Lingering allegiance to a bully is a common occurrence, even if a bully’s primary position in our life has changed. Similar to phantom pain from a missing a limb–past trauma from a bully can linger into our future.
Because bullying creates deep impressions in the brain, phantom loyalty often carries on long after it should. We feel bound by pledges of loyalty (spoken or unspoken). Our falling-in-line to avoid retaliation (or to gain favor) becomes automatic. We don’t realize we may still be carrying on a bully’s disrespect for ourselves or others treated unfairly. We are swept along by lingering loyalties.
We see this play out in adult children who feel a great sense of loyalty to a bullish parent. Even after the parent is out of the picture, the adult child still feels obligated to their parents wishes and ideas about life. There are feelings of guilt and internal conflict in pursuing a different course of action, or thought.
We can feel confused moving forward. Freeing ourselves requires healthy understanding that it’s “okay” to think differently.
Here are some tips:
1. Identify ways in which you desire to behave differently than the person who has been a controlling influence in your life. 2. Admit (your own) mistakes that were inspired by the bully. 3. If you once said “yes” under pressure, it’s okay to change your mind and say “no”. 3. Seek a trustworthy accountability partner. 4. In taking these steps remember that feelings of guilt are natural part of breaking free. Misplaced loyalty is often driven by guilt—that’s why it has a powerful hold.
In the article “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting” published by Psychology Today, gaslighting is described as a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. The article goes on to say that gaslighting is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.
Applying this thought to a bully’s overall agenda we see how all bullying characteristic works together to achieve one ultimate goal–gaslighting. That is, to create a “believable” false narrative that influences others against their victim. It is sabotage on every level. Onlookers becomes numb and impaired in their judgement. This is because they have drunken, so to speak, from the Kool-Aid of gaslighting.
The brave few who stand up in defense of a victim are quickly cut down to a stump by the gaslighter or their followers. Unfortunately, a gaslighter typically has loyal followers. Utilizing followers is strategic too. They are methodically placed within a bullying scenario to cheer on the bully and brow beat opposers.
For those of us who recognize being in this kind of bullying situation, or a eyewitness to it, we must decisively put down our cup of Kool-Aid. This is a decisive step in combating bullying. We must stop drinking from a narrative that has become convoluted. Even the best minds will have trouble deciphering between what’s true and what’s being deliberately spun. Therefore, the antidote is not found in looking at facts (that may be falsified) but rather character. It all goes back to character. When in doubt character is a safe guide back to reality and wisdom.
For instance, a victim’s narrative may look bleak because it’s been vandalized and discredited by a bully—but their character will always tell a different story. Likewise, a bully’s narrative may look very sleek and well packaged—but their character will always smell of fear and intimidation. In other words, even if a bully’s narrative is convincing joining their camp is a dangerous venture. In the same way they treat others they will eventually treat you.
Do you know someone who is being bullied? If so give them an encouraging wink that lets them know that you are not drinking the Kool-Aid served by bully/gaslighters.
This months segment is “X Marks The Bully”. Our goal is to place a mental X mark on characteristics we observe as bullying behavior. The last few months we have talked about some of the often overlooked characteristics of a bully: bullies play the victim; bullies crave superiority; bullies demand loyalty, and bullies discredit those they perceive as a threat.
Placing a mental X mark on bullying behavior is powerful tool. It does more than just identify bullish tendencies, it becomes a flashing sign designating danger. You would be surprised at the practical value this has in counteracting bullying. One of the main reasons bullying continues is because we have the human proclivity to lose sight that someone is, in fact, a bully. This is because the bullying process manifests similar effects to the Stockholm Syndrome. Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages display an alliance or empathy for their captors. It is a brainwashing that happens through abuse of power and indoctrination. The name comes from a town in Sweden where a botched bank robbery in 1973 turned into a 6 day hostage situation. Instead of seeing their captors as criminals the victims began to bond in an effort to survive. The psychological dynamics cause an almost spell-like hold. They even defended and became protective of their captors. Although many violent captive situations are facilitated by bullies—thankfully, most bullies are not lawbreaking kidnappers.
Interestingly, studies show that elements of Stockholm Syndrome can overflow into other areas of life where abuse of control and influence are evident (bullying). We can find it in the work place, home, schools, etc. For example a domestic abuse victim chooses to stay in toxic circumstances. Here are similar criteria as defined in Stockholm Syndrome: Perceived Threats—a bully makes a victim believe that making waves, or challenging the norm could ostracize them (they’d be on the outs). Small Acts of Kindness—a bully (who otherwise discredits) shows small acts of kindness to keep a victim loyal. Isolation From other Perspectives—a bully shuts down any attempt from others to influence those under their control (this is how it’s done, period). Perceived Inability to Escape—a victim feels stuck and tries to make the best of the situation.
It is a captivity of sorts. This is why the mental X mark has value. It keeps the reality in focus that the controlling person is, indeed, a bully. Visualizing a bully’s behavior with an X is an empowering reminder that bullies are master manipulators. It reminds us not to be spell bound by it. It also opens opportunities to connect with others who are gaining awareness that a bullying situation is in progress. People feel enabled when they sense blinders coming off of others. This is key because it changes the “me” to “we” which then neutralizes the Isolation From other Perspectives. Discussions can now take place as to how a particular bully is holding a group or person hostage, so to speak. Collaboration is an effective way to bring unknowns out into the open in order to address avenues of change. This counteracts the Perceived Inability to Escape.
You may have several people in your life that come to mind when thinking about placing a mental X as a bullying reminder. Sometimes it’s people we love and care about. They are in our families, neighborhoods, churches and government. Sometimes it’s us. Kindness and compassion goes along way in redirecting a bully who is open to change. Meanwhile, get your mental pen out and draw a big X on any bullying behavior holding you or others hostage.
