Benefits of Group

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Some of these are general benefits of being in a group, some are specific to the design of the Circle of Healing groups, and some are benefits various members have experienced. Counseling cannot promise any specific benefit as there are so many variables involved and each person is different.

Get Witnessed: Getting heard without condemnation is healing.

Hear the ideas of others and witness their stories.

Gain self-acceptance from appreciating the struggles and challenges of others in somewhat similar situations.

Decrease negative self-talk and increase self-compassion. Learn specific skills to reduce self-talk. And as you learn to appreciate and admire other group members, you can no longer be as harsh with yourself (as you would not be harsh with them).

Reduce or heal depression. Reduce anxiety.

Begin to Separate your identity from the abuser and the abuse.

Put some of your memories to rest through trauma/stress resolution.

Get support for healing from emotional or other abuse, get support during a difficult divorce, or recovery from a difficult break-up/divorce.

Learn ways to calm the mindbody. Think of it as a reset for setting your internal clock back to a state of greater relaxation, readiness, ease, and increased reserves of energy.

Learn skills for dealing with emotional abuse. The Group setting is an efficient way of teaching skills.

Learn how to select potential mates that are not abusive.

Make “moving forward decisions,” like leaving an abusive relationship, going back to school, taking a better job, etc.

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

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Dr. Sue Johnson and her colleagues pioneered Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a therapy that is successful with as high as 70% of couples. Note that Dr. Johnson states that EFT does not work with “abusive relationships.” She describes 3 common “demon dialogues” that create problems that require counseling: The point of this blog is to help differentiate some of the types of relationships are not suited for couples counseling, even with a therapy as successful as EFT.

Note that these “demon dialogues” include emotional abuse. For example, the demon dialogue that she describes as “Find the Bad Guy” is the shame and blame game, which is emotionally abusive. In the Protest Polka, there is critism and withdrawal, and in Freeze and Flee, both partners have emotionally withdrawn. So when does the emotional abuse in a relationship require a different approach? The dividing line that I have found useful is that there is a pervasive pattern of psychological abuse. In other words, there are a number of different types of emotional abuse used by at least one partner in a frequent or relentless way. (See types of Emotional Abuse:

If one partner is addicted, there is often a pattern of Gaslighting in an attempt to hide the addiction. In order to heal the relationship, the addiction must be addressed. Sometimes the pervasive pattern of abuse dissipates once the addiction is in remission, and sometimes it escalates. Sometimes a pattern of emotional abuse in an addicted family system persists because at least one party never learned how to fight fair or the addicted family system needs to heal. These two scenarios are dynamics that couples and family counseling can often improve.

However, if a pervasive pattern of emotional abuse persists, a couple is better served by each party getting their own counseling, at least until there is significant progress by the abusing partner(s).  Abusers tend to manipulate the counseling session to scapegoat their partner in couples counseling and the abuse may escalate (often after counseling sessions when the counselor is not present to observe). In this aspect, these emotionally abusive relationships are very similar to other forms of domestic violence.

In fact, if there is a pattern of coercive control, there is a risk of physical violence when the abused partner leaves, even when there has been no previous physical abuse. Couples counseling may feed an emotional abuser’s internal and external dialogue that his/her partner is the cause of the abuser’s distress. The abusive party needs to deal with his or her own internal defenses that are abusive – it is not just a communication problem or a case of normal attachment needs going unmet.  And it is important to have a feedback loop with the primary counselor of the abusive partner with the abused partner to insure that the changes the primary counselor sees in his/her client are being carried over into the couple’s relationship.

Unfortunately, too many abusers refuse to go to counseling or drop out prematurely. Recovery is a slow, gradual process when it does occur. While all of the above mentioned patterns can lead to relationship dissolution, couples counseling is dangerous when there is physical abuse or a pervasive pattern of emotional abuse.

It is important to address the needs of the abused partner. Often, there is so much focus on the abusive partner and his/her intensive needs, that the very real needs and welfare of the abused party are neglected. Long-term emotionally abusive relationships can impair psychological health, resulting in depression and/or an anxiety disorder, as well as have health consequences to the rest of the body, creating illness and reducing vitality and longevity.  While the good news is that there is a couples therapy, EFT, that is wildly successful with a majority of couples, couples therapy in general is unsafe with some emotionally abusive couples.

