Bullies and the art of deception

I’ve been spending this morning in my prayer time dealing with forgiveness, or at least letting go of anger and hatred. In his song “Just the Two of Us,” Will Smith tells his young son about people who will hurt him in the future, “Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.” That’s how I’ve been feeling. I’ve been feeling consumed. So this morning I’ve been praying for release.

In considering this release, I became aware of some things about bullies. It was like an “aha!” when I realized that bullies are masters at the art of deception. And I remember as a kid feeling like that was just something adults would say (in other, more kid friendly forms) to make me feel better about myself while also feeling a little superior to the bully. “They feel bad about themselves so they have to make you feel bad about yourself to feel better about themselves,” kind of thing. But that’s not exactly what I mean when I say bullies are masters at the art of deception. They get their targets to focus on things that aren’t important and that don’t matter and that the target has no control over, so that the target will be distracted from their real work of being the best self, the best child of God they were created to be. This kind of behavior is perfect for the bullies, and a bullseye on the target.

The target becomes consumed with the idea of trying to change the bully. And that is an impossible task. First, because someone has to want to be changed. They have to be motivated towards changing, and when they are getting what they want, why would they change? And second the target does not have the tools to change the bully.
The work of the target is to acknowledge they have no power over changing the bully. Which is difficult for several reasons, including that the target feels incredibly vulnerable already. To admit you have no power over the bully feels redundant and hopeless. However, if the target can turn the prism and take a different view, they might see that this is not hopeless, it is the beginning of hope. Because, when we let go of trying to change our attacker, we can recognize how much they have distracted us from effecting change in the places where we can.

If we weren’t spending so much time trying to change the behavior and the very person of the bully, we might realize that we are neglecting the real issues in front of us. On a recent episode of “The Good Wife,” the defendant in a case against Lockhart, Gardner was playing hard ball by trying to change the game completely. A University was being charged in a civil suit for the liability of the death of a student in a hazing event. The individual responsible for the student’s death (an upper classmen) was already convicted of the crime. The defense changed their tactic several times to include trying to call the crime a hate crime. This got Lockhart, Gardner all in a tailspin over how they were going to prove it was not a hate crime, when in a work session one of the lesser involved lawyers said, “wait, this is a liability case…” Which was cue for the partners to realize they had taken the bait. They had to let go of trying to prove something that is immaterial to the case and focus on who had responsibility for knowing if this crime could have happened on their watch.

I’m not suggesting the fictitious university in the drama was a bully, nor was the fictitious defense lawyer. However, the tactic is the same. Bullies are great at getting targets to focus on getting rid of the pain the bully is causing which distracts the target from doing their real job, changing the world.

I speak about these things from personal experience and I speak about them in generalities to protect myself from further abuse. And this advice may not apply to all bullies or all bullied situations. But it is true, that hate in your heart will consume you, especially self-hatred. And if you have let your bully so far into your head that you hate yourself, I pray that you will find someone, anyone to whom you can tell your story. This is how the bullying becomes real, and you can begin to let go of needing to be in control. If you are being bullied, think about what you could be doing with all the time you are being consumed by the hatred in your heart. Think about all the people you could be helping by letting go of having to change the bully and the bully’s behavior and instead helping others who are feeling the same way you do. Think of the freedom you will feel when those hours of contemplating revenge, or conversations that are not going to change anything, are not the most important thing anymore, living your life is.

I am not saying it is a magic pill. It is not as easy as just changing your mind, and at the same time it kind of is. If you are being bullied, talk to someone you trust. It could change your life!

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About lizdeweese

I'm a 30's something mom of two young children who serves as minister to a suburban church in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm married to a minister of another Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) just across the river in norther Kentucky. It's a challenge, but I love every bit of it!
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