While most of us try to become more kind and thoughtful as we age, sadly, some people just don't (or can't) do this and they wind up being bullies. (Yes, there is such a thing as a grown-up bully.)
As a model with an online presence, I've been on the receiving end of some pretty unsavory behavior. I've read nasty comments about my appearance. (I've since stopped reading.) People have asked me about my "real job," since being a plus-sized model could never amount to a career. Friends have laughed in my face and wished me luck when I told them what I wanted to do with my life. On jobs, I've been told that I didn't look "right."
Perhaps you can relate? Maybe you've had a "friend" who always makes you the butt of joke? Or maybe you're working for a boss who thinks you're his verbal punching bag. Or maybe you know someone who always disses your latest project in subtle but painful ways.
At some point, we've probably all felt a desire to snap in these situations. But what if I told you that there are a handful of nice ways to get back at your bully and leave them starry-eyed, apologetic, and begging for your friendship? The cliché is true; the best way to stop the aggressor is by being the bigger person .... but what does that mean?
Here are 5 tried-and-true ways to keep the jerks off your back and beat bullying:
1. Don't reply with a quick retort.
I was on a job once where the art director kept praising the model I was working with, gushing about her successful career while basically ignoring me. At the end of the day he gave me a sneer and said "good luck." I resisted the urge to say something, which wound up being a good move—I was the one who somehow landed the cover of the shoot.
By retaliating with a snappy comment, you’re joining the bully committee and leaving the door wide open for future attacks. Instead, shut them down by showing you’re unaffected by their comments. Be patient and soon enough, they’ll be picking on someone their own size (or hopefully, no one at all).
2. Prove them wrong.
After I graduated from college, I dated someone who flat-out told me that my career goals were too lofty and that I'd never fit be "type" of person I aspired to become. Thankfully, I'd had some practice with this kind of treatment from my days as an athlete. Back when I was training for softball, if someone told me that I couldn’t do something, I used that comment as motivation during training. You think I can’t beat that time? Just watch me. So when that (now ex) boyfriend doubted that I could be a model at size 14, I was extra-inspired to prove him wrong. Years later, it feels good to thrive and to have married a man who believes in me!
3. Get curious about their motives.
Most bullies are mean or rude because they're actually upset at something in their own lives; you just happen to be in their destructive path. Find forgiveness in your heart, and move on. You might get an apology later, and you might learn what was going on in their lives. That doesn’t mean you have to be friends, but you can be polite, especially if they’re in your circle of friends.
Once, I went out of my way to attend a friend's company party and was ignored the entire night. For a while, I thought he was doing this on purpose, and I went home, fuming. Later I found out he had been overwhelmed with all of the clients he had to entertain. He had been so busy that he didn't even notice I was there. He soon apologized over lunch, and understanding his perspective made it so much easier to let go of my resentment.
4. Defriend judiciously.
Okay, so they’ve really been a Class A Jerk. They've stepped into the totally-unacceptable and hard-to-forgive-zone. That doesn’t mean you have to de-friend them on social media. It's an understandable knee-jerk reaction, but this only gives them the joy of knowing that they've accomplished what they set out to do: hurt you.
Once I de-friended an ex on Facebook and I later heard that he laughed at me for doing so. I was annoyed that he had the pleasure of knowing that he'd affected me. If you find yourself in this situation and wanting to de-friend someone, see if you can post a picture or quote on your page about how happy you are, or something totally unrelated to the feelings this person triggered in you. They'll be so confused and move on.
If, however, you are being bullied, go ahead and de-friend that person, online and in real life. If they ask, “Why did you defriend me?” remember that you don’t owe anyone an answer. Your reasons are your reasons.
5. Build a bully-free zone and stick up for others.
If someone in your group is gossiping about someone else, (like your office is talking about a colleague's weight), let them know that’s not OK. Most likely, they'll either be embarrassed or get defensive. Either way, you’ve squashed the bullying and sent the message that this rudeness is not welcome around you. My husband and I have a rule: if we hear anyone say anything remotely mean around us, we squash the negativity and do our part to spread good karma.
By being a positive and supportive friend, you’ll create bully-free zones with everyone you meet. This will make everyone around you feel more positive and uplifted. There’s no greater feeling than growing a community of supportive friends with whom you're proud to associate.