We, coaches, sometimes encounter clients dealing with - or causing - some degree of bullying. It is not something confined to the hallways of school, unfortunately.
While many kids realize they were bullies at some point in their more immature days, sincerely regretting growing away from that, some adults still engage in intimidation tactics to engage with the world. Bosses, co-workers, or even relatives can do that. For whatever reason, most likely because of unresolved issues or pains they must channel. And if they mistakenly identify someone as weak, that may look like a good escape valve.
But that can be a big mistake. Don’t we love to see underdogs triumph in the movies?
While Coaching, I only bring personal experiences in rare instances where it can contribute to the client's agenda. But, here, I can share.
My first personal experience with adult bullying started when I was about 14, and he was a teacher.
An educator who was described to me by peers as a “super funny and cool” guy with a larger-than-life persona was my new History teacher. In my private Catholic school in Brazil, we mostly stayed put in one classroom and the teachers would rotate coming in. We were about 50 students per class.
At the time, I had a crush on a boy in my class - let’s call him Randy. He wasn’t into me at all and I was very shy too. Some friends knew about my crush - but nobody ever made a big fuss about it.
One day, I had to make a presentation about the "Aberdeen Act". While practicing my lines and trying to perfect my pronunciation of the English words, I prepared a nice poster board, and I was sweating but strong in front of everyone, ready to start my delivery. Before I opened my mouth, the teacher with a thunder voice, yelled for all the class to hear:
“Watch out, Randy is here, did you get yourself all pretty for him? Do you think he is going to like your presentation?”
I became a frozen tomato. I saw red. I could feel the blood rushing to my face but I couldn’t move or say anything. My throat seemed to close. Shame, humiliation and anger boiled in me. How did he know? Why did he think it was funny?
Some kids were laughing. I managed to see some faces of pity, some shaking their heads.
And then silence. I don’t know how long I stood there, but I eventually grabbed my chrome pointer and started talking about the England-Brazil friction I studied so hard to present.
After I was done, I gathered my stuff, stepped down the stage and the bully who betrayed my trust as his student left nonchalantly. Some kids gathered around me saying things like, “I have never seen anyone so red”, “Poor thing, I would have died”, “This teacher is an a-hole”, “I can’t believe he did that to you”, etc.
Until someone approached me and simply said, “I have never heard anyone speak English so perfectly in my life. Great presentation, I understood everything - wonderful job.”
That impacted me so much; it felt like ice-cold water on a hot Summer's day. Years later I became an English translator and instructor, way before coaching. And I made the point of always being kind to my students, whatever their age.
Oh, in case you are wondering, I got a good grade (I wish I could have graded him too) and ended up dating Randy’s brother for a while, after the story went viral and he asked to meet the tomato girl.
But my victory was that I delivered, despite my wish to run and hide. Of course, I could have advocated for myself, argued, and said something. But that wouldn’t have been me. I am not the one who screams back. But I am not the one who runs and hides either. I may freeze for a second. But I keep myself whole and I don’t let anyone stop me from doing what I was set to do.
I am 52 and I still encounter bullying, because I am a sensitive kind of person and some people take that as “fragile”. Big mistake. I will never be someone I am not, but I have grown a long way from that little frozen tomato. I will always deliver my message in my own terms, even if I have to adapt to rough circumstances.
I am not a therapist and won't diagnose anyone's bullying causes. Maybe it can derive from some internal pain numbed by putting others down to feel higher, better, safer, smarter, funnier, more admired? Each case is different, but I cannot help with that.
And I simply won't.