TO BULLY A BULLY


rFor the past 15 years (since age 40) I’ve had a goal for myself not to be bullied or intimidated into doing something I don’t want to do.   It may be hard to understand that a mature, professional adult has to stand up to bullies but it’s true and sadly more common than it should be.  Bullying takes on many forms in adult hood and is often extremely subtle.  Other times it’s not so subtle–especially in the work setting.  In personal relationships it’s often gentle and ever-so friendly on the surface.  At work it can be a bit more brutal and have higher or more serious consequences.  On Friday, at work, I found the need to, yet again, defend myself against a work place bully.  This time it was a doctor who reacted against being called out for treating me like an inferior subordinate (a dumb social worker as the case may be) and not taking responsibility for his own patient (yet criticizing me for the action I took on behalf of his patient).  In this case I had spent the entire week following up on his patient although it was not my primary responsibility to do so (it was his).  I have no problem backing up other professionals at work but in this case it ended with me finally having to say that my involvement with the case was concluded.  This came about because the doctor not only criticized what I was doing, he continued to issue additional orders for me to do (which went against my own clinical judgement as well as the interest of the patient).  It became obvious, on Friday, that the doctor was a bully.  Once I stood up for myself (and the Chief of the Department agreed I was professional, appropriate, and justified) the doctor (instead of responding openly and including the relevant supervisors like I had done) chose to call me on the phone afterwards to verbally attack me.  This brings me to my accomplishment!  Normally I would overdo it when defending myself by crossing the line and either rising to the bait by becoming defensive or lowering to the level of a bully in return by escalating the exchange.  This time, however, I was able to defend myself without becoming emotional, aggressive, or abusive in return. I was amazed that not only did I simply want to laugh when he said “you’ve interfered and messed everything up” (because the whole interchange was because I refused to take his order to continue my involvement), I did not get upset at all–zero.  I slept just fine last night and have no inner turmoil inside over the incident.   I actually feel at peace because I handled myself well without over reacting or under reacting (which is a difficult skill to master when you are a survivor of abuse or any other form of trauma).  It has been very challenging for me to reinforce appropriate boundaries in both my professional life and my personal life.  I really am tired of getting pushed around but I also hate conflict.  I still have an underlying fear which is incredibly intense that something life threatening will happen when I set a boundary.  It scares the day lights out of me to set a boundary and often when I set a boundary I will be physically agitated for several days afterwards–my body becomes riddled with fear and anxiety (complete emotional regression).  It’s a dilemma for sure but in reality it is possible to stand up for oneself in an appropriate manner.  It’s not my concern that the doctor is not happy about it.  That’s his problem.  And, yes, after doing absolutely nothing to follow-up on his own patient all week and following the phone call in which I stood up to the bullying without becoming a bully, the doctor placed a call to his patient late on Friday and concurred with my assessment and disposition in the case which he had been disagreeing with from afar all week (yet not doing a single thing himself for the patient).  My experience with doctors leads me to believe he will be an excellent source of clinical and professional support moving forward.  As a social worker working with doctors, respect is hard gained but once gained is not easily lost.  By standing up to him and by him recognizing my clinical judgement is sound, we will likely be professional allies now.

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