Beliefs Prejudicial toward the Abused in Abusive Relationships

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cartoon couple with telescopeOne of the problems people have who have grown up with emotionally abusive parenting or who have lived with an emotionally abusive partner is that when they try to describe their experiences to others, people think that they are exaggerating. Others will try to normalize the abused person’s suffering, saying that everyone loses their temper occasionally. Much of our popular psychology advice addresses relatively normal problems between people. Even family and couple’s counseling addresses emotional abuse as a matter of problems that gradually escalated out of hand over time, whereas, when one party is an emotional abuser and personality disordered, the abuse suddenly escalates after the other partner has been swept off their feet and the “honeymoon” phase is over.  For someone with an emotionally abusive partner or parent, the abuse can be relentless and/or over-the-top and out-of-proportion every time the abuser is upset. If a person hasn’t experienced it, it is highly difficult to imagine.

Another caveat of family and couple’s counseling that fails people with emotionally abusive partnering is the die-hard conviction that people in a relationship are equally sick. And sometimes that is true. And often, it is not. Subconsciously, people with personality disorders sometimes seek partners who are highly flexible and highly patient and good-natured. They have uses for these traits and can readily manipulate their partners’ benevolence toward tolerating their rigidity and self-centered insistence that others tolerate their difficult moods and need to control.

While the abused may be “too good for their own good,” that is a far cry from being personality disordered. Often the abused partners in these relationships are highly functional, but somewhat uncertain of themselves and their boundaries after growing up with a highly critical or otherwise abusive parent. The abused partner often has worked hard on themselves and has all or most of the basic skills needed to maintain a satisfying relationship, but are partnered to someone whose disorder makes it impossible to maintain a healthy relationship. In counseling, an abuser may present charming, flummoxed, or may perfectly model the role playing exercise prescribed by the therapist in session, only to berate their partner all the way home. With counseling, emotionally abused partners in my practice go on to find much more loving partners after leaving their abusive partner. All too often, abusers drop out of counseling and go on to find another victim or someone who is also personality disordered.

These are not patterns that would be predicted by the theory that both parties in a relationship are equally dysfunctional. Yes, everyone has issues, but that is far different from equally disordered. A common complication is that the abused party in an abusive relationships often develops an anxiety and/or depressive disorder due to the stress of the relationship. Both courts and counselors may target the abused as the problem, ignoring the personality disordered person who presents well because they have developed intense defenses like being super charming, highly skilled at lying, being highly resolute, etc. (and have unloaded all of their stress on their partner and/or their children).  Counselors and the court system need to become more sophisticated about the dynamics of abusive relationships, including emotionally abusive relationships. Otherwise both the mental health field and the legal system collude in enabling abusers and persecuting the abused.

Gifts for Yourself

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Presents to Give Yourself all Year Long

