Today marks the end of Bullying Awareness Week 2016, and in the spirit of self-affirmation, allow me… Sometimes you go through despicable things and then one day get the courage to walk away from it all, look back and wonder why you thought you could change that situation, when all along, all you needed to do was change yourself.
Viktor Frankl is famous for stating that, “When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” I cannot tell you how much I have personally battled with this truth.
Look the person right in the eye, pause for a moment, and then say, “Excuse me?”
Fact is; bullies are everywhere. One of the most insidious and destructive forms of bullying is family bullying, because it’s often done in the name of love.
As someone who was bullied by family members for more years than I care to count, and then went on to give total control to a bully in later years, believe it or not, it is recently that I’ve been spending a lot of time learning that most of the bullying going on was and is not about me or my shortcomings—it was and is more about what other people need(ed) to unload.
Family bullies often pretend to (or believe they can) help by offering criticism. But a majority of the criticism is usually designed to make the bully feel better about themselves rather than to help the victim.
I have finally realized that the more emotions my parents and my partner were trying to deny in themselves, the more they put me down
In my case, bullying was and has been the way my parents and my ex partner got rid of their own baggage. Since I’ve recently began to really pay close attention to what has been going on under the surface, I have finally realized that the more emotions my parents, my ex boss and my partner were trying to deny in themselves, the more they put me down.
I am also learning that there are ways to minimize the effects of relating to dysfunctional people, especially those who come in the name of love, and I’d like to share them with you.
1. Plan your responses ahead of time
If you know what kinds of comments push your buttons, prepare responses ahead of time that allow you to hold on to your dear self-esteem.
For instance, if someone always comments on your parenting style, you can say, “I parent my kids according to my personal values and not the way I was raised. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but that’s what I will continue to do.”
Use “I” messages rather than “you” messages, which means saying, “I think” or “I feel” rather than “You always” or “You shouldn’t.” “I” messages keep the focus on what you’re trying to communicate, and are less likely to instigate an argument.
Practice your responses several times when you’re alone so they become automatic, authentic even. However, when you’re in the midst of a heated situation, sometimes it can be pretty tough to come up with non-habitual responses, so if you practice beforehand, standing up for yourself and your loved ones will begin to become a positive habit.
2. Stand up to the bully without hostility
One tactic that often works to defuse criticism is to take a strong stance – look the person right in the eye, pause for a moment, and then say, “Excuse me?” with the calmest yet firmest tone you can manage.
With this phrase, you’re letting the person know that you’re aware they’re putting you down or dumping their baggage on you, and you’re not going to take it. But the beauty of this phrase is that it’s not hostile; you’re not adding fuel to the fire or throwing your anger back at the other person.
Sometimes this statement will stop the bully in his tracks as he steps back in his mind and hears what he actually just said or done. If you’re dealing with a stable person, they may actually say sorry. Unfortunately, most (unstable) bullies do not apologize. Accept the imaginary apology, nonetheless, and let it go, anyway.
3. Remove yourself from the situation
If you find yourself getting sucked into what the person says or does, take a break and go somewhere private. I have always hidden in the bathroom and sobbed my heart out silently. I still shake my hands and my head, to let the tension out of my body. I love the bathroom for these moments, because I get to look myself in the mirror, red-eyed and cried out, and remind myself that I don’t have to get caught up in the drama.
It can take some practice over time to remember to take a break, but when you step out of the situation over and over, you’re able to remind yourself of your separateness and your awareness of the dysfunction, and validating and affirming your desire to stay out of the traps and become mentally healthier.
The more you pay attention to your own needs and act on them, the more respect you’ll develop for yourself
If you feel a need to leave the situation altogether, you do have the power to. People may get upset or yell or threaten you, but you’re not responsible for their feelings—you’re not responsible for calming them down, for solving their problems, or for ignoring your own needs in order to make them happy.
They’ll try to get you under their control again, but the more you pay attention to your own needs and act on them, the more respect you’ll develop for yourself. Ain’t nothing like self-respect!
4. Set healthy boundaries
Setting boundaries ahead of time can help you feel more in control of a situation. Tell everyone ahead of time that you can only spend so much on joint bills, especially when you know they’re aware of your personal expenses, or that instead of doing all the chores to impress them and stay in their good books (at the expense of your own health), this time, you can only attend to the baby, cook for the kids and ensure they’re okay, check their homework and remember to take your pills.
However, be prepared for a backlash of “You can’t change! We liked you better when you let us control you!” But each time you stick to your guns, you’ll be growing stronger. Pay attention to your own needs and desires—they’re absolutely just as important as anyone else’s.
5. When you leave, leave it all behind
Once you leave a difficult situation, instead of rolling it around and around in your mind, trying to get into those people’s head to try and understand why they do or say the things they say and/or do, set yourself a mental task of figuring out how to make it easier for yourself next time.
- What would need to change?
- How could you respond in a way that helps you feel more centered and grounded?
- What kinds of boundaries could you set up before the next time you interact with them?
Ruminating over who said what and how awful it all felt for days or years afterward is a negative habit that reinforces old emotional patterns, and it is only now that I’m learning to let it all go, for my own good. Instead, remind yourself that the situation is over, and allow it to turn into a fading memory rather than constantly pulling it back into the front of your mind to relive over and over again.
People who are regularly bullied or criticized in words or action tend to be very critical of themselves, as well, and I’m a living proof. I am, however, learning to have compassion for myself, and treat myself with kindness. Do you know what I’ve recently learned? Most of us actually do a better job at everything than we think we are—no matter what anyone else believes or says.
So chin up, beloved. You’re going to be okay! #YouArePossible 🙂