Home > Abusive relationships, Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder > 7 Things You Need to Know about Emotional Abuse and Bullies

7 Things You Need to Know about Emotional Abuse and Bullies


waste1) You can’t control anyone else. You can’t change anyone else. You can’t make an emotionally abusive person treat you nicely. Most emotionally abusive bullies are emotional predators. Do not make the mistake of feeling sympathy for them because they often use it to manipulate you into staying in the relationship.

2) It’s highly unlikely that you can make a bully understand that the way he or she treats you is abusive. These people won’t take ownership for their bad behaviors. They always have a justification and rationalization. It’s your fault. You “made” them treat you badly. In order for the emotionally abusive person to see their behavior for what it is, they have to be able to tolerate cognitive dissonance.

Abusive personalities often think of themselves as good, exceptional people who are above reproach (especially if they’re the NPD variety). Holding the mirror up to them and trying to get them to take responsibility for their behavior is usually a colossal waste of breath.

Even if you seem to be able to reach them and think you have gotten them to understand, the bully will often quickly retreat behind their favorite wall of distortions. These people are human propaganda machines who actually believe their own lies about themselves. If you threaten their fictitious self-image with the truth, they’ll defend against it tooth and nail, i.e., verbally and psychologically (and sometimes physically) attack you.

3) The bully wants you to sink down to their level. Bullies love to push your buttons until you react with hostility. They get you to lose control, then they flip the situation and say, “Ah ha! See! You’re the angry, crazy person! You need help!” This may also be evidence of a primitive defense mechanism called projective identification, which is often experienced as abusive by the person on the receiving end of it because it is highly crazy-making.

4) Figure out what attracted to you to this person, why you’ve stayed, and what your fears are about ending the relationship. If you’re too scared to leave this person or can’t stand to be without her, then you have to make your peace with the way she is. I repeat, you can’t change the emotionally abusive bully.

5) If you do end the relationship, keep exploring the same questions above. There’s often a secondary gain to remaining in an abusive relationship. Figure out what you want, need, and deserve in your next relationship. That will help you break the cycle of emotional abuse.

6) Learn the tactics of distraction and diffusion. If you can’t distance yourself from a bully, for instance, in a work setting or you’re not willing to end your personal relationship with one, learn how to distract them and/or diffuse tense situations. For example, you can:

  • Suck up to the bully. When she’s on the attack, appeal to her “better nature.” “I can see you’re really upset, darling. I’m so sorry. I know I was breathing too loudly. It won’t happen again. You’re right to be annoyed. I know someone as kind and generous as you can forgive me my many faults.” If you can do this without losing your lunch, more power to you.
  • Make ‘em laugh. Use humor to diffuse their anger and tense situations. This won’t work every time, but it may give you a moment of peace. Make jokes about yourself or others’ inadequacies to demonstrate how “superior” the emotionally abusive bully is to everyone else. Jokes like this are usually sure fire winners.
  • Buy your way out. This especially works with emotionally abusive females. Buy her a trinket, real estate, a luxury vacation, or something she believes she’s entitled to. It’s like paying Pharaoh tribute so he won’t invade your country and slaughter innocent citizens.
  • Throw someone else under the bus. This isn’t a very nice tactic, but it works. When she’s starting to lay into you, point out how some other person in the office or at home has “screwed up” and it may take the cross hairs off of you for awhile. Although, if you go this route, you’re almost worse than the bully because you know what you’re doing is wrong.

7) Ending a relationship with an emotionally abusive bully isn’t “running away” or abandonment or admitting failure or anything to be ashamed of; it’s the sane choice. It’s the healthy choice. Living with an emotionally abusive person is like living next to a radioactive waste plant. You wouldn’t voluntarily choose to live somewhere where the air and water was contaminated and making you sick, would you? Same difference.

There is only one way to “control” or harm a bully: Take away her ability to control and harm you. The worst thing you can do to an emotionally abusive type is end the relationship. This tactic has the added bonus of getting you out of a toxic relationship.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

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Radioactive waste on Wired.

