Are you a bully magnet? How I learned to stop letting myself get pushed around

I was bully magnet as a kid, I think most of us were.  Even the bullies. But as I grew up, the emotional scars I got as a kid stuck around.  Even as an adult I would constantly find myself in situations where I’d get picked on.

Is this you?

The scenario would go like this: I’m going about my life, minding my own business, perfectly content, and into my little bubble walks a bully.

Lets say I’m on a public bus, at first the bully might not even be noticing me, but I’m for sure noticing him. He might not even have to say anything, but I can tell by the way he’s looking around for someone to pick on.  Then its as if all the air gets sucked out of the room (or bus as it may be) and I feel the pit of my stomach drop out.

I feel like Frodo when he puts on the ring and Sauron can see him, all the sudden its just me and the bully, and now he can see me too.

I sit there getting smaller and smaller and think please not me, please not me, but wouldn’t you know it, the bully sits by me, and I’m stuck.  Even if nothing terrible happens, I’m stewing in all the memories of time I didn’t stand up for myself, and I’m kinda mad at myself for still being scared.  I am an adult right?

Or its like this:  I’m having a perfectly nice lunch with a friend, who at times can also be a bit of a bully, suddenly the conversation turns to uncomfortable subjects, and before I can blink, the bully monster in my friend rears her ugly head.

Something comes out of her mouth that cuts me to the core, and I just sit there getting small.  There’s a tiny voice inside that says, don’t react, just let it pass.  And it does pass, lunch is over, I go home, and suddenly I’m pissed.

I”m so mad I can’t sit still, how dare she say those things to me?  But my friend is long gone, and I’m left to sit and stew in my own anger, probably making myself sick in the process.

Are you attracting bullies?

If either of those sound familiar you may be a bully magnet.  I know I was.  I was a grown up adult, still hurt and damaged from being a bullied as a kid.

The strategy I had adopted as a kid (which was a brilliant one, young Allison, if I do say so myself) was to do nothing, say nothing and wait it out.  This strategy probably kept my physical body safe many many times.

But it didn’t do much to empower me to stop getting bullied in the first place.  Plus, bullies can sense weakness, its almost like they can smell it.  Me sitting there on the bus, trying to get all small, I was advertising to be picked on.  It’s almost like a sign that said pick on me taped to my forehead.

If you want to stop being bullied, you have to get over the fear of bullies.  Most of the time a bully is  just hot air, that’s why she picks on the scared: no one else would put up with her bullshit.

What you can do:

My path to healing wasn’t an easy one, and its going to take more than a blog post to get over the damage of being bullied.  If you are kid reading this, please tell an adult you can trust, and don’t try to take on a bully yourself, especially if they are bigger than you.  Here are some things I learned along the way, maybe they will help you too.

Stop being nice:

Bully behavior relies on the common social etiquette of politeness to exist.  The very power a bully holds is being willing to break with social convention.

Bullies don’t deserve all those good manners you’ve worked so hard at cultivating.  Quit being nice, nice just means you don’t want to rock the boat.

Nice is useless in my opinion.  Be kind, be brutally honest, be compassionate, but forget about nice.

When we get over the social assumptions about what nice is it is so much easier to stand up for ourselves, or just walk away, or be rude, or blunt, or interrupt someone and tell them to knock it off.

Call a spade a spade:

Bullies come in many forms: a boyfriend who insults you; a co-worker who ridicules others just barely behind their back and implies they will do the same to you if you don’t play along; a friend who tries to shame you.

Bullies can also take on a much more insidious form:  there can be victim bullies, who use their victim status to get away with awful behavior, and anytime you try to call them on it they wail about how victimized they are.

There can be passive bullies who don’t overtly threaten you, but show you by their actions what will happen if you go against them.  There can be manipulative bullies who work in twisted and backhanded ways and who’s threats are subtle but unmistakeable.

But the one thing all bullies rely on is the conspiracy of silence they weave around them.

Don’t fall into it!

Break the spell.  Call them what they are!  A bully.

Years ago when I was in a women’s self defense class we learned about the power of public shaming as a valid self defense tool.  Now normally I’m all against shame, but if someone is attacking you public, call them out!  Tell them they are being a bully and should be ashamed.

Plus calling someone out publicly takes the power out of their tactics.  Especially these days when bullying is getting so much media attention.  If this feels too scary to do in the moment, practice.  At home when no one is looking, practice calling that bully out.

Get really pissed and then let it go:

If you’ve been bullied, you probably have a lot of anger that you are sitting on.  Find ways to release that anger that won’t harm anyone.

Just because someone bullied you, doesn’t mean you get to hurt them back, which you might do if all that anger suddenly boils over and explodes one day.

Use the anger you feel to get you over the fear.  Anger exists to get us out of frozen states.  Anger comes up when we need to say “no more’.

Try this exercise:

Pick a safe space, maybe at home or really out in the woods, (make sure you are alone).

Plan to have an anger session where you are going to let yourself get really mad at the bully in your life.

Picture them in front of you, and tell them exactly what they are doing, call them a bully, and tell them you aren’t going to put up with it anymore.

Tell them if they do it again you will call them out, you will publicly shame them for bullying you, you will not tolerate being bullied anymore.

