I’m a firm believer that high school is a microcosm of life. Every social situation you will encounter in your adult life is presented to you in high school with an extra dose or hormones and drama just to make it that much more fun.
And so it does not surprise me that bullying is a problem in my adult military spouse life, just as it was in civilian high school and just as it can be at any work job or in any social setting everywhere.
Instead of being shoved into lockers or openly mocked and degraded, adult bullying is a little more subtle, a little more backhanded and a little bit easier to just dismiss as “personality clashes," “differences in opinion," or "she's just hormonal." Because hormones are an excuse for everything.
I find that the military spouse community dishes up adult bullying with a unique and potent intensity that you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere in the adult world thanks to our unique circumstances and stresses. Sure, mean girls (and guys!) are everywhere but our lifestyle forces us to sort through a cross section of people groups, types and cultures that we would be unlikely to encounter in any civilian setting and that can be far outside our comfort zones. That can bring to head a lot of personal insecurities. Add the stress of deployment, reintegration, injury and death to that and you’ve got a big bully pot ready to boil over.
Think you’ve never encountered a MilSpouse bully? You may be surprised:
“If you don’t participate in the FRG you’re a bad wife.”
“I heard that [soandso’s] wife told her husband and her husband told your husband’s boss that you can’t handle your kids.”
“Hi. I’m with social services. We’re here to investigate a tip that you aren’t caring correctly for your kids.”
“[Soandso] told [soandso] that I am a danger to myself and the hospital required me to stay for a week for a mental health evaluation. They lied.”
“Why are you using the death of [soandso’s] husband to get you what you want?”
These are all real life examples of things that have been said to either people I know or, in one case, to me. I consider these all bully statement or the results of a bully's actions.
We know from discussions surrounding our kids (and perhaps our own memories of being bullied in school) that such behavior is a form of power play. Child bullies are often riddled with personal insecurities and put others down as a way of building themselves up and making themselves feel better.
This is also true of adult bullies. But where we expect and even actively wait for kids and teens to act out, adult bullies can take us by surprise. Encountering someone who is genuinely backhanded and mean, especially in a community where there is strength in numbers and we hope everyone is on our side, can be downright shocking.
According to this site, the goal of an adult bully is “to gain power over another person, and make himself or herself the dominant adult. They try to humiliate victims, and show them who is boss.”
When we teach our kids how to deal with bullies with tell them to walk away and, especially when the behavior turns vicious and violent, report it to an adult.
But how do you deal with a bully when you are both adults? Here are a few tips from this site that I adapted to the MilSpouse life.
Don’t lower yourself to their level. Bullying, especially among females, is an exercise in cattiness. And it is oh, so tempting to respond either in kind or to just simply enter the argument to defend yourself. But keep one thing in mind: lowering yourself to their level isn’t going to make things better. In fact, it will probably make things worse.
Distance yourself from the bully. Is this behavior happening on Facebook? Unfriend the person! At the FRG meeting? Sit on the other side of the room, smile politely if approach and, as hard as it is, just walk away.
Ask a friend for her opinion. Think maybe you’re just overacting? Seek the advice and help from second or third opinions.
Speak on an emotional level. One specific time that I was bullied by a fellow military spouse, I was advised by my mentor to simply call the person, inform them that they really hurt me and ask them why they would intentionally cause me so much emotional pain? I was super skeptical. But guess what? It worked. The person backed down and the behavior all but disappeared.
Go to a higher power. I suggest this with great hesitance because I think this is rarely an appropriate option. However, if the bullying has reached a truly destructive level it may be appropriate to first bring your husband into the loop and then approach the chain of command. I don’t mean trotting straight to the CO of your unit. In the Army I would suggest starting at the Squad Leader level, for example. Again, think carefully before you go this way. Is dragging other people into this really necessary?
As someone who has been bullied her entire life, starting in kindergarten, I feel for anyone reading this post in search of a bully solution. These tips have worked for me as an adult – although I have never had to go as far as the chain of command.
Do you have any suggestions for MilSpouses dealing with bullies?