“Help! My Sister’s Bullying Me!”

by Annie Kaszina on March 10, 2015

bully-girlsmall“Help! My sister’s bullying me. How do I deal with a bullying sibling?” a client asked me this week.

Being bullied by a member of your own family – especially when you are a child –  can be incredibly hard to deal with. Many people underestimate the difficulties of being a child. Having been brought up in a climate where bullying was perfectly acceptable, I don’t.

However, the reader who posed the question is no longer a child.  She is an adult woman. Unfortunately, she is doing what most victims of bulling do, and that is regressing internally into that defenseless, hurt child she once was.

Bullying is just another label for emotional abuse. The assault catapults you, unawares, right back into another time, place, and persona.  Regressing to an old, familiar pattern of behavior is something that occurs spontaneously.  You’re catapulted back into that younger, defenseless you. Because you know that younger You so well –  she just feels like… you 

Can you see how that leaves you totally unresourced to deal with the attack effectively? 

So how should you deal with a family bully? Or, indeed, a bullying partner? 

The bottom line is that you need to develop an unshakeable belief in your own worthiness, no matter what a bully throws at you. That is perfectly possible, when you commit to working on your own healing. 

Part of that bigger picture is cutting the chord of ownership.

The bully always makes things about you. Allegedly, they’re behaving that way because of you. Seen from  their perspective, something you did – or didn’t do – anytime between 5 seconds ago, or back in the mists of time, was a heinous crime.    

Don’t you just love their perspective? 

No?!

Now, why doesn’t that surprise me? 

From their perspective you’re several kinds of ungrateful, unworthy, and heartless to boot.

You never liked their perspective in the first place.  You thought it wasn’t fair.  It isn’t. 

The bullying environment is a free for all – or, more correctly, a free for almost all.  The exception to that rule is, of course, the victim.

There is no earthly point in taking ownership of what a bully says.  Bullies are some of the most self-serving people you’ll ever meet. Instead, you need to step back and observe what the bully is doing, and why.

Not so long ago, one of my siblings launched into an astonishing verbal attack on me.  I wrote about it here. That attack was totally premeditated to save that sibling the trouble of acknowledging his own past, shabby behaviour. To say I wasn’t pleased, is putting it mildly.

The temptation was to make it all about me: How could that sibling be so beastly towards me, after everything I’d done for him? 

Pointless question: that sibling could and did.

Stepping back, it was quite fascinating to see how accurately my brother replicated traditional family bullying behavior. He was a dead-ringer for our father – despite having a lot of anger towards our father for our father’s bad behaviour towards him. 

Still, when it came to it, like his daddy before him, he played to win. That’s what bullies do.

How do you stop them?

You don’t play their game.

In fact, you refuse to play, at all.

You can’t make a bully see anything they don’t want to see.  Nor can you hold a bully accountable for their behavior.  As my second sibling later said, about the bullying brother: “He says a lot of things, and then he forgets about them.”

Once the harm is done, bullies are brilliant at forgetting things. My guess is that they truly do forget whatever is inconvenient to them.

Victims of bullying don’t forget.  Nor should they.

Forgiving bullies isn’t a great idea – because forgiving usually means handing them the opportunity to do the same thing all over again.

Instead, you have to let them know that what they say has nothing to do with your truth, and walk away.

You have to wash your hands of the issue – it wasn’t your issue anyway.

Bullies are free to carry on churning out their poison, if they want to.  You can’t stop them being poisonous. But when you don’t absorb that poison for them, you leave them to either absorb it themselves, or get on with their lives.

Don’t expect bullies to see reason. They might – for a while. But, when push comes to shove, don’t expect a bully to change their behaviour.

It’s not possible to have the relationship you want with a bully. What you want matters a lot less to them than their agenda- and that can change from minute to minute. When you emotionally detach from the bully – and, especially, the bully’s message, – that bully loses the power to hurt you.

But you still need to do the work on rebuilding your sense of who you truly are.  Most likely, right now, you haven’t the first idea of all that’s good about you.

Here’s how a lot of other women just like you have learned not just to heal, but to love, and live, what’s best in them.

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