I would like to think that, if I were being bullied, I would recognise it and do something about the situation.
Bullying is when one person uses their superior strength or influence to intimidate another person, typically to force them to do something.
I’ve been asked to write about this issue by a client who, through our work together, has discovered that the controlling behaviour and shrewdness associated with bullying and manipulation are sometimes so subtle that the person on the receiving end doesn’t even realise it is going on.
What’s more, such behaviour can be packaged up in all sorts of socially and culturally acceptable norms, and buried under feelings of obligation, love or habit, which make it very difficult to recognise. Until, that is, the pressure to comply becomes overwhelming and leads to a breakdown of some sort.
Take a moment to reflect on your relationships. Is there someone in your life who:
• Exerts power over you?
• Has expectations that you feel you have to live up to?
• Has somehow convinced you that not meeting those expectations will have dire consequences for you?
• Won’t take ‘no’ for an answer?
• Guilt-trips you and makes you feel bad?
• Is quick to label you as ‘wrong’, ‘disrespectful’, ‘undeserving’ and ‘difficult’ if you don’t submit to them?
• Only has space in their life for their own needs; your needs are non-existent?
• Has a ‘my way’ or ‘no way’ approach to life?
If you do, and you are persistently trying to make this person happy, then you are being used and abused. You are being bullied.
Are you the daughter-in-law who has spent years bending over backwards to please your mother-in-law, but to no avail? It doesn’t matter how much you do, she still demands more, and continually sends out the message that it is (or you are) not good enough!
Are you the husband who does everything your wife wants, only to find that you now have no say in your own life? You have lost all sense of your own needs and wishes and become enmeshed in a life designed entirely by her.
Are you the conscientious team member in your workplace who continually shoulders a disproportionately high workload? You have been doing this for so long that it has now become the norm. You watch others getting away with doing little, while you are expected to do more and more.
Are you the friend who is always there for others in their time of need, but when you have a problem no one has the time or desire to listen to you?
These are just a few of the recent examples of relationship issues that I have come across in my practice, where the power dynamics are seriously out of balance, causing misery and pain.
So, if you recognise any of these patterns in your own life, what can you do about it?
1. Acknowledge It
Knowledge really is power. And lack of awareness is what hands over the power to the manipulator. The key to taking back your control is to become aware that these subtle forms of manipulation are at play in your life. Awareness instantly stops you being a puppet in someone else’s life.
2. Take Back Your Power
As you begin to recognise what is really going on in your relationship(s), you will become more alert to the games others are playing. So the next time someone tries to pull those strings in your inner and outer life, you can stop reacting unconsciously, and consciously choose whether or not to respond.
3. Set Your Boundaries
In some cases, you can simply choose to terminate a one-sided relationship. However, this is not always possible in family and work situations. In those cases, you need to establish and maintain strong boundaries. Boundaries are simply guidelines, rules or limits that you, as an individual, create to identify for yourself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for others to behave around you.
4. Know Your Limits
You cannot set good boundaries if you are unsure where you stand in relation to the world. So identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. Consider what you can tolerate and accept, and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Listening to your feelings is a critical step in this process of reclaiming your power. Your emotions carry powerful messages from the deeper parts of your being; messages that need to be recognised and accepted.
5. Learn To Be Assertive
Once you have a sense of what you can tolerate and accept, learn to communicate this clearly, calmly and directly to others in your life. Assertiveness is a balancing act between your needs and the needs of others. It is not about always getting your own way, at all costs. That is aggression. Nor is it about consistently putting others’ needs ahead of your own. That is being passive. It is about taking each unique situation as it arises; calmly deciding how you feel about what you are being asked to do; weighing up the costs and benefits of each decision for yourself and for others; making a decision; and then communicating that decision clearly to others.
6. Strengthen Your Sense Of Self
It is easy to manipulate a person who has a weak sense of self and feels that their self-worth is tied up in other people’s positive feedback and approval. Work on strengthening your self-esteem by recognising, acknowledging and valuing your own goodness. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself, undertake personal development work, learn something new, and make a positive contribution to the world.
7. Disarm The Guilt
Manipulators have numerous weapons in their armoury (complaining, comparing, lying, denying, feigning ignorance, blaming, bribing, undermining, playing mind games, being aggressive) but the one they love is the guilt trip. They are experts at making you feel absolutely terrible when you do not conform to their wishes and comply with their demands. While pure, natural guilt is a healthy human emotion, which acts as the voice of your conscience, the kind of guilt stirred up by a master manipulator is neither natural nor healthy. It is nothing but a manipulation tool. Once you recognise this you can simply ignore it.
8. See the Bully For What They Truly Are
Bullies are often weak, damaged people who prop up their own fragile sense of self by exerting power over others. If you can try to see through their manipulative behaviour, and explore the bully’s past, you may be able to connect with them from a place of compassion and understanding. But, always remember, they need to do whatever they need to do to heal themselves. They are not your responsibility. Your duty is to look after your own mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.
So the next time someone asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, step back and assess the situation, particularly the role you are playing in allowing that person to control you.
Bullying is bullying, no matter how sweetly and cleverly it is packaged up.
As Michael J. Fox once said, “One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalised and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.”
If you enjoyed reading this article, then be sure to join my mailing list by downloading my free e-book “Balanced Living: The 11 Simple Secrets of a Happy Healthy Life” from the home page of my website: www.harinderghatora.co.uk.