I recently experienced a return of some behaviours that made me so uncomfortable that part of me wanted to run, another part wanted to put up a permanent wall between me and the other person, and another part of me ruminated for days about telling the other person that they were a bully.
So, What is Bullying?
Bullyzero.org.au is a website devoted to reducing bullying, and their definition of bullying is when a person or group of people repeatedly and intentionally use words or actions to cause distress and harm to another person's wellbeing. It could be from someone who has some kind of power over someone else, but it can also be people in relationships like married couples, workmates, or friends. That's right: someone you are attached to, could be bullying you. Or, you could be the one who is bullying someone that you love.
Fear, or the Absence of Trust?
I've been wondering about what makes a person become a bully, and the thought occurred that it might be the presence of fear, or the absence of trust.
Fear makes us anxious, and anxiety makes us engage in all kinds of controlling behaviours. Issuing put-downs to someone you love is one of those behaviours. But, this is not loving behaviour, is it? It doesn't build them up to be courageous in the face of their adversities. No, it belittles them and makes them feel worse about those adversities!
So, the question that comes to mind is, "what are you afraid of?"
Often, we're afraid of being left alone, of being abandoned. Sometimes, we are scared of losing our comforts and our identity. These fears can keep us awake at night, and the resulting fatigue can only make the situation worse, can't it? We don't realise that those we love will give all to protect us. We take their love for granted, and that leads to us losing faith in them.
So, then, there is the absence of trust. If there is love between us, then we will trust each other. But if one lacks trust in the other, they will feel threatened by the possibility of bad things happening. They direct their feelings of threat, fear and anxiety toward the person they have trusted the most, and drive them away.
So, the question comes to mind, "who do you want to keep close?"
and that leads to the next question, "how do you show someone that you want them to stay?"
You show them how you feel by the way you behave, the words you use, and the tone in which you deliver your message (including the volume of your voice). If you care for the person, then you will take care to show care.
Habits of Communication
We all get into habits, and that is definitely true for the way we communicate with certain people. I like to talk about the "habit of communication" in romantic relationships, but your own "habit of communication" can develop in the workplace and you bring it home with you.
Do you know how you sound to others?
Maybe you think you have a commanding presence at work, because you feel the need to have control over situations (that's an anxiety behaviour, right there). But sometimes, some people will make others feel like nothing they do will ever be good enough; chewing them out in open-plan offices, behind closed doors, in the lunch-room, and while they're running out to catch the bus home. How do you know if you speak considerately, or not?
Some people take their commanding work voice home with them too, and their loved ones feel similarly bossed about. How do you know if you speak with compassion and understanding, or not?
Have you ever heard yourself sounding self-righteous? I haven't, but I might ... (and I'm so sorry if I do).
Not Romantic at all ...
Lots of couples go through a phase when one party loses their job; when it happened in my marriage, I got "husband-underfoot-syndrome" for seventeen months. The employed party leaves the house to go to work, and when they come home the unemployed party is still sitting in the same place, looking the same, doing the same thing. It gets really irritating and a new communication style emerges: frustrated and angry, the working party starts nagging; depressed and losing confidence, the unemployed party wonders "why bother?". And so the cycle begins and continues, until ... well, until you get into a different routine!
Bullying behaviour can include negative teasing, and can happen anywhere.
Negative teasing can happen in a couple who started out with a cheery and cheeky banter that spiralled into nit-picking, it can be a parent repeatedly teasing a child about their hair colour, it can be a friend forever teasing another friend about their romantic choices. Every time has the potential to hurt. One snide remark can become a series of jibes, and that habit of nasty and inconsiderate communication drives a wedge between two people.
The Question of Insight
Do bullies know they are bullies? Do they know when they are saying and doing things which cause distress and harm to another's wellbeing? And do they care?
If a person knows they are being a bully, and they continue the behaviour anyway, does that make their behaviour psychopathic?
Flight, Fight or Freeze
My response to the repeatedly offending behaviours (mentioned at the start) has been typical of a common psychological phenomenon when a person (or other animal) is faced with terrible stress: flight, fight or freeze. It doesn't matter how many times a loved one belittles you, you still have trouble speaking up for yourself and telling them to "go jump". And when you share the same social circle or you have children together, it becomes even harder, especially when all those shared friends and family members are wonderful people whom you still want in your life. It's hard, too, when it's a workmate belittling you and you love your job and your other workmates.
So, what to do?
Well, a long time ago now, I was in a situation in which the psychological warfare was harmful to my wellbeing. At first, I tolerated it. Then, I spoke up and protected myself. But eventually, I left.
In tolerating the behaviour, I saw that it was repeated, and directed at me without provocation.
In speaking up when things were calm, I was clear to the person that their behaviour was not acceptable, and I would not put up with it any longer. They were on notice.
In extricating myself from the situations, and by distancing myself from the person, I saved myself from the psychological harm that could have occurred. I was also true to my word. I had been clear about the unacceptable behaviour and I had highlighted the outcome if their belittling continued. The consequence was delivered as a direct result of their unacceptable behaviour.
Being put down (in whatever words or actions) is not acceptable. A raised voice is not acceptable. A belittling tone is not acceptable.
What you choose to do is up to you. But, I only have one life in this body with this beautiful mind. I won't put up with psychological abuse from anyone.