When we talk about bullying today, we often focus on children. However, bullying can happen in the adult arena as well. It can be particularly painful when adult women are bullied by other women in their lives, whether co-workers, family members, or women within our circle of friends.
Bullying’s Primitive Roots
Some of the bullying behavior among women is rooted in biology. For example, according to Dr. Anne Campbell, our primitive female ancestor had to be competitive to fight for that male who would protect, feed and shelter both she and her young. But she also needed female alliances and sacrificed her own feelings to reach out toward other women as a source of both comfort and safety. Therefore, it is particularly painful to become the target of bullying as it takes away that safety net of relationship from the victim. By withholding emotional support, the bullied woman loses her connection to a perceived source of comfort. This is very destructive, and in essence, a form of abuse.
Girls who bully
According to Dr. Cheryl Dellasega, female children who bully often grow into adult women who bully. What happens as female bullies get older is that they become more sophisticated and subtle in the way that they target others. Many times the in-group or cool clique support targeting. This aggressive behavior frightens its members, both girls and women, to go along in order to get along. Further, when women bully, they can elevate their own feelings by diminishing those of others, as they gossip, discount, reject, demean and exclude the focus of their enmity. These behaviors sabotage any opportunity for direct, honest and healthy friendship.
Responding to the adult bully
As adults, we have full control over how we live our lives, and the people we allow into our lives. If you find yourself being bullied by another woman, I suggest the following options:
1. Step into your adult and use my empathic process to communicate openly and honestly. You may discover that the bully is projecting her own insecurities on you, and she may discover that you are not a threat as she had imagined, but rather, an ally.
2. If the bully is a manager or co-worker, follow your company’s reporting chain and report her behavior. It may help to have e-mail documentation and notes about when the inappropriate behavior took place.
3. If the bully is a friend and a civilized conversation using my empathic process does not end in a mutually satisfying resolution, as painful as it may be, you may need to walk away from the friendship.
The bottom line is that life is too short to spend with people who treat you unjustly. As an adult, you must take responsibility for the energy you bring into your life – and into your family’s life. Sometimes that means removing the source of bad energy, the bully, from your life completely, in order to move forward.