Have you ever spent time around a self-centered bully?

In TV shows and movies about these tyrants, the hero, or anti-hero, defeats the bad bully through ingenuity and strength. That strength does not usually come from brute force. It is often kindness that wins the day.

Over the years, I’ve faced such brutal verbal attacks by a tormentor that I made myself less-than in an effort to find a win/win. I’ve shrunk my posture, skimped my words, tried to take up less space in the world. There have been times I have stood strong, unbreaking against the mean person. Both efforts were what I discerned the situation called for, but with either approach, I’ve not won. In the first, I lose a piece of myself. In the second, I lose peace of mind.

I’m a life-long redhead known for being stubborn and headstrong. Are those simpler, kinder words for “bully?” I do not like to think so. I’m sure you could find people in my past who would declare, “Yes, RoseMary bullied me….” They would describe some act I’d be horrified to remember. The more awful if I had no memory of being such a person toward them.

Yet, here are two times I admit to

Around eighteen years ago, I worked in a three-person office—two women and one fellow. He drove me crazy continually trying to read my mind for what I wanted him to do. I never asked him to attempt this trick—my mind is a scary place to be. I wanted him to do his job, which, while demanding, wasn’t difficult. The harder he tried to please me, the tougher I was on him. I’m not proud of my behavior and the end result was that he quit. Several months later, he came back to visit. 

He looked quite imposing in full military dress, standing tall, doffing his hat as he walked in. With a stroke of humor, he presented a gift for me from Fort Irwin, in the brutal Mojave Desert—a miniature saber letter-opener. He told me my behavior toward him, sharp and pointed, showed him he needed to learn to stand up for himself. He loved the Army, the self-confidence they instilled, and graciously hugged me for helping him get there.

Although my participation in his story had a happy ending, how I treated him never sat well with me. 

When we were seven year olds, a still-loved cousin and I were playing a game. I said something that tipped this normally mellow fellow over his sweet natured edge and he hit me as hard as he could smack in the gut. He took the wind out of my being-in-charge sails literally and figuratively when he blurted with kid wisdom, “You’re not the boss of me!”

Is it victory?

What does a bully win, I have wondered, each time he/she defeats their opponent by browbeating and humiliation, by deploying thoroughly unwarranted attacks? 

Do bullies attain a sense of validation from berating others and making them feel small?

What a terrible way to go through life.

The bullies, loving their inflated egos, miss out on life’s joy. @ABAonline @StopBullyingGov #bullying Click To Tweet

Egomaniacal tyrants are unpopular for a reason

Does anyone, outside Hollywood heroes, ever win against a self-proclaimed, narcissistic, most-noteworthy-in-their-world person? How can you fight such deeply ingrained self-important logic? If a person’s paradigm is that they are of extreme importance to the world, of more value to it than you and your insignificant opinions or needs, how do you impact that? I’m not sure we can. 

That level of bully-self-assurance demands professional help.

As that tot fighting with her cousin, tears filled my eyes as I rushed to Mom to tell her Tim knocked the air out of me. My wise mother would have asked, “What did you do to prompt that?” Not implying that Tim was right to hit me—ours was not a physically violent family—but more to place blame where it could have belonged: On her redheaded kid’s shoulders.

Perhaps I would have admitted to part of the truth, perhaps not. I was never very good at lying to either parent. They were good detectives at sussing out when their tots told the truth or conspired against it.

Mom would have called her sister-in-law, who would have reprimanded my cousin. Mom would have given me a stern talking to about not ordering the neighborhood kids around—ninety-five percent of them cousins. Tim and I were probably mad at each other for a hot summer’s day, forgot about the fight, and went back to be best friends. Years later, I made sure he knew how valuable a lesson he taught this domineering kid. He helped me learn to deliver my message in better words.

What bullies fail to comprehend

The bullies, living in their own inflated universes, are missing out on life’s joy. With each action declaring superiority, carrying their puffed up egos around, they miss opportunities to be kind. They miss sharing vulnerability, connecting on emotional levels.

My older sister and I were discussing some things our mother did employing her wicked sense of humor. She was a dastardly minx who loved to howl with laughter. Mary had the patience of Job when setting up a joke. Mom would tumble the pieces into place, quietly standing back to watch what happened. Her mischief was good natured, in fun, always with the intent of keeping our lives light. From her, Jackie and I talked about Dad and how he brightened a room every time he entered one. People welcomed him and enjoyed spending time with him.

We discussed some of the persecutors we have had the misfortune to know. That sometimes despite the acerbic front they put on, we are able to find the kind heart inside. You take a chance and stand up to them, alerting them to how they make you feel. Their behavior may not become saintly, but you sense a subtle change—at least toward you. If you’re fortunate, your friendship may sway that person’s world view, to a different way to approach people.

Egotism at work

Sometimes, the bully’s self-righteous is such that to save your soul, you purge them—friends or family, that they be. Anything you say to them, because of their unrestrained sense of self, holds no worth. Your opinion will be written-off as inconsequential. They believe in their core that you cannot possibly find fault with them. That is the time to withdraw from their negative orbit. Move onto others, to the folks who lift you up and bring joy into your life.

Like our parents were so good at doing.

Our anti-bullying effect on others

Those who care about the impact they have on the world around them, are the people I try to emulate. They are the non-bullies who want to share smiles with others, not battles—that’s who I want to be. Not that person who drives someone to enlist in the Army—even if he loves it.

I want to reach into my inner recesses to find the best me I am capable of being. She will stand as that person against the tormentors. Winning or losing isn’t what matters—the balance between those places is a commonality we can share. That middle ground is where we achieve peace of mind being our honest, faulty selves, in the face of adversity. 

**

Read: Childhood Music Memories