All of us hope that bullies are a thing of the past, a little thug we once encountered on the playground. And for most of us, that kind of obvious and recognizable bully is just a memory from childhood, or a loudly obnoxious person we know to avoid. But sometimes we discover that we have a different kind of bully in our lives. A quieter, more subtle bully who influences us to withdraw from doing something we really want to do. Or causes us to doubt ourselves and our decisions. Or just makes our lives less peaceful than we would like them to be.
Sometimes we discover that we have a quieter, more subtle bully influencing our lives.
It might be someone at work, at school, or in your neighborhood. Someone you know casually, someone in your family, or even a close friend. Wherever they show up, these are the voices that can rob us of joy and keep us from living fully into what God has called us to. Because that’s just what bullies do. If we let them.
So how do we recognize these quiet kinds of bullies? And how do we stop them? If you’re like me, you might be tempted to do one of two things: hide or cooperate. And neither is a healthy option.
Hiding feels like a safe solution. I hide my hurt feelings from the bully or I hide by avoiding them. Unfortunately, the damage is already done. I’ve let them in and allowed them to influence me – the very act of hiding is proof of that! And I haven’t done anything to change the situation. So I just have to go on hiding, unless I choose my other “go-to” strategy, which is to cooperate.
Cooperating with a bully means letting them have their way. It means saying yes when you really want to say no. Or agreeing to something you would rather not do. Once again, I am letting the bully influence me by taking control of my time and my choices.
Clearly, hiding from bullies or cooperating with them is not the answer.
But if you’re a peacemaker or a recovering people-pleaser like me, standing up to these subtle bullies can be just as scary and hard as it was back on the playground. So what can we do instead?
Here are some strategies that will help:
Recognize bullying voices.
Bullying voices are those that want control. So notice moments when you are feeling pressured to agree with something you’re not sure about. Pay attention to those who dismissively expect you to go along with whatever they are asking without really asking. Bullying voices want to feel superior. Listen for the well-timed question or comment that is a thinly veiled criticism or judgment. Remarks that make you feel “less than” are a bully’s secret weapon.
People pleasers are often the best targets for bullies. Wanting to make the other person happy, wanting to be liked and belong, can lead to an unhealthy balance in any relationship. Ask yourself if your desire to win approval from a bully is working to keep his or her bad behavior going.
Ask God for compassion.
Understand that bullies have their own internal struggle, possibly with insecurity about not being enough. So they set out to prove to themselves and the world that they are not only good enough, they are better than all the others. Their need to prove they are the best keeps them stuck in behaviors that damage their relationships.
Learn how to say no.
Someone once told me that “No.” is a complete sentence. So you really don’t have to come up with dozens (or even one) reason why your answer is “no.” For many of us this is a shocking suggestion. We don’t want to hurt feelings or make someone think we don’t care about them, so we stop ourselves from saying a simple “no” and believe that if we can’t come up with a solid excuse or reason why, then our answer must be “yes.” Even when we feel it should be “no.”
You might try one of these responses instead:
“Thank you for thinking of me but…
…that won’t work for me.”
…I’m not available at that time.”
…I can’t commit to that right now.”
Learning how to respond to the subtle bullies who occasionally show up in our lives not only benefits us, it could also benefit them.
Our healthy, loving responses to their bullying behavior – recognizing it, owning our part, asking for God’s help, and learning how to say no – just might help them understand that there is a different way to have the life they want. A life free from bullying.
What has been your experience with “quiet bullies” in your life?
What are some healthy ways you’ve discovered for handling them?