Social Aggression: When Bullies Spread Lies and Rumors About You
The possible underlying messages are:
“I hate you, and I want everyone else to hate you too!”
“I’m jealous of your relationships!”
“I don’t want you to have friends! I don’t want you to be popular with others! I don’t want you to have support or protection because I plan to bully you again later! Any success you have in relationships will only highlight my lack of social graces or my own dysfunctional relationships! So, I’m going to destroy your friendships to punish you and make myself feel and look better than you! I’m going to trash your reputation so I can shine, and so people will pay more attention to your flaws than they will mine!”
Chess board and text “Strategic plan” Business planning concept
“I’m scared you’ll have more friends than me.”
“I’m scared you’ll have allies who will protect you from me and make me look weak.”
“I’m going to use you as a distraction from my own shortcomings. If people are too busy focusing on your flaws, they’re less likely to see mine.”
When Bullies Beat You up
The possible messages are:
“You challenged my authority over you and made me look like a punk! So, I’m going to show you who’s boss and ensure you never defy my power again!”
“I feel weak and powerless! So, I’m going to use my physical strength to hurt you, embarrass you and make you look weaker so I can feel and look strong to others!”
When the Bully Justifies Themselves to You or Others, or When They Blame You for Their Bad Behavior
The possible messages are:
“I’m so scared that you’ll see right through me! So, I’m going to make you feel like everything is your fault and doubt your sanity! That way, you’ll be least likely to call attention to my terrible actions and make me look bad or get me in trouble with authority!”
“I’m so afraid you’ll expose my terrible deeds to others and damage the excellent reputation that I’ve falsely kept up for so long! So, I’ve got to make up any excuse that sounds plausible to keep my evils hidden and avoid facing accountability!
“I’m scared that I’ll be found out and punished! So, I’m blaming you so that everyone will think you’re at fault and believe you are the bully! By accusing you, I can avoid responsibility, then get the green light to keep harassing you! Then, I can keep getting the psychological and emotional benefits I’ve been getting at your expense!”
So, you see? The bully’s treatment of you is about them! Not you! Learn to see through the bullies’ facades, and I guarantee that their attacks will have a much lesser effect on you.
The most insidious thing about being a victim of bullying is the loss of opportunities to meet new people and the inability to move on with new friends. When bullies and their drones have unjustly slandered or libeled you, even total strangers will no doubt hear of you, and chances are, they will automatically have their minds made up about you before they get a chance to meet you. Sadly, this is one feature of bullying that crosses very few people’s minds.
What’s even scarier is that you are left completely defenseless against any attack these strangers may bring because you haven’t the slightest idea who they are. How do you know who to watch out for? How do you know who to avoid? It’s impossible to protect yourself from invisible enemies.
It is a situation in which you are walking blind, which is very dangerous! You cannot see the enemy. Someone could walk right up to you on the street, in broad daylight, with a weapon hidden on them and you would never know of their intent to hurt or kill you until it was too late.
Remember. We lost the Vietnam War because we didn’t know who the enemy was. We didn’t know exactly who was or wasn’t on our side!
It’s the same when you are a victim of bullying, especially if you live in a rural area where everyone knows everyone. Once your tarnished reputation reaches far and wide, there will be times when you won’t know who is coming for you and it will be as if you are fighting ghosts.
Sadly, in these cases, the bullying has for so long gone on that your reputation in the community has become ironclad, and there isn’t much you can do to change it. Therefore, the best you can do to better your life is to move away and get a fresh start in a new town. It may be the only way you will find happiness and stability.
Being bullied by someone who’s passive-aggressive is the most demeaning and humiliating. I say this because when these types insult you, they’re slick about it.
They catch you off guard, taunting you in such a way that it can be tricky to figure out who it’s aimed at. Sometimes, you don’t even know it’s directed at you until it’s way too late for you to deliver a good comeback.
Because the bully may not necessarily address it to you, and while you may be unaware, any bystanders and witnesses nearby will immediately know who the covert nastiness was meant for. It’s funny how we tend to see so much clearer from the outside.
