Standing up to Adult Bullies

I’m sorry my post is late today.

I’ve had a sleepless night, thinking and praying about something I’ve been involved in. And I’ve been wrestling with my motivations, and my commitment, but most of all my WHY?

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I knew a girl who was being abused. No one would believe it because her dad was an elder in the church. And I tried to help and I tried to counsel, but I was just a kid. And the abuse went on. And I felt like I had let her down.

In later years, I had kids in my extended sphere of influence that I knew were sad and dejected. And I tried to fix it. I had a neighbourhood girl who from age 6-12 practically lived at my house. I fed her most of her meals. I tried to teach her how to resolve conflict and act appropriately. I introduced her to Jesus. Most of all, I loved her.

But as she grew up she started to pull away, and I was desperate to keep her. What would happen to her without us? What if she went down the wrong road?

And then I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I was wearing myself out trying to be this girl’s mother, when her actual parents didn’t care. And no matter what I did I couldn’t make up for the lack of parenting in her life. I stopped and let her go. We still saw her every now and then, but I did all I could do.

For a while now I’ve had a similar motivation about another group of kids. I see how they’re being treated. I see how the parents don’t understand that what is being taught them theologically is wrong. I see how they’re getting a warped view of God, and I desperately want to fix it. I love these kids. I want them to know Jesus.

And so I have poured my heart and soul and much time that I really don’t have into loving these kids, even though doing so puts me in the same path of the bullies that hurt them.

Last night I was finally released. I let it go. I can’t fix things, as much as I want to. And I can’t keep opening myself up to adult bullies.

I feel sadness this morning, but a great weight off of my shoulders.

And I woke up thinking about this column I wrote two years ago. I liked it then; I thought I would rerun it now.


Adult Bullies: Do you know how to deal with them?
Anti-bullying campaigns are all the rage in our schools today. What we often fail to remember, though, is that bullying behavior doesn’t stop the moment one dons a graduation cap.

Have you ever encountered an adult bully?

I’ve been in social situations when someone has said something so outrageous and mean-spirited that I was temporarily rendered mute, a state which drove me absolutely bonkers as I was lying in bed later that night thinking of all the things I should have said. They eluded me at the time because the situation seemed so bizarre.

I think that’s why adult bullies can be so effective: the behavior is just so out of the ordinary.

Sure, we may talk behind people’s backs (which is terrible, too), but in general we try to be polite to people’s faces. When someone violates that cardinal rule, we’re often so shocked that we say nothing. Perhaps it’s the residual British culture in us, but we’re not programmed to make scenes; we’re programmed to avoid scenes.

Bowling over people, then, becomes an awfully effective way at getting what they want. And adult bullies may genuinely not realize they’re pretentious jerks, although I think more likely they don’t care. They have such an inflated sense of their own self-worth that they keep at it.

We’ve been busy teaching children how to deal with bullies, but perhaps we need a refresher course for adults.

You’re being bullied if someone constantly demeans you or says snide remarks about you. You’re being bullied if someone is constantly yelling at you or criticizing you. You’re being bullied if someone deliberately isolates you in social or work situations. And you’re being bullied if someone is constantly making helpful “suggestions” and laying guilt trips if you don’t take them.

I often find that adult bullies tend to be older, especially in families. They think they have the right to tell other people how to live their lives and demand things a certain way. And we tolerate it, because “that’s just Grandpa Joe.” Or we do our best to compensate, running interference if anyone opens their mouths and says something that may set him off. We spend our energy trying to placate or distract Grandpa Joe so nothing bad happens. What kind of family life is that?

Sometimes bullying, especially in families, is more covert.

If you call out an adult bully, they reply with incredulity, “I was just asking questions! I can’t believe you took it that way,” putting the blame back on you. And then you start to wonder if you’re the crazy one. Yet even if you turn yourself inside out to try to please the bully, you never will, because bullies thrive on the feeling of instilling fear. Meet one demand and they’ll come up with another.

Maybe it’s time our British, don’t rock the boat culture learned something from the Italians, who say everything. So let’s practice: “You are being inappropriate.” “I won’t sit here and listen if you talk to me like that.” “You are a guest in this home, Mom, so you should treat us with respect.” Or, better still, stand up for someone else. “Dad, you owe Jennifer an apology. You were completely out of line.” And if they start yelling or criticizing you, just repeat it. Then stand up and leave the room. There is no law requiring you to sit in a chair and be insulted.

If more of us just spoke up, bullies would lose their shock and awe power.

And it’s time the rest of us had some shock and awe on our side instead.


For all of you who are staying in jobs where the culture is killing you, but you don’t feel like you can leave because then who would protect the other employees or the clients–I understand. For all of you who are sticking it out with extended family, even though they are toxic, because if you leave, who will care for your nieces or nephews or siblings or grandkids–I understand. For all of you who are staying in toxic churches or toxic schools because what about the kids? I understand. I hear you.

And I know that what you need, more than anything else, is for other people to just speak up. For other people to support you and to say, “this is not right.” In most situations 90% of people will agree with you–but it’s the toxic 10% that are the ones who speak.

So let’s all speak. Let’s all call a spade a spade. Let’s end this, especially within the church, because it is wrong. Jesus would never yell at people, belittle people, or berate people. And it needs to stop.


I have been watching Natalie at Visionary Womanhood go through her year of standing up to adult bullies, and I’ve so appreciated her posts. Here are just a few on deprogramming from Christian lies–which include calling a spade a spade.


Now that I have more time on my hands, I’m going to celebrate these two! I have about 5 months left to plan the wedding. Here’s one of their engagement photos. So proud of you, Rebecca! And so love you, Connor!

Engagement Photo

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