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An Excerpt

Inside the Mind of the Bully: The Rage of Generations

  • How bullies get to be the way they are.
  • The surprising similarity between bullies and their victims.
  • A guide to the most common types of bully -- is your partner on this list?
  • Can bullies change?

The gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children.
- Euripides

The oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred…I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is take from me. The oppressor and the oppressed alike are robbed of their humanity.
- Nelson Mandela

We've just taken a look at what it's like to be bullied, and why it's so hard for the victims of bullies to make a change and stand up for themselves. You now have a better idea than ever before about just how awful, hurtful, and lonely it is for the victims of bullies. But here's something that might surprise you: it's almost as bad for the bullies themselves.

This may sound crazy at first. After all, they're the ones causing all this pain, creating all these problems! How is that hard on them? Why on earth would we think they were suffering, too? But the fact of the matter is, they really are. Please don't get me wrong--I'm not saying the way bullies act is okay. Bullying behavior is totally unacceptable, and I would never defend or excuse it. But I can explain it, and helping you to understand bullies better will help you to implement my A.R.T method for taking your life back from the person who's bullying you.

Let me take you inside the mind of the bully, and give you a chance to see what this dysfunctional dynamic looks like from the other side.


My patient Kellie, a pretty blonde in her early thirties, was cooking dinner for her new boyfriend Mark. It was the first time Mark had been to her apartment, and Kellie had gone all out. She spent all day (and a good part of the previous day) cleaning, shopping, and cooking. She dusted the entire apartment, washed the floors, cleaned the bathroom and the kitchen, changed the sheets, filled vases with fresh flowers, and stacked all her magazines and newspapers neatly in a corner. She spared no expense on veal shanks, wine, artichoke risotto, and chocolate mousse that she made from scratch.

"I really wanted everything to be perfect!" Kellie told me. "Mark has taken me on such nice dates, so I wanted to make it a special evening for him. I even bought a new dress, this sexy off-the-shoulder thing, and I wore my favorite pair of stilettos. I thought I looked great! And I was so proud of this meal. Mark has told me what a good cook his mother is, and it's obviously something he likes in a woman--I was excited to show off my cooking skills to him."

Kellie went on to say that when Mark arrived, he kissed her on the cheek, looked around the room and winced.

"How can you live in a dump like this?" he asked her. "Don't you ever clean this place?" At first Kellie thought he was joking, because the room was so clean it practically sparkled. But then she saw the cold, cruel look on Mark's face. She was devastated.

"I cleaned it today," she told him. "I thought--"

"You think this is clean?" Mark interrupted. "Next time, you better hire a cleaning lady." He glanced at her beautifully set table, where candles were lit and an open bottle of wine waited, and began to shake his head with an expression of disgust. "Did you get this furniture off the street? I can't eat here. Come on, let's get out of this place. I'll take you to a restaurant."

"So," I asked her, "how did that make you feel?"

"Pretty awful," Kellie said. "At first I was really upset, and even a little angry--I mean, I'd tried so hard! But then I looked around the place and thought, 'Oh, well, maybe he's right.' I mean, my apartment does get cluttered. And most of my furniture is from my grandparents' farm in Pennsylvania. I inherited it when my grandma died, and I love it because it was hers, but I guess it is pretty shabby. Mark comes from such a nice home, he'd know much better than me about that sort of thing. I guess I'll just have to try harder next time."

Obviously, Kelly's response to Mark isn't much healthier than the horrible way he attacked her. Let's take a look at what was going on for both of them, and why they acted, and reacted, in this way.

{B} Inside the Mind of the Bully

What could have made Mark behave the way he did? What triggered his bullying behavior? Let's go inside his mind and make some sense of it.

As Mark drives to Kellie's apartment, he's feeling agitated, experiencing a vague sense of stress and anxiety, feelings that linger with him from a phone conversation he had with his mother earlier in the day, during which she attacked and criticized him, as usual, dwelling particularly on his lack of consideration for his family. She pressed him repeatedly to join the family for brunch the next day, noting that all of his siblings and their families planned on attending.

It just so happens that Mark would rather be almost anywhere in the world than at a brunch with his family. He doesn't want to see them, and have to listen to his mother go on about how unsuccessful he is, how much better his overachieving siblings are doing, and how he should have gone to medical school and become a surgeon like his father. He doesn't want to hear their criticism of his friends, his social life, his personal choices, the many errors of his ways. And he especially doesn't want to deal with the constant undermining and verbal abuse he always gets at family events from his two older brothers, who he feels were his parents' favorites.

And yet Mark knows he won't say no. He'll go to the brunch, as he always does. When it comes to his family, he just doesn't have any voice. Thinking about all of this he feels impotent--and angry.

