The trouble with bullying, it’s hard to identify. We picture a ring of kids taunting the girl in shabby clothes or a huge monster looming over a scared skinny boy or the superior snotty rich guy with a nasal whine belittling the scholarship teen at school.
But is teasing an acquaintance about her new haircut bullying? Threatening to rear-end the driver who cuts in front of your car when you know you’ll never follow through? How about sending a series of text messages laden with ominous warnings to your business competition?
Like nearly everyone else in this country—except the bullies—I condemned bullying; but I’d never been the target of it. Until several weeks ago. A person on my street, whom I refuse to call a “neighbor” because he isn’t neighborly, became my personal bully. How did I know?
My body’s reaction. When he came over and began to yell, storm, and swear, my instinct told me to run or hide. Since I couldn’t do either, my autonomic nervous system went into overdrive. Every muscle clenched, my breathing increased, my intestines clutched, and I could hardly speak. Many people don’t react this way, but I’ll tell you, it’s hard to take action of any kind when your body’s automatic response to conflict and fear is to shake, run, or puke.
While a number of websites and experts address bullying as only an issue in childhood, it can occur any time. Merriam-Webster defines a bully as a blustering browbeating person; especially : one habitually cruel to others who are weaker.
What had I done to cause this? Nothing other than come down the stairs and ask a question. This particular person decided he disliked me the first time he met me, and his negativity has escalated with each contact, for reasons unknown to me. Since my immediate response to aggression is terror and guilt (think of the stereotype of a rabbit), I became the victim.
The wrong response. Experts advise you can’t make a bully like you even if you do back flips. (Although I didn’t try that, not being able to perform back flips). You must change how you respond to the bullying. In other words, amend your response. Bullying doesn’t have its desired effect if the intended victim successfully stands up to the bully. Once you have identified a bully and know what to expect from him or her, you must choose not to be a victim. Take a stand and be firm.
Easier said than done, especially in this day of random violence, instant rage, and self-obsession. The advice: the victim’s anguish, fear, and dread get in the way of a successful defense. Because bullies often choose targets who appear unable or unwilling to fight back.
I was surprised my bully has so much hostility since I look harmless, feel harmless. I’m 20 years older, 30 pounds lighter, 8 inches shorter. Maybe that’s WHY he picked me, because he knows he can lord it over me.
That’s how at a very advanced age, I finally learned about bullying. Not by observing my children or grandchildren. Not by watching news coverage. Not by reading written accounts of it. Through actual experience.
However, I knew I had to refuse to let him control my behavior. If I ducked into the house every time he made an appearance or if I stood on the sidewalk yelling obscenities at him, I would be allowing him to dictate my conduct and lifestyle. Very bad for someone who’s spent a lifetime struggling to develop personal inner strength, courage, and independence.
How did I handle this incident, other than to dwell on it ten hours a day for two weeks? I translated his name into a code name, which helped trivialize him in my mind, to an extent. I now call him Stoney. Who can be scared of an adult with that nickname ? I researched bullying on the Internet to decide if that’s what was occurring and if my ideas on handling the situation were valid. They were.
I trotted out every good result to the incident I could think of. And there were a number. First–He didn’t say “fat, f—king old bitch,” so I must have lost enough weight not to fall into that category. Since I might have contributed to the situation by failing to turn on the charm, I’ve been very careful to avoid a grouchy old lady response to the world in general. I smile and greet all neighbors whether I know them or not. I fail to snap at incompetent sales people, instead using a low soothing voice to comment.
Finally, I got a super idea for a complex, scary novel. A writer friend of mine says, “Whatever happens to you, it’s all material.” So, see, the new book’s about this woman who’s afraid of her shadow. And there’s a threatening male neighbor bullying her and making her life hell. And on the farther side of the man’s house is another neighbor who looks exactly like the first woman, but is her complete opposite. She possesses the nerve and strength to perform outrageous acts, like sabotaging his electricity and filling his gas tank with water. And then the two women go back..and…forth….in…..how……they…….deal…….