We all recognize as bullies, brutes (male or female) at work or in our love and family lives who hit people or threaten physical violence. But more bullies get away with their harassment, bullying and abuse by taking advantage of their victims’ rules about politeness. In her article in the Miami Herald, “It's time to get our behavior under control,” Robin Sarantos uses television’s “House” as an example of rude, inconsiderate, arrogant, discourteous, entitled behavior. He eats other people’s food, searches his boss’ desk, reads a coworkers email, yells at and blames his coworkers. And we’re supposed to think he’s funny because he’s a wonderful doctor.
But would you enjoy working with someone like him, who goes into your desk, listens to your private calls, says demeaning things about you, curses, cheats, stabs you in the back and spreads gossip and rumors? Would you enjoy dating or being best friends with someone like that?
Do you enjoy the family members who come for the holidays or family occasions with their vicious, nasty, jealous tongues? Do you enjoy exposing yourself to greedy, sarcastic or loud mouthed relatives?
What kind of loving relationship could you have with someone who puts you down, exposes your secrets, harasses you or makes cutting remarks with a smile and a laugh – pretending he’s just having a little fun or claiming that you’re too sensitive or can’t take a joke?
Often, when confronted by their smiling viciousness, we’re confused by the double message and think, “Maybe they don’t know how much what they said hurts,” or “If I say something, it’ll sound whiny or nasty.” Many of us, when we’re surprised, shocked, baffled and stunned, revert to one of the three primitive human responses: We freeze. And then it’s too late to protest. Fear not, those bullies will always give you more chances.
Don’t be blinded by romantic feelings of love, or by family duty, or by your fear of a powerful person at work. Politeness doesn’t stop relentless bullies or psychopaths. Relentless bullies don’t take your hesitation, politeness and passivity as a kindly invitation to respond with civility. They take your lack of resistance as an invitation to bully you more. They’re like jackals that sense easy prey. The problem is not that they’re ignorant of social conventions: They know exactly what they’re doing: Pushing you around and getting away with it.
How do we know the difference between a relentless, abusive bully and a well-meaning person who stepped on our toes by accident? It’s easy: Look for a pattern.
Well-meaning people who accidently said something hurtful, feel bad, apologize sincerely, make amends and promise not to do that again. And they don’t do it again. The last step is the key one: They don’t repeat the behavior.
Bullies will minimize what they did, or justify their actions by blaming on some fault of ours, or go through many of the steps of apologizing. But they don’t make real amends and they don’t stop. When bullies whack us and buy us candy or flowers, they’re simply bribing us to be available the next time they want to whack us.
The initial steps in resisting are easy. We must react. We may say “Ouch” or we may ask them nicely to stop. If they’re well-meaning people, they’ll apologize and they won’t behave that way again. If they’re bullies, we’ll have to do the more difficult work of being more firm and forceful. Sometimes we can embarrass them to stop the bullying, but with relentless bullies we have to find real consequences that stop them.
If we ignore or minimize, if we beg or bribe them, if we appeal to their civility and manners, we’re asking to be whacked again.
These smiling bullies and control freaks actually produce more bullying incidents than the overt bullies who use violence. Stop them or live like a frightened deer while they abuse your mind, heart and spirit.