by Kassandra Lamb
Bullies have been on my mind lately for two reasons. One, they play a role in both of the stories I’ve been working on lately, one of which is releasing today (more on that in a moment).
Two, a friend of mine has been dealing with one lately–a forty-something adolescent who thinks it’s okay to disturb the peace in the neighborhood and harass those neighbors who object to his behavior.
What motivates bullies?
I’ve wondered about that ever since first grade, when I was playing on the school playground by myself one day and an older girl–probably a fourth or fifth grader–came at me out of the blue and shoved me to the ground.
I wasn’t hurt and she walked away again as quickly as she’d come, so I didn’t even have time to feel scared. I was mainly just shook up. But I can still see her angry, sneering face in my mind’s eye, after all these decades.
I was amazed that some stranger wanted to do that to me. And I still am.
The other thing that amazes me is the frequent response to bullying expressed by those in authority–that the parties involved should “work it out amongst themselves.” This shows a total ignorance of how bullies operate. They count on others abiding by the rules, as they blatantly break them.
Here’s the dictionary definition of bullying: using superior strength, influence or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
Let me put on my psychologist hat for a moment and try to explain the motivation of bullies. They are insecure people who have figured out that they feel better about themselves when they are lording it over others. The problem is that their insecurities run very deep. So like a drug, this “fix” of power through intimidation of others only feels good for a brief time. Then their insecurities come roaring back, and they have to compensate again and again by bullying somebody.
Trying to “work it out” with them is often viewed as a sign of weakness, and eggs them on instead. (If you’re thinking “That doesn’t make any sense,” then congratulations, you do not think like a bully!)
This was my friend’s experience (we’ll call him Bill) when he confronted the neighbor who was racing his unlicensed four-wheelers, with no mufflers, on the vacant lots and streets of their rural neighborhood. Bill’s complaints about the noise, exhaust fumes and potential fire hazard (flames were coming out of the exhaust pipes while being driven through winter-dry underbrush), were met with the proclamation that the neighbor (we’ll call him Jack) “would ride wherever and whenever he damned well pleased.”
Jack then started intentionally riding around in circles on the lot next to Bill’s house for hours on the weekends.
So Bill bought the lot (he been thinking about doing so for other reasons anyway).
Jack reacted poorly to the new fence and “no trespassing” signs on the property. He intentionally ran into the fence, yelled at and shoved Bill. Jack then raced his unlicensed vehicles up and down the paved, county road in front of Bill’s house and on the other vacant lots beyond the one Bill had bought.
Other neighbors gathered and were flabbergasted by this man’s childish behavior. Bill took pictures of these events and then called the county sheriff’s department.
The sad part of the story was the deputies’ response. These were not bad cops. They were trying to do their jobs as they thought best. Which is the saddest part of all. This is a typical response by authorities to bullies, unless and until the victim is seriously hurt. And this response allows bullies to continue to do their thing.
To the report of the shove: “Did he knock you down? Were you hurt?”
“Well, then we can’t do anything.”
(Note: Bill is 66 years old; Jack is in his mid 40s. So it’s okay for people to intentionally shove senior citizens as long as they aren’t hurt?)
To the report of him riding his unlicensed vehicles on county roads: “We have to see it ourselves in order to ticket him.” This, despite the fact that Bill had pictures; the deputies wouldn’t even look at them.
To the report of Jack running into his fence and intentionally tearing up the property just beyond it: They pointed out to the neighbor that he had no right to damage others’ property.
Then they told my friend he should “work this out” with his neighbor. Bill’s response was that this had already been attempted and they were now long past that point.
Bill persisted and finally the officers went to talk to the neighbor. Jack has been marginally less obnoxious since then.
Again, I’m not trying to paint the deputies as bad cops. I suspect they thought they were handling the situation appropriately.
But these attitudes have to change if we are going to put a stop to bullying in our society. We need to “Just Say No” to bullies. In other words, those in a position to do so need to stand up to bullies and make them cut it out!
This is for the bullies’ sake as well as the victims. Until a bully learns that s/he can’t deal with insecurity by being a bully, they won’t even try to deal with it any other way.
Here are some tips for how to handle bullies.
How to advise a child who is being bullied or who witnesses bullying:
1. Calmly walk away if you can. Tell someone. Parents, teachers, coaches. Keep telling people until someone listens and takes action.
2. Know that you are not a wimp, sissy, weakling or loser no matter what the bullies say. Don’t let insecure bullies define who you are!
3. If you are being physically attacked, yell and make as much noise as possible. Bullies don’t like to get caught.
4. If you are being verbally attacked, walk away. Don’t hit the bully no matter how tempting it may be. Some bullies intentionally egg others into violence, then report them to school authorities as if they were the innocent victim. Report their verbal bullying to teachers, etc.
5. If you witness bullying, don’t laugh. That just eggs the bullies on and it isn’t TV or a movie– a real person is being hurt, either emotionally, physically or both. Indeed, don’t stick around at all; don’t give the bully an audience. Instead, go find an adult to intervene.
For adults encountering an adult bully:
1. Don’t show your fear. Try to maintain a demeanor of calm and confidence.
2. Get away from them if you can, without significantly compromising your own needs, rights and desires. Ignoring a bully sometimes takes the wind out of his sails.
