how to forgive a bully and still Respect yourself
It is a good thing to treat everyone the same, to respect them as equals and as experts in their fields of expertise, and forgive whatever they do that annoys, offends, or disrupts my relationships or life. It is how I can move on and live the best life I can have for myself.
Right? Well, maybe. It depends.
Let's use bullying as a framework to unpack these ideas of equality, respect, and forgiveness -- especially as these ideas relate to our wellness on every level. Your life could depend on it.
Equality is a proud "American" cultural belief, even though we know that women sometimes get paid less for the same work. We believe that all citizens deserve to cast their vote on election day (even though we may secretly believe that some of them are bigoted, sexist, or just plain nuts).
From this idea of equality flows respect for others as fellow human beings. Other types of respect include respect for elders, or for an expert's opinion, or for an authority figure whose responsibility is to teach, protect, or direct in some way.
However, it is important to not be naive. Some teach that true forgiveness is to forgive and forget -- as if abusive behavior never happened. Forgiveness is sometimes defined in very distorted ways, such as (male) clergy telling women to forgive the husband for abusing them and return to the relationship. Especially when this definition of forgiveness is taught in a religious context, disagreeing with or going against it can produce guilt and shame on top of the pain and trauma of abuse. It is difficult to know how many women have died soon after returning to their abusers.
We may intuitively believe that forgiveness -- letting go of resentment -- is a good thing. If only we could have an understanding of it that makes sense when justice must be served.
How can forgiveness feel life-giving instead of unjust or oppressive when abuse is in the picture?
There was recent research showing that bullies grow up to have higher than average levels of self-confidence, and their targets grow up to have lower than average levels. Social scientists suggest that bullies are not bullying because of low self-esteem, as previously thought. They bully because they actually believe they are superior to their targets, which explains the cruelty and contempt with which they operate with a lack of empathy. Over time, a bully can transform into a full-blown narcissist.
Breaking Free: About the Bully
- Remember that s/he will use charm to draw you in, then criticize you to create the shame on which they thrive. Your pain is the bully's lifeline.
- Feel appropriate contempt for someone who is cruel. Meditate and journal examples of when you were abused, criticized, or punished for standing up for yourself. Let yourself begin to see the pattern of abuse.
- Accept that the bully is DAMAGED and therefore empathy, kindness, or generosity s/he expresses are probably phony and used as tools for drawing you in.
- Accept that the bully will never issue a sincere apology, especially if s/he is high on the narcissism scale. A narcissist is always right. You will never win an argument that makes him/her wrong.
- Understand that bullies are emotionally disabled to various degrees. They are damaged goods, and they can cause much harm.
- Give no energy to the bully. If a bully has strong narcissistic tendencies, there is very little hope of reversal. Instead, place your hope in yourself, and YOUR ability to transform.
Breaking Free: About YOU!
- Hope only for yourself. Be selfish!!!
- Forget about making sense of why s/he was abusive. It keeps you in the bully's orbit.
- Decide to make sense of what it was about you that made you an attractive target.
- Don't try to fix someone else. You probably don't have the skills to help them, and even if you did, you cannot be the therapist in this case.
- Focus your mind on people who do love and respect you. Spend time with them and let in the love.
- Find a therapist whose specialty is in helping targets recover from narcissistic abuse.
- Read up on how to transform yourself into someone a bully can't even see when scanning for a target. J. H. Simon's book, "Killing Narcissism: Exposing and Transcending the Narcissist Regime" is an excellent start.
- Simon says it is best to retreat from the narcissist with the "Scorched Earth" method: leave nothing behind as you exit the relationship.
- Open and maintain communication with a supportive individual or group.
- Don't suffer in silence. Isolating yourself can turn toxic quickly, partly because it's one of the more effective manipulative tools a bully uses in the first place to trap you.
The appropriate respect for a bully is not the deferential kind that you give your favorite aunt; rather, think about how you respect poisonous snakes and sharp knives. Your bully is in the same category. You understand what they are, the damage they can do, and respond accordingly.
Walk backwards, slowly, if necessary, but walk away.
Forgiveness is the key to moving forward. However, think of it as being open to life but with healthy boundaries. Forgiving the bullies can put them in the past and help the healing begin, but it is also necessary to erect walls to block them from life's current and future experiences. Your pain is life's tuition, and your major is wisdom!
As the door closes behind you while you move on and they disappear from view, tools such as meditation, visualization, and energy work can be powerful ways to move into your vision of an upgraded future.
Now, imagine a life full of fun, success, and loving, supportive people. You may find that it is easier than you ever thought possible. There. Doesn't that feel better?
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