Adult Bullies: Do You Know One?

Last week my husband and I went to see the movie “Horrible Bosses.” I can’t recommend it, but it had its moments. Any movie with Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Jamie Foxx has to have some notable parts. Kevin Spacey made an absolutely repulsive, vindictive boss; actually, so did Jennifer Aniston. (Just thinking about that part might make you want to see it.) All three terrible bosses were incredible bullies, leaving terrified and furious employees in their wake.

Our newspapers are full of information about Diana Frey, the ousted president of the Cincinnati Organized and Dedicated Employees union who is accused of embezzling $757,000 from the union she led.

It seems that her most significant characteristic was being a bully. She went her own way without reprisal for so long because she intimidated everyone she worked with. Now the judgments against her are great and she’s required to get a job to start paying back what she owes. Who would hire such a person? Maybe another bully who appreciates her achievements? Either that or someone with the compassion of Christ himself.

I’m reminded of dealing with a bully in the workplace and writing a story about it for Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees, written by Cheryl Dellasega. At the time, I didn’t realize I was being bullied; I was just confused. Here’s the story with names changed to protect the guilty.

I was excited about transferring to fourth grade and looked forward to teaching with Lucy, having heard so much about what a fantastic teacher she was. I couldn’t wait to collaborate with her. I thought we’d really hit it off.

My relationship dream was quickly shattered because Lucy soon made it clear she did not intend to share anything with me–ideas, equipment, space–nothing. We had to share students because the students changed classrooms for some subjects. I even tried to share what I’d read or done, hoping that if I shared ideas so would she.

The more I got to know her, the more astonished I was at the high regard in which students and parents held her. In fact, her comments and questions in faculty meetings often brought sidelong glances and even snickers from the other teachers. Unfortunately, I, too, was guilty of being amused by her responses.

“I need to talk to you in the teacher’s lounge,” Lucy said one afternoon, tightly.

Meekly, I followed. Closing the door, she turned to me, eyes blazing. “I cannot believe the way you treated me in the faculty meeting yesterday!” she began. “When I asked about the transparencies with that machine, you looked around and rolled your eyes! That was so hateful!

[I now admit to being guilty as charged. I guess you had to have been there…]

“I just can’t take it anymore! You thrust yourself into this grade against my wishes [she had told the principal she would be delighted to teach with me] and then are so pushy and arrogant about all your ideas. Always telling me something you’ve read or something you’re doing–and wanting to copy my ideas as well. And you’re always yelling at me!

“I can tell you I’ve had it! You constantly humiliate me in front of the students. Even when we weren’t teaching the same grade, you would rarely speak to me in the hall. I’d be leading a class down the hall and we’d meet you and I’d say, ‘Hello, Mrs. Boyd!’ and you’d just give that little tight-lipped smirk and go on. One day a child even asked, ‘Why didn’t Mrs. Boyd speak to you?’ and I didn’t know what to say!”

At this point, I started to say that I usually speak to people the first time I see them for the day and after that just smile as we meet–that it seemed artificial to me to speak jovially at every hall encounter, as she did. Fortunately, I sensed that it was not the time for rebuttal. I stood there in silence, trying to look humble and contrite.

As she continued her barrage, I realized that when our students were changing classrooms, her holding up the exchange for five to ten minutes each day must have been intentional–a control move!

Finally, I simply apologized. I explained that I bore her no ill will–had, in fact, looked forward to teaching with her. Trying to word it differently each time, I apologized again and again–for intruding, for being unfriendly, for being overbearing, for existing.

When we finally left, both exhausted, I had no idea what would come of our situation. As it turned out, that was only one of several similar confrontations. And with each one I learned more about the multitude of actions that offended her and how to get along without giving in to her bullying techniques. I learned to quietly make one point in each conversation and let it go at that. “I only shared ideas in hopes that you would share ideas with me–not that I thought mine were better than yours.”

I also learned that sometimes Lucy was right. “I don’t mean to be yelling at you,” I said. “I forget to leave my classroom voice behind.” And I had to examine her accusations to be sure I wasn’t guilty of being a bully myself.

Teaching with her improved my prayer life, for I could not solve the problem alone. And my prayers were answered when our enrollment increased and God sent an angel in the guise of another teacher to join us. She was the oil for our troubled waters, for she loved us both and we loved her.

We eventually taught fourth grade together for ten years, with a better relationship each year. I understood why so many teachers had left that position, but I refused to be driven away by Lucy, the oldest fourth grade bully I’d ever known.

Which is worse, a playground bully or a psychological bully? What experiences have you had with adult bullies?

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One Comment

  1. boyd2

    This is so well-written! I LOVE the "for existing" and "the oldest fourth grade bully" parts. EXCELLENT writing! Nice introspection about your being the unintentional bully, too.

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