No Country For Adult Bullies

Yesterday I read a xoJane article penned by Allan Mott, in which shared his experience on “How to (Unsuccessfully) Deal A With Workplace Bully”.  And it was a bit triggering. Not in a way that caused me grave distress; but in that it prompted a wee bit of residual anger to roil in the pit of my stomach, because I have great disdain for bullies and believe there’s a special dark, dank, sulfurous-smelling hole for adults who try to intimidate other adults who have to navigate a shared space. Here's some insight... 

As a child, I came-of-age having to ward off bullies...

During my formative years most of the bullying I endured was perpetrated by boys  (who were often encouraged by girls):  The large, hulking sociopath in second and third grade who made it a point to sit behind me in class and ram his desk into my back, so I couldn't get from behind mine, and would hit me in the back of my shoulder with some heavy metal object (I later learned was a long, rectangle-shaped magnet) while my silent tears went ignored by my trash meek, mousy teacher… who couldn't, or didn't want to, be bothered with giving a shit, but made sure to call my mother every other week to complain about the perceived “attitude problem” she said I displayed, despite my stellar academic performance; I was early to develop physically, so I fended off attacks from fledgling misogynist pieces of shit who’d snap my bra-strap when I wasn't looking, grab a boob and run, or draw giant breasts in black magic marker on my desk to greet me when I returned from the restroom or music class; or the group of assholes who followed me halfway home and pelted me in the back with snowballs the whole way one winter, cheering anytime they’d hit an exposed area other than my backpack, as I walked at a stiff clip.

The snowball attack would be a pivotal point for me, because a teenager who lived around my ‘hood at the time and went to the nearby middle/high-school, witnessed the incident and dropped a dime to my older sister… who, in-turn, told my mother. Much to my horror, my mother confronted me, disappointed: “I don’t understand how you’re able to be mouthy with your sister and I here at home, but didn't stand up for yourself when you were being hit with snowballs. Why did you let them do that to you?”
While today, I now recognize her inquiry as classic victim-blaming, it was what officially marked the end of my staying silent as my classmates tormented me and as teachers stayed willfully passive about it.

I was 8 or 9 years old… and was nervous about being confrontational with bullies, but some weeks later I’d had enough… and finally took a stance in gym one morning when I shoved the shit out of a young Hispanic boy for hectoring me. He slid across the gymnasium’s freshly polished floor and just missed hitting his head on the bottom bleachers. The gym fell silent; he blinked up at me, stunned, before standing up and swiping away angry, embarrassed tears through a sea of threats.  After that, I was able to trudge through the rest of my primary school years, relatively unscathed… still smarting from the fact that all I had to do was stand up for myself. I felt empowered. I felt triumphant. I finally stood up to the lumbering asshole who shoved his desk into my back for most of 2nd and 3rd grade, I stood up to the girls who‘d instigate and sneer at me, and I was petulant and willful towards the teachers who refused to get involved.
I also was grateful for the Gifted and Talented program run by a teacher and aspiring children's book author (at the time) named Billie Anthony. The program and she, provided me with sanctuary and an escape, at least three days out of the week, by the time I'd graduated to middle-school... which was an entire level of bullying. 

High-school found me, more or less, successfully navigating around a hierarchical social sphere of teenage girls who were biting with their judgments and who ostracized and excluded as a way to wield power, and boys who seemed to enjoy toying with the self-esteem of the young women in their classes. I was aloof and too busy with extra-curricular activities to care and had no vested interested in cultivating friendships within cliques. I was also no longer shy about standing up for myself when situations warranted me too. 

Once I graduated high-school and fumbled my way through the trials and tribulations of higher-learning, I never imagined having to deal with adult bullies or spending most of my 20s and early 30s walking on egg-shells around manipulative, passive-aggressive folks who delighted in using authority, shaming, slander, and intimidation to try to silence me or coerce me into a compromising situation I didn't want to be in, and most of the time, I didn't recognize the behavior for what it was as adult bullying can be underhanded in its approach. And no adult bully is more portentous than those found within the realm of the workplace and social networking; where there's no shortage of people who project their psychological shortcomings onto others as their personal punching
bag… and I absolutely loathe them.

