Bullies are obsessed with the need to control others. Here’s how to recognise a bully and deal with people who try to control and dominate you.
All of us have, at some point or the other, have come across certain people who always seem to be telling us what to do, when to do it, how to do it, or why we should (or not) be doing it. Basically, they seem to want to control all your actions.
They are overbearing and obtrusive and insist that if something needs to be done, it needs to be done “their” way, or, not at all. They even get distraught and rebellious if anyone opposes them.
Everyone wants to be in charge of our own lives. The problem occurs when we wish to control someone else’s life, be it a sibling, a subordinate, a friend, a relative, family member or even a spouse. A bully is one who is obsessed with the need to control others.
Bullies come in many shapes and sizes. The bullying personality can be seen in various prototypes – as a friend, as a colleague, as a sibling, as a boss or as a partner. The focus of this article is limited to suggestions on how to deal with a difficult boss and a difficult spouse.
The Psychological Makeup of a Bully
When I told a friend of mine, that I was doing a write-up on how to cope with a bully, she asked me ”How do bullies look, do they look any different?” Unusual as it may sound, the question got me thinking, “Can I make discern, just by looking at someone, if s/he is a bully?”
Outwardly a bully looks just like you and me. He may seem confident and poised and in control of himself and his surroundings, but deep down a bully suffers from anxiety, insecurity, fear, and anger.
Bullies tend to be critical of themselves, their partner, their friends, their subordinates, and their colleagues. At work, they fear failure, and in a personal relationship, they feel that their personal needs will not be met if they do not control their spouse/partner. They mask their nervousness with the façade of appearing to be in control of every situation.
A bully is basically insecure. He feels impotent and helpless when questioned, and fights this sense of insecurity by trying to control others. This gives him a false sense of calmness; a fallacy of being in control of the situation.
And what happens when the bully fails in his efforts to control the opposite person? Well, typically first the bully will get angry and try to intimidate his/her opponent. If this does not work, he panics and resorts to threats. If this fails, the bully then lapses into a state of dejection.
What Causes People To Become Bullies (Especially Bully Bosses)?
Dr Bev Smallwood, a leading psychologist, speaker, and author of the book, ‘This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me: Ten Make-or-Break Choices When Life Steals Your Dreams and Rocks Your World,’ notes some of the factors responsible for the creation of a bully
They have a need to make themselves feel better by putting others down and by having control of them. They don’t understand that true leadership means that you bring out the best in others, that you help others succeed. The way a leader succeeds is when the team succeeds.
2. Lack of skill
Some bosses have never learned the leadership competency of coaching involving constructive, two-way communication. They erroneously feel that the way to get things done is to dominate, intimidate, or manipulate.
3. Poor models
The old way of autocratic management had its share of workplace bullies, and though they may have resented this style of management, they may wind up emulating them. Further, bullies may have experienced in their earlier lives aggressive, abusive parents, and they tend to act out this behaviour in the workplace.
How To Deal With Bully Bosses
Most of us, at one time or another in our professional lives, have come across a boss who is a bully. Bully bosses tend to treat their subordinates like school children, monitoring and controlling every move of theirs. In most cases, the boss is aware that he controls some of your most basic needs, that is, food, clothing and shelter.
Bully bosses try to intimidate their subordinates by making them believe that they would lose these basic needs if they don’t pay heed to what they say. Although it is not possible to correct such behaviour, it is important that we do not let ourselves be intimidated by such behaviour.
So how do you cope if you work for a boss who is a bully? Pointing fingers or getting upset is not going to help. Dr Smallwood advises “Control the tendency to personalise the bully’s behaviour.
This isn’t about you. It doesn’t mean that you are ‘less than.’ This is ineffective, inappropriate behaviour, and that is the responsibility of the bullying boss.”
Here are some strategies that will help you cope with a bully boss.
1. Don’t react in haste
Accept the fact that there’s not much you can do to change the behaviour of your boss. It is part of his nature to be as he is. So the next best thing you can do is to change the way you regard his behaviour.
Keep your emotions in check when dealing with such a person. Calling your boss names such as “jerk”, “bully” etc is not going to get you anywhere; it will only save you a lot of anger and resentment.
Reacting emotionally only causes a clash of egos, and chances are that your boss has a bigger ego, so it would be a losing battle to try fighting against that.
By not reacting to his attack, you basically strip your boss of the power he feels (and hopes) he has on you. He then realizes that his efforts to intimidate you are all in vain.
2. Avoid power struggles
Dr Smallwood has a simple suggestion to cope with a bully boss. She believes that some bosses have never learned the leadership competency of coaching, which involves constructive, two-way communication.
Bullies erroneously feel that the way to get things done is to dominate, intimidate, or manipulate., “Don’t get into a power struggle,” she advises, “You won’t win. Try and find something to agree on. This reduces the bully’s defensiveness. Then offer your perspective or suggestion.”
