Dealing with Bullies
The first year of Via Potentia emphasizes physical conditioning and techniques for dealing with a violent assault. Many people also seek methods of dealing with bullies -- people who intimidate others without necessarily engaging in a full assault. By "bully" when mean someone who engages in abuse primarily via psychological means, though physical contact is sometimes involved.
Kids and Bullies
Kids, if you are being abused by someone -- whether it is a kid or an adult, psychologically or physically -- tell your parents immediately. This is especially important if the abuser has told you not to tell your parents, or threatened you with something bad if you do.
If it is your parents who are abusing you, discuss it with the counselor from your school. But remember, discipline and abuse are two entirely different things. Discipline is the proper punishment and consequence for misbehavior; your parents have the right, authority, and responsibility to discipline you when you misbehave and to help you become a better person. Some kids need more discipline than they are getting. Some could get by with less. Sometimes parents are wrongly targetted by state agencies for entirely legitimate levels of discipline.
Bullying can take many forms, and isn't limited to children and youth. Adult bullies are quite common. Some organizations, institutions, agencies and governments are nothing more than organized bullies, though gangs, mafia, mob and other terms are usually used in reference to adults. Bullies are often psychologically disordered (psychopaths or sociopaths) or part of an organization that is unethical, and they derive pleasure, power or material goods from preying on others. Some bullies eventually "graduate" to physical violence, and actually engage in violent assaults, robberies and murder.
Bullies aren't necessarily unintelligent thugs. They are found in all sectors of society, at all economic and social levels. Both women and men may be bullies, and appear to be in roughly equal proportion. However, men in particular are more likely to move on to physical violence, having the ability to do so. Whether it is the school yard bully intimidating a child, politicians deceiving the citizens, a coworker engaging in intimidation or an employer coercing a worker, the trait shared by all bullies is the desire and practice of controlling other people, and in doing so they violate a fundamental right of the human person, liberty.
Two Kinds of Bullies
We segregate bullies by their preferred mode of abuse; psychological or physical. The psychological bully engages in coercion; he forces you to do things that you wouldn't freely choose to do under the threat of embarrassment, worse treatment, harm to career, financial hardship, lawsuit, or even physical abuse. The cleverest ones will deceive or manipulate you into voluntarily cooperating with them. Physical bullies routinely engage in mild assaults, physically pushing, grabbing, hitting, etc., bumping or blocking you, but not in such a way that it would be considered a criminal assault. He isn't attempting to injure, rob, rape or murder you -- just to intimidate and exert dominance over you. He uses physical power to engage in coercion.
Either kind of bully may make you experience intense anxiety, depression or a variety of other unpleasant emotions. Some people develop physical illnesses -- sometimes deadly ones. Some people commit suicide.
Dealing with Bullies
Many counselors suggest a variety of techniques for dealing with bullies:
- Developing Confidence
- Standing up for yourself
- Enlisting assistance
These are all fine things to talk about within the safety of a counseling session, but they rarely solve the problem, that being that there is someone in your life who enjoys psychologically manipulating others and violating their liberty.
Avoidance doesn't work because there are bullies found in every facet of society. Sure, you might be able to avoid or escape from a particular one, but you'll run into three more at the next job, or by taking a different route home. You need to be able to deal with bullying in general.
Communicating with the bully about how his behavior is bad or hurts others is a waste of time. He is behaving like he does because he gets pleasure from it, and from hurting/controlling you (or others). Communication is only going to work if you have a position of power over the bully and are making it clear that his behavior is unacceptable, and stating what will happen if it does not change.
Developing confidence is a step in the right direction, but doesn't make a whole lot of difference. Bullies attack people because they are skilled at doing so -- especially adults -- and your confidence or lack thereof won't really change that. It may change how you feel about the incidents, but it won't change the reality that so-n-so is a bully and is engaging in abuse.
