I remember, prior to the start of the war in Iraq, hearing Tony Blair speak about the reasons why, in his opinion he felt that we should take on Sadam Hussain. I know it’s a raw subject, and probably one that I should not delve into-as opinions on the war and Tony Blair are divided enough, but he said something that really resonated with me. I remember him talking about the efforts that would go into the conflict and that casualties that were to be expected, and he said “It takes a lot to stand up to a bully.”

Bullies show up in many different contexts, in schools, families, the workplace and even in our peer groups. I’d like to give you the good news that Tony Blair was wrong, that it is easier than he made out, that it doesn’t really have to take that much to stand up to a bully- but it does. He was right. It does take a lot to stand up to a bully. It is by far easier to just let them walk all over you and push you around. It is easier to do that than to confront them or argue or disagree with them. Of course it is. If it was simple to tell a bully shove off and stop being such a narcissist, people would have done it already. They’d have already broken the bullying pattern.

When I was a nanny back in the mid 1990’s I was part of a nanny group, a circle of friends who all worked in similar jobs, and we used to get together as a group and have lunch or go out for dinner. Whenever it was someone’s birthday, we’d all chip in £10 and stick it in a birthday card for them.

There was a girl in our nanny group who I didn’t really click with. She always had some crude opinion and somehow seemed to always command a room and have everyone listening to her and running around after her. Yet when she’d gone, people would breath a sigh of relief and say how demanding she was and that she had a bad attitude. I felt totally intimidated by her and I frequently became the butt of her jokes.

When it came to her birthday, we did the usually meal out and everyone popped £10 into her birthday card. However, I was away on holiday whilst this was going on, and when I turned up to the birthday meal the birthday card had been sealed with the money already inside. So I thought I’d wait until I had some change in my purse and would give her the money then. Luckily, someone had signed the card for me before it was sealed, so all I had to do was add to the birthday fund.

As we sat and waited for the dinner to come over, she opened her birthday card and out feel all the money. She was sitting directly opposite me at the table so I had a good view of her. I watched her count the money from the card, then count the number of names in the card. Then she turned to her side kick sitting next to her and said “There are 10 names in my birthday card, but only £90. That means that someone has signed the card without putting in any money- who the hell was that?”

A little voice in my head piped up “Say something Gemma. She is talking about you. This is your chance to have your say and show her what a spoilt ungrateful cow she is. SAY SOMETHING! Yes, she will kick off, but you have a chance here to STAND UP FOR YOURSELF!”

So I cleared my throat and said “Excuse me Anna, I just heard what you said.”
She looked right at me and said “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I said “I just heard you say that you’ve counted the money and you’ve counted the names and they don’t match up. I’d like you to know that’s because I haven’t put any money in for you. I’d intended on doing it later as I didn’t have any change and the envelope was already sealed.”
She went red, seriously red like a very ripe tomato.
“You misheard me, I didn’t say that.”
(Little voice in head is thinking “Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t you’ve got to keep running with this now!”)
“Anna, I’m sitting directly in front of you, I heard you perfectly well thank you. I heard you and I saw you saying it.”
By this stage, the entire table was looking at the colour of Anna who was going closer to purple now, and then looking at me. I could tell that in their heads they were all thinking “Shut up Gemma! What the hell are you doing?”
I reached into my purse, and having bought a drink at the bar, had a £10 note ready for her. “Here you go, take it. Now the money matches the number of names in the card- but of course it’s the though that counts.”
She was dumb struck, absolutely taken aback. “No it’s fine…. I didn’t say that…. I don’t want it.” And she handed me back the money.
“But Anna, you and I both know, you did say it. Take it, really. You deserve it. Happy Birthday.”And I handed the money back at her in a “don’t mess with me” kind of way.
The mistake I’d made was that this was all before we’d had the main course. I had to eat 3 courses of food with my heart in my mouth watching her face turn purple every time I made eye contact with her.

Everyone new she was a bully, and everyone tipped toed around her because they’d rather be gossiped to, than gossiped about by her. I was talked about a lot for a long time after that event. It was over 15 years ago now, and I don’t see those girls much at all now. But when I do, they ALWAYS talk about the time I stood up to Anna.

The relationship between me and Anna changed dramatically after that day. She ranted about me no end, far more than she had prior to the events at her birthday meal. The difference was I couldn’t give a flying fig. I’d said my bit and in saying it had really told her “Don’t mess with me.” If I’d still been in the “victim” state, it would have been a far, far worse situation than it had been before. Now she was saying terrible things about me to the rest of the group, she would hold parties and not invite me. But I didn’t care. I’d said my bit, I’d outted her as the selfish toad that she was. I wasn’t a victim anymore and that meant she could no longer be my bully. She tried, but it just didn’t achieve the desired effect.

