Bullying is a big problem these days. Online, at school, at home and in the workplace, bullies are preying upon the vulnerable. There are even bullies in politics, pushing around their fellow politicians and oppressing their constituents.
Bullies are nasty individuals who pick on those who they consider weaker than they are. At home, the bully can be a parent or a sibling; at school they can be a teacher or a classmate; at work they can be a colleague or a boss. In politics, the bully can be anything from a minor bureaucrat to the head of a country.
Bullies desperately need to feel powerful and they’re filled with rage because deep down, what they feel is weak and powerless. That’s why they never pick on anyone their own size.
Bullies are terrified that other people will discover their dirty secret, which is that they’re plagued with feelings of inadequacy. Bullies frequently are compulsive braggarts — trying to overcompensate for their self-perceived shortcomings.
Bullies intimidate, dominate and oppress. They need to feel in control. What they hate is to be challenged. Like any coward, the typical bully is terrified of anyone who holds real power.
Bullies feel threatened by the people who they push around because these people remind them of their own, secret weakness. They’re compelled to punish the weak because they’re enraged at being reminded of what they themselves are lacking. But, because bullies are weak, almost every one of them will back down at the first sign of any real opposition.
Out of insecurity, bullies puff themselves up and try to look as intimidating as possible, so unfortunately, a lot of people who encounter bullies don’t realize that they’re not as strong as they look. People-pleasers in particular will try to placate a bully out of fear of reprisals. They confuse the bully’s bluster with real power.
Out of fear of confrontation, pleasers allow bullies to get away with their bad behavior. In that sense, they become enablers who turn their backs on the victim in order to avoid angering the bully. They don’t realize what a weakling the bully is, deep down, and how their enabling actually emboldens the bully to keep on misbehaving.
A lot of people-pleasers would rather take the path of least resistance. They’ll go along with the loudest, most aggressive person in the room and sacrifice the one being abused. Out of fear of upsetting the bully, these pleasers end up rewarding their bad behavior and abandoning the person who did nothing wrong.
At home, enabling can take the form of one parent allowing the other to abuse the children, or a parent allowing one of their kids to hurt another.
At school enabling can take the form of the administration allowing a teacher to pick on a student, allowing an unreasonable parent to oppress a teacher, or it can be a teacher who allows one student to hurt another. It all comes down to not wanting to make the bully any angrier than they are. And this is exactly what the bully is counting on.
In the workplace, this type of enabling could be a boss who allows one employee to abuse another or a supervisor who lets a manager abuse their staff.
In politics, it can be the bully’s close colleagues who enable their bad behaviour because it’s easier than confronting the bully and risking the perception that the party is divided.
Confrontation is difficult, and only hard-core scrappers enjoy it. On the other hand, it’s often the right thing to do. As I said, most bullies are weaklings deep down inside, and they won’t put up much of a fight if confronted by someone who’s confident and empowered.
Nobody deserves to be bullied. We do the right thing when we stand up for the victim. They’ll be forever grateful and might even pay it forward one day.
Of course, if you believe yourself to be unsafe around a bully, confrontation isn’t the right way to go. In that case, the best bet is to walk away.
If the bully is a parent, the other parent’s best choice could be to take the kids and leave; if it’s a boss who’s being enabled by upper management, the best choice for the staff could be to seek out other employment. If it’s a teacher who’s being enabled by a fearful administration, the parents may need to move the child to a different class or even to a different school.
No-one should put themselves in harm’s way but on the other hand, we shouldn’t be letting bullies get away with their bad behavior. Most bullies aren’t dangerous; they’re just loud and mean and obnoxious. Most bullies are afraid of any real sign of power. In a fair fight, anyone who opposes them is likely to win.
People-pleasers support bully culture by making it that much easier for bullies to succeed. People-pleasers reward the bad guy and abandon the victim out of their own fear of confrontation and need to please. Unfortunately, in these cases, they’re pleasing the wrong person.
Pleasers need to recognize that their fear-based choices are encouraging bullies and hurting innocent people. It’s time for pleasers to be brave and start standing up to the bullies in their midst, or if that feels too dangerous, they can at least try to help the victims of bullying get away from their oppressor.
If we stop being so fearful of angering the bullies around us only good things will happen. If we stop enabling them and start dealing with them, these nasty individuals will find it harder and harder to get away with their bad behaviour.
With fewer enablers, bullies will have far fewer opportunities to push other people around. And our society will be that much better for it.
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