Bully bully.
March 8, 2007 6:55 AM   Subscribe

How to grow a spine.

If you were bullied into adulthood, but then it stopped: what happened? What did you do to change yourself and/or the perception of you by people who are prone to bullying? I am interested in specific experiences by the formerly bullied, not general platitudes I already know like, "Stand up straighter", "love yourself," etc.

(Background: raised in an abusive home; no longer tolerate bullying or exploitive relationships at the most intimate level--close friends, S.O.'s, etc--but might still give off the "scent" of one who is a good target....often still attract bullies and/or bullying in other circumstances before I'm even aware it's happening).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Are you below the age of twenty-five? If so, this may be of comfort:

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Columbian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted myself to being bad.
Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
posted by lostburner at 7:13 AM on March 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

I decided my feelings and opinions were as valid as anyone else's.
posted by konolia at 7:28 AM on March 8, 2007

I learned to look people in the eye. Staring someone down is effective. And if you're staring down someone bigger than you are, it can make you look like either you ARE the 'baddest motherfucker in the world', or you're batshit insane ... most bullies know from past experience that EITHER of those two choices is generally a bad idea.
posted by SpecialK at 7:30 AM on March 8, 2007

Excellent use of Snow Crash!

Sometimes I subconsciously sought out ways to become an "expert" in the areas where my tormentors were weak. Or where they attempted to be strong. Ex. my mother isn't very socially adept, ergo I go to great lengths to build a strong and meaningful social network. It's classic "something to prove chip on your shoulder" behavior. People can often quickly sense where you are compensating and they will try to take you down a notch. This can be perceived as bullying behavior, thereby repeating the cycle. Knowing (self awareness) is half the battle. Having a thicker skin and not letting their issues/behavior affect me is the other half. People sense this too, and don't bother so much. That's the difference, for me at least.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:32 AM on March 8, 2007

Had a drink, took a deep breath, called my bullying sister on the phone and told her to cut it out. It seems to have worked so far.

Hopefully, if this happens again, I will have more confidence to look them in the eye and tell them to stuff it instead of being quiet and running away.
posted by sutel at 7:33 AM on March 8, 2007

What SpecialK said - look them in the eye. Also, understand that you don't have to take anyone's crap of any kind, ever. In what contexts is the bullying arising?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:34 AM on March 8, 2007

To just add to lostburner's astute observation, one of the nice things about getting older is that not only do you change, but the people around you change. When you are younger, and someone acts like a bully, there is a tendency for those around you laugh and go along with it.

When you get older, (hopefully) that same kind of behavior from a bully elicits a response of "Oh, what a boorish ass he is. Clearly compensating for something. More Chardonnay?"
posted by 4ster at 7:35 AM on March 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

The easiest way to stop bullying is just by giving off the scent of being bat shit insane.

I used to get picked on a TON while I was in elementary school, middle school, and high school, until one day senior year, I took an offending bully, slammed him into the locker, and told him that if he touched me again, I was going to take his eyes out and shove them up his ass.

The next six months were the most amazing of my life.
posted by unexpected at 7:45 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not putting up with crap is the key. As soon as you realize people are pushing you around, call them on it. Maybe that's easier said than done.
posted by chunking express at 7:56 AM on March 8, 2007

Call them on it.

"Why are you treating me so poorly? We're both adults, if you have some problem with (whatever the issue is), let's discuss it."
posted by Meatbomb at 8:06 AM on March 8, 2007

although you said you didnt want to hear "stand up straighter", i think what that seemingly small piece of advice actually hints at is the fact that body language and demeanor actually can project ..something. i don't know what, or why, but i have noticed that it helps my confidence to actually rise when i pretend to be confident. it seems like it also makes people mess with me / make provoking comments to me less - but this could be the fact of just getting older, as mentioned already. anyway, i consciously started making sure to do a few things with how i physically acted, that seem to have helped out with how i get treated by potentially-intimidating strangers.

