Bullying – what does it truly mean?

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Bullying – what does it truly mean?

If asked this question most men would answer, “I am definitely not a bully”. But what if we are and we just don’t realise it? What if the truth is that, as men, we actually use a wide range of bullying behaviours, taught to us from a very young age, which we use against both men and women on a regular basis?

Bullying can be physical, verbal or emotional, and especially recently there has been a wider recognition of what is bullying and the devastation it brings.

However, we may need an even broader definition of bullying – one which encompasses the subtlety of the undercover, sometimes unconscious, everyday bullying which is just as damaging, if not more so.

Any behaviour that is used to subjugate, dominate or manipulate another person in any way can be considered bullying.

Anything that we do that does not allow another person the freedom to express without the fear of a reaction being directed at them, is bullying.

As men, we have an enormous arsenal we can use. Many of the weapons are very subtle, and some are quite overt, but all are used in a way to keep other people 'in line', to make them behave in a way that we want them to, or to keep the upper hand in a relationship, whether it is an intimate relationship, a friendship or with casual acquaintances.

It is easy to point at:

  • The guy who yells at people
  • The guy who hits his partner
  • The guy who intimidates his co-workers ...

... and label them as a “bully”.

But what about considering the following subtle behaviours as possible forms of bullying:

Holding the upper hand in a conversation by adopting a certain tone

Often, when we discuss something with someone who holds a different opinion to ours, we may try to convince them that we are right and they are wrong – not by stating our opinion honestly and directly, but by adopting a tone that implies that we are right. Does our outlook on some aspects of life allow for differing points of view to exist harmoniously?

The tone we adopt can be used to suggest that the other person should change their point of view to ours. If we behave this way in conversation we are in fact bullying, for we are imposing our opinion on them.

The way we say something can undermine a person’s confidence and cause them to be unsure of where they stand if they are not being directly told that they are wrong, or what they may be incorrect about. It keeps them walking on eggshells, unsure of when they are making a mis-step. In the worst case this can lead to anxiety whenever someone needs to speak to us, or plant a devastating seed of self-doubt that is carried over to the way they communicate with other people as well.

Lying with the truth

Our partner wants to go out and needs us to mind the kids. We say, “Sure, honey, you go.” But our voice and body language say, “Why should I have to mind the kids? I had something else I wanted to do!” We can present ourselves as accommodating and reasonable, but if we are not speaking the truth about how we feel, we can create a sense of guilt in them for going and doing what they want.

Another way we can lie with the truth is by 'sharing' how another person has hurt us. Our sharing may be true. We may have felt hurt by their actions, and it is important to express this, but our reaction to others is always our choice, our responsibility. We may set up the sharing by appearing to be open and vulnerable, expressing the truth, but actually we are blaming them and trying to make them feel guilty for expressing their truth, as a way of making sure they do not 'hurt' us again, rather than opening up the dialogue to gain mutual understanding as to what was really going on for both parties.

Radiating anger or rage without expressing it

We all know how uncomfortable it is when someone is angry but does not openly express that anger, because we feel it whether they express it or not. When we are angry with someone but do not open the subject for discussion, we are still holding the other person to ransom. By not expressing what caused the anger we may even deny to ourselves and to others that we are angry at all.

This is the classic, “What’s wrong?” – “Nothing” conversation. This denial does not change the anger that is coming through our every action, sending a message to other people to, “Watch out, I’m going to blow”. This can lead others to try to make things better for us because they are trying to make the anger that they feel directed at them stop, but they do not know why it is coming their way.

We may be angry about something that has happened earlier in the day, but the people we are with later on still feel that anger. By not openly acknowledging that something has angered us, the people we are with who were not connected with the cause of our anger still feel it. Our presence in these situations can easily be intimidating for others and we can be bullying and manipulating others’ behaviour without even recognising it.

We can see how some forms of behaviour that may not usually be called bullying can have the exact same effect as the more easily recognised as bullying.

The question for us to ponder on is, why do we engage in such behaviours?

If we are able to recognise that many of our behaviours may in fact be subtle forms of bullying, then we can begin to appreciate that the effect of these may be limiting the intimacy we experience in all our relationships.

We are all very sensitive and tender beings in our core, and when someone imposes on us we naturally protect ourselves by not letting them get too close.

If we can gradually move toward truly allowing others just to be as they choose, without feeling any judgement or imposition from us, then they may feel safer to share their true inner beauty and tenderness with us.

That would be a joyful unfolding for us all

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