I don’t know about you, but bullying and harassment are big triggers for my child parts. Being sick with a cold, then the flu, then a cold during the bullying period didn’t help. Any kind of physical illness scares all of my alters because it makes us vulnerable and brings flashbacks to life.
My child alters started crying. My teen alters got mad. My adult alters were busy trying to keep our body warm, work, and survive. None of us could really address the triggers that turned into intrusive voices, negative self-talk, flashbacks, and really awful cold chills that went bone-deep.
First attempt at conflict resolution
Maybe the tenant above tried to talk to us while we were sick. Maybe not. I know my alters did try to talk to the tenant above, but that only escalated the problem. Seems that the tenant took my visit as a personal success, so increased the noise, etc. With everything scattered from feeling sick and not wanting to take a sick day, we all agreed to try ignoring the individual’s bullying and harassment.
What did the individual do?
- Walk heavily or stomp around upstairs.
- Jump around; hit furniture, drop things onto the floor
- Play with the heat so that my apartment and the other apartment got cold
- Open and close dresser/closet doors, etc.
- All day and all evening long for about 1.5 weeks
At first, I wasn’t sure this was deliberate. But then I noticed the noise only happening at certain times: when all of my lights were out because I went to bed early (I didn’t have blackout curtains on every window then); when I opened the vents more to get rid of the chill in my apartment; after the noise from my climbing up to my loft bed stopped.
So what to do when someone is doing this and none of the neighbors want to get involved? When this individual will not talk to you directly and the last time you tried ended an escalation in negative behavior?
You know the owner of the building will not believe you because the situation is already tense from other stuff?
And all you want to do is sleep and stay warm because you’re sick with a fever, coughing, and vomiting?
When All the Alters Make a Plan…
This time, the child and adolescent alters solved the problem. They went back and confronted the flashbacks these people brought up. Observed how the bullies from our past treated us. Observed what got them to stop. Decided on a plan of action. Cried a lot. Hid under the covers a lot. And executed a plan.
They decided that the tenant above was a covert bully whose actions needed to be brought into the open. Otherwise nothing would get resolved.
Step 1: Ignore the tenant’s activity upstairs and try to stay warm.
Since everyone was sick, they focused on helping the rest of the system with work and self care until our weekly doctor appointment. That also meant we could hang out in a warm, safe place with a public restroom for a while and then start to feel healthy again. Feeling healthy meant everyone integrating once more and some mental clarity.
Step 2: Laughter is the best medicine
With the mental clarity came the realization that none of us really cared what the tenant upstairs was doing. The noise didn’t bother or annoy us anymore because we were feeling so much better. Plus we were able to use our sleep headphones and enjoy music again. So the next time the tenant’s musical started, we laughed and listened to our own music as we fell asleep.
Results: step 1 and step 2 worked – the tenant’s negative behavior escalated to the point where others were getting disturbed. They asked the tenant to stop more than once. The tenant stopped temporarily, but continued to escalate at different times during the day instead.
Step 3: Play the game until the tenant is forced to stop
This was now six days into the harassment. I felt great. My alters felt great. But we all worried about next steps if this didn’t stop. By now, the upstairs tenant was getting very violent with temper every time I changed my heat settings or the other upstairs tenant changed heat settings. The violence wasn’t to another individual, but to objects in the tenant’s apartment. And the resulting noise was loud enough to bother the tenant’s neighbors. Plus the third floor tenant wasn’t getting any heat; something I felt bad about but couldn’t do anything to resolve at the time.
A Mediator Steps in
Eventually, with the heat vents completely open on my and the upstairs tenant’s floor because otherwise no heat at all came into my apartment, another tenant got involved as mediator. I agreed to keep my vent 1/4 open and mostly covered on two conditions: 1) the second floor tenant stopped with the noise and playing with the heat; 2) both of them also kept their vents 1/4 open and mostly covered too. The third floor tenant agreed with one caveat: if I did go to the owner with a complaint, I kept all other neighbors out of it. I agreed as long as the second floor tenant stopped with the bullying and harassment.
Step 4: Cover my ass even if it means being on the owner’s bad side for a while
I already knew the owner wasn’t going to do anything about the problem. For one thing, the tenants in this building are very much the I-don’t-want-to-get-involved types. They also try to go for the easiest solution with the least conflict. But I wanted insurance and a record in case something happened that required me to contact legal services. So the same evening as the mediator event, the upstairs tenant started up with the noise again around midnight. In turn, each alter who was awakened sent an email to the owner recording the type of noise and heat changes.
Then Angora who is usually the most level headed and Shea who is a fierce protector of our child parts got pissed. They had just finished reviewing everything the others did over the past few weeks to cope with the bully – self care, affirmations, gratitude prayers, grounding exercises, safe spaces – and were so proud of the strategy they came up with all on their own. At the same time, we all felt angry that our parts had to cope with that on their own.
So they broke the rules and texted the owner in the middle of the night. That woke the owner up, so none of us got much sleep going in to the next day. The owner reacted as expected and wrote an email basically telling us that we were liars and to stop complaining because no one wants to hear it. I wrote back a respectful and polite thank you with a promise not to cross any more boundaries.
Step 5 (final): If the bullying and harassment doesn’t stop, call the tenants association and get the law involved.
Luckily I live in a state with a lot of tenant rights. And if this continues, I will reach out to those organizations and work with a pro-bono attorney to get this situation fixed. But only if the issues continue or something else happens to make us break the lease early.
Since I have not broken any laws or terms of the lease, the owner can’t retaliate with a rent increase or eviction. But we are stuck in a 1 year lease. And I’m not sure what will happen at the end of it.
Lack of Shame Feelings
Normally, something like this would trigger lots of feelings of shame & guilt that send all or some of us into a backlash spiral. In fact, that’s what we all expected. Or at least anxiety because the tenant upstairs and the owner remind us so much of women in our biological family.
But no, that’s not the case.
In fact, ever one of us feels empowered, safe, and confident in our choices so far. My child parts feel empowered and more confident because they faced a bully and won. Plus we all supported the child parts and praised them for being thoughtful, respectful, and smart in their problem-solving. My teen parts feel empowered because they also faced a bully and won. Instead of getting in trouble for winning, they were supported and praised for working with the child parts and helping them implement the solution. We adult parts are happy because our child and teen parts feel empowered, happy, confident, and safe instead of scared, angry, or ashamed for standing up for themselves.
In a very real way, these two individuals stood in for many of the female figures who bullied my child and adolescent parts in the past. The child and adolescent parts faced some very real fears and triggers mostly on their own with everyone being sick.
The experience was not ideal. And our approach wasn’t perfect or anything we would want to do again. But it worked with minimal negative backlash to ourselves. We learned a lot. My child parts found ways to stay safe, speak out, and cope with past and present colliding. My adolescent parts did the same.
And now they realize that we adults trust our child and adolescent parts to make good choices and participate as useful members of our system. They are important and valued and necessary to our healthy functioning as a whole person. And even though they can’t help with work, they can and do help with everything else. Plus they can come out and communicate with the outside world too.
So I guess there was a silver lining to all of this.
Thanks for reading.