I used to think bullying is something that only happens in school, or only when you're growing up. Turns out I was wrong. Adult bullying is nearly just as common, but simply isn't discussed as much. I didn't realize this was the case until I was on the receiving end of it.
Initially, I didn't even notice it. There were some sarcastic comments and some snide observations about my personality. Somehow I managed to ignore them, let them go, and not take notice. Perhaps they didn't really get to me, because they were spread out over a year or two. Then, all of a sudden, when I started to make life choices that they really didn't agree with, the demeaning comments intensified, as did their disrespectful behavior and spreading of rumors.
That's when I started to realize that things were getting worse. I wanted to stop it from getting even worse, so I stood up for myself. I asked them to stop judging and being hurtful. I told them we should celebrate our differences, because they're what make each one of us so beautifully unique. Most importantly, I simply said, please treat me with respect and kindness. This did not go down well.
They launched another attack on me. They spoke ill of me to others and tried to exclude me from groups. They tried to get others to turn on me. I offered, multiple times, to have a face-to-face conversation to talk this through and overcome it. They refused and continued to send hostile messages to me. That's when I knew it had gone too far.
I started to feel anxious about checking my phone, email, and social media. I got so many nasty messages I started to feel afraid that when I picked up my phone, there would be another one there. I knew it was time to create some clear boundaries, and I blocked them from being able to contact me. I felt slightly better, until I thought, "They know where I live. What if they show up at my door?" Another day, I picked up the post and got nervous about opening the envelopes. What if one of them contained another attack on who I am? These latter two things they hadn't even done (at least not yet), so they weren't even rational things to be worried about. But that's the thing about fear. It gets inside your head.
You start to imagine all kinds of crazy scenarios, because you've already experienced so many unexpected hurtful ones. What started with sarcasm turned into passive aggressiveness, which then turned into direct attacks on my personality and my life choices. It just seemed to get worse and worse, and I didn't know where it would stop. That is why I felt afraid. Even more so after I offered to chat to resolve it, and they just spat in my face. They simply wouldn't listen and didn't seem to care.
You play the things they’ve said, done, and written in your head over and over again to the extent that you start to feel like you are going crazy. You imagine all kinds of conversations in your head, from “I forgive you” to “Why are you doing this to me?" You journal about it like mad, trying to get everything out of your head, so you can let it go. You talk to your friends and family about it so much that you start to feel guilty that you’re bringing such a dark cloud over your conversations. It’s awful.
But you have to keep going. You have to, somehow, find a way to not let it get to you. You can't let them stop you from living your life and going after what you want. You can't let them stop you from being happy. I know, easier said than done. But you have to try. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to do that.
Here are nine things that helped me to keep going.
1. Acknowledge that it's OK to feel bad.
Bullying is a form of mental abuse. In fact, it's a violation of your human rights. It's completely normal for you to feel bad about it. Nobody likes to be mocked or treated with disrespect, so it's absolutely natural for you to feel hurt by it.
2. Remember that it's not about you.
It's about them. People who bully do it because they believe it makes them feel better. Somehow, they have got it into their head that by making others feel bad, they can feel better themselves. Basically, it's a reflection of their insecurities, not your shortcomings. Perhaps they are threatened by you and want to make you feel more insecure. Other times they are afraid of the kind of change you're causing, and they try to stop it by taking you down. Whatever the scenario, bullying is never the right way to resolve it, and it's never justifiable. Mature adult conversations, on the other hand, are.
3. Surround yourself with cheerleaders.
Spend time with your loved ones. Focus on the people who encourage you and love you for who you are. Seek extra support when you need it. If you're not comfortable talking about all the details with your loved ones, seek extra support. Talk to a therapist or a coach (I did). Call a bullying hotline. Remember that you don't have to go through this on your own. Remember that you are not alone.
4. Avoid situations where the bullying might happen.
Don't meet them face-to-face if you think they will just attack you. Block them from your phone and social media if they keep sending you hurtful messages. Mark their email addresses as spam so they end up in your spam folder, and you never have to see them. You have to practice self-preservation, and you have to protect yourself. If it's your colleagues or some kind of scenario that you can't remove yourself from, talk to your superiors, HR, or somebody there about it. They can help you tackle the situation and potentially even help you avoid the bully and their bullying.
5. Don’t let them take your joy away.
The best way to overcome bullying is to keep living the life you want. Show them that whatever they say or do isn't going to stop you from being happy. For example, there have been moments where I’ve been doing something I love, like riding my horse, when their nasty comments have crept into my head. When I’ve noticed that happen, I’ve said to myself, "I will not let them take my joy away from me.” Just saying that firmly and compassionately to yourself can help shut down that unhelpful mind chatter.
6. Keep a record of the bullying.
Hopefully, it never gets so bad that you need to seek legal help, but it's better to be prepared for it if it does end up going that far. Harassment is a crime and can be reported if you have sufficient evidence of it. Save the emails, messages, and anything they've sent you as evidence. Keep a track record of what they've said to you face-to-face, when and where they said it, and if there was anyone else who witnessed it. This doesn't mean you should keep rereading all the nasty things they've said and done (please don't!). It just means you are prepared if things do get really bad, and that you are taking care of your safety.
7. Forgive, but don't forget.
Try not to carry the burden of anger, hurt, or pain with you. That will only give more power to the bullies and incentivize them to do even more. Try to forgive them for their hurtful comments, as they are simply a reflection of how hurt they are feeling inside. Now, this doesn't mean you should forget about everything they've done and said, but simply that you choose not to carry the weight of it with you.
8. Be kind, but keep your boundaries.
Kill them with kindness, if you can. Or if you have nothing nice to say back to them, don't say anything. I know it can be incredibly difficult to not fight back when they launch an attack on you, but you have to do your best to be the bigger person and not sink to their level. If they launch another attack on you, ask them to stop. If they don't, just walk away. Do your best to not engage.
9. Practice self-love. Every single day.
Fight the effects of bullying with extra-strong doses of self-love. Be super kind to yourself. Eat nutritiously, move daily, and get plenty of rest so you feel healthy and strong. Take long baths for relaxation, do guided meditations to calm your anxiety, and spend plenty of time in nature to heal. Get massages, light some scented candles, and watch some feel-good films. Do whatever you need to do in order to connect to yourself in a loving, nurturing way.
In the end, your health and well-being are what matter the most. You have to practice self-preservation and protect your mind, body, and soul from getting serious health issues from this. Yes, I do encourage you to stand up to your bully and to try to resolve the situation. How they react to your attempt to resolve it dictates whether you should keep trying to resolve it, or whether you should just walk away.
If you tell them that you are hurt and that you'd like to discuss this, an empathetic soul will respond by saying they had no idea, they are really sorry, and of course, we'll chat about this as I don't want to hurt you. A bully, on the other hand, will say I don't care and will continue to hurt you further.
That's when you have to put yourself first. You have to block it, let it go, and walk away. You have to carry on living life exactly as who you are, doing the exact things that make you happy. That is the biggest and best way to beat a bully.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). United Nations General Assembly. (1948)
Randall, Peter (1996). Adult Bullying: Perpetrators and Victims. Routledge: East Sussex, UK.