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when you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig likes it.

 

she’s just jealous.

 

turn the other cheek.

 

play nice.

 

be good.

 

behave.

 

rise above.

 

i’ve dealt with enough bullies in my lifetime to be absolutely certain that there is no one single right way to deal with a bully. there are bullies who will push you into a wall, backing down only when you stand straighter than ever before, look them square in the eye, and say “enough.” there are bullies who will back off only when you scream and shine a light on them for all to see. there are bullies who will wrestle you to the ground, twisting your extremities into unnatural and painful positions and holding you there until you cry “uncle, already.” there are bullies who never get tired and never run out of tactics. there are bullies who will never backdown. ever.

when it comes to guidelines for conduct becoming a female when dealing with bullies, i’ve heard it all. most of them sound real pretty – noble even. but my best how-to-deal-with-a-bully advice came from a kenny rogers song about playing poker: you’ve gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.

i dealt with a bully last week. a man who’s old enough to know how to behave himself. a man who has enough letters before his name indicating rank that’s impressive enough to make me think he was out the day they taught the Army Core Value of respect. all that talk of wrestling with pigs and turning the other cheek and rising above flew right out the window as i dealt with this guy in what sure felt like my native language. i wasn’t rude, wasn’t aggressive, didn’t bully him, but i didn’t let him wipe his feet on me, either.

and it was exhilarating. it felt good.

afterwards, two men who overheard the conversation commented on how i’d conducted myself with “civility, discipline, and showed great restraint.” those were conversations i played in my head the rest of the day – to the point that i felt silly that i even remembered it, let alone put that one 15 minute period on such a lofty marble, diamond-encrusted pedestal. why did it feel so good? why were these 2 incidents of validation so incredibly important to me?

[insert lightbulb]

years ago, as a teenager still learning how to navigate my way through life with non-related others, i was in an abusive relationship. every minute of every day was a huge eraser as i made myself invisible to others because for something as simple as talking to another person in the hallway between classes, there was hell to pay. the confident, carefrree, kickass girl i had been up to that point had to go.

it was the ultimate ambush makeover, and vestiges die hard.

so last week when the bully started into me with his condescending tone and his berating, belittling words, my spirit said “never again a doormat” and balanced all those admonitions about pig wrestling with what i learned – what i still carry: visceral memories of from that one abusive relationship.

when the bully on the phone interrupted me, i called him on it, then finished my sentence. when he smartassed me, i asked him to choose different words and use a different tone. when he asked, “are you finished?”, i answered “for now.” and i did it from my core so there was no hysteria (even though he resorted to the dominating eraser phrase “calm down” more than once.) i never raised my voice, i never cried, i never wrung my hands. though i had never spoken with this man before and had no idea what he was like, i intuitively stood up at the beginning of the phone call when he uttered his first words.

one thing that abusive relationship taught me is keen sensitivity as a means of self-defense and survival.

though it seemed endless, the phone call actually lasted only about 15 minutes, and when i hung up, i smiled. big.

okay, self, i said later that day, i get why you feel such a rush having dealt so efficiently and effectively with this man. but why do you continue to shamelessly replay the comments from the two men who were impressed enough with the way you handled conducted yourself on this phone call to say something?

[insert another lightbulb right about here]

when i look back on that abusive relationship, i realize that he was one of the most congenial, affable, friendly guys you’d ever want to meet . . . publicly. but in reality, that friendly, affable persona was methodical, designed to make me a liar before i even thought about talking to anybody. with his public image of mr. congeniality, he made quite sure that nobody would ever believe anything i said about the way he behaved privately.

but last week, two men whose opinions i happen to value saw this man through my eyes. with no convincing from me and without hearing his side of the conversation, they recognized him as a bully – their positive remarks about my side of the conversation proved it. they didn’t dismiss me or erase me, they validated me.

with their words of support and validation, i’ve turned a page in my life story. it’s big, i tell you: big. that validation is so big, it’s all i can do to resist the urge to embroider their words on a pillowcase marking the day i was a pencil with no eraser.