Bullying has been part of culture since the dawn of time – whether It is Napoleon, King Henry VIII, or Catherine the Great, power thirsty leaders want people to be subject to them. They crave superiority. Although the classic bully is typically portrayed as physically intimidating–many times its not size, but intellect, skill sets, resources, or position that intimidates and influences people.
The Bully’s drive to be superior generally comes from deep seated insecurity. Overcompensating for this emotion becomes the means by which they create a world where they can appear superior, not only to others–but to themselves. Often they are people with winsome personalities which can make this quality hard to uncover.
One of the destructive by-products of a bully’s craving for superiority is the need to protect a persona. To the bully, it is less about the person bullied (which may be you or someone you care about) and more about managing their own image. The bullied recipient is simply a casualty of the bully’s sense of superiority being challenged. This is why a bully will pick a certain person to constantly berate, primarily in public to demonstrate their dominance to others. Bullied victims often don’t realize they have just stepped on a hornets nest when they question, resist, or challenge a bully. But you can be sure that the response by the bully will always be double in intensity. For instance, a person might think they’re suggesting or recommending something reasonable or helpful when fire-hose of berating is opened up on them at full blast. The intimidating tactic of superiority is always in the back pocket of a bully ready to fire, and they use it proactively.
If you can answer yes to any of these questions you might be dealing with a bully:
1. Have you tried to reason with someone whose response surprises you in intensity?
2. Has the response intimated you or undermined your credibility?
3. Does the intimidating person calm down as long as you fall in-line?
Recognizing the characteristics of superiority in a bully is key to helping others who are being bullied. When we see a person responding in exaggerated intensity towards someone—do not jump on the band wagon. Ruining someone else’s reputation is a classic way bullies build their superior posture. Joining in a bully’s defamation contributes to their continued building project of superiority. Staying out of it, or jumping off the bandwagon always helps the person being bullied to regain their balance.
A bully enlists and utilizes loyalty for their own benefit. In fact, you may hear the word loyalty quite often in a bully’s vocabulary. It may be concealed in phrases or questions designed to establish a sense of camaraderie: “are you with me?”, “can I count on you?”, “do I have your support”? With a bully there is an ulterior agenda—a binding of loyalty against something or someone.
The dictionary describes loyalty as faithful adherence. Because of its favorable connotation we naturally think of loyalty in a positive light. But for the bully it’s far from altruistic. Loyalty to them is simply a means to an end. Any deviation from faithful adherence is perceived as an affront.
A bully uses several methods of manipulations to gain loyalties. The most common being an offering of favor or acceptance. Not only does it feels good “not” to be on the bad side of a bully’s reproach, but there are tempting benefits too. If it’s in the school lunch room it might be an invitation to sit at the cool table. If it’s in the work place it might be the carrot of advancement. If it’s in a social setting it might be the allure of recognition. If it’s the home it might be the peace and calm that comes from non-confrontation. The thought of being considered “disloyal” is too risky of a challenge for many which makes loyalty a powerful tool in the hands of a bully. Bullies can build quite a submissive following with this one maneuver.
Another way bullies gain loyalty is blackmail. Not the obvious kind with threats scrawled on mysterious notes, but in small ways like hints of exposure to shame. The bully is skilled at finding and holding misgivings over the people they influence.
Additionally, bullies operate by promoting an exaggerated sense of loyalty by others for themselves. They act as their own publicist touting inflated stories of support by people who secretly do not support them at all. This in turn influences a going along with the crowd mentality. No one wants to be the naysayer or noticeable cog in the wheel of a seemingly united front.
In summary, exposing loyalty manipulation may help shed light on how bullying takes shape in a community. Identifying the misuse is a good place to start. If you can answer yes to any of the following questions there may be in an environment of bullying.
1.Have you felt an onslaught of favor or buttering-up in a effort to win your loyalties? 2. Have you felt pressured into a group’s mentality against someone or something or someone? 3. Have you feared retribution for not being loyal to someone’s agenda?
Combating bullying happens by becoming familiar with these and other signs. You can help by refusing to be swept into a bully’s manipulations. By not going along with the crowd when you see these signs happening—you will be slowing down the momentum of loyalty that keeps a bully in power.
One way we can make a difference in the anti-bullying movement is by shedding light on characteristics of a bully that often get overlooked.
We start with the characteristic of DISCREDITING. A bully’s power of control can be found in this pervasive action. The New Oxford American Dictionary describes the word “discredit” as a way to harm a reputation (a person, piece of evidence, or idea) causing it to seem false or unreliable. In other words, it’s a deliberate weakening of someone’s reputation in order to strengthen ones own. Bullies can easily garner support by others in this way. Onlookers stay silent because they do not want to become the target of similar treatment, or they are tricked into believing the discrediting stories are actually true. Unfortunately, this allows the bully to gain substantial power. This dynamic can be found in schools, homes, families, work, church, etc. Bullies can be children or adults, and all sexes. Here are a few questions that will help you identify this particular quality in a bully.
1. Is there a “repeated” pattern of discrediting?
2. Are people afraid to speak positively about the person being discredited?
3. Does the discrediting somehow boost the position or reputation of the one discrediting?
One of the greatest ways to combat a bully is simply by recognizing this characteristic. If we see multiple people being discredited by a person or group—it should raise a red flag immediately. Our refusal to be drawn into believing the discrediting news begins the process of empowerment. Not only for us but for the person being bullied. There is comfort and strength we give a bullied-human when we turn our backs on the bully’s persuasions. The act of not automatically embracing a bad story is life-giving. Even if it seems convincing. Consider the source and ask the questions above. If you can answer yes to any of the questions then you might be dealing with a bully.