If you’re wondering how to deal with bullies, you’re absolutely not alone. Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Bullies can be kids. They can be adults. They can be students. They can be teachers. They can be coworkers. They can be bosses. They can be baristas. They can be high-level executives. They can be one person. They can be groups of people. They can be wealthy. They can be poor. They can be really obvious. They can be extremely sneaky. So how do you know if you’ve got a bully in your midst?
Spotting Abuse of Power
Old reliable Dictionary.com defines a bully as “a blustering, mean, or predatory person who, from a perceived position of relative power, intimidates, abuses, harasses, or coerces people, especially those considered unlikely to defend themselves.” Maybe that perceived power comes from the fact that the bully is taller than you. Maybe it comes from the fact that they’re on a “higher” rung of the corporate ladder than you are. Maybe it comes from the fact that they’re wearing an official uniform, and you’re not. Or maybe it comes from nothing but the bully’s own selfish conviction that their needs are simply more important than yours.
Regardless, anyone who is using their position of power as an advantage over someone who might not be able to voice their own needs is a BULLY in all caps, italicized, and underlined.
Maybe you’re realizing that you’ve been a bully once or twice. It’s good to be honest with yourself about that. Recognize how you’ve used your perceived advantages over others to unfairly control what they get to do or say and commit to doing better moving forward. Maybe you’re realizing that you are being actively bullied, or you know someone who’s dealing with one. Once you’ve realized this, it can be hard to know what to do. We hear a lot of different messages from society about how to interact with others. Which of those is the right one? Should you stick up for the person being bullied? Or should you mind your own business?
To Act or Not to Act
Here at TheHopeLine, we are of the firm conviction that it is our absolute duty to defend the defenseless. Of course, there are some caveats to that, as there always must be. We do not recommend putting yourself in physical danger, so if, for instance, you’re witnessing a bully who is violent with others, perhaps instead of personally confronting the bully, you report them to someone with the authority to hold them accountable, like a teacher, an executive, a law enforcement officer, or even, if they’re powerful enough to bully their own superiors, a news reporter. As Dr. Rick Hanson writes in PsychologyToday, “Do no harm to yourself,” at the same time as he definitively says, “Stand up to bullies.” Be wise when you’re considering how to stand up for someone who’s being bullied, but it is, in our opinion, the right thing to stick up for someone in need.
Why Action Is the Only Choice
Why? Why should you, if you can safely do so, use your power and influence to help someone who is being treated unfairly? So many reasons! Let’s start with the statistics. One in five students between ages 12 and 18 will experience bullying at some point.
31% of adults have experienced bullying as well. That’s a LOT of people. If you know more than five people, even casually, you personally know someone who has experienced bullying. This is not a small problem that you can reasonably ignore.
You’re going to encounter a bullying situation, and unfortunately, that means you’re also very likely to get bullied, as a child or an adult. That makes bullies your problem. Sometimes, you may be able to defend yourself from the bully without fear of consequences like physical abuse, a cut in your paycheck or scheduled work hours, or the silent treatment from your bully’s sphere of influence. But if you find yourself stuck in the kind of situation where any attempt to escape or report the behavior would result in harm to your wellbeing, wouldn’t you appreciate a little help from a friend, coworker, or even a stranger who might be able to speak up safely? Yes, you would.
On top of the stats are so many clear and direct commands from scripture that there is no question: we are called to act on behalf of those who are hurting. From Galatians 6:2, in which we are instructed to “carry each other’s burdens,” to Proverbs 31:8’s charge to “Open your mouth for the mute,” it is made plain over and over that standing up for others is pretty much a non-negotiable element of “being a good person,” if you’re concerned about living according to any particular moral code.
Own Your Power
If you see an injustice occurring, in which someone uses their “power,” whether that be their physical strength or their perceived authority and influence, to take away the choices of someone who is unable to protect their own agency, you should take a serious look at whether you have the tools to rectify the situation without putting yourself in harm’s way. Your words are powerful. Speak comfort to the person being bullied. Offer a listening ear or a hug. Your voice is powerful. Tell someone in authority about the abuse of power, or if it’s safe, confront the bully yourself. The only way we’re going to defeat a problem this pervasive is by supporting one another.
If you or someone you know is experiencing bullying, know that you don’t deserve to have your agency taken away, and there is hope. You are so valuable to the world and to the people who matter. Here is a resource that will help you gain greater understanding about God’s love for you and His ability to care for you… and as always HopeCoaches are available 7 days a week if you need to chat about how to cope with a bullying situation.
For more on bullying, read Tim's story of how the toxic name "stupid" growing up stripped him of his self-worth and how he learned to break free of this stigma.