When you think of a bully, you likely picture a big kid who wears overalls and has their fist to your face asking for your lunch box. But, bullying isn’t only about threatening someone’s physical presence. Bullying is a manipulative tactic meant to keep someone compliant and subordinate. Emotional bullying is the worst because the scars heal much slower, if ever.
What is emotional bullying?
Emotional bullying is a form of manipulation where a person says and does things emotionally to keep someone in line. All about fear, it is a tactic to hold power over others and to get what you want through coercion. The worst part about emotional bullying is that often it is harder to call out, to break the cycle, and the repercussions of being emotionally bullied, are far more reaching and lasting.
Understanding emotional bullying
Whether it is your partner or your friend who is emotionally bullying you, at a certain point, you must say enough is enough. The way that they make you feel all the time can’t be any worse than if you stick up for yourself and take the bully out. Adult bullies are no different from kids, once you call them out and stand up for yourself, you’re free from the power they have over you.
At the age of, way too old, I had an incident where a girl that I have known from grammar school, literally, bullied me all these years. Talking badly about me behind my back, making me uncomfortable, and lying about me was the norm. All the while, she looked me in the face and pretended it wasn’t happening.
I finally took my stand and called her out. I am sure that fallout will be far reaching. But I just couldn’t take it any longer. My hope is that you will do what I should have done over 30 years ago. Instead of being the object of abuse for so many years and looking the other way.
Are you being emotionally bullied?
It’s never easy to confront these thoughts, but if you recognize these signs in a friend, or worse, someone you trust with all your heart, it’s time you take a step back and evaluated your real relationship with them.
#1 They say bad things about you behind your back but are nice to your face. People who emotionally bully you typically don’t say mean things to your face. That allows you to defend yourself and set the story straight.
No, the emotional bully goes behind your back, talks badly about you, isn’t above lying about you, and says horrible things. But, to your face, they pretend they are totally cool with you, even though you feel the hostility. That way, if you call them out, you look like the jerk. [Read: How to get rid of a toxic friend]
#2 They control you with fear of reprisal. The bully doesn’t just bully one person. In fact, they bully anyone who threatens their status as queen or king. A bully works out of sheer fear, not of being physically harmed, but of the attack they unleash behind the scenes.
You have seen them do it to others in the past and don’t want it to happen to you. So, you keep your mouth shut and try to fly under the radar.[Read: 14 calm ways to recognize and deal with mean people]
#3 They always have a target. That is why you are so afraid of being next. A person who is emotional bullying always has a target. Since they are such cowards, the only way they feel superior is to make someone seem less than them.
Whoever isn’t there, or who doesn’t play their game, feels the sting of the emotional bully somewhere down the line. They always have to be mad at someone, judging someone, or putting someone down. If they don’t spread misery, they have nothing more to spread.
#4 They attack with a viciousness that insecure people aren’t equipped for. The emotional bully knows no boundaries when in attack mode. They tell your deepest darkest secrets. They lie about things that destroys your life, and they wage an all-out attack to get everyone who doesn’t agree with them.
If you aren’t exactly what they want and you take their abuse, then there is plenty more where it came from. It will never stop. [Read: 13 grownup ways to deal with bullies]
#5 They prey on those they know won’t fight back. The emotional bully is no different than the physical one. They choose people less secure, people pleasers, or who generally just try to get along without making waves.
If you show signs of weakness, you are the next target. So, those of us who are social phobic, have an extreme fear of emotionally bullying people, it makes us targets.
#6 You just go along with what they say even though you know it is wrong. When you are with someone who emotionally abuses others they talk about people, and although you know it is wrong, and you shouldn’t be engaging in it, you go along or just keep your mouth shut.
Whoever they have the vendetta against is being ripped a new one. You just sit back and listen, or there is a real possibility that you’re the next one on the chopping block. [Read: How to spot an emotional abuser and bully]
#7 Other people express the same feelings but won’t stand up either. No one ever calls them out or challenges the emotional bullying. Most emotional bullies don’t just make one person uncomfortable and feel bad. They create fear around them.
Those around them often confide they fear the emotional bully, but also that they aren’t going to take them out. Like a secret pact, you just all agree to dismiss what they say because you know it probably isn’t true. No one stands up to them and says “STOP IT!”
#8 They make you feel like they will take you down and out, and you have seen it happen. There is always an underlying tone of you are either with me or against me. You don’t want to be against them.
The hostility is so thick that they aren’t fun to be around when they go on their tirade, but somehow you just go along with it. They typically have some redeeming factor like being funny that keeps people around. Once there, you wish that you could just escape.
#9 They are insecure and mean and typically don’t have any “real” friends. A person who emotionally bullies people usually are very “popular.” They don’t have any real friends. Everyone kind of just says “Well, you know that is just ___,” but no one truly feels safe, close, or even that they have a real friendship with them. [Read: 7 biggest clues to identify immature people]
#10 When they are around, the whole atmosphere smells of fear and negativity. Emotional bullies aren’t comfortable to be around because you know eventually their ugly will come out and you must listen to the list of new enemies they have accrued and how they have been wronged. When they show up, the room just feels negative and ugly. Everyone just puts up with it and makes an exception.
Emotional bullying adults only feel good when they talk badly about someone. They maintain their popularity and relationship through fear and reprisal. It isn’t that they can’t be charming and fun to be around, but for those insecure, any time you spend with them is fraught with being afraid to do something or say the wrong thing.
If you are with an emotional bully and think that you are safe by their side, let me tell you, you are never safe. It is just a matter of time before you take the wrong step.
If you are already a target of emotional bullying, standing up to them might be about the hardest thing you can ever do. The fallout can be potentially socially disastrous. But, the truth is, they already say horrible things about you, at least you get to fight back.
[Read: How to deal with people who hate you]
Most of the people they bash know the routine and only barely listen so they aren’t the next target. So, call out the emotional bullying, air the air, and be done with them for once and for all.
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