal showdown without the sense that you could back it up, and the bully can also get a sense for that.
Don’t just join any martial arts class. Join one where you get used to being hit (this ingredient alone can turn you from victim to hero), used to hitting hard and used to being involved in grappling or wrestling of some kind.
If you do take the path of violence, and in all honesty I can’t hold that against you as it’s incredibly difficult being the victim, then here are a few tips I’ve picked up from thoroughly studying this subject:
- You may want to avoid a preliminary verbal match. Don’t talk, just do it. You may find that talking just causes nerves to build up. This isn’t about thinking, it’s about action.
- Try and get the bully on their own or their friends may join in, and even if they don’t, they’ll give him a confidence boost just by being there.
- Ideally take some back up with you in case you do get in trouble.
- Do it somewhere quiet, it’s just between you two, witnesses complicate matters. I have a friend who knocked a guy out because the guy punched his girlfriend. The knocked out chap was with his buddies and now my friend has a criminal record!
- Keep it fair so that no more revenge can be had. If you got him on his own then you can make a deal that because no one saw it, there’s very little damage to his ego. Maybe even shake hands on it and agree that it ends here.
- Finally, as Bruce Lee said regarding fighting (paraphrased) “Don’t care whether you win or lose.”
Principle 8 – Self Worth
So what’s really at stake in all this? Your self worth and sense of personal power. Of course.
Trust me, it’s on the line and you’re giving it up. If you don’t take a stand now, this problem will come back to haunt you again and again. Whether in school, college, your job, your new neighbourhood, anywhere.
You must learn that as long as you consider yourself to be a thoroughly nice person, you’re already far more advanced than the bully who isn’t happy and isn’t aware of other people’s emotions and is actually quite scared and vulnerable.
I took me ages to get this. The bully isn’t weak, I’m weak! I can’t stand up for myself! But know this… everyone who judges you, looks down at you, sneers at you, is doing so because they don’t have the strength and courage to be nice. It takes balls to be generous believe it or not!
You want to know who the strongest person in the room is? It’s the one smiling and offering value. Not the one scowling because they can beat everyone in a verbal or physical fight.
With this in mind you MUST let go of any inferiority complex and realise who is actually the more advanced person – you. This isn’t a pep talk, this happens to be true. Can you imagine an advanced person needing to shove people around to feel better??
Few final words
Bullying is a serious issue and affects many people on a daily basis. The bully relies on you to keep them in business, so to speak. They’re counting on you not pulling the trigger.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, you’ve somehow made it clear that you’re not going anywhere, no matter what that person does to you.
If you don’t fight back, the very least you can do is to get out of the situation or relationship. I met up with an old ‘friend’ recently who always liked to put me down. If it was serious enough, I could have used some kind of force to put an end to it, but it wasn’t that bad. As such, I decided to just not contact that person again.
Remember the poker analogy and call their bluff. They won’t see it coming and chances are you’ll be free moments later. Maybe for the rest of your life.
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