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How You Can Stop Being Bullied By Learning to Be Assertive

      Written by Ronnie Peterson
Whether we’re thinking back to our childhood or to our current work/home environment, the basic mechanisms -- and victims -- of bullying are the same. Bullies don’t pick on people who are outspoken, confident, popular or, indeed, aggressors themselves. Instead they choose to act out their aggression on individuals that they perceive to be unable to defend themselves.

In our school days it’s often, sadly, obvious who the likeliest targets are. The kids who like to keep themselves to themselves, or whom other children don’t seem to be able to connect with, because they’re different. In adult life the triggers for bullying are often the same; lack of understanding and, of course, an aggressive disposition on the part of the instigator.

So, first off, what makes someone a “bully”?

What defines bullying?

In the words of renowned Indian yogi and guru, Paramahansa Yogananda; “Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” What this means to say is that those who choose to bully -- or even do so unwittingly -- look to boost their own self-esteem by making others feel small.

Bullying comes from a place of inherent aggression, which means that aggressive personality types are sort of predisposed to acts of bullying. This certainly isn’t to say anyone who expresses aggressive personality traits can’t be “saved” from becoming a bully. Far from it, in fact, but it does mean that we all need to learn to acknowledge our own behaviors, so that we can begin to understand ourselves better. We discuss aggressive behaviors in detail, here. But to give a one sentence summary; bullies are domineering, demanding, and non-empathetic.

Who gets bullied?

Direct, self-confident, types rarely attract the negative attentions of a bully. That’s because bullying is an act of asserting dominance over others and it’s a lot harder to dominate those who are self-assured. So the people who most often find themselves on the receiving end are those of us who struggle to communicate our boundaries. We’re looking at a typically passive personality, which can be defined in the following ways.

●      Hesitant communication: You won’t find a passive personality willingly at the centre of others’ attention. Passive people are fearful of upsetting the balance and so they tend to keep quiet, using approval-seeking language when they do interact. Examples might be along the lines of:

○      “Would you mind…?”

○      “Only if that’s OK?”

○      “Do you think it would be OK if…?”

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As well as the spoken language of hesitance, passive types have a nervous body language. They’ll rarely hold eye contact, might shuffle or fiddle with hands or clothing during conversation. On other words, if we’re expressing ourselves in this way, we’re projecting a lack of confidence in our words and actions.

●      Self-deprecation: Passive personalities tend to struggle with confidence, which means that they don’t appreciate their own value. This often results in the passive person dismissing their own views. If we’re continually undermining our own views, it makes it easier for others to dismiss us and also suggests that we have low self-worth. This, in turn, makes us an easier target to control.

●      Putting the needs of others first: Now, it’s important to put other people first, on occasion. But when this becomes a persistent way of being, it comes at the cost of one’s own happiness. This comes back to the approval-seeking nature of the passive. Often, in a bid to try and win favor, we’ll go along with whatever seems the most popular consensus (or the loudest shout), but it rarely achieves anything other than making us look like a pushover.

●      Making unrealistic demands of oneself: Passive types are often their own harshest critics. Eager to please others and rarely very demanding of anyone else, if we’re behaving passively we will often beat ourselves up for the most minor mistakes. We forget that others may have played a part in any problem and, instead, shoulder the blame fully. What this does is it breeds a feeling of unworthiness. And if aggressive types get wind of this, they’re more likely to see us as a potential target.

Should we teach kids how to behave more assertively?

Since bullying often begins in childhood -- taking root as we get older -- it makes sense to think about teaching young children, firstly, the differences between assertiveness and aggression and, secondly, how being more assertive can help them deal with bullying when it crops up. We have a handy article on developing assertiveness skills in children, here (link to ‘Why You Must Teach Your Children to be Assertive’).

How can assertiveness training help to combat bullying?

Assertive behavior occupies the middle-ground between aggressive and passive behaviors. And this is important because it allows one to respond to the actions of a bully in a way that shuts down further aggression, because an assertive will neither escalate the situation with a provocative retort, nor allow themselves to be so passive as to seem powerless in the face of a bully. What assertiveness does is:

●      It allows us to identify our own personal boundaries: Where passive behavior may have not allowed us to put ourselves first, assertive behavior gives us the confidence to work out what we’re prepared to tolerate from others.

●      It develops our positive self-image: It’s hard to nurture our own self-worth when we are so unsure of ourselves. Developing assertiveness encourages the development of a more positive self-image, thus making us a harder target for aggressive behavior.

●      It encourages us to communicate our boundaries in a clear and confident way: Assertive communication is clear and direct. In learning to act more assertively, we learn to say ‘no’, when we don’t agree with something.

●      It teaches us to respond to situations respectfully and diplomatically -- the primary concern of the assertive type always being; “everyone is OK”: Instead of remaining silent and putting up with bad behavior, assertiveness training gives us the tools to de-escalate situations whilst ensuring that the feelings of whomever is involved remain intact.

●      We feel in control of situations and life at large: Assertiveness teaches us to master our own destiny. Where passive behavior isn’t conducive to setting big life goals, or even daily ones sometimes, assertiveness makes us skilled at setting, and sticking to, plans. This gains us the respect of our peers by showing us to be motivated and capable.

●      We find that we’re better at building strong relationships, which means that we feel valued, respected, confident and more self-assured: Confidence and empowerment are at the result of assertive behaviors because they’re earned through actions. Those who have strong relationships, built on mutual respect, inevitably feel more valued, more confident and, therefore, are more difficult to bring down through acts of aggression.

If you’d like to know more about our comprehensive assertiveness training programs, take a look at the packages we offer, here.

Want to Be More Assertive?

We have online courses with full 12-months' access.
RRP from $109 – limited time offer just $12


What Does Assertiveness Have to Do with Stopping Bullying?:

8 Keys to Handling Adult Bullies:

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