Parents: How to deal with Adult Bullies
This is in response to all the complaints, tears, self-doubt,
etc. I handle with clients who are upset about the way
some people bully them. They’re vulnerable when
it comes to their kids, and bullies know it.
Parents who don’t have perfect little angels (99.9999% of parents) are fair game for bullies. These bullies hide behind good intentions. You know, they’re passive-aggressive. Some people truly are just trying to help when they give you “unsolicited” (key word) advice. But, most are not. They’re just self-righteous, bossy know-it-alls … and new parents are easy targets for them.
If you are nodding your head in agreement as have someone in your life like this, then keep reading. This may not even have anything to do with parenting, these tips work with any passive-aggressive adult bullying.
So, let’s first identify the adult bully. They’re different than the child/teen bully as they’re less obvious, more passive-aggressive. They don’t even know they’re doing it half the time as have convinced themselves they’re truly trying to help the rest of us who just don’t understand how to live and need them to point out our flaws. Here are their most common traits:
- defensive right fighters
- bossy know-it-alls
- say “but” a lot. E.g., “I’m not one to tell people how to live their lives … BUT … “
- closed minded
- their way or the highway
They’ll start sentences with phrases like, “Do you know what you should do?”, “Don’t get defensive but …”, etc. They’re experienced at defending themselves and if confronted will say things like, “Don’t get upset, I’m just trying to help you”. If that were true then you’d feel better, not worse. This passive-aggressive stuff is really tricky to deal with as it makes you question yourself. That’s what bullying is all about.
Okay, so here’s how you deal with it. When an adult says something snarky or insulting, just give them a silent stare. What that does is put them off balance and force them to sit in their own poop. They’re used to people getting upset and defending themselves, which is what they want. When you don’t do the expected, they are thrown right off balance and usually start to babble to fill the awkward silence. It’s okay at that point to change the subject with something mundane like, “Nice weather we’re having”. This is a very clear message that you cannot be bullied.
I’ve used this technique many times throughout the years and it works every single time. It’s non-confrontational, just makes their negative comments hang in the air for them to reconsider.
So, that’s the first line of defence, i.e., the silent stare.
I have another technique I use is when someone says something like, “Why would you do that?” I reply, “Because I’m a moron”. That’s always fun for me as the bully is completely kafuffled. What on earth can they say to that? Nothing.
I call both the above techniques “mirroring”. Am sure there’s some psychological explanation for this but I just think of it as holding a mirror up to the bully. Let’s them sit in their own poop all alone as you’re not dragged into it.
Of course my best advice is to rid yourself of adult bullies altogether. But they’re often family, co-workers, neighbours, etc. so we’re stuck with them. Try the above techniques and see what happens. I’d love your feedback. I’ve had clients who’ve used this on mother-in-laws (stereotypical but common) and not only have they stopped bullying, but have become nicer … because what choice do they have?
CONFRONTING THE ADULT BULLY … my experience:
Dr. Phil and other psychiatrists/psychologists recommend you confront bullying to put an end to it. Maybe that works on TV or in counselling, but not in real life. The bullies will just deny, defend and attack. But on the flip side, it can give you clarity about what you’re really dealing with so THEN you can use the above 2 methods of handling the now confirmed bullies.
I often say I’ve never been bullied which is sort of true. More accurately, I’ve never been knowingly bullied. I was actually frequently bullied but just didn’t recognize it as bullying, as it was mostly passive-aggressive which is the hardest to identify as makes you question yourself rather than the bully. It wasn’t until other people started pointing it out that I realized what was happening. Had I identified the situation earlier I wouldn’t have let it escalate the way it had. But, it did and I had to take action by setting boundaries.
There was no easy way to do it. I confronted them and they came back, not with a stupidly expected apology or remorse, but rather, on the attack. It was in that moment that I saw the light and realized that they were simply bullies, just as others had told me previously. Guess I have to find out myself, plus I think a part of me wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh well, it needed to be done as it gave me validation and clarity.
I discuss bullying all the time, yet still couldn’t see what was going on in my own life … funny how that works eh?!
Now when they cross boundaries I just use the silent stares and responses like “guess I’m just a moron”, and it works like a charm.
If you decide to confront your bullies, hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. At the very least you’ll get clarity … and that’s not a bad thing.
Bullies are not horrible people, they’re just insecure and/or self-absorbed. Once you understand the source of their bullying, it becomes much easier to de-personalize and shrug off. It must be a horrible feeling to want to try to make other people feel bad to build yourself up. I have so much compassion for kid bullies but none for adult bullies as they should know better. You can learn from my experience and avoid confrontation by just going right to the silent stares and humourous responses. Much easier on everyone.
Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach
P.S. I’d love to hear how you effectively dealt with your bullying experiences. Send me an email: Lisa@BratBusters.com