Relationships: Victim, Bully, or What?
I remember back in college when I was writing a research essay on bullying. I can recall not fully understanding the subject until being introduced to some of the factoids that Psychologists laid out in their work. It was very obvious that the way we look at victims and bullies is amateur at best, and most likely is the cause of a tremendous amount of interpersonal drama in our lives.
The typical person never considers themselves to be a bully. They see the sadness or anger of others as signs of being a victim. The person that supposedly was the source of that pain is claimed to be the bully. Simply put, it goes like this: I have negative feelings, therefore I am being victimized. Usually what follows is an act of retribution against the supposed bully and plenty of sympathy for the supposed victim.
Luckily, or not, I have had many life experiences that allow me to see every side of this argument. I have been the victim; I have been the bully. And I can tell you this much, the times that I (now) know I was the bully, I certainly didn’t feel like I was the one doing harm. I was acting out on personal pain and doing it against the one that I felt was to blame.
The reality to spousal bullying is chilling. The truth actually supports the idea that the one most often claiming to be the victim is actually the bully. Now, I am not here presenting this as some world-changing hypothesis. It is easily supported by a few minutes of cursory research. For instance, the school-age bullies tend to come from abusive homes. It isn’t as if they are making conscious decisions against a backdrop of blue skies and rainbows to seek out innocent bystanders to torment. These are people that are more easily bothered and they will act out upon the pain they feel and do harm to others.
I see it constantly as a relationship coach. One spouse comes to me seeking help and I quickly realize that they are usually the one being emotionally abusive. There was a case study that I found doing research that described a woman complaining to her counselor about her husband’s abusive behavior. Basically, he would make snarky comments about things she did as a homemaker. What did she do in return, she yelled at him. Being the plaintiff, all of her friends and family sided with her. They saw him as the abuser and were glad that she was giving him what he deserved by yelling at him. Now, I am not here to defend this husband. His actions are bad enough on their own, but that never validates someone resorting to screaming fits which is absolutely abuse.
Before I go on, I need to quickly comment on definitions readily found concerning emotional abuse. Typically, they consider someone to be abused if they have hurt feelings. Unfortunately, this means that just about anything can be considered abuse. Definitions are not supposed to be plastic. It is much more logical to define abusive in a fashion that classifies which actions are or are not abuse. As such, I generally go with the definition more popularly espoused by Dr. Laura. Simply put, emotional abuse is “an attack”. Imagine what an emotionally violent attack would be and that would be the definition that we are looking at. They do to someone’s emotions what a physical attack does to one’s body. However, this doesn’t mean that something that falls short of being defined as emotional abuse isn’t hurtful. Just think about that pain chart that you see when you go to the hospital. 1 is a smiley face and 10 is a frowning face with tears, representing the spectrum of no pain to absolute pain. Analogously, abuse would fall on that scale from 7 or so up to 10. Different definitions would apply to emotional harm done that fall short of a 7.
So, what does this mean for this woman and her husband? Just think about it if both individuals made separate complaints to separate counselors.
My husband emotionally abuses me. He’s always making fun of how slow I do the dishes. No matter what I do, he keeps doing it, even though it hurts me.
My wife is constantly screaming at me. When I try to joke around with her, she gets really hostile and lets me have it.
So, who do you side with. Do you side with your gender? Do you side with a woman because a man should isn’t supposed to take things personally?
We are supposed to adapt to life’s circumstances. If we resort to hostility when we are under stress, then we are acting in a maladaptive fashion. The response should be made to get some sort of resolution and not to further the duress. If you are escalating the conflict, then you are certainly not “the victim”.