Then, out of nowhere, he imagines Kellie at the family brunch. What would they think of her? She's a friendly, outgoing person, and even Mark's best friend, who never likes his girlfriends, told Mark after meeting Kellie for the first time that "she could charm a glacier." But his family? He can just imagine how many things they'd find wrong with her before she even opened her mouth to say hello!

This is Mark's state of mind when he walks into Kellie's apartment. Right away, he's annoyed with her. Her outfit is terrible; she looks like exactly the kind of woman his mother would disdain: trashy, too overtly sexy, obviously trying too hard. Stifling his irritation and judgments, he kisses her cheek, then looks around the room. It's awful, he thinks, cluttered and cheap-looking.

"How can you live in a dump like this?" he asked her. "Don't you ever clean this place?" As the words escape his lips, he feels a sense of power. Yes, he knows he's being cruel (though he doesn't quite realize he's talking to Kellie just the way his mother used to talk to him when he was a child). But he can't help himself. And Kellie's crestfallen expression drives him on; she looks like she's going to cry, which irritates him further.

Why is she so weak, so sensitive? That stack of magazines pile up in the corner annoys him too--why couldn't she just put them away? She's probably the type to leave clothes lying all over the floor of her bedroom and only change her linens once a month. His irritation builds toward rage. He glances at the dining table--it looks like something from the Salvation Army! The dishes are pure Wal-Mart, and the wine glasses have spots on them.

"This is all wrong," Mark thinks to himself. "She's all wrong. Get me out of here." He turns to Kellie, barely containing his temper. "I can't eat here," he snaps at her. "Come on, let's get out of this place. I'll take you to a restaurant."

{B} What Makes Him Act Like That?

You don't need a degree in psychology to see that Mark's just reenacting a scenario from his childhood, carrying forward the anger and abuse his mother showed to his father, his siblings, and himself. He's repeating learned behavior, acting out on Kellie the treatment he's subjected to by his family.

Mark is demonstrating what I call the rage of generations. He's unconsciously repeating the bullying he experienced and observed growing up, and thereby perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Now, you may be thinking, "Wait a minute, in the last chapter you told me that people who get bullied as children become the victims of bullies when they grow up. Now you're telling me that people who get bullied as children become bullies themselves. It can't be both, can it?" Surprisingly, it can. Let me explain.

When children are bullied by a parent, or observe one parent bullying the other, they experience all kinds of guilt, shame, fear, anger, and confusion; but different children deal with these awful feelings, these unhealthy role models, in different ways.

Many children think they deserve the abuse they're subjected to. This is because they have no other reality to compare their experiences to. They think it's normal. They turn those stored feelings of rage, hurt, and hate against themselves. These are the children who grow up to become adults like Kellie, or like my clients Sandra and Spencer, who you met in the last chapter. These people have unconsciously internalized the message they received at the hands of their bullying parents, that bullying and abuse are what they deserve and, just as unconsciously, they will put up with (and even seek out) bullying in their relationships--seeking out the sort of treatment they're used to, even if it's miserable, because it's familiar and as a result, in some perverse way, comfortable. This is one manifestation of the rage of generations.

On the other hand, some children deal with bullying in a very different way. Faced with a rageful, controlling, or otherwise bullying parent who rules the roost, a child might begin to see bullying behavior as normal, and an effective way to gain power in relationships. These children unconsciously identify with the bullying parent and ultimately they begin unconsciously mimicking that behavior, becoming bullies themselves. This is another manifestation of the rage of generations.

In this way, both the children who grow up to become bullies and the children who grow up to become the victims of bullies are living out the rage of generations. What that means is that they're doing just what their own parents did, and their grandparents, and their great-grandparent, and so on. And unless both bullies and victims learn to acknowledge the patterns they're stuck in, and take action to break out, they pass that rage of generations on to their own children, who will pass it onto their children, who will pass it onto their children…until someone is able to stop this vicious cycle.

So now you have the answer to our question, how do bullies get to be bullies? You can see that bullies aren't born, they're made. No one's born a bully, and every single bully started out as a bully's victim.

{B} How It Feels To Be A Bully

People like Mark have suffered their whole lives from the pain inflicted on them as innocent children by bullying parents. For years they've carried around a rage bottled up inside, that they've been powerless to express: toxic, pent-up feelings that find an outlet at long last when, as adults, they begin controlling, criticizing, bossing around, and behaving abusively toward their own boyfriends or girlfriends, husbands or wives, sons or daughters.

But while it may look like a bully has power, or is in a position of strength, nothing could be further from the truth. Their bullying gives them the illusion of power--temporarily, and almost always at great emotional cost to themselves. In reality, the bully's sense of self-worth and self-image are just as bad, and his or her self-esteem and confidence are just as low, as that of the person he or she is bullying.

It's those things, in fact--the self-hatred, the sense of powerlessness--that make bullies behave the way they do. Unconsciously bullies feel so weak and frightened that they develop an overwhelming need to command and dominate, to compensate for how vulnerable they feel. This leads them to choose victims, especially spouses and lovers, over whom they believe they can exert complete control.