- walk slowly, standing up straight (sorry!)
- head up, not looking down or purposely avoiding eye contact. you dont want to stare them down, but dont be afraid to glance at people
- take up a lot of space. if you have to sit down, say on a bus or train near someone you think might be a bully type, try to sit casually, relaxed, like you would if you were by yourself
- do things loudly. all these sound pretty crazy reading them back, but especially this one. at work, (where i'm around tons of potentially-intimidating people) if i'm going to the fridge to get a drink, i'll actually shut the door harder than i normally would, because it's louder and seems to show that you aren't trying to "sneak around" meekly, afriad of anyone seeing you
- if someone says something to you, trying to get a response they can exploit to make you uncomfortable , respond slowly and disinterested. wait a second, breathe, and shake your head slowly, "i dont know man", or, "nah.."

again, this might not be exactly what you're looking for, but the kind of bullying that i used to get a lot in the past tended to be (i think) because i was always looking rushed, nervous, and self-conscious (which i was), and this made a certain kind of person notice that i was probably easy to get a reaction from. doing the things above seems to have worked to help change that.

i've also tried "self affirmations" with an arguable degree of results - stuff like "i am strong, i am confident", etc.

pretty embarassing stuff to type for the whole world to see, but it could help you or someone else. good luck!
posted by white light at 8:08 AM on March 8, 2007 [5 favorites]

Anon wanted me to add this:
Thought I might clarify that I am a woman in my early 30's and I am talking about social bullying, not physical, one-off, stare-em-down-on-the-subway type stuff.
I've heard that type of thing called "Relational Aggression" which might help the original poster out if she's searching for additional coping strategies.
posted by mathowie at 8:11 AM on March 8, 2007

feeling comfortable in a "street" fighting situation has a lot to do with self-confidence; and success in that situation typically has more to do with awareness than any kind of physical prowess. people are often impaired, situations are often imperfect, and the lack of rules lends itself to the fact that anything is possible, which can be a scary realization.

the way you describe "giving off a scent" is interesting. clearly, there is something you are doing (intentionally or not) to provoke people, or maybe your lifestyle is provoking. do you go to bars a lot? are you in your early twenties, and have testy, macho friends? this is pretty normal i guess. i got into a lot of fights in my early twenties. some of my friends though - their last fight was in high school. which is a really interesting distinction, if you ask me. at the end of the day, people who actually fight know how to fight (even if they get their asses kicked here and there) actually fight here and there. people who don't fight eventually lose their edge, no matter how much shit they talk.

having said this, there are two schools of thinking here. either tune things out and go batshitinsane, or embrace a discipline (say, boxing) and learn how to take advantage of other peoples mistakes. drunk people or overaggravated people, for example, tend to line up with their feet perpendicular to the oncoming threat. if you know what you're doing, you know that their center of balance is poor and that their kidneys are exposed, and you rely on your instincts to hit certain spots. i think most people that learn a discipline also learn to respect the meaning of fighting, as it has nothing to do with proving oneself or getting anything accomplished. you are simply taking care of yourself.

i met a kid in college whose father was a navy seal, and he was admittedly a little obsessed with the whole lifestyle (had knives, manuals, gadgets, etc...) but he taught me two or three moves on how to take people down that i practiced and have really helped in some situations - moves where it doesn't matter how big the other guy is, its a matter of simple physics. most of these moves are pure leverage moves, and they involve getting physically close to the other person (grabbing his shoulders for example). i used to have a problem getting close to people during fights, keeping my distance, about arms length, which turned out to be a great distance to get punched from (so i learned to stop doing that, my arms arent that quick). anyway, i have yet to mess around with anybody that knows how to counteract even a simple strong push without falling down and looking stupid.

on preview:

posted by phaedon at 8:12 AM on March 8, 2007

exactly what white light said. down to the most minute detail.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:13 AM on March 8, 2007

Even though you're talking about social situations, you can still cultivate a withering look that will shut most people down. If they say something that you consider to be bullying, look at them, without smiling, and curtly reply. Then, either turn and walk away or continue standing and looking at them, depending on the situation. Practice it in the mirror. Regardless of whether it's bullying on the subway or at a social gathering, it's all about projecting an attitude.

Also, all of the recommendations about taking up some sort of martial art (boxing, etc.) are still valid. If you feel powerful and capable of defending yourself physically, it will translate to being able to take care of yourself emotionally.
posted by BluGnu at 8:23 AM on March 8, 2007

Self control is the first place to start. Ask yourself how you feel when someone is "bullying" you. Are you afraid, sad, angyr, some or all of the above?