And the thing that irritated her most, was that I just wouldn’t take the bait. She’d say awful things about me and after that night at her birthday meal, but I’d made a pact with myself to be the most gracious that I could be. That really irritated her. Then she was only bullying herself since she was the cause and the only victim of her anger/frustration/hate.

Unfortunately I can’t remember where I heard it, so credit where credit is due, but I once heard this great explanation of how to deal with someone else’s anger and bitterness:

If I gave you a pencil as a gift, handed it to you and you took it from me. Who owns the pencil? You do.

Now if that pencil was my anger, and I wanted to give you a piece of that anger as a gift, and you sat there and took it from me, who has the crappy feeling? You do.

If you don’t want someone’s pencil (gift of anger/rudeness/sarcastic comments) you simply don’t take it. You say “No thanks, you can keep it.”

I know that this doesn’t deal with the everyday scenarios you may find yourself in, but these are all context dependant and so need individual consideration. Of course in all cases you would think about your physiology and tone of voice in response to your bully- ensuring that you seem as calm and centred as possible (unlike I was in my situation with Anna.)

The good thing is, when you start to let yourself get comfortable with saying “No thanks, I don’t want your bad feeling. Keep it.” People start to react very differently towards you in the future. You send out a new transmission in the presence that you have, that subtly tells people “Don’t even bother trying to pick on me. I won’t react in the way you hope. It will be a waste of your time.” A new boundary is installed in your persona, and the bullies will no longer find you entertaining.

By Gemma Bailey

11 Replies to “Standing Up To Bullies”

  1. liked this.
    As a person who doesn’t like conflict I am frequently a victim of bullying; much to the consternation of my husband who tells me exactly what you’re saying – don’t suffer from stress, give it back to the person trying to give it to you!

  2. Go Gemma Go!!

    My new neighbours and their freinds have been trying to bully and intimidate me since a few weeks after I moved into my new flat four months ago, after my recent divorce. Apparently, they have a history of bullying every new tenant who has occupied this flat over the last two years, resulting in ‘3’ families ‘moving on’ or to put it more plainly ‘running away’. The bullies have even smashed windows in the past, in protest to complaints. However, I now have a gorgeous 2 bed flat, on the edge of a nature reserve which I can see from my windows. My beautiful dog and I run and walk on this lake twice a day and enjoy watching the windsurfers and canoes. it’s perfect, so are my other neighbours, and I’m going nowhere.

    I’ve now appeared in court twice in the last two months as a witness of their bullying and anti-social behavior, and have another hearing scheduled in four weeks time. I may only be 5ft nothing and 6st wet through haha, but I ‘expect’ to achieve my goal of being able to live in my new home for however long I choose, with peace and in harmony with my other lovely neighbours (who, for two years have been too frightened to take action against these bullies).

    In short, I ‘refuse’ to allow these people to dis-empower me, and never, ever allow myself to feel victimised. I’ve done this by taken emmediate ‘action’ to empower my decision to live in my new home, which has the added bonus, of putting me back in control of my destiny, and confused the bullies somewhat.

    I’m really looking forward to living happily in my great new flat, there’s just going to be a bid of a delay until I’ve ironed out a few ‘hiccups’ haha!!

    Never relinquish your ability to be happy to anyone.


  3. Hi Gemma,
    GREAT advice!
    Bully’s are a pet hate of mine. I have been through similar situations and it can be difficult to stand up for your self. What makes it worse is everyone around KNOWS what is happening too but, won’t do/say anything as they don’t want to be on the recieving end. And to make you feel worse, you know yourself that you should be standing up to them and it makes you feel weak. Like you, I eventually stood up for myself, it IS an uncomfortable feeling but well worth the effort. It’s freeing and liberating. It’s wonderful not to care anymore. The pencil story is a good analogy to remind ourselves with. Jules

  4. This is a brilliant article and something I wish I could have read when I was at school. I am now nearly 40 years old and wish I had had the guts then to stand up to the people tormenting me. At the time I thought they had ‘ruined my life’ – and to an extent, they did. But I allowed it to happen – for a further 20 years. I was a victim. Suddenly, one day, I did a similar thing to Gemma. Yes, I too had a backlash, but I felt so much better that it didnt bother me and I rose above it all. I, too, wasn’t very ‘centred’ or ‘calm’ at the time, but the effect was still very rewarding and I felt free for the first time in ages. Ultimately I had got to the point where I had had enough bullying. I had it from my family, my so-called ‘friends’ who tried to give me ‘strength’ tests (to do their dirty work and I therefore ‘proved’ myself to them), my ex-partners and even work colleagues. Yes, it’s a very hard thing to do initially but once you have done it, in spite of any backlash from the person doing the bullying, you will feel very proud of yourself. The secret, too, as Gemma says, is to remain centred and calm and people will respect you and any bullying will fall flat. They won’t be able to do it if you don’t let them. It’s true. I am trying to tell my children this, who are now going through being bullied themselves and it is painful to watch. I am hoping that my experiences – and I am going to let them read Gemma’s story – will make them realise they dont have to be victims forever. Thanks very much Gemma.