  1. Zora
    December 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I’ve been reading all these posts and it’s amazing how many people are dealing with this problem.
    I’m a she. HE is the abuser.
    He used to hit me. Beat me, actually. And then he’d be duper sweet and oh so apologetic. He would cry till he couldn’t breathe.
    My family liked him, some still do. They all told me I was probably doing something to set him off. Sounds strange now that I listened to that crap, but I did. I think it was post natal depression, I don’t know, but j let this nonsense go on for a couple of years. Eventually I ended it. It’ll be two years next Feb.
    HE WON’T LET IT GO.

    He follows me, parks in front of my house or down my street, calls and texts me at least 5-10 times a day, threatens to kill me…. Cause ge THINKS I have a new boyfriend. He says he’ll abduct our kids and I’ll never see them again …..
    Humour doesn’t work, it makes him think I want to reconcile. Sucking up would make vomit in my mouth.
    What am I supposed to? How do you bully a bully?
    Somebody help. How do I help him move on and let me go?

  2. MM
    October 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    RJ…. I am in the same situation as you and the good thing is that I now have a son with this woman. The sad part is that she will always be part of my life even if i decide to leave her. We are not married and as our son is out of wedlock, she decided to give him her last name. I fought seriously against this but by law ( in the UK) the woman pulls the strings if childbirth is out of marriage. At first she agreed to giving him my surname but then later changed her mind about it stating that she’ll change it if we get married. My friends warned me seriously about dating her way before my son was born, but i just always go back to her because I love her and stupidly blamed myself all the time for every fall out we had. I dont see my friends anymore and the annoying thing is that they haven’t actually seen my son since he was born. I think they just don’t feel free around her cos of how she has treated me in the past, and they have kind of left me to my own mis-fortune and rightly so. I’m constantly watching what I do and say cos it’ll be twisted so badly by her to mean things i never had in mind. Her excuse is that I’m not romantic enough lol! not affectionate and I don’t respect her. I can only blame myself and I do every single sec of the day as I should have known better. I love my son so dearly and I feel i’ll let him down if i leave his mum, as I want a better life for my son than the life I had growing up( as you do). Apart from this, I know my son will be a lethal -weapon against me and I’m so scared that he’ll turn out just the same as his mom. I just cannot imagine her advising him how to deal with life situations. I feel like i have the same conversation all the time about the same old bloody things, and to be quite frank ive gone off sex with her as it’s just boring as hell. Yep same here, I messed up with my credit a bit and just trying to clean up my mess and I should by early next year. Yes it does feel good to know that we are not alone and THANK GOD THAT IM ACTUALLY NOT CRAZY.. Thanks all.

  3. August 6, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I am 72 my wife is 42 and she is from Papua New Guinea where the culture in marriage is very different to the UK where we now live.We have a 13 year old daughter and 22 year old son.My wife is very controlling of me telling me what to do where to go what to wear and what is right and wrong (in her view)She can be lovely one minute and very angry the next.Recently she waved her fist agressively at our daughter who blocked it and hit her back.Both my son and daughter have seen her boss and bully me and even attempt to hit me with kitchen tools(saucepans)When she loses it she tries to drink bleach (three or four times now) I have to get my daughter to stop her.I know if I try she will call the police and say Ive assaulted her.Im not even certain we were ever legally married as I found out she had been married before (in culture with paying bride price) and had never divorced just leaving him with two young children.She declared when we married she was free to marry,this was obviously untrue.This was in PNG in 1990.
    I and the children are scared of her as in her own country she was known to be agressive and violent(the nature of the country). I am compiling evidence of all the actions she takes against me but at present we live together and I suffer daily verbal abuse and domination.She recently called me “a stupid old man”!
    But I am scared about the future as when eventually I take divorce action she may well try to kill me and/or my daughter.But I have no proof that she would.My children want to be with me in our home and are prepared to say so and give witness as to her behaviour in Court.But Im still terrified as to what will then happen.She is capable of torching the house with us in it I’m sure.