What’s so terrible about passive-aggressive bullying is that the stealthy insults are usually hurled at you in front of an audience. And they can quickly fly over your head and make you look weak or like a clueless idiot for not catching it in time.
Even though the bully’s words are vague and unclear, they will still nibble at your self-esteem and take a chunk out of your confidence, whether you want them to or not, because you usually figure it out sooner or later. It only goes to prove how vicious these covert attacks can be.
But understand that although the bully and a few others might think he (the bully) is being witty or cute and that the creep slapped you with a good burn, there are reasons why these types are so slick with the mouth.
1. They’re great big cowards. Passive-aggressive bullies don’t have the guts to make a direct attack. The idea of a frontal assault scares these people to death. They hope the insults go over your head because they know that if they can confuse you and throw you off-balance, the least likely you are to jab back with a good counter-attack and make them look like a punk.
2. They think it makes them look cute. Passive-aggressiveness is also used to get attention and look intelligent in front of others. These bullies can only achieve this by humiliating someone else and making them look (and feel) stupid.
3. To stun you and keep you silent. Often, the shock-value of the insults is such that it often leaves the recipient and bystanders speechless. Shock shuts down the ability to think clearly and causes the victim to pause for a second or two.
Many times, the target is left stunned, standing there with their mouths hung open and unable to respond quickly and appropriately, therefore making the poor person look slow and feeble-minded in the eyes of bystanders and making the bully look smart and witty.
It can also strike fear into the target and keep them from speaking out, afraid that the bully will only verbally beat them down with more wisecracks.
4. Easy Deniability. If the insults are vague and indirect, there’s a higher chance the bully will escape accountability, should the target either catch it right off and either respond to it or report it. The bully can then more easily misconstrue the message and defensively claim, “Oh, that’s not what I meant,” “No harm intended,” “I wasn’t referring to you,” or “You took that the wrong way.”
Understand that although the garbage that comes out of their mouths may be vile and directed at you, it will often have several different interpretations. And because of those multiple meanings, the bully can very innocently explain away the put-down and make you look overly-sensitive, paranoid, or mentally unstable.
But here’s the good news! There are ways to read between the lines and stonewall these lowlife cowards anytime they get slick-mouthed with you.
1. Listen to your gut. If that nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach sounds off and you feel weird or that something is off, don’t ignore it. Your gut feeling is always right, so go with it!
Judgemental girls taunting fellow student
2. Quickly observe any surrounding bystanders. Make a split-second micro-glance of the witnesses and note their reactions and who they’re looking at. Notice their facial expressions and gestures. If you see any of these expressions below, and you’re likely to notice many of them together, you are the target of the insult.
a. If the witnesses’ eyes suddenly widen and they immediately look at you funny after the bully opens his mouth.
b. If they alternate uncomfortable glances from the bully to you then back to the bully
c. If you hear light gasps and grunts of shock from the “audience.”
d. If you see their whole faces change suddenly and mouths slightly gape open
e. If you hear soft but derisive giggles, chuckles, or laughter
f. If you see or hear snickering
Any number of these will give you a yes, and you can address the problem accordingly.
It’s true. If you’re a target of bullying, your bullies more than likely don’t consciously know why they hate you. So, what do they do? They make up reasons.
And the reasons they make up arise from confabulations and hasty generalizations. The reasons also come from long-standing rumors that turn into myths. These myths may have been around for years- even decades. When a myth or generalization has been the narrative long enough, it goes unquestioned and takes on a life of its own. It’s “just the way it is.” As a result, people become “biased” against the target.
When bullies and others are biased against a person, they accept any myth as truth, and this bias keeps bullies wound up and ready to hurt the target. Bias blinds people and claims to know the truth about a person or group of people without concrete evidence or firsthand knowledge.
People support biases with stereotypes, which are only lies and opinions repeated so often and for so long until society accepts them as the truth.
But know this. If you’re a target of bullies, although others may tag you with labels that don’t apply to you, you don’t have to accept them nor let them define who you are. Only you can define yourself. Nobody else can do it for you. Understand that nobody knows the inner you but you.
