April 24, 2024

The Art of Standing Up to a Bully—3 Tips.


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“If you encounter a mountain lion, wildlife experts say to make a lot of noise, and raise your hands in the air to appear bigger than the animal. Don’t run away, or they may chase you,” the news anchor said.

He was standing in a suburban neighborhood. Not exactly the place I would expect to see a mountain lion. A woman and her dog narrowly escaped an attack the day prior. Fortunately, a neighbor intervened by clanging together the lids of metal trash cans to scare the mountain lion away.

I encountered my own mountain lion not long after the story aired. Well, not really a mountain lion. A person. The definition of a bully. One who stalks their victims much like a wild animal stalking their prey—waiting to strike. I had heard stories, and now their sights were set on me.

Admittedly, an earlier version of me would have run away from this scenario. My natural inclination is to avoid confrontation; it makes my heart race, and my sweat glands spring into action.

Though I won’t get into the details of the exchange, I will say using the tactic of making myself seem bigger than the bully was quite successful. I didn’t do this by raising my arms, or by shouting. I stayed firm, calm, and calculated in my response.

I learned how to do this with the help of a therapist 10 years ago. It became obvious I wanted to avoid tension between myself and someone I knew and so I wasn’t advocating for myself. Maybe it would have continued this way for the rest of my life if it wasn’t pointed out that my child was only getting older, smarter, and seeing everything.

It’s not that I was ever okay with always backing down, or giving in to what other people wanted. I felt physically sick over it. I had plenty of shower conversations with myself about what I could have done differently. I silently berated myself for not speaking up, or freezing in the moment.

It was time I learned how to tactfully stand up for myself. I took to being a student of psychology (since this is my background). I chose to make learning how to stand up to a bully an art form.

Sadly, many of us will encounter a situation where someone tries to intimidate or bully us in our lives. Here are three strategies to work on so we feel more prepared:

Be Prepared.

This is not easy when the bullying first begins. It may take a bit of time to understand what’s happening. Observe their interactions with you and others. Does the bully want to get you alone? Do they wait until they have a larger audience because they thrive on public humiliation? Understanding their techniques can help you practice ways of dealing with behavior before it happens again.

Avoid Being Emotional.

In the beginning, this may be difficult. It’s better to not say anything at all than give the bully the emotional response they’re seeking. This includes using vulgar language. Stay logical and practical. Keep your response short, i.e. “Stop talking to me.”


Once you’ve nailed down the pattern of behavior and can predict what might happen during the next incident, ask a friend to role-play with you. Practice standing up for yourself when you are calm; this will make it easier to stay level-headed and remain confident next time.


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