  4. RJ
    May 31, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    I have been married for about a year and a half but with this woman for about 7 years. I never understood what was going on, but knew I was constantly in trouble, put down, verbally abused, walking on egg shells and constantly lived in fear that she would decide to freak out.. again! Some days a feel like I am going crazy, her description of the truth is always skewed, and sometimes just flat out wrong. It’s amazing she remembers every move I make but never can recall her behavior correctly. I will sit silently when she talks and listen waiting for my turn to respond and when ever I begin to talk she always talks over me, a little louder to make sure to not hear anything I am saying. She always tries to get me to come down to her level, and unfortunately it has worked more than once. I finally quit falling into her traps. She has hit me in the face more than once, usually when alcohol was involved. She tells me the reason she acts this way is because I never giver her the love she needs. I am not romantic enough, I never plan “Special” things for us. She says she hates me, I am the most UN-affectionate person she has ever meant. She wants a divorce, yet at the same time is wanting to get a pregnant and have a baby. She seems to hate my job because she feels I give all my attention to my clients ( I’m a personal Trainer ) and gets tired of being supportive to my music career and “having” to go to my shows where it is ALL about me. Anytime she does anything for me it used against me and held over my head. . which I always do my best to make her feel super. important at every event, compliment her while on stage, write every song about her and never do shows when she cant make it. The other night I went to the store to get oil for the car and pick up my step son ( her son ) form basketball while she sat home. I forgot to get a ovulation kit and she went off. Said all I cared about was myself and my things.. I tried to tell her Oil for the car and picking up our son were not “my” things.. She wants sex every night and to be complimented every day and if it doesn’t happen there is hell to pay, but it is difficult to want to do those things when this person is so mean and holds me to the fire constantly. I find myself not knowing what to do but pull back and try to not engage in conversation because it is a no win situation. There are times when I do feel a bit scared that she will snap and do something real crazy. I love her son who is 15 and her family, and the sad part is I love her too. I look at myself and try to figure out why I am in this situation and it is pretty easy to see. I grew up in a bad family situation, dad was gone, mom was emotionally and physically abused by the men in her life. I messed up when I was younger and have a felony on my record and bad credit which makes it difficult to get my own place, I only have my mom as far as a family and her health is deteriorating very quickly and I am getting a bit scared to end up alone. Not sure why I am writing this but when I ran across this it felt good to know maybe I am not crazy and not alone! Thank you to everyone that has wrote on this page, your words help.

  5. Alreadylost
    October 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    “Make ‘em laugh. Use humor to diffuse their anger and tense situations. This won’t work every time, but it may give you a moment of peace. Make jokes about yourself or others’ inadequacies to demonstrate how “superior” the emotionally abusive bully is to everyone else. Jokes like this are usually sure fire winners.
    Buy your way out. This especially works with emotionally abusive females. Buy her a trinket, real estate, a luxury vacation, or something she believes she’s entitled to. It’s like paying Pharaoh tribute so he won’t invade your country and slaughter innocent citizens.”

    The only thing that buys me any peace for a few moments. Doesn’t last long though. Everything is a transaction with her. Affection? “buy me XYZ” please take care of this “you owe me”. Sometimes I can make a joke which deflects it for about 30 seconds.

    When she really starts in and then asks me why I act this way I just tell her it because I’m scum. She then calls me a smartass and I say at least you didn’t marry a dumbass. That usually shuts her up for about a minute. You just can’t win these battles.

  6. KJ
    April 18, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    DR.Tara,

    You are the BEST !!! I ended my relationship with an emotionally abusive women, she told me that SHE HURTING ALOT !! You are so right when you said that the best way to hurt an emotionally abusive person is to end the relationship. I hope she is still hurting…this is bad to say but this is how I feel. In time I will forgive her but I will not forget. I have already moved on and I learned alot, especially from you !! I feel so much better. I WILL STOP RUMINATING ABOUT this woman who does not deserve my thoughts.

