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Swimming with Sharks--How to Deal with a Bully

Swimming with Sharks: How to Deal with a Bully

bullying courage empowerment forgiveness self-love Sep 25, 2020

No doubt you’ve known at least one bully in your life.

Sometimes you can see them for what they are in the moment, and sometimes you don’t realize what they are until you’re licking your wounds. 

I’ve dealt with my share of bullies in my life, and here's what I've learned.

Whether you're the target of a bully or a bystander who wants to be an ally: 

1. Don't take anything personally that a bully says. A bully gets the pleasure of power over you by triggering you and making you feel bad about yourself. Remember that the bully's attitude, words and actions say far more about them than they do about you.

2. Be careful how you assign responsibility for what’s happening. A bully will blame you for their own aggression as if you “made” them behave/think/feel that way. Don’t fall for it. When they succeed in making you examine all the fuzz in your navel for what’s “wrong” with you, they’ve deflected all responsibility for their own feelings, words and actions. When and if you’re wrong, set it right of course, but don’t take on responsibility that isn’t yours.

3. Remember your own power and don’t be afraid to use it. This is no time for being nice. The bully's main goal is to make you feel disempowered and "less than" so they can feel better. You are a powerful being, no matter what they say or do. At the minimum, you have the power to choose how you respond, no matter what the circumstance, at least within your own mind and heart. As it turns out, you can learn how to be more present in your body and use your energy and voice more powerfully, to be seen, be heard and inspire change. (We teach these tools and practices in our Relationships for Conscious Living online course, if you want a resource. Ask us about it.) 

5. Name the play. When the bully is doing their bullying thing, dare to name the tactic the bully is using, right there on the spot (unless it will cost you life or limb). Call it what it is. This is not the time to be "nice", no matter how much you want to be your usual kind and loving self. Don’t mistake being “nice” for being kind. True kindness involves telling the truth, not sugar-coating it until the truth becomes unrecognizable. By the time the bully has started their bullying behavior, it’s too late for being polite or diplomatic. As calmly as you can, look them in the eye and say:

  • “You’re interrupting me, and I have more to say.”
  • “You’re distorting the facts.”
  • “Don’t deflect (or distract) from the real issue, which is _________.”
  • "You're trying to shame me for asking for what I want."
  • “That’s an anti-communicator*.“ (And name which one—more on that below.)

6. Then say what you need to say. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, as calmly as you can. Learn to use the Change Model, which you can get for free from us below.

7. Do not shrink from a bully. You have a right to express your truth. You have a right to be here. You are worthy and you are enough. And no one can take that away from you. In the moment of bullying, just stand your ground. If that's too risky or dangerous, absolutely retreat to somewhere safe. You can always return to deal with it another day, with an ally or three to stand with you.

8. If you’re a bully’s target, congratulations! That means you’re probably a pretty decent human being. Bullies prefer to pick on people who are sensitive, who have compassion, and who have big hearts. They prey on what they perceive as weakness: sensitivity, vulnerability and kindness. There is nothing wrong with you for being sensitive, compassionate and big-hearted.

9. When and if you want or need help, ask for it. Allies are invaluable when you need to toss a bully out on their ear, whether at the time or later when they're still taking up space in your head and not paying any rent.

  • If you're triggered, upset or traumatized, know that whatever comes up for you, comes up because you are ready, brave and strong enough to acknowledge, heal and release it.
  • You deserve to be free of bullying. If you don’t know where to turn, let us Joy Gypsies know. We’re pretty good at connecting people with resources and support.


Why Do Bullies Bully Anyway?

Underneath all that toughness and aggression, bullies fear being perceived as weak themselves. They reject parts of themselves that seem weak and vulnerable. Somewhere along the line, usually in childhood, they were shamed for trying to get their basic needs met: love, comfort, affection, support, while in the vulnerable condition of being human.

Bullies project out this weakness they despise onto someone else they can punish and victimize for being what they dare not own in themselves. Underneath the bully’s fear and projection is the belief that they themselves are not worthy and not enough. In the moment that they bully, they're using a defensive strategy against whatever they really fear in themselves and cannot admit.

After the episode of bullying ends, if you know the person well, sometimes you can address their real fears and help them find a better way to get their needs met. However, habitual bullies often need professional help, so don't try to tackle helping a bully on your own, especially if it will endanger you in any way. 


* About Anti-Communicators

An anti-communicator is a tactic designed to stop communication and prevent the other person from saying what they need to say. We have a list for you of 13 anti-communicators to avoid (and name when you need to) plus a PDF handout of the Change Model, a specific and simple 5-step guide to resolving conflicts and disagreements. You can download your free copy plus some additional free gifts by signing up for our Joy Gypsies News. 

(If you're already subscribed, you'll get access to these gifts soon through our new monthly membership, Joy Gypsies Thrive Club, coming soon!)


It's time we all #RiseUp and stand firm when the bullies want to take our power.

The time for giving in to bullies is over. It’s time to swim without fear of the sharks.

Here's to you, courageously standing your ground and speaking your truth. The world is a better place for you doing so.

Much love,

Jackie Ambrow, MA, CHt

One of your Joy Gypsies at Transformation

#TogetherWeCan 🙏❤️

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