What Do You Need To Know About Bullying?

by Annie Kaszina on March 6, 2015

bullysmallWhat do you need to know about bullying? If you’re either in, or recovering from, an emotionally abusive relationship, you really need to know everything you possibly can about bullying. Why? Because to all intents and purposes, bullying and emotional abuse are pretty much  evil twins.  The only difference is the degree of intimacy involved.  An emotionally abusive partner, generally, has a high level of perceived intimacy with  his victim – although, in reality, there is precious little true intimacy. The bully doesn’t have – or need – that level of intimacy.

All this, and more, was brought home to me this week while I was reading a review copy of Aryanne Oade’s wonderful new book: “Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying” (out May 31st 2015). Aryanne is a psychologist whose working life has been dedicated to helping people overcome the trauma of workplace bullying. Her book makes for fascinating reading.

My first full-time job was working for a bully – not that I was even familiar with the word at the time. Naive as I was at the time, I managed to be bullied at work, and bullied at home by the wasband.

The work-place bullying was, in some ways, more interesting. I’d already seen my boss attack various other members of staff and, like a true victim, I’d told myself she’d never do it to me because I was X and I wasn’t Y.  When she kicked off attacking me, nobody could have been more amazed than I was.  I told myself it really shouldn’t be happening because I worked hard, got good results and was generally well liked. I found reasons – all of them quite wrong – why it was happening…  And I moved on from that job quick smart. (At least, I wasn’t sentimentally attached to ‘my’ workplace bully.)

One of the most fascinating aspects of Aryanne’s book is the concept of grooming.  Aryanne is quite hardline about this. She is as clear as she ossibly can be that all bullies ‘groom’ their victims.

What does she mean by grooming?

Here’s what she means: a bully will quite deliberately attack someone with a view to seeing how that person responds. If the person attacked fails to stand up for herself (or himself) effectively, the bully knows that he (or she) has hit pay dirt  and will then proceed to up the ante.

Why?

Because it works for the bully. It makes the bully feel good.

Now, I’ll admit I’d been a little woolly about the concept of ‘grooming’.  Mostly, I’ve heard the term used in the context of child sex abuse –  over the past few years, the media in Britain have been awash with news about this.  The word ‘grooming’ has been used – at least as I understood it – to describe the process of luring children into the abuser’s orbit by making them feel good, before the abuse proper started.

As regards emotionally abusive relationships, I’ve generally opted for the term ‘testing the waters’. Any emotional abuser worth his place in The Emotionally Abusive Kingdom starts by making you feel good – or making you feel that he, alone, can make you feel good.  But very early on he ‘tests the waters’, by exhibiting a behaviour designed to ring alarm bells. To give you a few examples:

  • Picking up his cleaning on a first date – what kind of message is that to give you?
  • Turning up monumentally late on a first date – or not turning up
  • Exhibiting a thoroughly unreasonable behaviour, and then climbing down

The wasband ran a few tests with me: including:

  • using social pressure to whip my nice, warm coat off me on a very cold day – he replaced it with a nasty, chilly anorak of his own and,
  • picking a mini fight with me in a car and then ‘falling asleep’  to see what I would do.  I waited patiently for him to wake up and turn back into Mr Nice Guy.

It doesn’t matter whether you call it ‘grooming’ or ‘testing the water’. The important thing is that this is a key concept that, one way or the other, you need to take on board.

Someone whose intentions towards you are damaging will always run a dress rehearsal or two. Whether or not the show becomes a long running success – for him – depends on how you respond. Aryanne offers some brilliant strategies for how to respond in the workplace. If you are being bullied at work, or ever have been bullied at work, you need to read her book.

The most chilling thing that comes out of her book  and which I totally endorse – is this: the emotional abuse of bullies is always conscious and deliberate.

It doesn’t happen because something drove them over the edge. The red haze justification is… balderdash. They flip into extreme nastiness consciously and deliberately because hurting and humiliating you gives them something that they want, and enjoy.

Shocking, isn’t it?

It’s shocking.  But it’s true.

And here’s the thing: for as long as we can tell ourselves – and believe – that Mr Nasty isn’t really a nasty person at bottom, we can carry on loving him. In spite of himself, and in spite of our pain. Once you acknowledge that Mr Nasty really is this person who is deliberately hurtful and vindictive, what’s to love?

Quite a lot of my client work hinges on helping women to see the thing they would prefer not to see: that their partner is consciously, deliberately, repeatedly harmful to them. Once a client can accept that, then helping her to rebuild her self-esteem and her life becomes surprisingly quick, easy and long lasting.

Like my lovely client P. who went from tearing her hair out, more or less literally at her partner’s cruelty towards her, to having a rich full life with family, friends, and children who adore her. She’s learned to weather setbacks, and even has an acceptable relationship, now, with her ex for the sake of her children. Mostly, he behaves better now and if he does not she can bring him into line quickly and effective. She has accepted him for the graceless creature that he is, and is no longer bothered by his infantile behaviours.

There’s one last piece of wisdom from Aryanne’s book that I want to mention: Aryanne states, repeatedly, because it needs to be said repeatedly, that being selected for grooming was never your fault.

Ending up with an emotionally abusive partner was never your fault, either. It was just something bad that happened – to you. But it is your responsibility to move forward and claim the happiness that is there for you, like P. has.  Like P, you’re still in time to do that.

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