  7. Anne
    March 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I like the terminology you used, “radioactive waste plant” is a perfect definition when dealing with emotional bullies. I would like to state to the person who said that the whole family suffers from some sort of psychological disorder, that according to the DSM-V most of the world suffers from some sort of mental illness. Bullying tends to be lack of emotional development. While some groups actually band together for a common cause and sometimes it starts out with some sort of good intention, for the most part once they gain a foot hold they tend to feel a power rush, much like pulling the wool over someones eyes so to speak. A comedian once said: “You can’t fix stupid.”, it isn’t about fixing anything, it’s about emotional maturity. Some bullies try to cause mental disorders in others, a response from their victim always equals emotional instability with the bully. Never mind that continually critiquing others is emotional instability and pretense at caring for another with no real commitment other than financial tidbits here and there (much like donating money for causes instead of getting out into the community and actually helping) is in itself an emotional mind game and a pretense at real caring. People who can’t commit emotionally are the types who tend to bully others, i.e., multiple marriages, multiple changes in friendships, to many “friends” on facebook, even when you haven’t really met them in person and have no long term connection to them. People feel like they are a part of something if they group together, even if it is a “pretend” life, much like the facebook community.

  8. John
    May 4, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Sucking up doesn’t work for me either. Its like she hates the idea that I’m being nice and she gets even meaner. It really seems like she ends up thinking I have a deeper evil motive behind my being nice even though I actually am trying to be nice to calm the situation. What do I do?

  9. James
    January 30, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I am with a bully and sucking up doesn’t work…She doesn’t care. Its like she loves it, really T don’t understand why and how to stop this…Please help me !

  10. Rich
    January 10, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Suck up to the bully. When she’s on the attack, appeal to her “better nature.” “I can see you’re really upset, darling. I’m so sorry. I know I was breathing too loudly. It won’t happen again. You’re right to be annoyed. I know someone as kind and generous as you can forgive me my many faults.” If you can do this without losing your lunch, more power to you.

    LOL the reason I’m here is because she chewed me out for snoring last night (and other things) then refuses to talk to me today because she’s so unhappy.

  11. Cindy
    August 29, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Oh my goodness! Robert, I just read your post from almost 3 months ago. I hope you have continued to see your domestic abuse victim counselor. Did you show your log to the DCYF investigator? Did the investigator speak with your children, or your father? All 3 of them are witnesses to your wife’s violent behavior. This sounds like a very bad situation. You need to focus on taking care of yourself, as well as your daughters (how old are they?) Best of luck to you – I hope you see this message.

  12. Robert P.
    June 16, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I am an abused husband (how embarrassing to admit) It is becoming more and more apparent that my wife is manic depressive or has some sort of mental illness, her father was manic depressive and her family suffered with his illness until his death in 2000. Her siblings have various degrees of mental illness (which may be hereditary from what I have been told).

    I try to understand what it is that makes her this way, and there is several reasons for the current lapse into depression, but it seems like there’s always something making her lose control and it’s becoming harder and harder to take the verbal abuse that I receive from her. The most concerning thing for me is that she does it in front of our children.

    She tells me she hates me and wants a divorce, she abuses me verbally, she puts me down, tells me how useless I am, and tries to control everything.

    I am not a bad person and I consider myself to be a good father, I love my children more than anything in the whole world and spend as much time with them as I possibly can, which still doesn’t seem to be enough in the eyes of my wife. I work hard to support them, but, try to balance it so that I spend quality time with my daughters, and also to give my wife some time out. My wife tells the children so many lies about me that they are relatively cold and have mixed feelings for me (Which breaks my heart). My wife does not talk to me and this has been on and off for 10 years. When she gets angry about something she will not talk to me for months at a time. The only time she speaks to me is to insult me (Usually in front of the children).

    I’ve thought about leaving her many time, but, I couldn’t bare to be away from my children, and I also believe that I need to be there to make sure my daughters do not get the rough end of her depressive mood swings and violent behavior. I also believe that it would be better for my daughters to have 2 parents to support and guide them. My daughter Amelia has told me that her mom hits her (She will not elaborate).

