Ali Pica

YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, ALI: 5 ways to spot an adult bully – and how to avoid them

YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, ALI: 5 ways to spot an adult bully – and how to avoid them
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I know it has been a while. A lot – some good, some bad – has happened this summer. Sometimes in order to write, you need to live your life and let it sink in. I lost my grandmother last month, and I have to admit, it’s been hard. I say the contrite phrases to myself, such as, “She’s in a better place now,” “I am glad she no longer has to suffer,” or “I’m over it,” but obviously that’s not how coping with death of a loved one works.

There are some positives to take away from this experience. Since I am here now and this has happened, I am closer with my mother. I saw and stay in touch with family I haven’t seen in years prior. I realized who my friends are and who was there to support me in my time of need. I knew my grandmother’s death was imminent and was not completely surprised. It was one of the reasons why I moved back here. I love being here, and I don’t know what I’d do without being in or close to Northeastern Pennsylvania. I know there are haters out there who despise this place and think no good can come of it; I understand your complaints. Everywhere and everyone has their faults that you may or may not be able to understand or tolerate. In some warped, weird way, NEPA is like a family to me, close-knit and beautifully flawed like a piece of coal: somewhat shiny, colorful, and a bit jagged. However, there’s one concern I have with being here: finding work. It would be the only reason to leave if I do once again.

As of now, I teach part time. If you don’t know, adjuncts tend to be undercompensated and hard-working, or at least I’d like to think so. I put a lot of hours and effort in without the extra pay or job security. I love teaching and helping my students. They are also like a family. Sometimes they become frustrated with me or I with them, but overall, they’re people I care about unconditionally. My mentor has also been a wonderfully supportive person thus far. She helps me when I don’t understand something and listens to me talk when I need someone to talk to about work that most people wouldn’t understand. I am thankful for her and my students.

However, there’s an issue that haunts me from my past work experiences: the adult bully. That’s right, I said adult bully, like some kind of adult version of a middle school bully – a shadowy figure, emerging from the darkness, and looming over a scared kid in some grandiose Comic Sans font anti-bullying poster. But adult bullies aren’t always the big kids with ugly last names. If you’ve seen the film “The Gift” recently, you know, as strange as it is, there’s some truth to the message of adult bullying as a universal experience.

I’ve heard so many people say that adult bullies are so bad that they can’t get a decent career or connect with the “right” social network. Adult bullying isn’t always so obvious: it’s insidious. While applying for jobs, I thought about how someone who is “connected” may not like me, and therefore ruin my chances. I thought about how some of my former teachers and colleagues made me feel bad about myself without realizing it. I thought about how I appear to be a strong person, yet sometimes people break a piece of me like a Kit Kat bar. (And yes, I went for the cheesy reference to prove a point.) Sometimes we don’t know we are being eaten away by the hurtful actions of adult bullies because we don’t recognize what they are doing is bullying. Bullies destroy “families” of some sort, whether it’s a literal family or just what we consider “family.” We often blame ourselves or think we are simply being paranoid. That’s not always the case.

Here’s how to spot an adult bully in five ways:

1. They destroy relationships with gossip.

Have you ever had that friend who regularly says, “I hate that guy,” in reference to another friend, yet there pictures of them together on Facebook, they are always hanging out in bars, or they’ve been best friends since grade school? Did you also notice your friend never asks you to go out when “that guy” is around? Did you all used to hang out together and then suddenly not? Did you also think it’s weird “that guy” would at least say “hey” if he saw you; now he turns his head and ignores you if you see him out somewhere? It’s most likely that your friend is a bully. Bullies bait you by saying negative things about people first and then prompt you to engage in the discussion or agree with them. Then, they turn to that person and say you said those awful things. Bullies will then keep you isolated from “that guy” so you can’t discover the truth. In essence, they destroy relationships before they can develop. These people are fake and I suggest making new friends, or at least don’t agree with or engage in their discussion. It’s best just to say nothing and change the subject if you have to associate with them.

2. They manipulate recruits.

These bullies are usually in a position of power or they are the “alphas” of a clique. Recruits are people who are insecure and are, for some reason, indebted to bullies. Bullies look for the recruits’ weaknesses and exploit them. Therefore, recruits are blinded by bullies and do their bidding like flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz.” So how do you recognize this bully/recruit relationship? Here is a scenario:

You are a supervisor of a specific group of people. Your colleague, another supervisor, who has nothing to do with your group, likes to linger in your work space and talk to one of the people you supervise. Your colleague and supervisee often look at you, exchange glances, then proceed to laugh or whisper. Then, one day, you correct your supervisee, and she makes a snarky comment referring to your lack of ability to perform your job duties correctly. However, this comment is odd, being the information and the way this statement was phrased could only come from your colleague. This is eerily similar to that of a divorced parent making hurtful comments about the other parent, then the child repeats the message without mentioning the author.

