Disclaimer: For those of you who know me and my work around healing from abuse, please note that this blog is not about clinically abusive people (aka narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths). This series on adult bullies is about the other type of difficult people. The average garden-variety type of folks we run into out in the world.
The Different Types of Adult Bullies
What happens when we run into adults who don’t know how to treat other people? Our reactions can range from explosive anger all the way to deeply internalizing the ugly messages that bullies send us. Why do bullies exist in the adult world? As kids, weren’t we all told that schoolyard bullies would one day “grow up” and realize the error of their ways? I know I heard that mean kids would grow out of the need or desire to bully and yet, I see adult bullying in too many life situations.
There seems to be a few different variations of behaviors from individuals who clearly are old enough to know better, and yet, roam the adult schoolyard looking for someone to kick in the shins. Over the course of several blogs, I am going to share with you a few of the types of bullies I have either experienced myself or have been witness to through other people.
The Bitter Bully
I have personally come in close contact with this bully. It is one who appears in the form of a friendly face that is all good with you until, wait for it, the seed of bitterness comes to full harvest. What causes this person to shift from a caring friend to a snarky person who you cannot associate closely with anymore? Bitterness usually shows itself when the adult bully feels threatened by you in some way. Perhaps you stepped on their toes by achieving success in “their” self-designated area of life. It’s as if they have metaphorically tinkled on a bush like a dog to claim it as their own and you dared to come sniffing too close. You hear the low growl and turn to see their teeth showing. They don’t like you anymore. Suddenly you’re now annoying and they have numerous previously unspoken complaints of you. Their view of you has changed but the only thing that is new is your success.
Maybe your success stepped on their toes and rather than coming clean with you about their internal conflict, it seeps out through their pores in bitterness. Of course, they would adamantly deny any jealousy or bitterness. Didn’t they already tell you they are not an angry person? They are the outward picture of confidence but as an intuitive person, you feel the wave of bitterness and it pushes you away from them.
What causes the bitter bully to emerge from the outer covering of a good friend? I believe it is deeply held insecurities. When people feel overly territorial it is because they are scared that you are taking something away from them; that they will lose the goodness in their life. These individuals may have dealt with scarcity or neglect previously and they are triggered on a subconscious level by you coming to close to their now good life.
Is this your fault? Not at all. Are you expected to shrink back in life just so you don’t push insecurity buttons in someone around you? Never. We do not clip our own wings for fear we might fly too high for another person’s comfort level. Their bitterness and internal conflict is theirs, and theirs alone, to work through. However, it is helpful to pause and ponder the “why” of the bitter bully’s projection outward towards you. When we can cognitively understand why people behave the way they do, it takes the personalization out of it. We stop going over what we did to make that person change their ways with us. We start recognizing that not everyone can stay on the same road.
People say that failure will show you who your friends are and that is true. Success will show you the insecurities hiding in those around you. Sometimes, it’s not pretty. Sometimes success brings a chill of loneliness as people react in different ways and bitter is one of them.
Personally, I would rather be surrounded by a few key people who love themselves and their lives so much that anything I might have going on positively isn’t at all a threat to them. It is also my gift back to them because real friends don’t pour bitterness on one another like acid.
Keep Dreaming Big! (so big it makes people uncomfortable)
To know me is to know that I have a few favorite sayings. Over the last eight years of chatting with clients in a private practice setting, one of my favorites is that personal growth is like a measuring stick. When we want to make changes in our lives, we are not typically going to go from one inch to twelve inches overnight but instead we are on the little black lines of change. I have even asked clients to go buy a measuring stick or put a picture of one on their phones. This can serve as a reminder that we are not expected to become different overnight. What an incredible burden that would be. Yet, it’s how many of us were raised or came to believe as adults. Do it better and do it better now! Let’s all say a collective NO to that sort of internal pressure. Because guess what? It usually backfires and we end up not changing at all for fear of not doing it fast enough and without enough “perfection.”
The measuring stick approach is much more gentle and kinder to ourselves. Like the saying goes, if we are not nice to ourselves, who’s going to be? When we are not nice to ourselves, it’s funny too how we end up magically attracting people into our lives who are also not very nice to us either. Ever notice that? I sure have; both as a therapist working with people and as a woman with my own history of love and friendships.