Know and understand how you feel, then try thinking of ways to control your feelings.

What kind of outcome are you looking for? What you think is fair has a lot to do with how you should respond to someone. Also try communication first, assume the best about the person in question intentions. Once you decide that you are really being unfairly treated, let the other person understand , calmly, that you feel put upon.

The best advice I can give (if I may) is, know yourself and control your feelings, don't share more than you have to with a "bully" next think of a sequence of events long before you encounter them ,and plan for the confrontation so you can direct what takes place during. Don't let the other person drive the conversation, remember you are the one with a specific goal in all this, the "bully" most likley does not.

go through the emotions that hold you back from confronting this person. Feel them and understand them. Confront your feelings before you confront your bully. good luck.
posted by nola at 8:24 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

AH. I still think that what's been said would help. Steady eye contact and nonresponse are very useful in all sorts of situations, continued or one-off's. As a woman, I was raised to think that I always needed to answer people and agree and be polite. Over time, I learned that not reacting is excellent for subtley asserting yourself, even if you are not obviously being bullied. Be quiet, look someone in the eye, and just don't respond. Compose an expression that communicates, almost, that you haven't heard what they've said.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:25 AM on March 8, 2007

I think some of it has to do with knowing what you want (rather than just going along with what other people want) and being able to state those needs clearly, without apologizing for them or terrorizing the other person into going along with you. But, as konolia said, it takes knowing -- and projecting -- that your needs and wants are just as valid as anyone else's (which is not something that society reinforces for women in general, let alone for former abuse victims).

Mathowie's suggestion of looking up "relational aggression" is a good one; that's still what they're calling female bullying (which is a disservice, I think, since it makes it sound like something entirely different from what boys do on the playground). You might also look up assertiveness training techniques. We've been reading Your Perfect Right for a counseling class, and while it's a bit cheesy, it's apparently considered one of the top works in the field. It also does a nice job (so far) of explaining that assertiveness is not aggression or manipulation, it's knowing what you want and stating it in a way that doesn't hurt others or let them ignore you.
posted by occhiblu at 8:30 AM on March 8, 2007

My story is that a year or two ago I was back in my home town, talking to an ex-classmate. From out of nowhere I was grabbed by this guy who said he was going to kick my ass, because I was talking to his girlfriend. Amazingly, this was one of those bullies from highschool.

I was dumbstruck, because it had never occurred to me that this kind of attitude could continue into adulthood. I hadn't experienced it since highschool, and had pretty much assumed that after high school it disappeared.

I left the bar. There was no way I was going to fight the guy. But I didn't have the same feeling of being bullied. I just felt like the guy was a moron who never grew up. Bullies are pitiable.

As I've become an adult, I've realized that ignoring a bully is very effective. Physical fighting doesn't really happen, so I kind of get a kick out of enraging someone who wants control by simply depriving them of it. Keep all your conversation with bullies to a minimum. Just go - "uh huh", "yeah", "sure" but don't really converse, unless you have to, and then slowly and surely make your points.

Bullies want your attention, and they want to feel important. They want to dominate. Don't let them. Bullies are drawn to targets where they feel this is possible, but also to people they envy to a degree. You don't just communicate that you're weak. You are also communicating in some way you don't realize that you are special. This is probably true about you in some way. Cultivate it.

I would recommend exercise and meditation for you. Both of them will help you exude an attitude that makes you seem more considerate, thoughtful, purposeful, relaxed, and sure of yourself.
posted by xammerboy at 8:31 AM on March 8, 2007

I love what white light said too.

I'm a woman in my 40s and was bullied mercilessly by everybody, and I mean everybody, well into my 30's--parents, kids, teachers, employers, random strangers, etc. The most painful thing about the bullying that I endured when I was younger, is that not one adult who witnessed what I went through ever tried to stop it. That's something that sticks with you.

But things definitely got better as I got older. I'm still extremely uncomfortably socially, but I've carefully watched how other "normal" people behave, and there's nothing magical about it. I just act like other people. I say hi first in the halls, try to speak up at least once in a meeting, ask people about their kids, etc. The object for me is to ward off any impression that I'm quiet. If I can do that, I'm home free. I hate every minute of it, but I only have to do it while I'm at work or dealing with people in stores. Gets most folks off my back.

