Bullying: It's Not Just For Kids

Bullying: It's Not Just For Kids


You would think that as adults, we are mature enough to handle our problems directly and honestly.  Unfortunately, very often, this isn’t the case, and the bullying behaviors we see in children continue to occur into adulthood.  Although adult bullying is usually more verbal in nature, with social media, digital bullying occurs as well.

Recently, someone very close to me fell victim to an adult bully.  The bully decided that my friend believed that she was “too big for herself” and decided that he needed to go after her.  Rather than speak with her directly, or confront her on what he felt she was doing incorrectly, he posted an “open letter” on several very popular social media sites.  Many people within their community saw these posts, which were cruel, mean, and, to top it off, incorrect in the facts presented.  But who knows that? People who watch from the sidelines may join in on the bullying because my friend may have acted in a way that annoyed them.  Rather than “be an adult,” this bully chose to rake my friend over the coals unnecessarily.

What was my friend to do? Fight back? Post an “open letter” in response? Use social media in the same way to clear her name?

There was lots of discussion as to what to do.  Some of her friends stood up to this person, correcting his fact and challenging him to step up and talk about what his complaints are, rather than hide behind a computer screen.  Others, sided with him, applauding him for calling out my friend so publicly.

And, my friend? She chose to do nothing.  She chose to look to the people in her life who are positive and supportive and not give any fuel to the bully, thereby taking the wind out of his sails and shutting him down.  It took a lot of strength for her to do so, as she was incredibly hurt and angry, and yet, she harnessed her frustration and realized that it was more important to walk away than to act in the same manner.

Adult bullying is more prevalent than we realize.  It happens most often in the workplace, but is happening in many different areas.  I have had friends talk with me about the “mom bullies” that they encounter in their children’s schools, or the judgmental friends that they have that decide who can and cannot hang out.

As we do with children and teenagers in our lives, it is important to think about how to handle an adult bully.  For my friend, doing nothing worked, as the impact on her life ended up being pretty minimal.  This isn’t necessarily the best reaction for everyone.  Below are some things to think about when dealing with an adult bully:

Keep Track.

If the bullying is consistent, keep track of what is happening.  A record of the events is important if things go from bad to worse.

Ask for help, if you need it.

If you decide to address the bully, be sure you know how to do so in a way that is effective.  You don’t want to be aggressive in your interaction, rather assertive so that your point is made and understood.  This may not be easy, especially as your emotions are running rampant.  Ask for help from friends, family, colleagues: whomever might have your back and help you negotiate the challenging situation.

Step in to help.

Bystanders have a lot of power.  They certainly did in the case with my friend.  Her friends and colleagues stood up to her bully on social media (and in some cases, in person), correcting him and highlighting the personal attack.  All of us can be better at helping, and avoiding the bystander effect, in which we believe someone else will be the one to take care of it.  Help out if you can.  You never know when you might need it in return.

Most likely, it’s not about you.

Often, a bully needs a target because he/she is dissatisfied with something.  You might be that target today, which certainly was the case for my friend.  Take a breath and think about why it might be happening, and use that to help determine what you want to do about it.  Lean on your friends during this time, too.

Middle school should end in middle school, you would think.  Sadly, as we know, it doesn’t.  Bullying is a power play, very often, wherein someone’s emotions get the best of them, and the bully uses that to gain some control, usually by picking on another person.  As adults, we should know better.  Often, we don’t.  If you are being bullied as an adult, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help.  No one deserves to be a victim.

Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD                                                                                                                                                                       Licensed Clinical Psychologist