TIME TO BE KIND: Adult bullying often manifests as emotional abuse

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 12:50 pm on Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Community of Hope Christian Counseling and Mental Health Center Director John Pellett discusses counseling issues with Officer Manager Karen Bull, left, and Melissa Knipp, center, who offers support to office and professional staff.

Bullying is all too common among children, whether it’s a humiliating prank, hurtful rumors or physical pain.

Bullying amongst adults isn’t all that different … or uncommon.

“We see a lot of it,” said John Pellett of adult bullying. “It’s just constant. It’s parents on their kids. It’s adults on adults. It’s in the workplace and in personal relationships. It’s everywhere.”

Pellett is the director of Community Hope Christian Counseling & Mental Health Center in Greenville. The center employs 13 therapists and three office staff with additional offices in Howard City and Stanton.

Adult bullies, Pellett says, often have low self-esteem and anger associated with feelings of inadequacy, unimportance or being unloved. These feelings are often subconscious and a bully often deflects these feelings by projecting those qualities to others through the use of power, control and manipulation.

Hope Christian Counseling and Mental Health Center is located at 6728 Vining Road in Greenville. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

Signs of bullying amongst adults include yelling, sarcastic remarks expressed as being funny when they are actually cruel, repeated criticism, gossiping, spreading rumors and being too competitive with those they are bullying. This emotional bullying will sometimes progress to physical aggression.

“Most of it is emotional abuse,” Pellett noted. “Bullies are looking for a reaction. They will prey on people they perceive to be a threat to themselves or who they dislike because of differences. They often pick on people who excel, who are dedicated, popular and intelligent, but who are also non-confrontational. Bullying is a way to try to shut you down so you’re not a threat to them.”

Pellett said men are often the aggressors when it comes to bullying in couples’ relationships, as quite a few men are insecure in their manhood. He said women are often the aggressors when it comes to bullying in the workplace, including gossiping, rumors and trying to discredit others.


Givers vs. takers

Marla Van Dam is the former director of Still Waters Ministry Center in Howard City, which is now part of Community Hope. While counseling, she has seen the damage inflicted by abuse amongst adults.

“The goal of emotional abuse and bullying is to have power and control over everyone in their life,” Van Dam said. “Relationships involve giving and taking and sacrificing, whatever it takes to help other people and enjoy life. People who emotionally abuse, they don’t care about relationships. They care about power and control. They’re very strong-willed people. Bullying gives them a sense of power and having control over their world.”

Van Dam said there are basically two types of people in the world — givers and takers. Emotional abusers are takers.

“Emotional abuse is really hard to detect because the abuser is very charming and charismatic type of person,” she said. “They know how to charm and they often do in public, but they do other things behind closed doors to keep that person under their power and control. They might look like they’re giving for a while in order to get what they want. They might do something really kind for someone, but it’s only because they know they’re going to get so much more out of it.

“Bosses often do it, spouses do it, friends do it,” she said of bullying. “There are friends who act like they are your friends but everything has to be their way, their time all the time. That’s emotional abuse.”

The only way to escape an emotionally abusive situation is to recognize the bullying for what it is.

“Victims of emotional abuse don’t understand for a long time what’s being done to them, they don’t get it,” Van Dam said. “Education is really important, understanding what a healthy relationship is and what it isn’t.”

An adult who is being bullied often has trouble looking other people in the eyes or voicing their opinion about something.

“If they’re in an emotionally abusive relationship they’re told not to feel, trust or talk,” Van Dam said. “They just get weaker and weaker and weaker emotionally. They have extremely low self-worth. There is somebody in their world who is shredding them to pieces emotionally.”

The solution? Build them back up, emotionally.

“You love them into wholeness, you bring them to a place where they have enough courage to say, ‘I can’t be in this thing anymore, it’s killing me,’” Van Dam said. “Give them some education. Be a friend to them and build them up and make them aware of what their gifts are and help them get involved in whatever their gifts are.”


Bullying in the workplace

Workplace bullying is defined as a pattern of aggressive and offensive conduct directed at a group or individual over a lengthy period of time. Most commonly, it involves someone being intimidating or trying to instill fear in a co-worker.

