Bullied by your own family – it sounds almost impossible, doesn’t it?
However, sadly, this happens a lot in families whether it’s a partner or someone in your birth family. This can be a parent, sibling or other family member and it’s often difficult to detect as well as accept that this is happening. Don’t think that only men can be bullies – women can be just as adept at this! One of the worst parts of it is that these people often say how much they love you.
A bully in the family often encourages and manipulates other family members into acting in a certain way whilst fostering a negative view of the target in the minds of other family members, neighbours and friends – it’s achieved by undermining, creating doubts and suspicions and sharing false concerns. Sounds familiar?
The bully may try to establish an exclusive relationship, often based on apparent trust and confidence, with one family member so that they, the bully, are seen as the only really reliable source of information. This can be done by very clever means, perhaps by portraying the target as unstable, uncaring, undependable and untrustworthy. The object of this is to manipulate the family member’s perceptions so that the bully is seen as an honourable person with others’ best interests at heart. If challenged, the bully pretends to be the victim and makes sure that they are seen as the entirely plausible one, turning the focus on themselves to be the centre of attention.
Sounds frightening? It is! The psychological damage done can be very undermining but because there is no physical violence, there are no outward signs, at least at first. Most commonly, there is verbal and emotional abuse including nit-picking, constant fault-finding and criticism but usually when the bully and victim are alone. When other people are present, the bully is often ‘sweetness and light’, leaving others feeling that the bully is a lovely person.
Why does this happen? There are lots of theories including the bully suffering low self-esteem and using tactics to make themselves feel better, having control over other people – again to help them feel more positive about themselves and competitiveness within the family (always wanting to be thought of as better than a sibling).
A lot of people aren’t aware that they’re being bullied within their family, especially if the bullies are their parents and this has been going on since childhood, so it seems normal. Sometimes a sibling can take over from one of the parents and start the scapegoating again. Some signs that you or someone close to you is being bullied are:
- The bully puts you down, either when you’re alone or in front of others.
- They criticise you under the guise of helping you.
- They call you names like ‘useless’ or ‘stupid’.
- They tell you how to spend your money.
- They keep score of what they’ve done for you so that they can then say that they’ve done so much for you and either you’re not reciprocating or you’re a disappointment to them.
- They ask you constant questions about yourself, your life and how you live it.
- If you complain about their behaviour, they say that you’re “too sensitive” and “take things to heart too much”.
- They can be silently angry with you and refuse to talk about problems, using silence as a punishment (passive-aggressive). Another tactic is to say that they’re too busy to talk if you try to discuss a particular issue with them – even if they initiated the subject! Once it gets a bit difficult for them, they’ll try to terminate the conversation.
If you’ve ever suffered this as a child, it can have an even bigger effect than it might have done and the bully probably realises this, which is why they use that tactic. Their silence is a way to manipulate you so that you ask what the problem is and try to change something in your life to please them so that they will speak to you again.
So what can you do to deal with this?
- The first thing is to try to talk to the person/people concerned – they may not realise that what they’re doing is actually bullying. Tell them how it makes you feel and then ask them to stop – if they insist that they’re not doing anything wrong and that you’re being ridiculous/neurotic/over-sensitive at least you will have tried to bring it out into the open and make changes even though the other person isn’t willing to change.
- The next thing you can do is to set boundaries with the family member whether that is one of your parents, a sibling or a partner. When asked about attending a family party, if you don’t want to stay for most of the day tell everyone that you’re only going to stay for a couple of hours. If someone in the family wants you to do something for them and it’s not convenient, say so with something along the lines of “I wish that I could do that but it’s just not possible this time”. There will be some sort of backlash because you’re refusing to be controlled any longer, but try to remember that your needs and desires are as important as anyone else’s.
- If someone criticises your parenting style, you can say “I’m bringing the children up according to my values. I’m sorry if you don’t like it but that’s what I’m going to do”. There is no need to get into an argument about it; just state the facts.
- Remove yourself from the situation temporarily – you don’t have to stay around to be criticised. During the break, try to step away emotionally as well so that you can see more clearly what’s going on.
- Keep calm and as unemotional as possible when dealing with a bully – that is your best resistance.
- Find support elsewhere so that you’re not so dependent on that person or people – once you’re doing other things with friends, you won’t need the bully so much.
If you feel you’re suffering from being bullied within your family or relationship, working on your self-esteem can really help you to cope. Try reading about bullying, look at online forums and try counselling, which can really help you to overcome the unhappiness of being bullied.
You can read my blogs as soon as they are published (usually on Wednesdays) by pressing the ‘follow’ button and you can share them with your friends. You can also find me on Linked In, Instagram (samebutdifferent) and read my FB posts at Same But Different.
#anxiety #familyrelationships #stress #self-esteem #workonyourself