I took a Shakespeare acting course in college that really opened my eyes about a lot of things. One of the tenets of being alive in the fictional (but somehow very real) world of Shakespeare, is that the worst thing you can do is to have nothing to say for yourself. Always say something. I've always remembered that, and I try to live that way. If someone is confronting you or doing some passive-aggressive crap you don't like, call them on it, or just start yakking about whatever. Let people know you're alive in there! Don't be the person who never talks. And you don't have to yell or be aggressive in turn. Just be verbal. It'll change your life.
posted by frosty_hut at 8:38 AM on March 8, 2007 [8 favorites]

Fuck. Oh well, I think most of my post is still relevant, and my recommendations would be absolutely the same. I'm not going to go into a long story, but here are some good strategies for dealing with social bullies:

1. When dealing with a confrontation use this equation to communicate "When you do X, it makes me feel Y, because of Z." Repeat it as many times as necessary until the bully agrees to change behavior. For instance, "When you ask me to work late, I feel I am being taken advantage of, because I am not receiving pay for the work I am doing."

2. Don't agree to anything immediately. Just say I'll look into it, think about it, let me get back to you, etc. You probably agree far too quickly.

3. Ignore them. Keep your relationship with a bully PURELY professional. You have NO personal relationship with them. When you accept this emotionally, everything will be easier to deal with.
posted by xammerboy at 8:41 AM on March 8, 2007

One other thing. I used to have a VERY bad habit of apologizing all the time. As is "Here's my work, it could be better (e.g. done faster, been more thorough, etc), but here it is. Root that out. You may think you are being modest or humble. In reality, you are coloring people's perceptions of you and your work negatively before they even assess it.

And... go to a personal relationships class. Look up negotiations or interpersonal relations and find something right for you. Studying how you relate to other people is THE skill no matter what you do. It will touch on every part of your life. There's no more important skill to study.

If it were possible to share some personal examples, I think that would really help, because you would see that many people probably share your experiences. This may be an eye-opener for you.
posted by xammerboy at 8:54 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am, by nature, very non-confrontational, to the point where I would bend over backwards to avoid telling someone something they might not want to hear. I eventually reached the point at which I imagine you find yourself, where I decided that I'm an adult and that there are times when I just need to stand up for myself.

What worked for me wasn't any huge paraidgm shift, I just started dealing with things as they came. It sounds stupid, but if I anticipated a confrontational situation I'd mentally rehearse what I would say so I wouldn't be struggling for words. It's kind of a formula, actually: I take a deep breath, calmly tell the person what it is they're doing that I don't like ("you're being exceptionally rude," "you're raising your voice,") that there's no reason for them to do so and that I will be leaving/hanging up/etc. if they continue. Just like that. And I still get shaky and worked up sometimes, but it has gotten easier.

ignoring a bully is very effective

This is very true. Staying calm and not engaging someone who bullies you is an excellent strategy.

You probably won't become self-assured and bully-proof overnight, so don't beat yourself up over what you could have said if it doesn't go as well as you'd like the next time one of these situations arises . View it as a learning experience. You've come a very long way already.
posted by AV at 9:02 AM on March 8, 2007

xammerboy's second point is really great. If someone wants you to do something *even if you think that you want to do it* say something like, "Oh, let me think about it. I'll get back to you in x amount of time." Never agree immediately.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:06 AM on March 8, 2007

I was bullied from age 11 to 18.
Changed schools 5 times.
Teachers no help, parents didn't listen.
Smart, fat kids were open season.
Spent most of my twenties trying to KICK THE SHIT out of ANYONE I PERCEIVED was bullying me or others.
In my mid-thirties, with life as a teacher and an excellent therapist as a guide I saw how "natural" a reaction this was but also how foolish and dangerous it was.
I prize civility, and am working still on tolerance.
But if I see someone being even MILDLY abusive toward a peer, a child, a pet, whatever, I must take a DEEEP breath.
I will never let my son be a victim like I was.
I'm unsure how to do this.
posted by Dizzy at 9:08 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

