When I was in 3rd grade, we had a playground bully. Her name was Marcia and she was MEAN. She picked on me something fierce. My first instinct was always to run away, as far and as fast as I could. To this day, I thank God for the extra adrenalin push that got my little feet all the way home before she could catch me.
But that didn’t seem to dissuade her from her daily tirade.
My best friend was much tougher than me. She got all up in Marcia’s face and yelled and screamed and told her to back off, but that only seemed to make Marcia madder. The whole thing escalated into an ugly fist-to-cuffs showdown with both girls being suspended for the day.
Celebratory cheers could be heard across the town – WE WERE FREE!! But, alas, it seems she had extra time to simmer and stew creating a bubbling cauldron of spewing anger. She sputtered and spit and I think I even saw FIRE come from her nostrils. No lie.
And so, this went on for a few weeks -or maybe days, but who’s counting- until one day, she caught me on an extra brave day. I don’t know what came over me.
I didn’t run.
I didn’t fight.
I stood tall, fixed my arms on my waist, looked her right in the eye, and leaned in ever so slightly. I never even said a word. I just stood there fixing, looking and leaning.
She beat her chest a little bit, yelled at me some, but eventually she lost steam and went away. I never had a problem with her after that.
I’ve had to deal with a lot of schoolyard bullies over the years. Forgetting the courage of my early years, I took other, less helpful approaches:
Option #1: Shower her with lots of surgery sweet compliments, hopefully making them happy enough to stop being so critical.
Option #2: Become the “yes-woman,” bowing down to every request. I reasoned that I must be doing something to disappoint them and if I worked hard enough, I could keep them from being upset with me.
Option #3: Walk away from the relationship and never come back.
It seemed to work just fine until it didn’t anymore. Something always blew up in my face and I always end up feeling hurt, rejected, slammed, or trampled on.
One day, after a long season of blow-ups and blow-outs, I found myself curled up on the couch wondering why all my efforts to be extra nice, say all the “yes’s” and flat-out sprinting my way out of relationships still left me feeling so beaten up.
In my search for an answer, I listened The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage by Brene Brown. In it she tells us about her Authenticity Mantra:
Don’t Shrink, Don’t Puff Up, Stand Your Sacred Ground.
As if God had unlocked the door to a secret memory, I suddenly remembered details of my experience with Marcia the meanie and it all made sense to me.
I felt the most powerless when I ran away, simultaneously boosting her power to chase me down.
My best friend learned that getting in her face only escalated Marcia.
But by standing my ground, she had no one to chase and no one to fight with.
I see so clearly how well the Authenticity Mantra worked when I was 7, but how does this mantra work on the grown-up playground?
Don’t Shrink: All of my general coping skills in the face of a grown-up bully – pouring on the sweet, saying yes when I mean no, and running away are ways we shrink.
Don’t Puff Up: Gossiping, engaging in the verbal fight, “telling them off,” only serve to escalate the tension. I’ve been on this side too and I’ve noticed how much more I enflame the situation when I go into fight mode. I might feel better having told them off, or yelled and screamed, but we all just come back angrier than before and so much more ammo to keep tossing at each other.
Stand Your Sacred Ground: Stay calm, state the facts, be honest, keep showing up. I lean in by staying open and curious, asking questions if the situation calls for it. I remind myself that I don’t need to play the victim, I am responsible for my part in the conflict. I don’t need to lie and say things I don’t mean, sometimes I just need to smile and say Hi. I refrain from gossip and pulling others into the drama. Standing my sacred ground means looking them in the eye, leaning in a little bit and remaining true to myself. Mostly I am reminded that God is strong when I am weak. I only need to call upon God’s strength to stand my sacred ground.
Do you have a schoolyard bully?
It could be someone close to you, a family member, co-worker, or friend. You can distinguish this person by their Marcia the Meanie markings; they argue with every word you say, you feel controlled and demeaned, you walk the extra mile around their desk, they seem to have a say in every aspect in your life if you ask for advice or not.
Adopt the Authenticity Mantra for one week and tell me how it goes. I want to hear what you think.
Did you find it difficult?
How was it received?
How did it feel to stand your sacred ground?
Was it scary or powerful?
We don’t have to become someone we’re not to be effective with our schoolyard bullies. We don’t have to “lose our Jesus” over a conflict. We just need to call on God’s strength and stand our sacred ground.