When I think of bullying, I think of some idiot in high school knocking my books out of my hands, making fun of my glasses or making a short joke that I’ve for sure never heard before. But the idea that bullying ceases as soon as the graduation caps fly into the air and the diploma is in your hands is a false one.
Bullying simply takes on new, uglier forms in adult life — hidden in relationships, families and even in the workplace.
As always, the bully psyche is typically simple — a thirst to feel more powerful, bigger and more important in some sense. Some say that this stems from their home lives. Sometimes the bullied become the bullies. This yearning for power does not disperse past high school, and why would it?
Bullying is not so obvious as a biting remark or shove once we leave the cruelty of the alleged golden years of high school, though. Who would dare call a boss — cracking down at work on one specific person, repeatedly, due to a bad mood or a personal problem — a bully?
Being bullied at work is actually more likely than you would think.
In “Ten Signs You’re Being Bullied At Work,” published in March 2008 in Forbes, Allison Van Dusen talks about the lack of knowledge surrounding workplace bullying and how it hinders reporting and handling such a growing problem.
“Unless you’re at the receiving end of severe abuse, you’re unlikely to realize it,” Van Dusen said.
A lot of the bullying comes in forms of belittling, criticizing and even deliberate exclusion from company activities, Van Dusen continued. This can lead to anxiety and stress-related illnesses, affecting the overall productivity of the company.
“Companies pay in employee turnover, employee absenteeism and, to a small extent, workers’ compensation claims,” Van Dusen said. “Bullies can tarnish an organization’s reputation and ability to recruit, since word gets around when employees are miserable and leaving in droves.”
Beyond being badgered in the workplace, it is possible to be bullied in personal relationships as well. Sometimes incessant put-downs are seen as just an aspect of someone’s relationship. Wrong — that is psychological bullying that, in turn, can lower self-esteem and self-worth, bruising a fragile ego and damaging people in their future endeavors.
According to Anne-Renee Testa in her book “The Bully in Your Relationship,” bullying is defined as any repeated behavior that degrades someone, making them feel bad about themselves.
“You now have a better idea … about just how awful, hurtful and lonely it is for the victims of bullies,” Testa said. “But here’s something that might surprise you: it’s almost as bad for the bullies themselves.”
Testa tells a brief story about a woman that made dinner for her new boyfriend, who came over only to insult her efforts, her home and her outfit. Devastated, the woman blamed herself, trying to improve for the next time she made a similar effort to impress her new boyfriend.
The issue wasn’t the woman. It was the flashback that her boyfriend had after coming from a family function that summoned his assault on his girlfriend.
The boyfriend was constantly criticized in his childhood by his mother, bringing that same behavior forth after spending much unwanted quality time with her earlier that day. As expected, he became the bully because he was bullied.
“Not all bullies will match these behaviors exactly. Many will exhibit characteristics of different types at different times, or combine several at the same time,” Testa said. “And of course you may have experienced bullying behaviors that aren’t on this list — unhappy people are apparently endlessly creative about the ways they take their pain and fear out on others.”
Testa provides the best guide for identifying bullying behavior is “your own intuition,” to trust yourself — if something feels wrong, it probably is.
Bullying is still clearly evident past high school, but because it is so unheard of once we become adults, we don’t know about it.
It is simple enough to dismiss these instances as unfortunate facts of life that all of us have to cope with, but why must we simply accept this? Even as we push for greater efforts to notice and prevent bullying in our schools, we all but ignore the same behavior in adult life. Do people suddenly become emotional fortresses post-graduation? Why, once we turn 18, is everyone left to the wolves when a boss or authority in their lives starts using their influence to poke and prod their underlings?
People are still people, regardless of their age. In all matters, a certain amount of dignity should be allotted to every man and woman, regardless of income or position. Bullying, in all stages of life, directly contradicts this.