Being held in a headlock for 30 minutes is not fun – the feeling of utter helplessness and intense claustrophobia that kicks in as you realise that you are at the total mercy of someone else.
I may as well have been pinned down by a Gorilla. He was only a year older than me but I was a small 12 year old… what could I do?
Well, I could wait until boredom kicks in and he decides he’s inflicted enough punishment for one day.
Pretty much my only option, therefore I gladly took it. Better than nothing I suppose.
December 5th 1993 – the day before I became a teenager – This same kid effectively took me hostage on a hill beside a building site. By this I mean that he grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go… people passed by but nobody intervened – I was terrified.
He didn’t really do anything. He didn’t hit me; he just wouldn’t let me go home.
We were up there for over an hour – the longest hour of my life.
He had a brother who used to chase me too. One day after school he appeared before my eyes, I don’t know if he knew I would be there or whether it was a chance encounter, but the outcome was inevitable. I knew what was going to happen.
I hid behind a car – he was the other side.
We danced. Firstly clockwise, then anti clockwise – maybe this is why I don’t dance as an adult… some form of post-traumatic stress that I haven’t dealt with.
We continued to circle this car when I spotted my chance, I ran towards my house. It was only 50 feet away after all. I didn’t count on his friend blocking my path and before I knew it I was spun round and felled by a swift punch to the stomach.
Bullying is not always physical
Sometimes the worst form of bullying is psychological. As a kid it’s often referred to as name calling whereas in the workplace it’s generally known as victimisation.
It’s all bullying at the end of the day.
Between 2001 and 2005 I worked at Tesco (Britain’s biggest supermarket) under the command of some of the worst individuals I have ever met.
These weren’t managers, they were bastards.
Fortunately, or unfortunately – depending on how you want to look at it, it wasn’t just me they picked on, but it sure felt like it at times.
- Banned from going to the toilet or having a drink of water unless a designated break time
- Spontaneously told to go home by my manager because ‘I don’t want you here’
- That same manager asking me to punch him
- Being the only person who had their overtime restricted
- Not being allowed to change into my trainers after the sole of one of my shoes had completely fallen off
- Was given a verbal warning for a completely fabricated event
- Being the only person punished for not doing the top button up of their shirt
- Given a written warning for going to the toilet 5 times in one 9 hour shift (they counted)
- Had at least 5 different managers say ‘I’ve heard all about you, watch it’
At times it was incredibly difficult working there but in a strange way, I thank them for toughening me up.
Actually I thank every form of bully for their actions because without them I wouldn’t be the same person today.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, apparently.
This doesn’t have to be a way of life
At any time you can stop bullying or any form of victimisation. There are various methods that you can use – some are better than others but they all work to some degree.
I will offer my own tips on how to deal with bullies.
Ask for help
My Tesco hell virtually stopped overnight once I enlisted the help from our Union rep. Once word got around that I had this woman on board everyone seemed to treat me much better.
What a coincidence huh?
Fighting a battle by yourself doesn’t have to be your only option. If you’re getting bullied at school, tell your teacher or someone who you trust. Tell your parents. If you’re getting hell at work, talk to your Union rep – it’s what they are there for.
Do not go through it alone!
Stand your ground
During my Tesco days I distinctly remember the occasion when I refused to tolerate the abuse that was coming my way.
It was in the summer of 2003 and I was just informed that due to my newly received written warning, I would be banned from going to the toilet unless I was off the clock.
The manager in question, a 22 stone behemoth of a man, had delivered this ruling and then promptly walked off.
I stood there in disbelief. Who does he think he is?
I chased after him, cornering him in our produce chiller.
‘Why can’t I go to toilet?’ I asked
‘Because you take the piss with it’ he replied, presumably unaware of the pun.
We argued for a couple of minutes. He mainly accused me whereas I refuted every allegation.
Finally I snapped.
‘Listen to me, I will go to the toilet whenever the hell I want to and there is nothing you can do about out it’.
With that he turned round and stormed out. He didn’t speak to me for 6 weeks after that.
I then went for a victory piss.
School wasn’t the best of times – I felt like a wild animal trying to survive in the adolescent jungle.
The bullying I received had filtered to inside the classroom too. There is only so many times you can have a 12 inch ruler slapped across your head before you’ve had enough.
I admit it made a funny sound but it hurt dammit!
One afternoon during a maths lesson some idiot kid walked over and demanded that he borrow some of the coloured pencils I was using.
He was by no means a ‘hard’ kid but he used to like dishing it out to those he considered weaker. I was obviously one of those people.
‘No I am still using them, ask someone else’
He ignored me and reached down, picked them up and cockily strolled back to his desk.
I stood up, angry, embarrassed, frustrated – I walked over to his seat, demanded that he give me them back.
He refused, laughing.
Now I don’t condone by behaviour but you must realise I had a lot of pent up tension.
I punched him several times in the face. I won’t lie. It felt great.
If you’re thinking this was a bit over the top, it wasn’t. He had slapped me with a ruler, punched me in the arm and verbally abused me for a long time. He had it coming, make no mistake.
I picked up the pencils he had ‘borrowed’ and sat back down. He stayed where he was.
Know your enemy
One of the best ways of dealing with a bully is to understand why they do what they do.
That kid who is bullying you at school probably has a strict father who likes to dish out his own form of discipline.
That man is probably being bullied at work by a sociopathic boss who revels in the power he has.
This boss was probably bullied as a kid or at least had a strict father.
There is a cycle at work here, and it will continue in a loop of destruction until the chain is broken.
It’s not your job to break the chain, but you should understand why people do what they do. Bullies are former victims who feel the need to take out their insecurities on others. They aren’t inherently bad people, it’s just they feel trapped by their own demons.
They need to be liked, respected or feared.
I know it’s hard but don’t take it personally. You could be anyone – they chose you out of convenience.
You were the closest person that they could use to make themselves feel better.
Talk to your tormenter
One last tactic is to actually sit down with your bully and try to talk to them. If it’s someone at work then consider organising a meeting with this person and laying everything out on the table.
Ask them why they seem to dislike you or ‘have it in for you’.
Get to the root of the problem. It’s likely there is a misunderstanding somewhere along the line and this is your chance to give your version of events.
With a school bully, try forming some kind of bond. If you’re on the same team during football practice, make an effort to pass the ball their way or congratulate them after they score.
At the very least it will disarm them and it doesn’t matter how cold hearted someone is, it’s harder to be mean to someone who is nice to you in return.
Another tactic is to talk to them when they are alone, away from their buddies. You may be surprised to discover that beneath the bravado, you may have more in common than you both realise.
If you feel that this article has helped you in some way or if you know someone who is having a tough time, consider sharing this with your friends or family. People need to know they have options and the worst thing anyone can do is to go through it alone.
I’ve been there, and it sucked.