(Mentally) Wrestling With Adult Bullies

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Photo Credit: bullyinguk via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: bullyinguk via Compfight cc

In the world of education, bullying has become a hot topic. As educators, we work to help students to treat each other in ways that they would like to be treated. We work with the bullies to improve their treatment of others and to feel better about themselves. We work with the victims to console, to give them voice, and to develop their confidence in standing up for themselves. We work with the bystanders to recognize bullying behavior, to defend what is right, and to report mistreatment.

There is a paradox at play in the world of education and its anti-bullying initiatives. The adults themselves include bullies, victims, and bystanders. To be fair, adult bullying is not unique to the education profession, nor is it only found in professional settings. The situational irony is that the adult bully educators are part of an institution actively working against bullying behaviors. I guess the childhood bullies that aren’t changed through the anti-bullying campaigns in schools continue on into adulthood.

Photo Credit: C.M.C / Leon.C via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: C.M.C / Leon.C via Compfight cc

Adult bullies have been on my mind for quite awhile now. On my mind and in my midst. I am just so done with bullies. And by “done” I mean I’m tired of sitting back and remaining a quiet victim and bystander. Taking any sort of action has implications, though. Some minor, some not so minor. No one likes the the perceived tattletale. No one wants to look beneath the shiny veneer they see to catch a glimpse of what lies beneath. Sometimes people prefer to blame the victim. There are so many awkward and uncomfortable social juxtapositions that complicate the issue because my bully might be your friend or vice-versa.

Introducing…the adult bullies. Maybe you know them?

There are four particular bully personalities who come to mind immediately. Each of them has varying degrees of impact on the well-being and emotional security of others.

  • Bully #1. This is the serial bully who employs a varied repertoire of bullying tactics in their dealings with victims. The repertoire might include shouting (sometimes in front of others), excluding individuals, ignoring/avoiding, denying opportunities, discouraging progress, throwing a tantrum when disagreement arises, and flat out telling lies about individuals and what they believe.
  • Bully #2. This is the behind-the-scenes bully. This is the person who goes tip-tapping up and down hallways, stopping by select offices and classrooms for chatting and gossiping. This is the bully who talks about everyone who is not in the room with few exceptions. No one feels safe. Some play along in hopes of remaining in good graces in order to avoid slander. Inevitably Bully #2 can do much damage to the culture of an organization.
  • Bully #3. This is the projection bully. This bully may be unable to torment their intended victim, so friends and/or family of the intended victim become the target. Their bullying tactics are petty with attempts that include a) always being sarcastic to avoid being sincere, b) making jokes that are degrading (e.g., blond/female intelligence), and/or c) walking right on by without even being able to make eye contact or respond to an offered greeting. Their dislike is palpable whether they are bullying or not.
  • Bully #4. This is the passive-aggressive bully. The one who rarely has anything nice to say about anyone, but says it in a way that is perceived as sarcastically funny. Many people laugh. Do they find Bully #4 funny? or are they relieved that they are not the victim? The victim may choose to shoot back at Bully #4 in an equally sarcastic manner. Chances are the passive-aggressive bully is unable to handle a taste of the same medicine. This may lead to Bully #4 dramatically ignoring the victim when paths cross.

But bullies have their own issues…

I’ve read A LOT about bullying, adult bullying, and workplace bullying over the past several years. Everyone knows that the bully is often motivated by their own insecurities, jealousy of what others have, etc. Trust me. There is absolutely NO COMFORT in knowing/believing that. Bullies can ruin a good thing. Bullies can ruin lives. Bullies can poison a culture for everyone.

 My bullies might not be your bullies…but sometimes they are your friends.

This is the social juxtaposition that I just can not get my head around! You are nice people. You are worthy of respect. You are smart. You work hard. You make a difference in the lives of children. You would never bully anyone. You believe in equity. You fight for equity. You are a peaceful individual. You are honest. You are kind. You are smart. Yet, YOU ARE FRIENDS WITH BULLIES! You travel with them. You hang out with them. You call them your friends. You regale social networks with stories of what great humans they are. Sometimes you allow them to taint your very beautiful and positive soul. But, alas, bullies are very talented at living a dual existence leaving me to see Dr. Jekyll while you see Mr. Hyde.


4 thoughts on “(Mentally) Wrestling With Adult Bullies

    Lissa Layman said:
    April 29, 2015 at 6:37 am


    holtspeak said:
    May 13, 2015 at 9:38 am

    I find, unfortunately, that bully #2 and their followers can often poison the whole culture of an organization. It can prove very difficult for those of us that choose to remain professional and positive.

    […] (Mentally) Wrestling with Adult Bullies. There is a paradox at play in the world of education and its anti-bullying initiatives. The adults themselves include bullies, victims, and bystanders. The situational irony is that the adult bully educators are part of an institution actively working against bullying behaviors. Read more here about mentally wrestling with adult bullies. #caring […]

    tap54 said:
    March 26, 2017 at 5:34 am

    I have had these experiences… to the point of getting home at night and crying to my daughter that “they are being mean to me” at work. Co-workers who were supposed to be supportive and sustaining, yet were childish and nasty. It hurts and is detrimental to the whole school culture!! Thanks for the post!

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