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are bullies self-aware?

(39 Posts)
totallyawesome Wed 21-Oct-09 13:56:52

I'm fairly new to this site, though have been lurking a little bit. I'm also not sure if this is a topic for "chat" or "relationships" - it's a bit of a straddler.

Anyway, my exH was (and still is) a very controlling bully. When he and I were together it reached a point where I was making a decision based on whether it would meet with approval, rather than whether it was my actual decision. My thoughts were not independent of the potential approval-rating, IYSWIM? I only stood up for myself if it was something I felt very strongly about. Either that, or I would sneak off and do whatever it was I wanted to do and not tell him.

In "conversations" I've had with him, he tells me that he is baffled at the split because we always seemed to be on the same wavelength and wanted the same things. Now, to me, that wavelength was his and there was only the occasional bit of convergence-most often it was me going with what he wanted to avoid a confrontation.

I'm in a new relationship now and I've been trying to explain to my new bloke what it was like living with this. Does anyone have experience of living with a bully? Did it become second nature to work around them? I can see that I became a doormat, but exH doesn't see that his behaviour was in any way bullying.

Anniegetyourgun Wed 21-Oct-09 18:31:14

Well no, he wouldn't admit it, would he? Perhaps not even to himself.

My XH said he was baffled too. I had to be leaving him for another man because there was no other reason. All the arguments we'd had, all the times I'd told him straight out what was annoying/upsetting me, those things had never happened in his universe. I don't think it's possible he didn't realise what was happening at the time, but am not sure whether he is lying now or genuinely blotted those incidents out of his memory. He remembered every time he had complimented my appearance; he denied he had ever said I was sluttishly dressed or going out on the pull (with middle-aged female colleagues at a pizza restaurant) or that I was too fat to have sex with angry. He never shouted at me, he just "spoke normally"; he certainly never sulked, because sulking is something children do, not adults.

And then I realised: it doesn't matter what he believes, or claims to believe. I can't live with it. And now, gloriously, I don't live with it. He can say what he likes to whoever he likes about why he thinks I left. I'm out. I'm happy.

Anniegetyourgun Wed 21-Oct-09 18:45:33

Oh, and in answer to your question: I always believed I was strong and wouldn't stand any nonsense. When I looked back over the quarter century of our relationship I realised just how much nonsense I had ended up standing for, how much my behaviour had changed, how much frustration and anger I'd swallowed for the sake of "keeping the family together", while he shouted sorry, talked in a normal voice and sulked er, I mean behaved normally but just didn't happen to have anything to say for a couple of days; one way or another he got things the way he wanted them because I just didn't have the energy to put up a constant fight. He wasn't a very effective bully, but he had all the techniques straight from the Passive-Aggressive Controller's Handbook down pat. And I swallowed them because he was depressed and couldn't help it. Hmph. Doormat indeed.

Booooooooooyhoo Wed 21-Oct-09 18:51:33

i dont think, they are aware that it is actual bullying but i do think they must be aware that they are being unreasonable/unfair. its a question ive always wanted to know. at school i even summoned up the courage to ask a bully if they knew they were one. she just laughed in my face.

poshsinglemum Wed 21-Oct-09 18:57:18

I think that most are on some level unless they are just too thick or socially stunted to realise what they are doing.

If ytou are being bullied just think ''So and so is thick and socially stunted'' and rise above it or divorce.

Anniegetyourgun Wed 21-Oct-09 19:00:26

*other question I meant - about becoming a doormat - obviously.

totallyawesome Wed 21-Oct-09 19:05:14

Annie thanks for giving me your perspective. We may have married the same man. It's not me, is it? Horrifying to think there's more than one of them.

thanks to the others, too.

Jux Wed 21-Oct-09 19:08:01

I think they are genuinely unaware. IME bullies have absolutely no self-awareness. They live in their own little universe where they are totally rational and anyone who doesn't want exactly what they want is irrational and unreasonable. I really don't believe they have any idea.

Booooooooooyhoo Wed 21-Oct-09 20:06:14

jux, i agree. i think they believe everyone else is the problem

toftr Wed 21-Oct-09 21:13:49

hi totallyawesome, I totally relate to your description. I used to brace myself before a discussion as he'd make me feel ridiculous if my point of view differed from his. I even used to find myself fibbing about totally ridiculous things like spending £1.20 to use a car park rather than driving round to find a free parking space on the street as I knew he'd disapprove of the wasting money (we aren't poor, it's the principle for him hmm.

He used to hiss at me and raise his voice, and no, he didn't shout either. There were also lots of mean "jokes" aimed at me which I was supposed to find funny rather than upsetting.

