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Breaking the Silence on Adult Bullies

Bullying is not just child’s play. Jonathan Martin, a 300-pound tackle for the Miami Dolphins, recently took a break from playing professional football due to alleged bullying from a teammate. His complaints of harassment from, intimidation by and physical altercations with his colleague Richie Incognito typify the very definition of bullying.

Aside from their ages, the fact that their differences couldn’t be handled on their own highlights the destructiveness of bullying at any stage of life. Bullies make people change their attitudes, moods and behavior. They force others to quit, cry, get angry or depressed, withdraw or stay silent because being the victim of a bully is both painful and embarrassing. It’s hard for kids to speak up and even more difficult for adults. As we get older, there’s pressure to “suck it up” or “just deal with it.”

The perception that bullying stops in the schoolyard isn’t just challenged by what happens on the sports field. It’s also countered by the hordes of adults who report that they are bullied on the job by coworkers or bosses, older siblings who continue to harass younger siblings into adulthood and teens bullied by parents and coaches. Whether you are 12 or 42, bullying can be psychologically detrimental and physically painful.

Adult bullies use emotional tactics, verbal abuse and technology to provide consistent harassment and hurt feelings meant to create fear, powerlessness and helplessness in individuals. These are not out-of-body experiences. Adult bullies are aware of their behavior. Their tactics are detrimental not only to the victim but also to bystanders, who may feel uneasy, be forced to pick sides or end up feeling unsafe.

We need to break the silence on adult bullies. Bullying in not acceptable at any age or size. If you are dealing with an adult bully, follow Jonathan Martin’s example.

* Document incidents and speak out. If this is happening at your job, know that most companies have a policy on workplace behavior. Familiarize yourself with the employee handbook outlining those rules.

* Identify your support network and engage them as a sounding board for assistance.

* Avoid self-blame by focusing on doing your best job at work and not getting distracted by negative behaviors.

* Treat others the way you’d like to be treated and avoid engaging in the same behavior.

Bullying needs to stop. I applaud Jonathan Martin for highlighting his experiences. Perhaps he’s meant to make a difference not just on the field, but off it as well.

Has an adult bully ever harassed you? Post a comment, share what happened and help break the silence.

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

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