Know that you have the power to accept or reject labels. Use that power. Reject your bullies’ definitions of you. Bullies may have a degree of control over your surroundings and, yes, even your physical well-being. They may also control how others view you.
But they can never control what you think of yourself. Bullies can’t control your mind and thoughts without your permission. That power belongs to you and you alone.
It always starts subtly. Bullies start rumors by dropping a suggestion. And all it takes is one little rumor- just one! Because people will want to believe it.
If enough people do, it will become the truth even if it is a bald-faced lie. And there’s no getting away from public opinion no matter how false or unjustified it is.
Bullies ruin targets by making things up, leaking info they hear, or spreading ideas. Next, the bullies will fade into the background because they know that with everything put together, the rumor or whatever lie they spread will stick. They’ve done their part, and now they can sit back and let the rumor mill do the work for them. It’s that easy!
Let’s break it down.
The bullies start by suggesting that the target would be better off if he/she got professional help, moved, etc . They will say that it’s for his (the target’s) own good.
They may then drop an offhand comment here and another there.
In the beginning, the target may have friends and be very well-liked. And these friends may try to support the victim and speak on his behalf, but that’s when the bullies will tell them, “Oh, no. There’s more to it than what he told you.” Or, the bullies may lie to the friends by telling them that sometime in the past, the target criticized them (the friends) or stabbed them in the back.
Now it’s time for the bullies to stand back and let the old rumor mill do its handiwork. And, sure enough, the lies become the truth. People begin reporting things to the bullies and higher-ups in the social hierarchy- even things that never happened.
And as the rumors and lies spread from person to person, the bigger they get until they sound so bizarre and outlandish they’d be fit for a horror movie.
The target might say, “Aw, but they’re my friends. They’d never do that to me. They know I’m a good person, and I have a clean reputation. All I have to do is tell them my side of things, and this stuff will go away.”
Once the rumors get around, the target’s friends will no longer believe him to be right. They’ll only think the victim is a thorn in the side with a big mouth. By the time bullying is underway, your reputation is no longer clean.
Now, everyone thinks the target never deserved any respect or friendship. The people around him also feel that the reason he was so well-liked is that he conned his way into their hearts.
They’ll say that the target put on a front, and he only weaseled his way into everyone’s good graces. The bullies and their followers may even accuse the victim of being a kiss-arse.
The target’s past wins, accomplishments, successes, or accolades will be made irrelevant. And every mistake and failure will be maximized, along with many more he didn’t make. At the same time, they’ll rewrite the victim’s history.
When you’re a target, even if others see with their own eyes evidence of your successes, friendships- anything positive, they’ll only react by claiming that you’re only a smooth-talker who’s darn good at using fake charm to manipulate others.
And the friends that your bullies turn against you? Your former friends will claim that they never liked you from the start and that they were only kind to you because they were afraid of you, felt sorry for you, or because you smooth-talked and conned them.
Your so-called friends will tell others, “who you really are.” They’ll claim that the bullies you bitched about were only reacting to your sneaky provocations, and if they ever agreed with you about your bullies, they only did so because you fooled them into it.
And telling your side of things will do no good because they’ll never believe it anyway. Your embittered friends “may have fallen for it at first,” but now they claim to “know better.”
I want you to understand that their minds are already made up and there’s no changing it.
In cases like these, it’s best just to find a way to get out of the environment altogether and never look back, and to never have anything to do with any of these people again. You owe it to yourself to kick them all to the curb.
Mobbing is THE severest form of bullying. Once the bullying reaches the stage of mobbing, this is when the bullying becomes life-threatening! And if you’ve ever been a target of it, you know firsthand how destructive it is.
The reason that mobbing is so hard to remedy is that not only has it already rendered us so distraught that we’re unable to think clearly, but we aren’t able to name, describe, nor communicate the steps bullies take to destroy us.
A successful smear campaign is started by a bully or bullies who are well-practiced in the arts of persuasion and influence and can last for years.
Here’s something I want you to realize. A smear campaign is nowhere near as tricky as it looks. You’d be amazed at just how simple it is to smear someone. It’s so easy that it shouldn’t be so effective, but it is!
