Living With Bullies

As much as I like to stay on the positive side of life as a motivational speaker, there are times when I must address the not so positive side. And today I can’t stop thinking about the bullies in life. I met them as a kid when they threw things at me on the bus. And I have been meeting them ever since – in one form or another. Most of the people that I meet in my travels are kind – more than most actually. And so I continue to believe that Americans as a whole have a kind spirit – ready to jump in when help is needed – quick to sympathize – slow to walk away from their fellow man in need. And I don’t think there is a clear line between the bully and the kind person. I have days when I am the nicest most patient person on the planet – and in one moment I can turn into Mommie Dearest and start channeling my inner demons.  I try to control those moments – but they do exist. As Tim McGraw says in his newest song – “It ain’t hard to dig up dirt on me – but I  hope at least I’m better than I used to be.”

And then there are the bullies. You can blame it on a defective gene. You can say they are a victim of their own upbringing. You can say they are stuck in the grips of addiction.  You can make excuses until you are blue in the face. But a bully is still a bully. I’m not talking about the nice person who has moments of mean – or might be going through a mean phase. I’m talking about the mean person who might have moments of nice. We know who they are. But I’m not sure they do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies- whenever I think about my childhood – whenever I turn on the news and see another school shooting – whenever I see a photograph of another missing woman – whenever I meet someone in my audience who shares their sorrow of living with a bully. And because today it’s personal. Someone I love dearly is under the grips of a bully. And I fear that others I love are sharing this burden too. And I feel this overwhelming urge to talk about this. Maybe in the hopes of starting a worldwide conversation. Or just in the hopes that someone is listening and will feel a glimmer of hope. Or maybe I just need to vent. It won’t be the first time. I’m not the expert on this subject – so if you are, or if you have experience dealing with bullies – and feel called to inject your two cents, please do. Words have power to reach people in the darkest places.

And so first I want to say some things to all of you bullies out there: (and if you are not sure if you are a bully – ASK)

1. At some point, deep down, you know what you’re doing. You know that this is wrong. So stop.
2. One day you will be judged for your actions. And you will receive exactly what you deserve.
3. Saying you are sorry is no good if you keep doing it.
4. You have absolutely NO EXCUSE,  NO VALID REASON, for treating another person (whether in your home or in the workplace) with disrespect, anger, judgment, hatred, accusation, or physical harm. Taking your stress out on someone else is not okay. And you know it. They don’t deserve it. No matter what they have done, and no matter what you have been through.
5. Don’t look at me like you have no idea what I’m talking about. Do you treat other people (like your neighbors or your customers) that way? Then you know the difference. So shame on you.
6. You can break the cycle. Just because it was done to you, doesn’t mean it has to continue.
7. You can be forgiven. But you have to stop the behavior first. The key is repentance.
8. What you are doing is YOUR CHOICE. You’re probably standing there saying you are this way because of your circumstances. No. You are being a bully because you are choosing to be a bully. What is happening in your life may be beyond your control – but going home and taking it out on your family was YOUR CHOICE. You think the situation ruined your life. But it didn’t. You chose to let it ruin your life when you decided you would drink it away – or hit it away – or yell it away. You chose to kick the dog.
9. Somewhere deep down, at some moment, you know you need help. Ask for it. Please. You can find peace again.  Being a bully will hurt you physically, emotionally, and in ways you can not even see.
10. It is nobody’s job to stay with a bully. Don’t blame your loved ones when they leave. Accept responsibility for what you have created.

Unfortunately, I doubt that one single bully will read this and change his/her behavior. And so we will revert back to the age old wisdom that we can’t control the bully, we can only control how we react to the bully. And so now, I have some things to share with those living under the grip of a bully.

To the one who is being bullied:

1. This is not your fault. Do you hear me? YOU DON’T DESERVE THIS. Period.
2. You always have a choice. You can leave. No matter how hard you think it is – or little you think you have – you can choose to walk away. Leave the bully. If you choose to stay – then you are choosing the behavior to continue.
3. If you have children, think about the environment you are raising them in. This doesn’t always just affect you. You can’t control the bully – but you can control whether you let that affect your child’s childhood.
4. Working for a bully is tough. You can address the situation (and should) in a rational, well thought out manner. But if they don’t change, then your options are to stay and deal with it – or leave. If you stay, find a way to let it go. Talking about the bully for years is extremely unproductive and will affect you physically.
5. Don’t fight with a bully. Many bullies are incapable of sound logical discussion. You will not be able to convince them – or make them exhibit rational behavior if they are incapable of rational behavior.
6. Clients shouldn’t be bullies either.  Take bully situations to your boss to determine the best course of action. If you are forced to put up with a bully at work – at your boss’s command – you may have no choice but to stay and deal with it – or leave.
7. Don’t spend hours complaining about your bully – especially if those hours turn into years. Your loved ones will listen – up to a point – and then they will grow weary of hearing you complain and not doing anything about it. Take action.
8. If your safety is at risk, be smart. Don’t put yourself in situations where you are helpless.
9. It’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you are weak. It just might be the strongest thing you do.
10. Stand up to your bully in a calm way. Sometimes the simple act of letting a bully know that you do not appreciate that behavior, deserve the behavior, or will accept that behavior – is enough to make the bully go find someone else to bully. I’m amazed at how many people come up to me complaining about difficult people – and yet have never done one thing to address it. Problems will not just go away. Part of life is learning to stand up to people who treat you with disrespect.

