The Easy Place

The Quest for Self Awareness One Moment at a Time


That smiling grandmother forcing you to do something “for your own good”?  Don’t fool yourself, she’s a bully.  Bullies aren’t just big guys with sticks robbing you of your lunch money. Or the red-faced Mr. Spacely’s berating their beleaguered employees. 

A bully is anyone who tries to make you do something you don’t want to do. 

Having been brought up in the early 1960’s, when we were taught compliance above all else, I have a hard time dealing with bullies.  My knee-jerk reaction is to obey without question, sometimes I don’t even begin to think about what’s right for me until it’s too late. 

But I’m improving.  Over the past few years I’ve learned to take a minute to think when I’m being pressured and I’m doing a better job of standing up for myself.  But it’s not just the bullies “out there” that I have to deal with.  I’ve also got a bully in my head shouting “How could you be so selfish?” when I say “no”. 

I’ve discovered a great list, created by psychotherapist David Richo, that helps navigate the boundary between selfishness and assertiveness.  He calls it the Rights of the Assertive Person:

  1. To ask for 100% of what you want from 100% of the people in your life, 100% of the time.
  2. To enjoy emotional and physical safety.  No one has the right to hurt you, even if she loves you.
  3. To change your mind or make mistakes.
  4. To decide when and whether or not you are responsible for (a) finding solutions to others’ problems or (b) taking care of their needs.
  5. To say No or Maybe without pressure to decide in accord with someone else’s timing.
  6. To be illogical in making decisions.
  7. To have secrets, to decide how much of yourself or your life you choose to reveal.
  8. To be free to explain your choices or not (includes not having to make excuses or give reasons when you say No).
  9. To be non-assertive when you see that as appropriate.
  10. To maintain the same principles, skills and rights of assertiveness with your partner, parents, children or friends.

 I’ve encountered a couple of kinds of bullies. There’s the bully that gets pleasure out of dominating others – they usually have no objective other than feeling the satisfying crunch of power.  All I can say about this kind of bully is to steer clear of them; their ruthlessness gives them an advantage over those of us who play fair.

But there’s another kind of bully, and this bully comes in the guise of friends, family, and co-workers.  They assume that things will go as they expect; they believe they know what’s right, not just for themselves, but for others.   It’s the friend who always picks the restaurant, the family member who invades your privacy, or the father who offers to help you buy you a new car but only if you get the model he chooses. 

What’s hard is that these folks’ intentions are usually benign, they often don’t realize that by imposing their expectations and opinions on you they are negating yours.  They can be so passionate about getting their way that it becomes a battle to say “no.”  But, unless there’s a good reason to give in, this is when we need to dig in our heels and assert our rights.  Because these well-intentioned bullies will run our lives for us if we let them.  They’re happy making all the decisions, planning our futures, moderating our behavior. 

How do we say no?  Kindly and firmly, and, if necessary, kindly and firmly again.  And again.  In other words we say “no” until they stop trying to get us to say “yes.”   

Believe me, I know how difficult this can be.  I’ve done battle with the bullies in my life and it resulted in loss – some people can’t give up the need to get their way.  But if we want to step into our lives fully, if we want to be the biggest, brightest and best version of ourselves, we need a voice that is heard.  While we don’t need to always get our way, we do need to make sure that when we don’t it’s our choice and no one else’s.


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8 responses to “Bullies

  1. Beth September 1, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Hi Melinda, You have raised some good points and given us much food for thought. Thanks for once again providing an opportunity to dig deeper. I think there is a bully in all of us. Those of us who are aware of our inner bully can also recognize it in others. Often associated with passive aggressive behaviour we can catch ourselves trying to “get our own way”. It can come as a big surprise when we realize what we are doing. When we understand boundaries and how important they are for all of us then being clear and assertive as you described it is much easier. I have found that when I know where I am then where the other person is becomes clearer and my need to control or exercise power over is replaced with peaceful understanding of our differences and honouring of us both even when the other is not able to do the same.

  2. Melinda September 1, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Thanks again, Beth, for your thoughtful comments! I agree that anyone can be the bully. That’s one of the reasons I like Richo’s list so much – it clarifies what’s ok not just for me, but for others. It clearly defines where decisions should be made for each of us.

    And you’re right – the more we learn about ourselves the better we understand others!

    Love the dialog – thanks!!


  3. James Oberholtzer September 6, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Dear Mindy,

    Right on, again. Although, I think it takes two to tango and two to have a relationship. Nurturing, caring people need someone to take care of. Needy, demanding people need someone to respond to them.

    As a professional fighter, I often have to assess how other people will respond to demands. One of the signs of bullies is that once firmly challenged, they cave. To me, the difference between a bully and a passionate person is their ability to perceive and respond to the needs of others and the commitment they feel to their own demands.

    On the personal side, people are complicated. I think I need to be careful that I don’t hear as bullying demands other people’s simple, direct statements of what they want. I can sometimes be so primed to nurture and take care of others, that as soon as I perceive a need, I rush out and feed it.

    Clients love it; but, they pay for it. Intimate relations can spiral out of my control until I am oppressed and worn out for no good reason.

    If everyone was directly asking for what they want, would we all sound like bullies? To some ears, yes.

    • Melinda September 6, 2010 at 12:22 pm

      Lots to think about in what you say, Jim! I get what you’re saying about feeling bullied when other people are simply asking for what they want, that’s what I mean when I talk about the “bully in my head.” The desire to please others or keep relationships peaceful can be a detriment to making sure our own needs are met.

      In response to your last statement – I suspect that only bullies hear clear requests for what we need as bullying. At least that’s how the bullies in my life react – they feel bullied when I say “No” no matter how kindly or compassionately I say it.

      I think that people with firm boundaries, those who don’t bully and don’t let others bully them, hear “No” as a simple statement of preference.

      What do you think?


  4. James Oberholtzer September 6, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I agree. A woman in my meeting had a useful image. She said that she pictures two people as her index fingers pointing up. A balanced person is straight up (like this “l”). An demanding or aggressive person forward (like this “/”_ and a compliant or accomodating person leaning back (like “\”).

    When she is feeling balanced and meets a demanding person, the encounter starts with that person leaning in and her straight up (like this “/ l”). She works to maintain her boundaries and balance. Eventually, the demanding person will mirror her and they can end up both straight up (like this “l l”).

    I find this inspiring and helpful to remember.

  5. Victoria September 25, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Okay…So, You got my attention, with the title of the post, then You held my attention, since I felt I was reading something relative to a friend’s recent behaviour.

    Yet….You REALLy got me when I realized, Sheesh…I can spot a bully a mile away because…(drumroll please…) I am one!!

    No, not all the time, and certainly not with all people.
    No matter; when I started reading the list of Rights, oh my goddess, I have so been at fault, and over stepped my bounds on all points, at some time, with someone.

    Thanks for pitching me a curve ball that I was able to hit into the back field !!!

  6. Melinda September 25, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Ahhhh….it’s so rewarding when my words land, thanks so much, Victoria, for your comments. I’m so glad you found this helpful :)) And I do think that we all overstep our boundaries at times, so join the club!


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