As a survival mechanism, children who were bullied take on the anger and fear that fueled their parents' bullying behavior, and that very same anger and fear is now eating them alive, leading them to hurt the people they love and to destroy the very relationships that are most important to them.

{B} Inside the Mind of the Victim

This brings us back to our biggest concern: why do the victims of bullying stick around to serve as punching bags, targets of a bully's displaced anger? What keeps good people trapped in bad relationships?

As we've already discussed, bullies and victims were almost always bullied as children. Both are carrying forward the rage of generations; they just do it in different ways. Bullied children who grow up to become bullies identify with the bullying parent and learn to externalize their pain and rage, turning it on the people around them. On the other hand, bullied children who grow up to become victims identify with the victimized parent, and learn to internalize that pain and rage, turning it inward onto themselves; they think they deserve it.

These victim types are usually filled with shame and humiliation. They suffer from feelings of extreme inadequacy and insecurity, and blame themselves for the bullying treatment to which they're subjected by their partners. They've internalized the negative messages that came from their parents, the lies that they're worthless, useless, not good enough to be loved, not deserving of kindness and respect. The result? The victim’s self-esteem is so low that when their partners abuse and demean them, they believe it! This is the behavior we talked about in the last chapter that we've identified as "living out the lie."

We saw this pattern manifesting itself in Kellie's behavior. You could probably tell pretty quickly by what Kellie said about her reaction to Mark's behavior that she, too, was bullied as a child. Kellie's cold, remote father ignored her, and when he did relate to her it was clear that he found his role as parent inconvenient and tiresome, and Kellie herself clumsy and unappealing. He also criticized Kellie's mother frequently, making disparaging remarks about her appearance and the difference between their class backgrounds.

Through this particular dynamic, Kellie came to believe that she was uninteresting, unattractive, unworthy of attention--in short, she believes she is totally unlovable. Obviously, this is going to lead her to make bad love choices…until she learns how to breaks free from the rage of generations.

{A} Bully and Victim: A Perfect (Destructive, Codependent) Match!

As you can see, Kellie and Mark are perfect for each other! That is, they're perfectly set up for destruction, for a codependent relationship that perpetuates, for both of them, the rage of generations, and the pain, self-hatred, and loneliness that comes with it.

When Mark attacked Kellie, his remarks didn't come as a surprise to her; they just echoed the messages she'd received as a child, the lies she's been telling herself all these years. By telling me she thought Mark was right in his criticisms of her, Kellie revealed her own unconscious belief that she's not as good as other women, and that she expected Mark to treat her badly. She thinks that's what she deserves.

When he lashed out at Kellie, her unconscious thoughts sounded something like this: "Gosh, I feel terrible about what he's saying, but who am I to think that he'd approve of me? I'll never be good enough for him. He finally found out how out how flawed I really am. I'm lucky he even bothers with me at all! I should be happy he wants to take me out to dinner instead of breaking up with me right here and now."

Kellie's introject--that is, the negative messages about herself that she got from her family--has warped her perceptions of herself and others to such an extent that she can't see the truth that's so obvious to the rest of us: that she's a lovely, completely loveable woman, and that her new boyfriend is nothing but a big bully!

Fortunately, Kellie didn't have to stay in the dark much longer, and you don't have to, either. You can escape from the rage of generations[21] . Instead of passing that rage and pain on to your children, you can make sure the cycle of bullying and victimhood ends with you. Let's take our next step toward freedom right now, by learning to recognize the different types of bully and see them for who they really are.

{A} How to Identify Bullies

Remember we've defined bullying as any repeated behavior that degrades, denigrates, and otherwise makes you feel badly about yourself, ranging from the most blatant insults to the subtlest criticism. What follows is a list of the most common bullies, with information about how they operate, and what makes them tick, and how they carry forward the rage of generations.

Not all bullies will match these behaviors exactly. Many will exhibit characteristics of different types at different times, or combine several at the same time. And of course you may have experienced bullying behaviors that aren't on this list (unhappy people are apparently endlessly creative about the ways they take their pain and fear out on others). The descriptions below will give you more information about the basic types of bully and the techniques they employ, but remember your best guide for identifying bullies is always your own intuition, that sick, sinking feeling in your gut that tells you something's not right.

{B} The Rage Bully

These bullies are among the easiest to identify when they're actually in bully mode. What makes Rage Bullies difficult to deal with is not just their alarming and often violent outbursts (shouting, throwing things, punching walls, threatening physical harm to their partners or children) but also how completely unpredictable these outbursts can be.