  5. Wow guys, I’m flabbergasted by your response to this article (in a good way). It’s always a tough call whether to share personal experiences in articles or whether to write more factual stuff. I’m so pleased that the sharing of my experience has evoked such an amazing response from you.

    It is really uncomfortable to stand up to bullies, but fair play to all those of you who have.

    “You’re braver than you belief
    Stronger than you seem
    and smarter than you think.”

    That’s quote comes from a great character.

    Winnie the Pooh. I read it in a kids book! (But I bloody love it!)

  6. Yes, I think it’s wonderful to stand up to bullies. Gemma you have a wonderful strong voice.
    My experience lasted for about 8 months. I had work bullies. My past supervisor and manager.
    Because I had to have my job I didn’t get relief by standing up to them.
    I did speak with the supervisor and her manager about her behavior but it didn’t improve. Then I got new management-or manager and no supervisor. The new manager was awful too. I think companies need to have some kind of way to report bullying. My company doesn’t- I looked.
    I think these negative experiences have helped me to be clearer about who I am. I know that I want to learn NLP. I don’t want to live by the negative programming or the limitations of any experiences. I attended Part I for Ericksonian Hypnosis and loved it. So, thank you for being there!

    1. Good for you Donna. I think it is extremely brave to realise that there are things YOU can do to change the way a bully is behaving towards you. Most people fall into victim mode and hope that the circumstances will change without them having to do anything for themselves.

      I think it is excellent that you have taken something positive from the experiences you have had. You get my gold start today!

  7. whats alarming the girl was a nanny and should not have been working with children in the first place. I have found through experiences that bullies can be very witty funny people. Hence in the workplace it is difficult to complain because everyone else seem to love them. Well done Gemma your a star.

  8. I wish i could be that brave. Ive recently started university and my flat have started bullying me. I walk into the communal kitchen and they will all be in there talking but when i walk in they stop and say we will continue this conversation later. Then when i try going out with them all they ignore me and then when i look upset they are like whats her problem. I decided i would go out with them for the last time last night as i was fed up of having to try and force myself to fit in with these people. I ended up leaving the pre drinks and going out with some friends from back home. In the club later they found me came up to me and started taking pictures of me right in my face.. took a lot of courage to not cry and my friends told them to leave me alone. When i asked one of them who i had got on with really well in freshers week why he did it he said Sarah my other flat mate thought it would be really funny, i told him how upset they make me but it didnt seem to matter. Anyway i didnt let them ruin my night and just tried to avoid them like i had done before! Later i got dumped so was feeling pretty rubbish and fell asleep about 4am after an hour of trying to sleep at half 5 i got woken up by Sarah banging on my door calling me a bitch and a slut and a horrible person who should just F*** off. I was tired and confused then she starts shouting dont you ever go in my room again you whore! I had not been in her room. The next day i found out another guy in my flat had been in her room and thrown some things around.. she still thinks its me because he wont come clean. All over the fridge is abuse about me written by two of my flat. I dont know what to do all i wanted was to go to uni and make friends and they have ruined that. There are 10 of them who are all like best friends and i have to listen to them all the time.. they are not nice people, i dont know how i am going to live with them until June 🙁

  9. Hi Amy

    Thank you for posting here and I hope you get a chance to read this response.

    I think you have been treated very unfairly and you are clearly having to put up with a lot of trouble at the moment. It would be totally understandable to assume that this scenario has left you feeling upset and weakened. It has probably affected your confidence.

    What’s important though, is what you do next to respond to this situation.

    I know it’s easy for me to say as I am not in the situation you are in, but you need now to get yourself out of the victim psychology. A good emotion for you to experience next, would be the one I call pissed off.

    In pissed off, there is a bit of power and energy to it. Pissed off can help you think “if you want to think badly of me, it’s your problem, I won’t let you get in the way of my life.” Pissed off can help you develop a steely “don’t mess with me” look and have you shake your head in disbelief as you witness someone behaving like an idiot.

    But best of all, Pissed off can help you stand up in front of the people who previously made you feel like a victim and say “Look, maybe I’m just more evolved as a person than you are, but I don’t want to live with a bad feeling between us. Perhaps you can sort this problem with me now or instead chose to stay well out of my way ‘cos I’ve had enough of this nonsense. I want to be mature about this, if you are able to handle that.”

    Then depending on the result you get, pissed off will help you pick yourself up and go and meet better quality people so that the less evolved ones fall into insignificance.

    It’s not my place to give you advice, but if I could, I’d say “get pissed off.”

Comments are closed.