“A threat of losing a job is certainly an intimidation factor,” said Sue Ellen Pabst, who is the owner of and therapist at Transitions Counseling in Greenville.

An example of workplace bullying could include a situation in which two employees apply for the same promotion at work. The employee who is not chosen may decide to intentionally undermine the employee who was chosen by making tasks more difficult than they should be or withholding information or taking credit for someone else’s idea.

Another example is a manager who requires employees to clock out and then continue working on inventory or other tasks off the clock.

“Ultimately, bullying is always about creating an imbalance of power, and in the workplace there is already an imbalance of power because of the typical organizational structure,” Pabst said. “We live in a world of individual success. The best way to counter bullying is to move toward each other, rather than away.”

Pabst encourages mid-level managers to look at their job as a mission to enable their colleagues to do their best work and gives credit where credit is due.

“That might mean going to upper management and saying, ‘We had a staff meeting and Kevin had this great idea,’” Pabst said. “It raises morale and improves production. When people are bullied or stressed, there is a lot more sick time and when they are at work, they’re not very productive. You have to let people know they are vital.”

Victims of workplace bullying should begin fighting the problem by documenting incidents, drawing boundaries and finding colleagues to back them up. Often, it only takes one person to throw the entire positive balance off in a workplace environment.

The best way to defeat a negative attitude is not to feed it with attention.

“Attitudes are contagious,” Pabst observed. “There are always going to be the Debbie and Danny Downers, but you have to let them be that by themselves.”


How to prevent workplace bullying

The best way to prevent workplace bullying is to create a positive environment that inspires employees and motivates them to be dedicated and do their best.

Sue Ellen Pabst, therapist and owner of Transitions Counseling in Greenville, suggests the following ideas as ways business owners and managers can help instill that kind of atmosphere:

• Hire people who know more than you do in specific areas and then let them do their jobs. Do not micromanage or use threats of employment to get the work done.

• Have an open door policy and check in with each of your team members on a regular basis. Ask them what’s working and what isn’t working.

• Recognize talent and leadership and promote team members when possible.

• Take responsibility and step to the plate when a plan or project does not work well or goes askew.

• Address issues head on and communicate openly and often with all levels of employees – those above you, peers and those you manage.

• Promote the team mentality and encourage collaboration among employees. People respond and work far more effectively with increased praise than they do even with increased pay.

11 tips for dealing with adult bullies

 1. Take inventory: How important is the relationship or shared activity? As you take inventory, consider your roles and values.

2. Consider the motivation and psychological state of the bully. Many adult bullies were bullied as children and feel inadequate.

3. Don’t take the bully’s behavior personally. Their actions are about their own pain.

4. Document what’s happening. Record when, where and what is said or done.

5. Be aware of your physical and emotional feelings and try to remain calm. Symptoms may include heart racing, stomach in a knot or feeling afraid, anxious or uncomfortable. Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or imagery. The bully only gains power if they can make you come unraveled.

6. Decide what course of action to take. Do you need distance from the person or to spend less time around them? Do you need to change a committee or activity?

7. Assess your behavior around the bully. Present confidence with a calm, direct voice tone.

8. If appropriate, assertively confront the bully privately. Focus on how cooperating or being nice can produce better fruit.

9. Create a distraction, change the subject or disarm them with kindness. Use logic, humor or kind words.

10. Remove yourself from the situation. Set healthy boundaries. Work at changing your response to the bully.

11. Get support. Confide in someone who will give wise counsel. Seek professional help, if necessary. Bullying can create strong negative emotions, such as anger, shame, anxiety and depression.

Source: Community Hope Christian Counseling & Mental Health Center, Greenville

 Local counseling services for bullies and victims

Community Hope Christian Counseling & Mental Health Center is located at 6728 Vining Road in Greenville with offices in Howard City and Stanton as well. Call (616) 225-8220 or email communityhopehouse@yahoo.com for more information.

Transitions Counseling is located at 507 S. Nelson St. in Greenville. Call (616) 754-9420 or email TalkWithSueEllen@gmail for more information.

Still Waters Ministry Center is located at 218 Williams St. in Howard City. Call (231) 937-6193 for more information.

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