Health Magazine

Understanding Adult Bullying

By Gbollard @gbollard

Understanding Adult BullyingYou could be forgiven for thinking that bullying is “something that happens to kids”. After all, that’s how the media portrays it.  The theory is that if bullying happens to adults, it’s rare, it’s obvious and it’s generally the work of “rednecks” or similar people who lack the education and/or social exposure to be more accepting of others. 

In reality, bullying is as common, as pervasive and as destructive amongst adults as it is among kids. The difference is that the vast majority of adult bullying goes undetected - or at least unchallenged by most adult bystanders. We expect our children to report bullying and yet we fail to do it ourselves.
In order to really understand bullying, you have to know what it means. Google defines bullying as to; “use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something”.
Understanding Adult Bullying

Bullying is Intentional
I think this is a very good definition. It makes it clear that there is an intended result to bullying. It’s not accidental, nor unintentional, and for those of us who have kids with ADHD, it’s thankfully not simple impulsivity.  No. Bullying is an act with an intended outcome - even if that outcome is merely “to make a particular person cry”.
Bullying amongst kids is reasonably easy to see, after all, kids are generally transparent about the things they want, control of the playground, their favorite toy, someone’s lunch money etc.  Kids are also quite good at articulating these wants and will open directly with a request, for example, for lunch money before they move onto bullying in earnest.
Adults on the other hand are much less direct.  They know that direct methods won’t work and instead resort to less obvious ones from the outset.  Often adults have a need for control and they generally won't walk up to you and say; "I want to control your department" or "I want to control you". Instead, they'll just start bullying until your reaction makes you give them what they want.
Bullying Requires Superior Strength
Then there’s the position of superior strength. It’s no coincidence that in the playground, the bully is often the biggest kid - or the strongest, or the loudest. The measurement of superior strength in the playground in generally based upon physical aspects, though as kids, particularly girls,  move into the later school years, bullying strength relies increasingly on popularity.
In adult bullying, superior strength is often achieved by “being popular” or team-building. This is frequently seen in companies where people who have the ear of the CEO are feared by their colleagues. Sometimes bullies will do favours for others so that they can call them in if needed.  Workplace bullies like to sit in the middle of the office and will often place candies or other incentives on their desks to attract others so that they can be included in conversations and office politics.
If a victim tries to take action against a bully with friends, it’s easy for the bully to convince people to take their side.  Having high numbers of supporters makes it easy for a bully to throw out an accusation with a catchphrase like, “not bullying, just adults behaving badly”.
Sometimes bullying strength, particularly in the workplace, comes from the job description. Human resources managers are often bullies as their access to personnel files allows them to “dig dirt” on their colleagues while suppressing negative reports of their own.  This can happen in other departments too, such as IT where it becomes easy to sabotage the work of another. Unscrupulous bullies in IT departments often use their privileged access rights to snoop on the files of other employees.  It's all about power.
Aspergers and Bullying
People with asperger’s syndrome are particularly prone to bullying for two main reasons;

  • Naivety; Many people with Asperger’s syndrome are completely oblivious to indirect communication. They usually believe the lies spun by bullies and can often be manipulated into doing a bully’s dirty work for them.  It’s also very easy for bullies to bait or otherwise manipulate naive aspie victims into situations which are difficult to defend. 
  • Differences; Bullies often pick on people who are different. It’s no longer politically correct to pick on people of different races, creeds or sexuality. There are laws against that. There are also laws covering physical disability but those laws become blurred when a disability is less obvious. Since people with Asperger’s syndrome generally look the same as everyone else, it’s easy for a bully to say “I didn’t know” in their defence.

How to Help
The following quote has been attributed to many people over the years and as far as I can tell, the origin is still hazy. Nevertheless, it’s a quote which applies extremely well to bullying situations.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
If you witness adult bullying and fail to act then your actions are no less wrong than a boy who witnesses his friend being bullied at school and fails to report or intervene. We want our children to step in - so why can’t we do the right thing as adults?  Why can’t we teach by example?

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