Thriving in a world full of bullies

Article by Shayna Waldman, Development & Production Executive – The ATS Team

bullyingRecently I heard author and brilliant mind, Robert Greene, discussing Pyrrhic victories on a podcast.

In Pyrrhic victories, the cost of winning is be greater than the win itself. It resonated with me and feels like it captures the essence of bullying. It is a lose/lose for anyone involved. What I have come to realise is that hurt people, hurtpeople. While, not all people who have been bullied turn out to become bullies themselves, those who do become bullies, have been bullied themselves. Bullying is a learned behaviour of survival. Often when we become adults, this coping strategy no longer serves us.

In my experience and observation, bullying functions as a toxic power grab. It is filled with insecurities and unresolved trauma on the side of the bully and the projection of those insecurities and trauma onto the bullied. 

Bullying has been so normalised, we often don’t even realise when it’s happening. Often when we do realise it, we don’t think anything can be done about it. We aren’t formally taught how to identify or manage these power dynamics. I am grateful that we are now talking about it. It seems finally there is a pathway to massive awareness and change. 

My first and maybe harshest memories of bullying started in Middle School. At 11 years old, I entered an entirely new school, back at the bottom of the food chain. I was teased about my braces, my religion, the size of my chest (or lack thereof) and pretty much whatever else people could think of. This story isn’t new or unique in any way, I am certain of it. So when I reflect on the bullying that I have personally received or been witness to in my current industry, I cant tell you it isn’t exclusive to the TV industry… it is so widespread and pervasive, I’d challenge you to find an industry or system where it wasn’t prevalent. While I’ve worked in the TV industry for over a decade, I’ve also worked in retail, hospitality, in law firms and boutique fitness studios. I’ve experienced it in all of these environments.

Bullying is at school, at the workplace, in the home and oh boy is it on the internet. I don’t think you will ever find me in the comment section again… Bullying is everywhere. Not only that, our culture glorifies it. We promote bullies to the highest of positions at businesses, in stardom and even the presidency… The allure of the bully. The power they seem to hold and maintain. The attention, the success, the control. One way to get power is certainly by knocking down and crushing anyone and everyone on your way up. By definition, this is power, but is it the kind of power that you want? 

We each have to answer this question for ourselves. It is human nature to desire power. On one hand, none of us want to experience being on the receiving end of abusive power. On the other hand, we have to decide how we want to attain power. So on both sides, we have work to do. To avoid being the both, the recipient and the offender, we need awareness, attunement and strong boundaries (to name a few). 

If you want to climb to positions of power, ask yourself, what does that look like to you? How do you want to feel? How do you want to make people feel? What are you willing to do to get there? Me? Power attained by the means of bullying isn’t the kind of power I’m interested in. Subconsciously, I was tempted early in my career to get swept up in this culture of bullying. I can’t honestly tell you if I’ve ever made someone feel bullied. I CAN tell you that as a boss, I’ve made people feel intimidated. I can tell you that I once had the nickname “ice queen”, which at the time, I wore like a badge of honour. Thankfully, the one who gave me this nickname is still one of my closest friends, and I can happily report, I haven’t heard her use the nickname in a decade.

I’ve done a lot of growing over the years (I am 35 now). I try to really think about my feelings, thoughts and actions. We can’t control our feelings, but we can control our thoughts and our actions. I try to be very intentional, so that my actions match my values and who I want to be as a person, friend, colleague and boss. I don’t always get it right, but I try hard to educate myself on these power dynamics. I try to question things we have normalised in our industry and in our wider culture. Probably the hardest of all, I am working on creating strong boundaries, so that I don’t continue to find myself and help others in abusive dynamics.

When considering boundaries, we should be nice, but not naive. When we are “too nice” we get walked over or worse, abused. Many of us can relate to this dynamic at some point in our lives or career, maybe more than once. The easiest change we can make is ourselves, and when we change, our lives change (that second part is a direct quote from my therapist, she’s amazing). When we have strong boundaries, we are significantly less likely to find ourselves in these dynamics. Preparedness + boundaries.

The hard truth is that there are some really unkind people in this world. People are unkind for their own reasons, none of which, have anything to do with us, and most likely have everything to do with what they have experience in their own lives that brought them to a place of being unkind. The challenge is that the bullying dynamic appears to work, right? When we see abusive people in powerful positions, we subconsciously receive the message that it works, and it does. It does work. These people do objectively have power, a certain kind of power…

I have realised that it is possible to gain power by making friends, rather than enemies. With awareness and strong boundaries, we can be supportive, generous, kind and helpful in and out of the workplace. So, what kind of power do You want?

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