- "In my heart, I knew that it wasn't right, but my best friend kept telling me it was MY job to try harder with her."
Marriages and significant relationships are both the breeding ground, and the testing ground, for our development and maturity. It's where we can learn, by trial and error, how to be better people.
"I feel so isolated."
Bullying doesn't only happen in schools and workplaces. Bullies get to practise their skills in families and extended families as well.
Who's "her"? In this case, careful and insidious manipulation by a highly-skilled bully in the shape of her mother-in-law has brought this young mum to her knees.
Isolation and alienation is a big part of the bully's toolkit. Unfortunately, psychological bullying is more likely to be the domain of women. Women's skills with relationship-building have a flipside in the female bully's capacity to alienate. Other tactics might include:
- temper tantrums, irrational outbursts, spiteful teasing, ridicule
- trivial fault-finding and nit-picking
- belittling actions, eg eye-rolling, sighs etc
- blaming the victim's attitude or personality for conflicts
- intentional exclusion from important information
- overloading with tasks and unreasonable expectations
- undermining or overruling decisions
It's not a nice picture, is it?
In families as in schools and workplaces, the bullying can become so insidious that others follow the established pattern of behaviour. In fact, we are all capable of behaving like bullies given the right set of circumstances.
Her husband's advice? "Just ignore her, she doesn't mean it! You're too sensitive!"
"Even though I know I should keep showing up at family events, I'm a quivering mess at the thought of another onslaught from her. My husband and my best friend just don't seem to understand how awful it is."
It's often very difficult for the uninvolved to understand the profound impact that bullying can have on a victim. Agitation, shame, anxiety, and depression are common, as are insomnia, lack of concentration, panic attacks, and low self-esteem.
My advice to this young mum? When the messages from your body and heart conflict with the messages from those near and dear, it's time to step out of the arena.
Confidence comes from taking action. If support isn't readily available from those you thought you could trust, keep telling!
The best defence against a bully is to disclose their behaviour. It's also one of the hardest steps to take when you've been so undermined that you begin to disbelieve even the messages from your own body.
Keep telling, till someone listens, and you get the help you want.