A bully is defined as a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable. Children use name-calling, exclusion, and exploitation of weaknesses. They are often loud about it and can gather a group of kids who go along with their torment.
As we become adults, bullying becomes much more sophisticated. Adult bullies, both men and women, typically don’t resort to name-calling directly to other adults. The bully feels intimidated by the person they perceive as a threat, and they work systematically to diminish the perceived threat by involving others in negative conversations about that person. They speak ill of the person behind their back, portraying them as cruel, thoughtless, and rude. They may label the person as crazy or mean and even position themselves as victims of the person. They engage in triangulation, bringing other people in the social circle into the negative narrative about the targeted individual.
This can involve casual negative comments, sharing discomforting stories related to the person, or seeking advice on how to handle them. The bully makes it clear to those around the targeted person that they are problematic, making it acceptable and understandable for others to avoid direct communication with them. Gradually, the targeted person experiences a shift from having no issues to being completely avoided within a matter of days. As they notice the avoidance, they begin to sense that something is wrong, but it can be difficult to know where to start or if there’s a way to address the perceived problem without exacerbating it.
Over time, the targeted person may also observe changes in how others treat them—a significant shift that makes them aware of the situation. Eventually, someone within their social circle may reveal that the bully has been spreading negative information about them. Many people find themselves stuck at this point. They can’t speak ill of the bully, as doing so might validate the bully’s claims and paint them as unkind or problematic. Additionally, their friends may not want to get involved as intermediaries. However, direct communication with the bully is impossible because the bully actively avoids them.
Navigating relationships and adulthood can be just as challenging as when we were kids. I wanted to use this platform to give a voice to people who feel they are being bullied but aren’t sure how to identify it. Conversations among adults can encompass numerous talking points about adult relationships and how they may not feel safe or secure. Although adults tend to avoid direct conversations about serious subjects like this outside of
their immediate circle, reading about it may help people recognize that they are not alone in going through such experiences or feeling the pains of adult friendships.