Adult Bullies: The Calculating Bully

In this series on adult bullies, we have looked at the Accusing Bully who has a need to make you their scapegoat so they don’t have to look at their own shortcomings. We have also examined the Bitter Bully who may have started out as someone close to you, but when your life took off in some great way, the Bitter Bully became threatened. Both of these adult bullies are driven by their insecurities. Not so for the next bully. Calculating Bullies are driven by rage. They want your life full of misery and are willing to be the vessel to make that happen. Wonderful, right?  Even though we may not want to acknowledge that terrible people exist in the world, they do. We are naïve to think we will never cross paths with someone who would love to see us fail.

Who are these Calculating Bullies? They could be a family member, co-worker, someone pretending to be a friend or romantic interest. They can also be people we meet while involved in a ministry or church.  Basically, there are multiple ways a calculating bully can enter your life. My hope is that being able to identify how these folks operate will help you to create solid boundaries around a calculating bully so their poison doesn’t fully engulf your life.

I am often asked why Calculating Bullies set out to pick apart someone’s sense of self-worth and goodness in life. This form of adult bully encompasses both the accusing nature and bitterness of the previous bullies we have already discussed. They take those unpleasant character traits and add gasoline on top.

From my personal experience having run into this type of bully, and as a professional counselor, I believe there are a few key methods the Calculating Bully utilizes and I want to share two with you today.

“You Will Not Have What I Cannot Achieve”

This inner-dialogue is similar to the Bitter Bully but the intensity is different. The Bitter Bully often uses passive-aggressive methods to let you know that your success or joy has stepped on their toes. The Calculating Bully will try to remove those items from your life. They go to great lengths to use flat-out lies about you to smear your reputation. They will call in their troops to further spread the hateful message of the Calculating Bully. They will target you and try to make you look incompetent in whatever way fits the environment. If the Calculating Bully is in a family, they may discredit you as an adult child or parent to your own children. If the bully is within a workplace, the Calculating Bully could sabotage you by going behind you and changing your work to have it include errors that you did not make. If it is in a church environment, the Calculating Bully will spread rumors about you to make leadership question your appropriateness for ministry.

These adult bullies are out for blood. They feel no shame about how they try to reach their goal of destroying you and everything you have achieved, but they have not.

“I Will Make You Think Everyone Hates You”

The Calculating Bully wants you to feel isolated. They desire to know that you feel rejected and left out. It makes them smugly happy. In reality, your rejection is usually just smoke and mirrors. Sometimes they are able to achieve a successful smear campaign and people do actually turn away from you. More often, I have witnessed the Calculating Bully trying to create a false sense of reality. If the adult bully is a former friend, they will encourage people to give you space for a season to let the dust settle on whatever conflict may have happened. The Calculating Bully knows this will land with you as the silent treatment and that’s the goal. In the workplace, this adult bully will purposefully steer other people away from inviting you to go out to lunch or after work together. The Calculating Bully enjoys the moment when you find out that you were excluded. In a family, this bully will flaunt their affection and often times, gifts, intended for other people in the family. You are never honored. Never celebrated. The Calculating Bully in a family with cut you off from the nurturing that all humans desire. This bully likes to see you long for what other family members are receiving right in front of you.

What are you to do if you have a Calculating Bully in your life? Quickly get away from them. Seriously. I know some situations are incredibly difficult to remove yourself from but every effort must be made to put as much distance between yourself and this form of adult bully.

Rarely do these bullies make lasting changes in their behaviors. That would require a tremendous amount of self-reflection and repetitious internal corrections in order to re-wire their internal compass.

A Calculated Bully doesn’t relate to other people in a normal way and that is why they can treat you so poorly. It is truly about them, and not you.

As a therapist, I believe it is therapeutic to engage in the simple of act of acknowledging what we know to be true. As you have read this blog, maybe a particular person has come to mind and you have begun to see that they are not only accusing and bitter, but their ugly actions are actually calculated. If you identified someone as a Calculated Bully, please say out loud the following:

I believe ­­____________________(name of person) is a Calculated Bully.

I believe he/she would like to see my life ruined.

I will stop giving ____________________(name of person) the benefit of the doubt each time I am hurt by her/him.

I will use everything available to me to put healthy distance between myself and ____________________(name of person).

I deserve to have people in my life who treat me with kindness and care.

