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:
- To ask for 100% of what you want from 100% of the people in your life, 100% of the time.
- To enjoy emotional and physical safety. No one has the right to hurt you, even if she loves you.
- To change your mind or make mistakes.
- To decide when and whether or not you are responsible for (a) finding solutions to others’ problems or (b) taking care of their needs.
- To say No or Maybe without pressure to decide in accord with someone else’s timing.
- To be illogical in making decisions.
- To have secrets, to decide how much of yourself or your life you choose to reveal.
- To be free to explain your choices or not (includes not having to make excuses or give reasons when you say No).
- To be non-assertive when you see that as appropriate.
- 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.
If you enjoyed this post you might also like: