Dealing with the Adult Bully

Her boss was angry. He wanted her to begin planting the seeds to a co-worker about the eventual phasing out of her job. When she refused to do so, the treatment was harsh and his abuse became focused on her. Suddenly, she could do no right.

His wife was angry. It seemed like he could do nothing to please her. Most days she blew up his phone with angry texts in order to get him to do what she wanted. ‘If you were worth anything.. .’ ‘If you cared at all.. .’ ‘If you ever leave me, I’ll make your life a living hell.’ All the while, they served on the local church council and were members of the best clubs in town – they were modeling the perfect family. This was going to be a long life.

Antagonists are a part of every good story. A hero needs a villain to round out the tale, but dealing with the antagonist in your day-to-day life can be daunting and confusing – I’m talking of course, about the adult bully.

Bullying is an abusive behavior that happens all the time. Sometimes its offenses are obvious, but often it is so subtle and nuanced; it’s hard to understand what’s happening in the moment.  Sometimes bullying happens like a slow boil.

Here’s the thing about bullies –they are controllers and manipulators who are trying to gain power over you in order to satisfy themselves in some way. They use anger, blame, deflection, and finger pointing to try and make you behave a certain way; which in turn makes them feel more comfortable about themselves.

Bullies try to throw you off your game.   Because their thinking is irrational, you will hardly ever be able to tell exactly why. It is linked some way to their self-preservation. Bullying is the Neanderthal approach to communication.

Bullies try to take your power so they feel more powerful.

Here’s the secret - you don’t have to let them.

Adult bullies come in all shapes and sizes – they are in the C-suite, the locker room, in the cube next to you or maybe behind you at the checkout. Sometimes you’ll find them lying beside you in bed – and sadly, sometimes they are staring back at you in the mirror – sometimes we are the bully. At times, I have been the bully.

Bullies cannot let you be you – they need you to be, do, and act a certain way in order for them to be ok with them. This is quite the opposite of love in case you’re wondering.

Here are the 5 things I’ve learned that help me effectively manage my encounters with the adult bully:

  1. Bullies will try to push you to your limit so you’ll react and they can make the problem about you. Don’t lose your cool. Take it from me, telling your boss (no matter how deserving) to F*ck off is not the way to go. I may or may not have done this. Twice.
  2. Talk less, listen more.  Don’t engage the bully, they’re not listening.
  3. Instead detach with love. I have a series of one liners I like to use: I’m sorry you feel that way…That must be really difficult…What I hear you saying is..
  4. Don’t give away your power. Bullies will find your secret insecurity and try to exploit it.     Don’t let them. There might be a small kernel of truth in their complaint – but that’s all it is - a small kernel. Remember, it’s not the whole truth about you. Everyone has weaknesses. Don’t let the bully define you by yours.
  5. Set good boundaries. Remember, you get to control what you allow into your life. Know and understand what you will and won’t accept. Be very clear – ‘it is not ok when.. .’


ere’s the thing to remember, the bully is trying to gain power over you. But you don’t have to give them that power. The way to do this is not to engage but to disengage.  Don’t let the bully be a distraction, keep your focus on you and what you want out of life. You’ll see slowly, the bully’s power over you will begin to dissolve – eventually, they will become like a pestering gnat. Their attempts to draw you in will be fruitless.

Here's to making it great.