How To Protect Yourself From Bullies – By Changing Your Mind
There used to be a slab of stone outside my grandmother’s house underneath the down pipe beside the drain. Sometimes after it had rained the water would drip onto the stone. The dripping must have occurred frequently and over many years because the constant pressure of water on the stone had worn it down.
Like that stone, people can also get worn down by constant pressure, as anyone who’s experienced bullying will tell you.
What do I mean by bullying?
One simple definition of bullying is:
“Unwanted and unwarranted behaviour that a person finds offensive, intimidating or humiliating and is repeated so as to have a detrimental effect on a person’s dignity, safety, and well-being.”
The most frequent victims of bullying are often highly competent people. Bullies feel threatened by them.
If you’ve ever been bullied, you’ll know how insidious it can be
Like the water dripping on the stone, the impact is not noticed initially. People who are victim’s of bullying may also rationalise the bully’s behaviour and give the bully the benefit of the doubt.
They don’t see it for what it is
By the time they realise they are being bullied, they may have lost any confidence and self-esteem they once possessed. With no vestige of self-belief, they’re left in a terrible emotional state. It’s a state from which it’s impossible to combat bullying behaviour.
Self esteem and a person’s Social Panorama are tied together
(If you haven’t read the previous article about Social Panorama, you might want to pause here and read that first)
Social Panorama dictates that the way we think about someone affects how we relate to them
So how can you deal with a bully using Social Panorama? To start with it’s useful to remember that some people don’t get bullied at all. That’s curious in itself. A bully may feel threatened by many people yet not bully all of them. How does he/she know who to bully and who to leave alone?
The answer often lies in the bully’s victim’s level of self-esteem.
Self-esteem is also linked to social panorama
Bullies tend to pick on people who are very competent but who don’t have very high self-esteem. “High self-esteem” in Social Panorama terminology means that the individual places their personality at the same level as the other people in their social panorama. Someone with ‘low self-esteem’ places themselves lower than others in their Social Panorama.
I worked with a client who was being bullied by her boss
Let’s call her MJ*. MJ was extremely highly qualified and had commenced at the company as an intern about a year before I saw her. At an office party, her boss had got drunk and exhibited some extremely inappropriate behaviour towards MJ and her work colleague. The following day they were treated like princesses by the boss, who was obviously fearful of the repercussions should the company find out about his behaviour the previous night.
After that, the bullying started
Her boss made inappropriate comments about MJ’s personal appearance, continually told her what she needed to do to improve it, how she would never make it in the job, etc. After almost a year of this treatment, her self-esteem was extremely low. While I obviously worked with MJ to put a stop to the bullying through the relevant authorities at work, she needed some ways of dealing with her bully-boss immediately.
We started with social panorama
In her mental landscape, MJ located most of her colleagues and family on the same level. Her boss was ‘up high’ and about 20 cms in front of her.
In other words, he was ‘in her face’ and ‘overpowering’ her – literally. No wonder she felt intimidated!
We experimented with moving him around her Social Panorama (SP). She decided that 3 metres away and much lower down helped her feel most comfortable. She wanted to keep him in front so she could ‘keep and eye on him’. Having done this, she took a deep breath and relaxed.
How does this work?
Social Panorama (SP) operates in a logical way. A person will behave in a more compliant manner towards anyone who they place high up in their SP. This may not be a problem if that person is someone they ‘look up to’ or who they hold in ‘high esteem’ or even a boss who is seen as ‘higher up’ in the organisation. But when, as with MJ, the person is also ‘in their face’ both literally and in their SP it affects a victim’s self-esteem. Moving the bully away from being ‘in her face’ improved her self-esteem.
But I wanted to do more
I asked her what the funniest kind of head was, that she could imagine on his shoulders. She said a horse. I commented that a horse seemed to be appropriate because he was obviously a bit of an ass. “A donkey!” she exclaimed with delight and promptly swapped, in her imagination, the horse’s head for that of a donkey.
By now she was laughing
I asked her what would be the funniest voice she could give him. She said, “like the Chipmunks”, and so I had her imagine him speaking with that silly voice. I suggested she check each morning before she went to work that her boss was in the right place in her SP, that he had the donkey’s head and the true chipmunk voice. I got her to imagine how she would respond to him differently as she pictured him in this way.
This change in thinking gave her conscious control of the way she related to her boss.
It’s important to know that MJ doesn’t have to keep consciously thinking about her bully-boss and moving him around her SP each day. I merely wanted MJ to be aware of her SP so she would have control over it in future.
I taught her some simple skills for dealing with him, and asked her to imagine how she would behave differently with him the next day. She was laughing and said she felt very excited about her ability to communicate with him differently.
MJ called me the following evening
She said she’d had her best day at work in over six months. Her boss had been his usual intimidating self at the start of the day. But MJ used the skills I’d taught her. These skills, combined with having changed his position in her SP meant she no longer felt intimidated. After each interaction with MJ, the bully had ‘gone away looking perplexed’. She no longer felt worn down and was beginning to fight back.
- Bullies often pick on highly competent people because they feel threatened in some way.
- Bullying is insidious and the victim may lose self-esteem before they realise they’re being bullied.
- Having a victim move a bully in their SP will cause them to behave more self-confidently towards the bully.
- Other skills are needed and the victim should be supported to have the bully dealt with appropriately.
If you think you’re being bullied, it would be useful to tell someone you trust. Check out NZ Employment’s bullying page for more information about bullying and to find other useful resources.
*A big ‘thank you’ to my client, ‘MJ’, who gave permission for me to share her experiences in the hope it might help others.