How to Deal With A Bully

A few weeks ago, I had a strange experience with a driver here in Nashville and it made me realize something about bullies.

He was driving a big white truck, and I was driving a much smaller Toyota Corolla. We were both circling the parking lot of the grocery store—looking for a place to park. It was a busy night, and I think most of us had been circling for awhile.

bully
Photo Credit: Carl, Creative Commons

After several minutes, I came around a corner, saw that a spot had opened close to the front, so I started to pull into it.

This white truck (who had apparently been waiting for the spot as well) drove right toward me, laid on his horn, and slammed on his brakes only feet before he got to my passenger side door. I was shocked. I looked over at the man driving the truck, motioned my apologies, and backed out of the spot.

I continued to circle, until I found another spot, much further back.

I grabbed my things and began walking toward the entrance of the grocery store, when I passed by his truck—in that same spot—and was surprised to find he was still sitting inside. I looked toward him, with no ill intent honestly, just to figure out if what I was really seeing was true. He was just going to sit in that parking spot, idling.

When he saw I was looking, he looked back and me, glared, and then made a lewd gesture. My heart raced a little, and I hurried inside.

For some reason, I couldn’t get this guy off my mind.

In the grand scheme of things, the incident was small, but it didn’t feel small to me. In fact, for the next several days, I noticed myself feeling hesitant to 1) drive anywhere, 2) go to that grocery store, and 3) take any parking spot that would be considered close to the front door. I kept going over and over the situation in my mind.

Should I have been paying more attention? Should I have stood up to him and taken the spot anyway? Did I do something to deserve his animosity toward me?

And then suddenly, I realized: This guy wasn’t the bully. I was the bully.

I had been bullying myself for days over this, having trouble sleeping and trouble driving and trouble going through my normal routine and activities. I was letting his actions and gestures—from inside his car, for heaven sake—impact the way I felt about myself, and impact what I was willing to do or not do.

Once I discovered that, it was like the situation was back in my hands.

I could decide to let it go.

This process included going back in my mind and asking myself why this circumstance felt like such a big deal to me. What connections did I make with it? What shame was I feeling? Where was the guilt coming from? As I began to unpack the attached memories (most of which were of other people calling me a bad driver, or of my own insecurity around my ability to pay attention to things) I felt an incredible release.

Suddenly the dividing line between truth and fiction became so much clearer, which meant shame (which is really about lies) could dissipate.

The shame I felt was all in my head.

And then, just l like that, my bully disappeared. And what’s funny is the bully I thought was the bully hadn’t really been there all along. I was my own worst enemy, allowing someone else’s inappropriate actions to dictate how I felt about myself. Once I stopped shaming myself, the bully went away.

I know this story doesn’t universally match every bully story.

Some of our bullies are co-workers, friends, spouses—people we see on a daily basis. Some of them are online. Some of them are our bosses or parents. In those cases, changing the way we filter the information they’re giving us can be much more difficult. After all, it’s coming out of a fire hose, not a water fountain.

But still, I think if we can create a little bit of distance for ourselves from our bullies—if we pull back and ask ourselves what’s really going on—we’ll be able to see that we are actually our own worst enemies.

The shame we’re heaping is our own.

And the beautiful thing about that is that it means it is absolutely in our power to put it down, and move on.

10 comments on “How to Deal With A Bully

  1. Allison,
    Oh dear. You are so right. I don’t want to be a bully to myself. It is in my power. Praying early in the morning to be nice to myself. And praying for you to park in the front of the store with confidence.
    All the best,
    Pamela

  2. That same thing happened to me last week, although it wasn’t in a parking lot, it was driving to the store. There was a truck in front of me that was driving very slow and swerving, so I honked at him and went around him. He was probably on a cell phone and it was dangerous. He ended up following me to the store and parked in the parking lot. I shamed myself and kept telling myself how stupid it was of me to lay on the horn – I should have just gone around. And I feared walking into the store with my two kids. But we went in and nothing happened and eventually I was able to let it go. Thanks for writing about this and letting me know I wasn’t alone. It is so important for us to learn to let go of our bullies.

  3. So true. I had a “bully” co-worker for several months at my new job. It took a lot of soul-searching for me to realize that it was my own insecurities causing me to let myself feel victimized by her inappropriate behavior. Thank you so much for posting this. It is very eye-opening.

  4. I would have never thought in my adult life I’d have to deal with bully situation. I’m the kind of guy who gets along with just about anyone. But, it finally happened. A barrage of emails and facebook message over a period of a few days from an extended family member about how I had mistreated them for 15 years was one of the most traumatic experience of my life. It was the false accusation that came out of nothing more than perception that really made me question who I was. It took quite a while but I finally had to realize that I had to let it go. I was actually carrying a copy of all the emails and such in my backpack so I could read it over and over and try to figure this guy out. This proved to be unproductive for me personally. Reconciliation has been elusive but I can’t worry about it anymore. I can’t change someone’s perception. I can only change me. I had to let it go. This skit by The Skit Guys convinced me to get rid of the emails and facebook messages that I had been literally carrying around in my backpack. I’m free of it. http://youtu.be/wlTzgTW3WaE

  5. I almost did the same thing the other day at the post office. A lady held the drop box package door open for me. I could have sworn I said, “Thank you.” I was in a hurry and maybe I was just thinking it and maybe it didn’t actually pop out of my mouth, but I surely did mean it. I’m usually a very grateful person, but as I said, I was in a hurry. As I walked away, she said very snottily, “You’re welcome.” I turned around and told her, “Gee, I could have sworn I said thank you and if I didn’t, I surely meant to.” I walked away & didn’t even think about it any more. I always help people out whether they thank me or not. I don’t always expect something in return. That’s not what this world is about!!!!

  6. Allison, that guy’s game of “chicken” in the car is scary because he was so angry. You don’t even know what exactly what that was all about. There’s your sign. Continue to give guys with anger issues plenty of space.

  7. Allison,
    Thank you so much for this post! A dear friend of mine once said “there is no peace inside other people’s heads” I’ve been pondering this statement for sometime now and I think your ideas on bullying ourselves based on other peoples reactions towards us goes hand-in-hand with it! Excited to reflect more on this.

  8. So right. In counseling I was challenged of the bully I allowed to harass me all the time inside me, calling me all kinds of names. This doubting of ones self, intentions, charcter because of someone elses actions. It had become so debilitating to me. Taking power back has made a huge difference for me. Thank you for your insights.

  9. Thank you for this post. It is a fine line. I deal with it myself at work. It is so hard not to become a bully to the person who bullies. But how do your stand up for yourself when the reason why a person bullies is just to deflect attention away from their own insecurities? It can be a virtuous cycle and very hard not to participate in either verbally or emotionally.

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