My client Muriel is married to a man named Frank, a bright, upbeat guy who is a good husband to her and a great father to their three kids, about eighty percent of the time. The problem is that the usually easygoing Frank has a hidden temper, and Muriel never knows when he's going to show it, or what will set it off. The sort of thing that Frank won't even notice one day--the kids' toys on the living room floor, a longer than usual wait to be seated at their favorite restaurant, a traffic jam, Muriel having to stay an hour late at work--will send him into a furious rage on another day. He'll shout at their children until he's red in the face, stomp around the house cursing, raise his voice to waiters, lean on his horn and scream at fellow drivers, and slam doors so hard the house shakes.

Frank's rages never last long, most of the time they'll go on for just a few minutes, or a few hours at most. Then, just as suddenly as his temper flared up, it subsides. He calms down and acts as if nothing has happened. Or he apologizes profusely, begging for forgiveness. Muriel and the children may accept his apologies, but the fear of his rages never goes away; though it might be days before Frank acts up again, not knowing when it will happen, or what will cause it, keeps his family constantly anxious and on edge.

{C} Inside the Mind of the Rage Bully. As with most bullying behaviors, the short fuse and violent explosions of the Rage Bully are probably inherited from a parent who modeled that negative behavior, a mother or father whose standard reaction to any anxiety or disappointment, large or small, was to fly into a rage.

The children of such parents receive two significant, personality-shaping lessons. First, they learn that rage is an appropriate reaction to almost any situation. Second, they sense that they will be protected from such rage by deploying it themselves. In adulthood, their understandable fear of the rageful parent becomes an unconscious fear of the world, a deep sense of any environment as inherently dangerous and threatening. The Rage Bully copes with this fear by becoming like that parent. When you see a Rage Bully in action, what you’re seeing is a terrified child who, triggered by a sense that the world is not entirely under his or her control and overcome by a surging sensation of fear and fury, strikes out at whoever is opposing his or her will, making him or her feel out of control. It looks like an attack, but really it's a defense, the bully's way of coping with his or her excruciating sense of vulnerability.

{B} The Name-Calling Bully

Here's another bully that's hard to miss. Resorting to the playground tactics of their childhoods, Name-Calling Bullies use slanderous put-downs against their partners. Back in school, these were the bullies who taunted their vulnerable classmates, calling them "Four-Eyes," "Brace-Face" and "Teacher's Pet," making fun of this one's lunch, calling attention to that one's shabby clothes. Today, the Name-Calling Bullies may have become more sophisticated, couching painful jabs in backhanded remarks and so-called 'constructive criticisms'. On the other hand, they may be just as blunt and cruel as ever, calling their partners names, pointing out their shortcomings, putting down their appearances, abilities, and interests.

My patient Darya recently gave birth to twins, an incredible accomplishment, and a major challenge for a first-time mother! She'd put on a lot of weight during her pregnancy, especially after her doctor insisted on bed-rest for the last two months of the pregnancy. And between feeding, changing, and caring for two newborns (to say nothing of the sleep deprivation) Darya just hasn't had the time or energy to exercise and get back to her old shape and weight.

Although her husband Gary was initially supportive, he has grown increasingly abusive about her appearance. It began with subtle snipes: he'd call her and the girls his 'three roly-poly pudgies' and squeeze the soft flesh on Darya's arms and thighs. But this soon gave way to outright assaults. Only three months after twins were born, he began to greet her with the words "Hey, Fatso," or make remarks like "Nice butt, Porky Pig" or "Wide load, coming through."

Now, though the children are only five months old, he nags her daily about going to the gym, teasing that he'll have to buy her an extra seat on the airplane when they go home to visit her parents for Christmas. And he just won't stop, even when she reminds him that there's no one to take care of the babies while she goes to the gym. For all that Gary pesters her about it, he's never offered to look after the girls for a couple of hours so she could get to the gym, or do anything else on her own, for that matter. Instead, he just retorts that none of the 'girls' at his office who had babies have let themselves "turn into heifers" the way Darya has.

{C} Inside the Mind of the Name-Calling Bully This bully is insecure and terrified of being humiliated. Since childhood (which probably included a Name-Calling Bully for a parent), he or she has felt impotent, afraid, and deeply threatened, and deals with those feelings by lashing out in preemptive strikes. Often the names these bully hurl at their victims are the dark, awful thoughts they have about themselves.

Alternately, Name-Calling Bullies may just think this sort of verbal abuse is normal communication, an acceptable mode of voicing opinions and desires; after all, it's probably the behavior they grew up with.

{B} The Silent Treatment Bully

These bullies are much more subtle than the bullies we discussed up to this point. But make no mistake, this kind of bullying is just as aggressive, denigrating, and harmful as the behavior of the Name-Calling Bully or the Rage Bully. It's silent, like a poisonous snake, and just as deadly! Silent Treatment Bullies attack and manipulate by withdrawing and shutting out their partners completely, leaving them alone and helpless, and feeling abandoned. The Silent Treatment Bully removes all power from the hands of the victim, forcing him or her to beg and plead for any kind of attention or communication, like a hostage jailed in complete emotional isolation.

