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)
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!
I had a wonderful time visiting with Alise Cortez on her radio show:
Working on Purpose.
To listen to the show: Click HERE
A Quest to Improve the Lives of People Who Have Experienced Psychological or Spiritual Abuse
“Let’s face it – relationships of all types can really be difficult. That’s especially true when we find ourselves living, associating or working with individuals who use psychological or spiritual abuse as a method of harm. A surprising number of people exhibit various personality disorder characteristics that manifest themselves in behaviors toward those closest to them. Our guest in this episode has a unique window on this world in her counseling practice focusing on recovery from hidden abuse. In this episode, we discuss Shannon Thomas’s choice to enter the field, how she developed her career into her own business today, the six stages she uses to guide her clients toward recovery, her perspective of how and why psychological and spiritual abuse occurs today, and the signs we might use to recognize that we ourselves are in a toxic relationship and then what we can do about it.” – Alise Cortez
It’s frightening when someone crosses the yellow line and drifts into your lane; coming at you head-on. This can apply to driving a car or emotionally. Emotionally? Yes. There are people who don’t know how to stay in their own lane of life and they cross relational boundaries. In my company (private practice counseling), I typically write about the experiences of being in contact with clinically toxic people but for today’s discussion, this sort of behavior can definitely take place from folks who are not personality disordered but just good old fashioned, rude.
We all should be aware of our actions and perhaps we have been guilty of swerving into someone else’s life lane when they never really ever asked us to. Definitely use this post as self-reflective but I really intend it as a resource to help us deal with those folks who feel the need to come at us in a way that is annoying, if not emotionally dangerous.
I have found myself murmuring in my own head thoughts like “My goodness, stay in your lane!” or something similar. I assume that if I am frustrated by encounters with these lane changing people, that surely someone else out there has experienced similar life intrusions. I have lately noticed two types of relational bad drivers and wanted to share them with you in the hope that if you encounter these sort of individuals, that you might not feel guilty getting off the same road as them.
The first scary driver is what I will call the Overstepping Their Role individual. This person might be a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance or really any level of regular contact with them. Your first awareness that they have crossed the line with you is when you find yourself really irritated and can’t quite put your finger on exactly why. Perhaps you found yourself irritated and immediately knew why. If you encountered an Overstepper, they will have come at you as an expert of your life in some aspect. They may have tried to position themselves in a role of dominance to you or wanted to speak into your life in a way that you never previously opened the door to them. Let me pause here and say that we all need authenticity in our relationships and that includes hearing things that might be hard to hear. However! Those little nuggets of life truths must come from the people that we (and let me repeat WE) have welcomed into our lives in the role of adviser, mentor, leader, confidant or whatever we choose to call them.
The Overstepper does not have the right to position herself or himself in a role that we have not granted them. I highly encourage you to take swift action the very first time that the Overstepper shows their true colors. Sure, you can choose to clear up the fallout of the very first unwanted lane change. This will have you continuing to drive on the same road with them until the next time the Overstepper decides to go for Round 2 of undermining you. For me, I like the saying that says when someone shows you their true colors, believe them. I am long suffering with people who may have had a bad day or are just not themselves for a season but the Overstepper typically has been watching and waiting for just the right opportunity to position themselves in some headship role over you. No. Thank. You. Stay in your lane Overstepper!
The second type of relational bad driver, who likes to target your lane, is the Direct Hit person. Some of the characteristics of this individual include:
- Being the ultimate example of a “Frenemy” or “Famemy” (you know the oxymoron of friend/family and enemy because they behave like both, depending on how it suits their moods).
- Uses triangulation to exclude you from activities with other family members or friends. They get satisfaction from stealing relationships away from you and probably never even noticed someone until you did. Then the gloves come off and they purposefully set out to rob you of your connection with that other person.
- Gloats and gets pleasure from your failings. This is enjoyed by the Direct Hit person because they cannot be truly happy for other people’s successes. They dart over into your life lane with the purpose of knocking out your good things in order to feel better about themselves. They are the equivalent of the school bully but in an adult body.