Why is the measuring stick a good visual for folks? I think it works well because it nicely illustrates that small changes do get us somewhere and the stick shows that to be true. It may be slow and it may be small changes, but eventually we would end up from one inch to twelve inches and isn’t that super, duper, amazingly fantastic?! It’s also a whole lot less overwhelming when we make small incremental progress, rather than turn-your-life-upside-down changes. Sometimes I like to call those “snow globe moments.” We take our life snow globe, shake it all up and wait for the dust to settle. That sounds remarkably un-fun to me. I don’t think un-fun is a word but you get my point.
What kind of changes can we make using the measuring stick idea? Any change! That’s the fabulous thing about it. It works with all personal growth. Try it out. What goal would you like to achieve? Consider that your twelve inch mark. Now back track all the little steps it would and will take to reach the goal.
Next, we write those steps down and start working from one inch, which is today and where we are in the process (or lack thereof) in reaching our goal. We often have to break down goals into even smaller sizes to fit the small black lines on the measuring stick. That’s the point. Small, small, small changes.
For instance, some of you know and some of you don’t, that since my twenties I have lost over 125 lbs. Yes, it’s true. I lost a whole skinny person. It’s still very weird for me to get an off glance in the mirror and see a size 4 rather than a size 24. For me, losing weight has been a life changing experience for the better. I am not saying that everyone who is a size 24 should lose a small person of weight and poof, they will be happy. I am saying that for me, it revolutionized my life. I think it was because the weight was symbolic of other healing that needed to happen for me and when I truly dealt with those issues, the weight naturally came off.
I have previously written about my journey of weight loss and you can read them at “112 lbs and Going” “Sabotage Weight” and “Our Relationship with Food” In the 112 lbs, you even get to see my Before pictures. Now you want to go click on it, don’t you? It’s okay. I put them out there for the world to see, so go ahead and peek.
The measuring stick worked for me regarding weight because I gave myself very small, very doable goals. The little black lines of change goals. Things like “only order two Whoppers at Burger King, instead of three” or “do ten push ups against the wall tonight.” Eventually, those black lines of change became “run 10 miles in prep for the half marathon that’s in a few weeks away.” Did I start out running 10 miles? HA! I don’t even think I have to answer that, do I? Even training for the one and only half marathon I ever did and probably will ever do (check off Bucket List item), it was a lesson in the measuring stick practice.
To train for a ridiculously long run, you break down those runs into small growth in distance over several weeks. That way you gradually condition yourself to the mileage and your body adjusts to what you are asking it to do. Same theory goes for all personal growth.
What if your twelve inch goal is to have a happier and healthier relationship? Well, then, take some time to visualize what you would like that to look like at its best and then back track the small changes that would get you to the goal. See how the measuring stick works for at least the two types of growth of weight loss and improved relationships? I promise it works for all life goals.
What twelve inch goal would you like to reach? Write it down. What are the really (really) small steps to get there? Write those down too. Be realistic that it won’t be done perfectly and that’s perfectly okay. But if you keep moving forward, it will be done eventually. All the growth along the way feels really good too; not just the end of the measuring stick. As you see your hopes and dreams come into focus, the entire journey of growth is amazing.
I can’t wait to hear about what goals you have set for yourself. Enjoy the process of change.
During a quiet time, the thought came to me that maybe our current political climate is doing a revealing of what has been hidden in the Church.
Maybe the strong division we are seeing emerge is actually sifting those who seek political power in Caesar’s kingdom, from those who are getting their basins of water and towels to wash the feet of those they love and serve in tenderness.
Maybe this painful split is part of a process that will leave a church that may be small, but mighty in its passion for people who reflect a God that created the world, not just America.
Maybe this veil being ripped back to expose the Church is actually the cleansing that has been needed because what is currently going on is #notmychristianity
I recently spent four days in New York City for a fun girls’ trip. It is an incredible city and one that I am more than happy to visit whenever possible. The city that never sleeps also never disappoints. Each time I have played tourist, the streets of NYC provided numerous life analogies and lessons.