3. If you stand up to them (my preference), do it quickly, calmly and firmly.
4. Give them an out to save face if possible. Don’t back them into a corner if you can help it.
5. Try reverse psychology. Ask them to do the exact opposite of what you want. You want them to go away, so invite them to sit down and talk things over.
6. Call the authorities and keep pushing until you get results.
Adults dealing with grown-up bullies is the subject of my new novella, Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas, which officially releases today. It is just 99 cents for today and tomorrow only! It goes up to $1.99 on 3/25/15.
Please check it out and then talk to me in the comments. Have you ever been bullied? What strategies for dealing with bullies have you found effective?
Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas, A Kate on Vacation Mystery
Town secrets, an old nemesis, a corpse–what else will show up at Skip’s high school reunion in Texas?
When Kate and her husband arrive in his hometown for the event, they discover that new disputes have been heaped on top of old animosities. Tempers flare, fists fly, and before the evening is out, Skip stumbles upon a dead body.
Fortunately the town’s sheriff is an old buddy of his, but will that keep him from becoming a prime suspect? Trying to uncover the real murderer leads Kate and Skip to uncover long- buried secrets instead, and their names just might end up on the killer’s must-die list.
Also, the 1st two books in the series, An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine and Cruel Capers on the Caribbean, will be 99 cents through the end of the March.
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and the Kate on Vacation mysteries.
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shannon espositoMarch 24, 2015 at 9:18 am
Great advice. As someone with two young boys, I worry about this constantly. Especially with my special little creative child who is always in his own head and oblivious to social situations. Then, I have his twin brother who I have to worry about because he’s got a hair-trigger temper so if he ever does get bullied, we’re going to end up in the principal’s office for him punching the kid. Sigh…
Kassandra LambMarch 24, 2015 at 11:18 am
I’m real glad my son is grown, Shannon. Fortunately he had a couple of big beefy friends who looked out for him. I worry though about my autistic grandson.
As for punching the kid, although I advise above to tell them not to do so, if they lose their temper and manage to land a good one, they may not be bullied again. Bullies don’t like getting hurt.
Jami GoldMarch 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm
I was a victim of bullies when I was a kid, so I have the hardest time staying calm and cool when faced with them now. This is great advice though. 🙂
And this–“They count on others abiding by the rules, as they blatantly break them.”–is brilliant.
Kassandra LambMarch 24, 2015 at 2:22 pm
Thanks, Jami. Notice I said “try to maintain a demeanor of…” We’re likely to be either scared or furious inside, but it’s good to try not to let that show. Personally I want to pound them into the ground! 🙂
K.B. OwenMarch 24, 2015 at 1:44 pm
Terrific post, Kass, and congrats on the book!
I definitely ran into bullies when I was a kid. One girl in particular was really awful and it flummoxed my parents, because who ever heard of a girl bully? (This was the 70s). And it’s just as you said. She kept threatening to hit me for some made-up grievance. There was always a gang of her friends around when she threatened me, too. Bullies really do crave audiences. I told the teachers and my parents, who just said “ignore it,” or “avoid her.” Yeah, right. Doesn’t work.
Finally one day in the gym locker room, I was sick of it. I sat down on the locker room bench in the midst of her and her friends (and a lot of bystanders) and said “Go ahead, hit me, I don’t care.” So she did, right in the jaw. I went to the teacher and FINALLY someone did something! The weird thing is, after that, this girl was really nice to me. We talked in the principal’s office shortly after she hit me (where she was in detention) and she apologized. I told her that her friends were threatening to hurt me because I had told the teacher, but she promised to make sure they didn’t. And she kept that promise.
A really weird experience.
Kassandra LambMarch 24, 2015 at 2:24 pm
Thanks, Kathy! Yeah, that ignore it advice never did work all that well. Sometimes they move on to better prey, but mostly they don’t.
And I’m not too surprised by her later reaction. You had earned her respect. What a brave kid you were!!
K.B. OwenMarch 24, 2015 at 2:32 pm
Thanks. I’ve learned over the years that sometimes bravery is just being tired of putting up with crap. 😉
Kassandra LambMarch 24, 2015 at 2:47 pm
LOL True, Kathy.
Jami GoldMarch 24, 2015 at 4:08 pm
“bravery is just being tired of putting up with crap”
*snort* Love that. 😉
Nancy LevineMay 29, 2015 at 7:34 am
Sorry I’m late with this response. Bullying is one of the things I truly hate. I was bullied in 6th grade by my entire class and never said anything to my parents until years later after I got married. I have also been the victim of some adult bullies (recently) which really hurts because you’d think people that age would know better (they are close to my age). An uplifting story (that I’ve told before) is that a guy from my sixth grade class continued to make hurtful comments to me when I’d see him after he supposedly “grew up.” I took my husband to my 25th reunion and pointed the guy out to him. My husband made fun of him. My husband was the best–always my real life hero.
Kassandra LambMay 29, 2015 at 12:37 pm
So sorry you went through that, Nancy. I was the scapegoat in my classes all the way until 9th grade. But I came into my own a bit in high school. The main reason for going to high school reunions, in my opinion, is to see all the bullies who now have paunches and bad hair. 🙂
Sometimes living well is indeed the best revenge!
Nancy LevineMay 29, 2015 at 1:12 pm
Sorry you went through all that. The guy who made fun of me was short and bald. My husband said he looked like Joe Peschi–LOL! All the guys at the reunion were envious of my husband’s hair (and he didn’t have too much gray in it either).