Standing up for yourself is also a step in the right direction. The real question here is what "stand up for yourself" means. Bullies generally don't abuse people who are in a position to stand up for themselves in the sense of being able to pose any threat to the bully or meaningful opposition. They abuse people when they believe they can do so with little or no risk to themselves.
Enlisting assistance makes sense, but a determined bully will work around that and crush you anyway.
You aren't going to be able to defeat some bullies or bully-organizations. The first thing to recognize is what your options are. We recommend these considerations:
- Toughen up and deal with it
- Refuse to cooperate
- Issue a warning (posture)
- Take him down
We do not believe that you have much chance of changing a bully -- of making him into a better person or improving his organization -- so there is little point in trying or in appealing to empathy. Also, you are never going to escape bullies completely, so we all have to develop a certain thickness of skin to deal with them, take the bruises, and keep on moving on. This is sometimes better than directing your attention at the bully or what he is doing to you, as doing so can suck you into his world and you'll begin to obsess on the problems he is causing you. Better to get past it, focus on what you can do, and progress with your life. Success is sometimes the best revenge.
We have a degree of obligation to follow requests/commands given by parents to their children, or our employers or commanders (if we are in the military). Beyond that following anyone's request is a matter of personal choice; if you don't want to do what is being demanded, just don't. However, recognize that a bully might escalate the situation to more intense psychological or physical abuse, even assault, in response to your noncompliance. Be ready for that and prepared to take whatever action may be necessary.
Some bullies are harmful enough that it may be in your best interest to escape. These are the ones that have the skill, ability and obvious desire to harm you personally and in a way that you just can't deal with very well. Think stalker. Just get away from these people, jobs or organizations. Sometimes "escaping" requires some kind of sacrifice on your part so that you can get away for good. For example, when I worked at Intel one of the factory managers was this kind of person and had targeted our work-group and me in particular. I waited until the time was right -- until I had everything else lined up -- then walked off of the job.
A threat display is a good option if you have strength, abilities and resources to back it up (and that the bully didn't know about). For kids this is the "leave me alone or I'll kick your #$%@" response. For adults it is usually "leave me alone or I'll destroy you, your career, and you'll regret it for the rest of your life; I know what I'm doing and I will do it to you." This doesn't mean that you become the bully, or that you will even be particularly successful. What you are doing is making it clear that, if the bully comes at you again, it will cost him. This is new information to most bullies, and they tend to leave people alone if they think it may result in harm to themselves.
If you intend to take out the bully in question, you should do so according to the same mode of abuse. If he is abusing you psychologically, do not respond physically. If he is abusing you physically, do not respond psychologically. A psychological response to physical abuse usually just results in more physical abuse. A physical response to psychological abuse can result in your arrest and prosecution for assault.
- Psychological response: Clearly and calmly document the situation and the complete history of events. If other people have similar experiences or can verify yours, all-the-better. Report these to the bully's supervisor, your human resources department, the school counselor/principle/etc. In some cases these should be reported to the police or to an attorney.
- Physical response: We advise strongly against entering into a voluntary physical fist-fight with a bully, adult or not. Bullies are very, very skilled at making their victims look like the problems. If you get into a physical fight with a bully you could easily end up in jail or fined. Physical bullies are also usually stronger, more aggressive and more fluent with violence. You'll need to develop strength and skills. We do not advise soft or internal martial arts -- those that emphasize misdirection and joint techniques -- for dealing with violent assaults, but they can be effective dealing with a simple bully. For example, if the bully tends to grab you by arm, learn several effective grab reversals and practice them on larger people. Then, when the bully grabs you again, lock his wrist, elbow, or put him on the ground (and be ready to run). Grappling is also excellent for dealing with bullies. It takes several months of dedicated practice to develop the necessary strength and skills in these areas, but many people find good results.
As long as the bully sees you as an easy mark, the bullying will likely continue. But most bullies will leave you alone once they believe (or have experienced) that messing with you won't turn out well for them.