Dealing with a bully? Strategies to stand up.

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While you might think that bullying happens most often in childhood, unfortunately for many, it continues into adulthood.

In a survey by the U.S. Workplace Bullying Institute, 37% of American workers have been bullied at work, with 45% of the targets reporting stress levels that affected their health.

It’s not just work. Bullying can happen anywhere. Within families and personal relationships, people are bullied. And sadly, cyberbullying has become an epidemic, particularly among teens.

While psychologists can debate a bully’s real motive (certainly insecurity and fear are top of the list), when you’re the one being intimidated, offended, degraded, isolated or humiliated it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the person tormenting you.

So what can you do to protect yourself and stand up to a bully? If it’s negatively impacting your ability to function at work or in life, then it’s time to stand up, no matter how difficult it may be.

Take a minute and breathe

Standing up to a bully doesn’t mean you have to mimic their behaviour. Continuing to interact with a bully will only escalate an already charged situation. Instead of screaming and pushing back, take a minute or two. Take deep breaths. What do you want the outcome of the situation to be? Is it an apology? To stop the insults or gossip? To remove them from your life altogether? Once you determine your desired outcome, it will be easier to decide what action to take.

“There’s a place in you that you must keep inviolate. You must keep it pristine. Clean. So that nobody has a right to curse you or treat you badly. Nobody.” Dr. Maya Angelou, poet.

Honour your personal boundaries

With every relationship and every interaction, we all have boundaries. Personal boundaries are the limits we establish to protect ourselves. Boundaries can be physical (our sense of personal space and privacy), emotional (the range of feelings we experience) or mental (our thoughts, values and opinions).

Know your personal boundaries and respect them. Take the time to look inside yourself to figure out those feelings and personal responsibilities that are most important to you. Don’t allow yourselves to be manipulated, used or violated by someone else whose values, behaviour or agendas are vastly different than yours. You owe it to yourself to protect your personal well-being. This will actually empower you.

Tackle aggression with quiet assertiveness

Some people are naturally aggressive. They have strong personalities and opinions. And if you’re more passive, dealing with aggressive people can be a challenge. One of the people I work with is unbelievably kind and has a real gentle soul. Recently they asked my advice on how to push back in life situations. First thing I said is not to lose their sense of kindness. It’s one of their best qualities.

Standing up doesn’t mean you have to change your personality to match a stronger one. It’s possible to remain calm, firm, courteous but assertive. Figure out your style of pushing back - what feels most comfortable or natural to you. With practice and persistence, you’ll find your place.

Stand up to an aggressive partner

In an earlier column, I wrote about how to tell if you’re dating a narcissist. Like bullies, narcissists often need to put others down to build themselves up. They continually need to feed their oversized egos and often use control, intimidation and threats to control others.

Clear communication is key in any relationship, but particularly so when you’re dealing with a strong personality. Otherwise, they’ll bulldoze over you. Your natural reaction may be to avoid conflict and not say anything but this will only create more resentment in the long term. Calmly, but clearly, tell them how their words or actions make you feel.

Of course, if that person is a true narcissist, as charming and charismatic as they can be, it might be better to walk away. The reality is that narcissists won’t change their negative behaviour overnight. Ask yourself if you really want to suffer in the hopes that your partner might evolve.

Call cyberbullying behaviour out

Cyberbullying is a huge issue that affects many, particularly young people. With so many of us online, connecting with thousands of people in virtual communities, social media can be a tricky forum to navigate. It’s a great way to find like-minded people who share your interest and passion for ideas and causes but it also means opening yourself up to intense scrutiny, criticism and possibly Internet trolling and harassment.

Short of leaving Twitter, Instagram or Facebook altogether, what’s the best thing to do if you’re being harassed online? Sometimes the best response is no response. Cyberbullies love to know they’re getting to you. If you don’t react, they will be disappointed and hopefully move on. If the harassment is constant, block them and consider reporting them. Social media should be a forum for discussion and debate not harassment.

Learn to forgive

As difficult as dealing with a bully can be, the core of your interactions with a bully should be rooted in forgiveness - for yourself and the other person. Forgive yourself for having the strength to stand up to a bully or walking away. Forgive them for their hurtful words and actions. I believe there is goodness in everyone. We all want positive, nurturing relationships at work, with our partners and families and friends. I like to think that even bullies want a better way to connect with people. Sometimes they just need a little bit of help to find a better way.

Have you ever been bullied? How did you stand up? Tweet me @NatashaNKPR or comment below.

xo Natasha

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