If I ever wanted to do something I almost had to create a business case to justify it. Very very wearing.

Note all of these examples are in the past tense - hopefully it will stay that way now I'm divorcing him!!

Jux Wed 21-Oct-09 23:06:37

This has reminded me of an old boyfriend (not a boyfriend for long mind you). He told me that he had only in the last 3 years realised that he could ever be in a bad mood. Right up until then, he had always thought that there were just days when every one was just incredibly annoying; and then for some reason one day, realised that that was what being in a bad mood was!

He was a bit of a bully (well quite a lot of a bully).

Even with this major epiphany, he was still a wanker.

thesunshinesbrightly Wed 21-Oct-09 23:25:28

oh no, they never understand!!!

It's always our fault never their's.

therealme Wed 21-Oct-09 23:32:30

Yes I agree that it becomes second nature to 'work around them'. But in my experience this just 'happens' one day without you ever realising it!
When I look back on my newly ended marriage now, I can't work out when it was that I stopped being a bubbly, independent, career driven woman and turned into the 'scared to say no' doormat that I became.
When was the moment my ex stopped being a 'strong man with an individual mind' and starded being the controlling bully? It just crept up on me.
Certainly he would never see himself as a bully, god forgive! Even when faced with his actions in court he downplayed them, made excuses for them.
But that's his answer ~ his actions were justified, and he honestly believes that. It was, and still is, my fault as to why he behaved the way he did.

I turned into a doormat because I was left confused and guilt ridden most of my married life. He really had me brainwashed. He still thinks he is a superior being who can do no wrong hmm

SolidGhoulBrass Thu 22-Oct-09 00:00:34

Many male domestic bullies are moderately self-aware, but the issue is that they don't think women are actually people. So they will speak to their partners in a way they know perfectly well would get them punched or fired or arrested if they did it to other 'people' (eg other men or indeed women who, in their eyes, are the property of other men).
TRM, yes, your X thinks he is a superior being, superior to you because he has a willy.

Snorbs Thu 22-Oct-09 00:18:55

SGB, I agree that for some male bullies part of it is that they don't quite see women as "people".

Out of interest, what's your take on female bullies?

SolidGhoulBrass Thu 22-Oct-09 00:43:02

Snorbs: Female bullies are bullies ie they feel that they can and should get their own way and will use whatever means necessary. But female bullies do not have the same weight of past institutionalised 'superiority' to increase their feelings of entitlement, that male domestic bullies do. In the same way that people from ethnic minorities can be racist bullies if they are aggressive, selfish, self-righteous individuals, it's not quite the same as people who bully from a position of class privilege because they feel a sense of entitlement ie that the group they like to bully is one they have been led to believe is one inherently inferior to them.

kickassangel Thu 22-Oct-09 02:16:31

i think there's a difference between the kind of psychological/emotional bullying in adult relationships, and that of kids who physically pick on people.

i think the kids often do know, may even consciously decide to do it, and it is an easier issue to deal with.

however, the subtleties of reltionships can lead adults to be bullies when they never have been before, the thing is, they often believe that they ARE right, that what they are doing is for the best for everyone. that's why it's so hard to agrue against them. personally, i worry that i might be like this a bit. i like to run the household (dh not the kind just to give in, luckily), but worry that i won't let dd gain independence as she needs to. i know my parents found it hard to let me grow up & still wanted to organise me for far too long.

i'm hoping that just cos i'm confident that i AM right in how to raise dd, that i don't let that slip into ignoring her pov on things & dismissing her.

OrdinarySAHM Thu 22-Oct-09 09:26:51

The person who bullied me - he has said about women he abused "I didn't see them as someone's wife/sister/daughter/mother, I saw them as objects". He lacked empathy and that is what made him allow himself to hurt people, because he couldn't feel the guilt as much as someone who had empathy would.

It isn't only women he has mistreated so it isn't a totally sexist issue in his case. When he was having his intense feelings which he wanted to vent on others, his feelings were all he could think about. He was totally preoccupied with how crap he felt and there was no room for thinking about how he was making the other person feel in a sympathetic way.

I think that if he had felt that anyone cared about his feelings and if he had been taught as a child how to deal with his feelings appropriately so that they didn't build up into something 'evil', he would have been able to empathise with others and he wouldn't have done the things he has done. (That doesn't mean I excuse what he has done though, it just explains it.)

NicknameTaken Thu 22-Oct-09 11:34:06

Interesting question. My ex kept saying that I was controlling and abusing him, and it ended up really interfering with my sense of reality. I think sometimes he does really persuade himelf that this is so, and sometimes he's consciously knows that this is a strategy he uses to keep me off-balance.