(on non-preview, xammerboy said what I wanted to, only more articulately and in a way that's more generally applicable. So, uh, what he said.)
posted by AV at 9:10 AM on March 8, 2007

I'm kind of embarassed to admit this but growing up I was sometimes the bully in social bullying situations. The anonymous poster is right in that the people who got picked on had a kind of "scent" - well, not really scent but body language. FYI, I am talking about girls here. Being timid and cringing in posture was a sure-fire trigger - so there is a lot of merit to the suggestion to stand up straight and look people in the eye. Being perceived as being stand-offish was another trigger. Sometimes this perception was formed because the girl responded monosyllabically to conversational overtures from the other girls, where a smile or something along the lines of "That's nice" or "I like X, too" would have saved her a lot of grief. Being defensive made things worse.

The best thing to do once you perceive you are being bullied is to get away from the situation or the person. If that is not possible, control your responses, both verbal and facial expressions, so the bullier(s) can't tell they're getting a rise out of you. Don't try to get the last word in or explain yourself - it will just be more fodder for the bullier. Also try to speak in a lower pitch, speak slowly, and avoid a rising intonation at the end of every sentence.
posted by needled at 9:23 AM on March 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Consider taking a martial arts or dance (modern, ballet, jazz) class. The body-language thing is key, and the cues you're giving may be so subtle and/or so long-held for you that you may not realize that you're doing them. Martial arts and dance will both teach you how to move confidently (even when you're not confident), how to occupy the space you need, and how to read people, all of which will help in bullying situations.
posted by rtha at 9:37 AM on March 8, 2007

Here's a nice review of The Book of No (semiNSFW: the word "bitch" appears in big letters at the top of the page), which offers scripts for growing a spine in different social situations. This is only one kind of social bullying and I'm not sure if it's the kind you're facing, but it might help.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:38 AM on March 8, 2007

I don't know how I got from point A to point B, exactly -- other than age, experience, therapy, acquiring confidence over time -- but the qualities that protect me now from bullying are (I think) confidence and (related) having a thick skin & cheery laid-back attitude re the chatter of others.

If someone makes a crack, and thick-skin-confident person laughs, or snorts & rolls eyes, but (key) without any stress about it, that sends a message. If someone makes a crack, and timid-sensitive person flinches, or tries to laugh it off but clearly seems upset and reacting, that sends a message.

There's also something about being comfortably in one's skin and connected to one's gut/center that helps, that is protective against bad treatment by others. (Hope that's not too California-y.) Getting to that place (which is a very good place to be) can take a long time.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:55 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I’ve found that a great rôle model for not being bullied is the boss. They’re often around to be observed and they don’t take shit.

(At least, the bosses I’ve had. People often complain about their terrible bosses, so maybe I’ve been lucky.) (If one of the bullies in your life right now is your boss, ignore the following.)

A good boss focusses on outcomes: they are specific about exactly what it is they want. They don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about peoples reasons for not producing: your job is to produce, and your boss works to make sure you are able to and that you are focussed on the appropriate outcomes.

A good boss doesn’t get visibly riled at employees and certainly doesn’t engage in arguments with them. They will listen to the employee quietly until the employee is done, recognise the employee’s valid points, and (if the employee is being an ass) redirect the conversation... to appropriate outcomes.

What I have learned most from my bosses has been how to be effective and how not to get into arguments. It’s been great.

Before I took up boss-watching as a way to improve my social skills — oh, about twenty years before — I took a feminist women’s self-defense class. Lots of self-defense is psychological, so it carries over into the rest of your life. In my case the one-semester PE class in college changed my life. I recommend it. (Along the same lines, taking up any form of martial art will reinforce your sense of competence, improve your physical condition and posture, and rehearse the idea that you are worthy of protection and that you can protect yourself. All excellent things that will carry over into the rest of your life even if you are not specifically worrying about physical attack.)

Advice columnist Charles Grace (column Social Grace, but I don’t think he’s got current columns on the net any more) used to advise pausing when someone said something mean or inapproppriate and then saying “I’m sure you didn’t mean that the way it sounded” and then moving on. Or when someone is hounding you with personal questions, “Oh, that’s so personal it couldn’t possibly interest you.” And then moving on.

