Conflict-free strategies for dealing with bullying behaviour?
April 2, 2018 6:27 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with bullying behaviour when you have no assertiveness skills?

I am currently experiencing bullying behaviour from an older roommate.

A lot of the advice says that you need to confront bullies to make them stop.

I have 0 assertiveness (which is probably why I tend to attract these people). If I tried to confront the behaviour, I would probably end up blushing and stuttering out some rehearsed phrase and then getting muddled up halfway through... Or they would call me oversensitive.

I think that in my case, this kind of approach would likely backfire.

I also think this particularly bully would see it as a challenge. They have told me a few stories about how they bullied people in the past (and seem proud of it).

So far my strategy has been to ignore the insults (with flat out ignoring or non-committal responses). But they continue to do it.
posted by iamsuper to Human Relations (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Rosalind Wiseman's Cultures of Dignity teaches by asking " to think about preparing for a social conflict in real life. Except instead of the goal being to destroy the enemy, your goal is to speak your truth, face the situation courageously and don’t let the other person control the situation so you end up feeling bad and stupid or even worse you end up apologizing for even trying to face the problem." Her SEAL method worked for my daughter, and it does also apply to adults. I wish you well.
posted by peagood at 6:33 PM on April 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Don't meant to threadsit but just wanted to add: is sending a WhatsApp message or something of the sort a big no?
posted by iamsuper at 6:52 PM on April 2, 2018

What kind of bullying?

Ignore, deflect, avoid, move out, curry favor. These are "flight" "freeze" and "fawn" strategies.

Learning to flag jerks in the first place is a good preemptive strategy! But, some will always get through the net. Sneaky bastards. Therefore: working on speaking up is a must. Or you will find yourself in this situation again and again. Being indirect is a very imprecise way to tackle the problem.

These old AskMes might help: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]
posted by fritillary at 6:53 PM on April 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I came in to recommend the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, but bq got there first. Yay!

There's an overview/primer at the ADRR website.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:19 PM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

A very simple and easy to practice response to bullies is "fuck off". It takes courage, sure, but it gets easier and easier to say each time. You can say it while turning your back and walking away. You can write it in a note and stick it on things. You can write it on your palm and hold your hand up if you don't want to say anything at all.

You will never reason a bully out of bullying. You can only take away their bully oxygen. Responses that show that you care about their behaviour are bully oxygen. Give a response to show you don't care. Give the response that is true to your own wishes and feelings. "Fuck off". It has such a lovely ring to it.
posted by Thella at 12:08 AM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

I had a similar need to set boundaries recently. I was with a group of people at a happy hour and addressed the person, framing it as a bit of a joke. "I'm setting boundaries with you! Also, thank you for helping me a better person by teaching me how to set boundaries!"

The person took it the same way, "I'm glad I could help you be a better person!" But the boundary was set and I had people around to witness it and he has changed his interactions with me.

This is all totally dependent on your comfort level with being this assertive. A couple drinks apiece didn't hurt either.

But every time you do this - even if you start small - you'll feel more and more comfortable doing and realize that it's in your own best interest. My go-to line when I'm in an uncomfortable conversation has been, "how about those Red Sox?" It's a nonsense line that most people interpret to mean let's change the subject. If they ask me what I mean I say "let's change the subject."

After you try something like that a few times you can progress to "I'm not having this conversation right now/with you."

I swear to you it gets easier every time. Start small. Talk about the Red Sox even if you know nothing about them; I certainly don't.
posted by bendy at 12:42 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not entirely clear what kind of "bullying behavior" you're talking about. But you did say something about insults, so:

If there's a bunch of other people around, try simply waiting a beat, and then saying "Wow," in a sort of "i can't believe you just said that" tone, and then start talking to someone else about something different.

Heck,something like that'd work if it's just you and them - they insult you, you just wait a beat and then say "wow," and walk away.

The whole tone says that "what you just said to me was very rude, and it's apparent to everyone that it's rude, so we're going to stop engaging with someone being so rude."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:41 AM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

A very simple and easy to practice response to bullies is "fuck off".


Okay here is the immature response:

I also deal with such people by insulting them back. Much, much worse than they insulted me. It might not be the best advice but pent up rage is what these people were made for.

People are abusive because they think they'll feel good by offloading their shit onto you. If instead every time they say something they end up feeling really shit about themselves then they won't do it again.

The only way this won't work is if they feel good by getting a rise out of you and if they are insult-proof.

Here is more bad advice on how to insult someone who insults you:

1. Observe what it is they're insulting you about (subject matter, style of insult) as this will tell you what their insecurity is.

2. Choose your insult accordingly.

Here is the mature response:

1. Observe what it is they're insulting you about (subject matter, style of insult) as this will tell you what their insecurity is.

2A. Be cringeworthingly earnest, open and questioning about why such a topic affects them so much. "Does it make you feel better to offload your pain?" I'm talking full on Oprah or Byron Katie. Or even "So what if I am stupid? Is stupidity a problem for you? Why is that so?"

2B. Identify the strategy they are using and openly question their use of it. I do this with my dad sometimes. "Are you looking for a solution or are you looking to be abusive? What is the point of this interaction right now?" Normally he shuts his mouth because his sole interest is in being abusive and he knows it.

Your call.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 6:22 AM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

It would help if you provided examples or descriptions of the bullying behaviour.

Roommate interactions can be tricky and viewed differently by the parties involved. For example, I once had a roommate who was seriously convinced I was bullying her - completely out of the blue from my perspective - for things like not being talkative enough day-to-day with her, my "tone" when I was chatting with her (still have no idea), and asking her to clean up her (lingering and disruptive) kitchen messes a few times.

I'm sharing this example not to suggest this is the case for you, but to show how ambiguous the term "bullying" can be.

If you don't want to go into detail, the best advice I can give is to move out asap if you aren't getting along. I would not suggest living with anyone you consider a bully, regardless of how you're defining it.
posted by randomnity at 1:32 PM on April 3, 2018

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