We saw the documentary on Bikram – the founder of “Bikram Yoga” – recently. The documentary brings to light the scandals, rape, and bullying that surrounds the man. And, after the documentary, we had an interesting discussion on the choices some of the protagonists in the documentary had.
The questions we posed – Were they responsible for some of what happened to them because of the choices they made? Could they have made different choices?
When I have these discussions, they tend to draw a clear line between folks who have experienced bullying for sustained periods of time and folks who haven’t. Folks who haven’t tend to (understandably) believe that the bullied have a high amount of agency.
While we certainly have agency in situations with bullies, the smart bully playbook is not one that is easy to fight. Smart bullies – i.e. bullies with above average intelligence and accompanying egomania – do 3 things all at once –
1. They take advantage of a situation where they have real (often) or perceived power over you.
2. Their actions and erratic behavior ensures your self worth is both destroyed and attached to their opinion of you. In that process, their power over you grows.
2. Along the way, they prey on on a combination of naivete and gullibility – a combination that made you eligible for bullying in the first place – by articulately rationalizing why what you are going through is perfectly normal… and why you even are lucky to be chosen.
All of this makes it particularly hard to get out of a relationship with a bully fast enough. It is possible to go years without fully appreciating how much your life has changed in the time. And, it typically takes an intervention, a tremendous support group, and a lot of character to get out of such relationships.
In the absence of having experienced this, it is easy to believe that there are easy paths out.
But, there aren’t.
Not when you are in it at least.