How to handle adult bullying

 man upset by female coworkers gossiping

Bullying isn’t only a problem for children and teenagers.

Adults are being bullied at levels similar to adolescents, according to a 2017 survey conducted on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association.

The online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults found that 31 percent of Americans have been bullied as an adult. The survey defined bullying as being subjected to repeated, negative behavior intended to harm or intimidate.

Bullies look for and target people who pose a threat to them in the workplace. They will frequently target someone who is smart, competent and well liked. Bullying – and its subsequent impact on mental and physical health – may happen in the workplace, home and educational settings.

How can being bullied affect your health?

In the recent survey, adult victims of bullying reported significant negative impacts on their health, including suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. Some suffered a loss of confidence, while others complained of insomnia, headaches, muscle tension or pain.

Bullying in the workplace can create a toxic environment in which the victims are unable to concentrate because they’re so focused on self-preservation. Victims may become more susceptible to illness, and they may start to question their abilities, leading to feelings of inadequacy and reluctance to share new ideas in the workplace.

What kinds of behavior patterns do adult bullies have?

Sadly people who were bullies at school likely grow up to be bullies in the work place. The approach changes from physical bullying to “death by character assassination.”

Adult bullies may ignore you, then act like they’re your best friend when the situations serve them well. They’re quick to assign blame and point fingers when something goes wrong. And equally quick to claim your good ideas as their own.

They engage in the repeated mistreatment of one or more people through humiliation, intimidation and passive-aggressive sabotage, along with coercion, punishment, belittling, embarrassment, revenge and threatening behaviors.

What should you do if you are being bullied?

Don’t react to the attack. Bullies live for the reaction. Rather, listen carefully, and respond as the voice of reason, identifying the not-well-thought-through aspects of the bully’s point.

Be aware of the bully’s behaviors, and keep a paper trail of emails to document their bad behavior. Keep your head down and your paper work done, so that when the bully attacks you’ve maintained your productivity.

Use humor to your advantage, because bullies want to cause pain. Know the truth and speak it, showing your ability and knowledge in meetings. Bullies often don’t know the facts.

How can you take care of yourself after being bullied?

Engage in positive self-talk. Don’t give the bully “free rent” in your head. Be aware that bullies frequently aren’t creators of new knowledge, so choose your battles wisely.

Be persistent, open and honest. Chances are the bully isn’t going to change. Be you, keep the ideas coming and keep your options open. Rely on your skills and strengths and keep trusted peers close. Realize the expectations of the work place and meet these expectations.

Don’t run to your supervisor to complain about a bully, but don’t avoid the opportunity to explain what is happening when the time is right.

Avoid thinking bullies aren’t bad people. Assuming bullies have been bullied can cause you to let your guard down. Remember that everyone is equally as vulnerable to bullying – no one is immune.

The worst thing is to feel trapped in a difficult work situation, but don’t jump to another job just because of bullying. There’s always the chance you’ll find another bully at the next job.

If you do have to change positions, be certain to use your exit interview to the fullest extent. Provide detailed accounts of processes, attacks and a lack of intervention by administration, if this is the case.

Ken Yeager is director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.