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.
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