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How to Handle Being Bullied as an Adult (Part 1)

A complete 101 on handling bullies

You’d think that bullies would disappear after high school, but some people never grow out of being a great big jerk. They may not steal your lunch money anymore, but bullies can still harass you, put you down, and even undermine your work. Here are some tips for understanding and dealing with bullies, no matter how old you are.

What Adult Bullying Looks Like

You may not be getting squeezed into your locker by a pack of football players anymore, but adult bullies can still act out in a similar fashion. What’s more frustrating about adult bullies, however, is they’ve gotten much better at hiding what they do. An adult bully is much more subtle than their “give ‘em a swirly,” “that’s so fetch” teen counterparts. They know how to poke and prod without attracting the attention of their superiors. Even worse, they might be your superior. Roger S. Gil, a clinically-trained marriage and family therapist, talks about all of this and he explains:

“As adults, many bullies are in a position of power over their victims. I’ve often seen adult bullies who are in a supervisory position at work. The power differential often serves to fuel their bullying behavior because they may feel that their weaker subordinates are truly powerless to do anything.”

Because careers take up a large chunk of your time as you get older, you’re most likely to encounter adult bullying in the workplace.

According to Kenneth Dodge, Ph.D., Marc Brackett, Ph.D., and Jaana Juvonen, Ph.D., at This Emotional Life, workplace bullying can be hard to find if you’re not looking for it. Here are some less obvious examples:

  • Getting ignored: This could mean being given the “silent treatment,” refusing to help you when asked, not responding to your attempts to communicate (phone calls, emails), cutting you off while you’re talking, or even keeping you out of the loop for work-related social events.
  • Disrespecting your time: Intentionally showing up late to meetings, failing to get things to you by the time they said they would, or putting your requests off to help others first are all good examples.
  • Messing with your work: This could be in the form of sabotaging your ideas or projects, denying you well-deserved praise, taking credit for your work, scapegoating problems on to you, or even refusing to acknowledge your ideas at all.

Of course, there is also the more obvious things like putting you down in front of othersplaying pranks on youstarting rumors that aren’t true, and even sexual harassment. Simple, yet extremely subtle things like undermining everything you do might seem small, but it’s grief you shouldn’t have to deal with as a mature adult.

If you’re still not sure what adult bullying looks like, perhaps there’s no better example than the character Jerry Gergich on the television show Parks and Recreation. It’s all for comedy in the show, but every one of Gergich’s coworkers is guilty of bullying him at one point or another. They all would probably argue that they are his friend, but if you were in Jerry’s shoes, you probably wouldn’t feel that way. That can be a big problem when you’re dealing with an adult bully.

They don’t think of themselves as bullies, and may even consider you a buddy. In order to address the problem, you need to find out what makes them tick.

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