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Dealing With Adult Bullying During the Pandemic

Ways to protect yourself from toxic people (emotionally) during COVID-19.

 Yaroslav Danylchenko/Pexels
Source: Yaroslav Danylchenko/Pexels

We are living in very challenging times, and even some people that aren't ordinarily bullies have become stressed out, frustrated, and very quick to judge others. Whether it's online to complete strangers or people you care about offline, we've seen cruel and unusual behavior from those we least expect.

COVID-19 Bullying

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw grown-ups acting like children in grocery stores, policing their neighbors if they believed they were buying too much toilet paper or not social distancing. Many people started limiting what they shared on social media to avoid judgment from their friends; some even called it pandemic shaming.

As the holidays approach, people were hesitant to tell each other their plans for fear of travel shaming.

Mask Shaming

There's a lot of information to support that wearing a mask will prevent the spread of COVID-19, yet we still have people that don't want to wear masks or don't believe in them. Shaming or bullying a person will not make them change their behavior.

If you are in contact with someone who isn't wearing a mask, you have a choice of how to control your own actions and responses. If you are able to leave or avoid the person not wearing a mask, it can be much easier than trying to control them.

"Recognize that getting upset over someone else not wearing a mask won't serve you. You don't have control over them, but you do have control over yourself," said Dr. Kathy Barringer of the Cleveland Clinic.

Curbing Toxicity

For years, we have dealt with our children being bullied, teased, and more recently cyberbullied, but when we see adults behaving like this, it's outright deplorable. During the pandemic, for all ages, the rise of cyberbullying and incivility is concerning.

3 Ways to Limit Our Exposure to [Adult] Bullies

1. Never hesitate to unfollow, mute, block, or even unfriend someone on social media. These features are in place for all of us to use. The best part is, when you use them, the person you are removing from your newsfeed is not notified. No one should have to tolerate nasty behavior online.

2. Choose compassion over conflict. In this age of incivility, many will be shocked if you surprise them with a touch of kindness after their rudeness. They won't know how to react.

For example, maybe your sibling is always putting you down—making you feel less than—or maybe a friend has spread hateful gossip about you. Find the perfect Hallmark card about friendship and/or support to send to them. It's a quick way to make them rethink their behavior. It's also tangible, not an email they can delete; it's a card they hold on to and read over and over again. It's important to acknowledge that, in many cases, bullies are hurting too.

3. Pace yourself. During this new normal, we have witnessed a rise in depression and stress among women and adults. Trying to avoid toxic people, such as family members that aren't nice, during the holiday season isn't always easy. The best part is, with the new normal, it's OK just to walk away. Have a very short chat and leave the room. You can always say, "Oh, I forgot to wash my hands!"