My hope is that every Calculating Bully will face clear and solid boundaries from the people around them. It won’t change the bully’s toxic behaviors, but fewer people will have their lives negatively impacted. We must stop giving harmful people full access to our lives and hearts.

Keep dreaming big!

Shannon

Adult Bullies: The Accusing Bully

Disclaimer: For those of you who know me and my work around healing from abuse, please note that this blog is not about clinically abusive people (aka narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths). This series on adult bullies is about the other type of difficult people. The average garden-variety type of folks we run into out in the world.  

The Different Types of Adult Bullies

This is the second post in a series on adult bullying. If you missed the first one on the topic, you can read it here at The Bitter Bully.

Who are these accusing adult bullies? They are individuals who, for some reason, need you to play the role of scapegoat. The accusing bully doesn’t know the real you. They know their distorted, constructed version of you. The accusing bully has created a false image in their head and since what we think is what we feel, they feel like you deserve their scrutiny. They might snap, be annoyed, and you have no idea why.

Now, we know not everyone is going to think we are fabulous. We sometimes just do not gel with certain personality types and that’s perfectly normal. The accusing bully doesn’t have an actual aversion to you.  They have an aversion to how they see you. That’s the crazy-making part of being the target of an accusing bully.

When this happened to me, I found myself on the receiving end of someone saying that I was going to respond to conflict in a way that is not at all how I handle myself or disagreements. I thought this individual knew me well too so I was taken aback by their perceptions. It caused me to do some immediate soul searching. How do I carry myself in the world that I am perceived in such an incorrect way by this person? Was it incorrect or do I not know myself very well? Am I the type who would react the way this person expected me to? As you can see, the accusing bully can really challenge your views of yourself. At least for those of us who take the time to be self-reflective; in an effort to always be growing as individuals.

After spending time rattling around in my own thoughts, I asked a couple of people who knew me even better than the individual who was accusatory about my responses to conflict. Those closest to me confirmed that I didn’t have some false view of my conflict resolution skills. These conversations helped cement the idea that the accusing bully had their perceptions that had nothing to do with the real me.

Why do some people adopt a distorted view of us and do so on purpose? Yes, I do think the accusing bully chooses to paint an inaccurate picture of our character.

This is especially true if they should know better but still go ahead and scapegoat us. Watching this in my own life and with some of the clients I have worked with as a therapist, I believe that the accusing bully has a need to misunderstand us. Our role as scapegoat somehow works for them. Maybe they want to continue in their own unhealthy behaviors and if we can take some of the responsibility, then less ownership lands on their lap.  Perhaps the accusing bully projects their own areas of growth onto us, rather than addressing their limitations. In the case of my accusing bully, I honestly believe that rather than taking a hard look at their own issues of conflict resolution, they projected outward and onto me. Luckily, I was able to catch this tactic and not allow their words to have a lasting impact on my view of myself.

What is the best way to address an accusing bully? You might try pointing out that you don’t see yourself in the way the bully is accusing. It is possible that you are going to get push back and a level of denial from them. If you are not able to openly discuss that you feel scapegoated, you may need to consider distancing yourself from the person. It is very difficult to have any level of authentic relationship with someone who feels the need to create a falsehood about you and then treats you differently because of the lies they have told themselves.

Keep dreaming big!

Shannon

Adult Bullies: The Bitter Bully

Disclaimer: For those of you who know me and my work around healing from abuse, please note that this blog is not about clinically abusive people (aka narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths). This series on adult bullies is about the other type of difficult people. The average garden-variety type of folks we run into out in the world.  

The Different Types of Adult Bullies

What happens when we run into adults who don’t know how to treat other people?  Our reactions can range from explosive anger all the way to deeply internalizing the ugly messages that bullies send us. Why do bullies exist in the adult world? As kids, weren’t we all told that schoolyard bullies would one day “grow up” and realize the error of their ways? I know I heard that mean kids would grow out of the need or desire to bully and yet, I see adult bullying in too many life situations.

There seems to be a few different variations of behaviors from individuals who clearly are old enough to know better, and yet, roam the adult schoolyard looking for someone to kick in the shins. Over the course of several blogs, I am going to share with you a few of the types of bullies I have either experienced myself or have been witness to through other people.