Our 2016 trip was full of different opportunities to be self-reflective. I don’t know if you’re like me but I am almost in a constant state of reflection. As I go about my daily life and run into different moments, I often subconsciously am filtering and filing away experiences. I later return to these little snapshots of time and apply some meaning to them. Examples? There were plenty while in the Big Apple!
The first moment of reflection came as we were flying into LaGuardia airport. We were scheduled to arrive at a specific time so when the plane started to make a clear and what seemed to be a slightly rapid decent, I began to get a little nervous. I enjoy flying and especially love taking off. The feeling of the plane’s wheels lifting off the ground is probably one of my most favorite things in life. Landing? Now that’s a slightly different story. I love landing into my home airport of Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) because it is such a smooth ride back into the Lone Star state. This particular approach into New York City was quite the opposite. It came fast and furious. As I said to the pilot as we exited, “That felt like an aircraft carrier landing.” Boom! The bird is out of the sky. As a matter of fact, we landed 13 minutes before our scheduled arrival so a part of me wonders if the traffic controller called us in early and so out of the sky we came in hot.
One minute I was reading a dumb, brainless magazine with a lot of pictures about reality TV stars and the next we were on the ground ready to start our girls’ tour of the city. There was little mental prep time for our arrival. Has this sort of experience ever happened to you? Where life just showed up and you had to adjust quickly? I am sure it has to all of us. It is usually more than just landing quickly but this served as a good moment to reflect on how well do we adjust to ever changing life situations. Some of us can switch gears quicker than others and it can often be a cause of stress for people.
My next moment for reflection came as my friend and I tried to check into our hotel. I had been in charge of this reservation and even though I am 100% sure the computer screen said “two double beds” when I booked it, the confirmation said “double bed.” Singular. Not double. We did not realize this issue with the reservation until we opened the door to our proposed room and saw one bed. Surely they just made a mistake and gave us the wrong room so we schlepped our luggage back downstairs to the lobby. Once back down there they informed us that our reservation said one bed, they were completely sold out, and did not believe the single bed mistake was actually theirs to own. I, on the other hand, felt very strongly that I travel enough and am a perfectionist enough to know that I did not book the wrong room.
This moment provided an immediate reflection of joy and excitement. What? Joy and excitement? Yes! You see, I had not really wanted to stay at that particular hotel and once I saw it in person, I was sure I didn’t want to stay there. This goof allowed me the freedom to say “adios” to the one bed hotel and high-tail it further uptown to the beautiful accommodations that I had stayed at before on a previous visit. Sure, there were issues of billing and getting my refund from the one bed dump, but I was in New York City with my best girlfriend and I wasn’t going to fret over it right then! The need to switch hotels upon our arrival to the city reminded me that sometimes things don’t work out for very good reasons and just going with the flow of life is for our benefit. As I laid my head on my pillow that night and in the hotel I felt very comfortable, I was so happy that the other reservation fell through.
The third moment I want to share with you happened while on the couture floor of Bergdorf Goodman. One of the things I enjoy the most about visiting NYC is the history of the fashion industry that flourishes in the region. I love walking along 5th Avenue and Madison and seeing the beautiful designer stores full of incredibly detailed designs and fabrics. These gorgeous items are way out of my budget and never coming home with me, but I can still get giddy and excited to visit these historical designer houses that have made heavy footprints in women’s fashion and culture.
