It’s not nice being on the receiving end of bullying, scapegoating and intimidation. Or any form of abuse. When we repeatedly observe or are the target of abusive behaviour during our formative years we risk becoming an abuser ourselves – or becoming a lifelong victim.

When abuse goes on in families, kids quickly learn to align themselves with the abuser to avoid becoming the target of aggression. The same happens in the playground. 

So, no matter whether you were/are a direct victim of abuse or observed abuse in your youth, by identifying with the abuser you are at risk of becoming a bully. It’s a subtle process.

If you are an abuser:

  • Look at your family – if you have a child who is abusing others, look at yourself in the mirror.  Kids copy our behaviour.
  • Watch how others respond to you. Does your partner shrink in response to you? 
  • Do your employees or co-workers avoid or fear you?

If you don’t like the person you have become, you can change. The greatest motivator is pain. The trouble is abusing brings a pleasurable release of tension and unmet feelings. It is not easy to give up this kind of gratification.

Like any unhelpful habit or addictive behaviour, the only way to break the abuse is to remove the pleasure and actually make it painful to continue behaving in this way. 

You need a helping hand. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Professional therapy could prove to be an answer.

In my view and experience, beneath the tough exterior abusers are weak and hurting. The only way to reach their weak and vulnerable side is for them to break their defensive shell. When the shell is cracked and the abuser looks in the mirror, the abuser may start to remember what it felt like to be abused as a kid. 

Feeling his/her own unhealthy painful feelings is vital to ending the abuse. When they do this, and it takes courage to do so, they can start liking themselves again. 

They don’t have put on an act anymore.

They don’t have to remain isolated, insecure or afraid anymore. 

Seeking professional help can help them deal with this profound change. We all need support when we are making profound changes within.  And good therapy can provide it safely and confidentially.

Those who witness abuse need to stand up for injustice.  For those who are abused they need to heal their own wounds.  Beware of releasing old anger by playing the victim.  Instead find your voice and end the cycle of abuse.

How to help an abuser

When their own pain becomes unbearable, abusers can finally consider the effect their behaviour has on others.  And learn to feel empathy for the people they are harming.

What can you do if you are being mistreated by a bully?

  • Consider if you are playing a role in their own abuse
  • Ask the bully how would he or she feel to be on the receiving end of the mistreatment he/she is dishing? 
  • Understand that rolling over and playing dead only fortifies the abuser and keeps the abuse coming.

Sometimes setting oneself up as a victim can be an unconscious pay off to remain a victim.  If you live with an abuser you can’t come out with your anger for fear of getting a bigger beating – either psychologically or physically. 

When we feel like a victim, we blame the other person – and then we risk our behaviour developing into a natural, automatic way of venting anger. The more you get victimised the angrier you become. Instead of getting to the bottom of things, you just get angrier and angrier. Then we risk being a bully ourselves.

Remember: when it comes to being abused there are no victims, just volunteers.  You do not have to put up with it.

So stop trying to win the approval of a parent (or substitute) who mistreated you in the past.  The best you can do is understand the underlying dynamic of your parents/spouse.  And then accept this is ALL you can do.

Refusing to remain in an abusive situation is a healthy choice.  Put your foot down and your spouse may see the light. You are doing this to set your own limits. Seek professional help, recognise your rights and learn to set boundaries.

The ultimate solution is for bullies to have the strength to take ownership of their feelings of weakness, hurt, anger and sadness.  They need to work through rather than dump their pain on others.