3. Be professional
There’s a difference between being professional and disliking your boss. You don’t necessarily have to like your boss to behave professionally. Your main objective should be to maintain a professional attitude and do the job assigned to you in the best possible manner.
4. Be your own judge
It is important that you evaluate your own performance before you attack your boss. You can even ask your colleagues to rate your performance. Ensure that your work does not give your boss any reason to attack you.
5. Look for alternatives
In her interview on ways to cope with a bully, Dr Bev Smallwood says, “If all else fails, look for another job. If you’ve honestly tried everything you know, and if it’s just too big a challenge to keep your peace, despite her bad behaviour, you can always walk.
But don’t do it on a whim, and don’t put yourself in financial jeopardy. Polish your resume, talk to people you know, and begin your search on the side. In the meantime, use this as an opportunity to practice your skills in dealing with negative people without becoming one yourself.”
How To Deal With A Bully Husband
On a personal front, what does one do when one is confronted with a partner who is a bully? I had always thought that the woman is the “victim” of such abusive relationships, and the man is the “abuser”.
My research on this topic made me realize how wrong I was. Even men are not spared, and are often the victims of an abusive relationship, whereas the woman is the abuser.
My friend, Ishita, recently walked out on her husband. She says, “ It took me five years to gather the courage to walk out of the relationship. It was a tough decision, but if I were to maintain my sanity, it had to be done.”
On further probing, she says, “It took me two years to realize that my husband was a bully. He was so charming and loving that whenever I was plagued with doubts, I thought my mind was playing games with me. Both of us are highly educated and hail from respectable families and bullies don’t come from educated families, do they? And after all, is marriage not another name for compromise?”
“But over the years”, she says, “I found that I was the one compromising all the time, while he went about doing just exactly as he pleased. Not only that, but I also found that I was all alone, emotionally at least. He had slowly but surely alienated me from my friend circle. I did not have a job either as I was forced to leave my job soon after marriage.”
“I was all alone, dependent on him for all my needs – be it monetary, social and emotional. If I opposed him, he would give me the silent treatment until I agreed to do as he wished. It seemed that I was sinking into an abyss – and if I had to survive, I had to take some drastic steps. After speaking to my therapist, I decided to leave my husband. “
There are many others like Ishita who are married to a bully and are unable to recognize the signs. So, how do you rate your relationship? Is your spouse a bully? Or is it only your mind playing games with you? Here are some things to look out for.
A bully typically:
- Dislikes you going out without your friends and relatives, and tries to distance you from the people who have some influence on you
- Constantly keeps tabs on your movements, wanting you to account for each and every second of your day.
- Controls all your activities and convinces you that whatever he/she asks you to do is in your best interests.
- Constantly criticizes you, making you feel as if you are worthless.
- Holds you responsible for their day and blames you if they have had a hard day at work.
- Plays the role of a martyr, and succeeds in making you feel guilty for even considering doing something that you really wish to do.
- Always gets his/her way in everything and has the final say in all matters.
Such partners surprisingly mask their intentions very well, so while you may be totally enamoured by your partner’s charming behaviour towards you, this lasts only as long as you toe the line and listen to whatever they say.
Should you oppose them, and you are isolated or subjected to silent treatment from their end. In extreme cases, partners are also known to withhold sex as a means of punishment.
You may ask yourself “How can someone be so manipulative? Does my partner not understand how much his/her behaviour hurts me?
Well, there is no easy answer to this question, and, the chances that you can change your partner’s behaviour are from slim to none. You need to consider the following:
1. Look within, Introspect
Analyse if somewhere down the line, you actually encouraged such behaviour. Most of us crave to be in our partner’s good books, seeking their approval and striving to keep our partner happy all the time. Remember, no one can bully you unless you LET them.
2. Confrontation is not the answer
Realize that confrontation does not go down well with a bully; in fact, it only worsens the issue. What you need to do is to arrive at a compromise that works best for both of you.
In case of a confrontation, tell the person you need time to think matters over. Give yourself some time alone to gauge the situation and judge if saying “yes” is indeed in your best interests.
3. Set boundaries
Learn to draw the line. You need to decide how much leeway you are willing to give your partner. At the same time, don’t be too antagonistic or argumentative. Clearly and calmly state what is and what is not acceptable to you and leave it at that.
4. Take responsibility for your own happiness
Learn to balance the relationship.
5. Get help
If your partner seems genuinely remorseful for his behaviour, then try helping him/her. If required, seek professional help from a therapist.
Remember, no one can make you feel small without your permission. Learn to respect yourself and stand firm against the bully, be it in the form of your spouse, your boss or even your colleague or friend.
About the author:
Dr Bev Smallwood is a psychologist, speaker, and author of the upcoming release, “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me: 10 Make-or-Break Choices When Life Steals Your Dreams and Rocks Your World.”
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