Much popular advice on handling emotional bullies is misguided, among other ways in that it replicates the bullying by placing the burden on victims and making them doubt themselves. That, I suspect, is partly because our culture sanctions bullying, and partly because it is really hard to understand if one is not familiar with it — and sometimes, even if it is.
We will therefore have an open thread on fallacies about how to handle bullying, and the truths that correspond to these.
ADDENDUM AND BASIC. 0. They are in terrible pain. With love and support they will become the wonderful people they really are. WRONG. See my earlier post On Pity.
1. Just draw a better boundary with that person. You do not have to exile them from your life completely. WRONG. Yes, you DO. The cited advice is only applicable if you are a minor, are incarcerated, or have to work with that person. It does not apply to bullies who are optional in your life. Bullies want to disrespect your boundaries, that is what they live for. You have no obligation to negotiate or bargain with them, even when they have some positive characteristics and someone else thinks you should be friends. It is not you who have “weak boundaries,” it is they who are perpetrators!
ADDENDUM ON WORKING WITH THEM: Work to rule, even if normally you would collaborate more freely or converse more informally. This is difficult for me in the case of AAPs (Abusive Assistant Professors) because (a) I understand that it is very hard to be an AP here and I am sorry for them, and (b) if I hired them, I like them and value their work. It would be normal to reach out and help them get oriented. But because they are abusive, I don’t. That is the workplace equivalent of exiling someone from your life.
2. Tell them exactly what behavior it is that offends you, and politely ask them to stop. Use the “I” language for this: do not blame them for your feelings, but ask them to stop. WRONG. This advice only applies in workplace settings, where you must document that you have attempted to address the problem. Otherwise all you are doing is giving them information on what upsets you, which they can use — either to escalate the abuse, or to redefine your request so narrowly that they can continue the behavior while claiming to have stopped. And about the “I” language — hang it up. Everyone knows it is just a flipped around, passive aggressive version of the “you” language. Furthermore, it allows abusers to reiterate that it is you who are sensitive, not they who are out of line.
3. It is your problem. You attract this behavior because people intuit that you have had it visited upon you before. Nay — you even seek it out. Therefore concentrate on that first instance, “take responsibility” for it, and realize you do not have to feel the pain others dish out. HIGHLY INADEQUATE, WHEN NOT OUTRIGHT WRONG. Bullies bully everyone. You do not attract it, you just do not know how to stop it or escape it as quickly as you might. You may have even been trained not to recognize it. This does not mean it is your fault. And the possibility that people can learn to deflect the pain of verbal abuse by, for instance, not taking the source too seriously, does not mean bullies are within their rights to carry on.