Last week, 60-year-old Florida man Qui Feng Ke shot and killed his 37-year-old neighbor Edward Tudor because he couldn’t take it anymore. Ke claims he endured two years of “incessant noise” from Tudor, which included Tudor pounding on the walls, blasting his TV, and yelling profanities, The New York Post reported. Ke said that Tudor would also mock him, which gives him no regrets over murdering his neighbor because he considers himself a victim of “adult bullying.”
While that excuse is unlikely to get him out of a prison sentence, adult bullying is a real thing, and as you might guess, men do it most. We think of bullying as kid stuff, but adult bullying is when grown adults act like big jerks, but in a specific, targeted, sustained way. It can’t just be someone cutting you off in traffic — it’s a repeated pattern of aggressive, shitty behavior that is meant to intimidate, harass or humiliate.
2016 for instance, was the year of the adult bully when Donald Trump pussygrabbed the presidency and went on to terrorize at will with name-calling, insults and aggressive posturing. His bully brand of toxic masculinity is worth noting: A 2014 study of workplace bullying and gender found that men perpetrate bullying 69 percent of the time. While they pick on women most of the time (57 percent of the time, male bullies target women) the rest of the time it’s a man. (Women pick on other women at work more often, too: they are 31 percent of the perpetrators, and 68 percent of their targets are other women.)
While teen and adult bullying take a similarly aggressive approach, and happen at about the same rate, grown-up bullies are more sophisticated, using verbal tactics over physical ones. And most notably, while they can terrorize at your apartment complex, the gym or the local bar, their playground is usually the office.
There, bullying manifests as being pranked, ignored, disrespected, or mocked. It can mean having your ideas stolen, your contributions diminished. In an interview with workplace psychology expert Sandra Robinson at Vice, she notes that adult bullies have some similar habits, which may include:
Political back-stabbing, socially undermining someone, publicly belittling others, and ostracism. [That is] one trait I’m studying quite heavily, which involves purposely leaving people out, excluding them from groups and meetings, giving them the silent treatment or the cold shoulder. Research shows that [ostracism] is extremely detrimental to employees because it makes them feel paranoid, unwelcome, and under extreme stress. Nobody will operate well when they feel like that.
Fun fact, many bullies are often bosses and supervisors, because they have more power. They are also white. Research shows Hispanics are most bullied in the workplace, followed by African Americans and Asians. Still, Robinson says, all a man has to believe is that he has or should have the most power to bully.
“The way our society is set up, men feel they may have more power than women, or white employees may feel they have more power than [people of color],” Robinson told Vice. “ [It can] take lots of different forms, and that’s because power is perceptual — it isn’t even necessarily real. The dynamic is all about the bully believing they have a certain level of power, and that actually empowers them to act on their impulses.”
While being a big jerk is a universal trait, male bullying tends to take more aggressive forms — more overt physical or verbal intimidation versus the more subtle mind games of the “mean girl” stereotype. But men and women both go after people they deem easy to pick on.
The question, then, is what to do about your bully if you have one. The advice for handling adult bullies is pretty straightforward — document it. And if you can’t separate yourself from the bully, or if calmly confronting them about what’s going on doesn’t work, you’re supposed to take it up the flagpole to someone with enough power to handle it. (Hopefully the bully is not your boss, surrounded by a protective circle of other bullies.)
Robinson says the fantasy of out-bullying the bully is a common one, but a dicey proposition, as many bullies double down when provoked due to the fact that they simply are not wired like the rest of us; they are more likely to be at best, prone to hostility, and at worst, actual psychopaths. Of course, it should not need to be said, but as Ke demonstrates, murdering your bully is likely not your best course of action. It probably feels really good in the moment, and in some document cases truly appears to be self-defense. Just living next to a neighbor from hell may not make that cut.