Adult Bullying: Feeling Good When You’re Being Pushed Around

Women Against Negative Talk

By Katie Horwitch, Founder of Women Against Negative Talk (WANT)

WANT is more than my passion project – it’s my purpose project.

With WANT (Women Against Negative Talk), everything came to me simultaneously: the concept, the purpose, the acronym. WANT actually was first “conceived” back in 2007, if you can believe it. I was in a hotel room flipping through channels and landed on one of the very first body-positive campaigns that started this sort of revolution we’re having now. I remember thinking the idea was swell, but at the same time questioning how effective simply saying “Love your body, everyone’s beautiful” could be in the long run. I thought that there needed to be a bigger conversation around how to actually get to a place of self love and acceptance…a place where you can genuinely love your body and think you’re beautiful on the best days, and then have tips, tools, and resources at hand to get you there on those not-so-great days. And WANT was born out of the realization that, even years later, nothing like that actually existed.

When the urge to create came back around to me years later and there was STILL no resource that was all-inclusive and honed in on self-talk related to all aspects of our lives – body, love, work, community/place – I knew it was time to let this live in a big way that I was simply unable to bring to fruition all those years ago…due to the fact that I still needed to learn these lessons on my own.

All my life, my self image had been in the gutter. Self confidence? Loads of it. But the way I viewed that confidence – the opinions I formed about it, the things I did to keep myself “in check,” the way I fought against my natural desire to live on a grand scale in fear of being “too much” – was through a lens of contempt. You can read my full story here.

After a lifetime of negative self-talk being my norm (plus a potpourri of eating disorders, self worth issues, etc in college and beyond), I became tired of the status quo that held me in these negative loops. Succeeding just enough to seem impressive from the outside, but not enough to feel fulfilled from the inside. Being proud of myself and my body only to a point, as more would get me side-eyed glances and be pegged as “narcissistic” or “vain.” Entering into relationships where I was always the second-best someone else instead of the first best me. It became exhausting and frustrating – and I realized that the way we talk to ourselves as women was holding us all back on a big level.

WANT recognizes the effects of negative self-talk, internal and external, on the mind, on the body, in the workplace, in the world. Negative talk, especially the Casual Negativity we use without even thinking about it, has become such an acceptable norm for us that we’re breeding a society of women who are constantly feeling less-than and holding themselves back from their own unique greatness. This must shift in order to see true, lasting change on both large and small scales.

Yes, the affirmations and mantras are wonderful, and a step in the right direction. But positive phrases won’t cut it in the long run without a solid framework for how to make them work on a personal and individualized basis. WANT is my love letter to the people I see walking around every single day who might not even realize how much magic they possess just by being unapologetically themselves – and it’s my love letter to the ones who already know it, too.

Want to dive in? Here’s one of my favorite pieces of WANT wisdom, on how to deal with people who want to subtly bring you down. Because bullying reinforces that negative self-talk loop – and bullying definitely doesn’t end after high school.

Adult Bullying: Feeling Good When You’re Being Pushed Around -- Strategies for those times someone has made you feel guilty, ungrateful, second-class, or just plain dumb.

Adult Bullying: Feeling Good When You’re Being Pushed Around

“I’m just being honest”
“But you know, it’s just because I care.”
“I’m just watching out for you.”
“If I can’t tell you, who can?”

Ever heard something like this, supposedly said in your best interests, but instantly felt utterly shitty inside?

I’m not talking about genuine concern or healthy, respectful discourse – I’m talking about those times someone has made you feel guilty, ungrateful, second-class, or just plain dumb.

It’s passive-aggression and manipulation at its finest: you’re being told something that hurts under the guide of it being for your “own good.”

We’re all familiar with these relationships. So familiar, you can probably think of one or two instances off the top of your head.

When others cut you down, you start to watch yourself more – like a commentator giving a play-by-play analysis of each thought, decision, and action you take. And self-censoring is a nice sturdy foundation for negative talk patterns to be built upon.

I’ve always, always had these reoccurring passive-aggressive bully characters pop up in my life, which made my inner sports commentator determine that I was viewed as a runner-up, second-best type of girl. The weird thing is, I knew in my heart I was a leader and that given the opportunity to excel on my own, I was way more than just capable – I was actually able to, dare I say it, connect and inspire. Go figure!