Much like Allan Mott, I’m a struggling freelance writer who worked (and works) a string of ‘only in it to pay the bills’ jobs. And while I've always made it a rule to never write about any of the places I've worked or how much I truly despised those co-workers I've had the displeasure of working with, I’ll go on record now and recount how I spent a year ½ at a thankless job-- (one of the worst, most unprofessional experiences I've ever endured in my adult, working life) -- at an organization that upheld an abusive environment that screwed up morale, where the CEO and directors enabled and protected the worst offender(s), even placing them in positions of authority which was misused, notwithstanding the fact that they secretly acknowledged how horrible they realized the person(s) was/were. When I was encouraged and finally decided to stand up for myself and my sanity via the proper protocols- (human relations), my fight for respect was to no avail, because I was unceremoniously "laid off", with a paltry severance package as a consolation and continued harassment even after I'd left. And while I lamented over not having a steady stream of income, I was undaunted because the pressure of that weight was finally lifted and I learned sobering lessons about dealing with adults who bully. Lessons aside, the experience left an indelible mark on my psyche and made my aversion to bullying and those who enable the behavior, that much more intense and it's why I take issue with people who try to label me as abrasive, disagreeable, or "angry" when I speak up for myself or refuse to go along just to get along, as a way to silence or manipulate me.

Listen, I get that "hurt people, hurt people" and may be driven by a lonely, tortured, unhappy, and resentful place possibly marred by abuse and having been victimized themselves, it still doesn't give them carte blanche to malign others and avoid accountability for their abusive behavior. I have zero patience or respect for people who are adamant about their boundaries, but have no qualms about crossing those of others.

I’m in my mid-30s; I was a kid when my peers (and teachers who refused to intervene) made my life hell, and I can’t go back and ascertain why that was… but now, as much as I think I’d like to understand the reasons why adults engage in bullying behavior, and as cool as a cucumber as I can be (thanks to growth), I'm not cowed nor am I that kid who got pelted with snowballs as I made my way home from school that wintry afternoon, I’m a firm believer in taking some sort of stance against perpetrators. So I don’t have it in me to empathize with adults who seem to live for intimidating, slandering, and manipulating others under the guise of “keeping it real” or just being a gaping asshole with an ax to grind. Additionally, I've never felt any sense of urgency to prove myself to people who don't have the right to dictate that I do, and neither should you.

Racists, misogynists, cyber-thugs, workplace bullies (especially), and people who relish slandering and dragging people's name through the mud …  If you are a grown adult person who needs to earn your stripes by making someone else's life miserable at work, at home, within your social circle, or online, then you’re a coward.

And really, I don’t understand what the return is. What’s really your motivation other than self-loathing? 


  1. Anonymous8:05 PM

    Very good article. I was bullied in middle and high school. I take great pleasure in knowing that I didn't even have to stand up or say anything to my bullies because seeing them now as adults 1. An employee at a fast food place, 2. Strug out on drugs and seeing them walk across a CT street talking to themselves scratching. I don't gloat I just say ... see God doesn't like ugly. Hate adult bullies even more, it's just a sign that they are miserable and their lives will always be miserable. -KristiLove

  2. I was a kid and finally learned to stand up for myself before moving on to middle and high school, but not without some hesitation. I know middle and high school are *the worst*.

    As an adult? I won't hesitate to defend myself against an ADULT COWARD who bullies someone. The worst are the passive-aggressive, manipulative ones who provoke a situation and then try to play victim as if *they're* the ones who've been wronged. Adults who bully, are also *parents* sometimes, which is even worse.

    As someone wrote on the Coffee Rhetoric Facebook page, they're loathsome.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences.

  3. Anonymous12:52 AM

    Tiff, I love your writing. It's me, Jen/Jenner, BTW. Couldn't figure out how to pick a way to comment other as anonymous heh. Anyway, every time I read you, I FEEL your words in my mouth, heavy on the back(ish) part of my tongue and pressed against the roof of my mouth. I can FEEL it. I wish I could describe it better, also not so creepily heh. I don't know if I'm feeling the deft manipulation of the words or what. Best explanation I can think of.

    As for the topic at hand, I don't have much to add. You've tackled it beautifully :)

  4. @Jen -- Wow, thanks so much. Your feedback has made me blush :-) and I'm grateful for it.

    As someone who's had to navigate bullying as a child and also in some variation as an adult, I've been seeing some unsavory behavior on a couple of social network/blog platforms lately, and the xoJane article triggered some workplace experiences I've been anxious to get off my chest in some capacity, for a while now, so expunging this was *long* overdue.

    I def look forward to reading *more* of your feedback on anything I write, so don't be a stranger.

    And P.S. I've been researching ways to make commenting a bit easier... Haven't quite figured out how to integrate Facebook/Twitter plugins as a way for folks to sign-in with their profile IDs and comment. I'll crack the code at some point.

  5. Great post Tiff! I'm glad I inspired it, but I wish you didn't have to write it. Bullying in all forms has to stop!

  6. Hi Allan!

    Thanks for stopping by. I wish I(or you) didn't have to write it either, but every so often, I think it's always essential to remind people, particularly ADULTS, how lame it is to bully others.

    And yes, it must stop in all forms.