Advocate for other people. You might find it easier to advocate for other people than yourself; this becomes a habit that transfers back to you.
posted by kika at 10:11 AM on March 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also try to speak in a lower pitch, speak slowly, and avoid a rising intonation at the end of every sentence.

Seconding this advice from needled. I'm male, but I think it applies across the board. I was also abused as a child, and I developed the habit of speaking very softly. Under stress my pitch would rise and I would almost whisper. Once I noticed I was doing that, I made an intentional effort to do the opposite: lower my pitch, speak louder, and speak more slowly. Looking someone right in the eye is important, too.

You don't have to be clever or wilt someone with your sarcasm (in fact, I think that would be counter-productive). A few basic stock phrases can work in a lot of situations.

"I don't have time to help you with that." (Framing it so that they need your help, with something that they were unable to do themselves, but you're just too damn busy with important stuff.)

"I disagree." (End of story. I'm not going to elaborate because I don't have to justify my position to you.)

"No." and "Yes." (Classic, elegant, and unmistakable.)

I liked the advice above to say "I'll think about that and get back to you." It's important to establish that you'll do things on your time.

For a while I got into the habit of saying "Have fun with that." (With a tone communicating that I thought their idea was nuts and wouldn't go along.) Amazing how well that works. I probably had a reputation as the guy who always said "Have fun with that," but it was better than my previous reputation as the soft-spoken guy in the corner who wouldn't say no to anything.

Weird thing: just a few small steps like this made a huge difference. Now I'm the person that less confident people avoid because they know that with me they have to man up and say what they mean, and if their thinking is shallow or silly, I'll challenge them on it. I'm never mean or aggressive, I just stick by my guns. And that's made a world of difference. If you knew my ten years ago and then saw me now, you'd hardly believe the change. And it can be the same for you too. Success follows success. A few simple changes implemented consistently can turn your whole interpersonal dynamic around.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:27 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Be careful here. I've cultivated a look and air about myself which has allowed me to go from age 13 to 22 without anyone ever bullying on me, even though I'm skinnier than a rail. I even have people telling me they think I could beat someone up even though if they looked at my body it would be obvious I couldn't.

But the downside to this "aura" is that people think you're mean. And not just bullies, everyone. People actually have told me that I look completely unapproachable, and it's just something I developed from living in a nasty city environment for a while.

So my point is to not take it too far if you do decide to cultivate a general "don't fuck with me," air about yourself. I'm still trying to fix mine.
posted by zhivota at 11:15 AM on March 8, 2007

Some strategies, which might depend on the situation:

1. Learn to laugh, both at yourself and at the bullies. You have flaws that they can pick at, but they're bullies -- nothing's stupider than that.
2. Show them that your skin is so thick you're even capable of viewing their bullying as helpful criticism. That makes the whole point of bullying go away.
3. Establish boundaries. Thank them for their advice, tell them you've heard enough and will consider their suggestions, and hang up the phone/walk out the door/change the subject.

Usually works for me.
posted by walla at 11:26 AM on March 8, 2007

I think this teaseproofing advice is just as applicable to adults as it is to kids. It also gels very well with my own experience and some of the previous posters' advice as well.
posted by Skwirl at 11:42 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I learned a lot of this advice--the eye contact, the stance, the movement--trying to retrain my painfully submissive dog to be comfortable enough to socialize with other animals and so on.

Look up dog pack dominance and use those techniques on humans. (There's no one particular book, but so far, besides just taking someone down at random or stealing their food, if I can use it to prove to my dog I'm an alpha dog, I can use it on a person.)
posted by Gucky at 1:22 PM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take control of the situation. Bullying works because it makes you feel helpless. If you take control of the situation the bully can't do anything.

I was bullied at school for several years - fat, smart kid desperately trying to be acccepted by her peers. It kind of seemed to stop when I was about 16 - the reason was twofold - we had all grown up somewhat and I had grown completely indifferent about my social standing at school...bullies don't waste their energy on people who will not/no longer be affected by their actions.

Then at the age of 28 I was bullied again - by my housemate and by a colleague at work. The housemate came first.

For some reason I decided that I could not change my living arrangements in the short term so decided to stick it out. The colleague sensed this temporary weakness on my part and took full advantage.