Bullies think that their bullying is the victims fault for being so bullyable.

totallyawesome Thu 22-Oct-09 11:43:32

Nickname mind did that, too. I also had the avoiding admitting to paying for things like toftr mentioned.

Those of you who have lived with a bully and come out the other side what has it left you with? I left my ex 2 years ago and I'm still feeling the effects!angry

I find myself still sneaking off to do things for fear of not being "allowed" to do them. Nothing major, just stupid things like a day off for me. I'm super-sensitive to any comments made by others that could (at least in my head) sound like criticism.

I also have a few trust issues. My ex often used to tell me that I should stick with him because no-one else would ever be able to live up to my expectations.

It screws with your head so much.

Miggsie Thu 22-Oct-09 11:44:15

I have come across a few bullying men and they really really can't understand why their behaviour could ever possibly be wrong.
My friend's husband used to say "I can see you really have a problem. What is wrong with you?" when of course, the problem was HIM, but he never could see that.

Even now he goes rounds like a pathetic twit saying he "just can't understand how she could be so ungrateful."

Apparently us girls WANT our clothes burned, our table tops slashed with knives and our mouths stuffed with cotton wool during an argument.

So, I do not think they are self aware, it is a form of psychosis.

They also cannot change.
They are self blind, the same way some people are colour blind.

NicknameTaken Thu 22-Oct-09 11:59:15

"Apparently us girls WANT our clothes burned, our table tops slashed with knives and our mouths stuffed with cotton wool during an argument."

Dear God.

totally, I think this experience has definitely left its mark. I have no intention of getting into another relationship anytime soon, but I worry that I won't be able to handle anger in any future partners. I'm definitely far more conflict-averse than I used to be.

Lavenderfleurs Thu 22-Oct-09 12:03:04

I got a book called "Living with the Dominator" here by Pat Craven, fantastic book. I remember reading a full section out of that book the one on "The King of the Castle" (there should have been a picture of my ex next to it!) and until I read that my ex had no clue that what he was doing was abusive, he honestly believed that this was just how men behaved towards their wives, due to the fine example set by his a*sehole of a father no doubt. He was like this shock that his behaviour was so commonly recognised to be abusive and bullying that someone actually wrote a book about it.

DailyMailNameChanger Thu 22-Oct-09 12:23:59

I have a slightly different experience in that ex was not simply a bully as such although bullying was a part of the behaviour.

Basically he was a proper old fashioned "wrong-un" he would lie, cheat, steal, gamble, bully and so on. To the point where you could not believe a word he did or had ever said. He believed himself to be very good at his job but was awful, he stole from work and so on, lost accounts and customers left right and center. He would gamble but would destroy all evidence. He would tell enough of a truth about anything that he could not be said to be lieing but it was a different part to every person. He would deny things when the evidence was in his face.

He lost jobs but it was someone elses fault or he didn't like it there so he "walked out" (despite the fact the boss had rung me and told me he was going to be sacked that day). He didn't have a gambling problem "show me the evidence" - well the bookie knows you by name, knows me and the dc by name and knows how you take your coffee...Bullying, his form was the sulking and emotional blackmail.

The thing is, he was totally plausable, when I divorced him no-one understood why, even freinds he had stolen from couldn't understand it. The reason - I feel - is that he totally, 100% believed everything he said, he always meant it when he said it. He did not believe he was stealing because he made the books balance each day, believed he did not gamble a lot because he never had a racing paper or a betting slip. He believed he was not a bully because he did not shout.

In short, no, I don't think they do become aware. Occasionally they will modify behaviour but usually because they are making a concession to you not because they have opened their eyes IYSWIM.

Mine did much worse things than the above so I have not had to deal with the above behaviour as such because I have been dealing with the other stuff IYSWIM but I am now several years single, yes it still affects me and I am different. I do spend a lot of time watching people getting taken in by him and wonder if it is my direct responsibility to try to stop it and how and how long for. It is a bit pointless though as no-one ever believes me until it is all too late. On the surface he is one of the worlds good guys!

Miggsie Thu 22-Oct-09 12:35:18

I find the plausability thing scarey.
My friend with the bonkers DH who slashed her table top for instance appeared utterly utterly normal in any social situ and I was TOTALLY gobsmacked when she told me what was really going on, and I saw the slashed table top etc.
He knew what was expected in public and was toally plausible and "normal". He modified his behaviour in public so he could be sociable and admired by friends.

Conversely, I had a friend and her DH was a loon and it was fairly obvious in social situations when he started saying "you just can't let women out of the house on their own you can't trust them" in front of friends. He thought that was normal and that all men did that.

Not sure which is worse, but obviously they are/were both appalling.

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