“I don’t want to be the bully” – self reflection and support to break negative patterns.

This text is written in the context of Nordic Larp and is about bullying between adults primarily, or older teens. It is not about children and teens bullying each other in a school setting. It is not about reasonable consequences to breaking laws or the rules of a particular organization or larp run. As I wrote it I realized it I needed it to be in personal form even though I hope the post can still help others.

I’m also not writing from the perspective of a victim of bullying, which I find is more common theme for texts like this. Instead the focus is about recognizing the parts of my psyche which makes me say that it’s important that I self reflect and avoid falling into using bullying tactics. It is important that I acknowledge this is a harmful side I have to me and I must do my best to counter these impulses and behaviors. I am hoping me writing about it makes other people self reflect and abstain from bullying behavior and support their friends away from using bullying tactics.

I’m going to start with talking about the mechanics of bullying in organisations and communities in general. I’ve been taking most of this from the Wikipedia article on bullying and edited on brevity and clarity. Then I move on to my personal experiences.

“It is the use of force, coercion, hurtful teasing or threat, to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception (by the bully or by others) of an imbalance of physical or social power. This imbalance distinguishes bullying from conflict. Bullying is a subcategory of aggressive behavior characterized by the following three criteria: hostile intent, imbalance of power, and repetition over a period of time. Bullying is the activity of repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt another individual, physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Bullying ranges from one-on-one, individual bullying through to group bullying, called mobbing, in which the bully may have one or more “lieutenants” who are willing to assist the primary bully in their bullying activities. Bullying in school and the workplace is also referred to as “peer abuse”. The Swedish-Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus says bullying occurs when a person is “exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons”, and that negative actions occur “when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways”. Individual bullying is usually characterized by a person behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.

A bullying culture can develop in any context in which humans interact with each other.

Behaviors used to assert such domination may include physical assault or coercion, verbal harassment, or threat, and such acts may be directed repeatedly toward particular targets. Rationalizations of such behavior sometimes include differences of social class, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, behavior, body language, personality, reputation, lineage, strength, size, or ability.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying


In school I was severely bullied, and yes is was physical and quite violent. One long term effect of getting that kind of treatment is that you also get socialized differently, especially from a lot of other people who were assigned female at birth. It meant that my limits on what is acceptable social behavior became somewhat damaged and it will possibly take a lifetime to work on. I sometimes refer to the story of the rhinoceros kid:

“The rhinoceros kids gets shoved, whether it walks or stands still, so in the end the rhinoceros kid will do whatever it will.”

Which basically means that if a person gets punished no matter if they fulfill or fail expected behavior, they will eventually rebel. Not entirely true, as some people turn inwards and instead become invisible, trying to avoid punishment. It was easy for me to justify verbal behavior because at least I wasn’t hitting people.

For me the worst triggers of my bullying behavior is: Sudden Anger, Fear for me and/or peers or feeling hopeless.
When I get mad enough, although I’ve gotten much better there I need to stop. I can try taking deep breaths, excusing myself from the situation, taking a walk, drink some water, maybe talk to a trusted friend.
The other is when I feel afraid/threaten or that my peers (in very broad definition) is under threat. This second one is much harder and where I feel I have often, even when I’ve tried to rein myself in both been egged on by others or my behaviors have been rationalized.
Hopelessness is often when I perceive there is something wrong, and I’m trying to stop the bad thing from happening, but I feel that the people around me “don’t get me” or arguing that “there is no problem”.

The most common response when I’ve tried to ask others for guidance have been “No Karin you’re not being a bully, he/they deserve it.” I see the point to the statement, there is a certain kind of righteous anger that can be used to handle great injustice and I think this is what they are thinking of. But for me it’s often about my behavior, what am I DOING in the situation? Me saying I think I might be going to far, is because something in me is ringing the alarm bell and I am asking for support in stopping, not validation to keep going. Sometimes I need a walk, someone checking in with me or something that distracts me.

So what do I think helps me, and what support can others who might be questioning their own behavior ask for?

  • Listen to what I’m asking. Am I asking for validation that I’m right in attacking, or help to step down and breathe?
  • I find for my self it helps to not be so quick to respond, to breathe, step back and ask for some time to think over my response. I usually put a two day limit to think about things that happen suddenly in our hobby. I do listen/read many different sources and I do try to think about people context and background.
  • It often get’s much worse if I feel my peers are expecting me to be the “fighter” in the situation and that I lack support in working on positive change. Show me I am not alone and I will be calmer. This does not mean joining into what might be a mob, but maybe calmly interject your support or validating that yes it is unfair.
  • Step in if a certain person seems to have been cast in the role of a scapegoat for something that is more of a systemic problem.
  • I try to hold in my mind that I think all humans deserve to be treated humanely. Sure, some of them might need consequences to their actions but I don’t need to use bullying to enforce or support those consequences.
  • “Am I mad at this person, or actually mad or frightened about something else or someone else?”
  • Even if I do abstain from violence it can also be important to be clear in my language and body language that I will not use violence. They don’t know my stance on violence and what goes on in my head and I can look quite mean. Sitting down is a good de-escalation, backing away from the other person.
  • My trauma is no excuse to traumatize others.
  • I have to recognize I am often the more powerful and influential than the other one. Which is why it would be bullying and not an equal conflict.

I also have some other more general things I try to think about when it comes to general mood in groups and communities that is not so much about when I’m already in a foul mood.

  • Say Hi. If you can help someone feel welcome and seen at a gathering please do so. I’ve been saved from being a ball of anxiety by having someone more established just say hi and smile at me. It doesn’t mean they have to start a conversation. Many have experience of feeling excluded and invisible in a group.
  • Don’t let someone who you’ve had a fight with believe you are still mad at them if you no longer are. I work on this a lot. It’s hard. I’ve been stuck both in not wanting to say sorry if I was factually right, and that saying sorry for my behavior feels like a fake excuse, even if I truly mean it. Or thinking the other person would be harmed even from me sending them my apology.
  • Don’t enforced the gendered stereotypes that women can’t be scary, or that a man who gets scared of a woman is unmanly.

I actually found this How to stop being a bully to be full of good advice as well.

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