To quote the old Geico commercial, it’s “so easy; a caveman can do it.”
Here’s a chronological, step-by-step recap of how bullies do it and succeed at it:
1. The bullies have a dislike for a specific individual who refuses to conform to their standard of who she should be.
Now all this time, the bullies have been able to influence everyone else and get them to submit to their will and every whim. Then, low and behold, along comes the target (we’ll call her “Cindy”) who’s stubborn and either unable to or won’t submit to the bullies’ control and allow them to change her personality into what they think it should be.
And Cindy may not realize the bullies’ motives and that just by doing her thing, she’s enraging the bullies. So, she goes on about her business, makes plans for her future, makes achievement after achievement, and maybe she gets loads of positive attention and praise from others because she’s so successful and well-liked.
2. Next, the bullies begin to smear Cindy. To implement their smear campaign, they watch Cindy, studying her behavior carefully until they’re able to anticipate her reactions.
3. The bullies then train their audience (i.e., the other classmates or coworkers to expect a specific type of behavior out of Cindy. They point out these behaviors when they occur. The bullies then associate Cindy’s completely innocent behavior with something bad or evil.
For example, let’s say that Cindy is sweet, playful, and likes to engage in a little banter. The bullies watch as Cindy banters with people in the school or workplace. She playfully calls someone a “dummy” or a “goofball,” but others know that it’s all for harmless jokes and think it’s funny because Cindy is a genuinely kind person.
4. So, the bullies begin making offhand comments. They remark that Cindy’s kindness is only an attempt to kiss ass because she wants something from people and that she thinks the people around her really are dummies, but only disguises it under a veil of fun jokes and playfulness.
The bullies also make statements that Cindy thinks she’s cute and that Cindy thinks she’s smarter than everyone else. Then repeat, repeat, repeat!
To quote a propaganda minister to a well-known dictator in history, “Tell a lie once, and it remains a lie. Tell a lie a thousand times, and it becomes the truth.”
5. The next time others see Cindy being kind to and playfully bantering with someone, she doesn’t look so cute, and the banter isn’t so funny anymore. Now people see a side of Cindy they can’t believe they never noticed before.
6. Now feeling smug with gratification, the bullies look at themselves, then at Cindy with smirks on their crooked faces and try the same thing all over again.
7. And before you know it, everyone wonders what they ever saw in Cindy, to begin with. They start having negative feelings toward the poor girl.
8. Cindy begins to pick up on the negative vibes around her and withdraws a little. She doesn’t speak to people as much as she did and doesn’t understand what she did or said to bring it all about. The bullies notice that Cindy is more distant than usual, and they point this out to everyone.
“Hey, look! Do you see that? Now, what did we tell you? Cindy really does think we’re all dummies! She really does think she’s smarter than the rest of us!”
“And her ass-kissing (Cindy’s sweet disposition) didn’t work, so now she’s too good to speak to anyone!”
9. Cindy’s withdrawal only inflames everyone’s feelings of dislike and resentment. Although her becoming distant is only out of self-protection, others mistake it for smugness and arrogance.
10. And it only snowballs from there, getting worse and worse over time. Understand that people are human, and they make mistakes. They misjudge innocent others all the time.
And when bullies condition the whole of a group, school, organization, workplace, or community to see any quality in a particular person as a bad thing, a smear campaign is most effective. So everyone, even those who aren’t bullies and are otherwise kind and compassionate, can become extremely cold and cruel to a target. And everyone repeats the same cruelty, over and over again.
Understand that smear campaigns are just too effective because they can quickly become bullying, then escalate to mobbing, which is the most severe kind of bullying. And once it increases to mobbing, it’s unstoppable, and the only way you can take your life back is to leave that toxic, poisonous environment altogether.
As rumors and lies circulate, details are included and added to the stories, and these details have a way of being inserted into people’s memories. There have been cases of burglaries where the homeowners “thought they saw” an unarmed burglar with a gun when, in fact, there was no gun.
Understand that in these cases, people don’t lie on purpose. They really and truly believe they saw a gun in the criminal’s hand or his pocket. They actually “remember” seeing it.
