Many coaching clients call me saying, “Since he didn’t beat me physically, I didn’t realize I was being bullied and abused. At least, not until I read your articles. Is it too late for me? Can you help me?” Of course, since you’ve made it this far, it’s not too late, although it may take a lot of effort. But let’s look at what’s behind the idea that we don’t know if we’re being bullied and abused unless we’re being physically beaten.
- He changed from charming to controlling, sometimes step by step.
- They make the rules; they control everything. You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
- Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”
- They isolate you.
- They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips.
- They don’t take your kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop. They take your passivity as an invitation to bully you more.
Or we might recognize the seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists:
- They think they know best about everything.
- Their excitement is contagious and sweeps you along.
- They think they don’t have anything to learn.
- They’re more important than you are.
- They think their rules should rule.
- Everyone is a pawn in their game.
- They think their excuses should excuse them.
Indeed, many women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”
The underlying problem for people who don’t know if they’re being bullied or abused is that when we use a definition or standard that’s on the outside of us the definition doesn’t include all situations or the standards aren’t relevant to us or we’re never certain if our judgment is accurate. Using an arbitrary, external standard is like using a quick quiz of twenty questions in a magazine to see if we’re bullied, abused, in love, truly compatible, a good person, likely to succeed…or anything else. External standards aren’t the right place to look.
The hidden assumptions behind that way of thinking are that:
- Outside standards and definitions are crucial. We depend on other people, maybe so-called experts, to tell us what’s right and normal and true.
- We can’t act until we’re sure that we or they are in some category as defined by those external standards. That is, unless we’re sure the other person is a bully we’re not allowed to act. Or we can’t act until we’ve tried everything to help them change. Or until we’re sure it’s not our fault, we don’t deserve the treatment, it’s his fault and we’re victims we shouldn’t act.
Both of those assumptions are wrong. Yet both of those assumptions are why people allow themselves to stay in very painful situations year after year, even as their self-confidence and self-esteem diminish.
A better test To decide whether we should act or not, instead of the external standards and definitions, use an internal test. We can simply ask ourselves, “Am I in pain? Do I want to be treated this way?”
Notice that these questions are about us; about how much things hurt, about our desire to get away from the pain, about what we’ll allow in our personal space. We don’t need some external standards of right or wrong, normal or abnormal. We don’t need the self-doubt, self-questioning and negative self-talk that come from asking questions like, “Is it my fault? What have I done wrong? Do I deserve this? Is this the way it’s supposed to be?”
Simply start by saying, “Ouch. Cut it out. Act better or you’re gone. I don’t care what your reasons, justifications or excuses are; act nicer or I’m gone.”
Then, we become the standard. If we’re being taunted, teased, harassed, bullied and abused verbally, mentally and emotionally, and we don’t like it, that’s more than enough reason to get away. It’s that simple. We create distance, not because of some external standards, but because we want to. That’s more than enough reason.
Every one of the people who wrote or called for coaching was immediately able to answer the questions about how the treatment felt. When they recognized and accepted their pain as important and sufficient, they wanted to resist. They immediately were angry and determined to get away. Their spirits rose. They felt strong and courageous. Good for them.
When they learned effective skills and techniques, they could resist successfully. Since all tactics are situational and the abuse has usually gone on for a long time, you’ll probably need expert coaching. We’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.
“How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults in very difficult situations taking command of themselves and succeeding. For personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).