Feeling beat up every time you talk to your ex? Don’t let them get to you anymore.
Do you feel drained after every conversation, text, or email with your ex? If so, you might be dealing with an emotional bully.
For most of us, divorce is already a very emotionally difficult time. We're grieving the losses and loneliness. We're afraid we're not good enough and we even wonder if anyone will ever really love us.
Brené Brown says that the twin fears of 'not being good enough' and 'fear of disconnection' are at the root of shame. Leveraging these natural shame-based fears against us during divorce is exactly the tactic emotional bullies use.
Emotional bullies manipulate through shame and blame. They're masters of creating even more misery during a time when we're already vulnerable.
So, how do you know if your ex is an emotional bully? Here are three of their tactics (and how to deal with them):
- Nothing you do is ever good enough. Your ex makes statements like "... and you say you put the kids first," "you should be ashamed of yourself," and, "you never were any good at ____."
To deal with this type of bullying, you must do two things. First, remember you are always doing your best no matter what your ex thinks or says. Second, you can respond with either silence or you might say something like, "Interesting perspective, but I disagree," and then (this is the hard part) leave it at that.
- They throw a fit when you don't do exactly what they want, when/how they want you to do it. In this case, your ex is bullying you by using your fear of disconnection. I know this may sound weird, but if their fit throwing bothers you, then you actually do care what they think of you, and on some level you want connection with them.
Dealing with this type of behavior requires that you accept that the divorce disconnected the two of you. It's time to establish some healthy boundaries for yourself.
- Your ex acts like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You do one little thing they don't agree with and they have a meltdown that's completely out of proportion with the situation. But when you offer them any type of praise, they relax with happiness or visible satisfaction.
This behavior exposes an emotional bully's Achilles heel—They also have huge fears about feeling disconnected and not good enough. (Yup, deep down they harbour the same fears they're preying upon. How ironic.) In fact, they probably feel inferior to you. Knowing this, you can use appropriate praise to defuse potential blow ups.
Of course, these tips seem easy to implement when you're in a peaceful place reading them. But, I know that when you're facing a bully, acting rationally isn't always what happens. Most of us want to defend ourselves (or flee). Unfortunately, all both do is escalate or enable the situation.
The best long-term defense against an emotional bully is to bolster your self-esteem. The better you feel about yourself the less their behavior impacts you.
Feeling good about yourself means you won't easily fall for your ex's tactics of shame and blame, taking their bullying power away. If they can't bully you, they'll need to interact with you differently. Hopefully, that will (eventually) include respect.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.