Adult Bullies – Hate ‘Em

With all the talk and media hype about bullying these days, I thought I would bring to the forefront a little discussed topic:  Adult bullying.  Office bullying.  Every bit as prevalent and detrimental as school-age bullying, but far less talked about.

I have no use for bullies of any kind.  I came from a very domineering childhood.  I was also bullied at school as a young person, and was always too scared to do anything about it.

Perhaps this is why I have a very difficult time dealing with people who think it’s OK to treat others like crap.

I have found that, as I grow older, I have less and less tolerance for this behaviour.  My filter is growing thinner as well.  I find myself speaking up when someone says something ignorant to me or treats me with disrespect.  In the past, I would have just said nothing.

Since I have always been in the sales or service industry, I have always had to pucker up and kiss the butts of the rude customers.

It’s hard for me to do that now, and sometimes my inside voice speaks louder than it should.  I know I’ve said at least a couple of things to customers that my managers would deem as ‘inappropriate’.  Ooopy-Doo!

Adult bullies are most often adults that were bullied as kids (lashing out against the lack of respect they received growing up), or they were bullied as kids.

Unfortunately, adult bullies are very difficult to change.  They are already set in their ways.  So what can we do about this?  How do we deal with these bullies?  Sometimes it’s easier to deal with something when we better understand it.

Here are a few facts about Adult Bullies for you:

“Adult bullies tend to be opinionated, judgmental, and coercive,” says Katherine Krefft, PhD, a practicing psychologist in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. “If a person repeatedly makes you feel intimidated or humiliated, you are probably dealing with a bully.”

These people tend to:

  • Abuse a position of power
  • Repeatedly give undeserved criticism
  • Use verbal or physical abuse
  • Have excessive and unrealistic expectations
  • Repeat insults or threats
  • Abuse the rights and dignity of others

According to the website, there are 5 main types of adult bullies.  Again, understanding something a little clearer may help us to deal with it.

Here we go…

  1. Narcissistic Adult Bully: This type of adult bully is self-centered and does not share empathy with others. Additionally, there is little anxiety about consequences. He or she seems to feel good about him or herself, but in reality has a brittle narcissism that requires putting others down.
  2. Impulsive Adult Bully: Adult bullies in this category are more spontaneous and plan their bullying out less. Even if consequences are likely, this adult bully has a hard time restraining his or her behavior. In some cases, this type of bullying may be unintentional, resulting in periods of stress, or when the bully is actually upset or concerned about something unconnected with the victim.
  3. Physical Bully: While adult bullying rarely turns to physical confrontation, there are, nonetheless, bullies that use physicality. In some cases, the adult bully may not actually physically harm the victim, but may use the threat of harm, or physical domination through looming.  Additionally, a physical bully may damage or steal a victim’s property, rather than physically confronting the victim.
  4. Verbal Adult Bully: Words can be quite damaging. Adult bullies who use this type of tactic may start rumors about the victim, or use sarcastic or demeaning language to dominate or humiliate another person. This subtle type of bullying also has the advantage – to the bully – of being difficult to document. However, the emotional and psychological impacts of verbal bullying can be felt quite keenly and can result in reduced job performance and even depression.
  5. Secondary Adult Bully: This is someone who does not initiate the bullying, but joins in so that he or she does not actually become a victim down the road. Secondary bullies may feel bad about what they are doing, but are more concerned about protecting themselves.

The Toll Bullying Takes on the Victim

“Repeated bullying — whether it occurs between bosses and employees, between spouses, or in any adult relationship — is a form of traumatic stress that is toxic to one’s emotional health,” says Kerfft. In fact, the effects of bullying have been linked to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a trauma-induced anxiety disorder.

In addition, bullying victims may experience:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Fearfulness
  • Financial losses from missed work
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Aches and pains
  • Digestive disturbances

How to Put an End to the Abuse

The worst thing you can do if you’re being bullied?  Ignore it.

“The reason child bullies grow up to be adult bullies is because the behavior is repeated and reinforced,” warns Krefft. If not confronted, a bully will likely continue his/her antagonizing ways.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Recognize that being bullied is something no one deserves.
  • Document the bullying behavior as well as you can.
  • Try to avoid the bully whenever possible.
  • Ignore any inappropriate behaviour.
  • Use humour.  Laugh along to take the sting out of their put-downs.
  • Remain calm.  Bullies will attack people they can get a rise out of.
  • Refuse to take bullying behaviour personally.
  • Don’t reciprocate bullying behaviour.
  • Try to have witnesses to support you.
  • Seek help from an appropriate authority.

Never try to retaliate directly, says Krefft. The proper authority will depend on the situation.   If at work, your employee handbook or HR department may identify the right person in your workplace to talk to. If you have been physically threatened or attacked, you may want to go to the police.

Workplace bullying can make life quite miserable and difficult. Supervisors should be made aware of adult bullies, since they can disrupt productivity, create a hostile work environment (opening the company to the risk of a law suit) and reduce morale.

It is important to note, though, that there is little you can do about an adult bully, other than ignore and try to avoid, after documenting and reporting the abuse to a supervisor.

This is because adult bullies are often in a set pattern. They are not interested in working things out and they are not interested in compromise.

Rather, adult bullies are more interested in power and domination. They want to feel as though they are important and preferred, and they accomplish this by bringing others down.

We need to put an end to all bullying.  Intolerance and abuse of power is a great problem in the world today.  It’s the cause of many of the atrocities that we hear about in the news.

If we all just learned to get along, the world would be a much happier place.  And we could all do with a bit more Happy.



Kathleen Bolton

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