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Part 3 of Unmasking bullying: A self guide to reclaim power

Words by Radhika Iyer.

Part 3: The art of knowing yourself

An oft repeated quote is from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War about knowing your enemy and knowing yourself. While I agree that it is good to know your enemy but, when it comes to bullying, it is far more important to know yourself. Having said that, if there is one main point we need to know about a bully’s psyche, it is this: The bully’s ultimate aim is to gain power for themselves. A bully, in fact, does not have any power. Hence, they seek power to fill the void within themselves—their own lack of self: self-worth, self-respect, self-love etc. from/through their victims. However, it is not enough for the bully to have power; for, in their way of thinking, they can only retain power by stripping all power from their victims. For the bullies, therefore, there is no such thing as win-win.

Now, let’s consider the part of knowing yourself, which is a very important exercise because this is how the bullies are able to get under our skin. The first step is to acknowledge that we are not perfect, that we all have our own weaknesses, that we are only humans. I say this is the first step because people often do not expect to be bullied, because they believe they don’t fit the mould of a bully’s victim. Did I forget to mention this, earlier? Well, yes, just as a bully cannot be typecast neither can their victim. So, if you have a preconceived stereotype of a bully’s target, please discard it now because any one of us could be a target. For those of us who never considered ourselves as potential victims, the main emotions we experience are that of shame and humiliation and these are often aimed at ourselves. We also feel a strong sense of self-betrayal, because (a) we never considered ourselves a target for bullying and (b) that we had laid bare a secret part of ourselves for the bully to be able tap into. In fact, through this internal monologue of our shame and humiliation, we have started doing the bully’s work for them. Remember, bullies seek power by constantly humiliating and embarrassing their victims.

So, take the time now to acknowledge: we are not perfect (which is, might I add, rather hard for me, as a perfectionist, to say). We make mistakes. And sometimes we make those same mistakes over and over again. It is difficult to be nice to ourselves when we are forever repeating those same mistakes (here’s looking at me, again). But we are humans. We are not perfect. We all have weaknesses. We have our own set of weaknesses.

The second step is to take stock of what each individual would define as his/her weaknesses. Now, this part of the exercise is to allow us to have some awareness of what we define as a weakness and, using that definition, what we consider are our weaknesses (note to perfectionist self). This is not a judgment, rather it is an understanding of what could prove to be our Achilles heel. Also consider, weaknesses are not always ‘negative’ traits—sometimes our strengths can also become our weaknesses. The aim of the bully is to undermine us, to erode our self-confidence, our self-worth. If, for example, we take pride in our work or our professionalism, the bully will see this as a potential source of weakness she/he can manipulate. But, by being aware of our weaknesses, our reaction and response to a bully/bullies/ bullying might actually come as a pleasant surprise- for us, at least, that is.

The third step: Not every one of us is a crusader. What does this mean? While some people are able to stand up to, and take a stance against bullying, not everyone is the same. The exercise in “knowing yourself” allows us to be comfortable with who we are. If we are not comfortable confronting a bully or bullying, there is no shame. If we feel we need to forgive ourselves, let’s do so now- but understand, there is no shame, so there is nothing for us to forgive. In fact, it reveals our wisdom that we are aware of our limitations, at present. Present being the key. For, we don’t know what we might be capable of in the future as nothing is static. However, while we are aware of our limitations and with what we are comfortable, at present, we can also build ourselves by focussing on our self-care.

The purpose of self-care is to put ourselves first. This does not mean we are being selfish. Rather, think of it as one of the airplane safety instructions—that, in the case of the oxygen mask dropping, see to the self first before helping others put theirs on. By knowing who we are, taking care of ourselves and focusing on our mental and emotional needs and wellbeing, we make it just that little bit more difficult for bullies to target and/or to bully us.

In the final part of this series we will focus on self-care; highlighting some key points.


Radhika Iyer is a freelancer who has worked extensively in the community development and community services sector. She developed a professional interest in conflict resolution and management as a result of working with diverse groups with competing interests. Radhika’s first forays into the area of workplace bullying happened by accident. In the process of helping clients to resolve what seemed to be legitimate workplace issues, she instead discovered that in a number of cases, the clients were in fact experiencing forms of bullying. Having since observed the impact of bullying, Radhika supports a strong move to educate and eradicate the culture of bullying. She believes that sustainable change requires a whole-of, holistic approach. Her mission is to empower people to take ownership and feel confident to address conflict and the issue of bullying.

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