But – a big “but” – the way I was being pushed around made me wary of owning that fact. The fact that I could do it, the fact that I didn’t need someone’s approval or advice beforehand. I would constantly wrestle with striving to fulfill my own ambition and checking in with others to see what was “right.” I would feel pulled in so many different directions without even knowing what was really going on.

And then one day, I decided I’d had enough. At that point, I was not just stagnant in my life, I was moving around in circles. The same patterns would repeat and I’d find myself crying in frustration, sinking into bouts of depression without telling anyone about how deeply it was affecting me.

And so this week, when I was asked by Megan at Humble Rebel what I’ve quit and never regretted, I didn’t even hesitate when I said: Allowing myself to be sneakily pushed around.

Here’s what to do if you’re being bullied:

1) Breathe. A friend recently posted on Facebook a little aside about the advice a doctor gave him – that a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth is “like writing a love note to every cell in your body.” (man I wish I could take credit for that imagery.) It’s true: whether you’ve honed a meditation/yoga practice or not, everyone should get into the habit of breathing deeply. Scientifically, it keeps your blood pressure from skyrocketing and feeds your cells with much-needed oxygen so they can function at their best. Purely subjectively, it feels damn good. And when you’re being pushed around, you need something to calm you down and make you feel damn good.

2) Shift your perspective. Remember hearing your parents say that people make fun of or bully others in order to makethemselves feel better? Many times, that applies to us adults, too. Truly malicious people aside, most bullies don’t intend to be mean or piss you off or make you sad – they mean to advise based on their own life experience and truth, deflect energy they’re feeling thrown at them from the world, or simply cope with their own surroundings and life choices. Remembering that “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about” prevents you from fully absorbing their hurtful words and the impact that follows.

3) Have a go-to confrontation phrase (or two). This is my favorite tip, and the one that’s proven the most helpful for me. Even if you’re “good” at confrontation, it’s usually not a pleasant activity, and you want to make sure you can stay cool, calm, and quasi-collected in the case the other person goes on the defensive or throws some nasty words your way.Not everyone is empathetic – that doesn’t mean you can’t be.

Some of my favorites:

    • “I know it’s not your intention, but when you say things like ____, I interpret it like _____.”
    • “When you say _____, I hear _____.”
    • “I feel _____ because ________.”
    • “I respect you for you – please respect me for me.”
    • “I understand where you’re coming from. But I need to do what’s right for me.”
    • “I appreciate your honesty, but here’s how I view it: ______.”
    • “That might be your truth, but this is mine.”
    • “I promise you – I’ve got this.”

And so on and so on. Just be sure you’re staying kind and firm. Especially if this is a relationship you value. It might be hard not to go off the handle, but you are strong (I know ’cause you’re reading this!), and you need to be the anchor in the conversation right now.

4) Immediately perform an easy yet impactful act of self-care. After hearing hurtful words, or standing up for yourself if the situation allowed for it, do something that makes you feel happy. Turn on your favorite radio station or podcast. Sing. Give people hugs. Give people compliments. Text someone you love and tell them how much you love them. Guaranteed you’ll feel at least 5% better immediately – and 5% is better than nothing at all! Performing an easy yet impactful act of self-care is like chugging down a strong dose of anti-meanness medication.

I wish I could tell you that adult bullies fade away, but from what I’ve observed, they don’t – they just become senior-citizen-bullies. Just like negativity is a bonding tactic we learn from a very young age, bossing others around or being disrespectful is a habit that we can carry with us into old age if we allow ourselves to go there. We all slip and do it every so often – but if you can catch it when you feel the effects on the receiving end, you’ll be way, way less likely to do the same to others.

Because everyone is truly fighting a battle others know nothing about. Because you should be playing in the game of your life, not censoring. And because every good commentator knows when it’s time to just sit back and let the athletes do their thing.


What is your go-to confrontation phrase? Or, if you don’t have one yet, what’s one you’ll use next time you’re being pushed around?

Please share below in the comments – your phrase could be the one someone else has been searching for.

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