Naming Bullying Behaviors

Silouette of a man holding his face in dejection with a word cloud of terms like "useless, insignificant, worthless" "

In order to help our congregations be places where people can bring their own full and authentic selves, our covenants call us to treat one another with care and compassion. But there are times when members of our congregations, especially members who have power and/or privilege, act in ways that are intimidating, hostile, abusive, and/or oppressive.

When Right Relationship Teams, boards, or other leaders tasked with addressing harmful behaviors have a situation where bullying or emotional abuse is happening, part of the challenge is being able to name the behavior and the harm it is causing, so that they can communicate their response.
The UUMA—when they added " I will not engage in bullying behavior or emotional abuse.." to their Code of Conduct in August of 2021—also included an addendum that named behaviors that, when engaged in as a pattern, are considered bullying or emotional abusive.

What follows is that list, adapted for lay people:

  • Speech and/or behavior that is derogating, demeaning, controlling, punishing, or manipulative.
  • Withholding communication, support, or resources.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior (covert hostility).
  • Inappropriately leaving a person out of decision-making.
  • Spying, stalking, hovering, and invading someone’s person, space, or belongings.
  • Making threats, judging, destructive criticism, lying, blaming, name-calling, ordering, and raging.
  • Couching criticism in the form of jokes, sarcasm or teasing.
  • Opposing: a pattern of arguing against anything someone says, challenging their perceptions, opinions, and thoughts. Treating another as an adversary, in effect saying “No” to everything, so a constructive conversation is impossible.
  • Blocking: may include switching topics, accusations, or use of words or other means to stop conversation.
  • Discounting and belittling: minimizing or trivializing someone’s feelings, thoughts, experiences, or credentials.
  • Undermining and interrupting: use of words intended to undermine someone’s self-esteem and confidence, such as, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” finishing sentences, or speaking on someone’s behalf without their permission.
  • Denying: denying that agreements or promises were made, or that a conversation or other events took place, including prior bullying behavior. In the extreme, a persistent pattern of denying is called gaslighting.
  • Isolating a person from systems of support.

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

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