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Are You Enabling Bullies?

2 weeks ago / by Sweta Vikram

If so, take steps to weaken their power over you

An actor depicting a person enduring bullying
Shutterstock

Most of us have or will encounter bullies in our lives. While we’d like to believe that bullying is only happens in childhood. Unfortunately that’s not true. Adult bullies are very real and can be found in our networks, jobs, homes, universities, etc.

Avoiding Confrontation

Every family and friend circle has that one person who is delusional about being popular and liked. They assume they are loved when they are actually feared for their erratic nature and hurtful word choice. They leave you depleted, humiliated, belittled, dominated, and with a low sense of self. Fact is, people are either scared of this person or lack the motivation to engage with the unwarranted attack, and so they give in. Moonh nahin lagna (don’t want to engage with him/her; it’s not worth it). This mindset might aim at survival, but it gives the bully more power to exploit and tyrannize others. Friends, this is recipe #1 to enable bullies and bad behavior.

Justifying the Behavior

A small group of us were talking when a colleague, who has three daughters, said, “I have told my girls, so what if their dad gets upset and screams? End of the day, he gets them everything they want. They have this fancy life because he is so successful.” We all tried to hide our surprise. She continued, “He takes us on nice vacations. If he’s stressed, who else will he scream at?”

This man has a meltdown anywhere and everywhere. He believes it’s OK to raise his voice at his wife, even in social settings.

“He is intimidating and that’s what earns him the big bucks in his job,” she told us. Not only does she believe that her husband’s abusive attitude and threatening behavior is justified, but she also normalized fear-based relationships in her own home. The daughters walk around on eggshells, much like their mom. They cave in or bask in joy depending on the man’s moods. Friends, this is recipe #2 for fueling caustic behavior in a bully, because they have you believe their cruelty is justified.

Taking the High Road

My mother brought people together. Anytime that there was a squabble in the family, my dad and she were the peacemakers for even the extended family. She believed that families should be a unit, and human beings must care for one another. When friends argued, she had reconciliation meetings in our home. As a kid I didn’t understand the nuances of adult relationships, but as an adult I can see how exhausting that must have been — to be constantly “penalized” for being the sensible and caring ones.

That said, my mother was a terrible judge of character in so many ways. She saw through individuals who was obvious in their scheming ways. But she could easily be manipulated by people who knew which buttons to push and which insecurities in her to exploit. She wouldn’t think twice about bending backwards. Her favorite words were, “Chod do. Tum badey bann jao” (Let it go. Be the bigger person). Friends, this is recipe #3 for giving a bully power over you.

Reframing the Abuse

A friend’s aunt was referring to an uncle’s mood swings and his tendency to gaslight. She said it’s unpredictable what he might say when to whom. But she quickly added, “At the end of the day, he cares and shows up for family.”

I don’t get it. My friends said that if you invite him over for a meal, he won’t show up. He will then pretend that the lunch or that the dinner invitation had never happened. Then he goes on to complain about you to everyone else in the extended family. Whatever you do, you will eventually face his silence.

This is also emotional abuse. He drinks excessively and will take unexpected swings at the “weakest” link in the family’s ecosystem. He won’t think twice about insulting another person, rolling his eyes at them, or mimicking them. I have met him. The setting becomes very intense in his presence – as if the walls are closing in on you. He fixes his eye on a target, and the rest you can imagine.

I personally think this person needs to see a therapist because his behavior and habits are entirely unhealthy. My question is since when did we start confusing such depraved behavior as “caring?” Friends, this is recipe #4 for giving a bully visibility and acknowledgment they don’t deserve.

Summing Up

Take a moment to read and reflect on this essay. Are there relationships in your lives that feel toxic and dominating? We might not even realize that we are unintentionally empowering bullies or making excuses for their abusive behavior and lack of empathy. You might be too afraid to confront the problem and speak up. Many individuals may not be aware that they are victims. Maybe talk to a mental health professional if you need help detecting an adult bully or stopping them in their tracks. Breaking off relations with a bully or calling them out may create tension. It’s always advisable to talk to a professional about the steps and having a supportive community in place for emotional support.

Someone who hates you normally hates you for one of three reasons: They see you as a threat. They hate themselves. Or they want to be you.” ~ Unknown