Chuck was “Mr. Cheerful” when he cut down people. For example, in front of co-workers and bosses, with his arm draped around Joe’s neck as if they were best friends he’d smiling say, “Joe is always the last person in and first to leave. Ha, ha, ha.” Or he’d jokingly remind everyone that, “Frank lost that sale because he’s too shy, but we’ll try to put some life into him.” Or he’d cheerfully say, “Harry dresses like he doesn’t care or maybe he’s colorblind. We’ll have to show him how to look more professional. Ha, ha, ha.”
In summer the “Queen Bees” come out in force. Every neighborhood has at least one.
For example, Jill was jealous of Mary. All the other women in the neighborhood liked Mary. Her home was always open; she always had treats; her kids are fun and shared their toys and games. The nicer Mary was, the more the other neighbors liked her, the more jealous Jill was.
Jill made excuses about what Mary had done that made her dislike Mary, but underneath it was simple envy that turned to hate. In Jill’s mind there was room for only one queen bee in the hive.
Jill’s venom came out in sneaky, backstabbing tactics.
She tried turning the other moms against Mary. She whispered in one person’s ear that Mary liked someone else better and had given that person better gifts or had brought better food to that person’s picnic. In another ear she whispered some malicious and catty things that Mary had supposedly said. In a third ear she whispered that Mary thought that the woman’s children were stupid and nasty.
It took a while for Mary to realize that false rumors and malicious gossip about her were being circulated and even longer to recognize the source. The neighborhood had been a friendly place in which all families got together, but it soon become a tense battleground in which previously friendly women become suspicious of each other. Husbands were eventually drawn into the conflict.
Jill was in her element. She knew how to drive wedges between people and also how to bring people together into a clique with her as the head. She used Mary as the target and scapegoat for her clique.
At first Mary took it personally. She assumed that she must have done something wrong to offend Jill. Stress, anxiety, self-doubt and negative self-talk soon decreased her confidence and self-esteem. She tried explaining her good motives in response to each charge that Jill leveled at her, but she could never satisfy Jill that she wanted to be friends.
Ruling the hive was Jill’s personal agenda and she wouldn’t let Mary remain in the way.
Eventually, Mary went outside her comfort zone. She stopped being reluctant about creating tension or conflict or making a scene in public. She decided to shine a light on Jill’s gossip, innuendo and lies. One at a time, starting with her closest friends who were aware of Jill’s tactics, Mary clarified the situation and repeated what Jill had been saying about them. Then she got them together so they could compare notes.
She then spoke one to one with every other woman in the neighborhood.
But that wasn’t enough. When she caught Jill in blatant lies, she made them public at neighborhood gatherings. Mary was always sweet and smiling when she asked Jill to clarify what she had said about one of the other women or about their children.
Jill was surprised and unprepared. She’d always been able to hide in the shadows because women where she had lived previously had been too polite to create conflict and tension in public. Once Mary begun shining a light on Jill’s actions, other women began noticing what Jill had done to them. They noticed how afraid they’d begun to feel about offending Jill and started figuring out why that had happened.
At first, the neighborhood split into camps. Over time more and more women moved into renewed friendship with Mary. They found that they couldn’t stay in the middle. Jill always trapped them into some shabby, hostile plot. Jill’s camp grew smaller and smaller. Mary’s good character and friendliness won out. Jill’s controlling, sneaky tactics become more apparent.
That was last summer. By Christmas, the balance had swung in Mary’s favor. Jill and her family moved away.
Leading up to this summer, the women are planning more family activities. Tension has decreased, but it will take the rest of the summer before the camaraderie gets close to what they had before Jill moved in. Maybe one more family will still move.
Stealth bullies like Jill can be difficult to detect and even harder to stop. Most of their targets have to go through a self-bullying, self-questioning phase before they realize that they’re not at fault, that they didn’t do anything wrong to start the abuse.
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.
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.