Uggh. I got bullied this week by my narcissistic X2B, and I’m feeling like the little kid on the playground. It stinks. But it happens a lot with abusers and narcissists.
“Narcissists will bully their way through life and relationships, while appearing as if they are living the ideal life. Adult bullies rely on a “massive denial of reality” to maintain their lives.” James F. Masterson, M.D.
Bullying can be done in a lot of ways. With the narcissist and abuser it is likely to be repeated, intentional acts designed to enforce power and control over you or others. They may do this by intimidating, coercing, criticizing, accusing, or using words to hurt you. Narcissistic bullies are typically loud, pushy and overly-aggressive, and they make decisions by bulldozing you. See the synonyms in the definition of “bully” above. They perfectly describe the narcissist and abuser.
Because the narcissist lacks empathy for others, they amazingly feel no anxiety about the consequences of his or her bullying actions. They don’t care if they hurt your feelings, exploit you, demean you, or manipulate you. With a narcissist you can never count on them to have empathy—ever.
So knowing that my X2B is a bully, I limit our communication strictly to the children’s logistics. I understand the concept of “no contact” with an abuser, but when there are children involved it’s simply not possible. However, everything unrelated to the children’s logistics goes unanswered, no matter how inflammatory. (More on communicating with an abuser or narcissist!)
But abusers can still find an awful lot to bully and abuse you over when it comes to children’s logistics and custody issues. Because they are control freaks and hate losing their power over you, they will create things to argue over when it comes to custody time, co-parenting decisions, returning the children’s personal effects, and child-related expenses.
For example, this week I offered to let my X2B take the kids to get ice cream during my parenting time to hear about their first day of sports practice. Instead of just graciously accepting the offer, he immediately tried to set his own terms for getting ice cream, insisting on an outing that would last a certain length of time. I did not agree. The kids and I had a full day planned, and I had offered a “quick trip to get ice cream”.
15 emails later, and with increasingly antagonistic language, he was outside our home texting me. He had ignored my emails saying “That doesn’t work for us. Let’s just forget it” or “Pls. contact your lawyer”, and he was there to pick up the kids anyway. But we were not home. I stuck my ground. But in the emails I got bulled, blamed, name-called, projected upon, lectured, and accused of being difficult and uncooperative because I was not agreeing with his terms. During my parenting time.
Yes, it was only 45 minutes additional minutes that we were arguing over. And I’m sure I would have agreed to his request if it had been made in an even slightly friendly way. But I’ve found that if you consistently let the abuser or narcissist bully, dictate, and then “win”, (which is really the whole point of their arguing, is to “win”), then it trains them to keep up the pattern of bullying. Because it works. Typically my X2B keeps pushing, pushing, pushing, and I eventually give in to his demands because I’m exhausted, confused, or fear saying “no”. To stop the pattern, one has to stop playing the game. When possible, stop letting him “win” when there is bad behavior.
“We know from studies of bullies that every time you give in, you lose power and put yourself in the situation of being bullied again. Every time you allow or accept a narcissist’s bullying, you are creating a worse situation for yourself—and reinforcing the bullying behavior.” Marsalis Fjelstad Ph.D, LMFT
So each time an issue comes up that we disagree over, I have to weigh the cost. If I agree to his demand, the communication will be over quickly, but it may set a custody precedent that is unacceptable. If I disagree with him, like I did this week, the emails back and forth will take up a lot of my energy and bandwidth for the day. It is an exhausting waste of time. But sometimes I disagree with my X2B it in order to make a point, usually either an interpretation of the custody order, or to demonstrate that I’m not going to give in to his autocratic demands. (NOTE: Before I get to 15 emails, I’m now learning to email “I have stated my position and will not discuss this issue further. Thx.”)
Remember, with a bully you may feel powerless, but you DO have options. Al-Anon reminds us to detach and remember our choices. You have the power to leave the room, to end the conversation, to say “no” when you mean no, to not engage, to step back from insanity rather than diving into it, to take action to protect yourself (which may include calling your lawyer or the police), and to turn to God for help with whatever you are powerless to change. I recommend if you are in the middle of the interaction with a bully to pause, take a deep breath or a short break, and remind yourself of your options and choices.
When the interaction is over, when the emails have ceased, when the bullying has stopped, I have to either move on or regroup. If it was a normal “bad” interaction, I remind myself that this is nothing new/there are no surprises here/this is who he is/this is my reality, and move on with my day.
If the interaction was particularly horrible, I take a deep breath, drop my clenched shoulders, and turn all the bad energy over to God and talk to Him. I tell him I just got bullied by a very mean person. I tell him what hurts. I tell him I’m angry. It stinks, really stinks. I ask for wisdom and strength. I practice gratitude by thinking of something I am grateful for, no matter how small. I recall scripture like Psalm 37:
He knows. And He cares. I rest in His love. I let it nourish my hurting, broken heart.
I remind you that dealing with a bully is challenging, but it is unfortunately part of what the narcissist and abuser does during divorce. It is reality. Don’t be surprised or blindsided. Make good choices. Keep your integrity. You WILL be OK. You will make it to the other side. Remember to breathe and pray. Detach with love. Be good and kind to yourself, dear one.
Love and Blessings,
Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II