When you feel like pulling hair or having a shouting match, it’s time to step back and take a different stance.
When you hear the term bully, do you think of a mean-spirited fourth grader who steals lunch money, or someone from your Bunco group? Bullies aren’t just a part of the school-aged crowd — they also come in a grown-up version. Dealing with the behavior of an adult bully can be difficult and take a toll on your self-esteem.
The very nature of female relationships is quite different from that of our male counterparts. Men bond over shared experiences like a pick-up game of basketball or a day at the ballpark. Women rely on the intimacy of female friendships — sharing feelings, concerns, fears and emotions. A group of grown women will bond over sharing these emotions, forming an attachment to a person or group. Psychologists use the term relational aggression to explain a covert type of bullying that is subtle, yet very hurtful. When bullies use their relationships and power to cause social problems — like excluding someone from an event, then posting pictures on Facebook — this is relational aggression in action. By preying on the very nature of female connections, these bullies gain their power.
“Bullying isn’t uniquely female,” says Irene Levine, Ph.D., author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Breakup With Your Best Friend and professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. “But there are always women who need to build themselves up by knocking others down. They may exclude, gossip or do other things to demean one individual — particularly someone who seems vulnerable. Making someone feel alone, rejected and treating her as an outcast can be as vicious as a physical assault.” Spreading rumors, innuendos, back-stabbing, teasing and other passive-aggressive behaviors are also weapons of the female bully.
Modern-day mom bullies also have social media on their side. With almost everyone carrying a smartphone 24/7, a simple tweet or Facebook comment instantaneously attacks a victim and displays the taunt for all to see. Hiding behind a screen gives people a false sense of bravery they might not have in a face-to-face conversation.
When the mom bully in question is pushing her weight around with a group of moms — think school committees or PTA board — you need to rebalance the power of the group. The bully gains her power by making others feel insecure, so group members need to be firm and decisive when making proposals or voting on group actions. Include the bully on committees and in decision-making, but don’t let her change your opinions. By standing firm, you take away her power and she will soon have no reason to continue being pushy.
When you are on the receiving end of personal attacks, it’s easy to start doubting yourself and your self-worth. This is especially difficult if the bully was someone you considered a friend. Meeting with the bully privately and letting her know you won’t stand for her insults shows her that you know exactly what she’s doing. If you truly feel that the bully has turned an entire group of friends against you, are these really people you want in your life anyway?
Distancing yourself from toxic friendships and finding people who will respect you may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it’s the best thing for your self-esteem. Standing up against a bully is never easy — even as an adult. Recognize that bullies feel powerful when they make you feel insecure, and don’t let them win.
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