How to cope with bullying

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Whether it’s in the playground or the workplace, there will always be bullies in the world. But just like a thief has no right to take your stuff, a bully has no right to intimidate or hurt you. The fact that there will always be bullies does not mean that you should learn to put up with them, but rather that you should learn how to deal with them. So whether your bully is 6 or 60, we’re going to look at several ways you can cope with bullying.


Confidence

Sometimes, being told to be confident can seem like being told to be taller: it’s not something you can control at will. But bullies are usually lazy, and always seek out the easiest targets. The sooner you show them that you are confident, the sooner they will move on. The important thing to remember is that, no matter what they’re doing, you’re right. Whether they’re making comments about your appearance, your work, or your social life, they have no right to belittle you. Remember that what they really want is a reaction, so don’t let them faze or upset you, and don’t take their words to heart. To learn more about this, see our blog on techniques for assertiveness.

Retaliation

A bully may be looking for a reaction like making their victim upset, but there is nothing they love more than retaliation. If you lose your cool and start lashing back, you’ll open the floodgates. Suddenly, it becomes harder to report, because it is less clear if there is bullying going on or a dispute between two people. Furthermore, it places pressure on you to out-bully your bully. Whether it’s a physical fight or a war of the words, entering the fray will give them licence to keep throwing punches. Finally, retaliation will show the bully that they can get a rise out of you, and you will make yourself a more interesting target. It can be hard to avoid the temptation, but retaliation usually makes things worse.

Engagement

How and how often you engage with a bully is something you have at least some control over. Obviously you’ll want to minimise your exposure to them, but don’t let them drive you out of the cafeteria at lunchtime. You should try to keep as much communication as you can in writing, so that there is a paper trail of their conduct towards you. After that, you should try and be in a group in places the bully might be, or bring a “witness” to any meetings you need to have.

It can be hard to maintain control of your emotions when you are in a vulnerable situation, but this is crucial to getting a bully to lose interest. Using factual, emotionless language is one of the best way to diffuse individual situations. Saying things like “I’m really busy, so do you actually need anything” means they have to say either yes or no, or you can leave the conversation quickly if they don’t. Saying this avoids framing yourself as a victim or showing that they’re getting to you, and eventually they will lose interest.

Reporting

Of course, there comes a time when enough is enough and the person should be reported. Before doing this, you’ll want to know what your rights are, what behaviour of theirs is actionable, and have examples of the behaviour in question. Some behaviour, like your boss giving all the excess work to you and then making you do it again, is less clear than others. Your boss may very well be picking on you, but since it is their job to make sure you do your job, this can be hard to prove unless they have made you go beyond the boundaries of your position. Remember that the person you’re reporting it too will need to make an informed decision and cannot just assume you are telling the truth, so having written proof or other witnesses to support your claims will always make things much easier.

To learn more about bullying, take a look at our blogs on the impact of childhood bullying on mental health, and cyberbullying.

Julie Farrar