Bullying adults occurs more often then we think. We typically associate bullying with kids and adolescents on a playground; but, that is not always the case. It can follow us into adulthood and be just as devastating.
Bullying is “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words, or more subtle actions” (as defined by The American Psychological Association).
Bullying adults can be an intimidating boss or colleague, a controlling romantic partner, an unruly neighbor, a high pressure sales/business representative, a condescending family member, a shaming social acquaintance, or a variety of other types of abusive adult relationships.
The following are five common tactics bullies use intimidate and belittle.
Physical Bullying: This is one of the most blatant forms of bullying and is reflected in physical intimidation, threat, harassment and/or harm. Examples include hitting, pretending to hit or strike (raising a fist as if to strike or throwing objects near a person), extortion, date rape, marital rape, sexual harassment at work, encroaching on someone’s personal space, and more.
Tangible Bullying: This type of bullying occurs when someone uses their formal power (title or position) or material leverage (money or information) to intimidate, threaten, harass, and/or harm. In these scenarios, the bully uses his or her advantage in stature and/or resources to dominate and control the victim.
Verbal Bullying: While not leaving a physical scar, verbal bullying can be just as devastating and hurtful as physical abuse. Verbal bullying happens when a bully threatens shames, teases with hostility, insults, criticizes or judges, or uses racist, sexist, or homophobic language.
Passive-Aggressive or Covert Bullying: This is one of the more insidious but often overlooked forms of bullying. A passive-aggressive or covert bully behaves appropriately on the surface but slowly beats down self-esteem with subtle and cruel actions and words. Examples include negative gossip, joking at someone’s expense, sarcasm, condescending eye contact, facial expression or gestures, mimicking to ridicule, deliberately causing embarrassment and insecurity, social exclusion, professional isolation, and deliberately sabotaging another’s well-being and success.
Cyber Bullying: With the widespread use of social media, computers and alternate technology, cyber bullying as become more and more an issue. Cyber bullying can be made up of many types of tangible, verbal, and passive-aggressive bullying and can be conveyed via social media, texting, video, email, on-line discussion, and other digital formats..
Each of these five types of behavior can occur as children or as bullying adults. When used repeatedly, this behavior becomes patterns of physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Unless strong and effective boundaries are established, the bullying adult is likely to repeat and intensify the abuse; especially if they continue to perceive the recipient as weaker. So, as long as you remain passive and compliant, you make yourself a target. Many bullies are also cowards: When their victims begin to show backbone and stand up for their rights, a bully will often back down. This is true in schoolyards, as well as in domestic and office environments.
When you are ready to confront a bully, make sure that you are in a position to safely protect yourself; standing on your own, have witnesses with you, create a paper trail detailing the abuse, consult your HR department, bring in legal representation, or turn to law enforcement. Remember bullying is abuse, that you do not deserve it and that you are not alone!
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