“It’s a big spider.”
I have flung the door and windows open and stand armed with the 3-foot wooden security bar and a bottle of soap-peppermint-oil which I have liberally sprayed on the offending creature, plastering it to the wall. Without his glasses, Sir Norm-the-Chivalrous can barely see anything and he dropped the spider in his first attempt to gently sweep it off the wall to take it outside; it landed on the bath towel, my towel.
“Not compared to you.”
I can tell he is peeved as I give him no choice but to flush it down the toilet. It is after midnight and I forgo washing a load of towels and climb into bed. My good knight has gone to sleep, leaving me a lot to think about this restless night. I suspect his reference to me being a bully was more about how I yelled at him and demanded he get rid of that ..#*!?!*.. thing. He has no qualms about picking up a bug of any kind and escorting it outside. But he has not been in therapy to overcome an irrational fear of insects, especially spiders.
The key word is fear; with the initial adrenaline rush is a painful contraction of muscles, a heightened sense of ‘fight or flight’ response, an awful feeling of powerlessness and panic. What am I going to do? I can’t kill it and I can’t contain it and it cannot touch me. The fear turns quickly to anger, anger that I am unjustly put into a position that I have to deal with this. It is not fair and I am the victim here; it should not come out when I am in the same room, therefore it would not have to die. But I have scooped up (smaller) spiders in a jar and taken them outside. I have been bitten by a black widow spider and obviously survived both the bite and being touched by an arachnid, so I know better than anyone that this phobia is my only justification for behaving badly. In my fear, I have lost civility and conviction, swearing at my husband and insisting he kill a harmless being.
I’m recounting this incident here to illustrate that everyone has the capability to be a bully under stressful situations. I advocate for the victims of bullies, especially young children who are tormented by peers, siblings or parents; how mortifying it is to think of myself as a bully! But this has given me a chance to examine the “other” side, perhaps to understand what motivates a bully. Three things are clear to me about my bully behavior: one, it is fear-based, secondly, the spider became a ‘thing’, not a living being, and thirdly, I could justify my misbehavior.
I have often wondered how a parent or another person could humiliate, or hurt someone intentionally, without feeling any connection to the act. We have all known shame and have been embarrassed one time or another and know how painful physically and psychologically it can be. Why would anyone want to inflict that on another? For one, if the bully does not think of his victim as a person, he is not going to have any feeling towards the other as someone like himself. This lack of empathy is a disconnection to a person, someone who feels pain, which allows the bully to impose his will or physical strength without conscience. Then, there is the desire to have it my way, not yours, which negates another’s rights in a relationship, a power-struggle for dominance and control, making one a petty dictator and the other a subject. This is a cycle of abuse, one many men and women perpetuate in relationships--husband and wife, sibling-to-sibling, parent to child, or peer-to-peer.
Fortunately, the spider incident brought out the best in my husband. It could have been a case where he belittled my fear, minimizing my feelings; or he could have shamed me or berated me. By taking care of the immediate problem he acknowledged that my fear is real to me and, although it disables my better judgement, he supported me. This, ironically, makes me think that next time I can handle a spider by myself.
I thought not so long ago that there is not much else I can say about bullying issues. It may seem inconsequential that a mere spider can impact my life so dramatically, but by examining my behavior, motives and consequences, I gleaned an understanding of being both a bully and a victim. And if one person changes a bully behavior by reading this, then there is a pattern broken, and a shift in the paradigm.
At least for the spiders.