Another awful side effect of this is that the bully's silence offers a blank slate onto which the victim will project all sorts of fears and anxieties, without any sense of how to address the problem, or even what the problem is: "Is she going to leave me?" "Is he having an affair?" "What's going on in her head?" "What on earth can I do to make this better?" "It's all my fault." This treatment is abandonment of the worst kind; the victims feel as though they have disappeared, that they don't exist.

My patient Barry, for example, went for weeks without receiving so much as a hug from his wife Carina, who was furious with him for quitting a job that he absolutely hated. Her way of punishing him, and trying to bully him into changing his mind, was to deny him any attention. She wouldn't talk to him, cast a glance in his direction, or acknowledge his presence in any way. When he came into a room, she would get up and leave. When he tried to speak to her, begging her to talk to him, she would turn coldly from him and refuse to speak. And when he got into bed with her at night, and reached to touch her shoulder, she would slap his hand, roll away to face the wall, and literally turn her back on him.

Of course he didn't change his mind about his job, but he did feel increasingly demoralized and miserable. Was Barry being bullied? You bet he was!

{C} Inside the Mind of the Silent Treatment Bully. Can you guess how Carina got to be a Silent Treatment Bully? By now it won't be a surprise to hear that she learned it from her parents, both Silent Treatment Bullies who would bully each other, and sometimes their children, parents, and siblings with this cruel treatment. As children, Silent Treatment Bullies hear this message, loud and clear without a word being spoken: the appropriate response to any perceived insult or injury, to something not being done 'the right way', is to punish the perpetrator with a chilly wall of silence.

Alternatively, bully types such as the Silent Treatment bully who employ subtler, stealthier bullying strategies, this bully might have been raised by a Rage Bully or an otherwise verbally or physically abusive parent. In such situations, where any direct expression or confrontation was likely to be met with abuse, the Silent Treatment bully learned, as a child, that he or she had to find quiet, covert methods of communicating his or her anger and sense of injury, a behavior that may have been strategic at the time, but now creates more pain than it avoids.

{B} The Body Language Bully

Much more difficult to spot than the Silent Treatment Bully is the Body Language Bully, whose techniques are so subtle that even their victims might not realize they're being bullied. The victims of these bullies might only get 'bad vibes' or feel strangely uncomfortable without being able to understand exactly what's disturbing them. Because of this subtlety, the victims might think that they're misinterpreting the bully's behavior, or that they have no right to speak up or take a stand, because it seems like there's not really anything to complain about. But trust me, there is.

Body language is a key component of human communication. I'm sure you've heard the expression "Actions speak louder than words." It's absolutely true, and imperious bearing, disdainful expressions, or postures that threaten or shut out the victim--crossed arms and legs, leering or rolling eyes, turning away when the other person is speaking, looming menacingly over or looking down upon the victim, to name just a few examples--are every bit as damaging as cruel remarks or raised voices, and should be taken just as seriously.

{C} Inside the Mind of the Body Language Bully

The Body Language Bully might have learned his or her behaviors from a parent. Or, like the Silent Treatment Bully and other bully types who employ more subtle, stealthy bullying strategies, this bully might have been raised by a Rage Bully or an otherwise verbally or physically abusive parent and developed this stealth bullying method in response.

{B} The Temper-Tantrum Bully

You met one of these bullies in the last chapter. Remember Spencer's girlfriend Moira? She was the one who, to get her own way in any circumstance, would cry--sometimes hysterically, often in public--until Spencer agreed to do whatever she wanted and peace was restored (if only temporarily). Moira's a classic example of a Temper-Tantrum Bully, a fully grown adult who resorts to totally childish behavior in order to force his or her victim into doing whatever the bully wants. This includes tears, shouting, sulking, acting out in public, and generally taking the victim hostage with an overwhelming, exhausting, and sometimes embarrassing excess of emotion.

Don't think it's bullying? Think again! This kind of emotional manipulation is every bit as coercive and controlling as physical threats, and a lot more insidious, especially as the bullies will often accuse their victims of being cold, insensitive, uncaring, and indifferent to their happiness.

{C} Inside the Mind of the Temper-Tantrum Bully

Even more than some of the bullies I've already described, it's easy to see that these bullies are badly behaved children who never outgrew their childish behaviors, probably because they grew up with a hyper-emotional role model who used such performances of hysteria to bully their spouses and children into submission. And the family members, like those of the Rage Bully, live in fear and anxiety, never knowing when a tantrum will erupt.

Alternately, Temper-Tantrum Bullies may have grown up with a Silent Treatment Bully or an otherwise cold or neglectful parent, and discovered that the only way they could get attention or provoke reaction was by the most extreme, exaggerated demonstrations of feeling. Temper-Tantrum Bullies feel powerless, as if they're constantly in danger of becoming invisible, or that their needs are not understood and will never be met. The result? In their unconscious minds every little disagreement becomes a battle to prove their worth. It's not which movie you're going to see that's really the issue, or the color of the drapes, or whatever else it looks like the Temper-Tantrum Bully is making a scene about--it's his or her very existence!

