ARE YOU FACED WITH A SERIAL BULLY?
People in recovery finally learn how to deal reasonably with others... but they risk relapse when faced with a type of person who is cunning, baffling and powerful. Deirdre Boyd offers solutions to help you and your clients.
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, bully.”
“Only the best are bullied.”
The above words of validation are the opening lines of a pioneering website set up by Tim Field dedicated to more facets of bullying – from school years right up to your workplace – than you might think exist. Of particular relevance to addicts and alcoholics in recovery, or anyone who feels overwhelmed by a particular person or situation, is the information on serial bullying.
Serial bullies can tempt people to drink or suicide. But as one of their tactics is to persuade ‘targets’ that the problem is all their fault, it can be hard to identify exactly what is going on – and so how to tackle that. Targets might not even realise that they are being bullied, even though reasonable behaviour on their part rarely evokes a predictable or reasonable response.
“For a serial bully, anyone trying to be conciliatory is seen as a sucker to be exploited,” advised Field.
For many in recovery from addiction, particularly those who are survivors from an abusive childhood, the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder can be triggered. The bullies’ tactics reverberate through survivors and they can feel as powerless as they were when children. This is with good reason. One trait of serial bullies is that they objectify people, just as sexual and other abusers do. This is familiar to survivors, consciously or unconsciously.
THE BULLY AS ADDICT
In many ways, serial bullies are like active addicts. Active addicts use emotional logic rather than intellectual logic: they must use whatever drug works to smother anxiety, shame or other emotions which they cannot hold. Any warning about resulting damage is not heard. All that matters is the alleviation of immediate pain or the gain of an immediate high. Similarly, the act of bullying immediately alleviates anxiety for the bully and can give a high. But they differ from addicts in that they rarely want to stop their abuse.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?
Perhaps the best way is to start at the end result: why the target has not reported the bullying. If any of the reasons below strike a chord, you have probably identified a bullying situation. The next step is to compare the profile of a serial bully with the person you are in this situation with. Finally, we will look at how the serial bully denies responsibility. All of these will, hopefully, give you an understanding which will inspire both emotional boundaries and actions to protect yourself.
WHY DON'T TARGETS REPORT ABUSE?
The following are only some of many reasons:
>> those in authority did not prevent the abuse; often it was the person in authority who was the abuser, so trust in authority is low, with justification
>> the target fears, with justification, that no one will believe them
>> the abuser relies on compulsive lying, a Jekyll and Hyde nature and charm and uses denial, counter-attack, projection and feigning victimhood to evade accountability; charm is used to deceive
>> the target felt fear at the time of abuse and continues to feel fear: of violence, of loss of job, of humiliation, of what others will think
>> the target feels ashamed of what happened, having been encouraged by the abuser to believe that they, not the abuser, were responsible
>> abuse is a betrayal – the target trusted and depended on the integrity of someone who then betrayed them and fears, often with justification, that if they report the abuse they will be punished
>> the target can be naive; they can be encouraged to withdraw from legal action by the abuser feigning victimhood and playing on their target’s forgiving chord and other people’s sympathies
>> the target feels bewildered and still cannot believe that it happened; the target is often nagged by the thought “Why did I let it happen to me?”
>> current abuse can trigger PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder – from older abuses so that the survivor will do almost anything to avoid actions which will make them relive the old emotions.
PROFILE OF A SERIAL BULLY
Field estimated that one person in 30, male or female, is a serial bully as opposed to an unwitting bully. The serial bully:
>> is a liar and, when called to account, will make up anything spontaneously to fit their needs
>> has a Jekyll and Hyde nature, uses excessive charm
>> is skilled in anticipating what people want to hear, then saying it plausibly
>> fabricates criticisms and allegations and abuses disciplinary procedures, again for control and subjugation not for performance enhancement
>> is drawn to positions of power and abuses them
>> criticises for control and subjugation not for performance enhancement
>> is not specific and never gives a straight answer
>> is adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise pool incriminating information about them
>> Often has an overwhelming, narcissistic attention- seeking need to portray themselves as wonderful, kind, caring and compassionate – in contrast to their behaviour and treatment of others
>> is convinced of their qualities of leadership – but cannot distinguish between leadership and bullying.
Click on the link below to read more, with sections on The bully in the workplace, Explaining the reactions of serial bullies, extrovert vs introvert bullies, and How bullies deny and avoid responsibility for actions.
DEIRDRE BOYD is CEO of the Addiction Recovery Foundation, editor of Addiction Today journal and cofounder/organiser of the UK/European Symposia on Addictive Disorders. She serves on the Advisory Council of ‘gold standard’ IC&RC international credentialling of alcohol- and drug-recovery professionals, and was a trustee of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics UK.