“I am going to come out and say this: my parents are not nice people! They are excellent actors, and within their community they are respected and even admired. Behind closed doors they scheme and lie.” It has taken M years to find a way to deal with her parents.

We all know people like this, people that seem cranky or strike from nowhere. Mean People or rather Emotional Bullies. They lie and manipulate, with little or no regard for your feelings. Emotional Bullies love creating drama and chaos for the people around them. Most of us would rather avoid these people, and we often go through great effort to stay away from them. But some of us are related to these bullies, or have gotten so far into their web that we cannot find our way out. So how can we cope?

Setting up Boundaries

The first thing, which is essential, is realizing that you can make choices that will give you more control of the situation. Once you begin to realize you are dealing with an emotional bully you will start looking for behaviors and try to put up some mental boundaries to protect yourself. It is up to you how strong you make these boundaries and how you fit them into your daily life. How to do that depends on your own circumstances, but also on the dynamic between you and the emotional bully.

Choosing to Cut Contact

For M the situation between herself and her partner on the one hand and her parents on the other was so out of control that she made a quite radical decision. “I have not spoken to my parents in over a year. Cutting contact was the hardest decision I have made in my life, but to this day I think it has been the best choice I have ever made. It is unbelievable how people can respond, even those who have never met my parents! Most friends respond with an utterly horror-struck face and exclaim: “But they are your PARENTS! Judgmental looks and remarks, made me feel a need to justify my choice. Now, 18 months on I am starting to realize that it is entirely my prerogative to choose if and what relationship I want to have with my parents, they are after all, MY parents!”

You May Not be Able to Steer Clear

Not everybody is willing or able to make that same choice M made. W lives near her mother, who is also an emotional bully. “I stop and ask myself: Is this a ‘heart attack’ or a ‘hangnail’?” Being able to choose her battles has taken W much practice, but saves a lot of time and energy. “Some people are just looking for a fight”, she explains, “So when I am confronted with situations that cause the ‘same-old argument’, I simply decline to discuss it”. W has also adopted other coping mechanisms, like contributing through volunteering or simply doing some exercise. M confirms this too: “when I had to move back into my parents’  house I took long walks. It removed me from the house, but more importantly it cleared my head”.

The Choice is Yours

So what it comes down to for each and everyone in this world, is to question what their choice will be. Nobody is in your situation, has your experience and your frame of reference, therefore nobody can tell you what the right way to deal with the emotional bully is. Whether you are contemplating to limit or cut contact, or if you want to figure out a way to be able to deal with caring for an elderly parent, while also protecting yourself and your mental stability, the choice is yours. For W distancing herself emotionally was helpful: “My mother was so mean, I was happy to let her ignore me, and pretend outwardly that we were a normal mother and daughter”. You need to think about your needs, your possibilities and the consequences you are willing to deal with. Because with every choice there are consequences. More on this can be found here.

8 Ways of Dealing with Emotional Bullies

When dealing with emotional bullies, keep these tips in consideration:

  1. Choose your battles – stop to think if this is an issue you will press or can let slide

  2. Learn to walk away from the bait – decline to discuss the ‘same-old argument’

  3. Learn the magic of “regardless” – emotional bullies love to change the subject when topics hit close to home,

  4. Don’t join in or stay to listen to gossip – Like they say on cop shows: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.”

  5. If you feel threatened, leave – If you chose to remain, stay detached and do not engage

  6. Recognize an impasse – the emotional bully is just that, accept that and stop beating yourself up for not always being able to navigate their behavior

  7. Stop spending energy trying to change the emotional bully – work on changing how you react to them and spend the time you save by doing something you enjoy

  8. Volunteer – Nothing brings things into focus like helping others around you. There are many opportunities in every community to assist in ways that fit your passions and skills

These are tips to use if you feel safe. Sometimes mean people are scary. If you ever feel that your safety is at stake, please dial your country’s emergency number immediately.‏

we love to read your comments below

“I am going to come out and say this: my parents are not nice people! They are excellent actors, and within their community they are respected and even admired. Behind closed doors they scheme and lie.” It has taken M years to find a way to deal with her parents.


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  2. Jenny

    April 29, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I share an office with this woman who is always making up stories about people and always talking negative. So number 4 is hard, because I have to sit there and do my work. I don’t know how to make her stop!

    • Profile photo of Mags

      May 1, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Hello Jenny,

      Try not to engage with your colleague. Maybe you are allowed to play some music on headphones? That way you can drown her out. Without an audience, she will likely stop performing!

      Good Luck!

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