The Bitter Bully

I have personally come in close contact with this bully. It is one who appears in the form of a friendly face that is all good with you until, wait for it, the seed of bitterness comes to full harvest. What causes this person to shift from a caring friend to a snarky person who you cannot associate closely with anymore? Bitterness usually shows itself when the adult bully feels threatened by you in some way. Perhaps you stepped on their toes by achieving success in “their” self-designated area of life. It’s as if they have metaphorically tinkled on a bush like a dog to claim it as their own and you dared to come sniffing too close. You hear the low growl and turn to see their teeth showing. They don’t like you anymore. Suddenly you’re now annoying and they have numerous previously unspoken complaints of you. Their view of you has changed but the only thing that is new is your success.

Maybe your success stepped on their toes and rather than coming clean with you about their internal conflict, it seeps out through their pores in bitterness. Of course, they would adamantly deny any jealousy or bitterness. Didn’t they already tell you they are not an angry person? They are the outward picture of confidence but as an intuitive person, you feel the wave of bitterness and it pushes you away from them.

What causes the bitter bully to emerge from the outer covering of a good friend? I believe it is deeply held insecurities. When people feel overly territorial it is because they are scared that you are taking something away from them; that they will lose the goodness in their life. These individuals may have dealt with scarcity or neglect previously and they are triggered on a subconscious level by you coming to close to their now good life.

Is this your fault? Not at all. Are you expected to shrink back in life just so you don’t push insecurity buttons in someone around you? Never. We do not clip our own wings for fear we might fly too high for another person’s comfort level. Their bitterness and internal conflict is theirs, and theirs alone, to work through. However, it is helpful to pause and ponder the “why” of the bitter bully’s projection outward towards you. When we can cognitively understand why people behave the way they do, it takes the personalization out of it. We stop going over what we did to make that person change their ways with us. We start recognizing that not everyone can stay on the same road.

People say that failure will show you who your friends are and that is true. Success will show you the insecurities hiding in those around you. Sometimes, it’s not pretty. Sometimes success brings a chill of loneliness as people react in different ways and bitter is one of them.

Personally, I would rather be surrounded by a few key people who love themselves and their lives so much that anything I might have going on positively isn’t at all a threat to them. It is also my gift back to them because real friends don’t pour bitterness on one another like acid.

Keep Dreaming Big! (so big it makes people uncomfortable)

Shannon

 

YouTube Interview with Tracy Malone

It was wonderful to have the chance to sit down with Tracy Malone of Narcissist Abuse Support.

Why The Church Won’t Recognize Abuse

As a therapist and advocate who specializes in recovery from abuse, I have been witness to many stories of how survivors of abuse were treated by their church elders and pastors. I can tell you that some church leadership understands the complexities of domestic abuse, but sadly, many more leaders are doing incredible harm to female and male survivors. I do not believe the damage is always intentional, but rather stems from commonly held ideals that are ultimately creating environments where abusers are given “grace-passes” and the victims are left carrying the full responsibility for saving their marriages.

There appears to be significant blind spots within the western evangelical church when it comes to abuse and how leaders are to effectively counsel within the context of toxic marriages and abusive people. I hope to highlight a few of the areas that seem to stumble most church leaders. I am doing this not to bring shame or condemnation to pastors and church staff, but I hope open discussions will continue to occur. Survivors of abuse deserve to receive safe and informed care from their religious leadership. Unfortunately, this is not currently happening in many of our houses of worship in the United States.

Why won’t the church recognize abuse? Magical thinking.

The main issue I have observed is that far too many congregation leaders are teaching a lot about what God can do to change the abuser’s heart and far less instruction on what the abuser must do to be a reflection of Christ’s character to his or her family. The focus is placed on everyone but the abuser. The responsibility of changed behaviors is not where it needs to be, but rather deflected outward and away from the source of pain; the abuser.

Leaders are telling survivors that they must pray more if they want to see their abuser changed, that it is their duty as a wife or husband to remain steadfastly committed like Hosea did to Gomer in the Bible, and that God can change anyone if enough people are praying. Where are the teachings about the abuser repenting and permanently turning away from their harmful lifestyle? Where are the teachings about natural consequences when we mistreat other people? Where are teachings about personal accountability for a changed life? Instead the survivor, and even God, are held out as the only tools of how the abuser will be redeemed and made more Christ-like, even as the abuser does absolutely nothing concrete to be different. It leaves domestic abusers (both male and female) ultimately off the hook and everyone around them left to adjust to their poisonous behaviors.

