The irony is that I believe one reason so many people are vulnerable to bullies is the desire to be safe and/or the fear of being a bully oneself.
If one grew up with bullies and doesn’t want to be one, a person may become “too nice” or afraid that standing up for oneself must mean being a bully instead. That’s where Sam Horn’s book is invaluable. (See previous post about Take the Bully By the Horns.) She offers tools and strategies so that one can stand up for oneself without becoming a bully in return.
But let’s set that aside for the moment because I’d like to talk about how wanting to be safe can make us vulnerable to being bullied. It can be physical safety we’re seeking or financial or even emotional security—or all three. If we believe the other person might be able to keep us safe, we may tolerate physical or emotional abuse because we believe the person will keep us safe from worse abuse. Or if we are afraid we cannot support ourselves financially, we may tolerate abuse because the alternative scares us so much we can’t make ourselves leave or even just stand up to the person and ask for the kindness and respect that we deserve. If we are terrified of being alone and/or unloved, we may tolerate anything to have that emotional fix—especially if we don’t know it can be any other way or if that’s what feels familiar.
Or it may be that we don’t realize at first what’s happening. Perhaps the person says the right things or the relationship seems to be okay. And then the person does something we don’t like—but it’s a little thing. And we tell ourselves, well, that’s not so bad, I can live with that. If the other person is a bully, it confirms for them that we will tolerate abuse and the bully may begin to escalate. Perhaps not, if that little bit is enough to keep us in line and/or satisfies the bully’s emotional needs. But if we start to change or the bully needs more satisfaction, then the actions we dislike may start to escalate and each time we don’t speak up or walk away, it’s more proof to the bully that we will tolerate abuse.
(Some bullies will kill rather than let their victims get away and if so, the person being abused must not minimize that possibility and must take extreme precautions to protect himself or herself! I’ll give a disclaimer here similar to what Sam Horn has in her book. To paraphrase: I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know YOUR specific situation or what’s best for YOU. I’m sharing my own personal thoughts. If you are in a potentially dangerous situation the help of professionals may be essential. Safety is ALWAYS the first priority!)
In any relationship, when the dynamics begin to change, others in the relationship will resist. If the other person is a bully it can become outright dangerous! Be aware of this and take all possible precautions!
The best time to stop bullying is in the beginning. Instead of believing that if we are nice enough or helpful enough other people will like us and not hurt us, we can shift our thinking to understand that bullies will resent us if they need our help. Bullies will resent us if we are so nice that other people like us more than they like them. Bullies will take advantage of the behavior we value. Bullies will take niceness and not speaking up as proof that we are good victim material. IT WILL NOT KEEP US SAFE! Nothing we do to try to appease a bully will keep us safe—no matter what we are willing to give up trying to make it happen.
What will keep us safe?
---We can learn how to take care of ourselves so that we do not feel someone else must do so for us.
---We can learn to nicely but firmly speak or stand up for ourselves when someone does something we don’t like. In other words, we can learn to set limits.
---We can recognize that bullies who are not willing to give up their bullying tactics will keep hurting us and may not be capable of truly loving us. And if they can't, maybe we want to look for people who can love us and treat us with kindness and respect.
----We can tolerate kindness and respect until it becomes familiar and feels “normal” to us rather than seeking out the treatment we may have believed all our lives that we deserved.
---We can find a way to realize that we are and always have been worth loving—especially if we let go of any bullying tactics we may have learned to use over the years.
Do you see a pattern here? It comes down to becoming a person we like and respect and want to spend time with. It comes down to learning to trust in ourselves and our ability to keep ourselves safe.
If we treat ourselves with kindness and respect, we are far less likely to tolerate anything else from anyone else—or to treat anyone else any other way.
As we change how we see and treat ourselves, we inevitably change how others do so as well. This is the most important and powerful thing we can do for ourselves!
Mind you, I know that change doesn’t come all at once. But things don’t have to be all or nothing. We can begin to work on the skills we need to take care of ourselves and be safe. We can begin to treat ourselves with kindness and respect. We can begin to ACT AS IF we expect and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. We can learn to say “no” to small things in unimportant relationships so that the small things do not become big things and we begin to see our own patterns and the patterns of others in such situations. If one thing doesn’t work we can experiment until we find what does.
I'm not saying it's easy. I know how hard it's been for me to integrate these ideas into my own life, my own understanding. I look back and cry for the person I was and wish I could go back and help her know it didn't have to be that way. But I can't go back, I can only go forward and share with all of you what it took me so long to learn in hopes that it may shortcut a little of your journey.
Note: Again, if you are dealing with a bully, be aware that the potential for escalation always exists and make escape plans (from the relationship or situation) before taking any action that might provoke trouble. (Sam Horn talks about how to decide what level of response is SAFE and appropriate in various situations.)
Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),