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Bullying and Boundaries

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Bullying and Boundaries


"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" - Eleanor Roosevelt.

If you are the victim of bullying the chances are that you think the opening quote is harsh and unfair and not applicable to you. But I'd like you to think about it a little more...and realise how liberating it is in reality. It means that you can CHOOSE how to react to the actions of a bully. Let me give you an example from one of my clients. She came to me complaining that a colleague often sneered at her and belittled her, calling her stupid and making sarcastic remarks at her expense. This was causing her a lot of grief. So one question I asked her was did he treat everyone this way or just her? She paused and admitted that she was in a minority. She noted that there were some people in her workplace that he treated respectfully and it was nothing to do with their position. So we explored what she thought they did differently and she recognised that these people had an invisible shield around them that seemed to prevent bullies even attempting to belittle them. At this stage she was really fed up of this colleague's behaviour, so she was willing to try anything. We devised a strategy whereby she would enlist some psychological support from her friends beforehand, then she asked to speak to the bully in private. Let's call him John. She asked him calmly and clearly to stop making insulting and belittling remarks to her. He blustered and denied the accusation at first, using the bully staple of accusing her of having "no sense of humour". She asked him again and eventually he apologised. She had then agreed to call a friend afterwards to debrief and exult in her newfound strength! Things were going fine but then he made a comment and she asked him again in a clear neutral way to stop saying those things to her. And that was it. He stopped completely. In fact a couple of months afterwards I asked how he was and she told me that they had actually become quite good friends.

Set and guard your boundaries
What had my client done? She had set her boundaries and stuck to them. Boundaries are what we use to tell people what we will and will not accept. We teach people how to treat us. Quite often, bullies are unaware of the devastation their comments and actions are causing and when pointed out to them in a calm, strong unemotional way can be quite apologetic for their actions. Of course, you can argue that you can't do that with your boss. But do you want to do something about it (and perhaps save many other people from misery?) or do you want to do (as I heard one man on the radio did) stay in a job where you are disrespected and bullied for 8 years? And of course (and this is where you need to be honest with yourself...) there are some people who just enjoy being victims and all the attention that they can get... Is that you?

Handling the situation
If you are being bullied at work, 1. Clearly define what behaviour you want the person to stop e.g. "Please do not shout at me when asking me to do something". If you feel that you could get too emotional, rehearse it with a friend, and find a way to release the emotion. Be prepared for the person to blame you and deny the effect of the behaviour. Stay strong though! 2. If the person repeats the behaviour, ask them again to stop. Of course, if you can't do that at the time, return to the person again and ask them to stop. 3. Develop allies to give you support...whether inside or outside the company. But don't get stuck in complaining mode. Too many people spend years complaining about their situation instead of actually doing anything about it. 4. Keep a written record of all the incidents in which you are bullied. This will be vital if you ever decide to pursue the legal route. 5. Make sure your supervisor is told about the situation in writing. 6. Work on your boundaries. Practise saying ‘no’ to situations and people that don't serve you. You could begin with low-risk situations to begin developing your boundary muscles.

Remember, the bullies behaviour is about THEM, not you....



Andersen Counselling & Advice, Chelmsford, Essex UK.
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