And, yes, all of this is easier said than done. Just like life.

And there is also a third group of people – the ones who see bullying in action. We have a responsibility too – to do what we can to help. Whenever we discuss bullying at school, we are always talking about the bully and the victim. But what about everybody else? We should do more than just teach our children to be nice. We need to teach them to help out the one being bullied. To have the courage to take a stand. I am going to try and teach my son to look for the ones who need a friend. To include the ones that nobody includes. To make friends with the ones who don’t have friends.

If anybody has any words of wisdom they would like to share – we are open for discussion.

Until then – I wish you happiness and a bully-free life.


Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson - called one of North Carolina's funniest women by Our State Magazine. Kelly lifts the spirits of audiences from coast-to-coast using humor, storytelling, and lives of the characters from Prides Hollow - Kelly's make believe small town. This unique approach to motivational speaking allows Kelly to break through communications barriers and connect directly to the audience's imagination.
Her powerful stories and wacky wit will make you laugh, remind you that you matter, show you how to see beyond your obstacles, and teach you how to stand up and stick out in a crowded market.
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  1. Wow Kelly! That was good practical advice for both the victim and the bully. You don’t have to be a motivational keynote speaker to see the wisdom.

    A couple of points about bullying in the workplace:

    • Someone being bullied at work often does have redress. That is what the HR department is for. If a boss picks on subordinates, especially in  large organizations, the HR department can step in and help solve the problem. The bullying boss can be fixed or fired. Most HR departments will take accusations of bullying very seriously. And since most large organizations are on pins and needles about getting sued or brought before a labor board, the person being bullied doesn’t have to worry about recriminations. This was how this sort of thing worked at one large organization where I worked.
    • I found that workplace bullies didn’t pick on those they perceived wouldn’t put up with it. I worked in a couple of places where there were bullying bosses  who were both verbally and actually physically abusive. Let’s just say they never behaved that way with me. Hmm… wonder why? 
  2. Thank you, Kelly, for writing this blog.  I pray it will be seen by all three of the kinds of people you reference.  As someone who was on the receiving end of this type of behavior for a long time I understand on a deep emotional level just how frightening it can be.  I understand that when you are a child and you are a victim of this – from the person who should actually be keeping you SAFE- and not hurting you – you don’t feel like you have a choice.  I also understand how EASY it would be for people coming from this situation to automatically choose, when they are adults, to be around other people who treat them the same way.  It’s familiar, it’s expected, it’s what you feel you deserve.  And to all those people I say that you CAN break this pattern and choose to be around people who respect you.  You CAN choose to see yourself as a deserving, worthwhile person.  It’s a decision.  A big, life altering, HUGE decision that you CAN make – and there are people out there to help you with that decision.  Get help if you need to.  

  3. Truthful words were never spoken, Kelly. Keep writing these incredible posts that do get read, internalized and acted upon. My heart was moved recently when a woman came up at after a conference and asked if I remembered her. Remember her? I told her story to my sweetheart, daughters, assistant and anyone who would listen because I was so moved by her bully boss story. A CEO of a very prominent company that she supported which shows you bully’s come in every shape and size. When she originally shared we spent a great deal of time talking about choices, phraseology to use in these situations, and I asked her to follow up with me. She didn’t, and I’m speaking my truth when I tell you I couldn’t get her out of my thoughts. So, imagine my joy when just last week she approached me with the biggest smile on her face. Yup, went home after the conference, spoke up for herself with grace and when that didn’t change the situation, she quit. Only to land the most incredible job that brings her joy, an outstanding supervisor and you could see it all over her face. Keep blogging Kelly. People are listening…especially to an amazing motivational speaker like you.

  4. OK, my motivational speaker friends, let’s do our small part and get Kelly’s powerful and heart-felt message out to our social media sites!  As a mother of two boys I paid keen attention to their behavior and that of the other kids in the neighborhood and at school, with the intention of nipping it in the bud when (not if) bullying behavior arose.  Those were the times for valuable life lessons in treating others with kindness that both grown sons have put in place.  Phew!  As for the workplace, your advice of addressing the boss-bully in a well thought out manner and standing up to them in a calm way worked for me…twice!  Not easy to do though, you’re right, but very empowering when you do it.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this rough subject and I hope the loved one you mentioned will find a fast resolution!

  5. Thanks Kelly, you write so emotionally and I appreciate your desire to rid the world of Bullys.  I love how you addressed each person who is affected by the bully, including the bully.  Thank you for your really big heart.  Your son is lucky to be learning such life lessons from you and Bill.  Sending big hugs today!

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