    I think most of all though, I am confident that I could win custody of my daughters but I have continued to take the abuse just so I can be sure I continue to be there for them and as strange as it may seem I have not given up on this horrific marriage in hopes that God will show us his mercy. After 10 years of mental and physical abuse by my wife I am finally keeping a log of some of the highlights of my blissful marriage to XXXXXXX.

    March 23rd, 2009- I told my wife that I got my foot stuck in the rear step and tripped on a tennis ball breaking my leg. She said “You are on your own, go to the walk in clinic”. I had to call my father for a ride.

    March 23rd, 2009- I informed my wife that I would be having surgery and would be in the hospital where she works for a few days. She did not allow my children to walk down the street to visit me.

    After being in the hospital for a few days, my wife would not take my daughters to come visit me. I went 3 days without seeing them.
    March 24th, 2009- I got a ride home from the hospital by my father. My wife informed my Father that we are separated but living in the same house. She said “Don’t leave him here I will not do anything to take care of him.”

    March 24th 2009- I have not slept in the same bed with my wife in 6 months. I have been sleeping in the spare room on the first floor. I went upstairs to get some clothing and noticed a large bottle of Chardonnay tucked behind her quilting rack. I kept track of her wine consumption and she has been averaging 5+ bottles per week. She keeps the bottle hidden in her room so that the children will not see her drinking.

    March 25th 2009- My wife keeps turning off the furnace and running hot water when I am trying to wash up. This is almost daily occurrence. I was resting my leg on the couch with a quilt on me because I was cold. She took all the quilts from the first floor and opened all the windows (It was only in the 30 degree range outside). She said “You had better not touch these windows or turn on the furnace or you’ll be sorry, you can’t do anything because you are a cripple with a bum leg”.

    April 19th, 2009- My wife stated that she will throw me and my crutches out the door if I do not leave the house next Sunday for her sister’s birthday party. She motioned to kick me but did not follow through with it.

    April 19th, 2009- My wife told me that my father and daughter Can not be in the house whenever she is home. My daughter and father are the only people I can get to help me do things that I can’t while on crutches. My wife knows that and is stopping me from getting any help.

    April 19th, 2009- My wife told me to make a shopping list. I did so and she crumbled it up threw it at my face and said, “I’m not buying any of this shit, go ask your father or daughter to take you to the store”.

    May 29th, 2009- I have not been updating this log but the relentless torment has not subsided. Last evening my father and I went to the XXXX to continue our quest to become members. We had a nice evening and are excited to become part of this benevolent and giving organization. My dad has encouraged me to join. His is an Army Veteran and has a special place in his heart for the Elks and their commitment to Veterans. We had a great evening. We arrived home at 10:50PM and I asked my dad to let the dog out to the bathroom. I am still on crutches and letting the dog out at night is a challenge. I will elaborate but my wife was charged with her 3rd domestic assault charge and a restraining order has been put into place against her.
    Again… My emotionally, physical and verbal abuser has just been arrested on her 3rd Simple Domestic Assault charge. She has our children and she will not let me keep them at home with me. She shut off the phone service so that the children would not have my contact numbers. She is living with her sister and the children are not even allowed to speak to me. D.C.Y.F. did an investigation and neither one of us was considered a bad parent therefore I don’t have any grounds to ask for custody. She told the children that “I am a bad man because Mommy spent the night in jail for no reason”. She took a large sum of money out of our checking account but I have been able to pay all the bills. I am seeing a domestic abuse victim counselor. I am in the house alone and miss my children, I am out if work on TDI but will be going back as soon as I am able…What is a guy to do…any insight…Thank You!!!

  13. Colette
    March 19, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    So how do you take away the control from the bully, when the children are being used to control you? I left my ex 14 years ago b/c he was everything in this article and more – there is no doubt in my mind that he has NPD. Now he is using our children to control and manipulate. How do I take that control away without hurting our children? They are two boys, ages 16 and 17.

    • shrink4men
      March 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm

      Are you the custodial parent? How is your ex using your children to control you?

  1. December 17, 2010 at 6:33 pm
  2. December 1, 2009 at 7:50 pm

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