Yell, scream, punch a pillow.  do what ever it takes to get it out.  As you do this you will be telling your subconscious that yes, you are willing to protect yourself now, you are ready to stand up for yourself.

Now let it go.  This may be the hardest step of all.  Forgiveness.

Bullying is a systemic problem, not just an isolated incident.  Bullies don’t crop up out of nowhere.  They are raised, and taught to be bullies.  They were probably bullied themselves.

Bullies are everywhere.  Rather than demonizing bullies, it’s time to start recognizing they ways they are encouraged.  I think it is great more and more people are realizing that this behavior is damaging to children, but without looking at the larger values we are teaching our kids, the issue just turns into another witch hunt.

Once you find that you can stand up for yourself, you’ll see just how small and hurting most bullies really are.  Don’t put up with their behavior anymore, but don’t hang on to your anger.  It will just make you sick.  If you need help with this last step getting some acupuncture, seeing a therapist, or joining a support group can really be helpful (see the resources section of my website).

What has been your story with bullies?  Did you try one of these tools listed above?  If so, leave a comment and let me know how it went.

Allison Carr LAc specializes in helping courageous but struggling individuals find their way back to a whole and vibrant life using Five Element Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.  www.AllisonCarrAcupuncture.com
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Leave a Comment

  • Nathaniel August 16, 2014, 8:32 PM

    Just a few months back before graduating high school I was bullied with these stinging, hateful words. But I didn’t respond; instead, I held it all in and continued the rest of my miserable senior year pretending it never happened. Now I’m here, trapped with built-in anger. I can’t sleep, I get anxious, and I feel so fake. I’m suppressed, I’ve been living in darkness. And it all started when a kid my sophomore year taunted me with sexual innuendos to see if I was gay. Even then I was very insecure about myself, didn’t look at people, felt like an awkward person. Now I feel like and am perceived as being a freak. So many lies I gave, so much pain and tears I kept in. Now at times it’s hard to access that sadness and helplessness I had in those instances. I’m bitter, and I feel lost. I sat for too long, I didn’t reach out for help. Once cheery, happy, a bit insecure, I am now a wreck whose words lack direction, meaning, and value. All because I didn’t stand up for myself, accept help from people who offered it, and because I am alone, with no one to really go to since everyone seems to be moving on while I’m here, fearing to go outside thinking that everyone is hateful. I guess I am different, but if there’s a way out of this and to live again then I think that will really make me happy. There’s still some of that cheeriness in me, I think.

    Reply
    • Allison Carr August 17, 2014, 8:19 AM

      Nathaniel, thank you for reaching out! I’m so sorry you were bullied. Choosing not to respond when someone bullies us is usually the safest option. You made the right choice in the moment. And I understand the rage and hurt that can last long after the incident is over, but it is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. It is never too late to stand up for yourself, even after the incident if over. In fact, you were probably so hurt and bewildered by the bullying that you didn’t have time to think about what to say, or how to react.
      Bullies choose their words to intentionally hurt people, so more than likely your bully chose to say things that they knew you might already feel insecure about. The worst thing about bullying is that we start to fear that maybe they were right. That there is something wrong with us. You need some help and understanding from people who love you and can see how special you are. When we get into a dark place because we feel bad about ourselves it is easy to assume that no one wants to hear that we are hurting. I urge you to talk to someone. Posting here was a great first step, but talking to someone you know personally is really important. And if nobody you know is willing to listen, I urge you to talk to a counselor or call a crisis line, where folks are trained at being able to listen.
      You are not a freak for feeling this way, and I bet you will find that many many people feel like they don’t fit in. Chances are the person who bullied you also bullied other people. I have seen time and time again that anyone can heal, even from the most hurtful comments or actions. Keep reaching out and talking to people till you find someone who will listen. When you are ready, and have processed the event, you can do some work to take a stand, and energetically say ‘never again’.
      Thanks for having the courage to speak up! Sending you lots of love and strength!

      Reply
  • js March 13, 2016, 7:41 PM

    when we were kids, my oldest brother was – and is today still – a bully. i put up with it b/c i had to. >40 years later i understand where it comes from but still run into such people in the workplace. just last week i wrote a 10-page “incident, reaction, path forward” paper for the supervisor 3 levels up, citing how my present first-line supervisor – and his next-level-up crony – have created a workplace bully atmosphere. i have had this happen before, didn’t put it on paper quickly enough, and made the mistake of venting to the wrong people. that allowed supervisory folks to label me the “squeaky wheel & unprofessional employee,” which led (even thankfully!?) to the end of that job. i refuse to let it happen again. this time i have dates, times, locations, audiences, comments – full details of the bullying and have turned it in, along with the statement that it’ll go higher if something is not done to my satisfaction.
    best things to remember – don’t put up with it, keep book on it, figure out who in the supervisory chain is complicit and take it at least two levels up from there, and PUT IT IN WRITING.
    bottom line: the longer you put up with it, the longer it’ll take place and the more miserable you will be. the leopard cannot change his spots. fyi – i’m a >6ft male 28-yr military veteran w/combat experience and a masters degree and it STILL happens – b/c i’m a nice guy. don’t give them the control; don’t give them the satisfaction. instead, give them a(n administrative) bloody nose – a good one.

    Reply