During this trip, my friend and I walked through the incredible Bergdorf Goodman store. Even though it was painfully apparent by my casual vacation clothing that I was a tourist and not going to be trying on any items, each and every staff member was exceptionally gracious and welcoming. Immediately upon arriving to another designer’s area of the store, I happily announced to the sales person, “just looking around!” I didn’t want to pretend to be something I am not and a couture shopper at Bergdorf Goodman is what I am not. I am happily okay with that too. As I walked from designer to designer, I reflected on the fact that there are often times when we feel out of place in a particular environment and our attitude makes all the difference in our enjoyment level of the experience. Could I have felt sloppy and low-brow while walking around very high-end fashion that I can’t afford? Sure. But what point would there be in degrading myself in my inner dialogue? Instead I accepted myself as I am and enjoyed the beautiful items that will never be mine to own. Were other ladies shopping and taking Bergdorf bags home with them? Yes. Did it bring out jealousy in me? Not at all. I only needed to walk up the street towards Central Park to be reminded that some people are wondering where their next meal is coming from. Unfortunately, in our country you can see people plunking down thousands of dollars in department stores and others do not have any place indoors to sleep at night. Honestly, the spectrum is a little too wide for my taste. As I walked among the couture dresses and watched other women buying, I did not succumb to envy because I know my place in the world and am happy with it. I have the means to book a getaway with a friend but not enough for high fashion. I am okay with my perch on the tree of life.
As we maneuver through our daily lives, we should be aware of the different moments that can lead us to a quiet inner dialogue. What life reflection moments have you had recently? I hope you are gentle with yourself during these little spaces in time.
This political election has divided many friends and family members. Just to get a break from the heated rhetoric, people have had to unfriend their own parents or siblings on social media. Friendships have been severed and tension is present in the workplace. No time in recent history has a more divided ideology been present in our culture. We simply do not agree with the “other side” and cannot wrap our thoughts around how the opposing viewpoint can come to the conclusions that they have recently. Now, welcome to the holidays where we are expected to come out from behind our computer or phone screens and interact with people that we previously withdrew from out in cyberspace. Face to face, in the same physical space for hours or even days at a time. Heaven help us! I know many of you are nervous about it and with good reason, honestly.
If you find yourself dreading getting together with your family members who see life very differently than you do, let’s talk about some of your options and a few coping skills that might help.
#1: Just Don’t Go
You do have the right to say that given the tension that is already present because of this election, you are simply going to sit this holiday out. Your relatives might not like that decision but as an adult who has complete domain over themselves, you get to choose where and when you engage with people. This is especially true if these family members have been abusive or very ugly to you about your beliefs. There are consequences for being unkind to people and maybe you choosing to not join them is the feedback they need to hear.
#2 Set Boundaries Ahead of Time
If you decide that going is the best option for you, then maybe consider a family group text or email letting everyone know that you are looking forward to seeing them and under no circumstances do you plan to stay if anyone brings up the election. Weren’t we supposed to stay away from discussions of politics and religion anyways with people? This year has taken that etiquette suggestion and put it on steroids.
#3 Simple Answers
You have decided to go to the festivities, sent your group warning to talk about anything but the election (and religion), and someone decides to ignore your boundaries. What do you do? You could immediately put your fork down, stand up, and walk out but that’s a bit dramatic for most people. Let’s at least try to defuse and redirect before you grab your coat and head home. Simple replies such as the following might be helpful:
“My text (or email) was very clear. I am not talking about this. Thanks.”
“There are many opinions on this topic.”
“We will have to wait and see what happens.”
“Did you know the Cowboys are 9-1?” (that might only work in Texas but you could reply with a very random fact that shows you are not going to take the bait to get into a political argument.)
The absolute worst thing would be to start talking about the popular vote or protests or God’s specific opinion about America’s election. Back away, back away, back away.
#4 Don’t Drink Too Much and Don’t Stay Too Long
Get in, get out, and don’t get drunk. That’s actually really good advice for many of life’s situation but especially around the holidays in the middle of the social climate we have now. If you find yourself wondering how this holiday will go, then don’t stay too long and wear out your welcome. Quality and not quantity will be your friend. Maybe by Christmas tempers will have cooled and you can plan for a longer visit. Right now for Thanksgiving, let’s not add any new wounds. It might feel odd being a bit more formal and emotionally distant with your family, but I assure you it is a much better option than allowing emotions to spill over and letting it get out of hand.
I wish you well as we head into this holiday week and don’t forget self-care if your plans include extended periods of time with family who might want to drag you into discussions you do not want to have. My hope is that most people are more obnoxious while hiding behind their social media accounts and will soften as everyone sits down around the table to give thanks. If that doesn’t happen, know that you have the power and right to leave any environment that is not safe for you.
Happy almost Thanksgiving. I am thankful for each of you!