Have you ever felt defenseless at the hands of someone else? If so, how does it feel? Fear often sets in first, intimidation next; forced to submit, we often feel trapped. Trapped in a metaphorical cage with nowhere to run can be terrifying.
"Terrified" is a good word to describe that day with the dog. One cloudy autumn day my husband and I arrived at our landlord's home to sign a lease for a new apartment. We were met by a squall of ferocious barking; the door flung open, revealing 90 pounds of snarling muscle. Once inside the house, fear gripped my heart as the large dog with daunting teeth crept towards me. Inch by inch, I backed up, intimidated by his intense presence. Stopped by the couch, I sat instinctively, and gasped in surprise as the he launched into the air and landed in the center of my lap. His body tense, he lay down and put his head on my knee. Every move I made to escape was met with a warning growl. Forced to submit, I sat quietly pinned to the couch. I sat scared, insecure, and angry as the owner made small talk in the background. I felt bullied into a cage I found difficult to escape.
Bullying in Human Form
The foregoing experience left me feeling utterly defenseless. What I took away from the ordeal that day was an acute awareness of how it feels to be forced to do something against my will. How many of us feel that way in everyday life with human counterparts? A surly co-worker barking obscenities and criticism can most certainly back the most confident person into a corner, leaving them intimidated and trapped as they are forced to submit.
Sound drastic? It is not. In fact, adult bullying can take many forms in today's society. According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as unwanted aggressive behavior that stems from a real or perceived power imbalance. Adult bullying can take on many forms including, among other actions: threats, rumors, physical or verbal attacks, or exclusion of someone from a group or purpose.
Although bullying can occur across many of life's platforms, there has been much documented in the workplace. Workplacebullying.org posted a survey in 2014 that speaks to the severity of adult bullying in today's society. Interestingly, 37 million U.S. workers report being subjected to abusive acts, with 69 percent of bullies being men and 60 percent of bully's targets being women. According to the survey, 61 percent of bullying instances are ended by the target losing his/her job while a minimal 15 percent end with the perpetrator losing his/her job. What is done about adult bullying? Apparently not enough, as 72 percent of American employer reactions either condone or sustain bullying while less than 20 percent take actions to stop it.
Good People Gone Bad?
Uncensored bullying can lead to tragic situations that are certainly devastating for families and friends alike. Among the many forms of bullying, some may surprise us. Although we may not be proud of it, how many of us have done anything similar to the following:
Criticized a friend's parenting skills?
Deliberately left trash in an unfriendly neighbor's yard?
Started a rumor about another parent's child?
Criticized or cut-off someone in mid-sentence?
Even done with straightforward intention, words and actions can deeply hurt. If we set out to demean someone's performance, sabotage their efforts, or are rude or disrespectful, lie, or give others the silent treatment, this is also a sign of aggressive behavior.
Look in the Mirror
It is easy to disregard the behaviors of a bully as being something "someone else does." If we turn the mirror around, what do we see? Interestingly, Bullyingstatistics.org categorizes bullies into five personality types. Look closely; be honest, do you see yourself in any particular category?
Narcissistic bullies are characteristically self-centered and lacking empathy. They are known not to fear the consequences of their actions and frequently put down others to further their own agenda.
An impulsive bully does not usually set out with a plan to manipulate. They simply have a difficult time restraining themselves. Bullying behavior in many cases is unintentional.
Physical adult bullies are rare. This type of bully threatens physical harm to their targets. Harm, however, may not be just limited to bodily harm. Harm to property (slashing tires, etc.) is listed under this category.
Verbal bullies are known to spread rumors and to use sarcastic or demeaning language to dominate. This type of bullying is often disregarded as hearsay and, therefore, difficult to document.
A secondary bully is a person who does not initiate the bullying incident. This is the person who witnesses someone else being bullied and joins in. They may feel remorse over the situation but join in any way to protect themselves from the bully.
The bottom line is that adult bullying happens. We must be aware. We must not only watch the actions of others but our own as well. To decrease the effect of bullying on self-esteem in individuals worldwide, we must exhibit a zero-tolerance mentality. If we witness it, step up; and if we experience it, speak up.
And speak up I did...
The canine bully on the couch that day was terrifying. Sitting there with a growling dog on my lap, I finally gained the courage. With the strongest voice I could muster I said, "GET DOWN," pointing to the floor. With a growl sounding more like a groan, the dog jumped down and walked to the kitchen, flopping not-so-gracefully down on the linoleum floor. Those two words in essence unlocked the cage of my insecurity, allowed me to push the door open, clear the path, and walk away from a destructive situation. Those two words inflated my self-esteem and, in doing so, changed my life forever.