Situations like this are common. Bullies in the workplace may try to undermine your authority by ignoring you, looking then laughing, and inviting everyone else to outings except for you. You may not understand exactly why bullies have so much power over recruits, but the key is to recognize the recruit’s insecurities. Then you can surmise from there and feed the recruit’s insecurities with appropriate and positive attention. Unfortunately, if you are trying to find a bully’s personal insecurities, you may be surprised. They may only be insecure in the sense that you are depriving them of what they want: power. Don’t let bullies take it away. We may not know what power we hold until it’s gone.

3. They have “I don’t know about her” syndrome.

Sometimes bullies use vague statements when they have nothing else negative to say about a person. They use like quips like, “I don’t know about her,” to plant a seed of doubt without actually giving any evidence as to why this person shouldn’t be liked or trusted. It seems this occurs when a person is vying for a position of power or respect. I’ve heard this countless times in the arts scene, where bullies can’t condemn the work of the artist, but some mysterious flaw in his or her character as way to diminish their work. Sometimes bullies will be a little more specific in their rumors and resort to name-calling. I have heard things like, “She’s a slut,” “He’s a drug addict,” or “She’s unstable,” when there’s no evidence to substantiate these accusations. I found these comments interesting since I knew personally these accusations were inaccurate and intentionally ambiguous as a last desperate plea to defame someone’s character. By the way, if someone makes a statement like this, ask him or her to operationally define the behavior (i.e. ask what the person did to deserve such a label). If the person can’t explain him or herself, don’t give it any more thought or, better yet, try to avoid that person all together. And remember: the character of a person doesn’t necessarily predict the quality of their work.

4. They troll the Internet.

Oh, the lovely trolls of the Internet, with your lack of sophistication and respect for others opinions. We love to hear your nonsensical and unnecessary ramblings! Your need to tear people apart, even if sometimes accurate, is unwanted. Sadly, we hear about cyber bullying with children and teens constantly, yet we forget that this still exists and persists into adulthood. Just take a lesson from online dating. Some people have told me that they are only online because they enjoy “messing with people.” I was once insulted for no apparent reason and told I was a “fat and sad girl” by someone I never met. That was my favorite insult, because it clearly isn’t true and is a lame attempt to hurt someone. People on the Internet are real, and sadly there are suicides related to cyberbullying all the time. I keep saying the word “sad” for a reason.

I stopped following certain publications on Facebook for that reason. If you’ve ever read a Vice article’s comments on Facebook, it’s an unadulterated train wreck of bullying. I have read comments in reference to the author, such as, “No wonder no one likes you: You are fat and disgusting!” Seriously, what does the author’s appearance have to do with her writing? Nothing! While trolling on the Internet is nowhere near surprising, it is still bizarre how cruel people can be. I can’t help but read these comments and wonder what is wrong with people. Is this technology, or have we always been this way?

So how do you deal with trolls? Consider the source. Take what you want and ignore the unmitigated negativity. The troll’s purpose is to tear you down, as to gain power or destroy yours. Don’t let them get you with their +1 sadness or +3 jealousy. If it makes you feel better, just take the advice of a random guy on OKCupid: “People on the Internet aren’t real.” Just don’t add to the hate.

5. They are a copycat.

The copycat bullies are as simple as their label; they stay awake at night trying to think of ways to simultaneously destroy you while copying your work. They may also be trolls, typically those who dwell in the caves of your social media page. They are infamous for taking what you say or do and twisting it into something to make them look better. I had a coworker who would glare at me every time I made a productive contribution in a meeting. She would make a twisted face, cut my idea down, and then regurgitate my idea in her own words. These people tend to be recruits and fantastic at stealing people’s ideas, making them appear to be their own. Keep in mind, they simply spit out a meager sustenance of creativity, so it’s never as rich as the original source, being you. Take it as a compliment, though I suggest being wary of directly calling a copycat out. They tend to have connections since they spend a lot of time kissing ass, too.

So what’s the point of talking about adult bullying? As I mentioned above, bullies destroy relationships with other people or your inability to create relationships. They tear down people’s self-worth for their own gain. Hopefully, from reading this article, you can recognize that your insecurities are not always valid and your self-doubt isn’t always legitimate. Sometimes it is just them and not you.

Yours truly,


Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Ali is an advice column that runs every Friday on NEPA Scene. E-mail your anonymous question to Ali here to be featured in a future column.