And the reason they remember it so plainly is that they’ve heard and talked about it so much their brains filled in the blanks with the details based on what they heard. Another reason for false memories is that when bullies ask questions such as,
“Did you see her do this?”
“Did you hear him say that?”
they only suggest that she did do this, or he did say that- the Power of Suggestion at work.
It’s so easy to influence people’s memories by presenting something in a particular way. Also, the memory will adjust itself according to a person’s stereotypes and expectations. People see what they expect to see.
Too often, people’s memories depend on social expectations- what they expect the target to do and not what he is actually doing.
Understand that memories are mistakable and can be falsified. Sure. And whether accurate or make-believe, once it becomes a memory, there’s no way to tell the difference.
If you’re a target of bullying, I want you to realize that this does happen and that you must make preparations accordingly to protect yourself better.
Bullies are notorious for projecting. Anything they accuse you of doing, you can bet dollars to doughnuts they’re doing it. Put another way, bullies do the same things they accuse innocent targets of doing. Understand that this is how they tell off on themselves.
There’s so much truth to the saying that, any time you point a finger, there are always three pointed back at you.
Humans can never know the inner workings of anyone else but themselves. They see from their own perspectives and speak from their own thoughts and attitudes. It is why most cheating spouses will often accuse the other spouse of doing the cheating. Every wife or husband who’s ever been cheated on knows that this is a red flag that’s all too common.
Realize that any time you have some schmuck accusing you of something terrible that you know in your heart you’re not guilty of, the chances are high that your accuser(s) is/are the one(s) guilty of it. Projection is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
Remember the quotes of Joseph Goebbels, a well-known propaganda minister:
“Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty.”
“A lie told once remains a lie. A lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”
So, understand that when bullies project, they’ll repeat the same lie over and over again until people (even you if you aren’t careful) begin believing it.
Whether it’s the nosy classmate who’s never short of personal and intimate questions about your private life, the workplace gossip who never shuts up and always seems to know your business before you do, or the spying neighbor across the street who forever peers through her window to spy on the neighbors outside, these kinds of people can be a real hemorrhoid to those of us who only want to be left alone and allowed to live our lives in peace.
I even had one woman ask me how much I got paid and how much I paid in rent or mortgage? I know. The nerve! Right?
After the shock wore off, I politely told her that she was getting too personal and that I didn’t share such private information with anyone, not even my family members. Oooeee! She didn’t like it.
These types often leave you shaking and scratching your head because you just can’t believe anyone would have the chutzpah. Especially if you were raised to mind your own business like I was.
Understand that these people can be bullies too and their gossip, butting-in, and having a constant nose stuck in your life can be a form of attempted control. Bullies will often ask you these kinds of questions to embarrass or humiliate you.
And anybody who openly asks you such questions has no respect for your privacy, and you should deal with them accordingly.
But! Because they can’t seem to control their own lives, they wish to control yours, even if it’s nothing more than to cause an annoyance or embarrassment.
Though the years, there was always that one neighbor who would sit on their porch all day and watch not only my house but the other houses in the neighborhood as well. So, on a good note, I can’t say that I was left out but was in good company with most of the other neighbors in my community.
Many of the others in the community weren’t short of complaints about the lady and we had a nickname for her- “Mrs. I-Spy.”
Nevertheless, although I’d get annoyed by her a few times, I couldn’t get angry with her like many of the others. Mrs. I-Spy was disabled and could barely get around. All I could feel was bad for her because I knew she wasn’t a happy person. Who would be if their health were deteriorating to the point of barely able to perform activities of daily living? And home health was scarce back then.
And on the days when she couldn’t get outside, she’d have her grandchildren watch the neighbors then go back inside and give her a report of the goings-on in the others’ yards and the traffic in and out of their houses. It’s hilarious when I look back now.
I can honestly say that if there were a burglary or trouble nearby, she’d have been the first to see it and call the cops. So, there’s a silver lining to all this. Thank God for nosy neighbors because they do serve a great purpose!
