Adult Bullying: Feeling Good When You’re Being Pushed Around

Adult Bullying: Feeling Good When You’re Being Pushed Around

“I’m just being honest”
“But you know, it’s just because I care.”
“I’m just watching out for you.”
“If I can’t tell you, who can?”

Ever heard something like this, supposedly said in your best interests, but instantly felt utterly shitty inside?

I’m not talking about genuine concern or healthy, respectful discourse – I’m talking about those times someone has made you feel guilty, ungrateful, second-class, or just plain dumb.

It’s passive-aggression and manipulation at its finest: you’re being told something that hurts under the guide of it being for your “own good.”

We’re all familiar with these relationships. So familiar, you can probably think of one or two instances off the top of your head.

When others cut you down, you start to watch yourself more – like a commentator giving a play-by-play analysis of each thought, decision, and action you take. And self-censoring is a nice sturdy foundation for negative talk patterns to be built upon.

I’ve always, always had these reoccurring passive-aggressive bully characters pop up in my life, which made my inner sports commentator determine that I was viewed as a runner-up, second-best type of girl. The weird thing is, I knew in my heart I was a leader and that given the opportunity to excel on my own, I was way more than just capable – I was actually able to, dare I say it, connect and inspire. Go figure!

But – a big “but” – the way I was being pushed around made me wary of owning that fact. The fact that I could do it, the fact that I didn’t need someone’s approval or advice beforehand. I would constantly wrestle with striving to fulfill my own ambition and checking in with others to see what was “right.” I would feel pulled in so many different directions without even knowing what was really going on.

And then one day, I decided I’d had enough. At that point, I was not just stagnant in my life, I was moving around in circles. The same patterns would repeat and I’d find myself crying in frustration, sinking into bouts of depression without telling anyone about how deeply it was affecting me. 

And so this week, when I was asked by Megan at Humble Rebel what I’ve quit and never regretted, I didn’t even hesitate when I said: Allowing myself to be sneakily pushed around.

Here’s what to do if you’re being bullied:

1) Breathe. A friend recently posted on Facebook a little aside about the advice a doctor gave him – that a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth is “like writing a love note to every cell in your body.” (man I wish I could take credit for that imagery.) It’s true: whether you’ve honed a meditation/yoga practice or not, everyone should get into the habit of breathing deeply. Scientifically, it keeps your blood pressure from skyrocketing and feeds your cells with much-needed oxygen so they can function at their best. Purely subjectively, it feels damn good. And when you’re being pushed around, you need something to calm you down and make you feel damn good.

2) Shift your perspective. Remember hearing your parents say that people make fun of or bully others in order to make themselves feel better? Many times, that applies to us adults, too. Truly malicious people aside, many passive-aggressive bullies don’t intend to be mean or piss you off or make you sad – they mean to advise based on their own life experience and truth, deflect energy they’re feeling thrown at them from the world, or simply cope with their own surroundings and life choices. Remembering that “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about” prevents you from fully absorbing their hurtful words and the impact that follows.

(***Edit: this only applies in some cases. To read about dealing with bullies who INTEND to poke fun and push you down, or who use micro-aggressions over and over in a more serious manner, click here.**)
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3) Have a go-to confrontation phrase (or two). This is my favorite tip, and the one that’s proven the most helpful for me. Even if you’re “good” at confrontation, it’s usually not a pleasant activity, and you want to make sure you can stay cool, calm, and quasi-collected in the case the other person goes on the defensive or throws some nasty words your way. Not everyone is empathetic – that doesn’t mean you can’t be.

Some of my favorites:

    • “I know it’s not your intention, but when you say things like ____, I interpret it like _____.”
    • “When you say _____, I hear _____.”
    • “I feel _____ because ________.”
    • “I respect you for you – please respect me for me.”
    • “I understand where you’re coming from. But I need to do what’s right for me.”
    • “I appreciate your honesty, but here’s how I view it: ______.”
    • “That might be your truth, but this is mine.”
    • “I promise you – I’ve got this.”

And so on and so on. Just be sure you’re staying kind and firm. Especially if this is a relationship you value. It might be hard not to go off the handle, but you are strong (I know ’cause you’re reading this!), and you need to be the anchor in the conversation right now.

4) Immediately perform an easy yet impactful act of self-care. After hearing hurtful words, or standing up for yourself if the situation allowed for it, do something that makes you feel happy. Turn on your favorite radio station or podcast. Sing. Give people hugs. Give people compliments. Text someone you love and tell them how much you love them. Guaranteed you’ll feel at least 5% better immediately – and 5% is better than nothing at all! Performing an easy yet impactful act of self-care is like chugging down a strong dose of anti-meanness medication.
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adult bullying

I wish I could tell you that adult bullies fade away, but from what I’ve observed, they don’t – they just become senior-citizen-bullies. Just like negativity is a bonding tactic we learn from a very young age, bossing others around or being disrespectful is a habit that we can carry with us into old age if we allow ourselves to go there. We all slip and do it every so often – but if you can catch it when you feel the effects on the receiving end, you’ll be way, way less likely to do the same to others.
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Because everyone is truly fighting a battle others know nothing about. Because you should be playing in the game of your life, not censoring. And because every good commentator knows when it’s time to just sit back and let the athletes do their thing.

Action Plan time! What is your go-to confrontation phrase? Or, if you don’t have one yet, what’s one you’ll use next time you’re being pushed around?

Please share below in the comments – your phrase could be the one someone else has been searching for.


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  1. “I hear you, and am grateful for your concern, however I would like to experience this by working it out on my own.”

    I like to remind myself that when I am feeling bullied or confronted that it is most often their “stuff” being projected on me.

    • Katie says:

      I love this. Love the show of appreciation – and moreso, the acknowledgement that we all need to learn our own lessons. Thanks babe <3

  2. Emma Meyler says:

    I’m so bad at sticking up for myself & being firm! I’ve screenshoted the phrases to remind myself & practise & im determined to get better this year!

    • Katie says:

      I can SO relate, Emma. I used to be the poster child for Worst At Standing Up For Herself. It’s a constant journey and practice in awareness, respect, and fearlessness, but I KNOW you can do it. And I’m always here for you :) Happy Happy New Year to you and thank you for taking the time to comment – makes my day!

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