- They purposefully create situations to make you look bad and then laugh at you in front of others. They have no problem publicly mocking you so others will not like you as much. The Direct Hit person believes this makes them more popular.
- They swing between being nice and a good companion, to hitting you head-on in an attempt to inflict some dings and scratches on your car. Stay in your lane, Direct Hit person!
Some of the behaviors of the Direct Hit person definitely can sound like a personality disordered individual and they just well might be. For the purposes of today, let’s just go with the idea that the Direct Hit person is to be avoided; regardless of any other underlying bigger issues.
Have you been cruising down your own life road and had one or both of these types of people try to cause damage to you? You are not alone. The next time you see the oncoming hit approaching, I highly suggest you flip on your blinker and make a right turn completely onto a new street. As you get away from them, roll down your windows, turn up the radio and sing along to a good song. Life is way to fun to waste time on the Overstepper or the Direct Hit person. Far too many other drivers know exactly how to stay in their lanes. Why continue on an unsafe road with people who don’t have the good sense to know their place in your life? Not a very wise idea for sure.
Happy driving and Keep Dreaming Big!
Our culture has taught us that only rude people set boundaries or perhaps they are only for people who have spent a lot of time in counseling. We have this belief that in order to be a person who implements boundaries, we must do so in some melodramatic or forceful way. We think that people who set boundaries are those that step up on a soapbox, pull out their mega-phone and announce “Hello everyone, please pay attention because I am now about to set a boundary! Thank you for observing this act of defiance.”
On the contrary, setting limits with other people’s behaviors is best done with it’s not shouted through a loud speaker but rather quietly and yet firmly implemented.
Boundaries can be unspoken and steadfast
We don’t have to be aggressive or dominating when we decide to limit the impact that someone’s toxic, or just unwanted behaviors, are having on us. Sometimes we need to simply limit our own role in the chaos and as they say: back away, back away. I am sure we all have had “that” friend who likes to stir up conflict with the people around them. Rather than openly confront the dysfunction, perhaps we quietly put some distance between ourselves and the trouble-starter. Sometimes speaking up is needed but other times it only makes the situation much worse.
I wish I had the boundary skill perfected many years ago. It took me a while to learn the art of the quiet boundary and I was a little more like a soapbox mega-phone shouter. If I had known what I know now, I would definitely have done some relationships differently. One in particular comes to mind and rather than making changes behind the scenes, I chose to openly confront someone who I already knew ahead of time didn’t have the communication skills to handle outward conflict. I was honest with the person about my experiences and the friendship promptly went downhill from there. Now, in my wiser older age, I would not speak up to this person but instead adjust my actions so that my boundaries would still be implemented. Instead of me quietly making changes, the friendship fizzled and was never restored. I had good intentions by trying to clear the air, but because of mistakes in my approach and the other person’s lack of communication skills, it all fell apart. See how unspoken boundaries are sometimes the best approach? We can still achieve what we are looking for and maybe limit some relationship drama in our lives.
A boundary isn’t withholding forgiveness
Setting boundaries can be difficult if we internally worry that we are remaining resentful by setting a boundary. We may even have been told that true forgiveness means having a full restoration in the relationship. Boundaries have nothing to do with forgiveness or resentment but everything to do with the quality of our interactions with other people. We can forgive someone and still not want to be around them or be exposed to their dysfunction. Forgiveness isn’t about returning to the scene of the crime again and again so we can be re-harmed. Forgiveness is something that takes place within ourselves and leads us to a place of peace with our past or present hurts. Boundaries help put an end to or limit the exposure we have to behaviors that don’t work for us.
We have a right to decide who and what we allow into our daily lives. We are the stewards of our time and energy. Some people just don’t need to have access to us or they need guardrails on their interactions. Boundaries help set the tone for what we find acceptable and what we are not willing to tolerate. We have the right to make that choice.
What boundary or boundaries would be good and healthy for you to start implementing? My suggestion is to write it down and remind yourself of your desire to make your life as healthy as possible. Some people may not like your boundaries and guess what? Those are probably the exact same people who need the boundary the most. Ironic, right?
I wish you all the best in making your life as healthy and peaceful as you desire.
Keep Dreaming Big!