My classmates in high school, not so much. I had very little respect for them because most of them were nosy as hell! They would watch me closely and eavesdrop on any of my conversations. They always had an ear cocked. At Oakley High School, the walls had ears!
Always in my business, questioning me on things that were so trivial yet to them was a huge deal. They would even ask me the most personal and embarrassing questions.
“Have you started your period yet?”
“Are you a virgin?”
“How is your boyfriend in bed?”
These kinds of questions made me cringe! Naturally, it upset me back then and I’d only storm off. But if one of them had the audacity to do that today, I’d only laugh, make fun of and humiliate them. And I’d enjoy humiliating them.
Hell! Today, I wish they would and give me the chance to show them I’m not as slow as I used to be and almost nothing shocks me anymore. Understand that when you’ve been bullied, you learn quick wit very quickly because it’s essential for survival.
I’ve known other adult survivors of school bullying and we’re the most quick-witted people in the bunch! We had to be!
With that said, you must realize that even in the adult world, you’re going to have people who have more nerve than a bad tooth- those who will pry into your business and openly ask you personal, even embarrassing questions. You might as well prepare for it now because they’re everywhere!
Many of these people had parents who were the same way- mothers and grandmothers who would tell them to watch others and report back to them. I know this because of watching Mrs. I-Spy do the same many years ago. So, it’s safe to say that nosiness is a generational thing with many. About ninety percent of my classmates also came from nosy and overbearing families as did many coworkers I’ve worked with down through the years.
And it’s these kinds of people you should blow off and wave away like that pesky little fly that keeps buzzing around your face.
Don’t get angry with them. Just shake your head and pity them. Because it’s those types who really need to get a life and often don’t have one. Or, if you’re a smartass like I am, take the opportunity to have a little fun with the person- catch it, throw it back at them and shame them with it.
Especially those who are narcissists. These bullies have to be at the top of the game in everything. They must be the center of attention- all the time.
Anyone who outshines them in any way is fair game for attack. If you have any talents, anything at all you’re good at, or in which you’re super successful, these bullies will never stop coming after you.
They’ll often accuse you behind your back of the following:
1. “She’s just showing off.”
2. “Oh, she’s just trying to get attention.”
3. “He just loves to flaunt his (money, material possessions, masculinity, etc.)”
4. “She’s not so hot!”
5. “He’s a wuss, wimp, etc.”
6. “She’s arrogant, full of herself, pompous, stuck up, etc.”
But notice! These bullies will often accuse the target of the same things they are guilty of themselves.
By displaying your talents, winning awards, and favor with others and charming those in authority, the target unwillingly offends the bullies’ own excessive vanity. The target instills an imbalance of the bullies’ sense of self and makes them doubt their superiority by poking holes in their importance.
These jealous brutes are often at the top of the pecking order- the popular kids at school or the high executives in the workplace.
Understand that people such as these can’t accept being outdone in anything by anyone. And if they’re outshone by anyone they deem as inferior- their targets, all the worse! They’ll then stop at nothing to “put you back in your place.”
They don’t care about your talents, your natural gifts, your successes, or smarts. If anything, they despise them. They hate any threat to their superiority.
These bullies will have followers who will kiss up to them and many others who are afraid of them. You’ll know these people right away when you meet them.
They’ll be loud, obnoxious, and arrogant. These bullies will be in a clique and will have attitudes of self-entitlement. They’ll also expect perks and favors and more than likely get them. Anyone outside of their group, they will treat like dirt under their shoes.
Although talk is cheap and what they say behind your back is just a bunch of hot air, be careful your bullies don’t try to do something harmful to you.
If you attract these bullies’ ire, here’s a short list of ways to keep them at bay:
1. Never reveal your plans and goals.
2. Never share anything you wouldn’t want anyone to know.
3. Display your talents, yes. But don’t brag about them.
4. Don’t dumb down for anyone, but don’t be too flashy with any intelligence, especially in the workplace.
5. Politely thank those who compliment you. Nothing more.
6. Humble yourself, yes. But you don’t have to undermine yourself to satisfy these brutes. Quiet confidence is key here.
Do these things, and you’re less likely to have a target on your back!