The idea of wanting change for an abuser, when they themselves put no action towards healing, almost borders on magical thinking.

I recently was in a church lobby and a few people were standing around excitedly talking about a well-known public figure who exhibits abusive behaviors. One person said, “God is going to get a hold of him!” and another said, “He doesn’t know it yet, but God has a great plan for his life.” Of course I had to interject and ask what the abuser might think about God getting a hold of him. I asked what evidence can we see of a changed and repented heart from this particular toxic individual. I shared with them that it concerned me greatly that this small group of people in the lobby wanted salvation and healing for the abuser more than the abuser himself may even want it. At what point have Christians crossed over into dangerous wishful thinking that inhibits their ability to have eyes to see and ears to hear?

There is something very naive and unhealthy about projecting positive character traits on abusers that they do not possess and may have no interest in obtaining. If they did the hard work to become a new creation, then sure, we could join them in celebrating. But to hold out hope for an abuser who shows no lasting signs of change is like hoping we walk out our front door to a brand new sports car but we refuse to show up to work every day. It’s honestly embarrassing that the collective church will not see people for exactly who they are in their current state, hope and pray for more, but not be blinded to what is right in front of them. We will not change an abuser simply by wishing for it to be true. Sanctification is a process and one that the abuser absolutely must be a part of on a daily basis.

Why won’t the church recognize abuse? Power.

Power is a strong driver for people to remain in denial about abuse going on around them. When toxic people have the ability to get us what we want, we are sadly more willing sometimes to look the other way of character traits that might be unsavory. Many times the worst abusers at home are the same individuals who are showing up to church every time the doors are open. They are seen as pillars in the community, or at least useful to the church in some form or fashion. These powerful abusers are given a quiet pass when concerns are raised about their treatment of their families. People say things such as, “I know him, he would never do the things his wife told the pastor.” You can change the gender and the message is still the same when the abuser is a female. Power or the acquisition of something church leadership wants will, and has, caused many to justify abusive behaviors. They often utilize the magical thinking I mentioned above and decide that the abuser will get better with God’s help, even as the abuser shows no signs of authentically seeking God at all.

Why won’t the church recognize abuse? The covenant of marriage is being held in higher regard than the safety of a spouse and children within an abusive marriage. 

I know churches where someone can repent of horrendous crimes against people and these individuals will be received within a congregation family but another church member discusses dissolving their marriage because of abuse, and that person will be literally shunned by church leadership and other members. The concept of marriage is held to such a high standard that in some places of worship, it does not matter that evil is being perpetrated within the walls of the family home. Why do some church leaders cling so tightly to the idea of all marriages remaining intact? I think there are two reasons and the first is that sometimes radical things do happen and terrible marriages are restored. Harmful behaviors are addressed and forever changed. Church leaders love those stories of how one of their ministries or their own counsel redeemed a family that looked hopeless. However, not all toxic marriages will go through a 180 shift. Just like not all prayers for a sick person will result in a miraculous and spontaneous healing. Sometimes the body dies and some marriages die as well. Just like the fact that we are not seeing resurrections of bodies at hospitals all over the country, we may not see resurrections of marriages that are abusive when the abuser does not do the hard work to bring lastly healing to his or her family.

The second reason that churches are holding tight to saving marriages, even when one spouse is literally dying within the poisonous environment, is because some church leaders believe that without strong marriages as a foundation, our country is on a collision course with doom. These leaders want to hold onto the concept of the traditional marriage so much that they are literally willing to pretend a marriage is reflecting God’s will even when they know good and well the marriage is a fragile house of cards. As long as it looks good from the outside, right? This sort of thinking perpetuates the fake billboard living that many complain about in regards to modern Christianity.

What can we do when we are worried about the church and its response, or lack of, to abuse in marriages? We first educate ourselves and then we set out to educate our local church leaders. We find books that have been helpful in our journey to understand what abuse looks like in all its forms and we share those books with church leaders. We walk along side a survivor of abuse and tell him or her that we will not spiritually abuse them as well. We will not use Scripture to justify the harm that is being done to them and we will not place the burden of change on the survivor either.

The church should be a sanctuary of hope and healing. Until abuse within Christian marriages is properly handled by all churches in America, we are failing in our calling to carry each other’s burdens and be the hands and feet of a God of justice.

Keep dreaming big!

Shannon Thomas
Bestselling Author of Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through The Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse