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Understanding Adult Bullying

You could be forgiven for thinking that bullying is “something that happens to kids”. After all, that’s how the media portrays it.  The theory is that if bullying happens to adults, it’s rare, it’s obvious and it’s generally the work of “rednecks” or similar people who lack the education and/or social exposure to be more accepting of others. 

In reality, bullying is as common, as pervasive and as destructive amongst adults as it is among kids. The difference is that the vast majority of adult bullying goes undetected - or at least unchallenged by most adult bystanders. We expect our children to report bullying and yet we fail to do it ourselves.

In order to really understand bullying, you have to know what it means. Google defines bullying as to; “use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something”.

Bullying is Intentional
I think this is a very good definition. It makes it clear that there is an intended result to bullying. It’s not accidental, nor unintentional, and for those of us who have kids with ADHD, it’s thankfully not simple impulsivity.  No. Bullying is an act with an intended outcome - even if that outcome is merely “to make a particular person cry”.

Bullying amongst kids is reasonably easy to see, after all, kids are generally transparent about the things they want, control of the playground, their favourite toy, someone’s lunch money etc.  Kids are also quite good at articulating these wants and will open directly with a request, for example, for lunch money before they move onto bullying in earnest.

Adults on the other hand are much less direct.  They know that direct methods won’t work and instead resort to less obvious ones from the outset.  Often adults have a need for control and they generally won't walk up to you and say; "I want to control your department" or "I want to control you". Instead, they'll just start bullying until your reaction makes you give them what they want.

Bullying Requires Superior Strength
Then there’s the position of superior strength. It’s no coincidence that in the playground, the bully is often the biggest kid - or the strongest, or the loudest. The measurement of superior strength in the playground in generally based upon physical aspects, though as kids, particularly girls,  move into the later school years, bullying strength relies increasingly on popularity.

In adult bullying, superior strength is often achieved by “being popular” or team-building. This is frequently seen in companies where people who have the ear of the CEO are feared by their colleagues. Sometimes bullies will do favours for others so that they can call them in if needed.  Workplace bullies like to sit in the middle of the office and will often place candies or other incentives on their desks to attract others so that they can be included in conversations and office politics.

If a victim tries to take action against a bully with friends, it’s easy for the bully to convince people to take their side.  Having high numbers of supporters makes it easy for a bully to throw out an accusation with a catchphrase like, “not bullying, just adults behaving badly”.

Sometimes bullying strength, particularly in the workplace, comes from the job description. Human resources managers are often bullies as their access to personnel files allows them to “dig dirt” on their colleagues while suppressing negative reports of their own.  This can happen in other departments too, such as IT where it becomes easy to sabotage the work of another. Unscrupulous bullies in IT departments often use their privileged access rights to snoop on the files of other employees.  It's all about power.

Aspergers and Bullying
People with asperger’s syndrome are particularly prone to bullying for two main reasons;

  • Naivety; Many people with Asperger’s syndrome are completely oblivious to indirect communication. They usually believe the lies spun by bullies and can often be manipulated into doing a bully’s dirty work for them.  It’s also very easy for bullies to bait or otherwise manipulate naive aspie victims into situations which are difficult to defend. 

  • Differences; Bullies often pick on people who are different. It’s no longer politically correct to pick on people of different races, creeds or sexuality. There are laws against that. There are also laws covering physical disability but those laws become blurred when a disability is less obvious. Since people with Asperger’s syndrome generally look the same as everyone else, it’s easy for a bully to say “I didn’t know” in their defence.

How to Help
The following quote has been attributed to many people over the years and as far as I can tell, the origin is still hazy. Nevertheless, it’s a quote which applies extremely well to bullying situations.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

If you witness adult bullying and fail to act then your actions are no less wrong than a boy who witnesses his friend being bullied at school and fails to report or intervene. We want our children to step in - so why can’t we do the right thing as adults?  Why can’t we teach by example?


Ralph Doncaster said…
"Many people with Asperger’s syndrome are completely oblivious to indirect communication."
I agree. After many years I realized many of the communication problems I was having were due to people using indirect communication. When I pointed this out to my ex, she refused to accept that direct communication is the best for an honest and trusting relationship.
I think this page explains the benefits of direct communication well.
Anonymous said…
I really liked your quote at the end. I wish more people put it into practice instead of not wanting to get involved.
Anonymous said…
I have asperger's and I have been bullied in every way or form possible. I have been targeted by someone who was simply an acquaintance who I thought I was on good terms with. He was a felon with a heroin addiction and a drug warrant so I didn't associate with him much, but I later heard hat he had planned to come to my home, attack me by macing me, rob me, steal and sell my pets, and have his friend pick me up and body slam me. I have talked to people on craigslist that I have never met and woke up the next day with an email saying they wanted to kill me because I was ugly, fat, stinky, and dirty. This person had never met me, seen me, or been to my home. I have had supervisors at work target me by forcing me to stay after the store had closed and tried to make me move every box on every shelf out a quarter of an inch. This was a toy store so the whole store was boxes on shelves, in fact it was a lego store. I refused. The supervisor refused to open the office to let me get my things to go home, and I was forced to scale the office wall, remove the ceiling tile, and drop down in to the office to get my things and go home. It is very frustrating that somehow evil people can even detect my differences online and decide to hate me and treat me disrespectfully. Even saying they want to "kill me slowly." When I have done nothing to them. I am a smart woman. I have an IQ in the genius level range. I am petite, asian, and somewhat pretty. My weight vacillates between 100 and 145 due to an eating disorder I've had all my life. I am also an alcoholic. However none of this, and especially the aspergers, means I deceiver to be treated like I am less than anyone else. I am a wonderful person. I have moral values, I love animals, my family, and I cherish my good friends, although I have few. I don't like having asperger's but it is part of who I am and I have learned to accept it. Unfortunately it somehow seems to mean I am a magnet for bullies and evil people and I find that so frustrating. It's ok to be different. I am unique. Eccentric. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am beautiful inside and out.
Anonymous said…
My daughter has aspergers. My husband used to scream at the top of his lungs Shut that damn kid up when she was only a few months old. She cried a lot. She was taught to pretend she had no feelings and punished if she failed. Even her school teachers were bullies. Now that she survived to be an adult its the police who act as if they hate her. Its the reps at the Social Security office. Its people you would never believe could behave this way toward any human being let alone an abused and disabled person. They seem to be fond of calling her mentally ill and using that label to drag her out of her wheel chair onto the concrete and drag her to jail saying You've got to learn! The problem is that the only thing she ever learned from being bullied is how to hate the police. Never have they protected or served anyone but themselves and their sick perspective. They hate her so much and I worry about what they will do to her after I am gone.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous at April 6, 2015 at 2:28 AM, I wonder if some of the bullies sending you death threats online are targeting you for being female, not for having Asberger's.

Some of their friends and family members even defend their behavior in the name ofg Asbertger's and autism (like "he can't help it so it doesn't count, it's his autism!" "he's the real victim because other women didn't want to have sex with him because he's an Aspie!"), geek culture, video gamer trash talk, not caring what other people think (caring that other people like you might think death threats are bad is a variety of caring what other people think).
Anonymous said…
Death threats are bad, whether I care what the person who made them thinks or not. It is not a form of caring what someone thinks, simply to think that death threats are "bad."
There are many ways of bullying, ignoring, threats, sexual harassment, pushing and shoving, hitting, yelling... I've had them all. When school was over, I thought I wouldn't be bullied anymore, but it only got worse on jobs and with people I'd encountered on and off the job. I learned self-defense, and strongly suggest it to every aspie out there, male and females. We aspies are often physically strong or/and hyper. We also like to do things perfectly and excel, and self-defense is no exception.

I was worried about my poor motor skills and poor ability to understand instructions. There was also the problem of social anxiety, which is why I didn't learn self-defense as a child, although I've always wanted to. Also my mother was against it because she said girls aren't supposed to learn to fight. I learned a mix self defense of kickboxing and Thai boxing and a bit of Judo. It was fun. Loved it. Highly recommended.

That or pepper spray. Sometimes NOTHING else works.
Unknown said…
I’ve been bullied since the 5th grade for reasons I didn’t understand. It went on through the 12th grade. I joined the ARMY soon after and I was shocked to realize it was happening there too. People would look at me like I was crazy and call me weird. No one ever really wanted anything to do with me. And everyone in my unit would talk to me like I was slow. It pisses me off that it’s still going on after all these years of dealing with it. I don’t really know what gives people the impression that I’m different, otherwise I would change the way I acted. But I can’t really tell what is that I’m doing to make me seem “off”.
Anonymous said…
I've sadly grown to despise and detest most people. They are so many evil people in this world, at least evil towards me. All the false rumors, bullying, using, and rejecting they have done to me over the decades. I should have caught on. From them EXPLOITING me and my personal private stuff to stealing and out right home invasion with ATTEMPTED MURDER. They even TOOK ADVANTAGE of my ELDERLY GRANDPARENTS for thousands of dollars. I believed (didnt know better) these LOW LIFES we my friends. I hope God has a special place in hell for these people. There should also be a list like the Sex Offender Registry for these BULLIES and EXPLOITERS of the vulnerable.

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