7 Things You Need to Know about Emotional Abuse and Bullies
1) 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.