{B} The Control Freak Bully

These bullies are bossy tyrants. They're sure they know what's good for everyone else, and they persist in trying to make their victims into someone they're not. Whatever goals or pursuits the Control Freak Bully's partner might have for him or herself are completely irrelevant, they simply don't factor into the bully's vision of what, who and how the partner should be. This behavior is very different from that of the husband or wife who lovingly shares a need or asks their spouse to consider making a change for the benefit of the relationship. Control Freak Bullies are not interested in compromise, or in solutions that allow both partners to have their needs met, only in having their own needs met.

The Control Freak Bully's approach might be sweet and coaxing, or aggressive and nagging. The victim might get gentle suggestions and "constructive criticism," or angry orders and vicious critiques, or anything in between. Either way, this type of bullying will probably be nearly non-stop, and whether it's your cooking or your clothing, the work you do or the car you drive, the way you hold your fork or the way you make love, the bully's underlying message is always the same: "You're not good enough the way you are. Your way is wrong, and my way is right. You're broken, and I'm going to fix you." And all too often, the victims of the Control Freak Bully are inclined to agree with their tormenter, making excuses for the bullying behavior, telling themselves and others, "He just wants to help" or "She only wants what's best for me."

{C} Inside the Mind of the Control Freak Bully

These bullies are even more fearful than the average bully. Subconsciously, Control Freak Bullies feel like their lives are always just about to fall apart or go off the rails, and can be saved from ruin only by applying all their energy to make sure everything in their environment happens just so. They're likely to be nitpicky about everything: every person, place and thing, including themselves, should be immaculately clean, meticulously organized, precisely on time, and performing at 100% all the time.

Almost inevitably, Control Freak Bullies had controlling parents, who like them were narcissistic, self-obsessed, rigid, and unreasonably demanding. As children, the only way for these future Control Freak Bullies to avoid criticism, to feel safe, was to do things 'perfectly,' that is, in exact accordance with standards of their parents. And all these years later, they're still doing it, while unconsciously imposing unreasonable standards on their partners and children as their parents did with them.

{B} The Money Bully

These bullies are usually the higher-earning member of a couple. It doesn't matter what socio-economic level they come from; they use financial status to control and dominate their less affluent partners. The Money Bully keeps a strangle-hold on the purse strings. He or she dictates where the couple goes and when, how much they'll spend, and on what; and often demands detailed accounts of a partner's expenses, while being secretive about how much they earn and spend. Money Bullies won't hesitate to play the "I'm leaving" trump card and often threaten abandonment or divorce, fully aware that a split would leave their partners in financial ruin.

The Money Bully also seems to overlook or minimize the value of any other kind of contribution. It doesn’t matter if their partner looks after the children, does the housework, cares for and beautifies the living space, provides emotional support, organizes social and recreational activities, or provides humor and intellectual stimulation, just to name a few. It’s as if money were the only thing of value that either partner had to offer the relationship.

Take Ginger, a mother of three, and her husband Phil, a CPA with a six-figure salary. Twelve years ago, when their second child was born just fourteen months after their first, Ginger happily gave up her budding career as an interior designer to stay to home with her babies. These days, she juggles the education and activity schedules of three grade-schoolers; serves on the PTA, participates in her daughter's soccer team carpool, and does set design for her son's theater productions; does all of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and gardening; plans family outings and vacations; and hosts occasional dinners for Phil's colleagues and their spouses.

In the last year Ginger has even started doing the occasional interior decoration job again, putting in a few hours here and there when the kids are at school, and she confessed to me that she's doing it in part so she can have some money of her own, that she can spend without Phil demanding that she account for every last cent. Because, according to him, Phil's supporting the family on his own!"I'm the one providing for all of us," Phil shouted at Ginger when she misplaced several receipts for household purchases which he demands she collect and turn over to him on a weekly basis. "It's my right to know how my money's being spent! When you make the money, you can call the shots!"

{C} Inside the Mind of the Money Bully

Looking at Phil's behavior, it's easy to see he unconsciously believes he isn't valued or appreciated by his family. He abuses his financial position in an attempt to cope with and compensate for these unpleasant feelings. Most Money Bullies, whether rich or poor, were raised by parents who neglected and ignored them, making them feel invisible and beneath notice. Or they were raised by parents who actively abused them, Name-Calling Bullies or Control-Freak Bullies who made them feel that they were stupid, ugly, incompetent, and--worst of all--not wanted or needed. The result? As adults, Money Bullies use money like a weapon. They wield the bank balance against their partners in a desperate and destructive attempt to establish their worth in the world.

