Adult bullying is rarely addressed. However, social groups can often provide a setting for a power struggle, and with that comes mind games and the sinister world of domination.
Gone are the days where the playground muscle pinned you to the wall for your dinner money. That was horrific enough, but if you were lucky an adult would intervene.
Now you are the adult. Your personal esteem may be on the floor, and adult bullies have honed their skills. Subtle, sly, devious tactics may be difficult to expose. The mask of authority, money, or superior knowledge gives these dauntless souls power, leaving you questioning your own judgment of the situation.
So how do you recognize an adult bully, whilst battling your own fear of paranoia?
1. The Loneliness Of Ostracism
If cliques and groups have formed and you find yourself on the outside, it may have been orchestrated by an individual whom enjoys group manipulation. They are the wolf dressed not in sheep’s clothing, but in shepherd’s clothing, herding their flock.
When faced with them on your own, you may feel lonely and vulnerable. Exclusion provides a double whammy. Your solitary status may make you an easy target for other bullies and, being seen as a loner, it can be hard to strike up friendships.
The adult world of cold-shouldering – being purposely ignored – can very quickly make you feel insecure and insignificant. This can often be witnessed among parents on the school playground, or in the staff canteen. Don’t underestimate these passive aggressive acts; their ability to increase your feelings of anxiety can be debilitating. Furthermore, being left ‘out-of-the-loop’ at work can seriously hamper your ability to fulfill your employee obligations and may damage your career.
2. The Embarrassment Of Being Socially Undermined
Ostracism can develop into other behaviors that are linked to being socially undermined. Typical actions leave you feeling confused and unsure of how to react. Behaviors such as being talked down to in front of your peers, or having information withheld from you that leaves you looking unprofessional, are some of the ways a bully may socially undermine you.
These can be delivered both in an obvious manner, that leaves you squirming with shame, or subtly, where you are left believing yourself to be overly sensitive or maybe a little paranoid. Subversive non-verbal marks of disrespect, such as eye rolling, can leave you apprehensive and may have the effect of silencing your participation in group communication. These acts are all played out in a public forum, providing protection to the bully, but making it particularly difficult for you to negotiate.
3. To Feel The Sting Of Public Humiliation
Tying in directly with social undermining is the pain felt due to public humiliation. That inappropriate joke that leaves you on the back foot, derogatory remarks that make your cheeks burn with shame, and harsh judgments and put-downs that make you feel vulnerable and exposed, are all part of public humiliation.
All too often, this type of bullying happens in the workplace and is perpetrated by your superiors. Additionally, the rate of remarks based on gender, race, and sexual preference is still too high. Cultural improvements have been made in these areas, although sadly many bullies hold on to inappropriate biases and are quick to air them.
In addition to these direct attacks, public humiliation can take the sly form of spreading gossip about the victim. Sadly, with technological advances, this covert way of bullying is too easily accessible through text and other forms of social media. Cyber bullying is not a misconduct ring-fenced by age.
4. The Plagiarism Of Your Work And Ideas
Another common bullying scenario in the workplace is having your ideas intentionally mismanaged. Far too often, an adult bully will take credit for your work and deny you deserved praise. This praise may also take the form of financial rewards or promotion.
To dispute their actions can feel like you are being unnecessarily confrontational; not being a ‘team player.’ A good manager will happily bask in your reflected glory and help mentor you through your career. A bully will steal your ideas as their own and happily reap the rewards.
Alternatively, your suggestions may be sabotaged, communications ‘lost’ or never received. Worst still, you may be made the scapegoat for their own failed ideas and plans. Without evidence against your superior, it boils down to ‘your word against theirs,’ making you feel like they hold all the cards.
5. To Be Dominated Over
Do you feel that an individual, whom is in a senior position, is abusing their power? They appear to enjoy the subjugation of subordinates and peers alike. Hierarchical structures of organizations can facilitate this: superiors at work, older members of your family, people in prominent positions within clubs and societies, revered titles in religious groups or within society itself (policeman or politicians for example), will sometimes abuse their position of authority.
These dominant, aggressive personalities may be well known to their subordinates, but are rarely confronted over their actions. Subtle acts such as making unnecessary demands on your time through to more open aggressive behavior with the intention of causing you mental and/or physical harm may be displayed.
A bully’s social status, race, or gender allows domineering individuals to hide in plain sight. Antagonistic, controlling personalities, will throw temper tantrums at the drop of a hat in order to achieve their personal goals. Additionally, they may be ‘absolutely charming’ to those around you. They may be the very embodiment of ‘niceness’ to your peers, denying your allegations any plausibility.
6. The Sense Of Heart-thumping Fear
Threats of physical harm to your belongings, your property, those you love, or your own safety are the undeniable acts of a bully. This could manifest in key scrapes on your car’s paintwork, trespassing on your property, or reporting you to the police as a ‘suspect’ without reason.
The escalation of this intimidating behavior may happen slowly, gradually wearing you down, or dizzyingly fast paced, leaving you reeling in shock. Verbal assaults can quickly escalate into physical or sexual violation. This may come from a stranger or an infatuated associate. It could take the form of harassment and/or stalking and intensify to an aggravated assault. Sadly, this high level of bullying can materialize from someone we love/loved, twisting our emotions into a gag.
A person being deliberately cruel, in any form, is toxic. Nobody has the right to mentally or physically abuse you. The first stage is to recognize that someone is trying to manipulate you into the role of victim. However illusive they feel, recognize you do have choices. The action you choose to take will be individual to you and your circumstances. Seek support from trusted relationships or contact an appropriate charity. Make no mistake, beneath the ‘plausible’ excuses, a bully intends to hurt.
Currently, I volunteer as a spiritual counselor in the mental health sector for the NHS whilst doing a psychology degree. Prior to this, I worked in holistic health, performing massage and reiki. Personal experiences with dementia, parkinsons, and other mental health issues led me to search for answers through psychology. As a mum of three teenagers and carer to elderly parents, a wide variety of mental wellbeing issues interest me. Due to my holistic practices, my psychological work is a mixture of intuitive thought and scientific reasoning. I’m a keen advocate of empowering ‘ordinary’ people to look after the welfare of their community through ‘ordinary’ activities. I regularly share through my Facebook page Muddy boots for mental wellbeing.