The solution was for me to take control over both situations - I could not afford to live alone without a better paid job so the solution was a new job.

As soon as I started to apply for jobs something about me changed. I was completely oblivious to the little shit at work which freaked him out...he realised somthing had changed but could not work out why.

The housemate also turned all nice all of a sudden.

The new job came within a month and it was in a different town. On my last day the little shit at work came into my office and started this long-winded farewell speech - he acknowledged that we had 'not always seen eye to eye', he hoped that our parting now was on 'good terms' and wished me good luck in the new job and to stay in touch...

I didn't say anything and just had the hint of a smile on my face - but not the forgiving kind that he wanted - more the 'you sad git' kind...he was whithering in front of me - he needed me to make him feel better!

Moral is - work out why somebody has power over you and take it away from them - take control!

The irony is - these two people made my life miserable enough for me to want to make drastic changes - and my current job is the best thing that has ever happened to me - work wise at least - as is my present living arrangement for that matter :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:25 PM on March 8, 2007

Sounds like you're in the in-between stage between being so confident that bullies won't "target" you in the first place, and being unable to confront bullies and get them out of your life.

It's a bit of a feedback loop - the more you confront bullies / exclude them from your life, the more confident you will be in yourself, and the less you likely it is that bullies will see you as an easy target. So whatever you're doing, keep doing it!

I had "friends" who bullied me in my teens and 20's (putting me down in public, telling me I was stupid / making mistakes with my life / uncool / bad dress sense etc - generally making me feel like crap and destroyed any self-confidence I had). In hindsight, the way I got out of the situation was by addresssing both sides of the issue.

I stopped hanging out with people that made me feel bad about myself (and spent more time with friends who did love me), which it sounds like you already do.

But I also started confronting people who were showing signs of bullying, before it got bad. There's nothing better than a calm, reasoned "when you do X, it makes me feel like Y and I don't like being made to feel that way by someone who claims to be my friend". (Either in public or in private, afterwards - but if it doesn't feel right at the time, make sure you do it afterwards!) I walk away feeling that I've stood up for myself, they walk away feeling rather uncomfortable and generally don't do it again (and if they do, then they're not worth the time). Bullies thrive on the reaction. If you don't give them the reaction, or worse, give them a reaction that doesn't feed their needs, then they'll stop. And the sooner you do this, the less likely it is that you'll get sucked into the negative feedback loop!

It's an ongoing process, and I'm going to be taking on board some of the advice above. It will get better - just remember that you deserve to be treated with respect by everyone you encounter in your life - if that's not what you get, it's them, not you, that needs to change. Tell them.
posted by finding.perdita at 2:28 PM on March 8, 2007

My story may be not exactly what you're looking for, but hopefully it helps:

I was bullied (physicially and of course socially) in elementary school through high school. So I took up a martial art for a while. Never really thought of using it, though. Here's the thing: I realized that I could kill people if I wanted to badly enough. I came to the conclusion that if someone is socially bullying me, it is literally not worth the effort to worry about it.

A physical (potentially deadly) response to a non-physical, non-life-threatening stimulus is not ethical. Where do I get off maiming someone for, essentially, just words? Even some pushing just isn't worth the effort to harm someone to stop it.

And the words stopped mattering. They're just words. Paraphrasing Heinlein, if they're lies there's nothing to worry about, and if it's the truth then it should be impossible to take offense.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 5:00 PM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Two stories for the price of one:

1. My brother has always had a nasty temper and felt that it was his right to both control and punish me (usually with beatings). My parents yelled at him, grounded him, whatever, but they never put a stop to it. (Of course, my father was much the same way, but that's a much longer story). Anyway... the bullying from my brother never really came to an end until recently when, at a large family gathering, he physically attacked me. He's a body builder (complete with a history of steroid abuse, according to some) and I'm in poor health, so it wasn't much of a contest physically. A bunch of people quickly pulled him off me, but when we sat down to dinner I, he, and the rest of my immediate family were seated at the same table. He was still plenty pissed and kept threatening me. Instead of trying to ignore him, which was what I would have done in the past, I kept telling him that if he laid another hand on me, I was going to have him arrested. And I meant it. My mother kept trying to smooth it over, to change the subject, but I ignored her efforts. Finally, my brother just left. He said later that it was because he was embarassed by his behavior. It's true, I think, that everyone there was pretty disgusted.