{B} The Sex Bully

These are the most primitive of all bullies, exerting power over their victims either by insisting on or withholding sex. A woman may refuse to have sex with her husband until he agrees to apologize for forgetting her mother's birthday. A man may force his girlfriend to perform sexual acts she doesn't like by threatening to go outside the relationship for his satisfaction. For Sex Bullies, sex--which should always and only be an act of love, intimacy, or pleasure--is used as currency, as leverage, as a weapon. This degrades and depersonalizes sexual intimacy within a relationship.

{C} Inside the Mind of the Sex Bully

A Sex Bully may have been raised by parents who used sex as power--mothers who used flirtation, seduction, and sex to get the attention they wanted, to get their needs met; fathers who treated their wives (and mistresses, and female co-workers, and any woman who happened to be passing their way) as sexual objects, conquests to be won, property to be possessed. He or she also may have been sexually abused as children or given confusing and inappropriate messages about sex.

Alternately, the Sex Bully may have been raised by any kind of bully in an environment that made him or her feel powerless, castrated, impotent. In adulthood he or she sexually bullies a partner to overcome an overwhelming sense of insignificance, inferiority, and inadequacy. It's a chest-pounding, I-rule-the-world Tarzan thing. We'll learn much more about these bullies and what you can do about them in Chapter Four.

{B} The Score-Keeping Bully

These bullies are constantly bringing the past into the present, using missteps and perceived slights from last week or last year against their partners, penalizing them for past actions for which there is no current solution. The Score-Keeping Bully dredges up offenses, large or small, and throws them back in the victim's face. The time you forgot her birthday. The time you flirted with his friend. The time you stayed out too late without calling him. The time you were short on cash and she gave you a loan that it took you a few months to pay back.

Score-Keeping Bullies are grudge holders, who collect and hoard ammunition to be used against their partners as leverage in conflicts. The rallying cry of the Score-Keeping Bully is "Remember the time you…" And this sentence always finishes with some old error that the victim has apologized for (probably more than once) and thought had been dealt with and laid to rest. Or the sentence may be completed by some obscure but long-nursed grievance that the Score-Keeping Bully was just waiting for a chance to use.

{C} Inside the Mind of the Score-Keeping Bully

I have a friend whose trick for getting over resentments and grudges is to ask himself, "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?" This helps him to see that the person he's really hurting by holding a grudge is himself. Score-Keeping Bullies, on the other hand, would much rather be right than happy, because being right is what makes them feel safe, even though it also makes them miserable. (Holding a grudge is a lot like trying to wound an enemy by stabbing yourself.) Winning an argument provides the Score-Keeping Bully with a sense of power and control, and the perverse, righteous thrill out of proving his or her partner wrong. Unconsciously, the Bully feels impotent, in the wrong, and in constant danger of being rejected. This Bully may have been raised by an aggressive bully and grown up under constant attack. Or he may have been neglected, ignored, and made to feel worthless.

As a result, in adulthood the Score-Keeper unconsciously lives in fear of disapproval and abandonment. The 'solution'? A kind of Cold War mentality, in which The Bully stockpiles weapons of grudge and resentment in an emotional arms race. Then, when frightened or threatened, the Bully launches deadly pre-emptive strikes at his or her unsuspecting partner.

{B} The Passive-Aggressive Bully

This is another one of the 'stealth' bullies, along with the Silent Treatment and Body Language Bullies, who are all harder to spot because their bullying techniques are not in your face. In his or her behavior, the Passive-Aggressive Bully is almost the opposite of the Rage Bully or the Temper-Tantrum Bully; rather than reacting directly and immediately to a trigger situation, the thing that sets the bully off, Passive-Aggressive Bullies will often take their time, and will bully in indirect ways.

I counsel a married couple who are both bullies; the husband, Jamil, is a Guilt-Trip Bully, and the wife, Stella, is a Passive-Aggressive Bully. Instead of addressing Jim's bullying behaviors in a healthy, mature way that might create opportunities for the relationship to evolve, Stella acts out. For example, let's say Jamil has guilt-tripped her into skipping her family reunion this year. Rather than stand her ground and go to the reunion on her own, Stella stays at work late for a week. Though she knows Jim hates spending evenings without her (he can barely manage to fix dinner for himself, never mind for their two teen-age children) she comes home after 10 PM every night, then reads in bed for an hour or two, fully aware that the light keeps Jim awake, and that he has to be up at 5 AM to get ready for work.

And so it goes. Jamil guilt-trips Stella into getting a station wagon instead of the hybrid she wanted; she cuts her hair extremely short, knowing he loves it long. He guilt-trips her into having a dinner party for his colleagues; she spends the evening flirting with his supervisor. He guilt-trips her into moving to the suburbs; she has a fling with an old boyfriend. And in the end, who loses? They both do.

