family, bullying, bully, power, control, abusive, partner, relationship, personality,
domination, subjugation, manipulation, emotional, abuse, verbal, violence, humiliation,
devaluing, debasing, intimidating, denial
Constant criticism, nit-picking, humiliation, undermining, denial, refusal to value, manipulation? Sounds like bullying

Bullying in the family
Dealing with a serial bully, psychopath or sociopath in the family
Issues: bullying relations, family bullying, abusive partners, abusive relationships, power, control, domination, subjugation, manipulation, intimidation, narcissism, attention seeking, arrogance, fear, shame, embarrassment, guilt, denial

Whilst the focus of Bully OnLine is bullying in the workplace, the serial bully at work is a serial bully at home and in the community. All serial bullies have been through school and all have families and neighbours. An increasing number of enquiries come from people dealing with family bullying.

The violence committed by a serial bully is almost entirely psychological, for psychological violence leaves no scars and no physical evidence. Most commonly the violence takes the form of verbal abuse and emotional abuse including trivial nit-picking criticism, constant fault-finding combined with a simultaneous refusal to recognise, value, acknowledge and praise. Manipulation, isolation and exclusion are other favourite tactics, as is feigning victimhood or persecution, especially when held accountable.

The objectives of serial bullies are Power, Control, Domination and Subjugation. These are achieved by a number of means including disempowerment, the stimulation of excessive levels of fear, shame, embarrassment and guilt, manipulation (especially of emotions and perceptions), ritual humiliation and constant denial. When you live with someone who is constantly denying what they said or did a day ago, or an hour ago, or even a minute ago, it drives you crazy. When the symptoms of injury to health start to become apparent, the bully will tell others you have a "mental health problem". You may be mad, but this is not mad insane, this is mad angry.

Control is a common indicator of the serial bully at home - control of finances, control of movements, control over choice of friends, control of the right to work, control over what to think, and so on. All are designed to disempower.

A favourite tactic of the bully in the family is to set people against each other. The benefits to the bully are that:
a) the bully gains a great deal of gratification (a perverse form of satisfaction) from encouraging and provoking argument, quarrelling and hostility, and then from watching others engage in adversarial interaction and destructive conflict, and
b) the ensuing conflict ensures that people's attention is distracted and diverted away from the cause of the conflict

Bullies within the family, especially female bullies, are masters (mistresses?) of manipulation and are fond of manipulating people through their emotions (eg guilt) and through their beliefs, attitudes and perceptions. Bullies see any form of vulnerability as an opportunity for manipulation, and are especially prone to exploiting those who are most emotionally needy. Elderly relatives, those with infirmity, illness, those with the greatest vulnerability, or those who are emotionally needy or behaviourally immature family members are likely to be favourite targets for exploitation.

The family bully encourages and manipulates family members etc to lie, act dishonourably and dishonestly, withhold information, spread misinformation, and to punish the target for alleged infractions, ie the family members become the bully's unwitting (and sometimes witting) instruments of harassment.

Bullies are adept at distorting peoples' perceptions with intent to engender a negative view of their target in the minds of family members, neighbours, friends and people in positions of officialdom and authority; this is achieved through undermining, the creation of doubts and suspicions, and the sharing of false concerns, etc. This poisoning of people's minds is difficult to counter, however explaining the game in a calm articulate manner helps people to see through the mask of deceit and to understand how and why they are being used as pawns.

The bully may try to establish an exclusive relationship (based on apparent trust and confidence) with one family member such that they (the bully) are seen as the sole reliable source of information; this may be achieved by portraying the target (and certain other family members) as irresponsible, unstable, undependable, uncaring, unreliable and untrustworthy, perhaps by the constant highlighting - using distortion and fabrication - of alleged failures, breaches of trust, lack of reliability, etc. The process is reinforced by inclusion of the occasional piece of juicy gossip about the target's alleged misdemeanours or untrustworthiness in respect of relationships and communication with people. Mostly this is projection. The objective is to manipulate the family member's perceptions and create a dependency so that the family member comes to rely exclusively on the bully and see the bully as the sole source of reliable information whilst distrusting everyone else. Any person who is capable of exposing and breaking the dependency is targeted with venom and will find their name blackened at every opportunity.

When close to being outwitted and exposed, the bully feigns victimhood and turns the focus on themselves - this is another example of manipulating people through their emotion of guilt, eg sympathy, feeling sorry, etc. Female serial bullies are especially partial to making themselves the centre of attention by claiming to be the injured party whilst portraying their target as the villain of the piece. When the target tries to explain the game, they are immediately labelled "paranoid". Attention-seeking behaviour is common with emotionally immature people.

The serial bully is easy to spot once you know what you are looking at: Jekyll and Hyde nature, compulsive lying, manipulation (or emotions, perceptions, beliefs, etc), unpredictability, deception, denial, arrogance, narcissism, attention-seeking, etc - whilst always charming and plausible, especially when impressionable witnesses are present. For the full profile of the serial bully, click here. Everybody knows someone in their life with this profile - who is it in your life?

Serial bullies can be male or female - the main difference is that female bullies are more devious, more manipulative, more cunning, more sly, more psychological, more subtle, leave less evidence and will often bully with a smile. Female bullies will often manipulate a male into committing their violence for them. Male bullies tend to be less subtle, have a tendency towards physical aggression, and are generally less clever than female bullies. Click here for more information on female violence. Females often display a greater tendency towards attention seeking behaviours.

I believe half the population are bullied or harassed or abused; click here to see if this fits your experience in life. Many emailers and callers to my UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line are dealing with a violent or abusive partner or ex-partner, sometimes as well as a serial bully at work. Bully OnLine provides insight and practical information to validate the abuse people are experiencing; the sound of relief is often audible!

More information

Full behaviour profile of the serial bully including links and articles on psychopaths, sociopaths and personality disorders

For dealing with an abusive partner or family member, I recommend Patricia Evans' book The verbally abusive relationship. Patricia Evans has her own web site. See also www.verbalabuse.com

Dr Irene's comprehensive web site on verbal abuse, codependency and love addiction

Lynne Forrest's article The Faces of Victim about the drama triangle (persecutor, rescuer, victim) makes excellent reading.

Narcissistic personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder

Female violence

Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy.

Attention-seeking behaviours and personality disorders

If the bullying partner or family member fits the profile of the serial bully then these books may also prove useful:

Without conscience: the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us, Robert D Hare, The Guilford Press, 1999, ISBN 1-57230-451-0. Mostly about serial killers but the behaviour profile is the same.

The standard work on psychopathy which describes at length the damage a psychopath causes to families and to the community is The mask of sanity by Hervey Cleckley (C V Mosby Publishing, Fifth Edition, 1976). It's still in print and if you're dealing with a serial bully it's essential reading. First written in 1941 it's rather long and the language is at times quaint but it's as insightful today as it was then.


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