This was a very different resolution than in past encounters. Before, incidents like this just got swept under the rug. This time, I felt mostly vindicated.

The next day, one of my cousins asked me what had happened and I explained that my brother was simply an extremely violent, intolerant, self-centered, angry human who felt he had the right to hit other people whenever they did or said something he didn't like. I also told him why I thought I was on the receiving end of the abuse. I figured that, over the years, my brother had been deterred - through threat of arrest or other reprisals - from hitting his co-workers, his girlfriends, his parents, etc. But there was never any serious deterrent to him hitting his brother. So he kept doing it. Until, at last, a deterrent appeared.

2. I was working in a video store. This new employee showed up who was always in a sour mood and seemed to take a dislike to me. Though I was her supervisor, technically, she decided that I was going to be her verbal punching bag. Thing is, she wasn't terribly bright and most of her insults were extremely lame. Besides, having been a physicial punching bag for both my brother and my father, I didn't care a whole lot about a bit of taunting. It bugged me every now and then, but mostly I just ignored it. I figured that if she didn't get attention, she'd stop doing it. Well, the attention was withheld by both me and our co-workers, but she didn't stop. It never rose above the level of an annoyance, but, still, to paraphrase Jerry Garcia, it got to wearing thin.

One day, immediately after an employee meeting, while everyone was standing there, she said (and I've no idea how this subject came up) to me: "I'll bet you wouldn't last five minutes with a woman." To which I responded, "You'd really have to ask your mother about that." It was pretty juvenile, but my co-workers thought it was very funny. They laughed at her. And that was the end of the insults.
posted by Clay201 at 5:42 PM on March 8, 2007

Since this is not physical bullying, if you're not good at come-backs, jabs, and witty one-upmanship then I have this suggestion. Have you ever reached a breaking point to where you just couldn't take it anymore and exploded with hysterical screaming-bloody-murder anger? If so, try to remember that and keep it in your back pocket. If not, visualize all that pent-up resentment reaching the boiling point of explosion, then put it in your back pocket ready to come out on command. What it may do is stave off some of that "target" sense, give an air that you are a powder keg ready to explode with one false move. Be friendly and kind all day but let it out in the subtlest of ways at any and every snide remark or hint of bullying. Someone casually says something even slightly upsetting to you, surprise them with a glower, stand up suddenly, close the distance between your faces, ball your fist into your other hand, do something unexpectedly pre-hostile; take them by surprise. Or if you are a fan of the loony approach, grab a pencil like an ice-pick and smirk like an evil mastermind serial killer. Make big gestures and hand movements. If they continue, start exercising your verbal repertoire of expletives, cussing, foul language, and "colorful metaphors". Talk loud, and even make a scene, "why the f are you f'ing with me, what the f do you want, get the f away from me, leave me the f alone", etc. Of course, use prudence on the situation.

In all, it's my opinion with at least most bullying types, that taking it in the behind and sucking it up with every taunt and act of mean-ness facilitates that behaviour. Consistently pushing back a little, preferably in a witty way but with whatever's at your disposal, should help take you off the "easy mark" list. On the other hand, with other types of bullying, stark disinterested coldness curtness and even staring silence should be as effective. YMMV
posted by mikshir at 11:30 AM on March 9, 2007

I read somewhere that social bullies (at least males, in limited social arena) trade barbs as a way of bonding.

So next time a particular social bully insults me or insinuates something negative about me, I plan on pointing this out (that he apparently just wants to bond with me) and stating that I'm not interested in being friends with him.
posted by indigo4963 at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Stand up straight. No kidding. Visit a physiotherapist and have your posture checked out. A good physiotherapist will help you straighten your spine, improve your posture, improve the way you walk. S/he'll teach you exercises and stretches and will give you tips that can literally help you grow a strong, straight spine. The wrong posture makes you weak, and makes you look weak. The weak are the favorite targets of most bullies. If you're a picture of health and strength, standing up straight and confidently, it will affect your attitude and the way other people react to you. Give it a shot.
posted by syzygy at 11:41 AM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

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