{C} Inside the Mind of the Passive-Aggressive Bully

Stella acts the way she does to punish Jamil and get revenge for the pain he inflicts on her. This is standard operating procedure for Passive-Aggressive Bullies, who lack the confidence to stand up for themselves. They're afraid rejection and retaliation will result if they overtly disagree or directly address a conflict with their partners, so they find sneaky, insidious, and corrosive ways of communicating their displeasure--a roundabout response that almost always involves doing something they know their partners won't like.

Many Passive-Aggressive Bullies were raised by a Rage Bully, or an otherwise verbally or physically abusive parent. This was the case with Stella. Her mother died when Stella was very young, and she was raised by a resentful, rageful father. For years she watched as her older sister, in an attempt to protect Stella, would confront their father and end up receiving beatings as a consequence. Terrified and overwhelmed by her own sense of helplessness, Stella would lie in bed at night screaming into her pillow until she was hoarse, her cries muffled so no one could hear her. The lesson that Stella unconsciously took from her childhood was that it's forbidden, and even dangerous, to state her needs or stand up for herself, and that she must find other ways of expressing her feelings. Unfortunately, the method of expression she chose was as destructive to herself and others as her father's was.

{B} The Guilt Trip Bully

These bullies are so well-known, and often made fun of on TV and in movies, that descriptions of their behavior might make you laugh. There's the elderly parent who whines, "No, I don't need anything, I'm used to doing everything for myself since you kids moved away and left me alone in my old age." There's the friend who gives you the sweater you asked to borrow for your date, saying sadly, "I never have anywhere to wear it anyway. No one ever asks me out. And now that you're dating I'll probably never leave the house." And of course there's the bullying spouse who sighs, " I'll get my own dinner. Don't worry about me. I'm exhausted from working all day, but never mind," or "Sure, we can go to the party. You know I don't like going out on the weekends. But if it's more important for you to see your friends than spend time with me, that's fine," or "Oh, just go ahead and do whatever you want. You always do what you want, anyway." (The reality is that the Guilt Trip Bully's victims never do what they want, because they get bullied out of it.)

But however silly these examples may seem, the Guilt Trip Bully is no laughing matter. Just imagine how this strategy works when the stakes are higher: "When I married you I never thought you'd be the kind of woman who'd pursue a career instead of staying at home with her children. But I guess not everyone shares my priorities," or "If you're really so unhappy at that job you shouldn't worry about how quitting will affect your family. We'll manage somehow." Through steady pressure and coercion, these bullies manage to completely bulldoze their victims and get their own way. They also to make those victims feel they're hopelessly self-centered, that their every desire is selfish and unreasonable. This leads the victims to constantly doubt, second-guess, and undermine themselves.

{C} Inside the Mind of the Guilt Trip Bully

Psychologically, this bully is closely related to the Passive-Aggressive Bully. If the Guilt-Trip Bully wasn't raised by another Guilt-Trip Bully, he or she probably grew up with a Name-Caller or a Rager, whose behaviors created such a sense of danger and provoked such anxiety that the child was afraid to speak up, and instead developed indirect ways of expressing needs and frustrations. But where the Passive-Aggressive Bully is motivated by a desire to punish, to get even for perceived wrongs, the Guilt-Trip Bully acts on an odd sense of self that combines worthlessness and entitlement. These bullies feel that their needs have never really been understood or met. On the one hand, they're convinced that this is so because they don’t deserve to have their needs met. On the other hand, after so much perceived deprivation, they feel entitled to have every whim catered to.

Unfortunately, these bullies are playing a lose-lose game. Even when the Guilt-Trip Bully's partner gives in, the bully is not likely to be satisfied; instead, the he or she will be plagued by a sense that the victim didn't really want to comply with his or her demands. Of course this only feeds the bully's feeling of worthlessness and deprivation, because what he or she really wants--what all of us want--is unconditional love.


I'm sure you can see now that the one thing all these bully types have in common is that they're miserable, frightened people with low self-esteem. They're trapped by, and living out, the rage of generations. They were bullied as children, and now, as adults, are compensating, in the most destructive ways, for how vulnerable, powerless, and terrified they feel. Again, let me be clear that I'm absolutely not excusing bullies for the way they act. But I do think it will help you to know that the bully in your life is suffering too, that their behavior, like yours, was shaped by the negative aspects of their upbringing.

And like you, bullying partners have the ability to change, but only if they really want to. You can't make anyone else change. The only person you can change is yourself.

But bear in mind that when you take steps to change, it will have a big effect on the lives of those around you, and the lives of those to come…because you're ending the rage of generations. You're setting yourself free from this cycle of abuse. You're ceasing to enable your partner's bullying behavior. And you're also liberating your children, and their children, and all the future generations of children to come. That's a pretty profound and amazing change, isn't it? And you're already well on your way!

Copyright © Dr. Anne-Renee Testa. All Rights Reserved.