Ideas for using the list:
  • Ours is a work driven and plugged in culture. We need stress breaks or mini vacations to replenish ourselves. Taking time for ourselves increases enjoyment of life and boosts energy and creativity. Have you ever noticed that some of your best ideas come when you are not working?
  • Add ideas of your own. Be sure to include activities you enjoy, but rarely give yourself permission to do.
  • This is a PG rated list. Add some sexy items.
  • Color code with markers into categories: O-15 minute vacations; 20 minutes – 1 hour vacations; a couple of hours; long vacations.
  • Frame, or keep mini cheat sheet in your wallet or purse.
Walk or bike or skate instead of ride.
Blow up a balloon and use it as a toy.
Make something.
Give yourself a complement.
Search out a long lost friend.
Read a poem aloud.
Look at the stars.
Visit someone who needs company.
Use a new word.
Open up to the closest person to you.
Frame a picture or have it framed.
Forget an old grudge.
Have a picnic.
Help a stranger.
Go to the library.
Try a new food.
Be thankful.
Read a magazine article.
Take a risk.
Listen to the rain on the roof.
Wade through a pile of leaves.
Plant a tree.
Say, “I love you.”
Hold a hand.
Take a rainy day nap.
Take a nap in the sunshine.
Listen to what you hear.
Sign up for a class.
Do something you have wanted to do.
Get a massage.
Contact someone who has been on your mind.
Say, “YES!”
Learn something new.
Surprise a child.
Hug someone.
List 10 things that you do well.
Throw away something that you don’t like.
Watch a construction crew at work.
Say, “No.”
Curl up with a blanket, a book, and hot cocoa.
Buy a ticket to a special event.
Return something that you have borrowed.
Organize some small corner of your life.
Try to feel a person’s hurt or joy.
Pop popcorn.
Turn off the screen and talk.
Listen to birds.
Admire the beauty of dew.
Draw a picture, even if you “can’t” draw.
Keep a secret.
Practice courage in one small way.
Warm a heart.
Laugh at yourself.
Enjoy silence.
Walk to the nearest park.
Break a bad habit, if just for today.
Get to know the neighbor’s cat or dog.
Bake bread.
Go wading.
Light candles in glass and do an enjoyable activity.
Pick up a travel book and dream.
Smell a flower.
Send a card to someone for no reason.
Kiss someone.
Clean out your wallet.
Watch the sunrise.
Watch the sunset.
Tell someone how much s/he is appreciated.
Look at old photos.
Encourage a young person.
Follow an impulse.
Ask a grieving person to share stories.
Talk to your pet.
Roll down a hill.
Write a poem or story.
Start a new project.
Finish an old project.
Walk barefoot.
Extend yourself for someone.
Tell a joke.
Take a different route.
Acknowledge when you are wrong.
Volunteer for a favorite cause.
Buy yourself a present.
Build a sandcastle.
Have breakfast in bed.
Let someone do you a favor.
Reread a favorite book.
Give your cat some catnip.
Allow yourself to make a mistake.
Hide a love note where the loved one will find it.
Lie on a blanket on the grass.
Take time to talk to children in the neighborhood.
Go for a swim.
Do something hard to do.
Wool gather. Stare into space.
Rearrange a room.
Relax and listen to music and nothing else.
Do a random act of kindness.

©2014 Noreen Wedman

Abusive Political Tactics resemble the Tactics of Emotional Abusers

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A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation. – James Freeman Clarke

It is an apt time to discuss the tactics of abusers, including political abusers. With climate change and ocean acidification looming in our future with an ever narrowing time frame in which to react, it is urgent that we be able to identify abusers in the public arena and cease electing them to public office. Knowledge of the dynamics of abuse is a start:

Abusers wear their opponents down by being unfairly Relentless, Rigid and Repetitive. The goal of emotional abusers is to confuse people, even members of their own party or household. They intuitively know that all they have to do is to create doubt to immobilize resistance.

Abusers play head games. They engage in and promote all or nothing thinking. A particularly nefarious head game is entrapping others in Catch-22 situations, often utilizing cultural mores for destructive means.

Abusers insinuate that you have major character flaws or have violated ethical principles without giving specific examples or by giving examples that are relatively insignificant. Their communication tends to remain in the abstract, but the inference is that you are bad or have done something really bad. Abusers harp on a minor complaint as if it were a big deal. Abusers traffic in innuendo.

Abusers make it difficult or impossible for you to do something, and then complain when it doesn’t get done or raise the bar when you succeed against the odds. An abuser is never satisfied – that is not the goal. The goal is to keep you off balance and playing by their rules by continually discrediting you.

Abusers adamantly protest that something isn’t true if the truth doesn’t serve their goals. The truth rarely supports their goals. An abuser will swear up and down that they haven’t done something when they have.

Abusers Lie as a tool of manipulation and control. Lies can take several forms:

  • Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
  • Bluff and Bluster
  • Obfuscate with word salad
  • Double Speak: Use lofty sounding principles using code that has a different and specialized meaning relative to their own psychological make-up, or in the case of politicians, their own political group. In other words, what is spoken is not what is meant in normal parlance. It has a secondary meaning or purpose.
  • Say one thing, do another. Politicians make use of the fact that Americans rarely follow any issue consistently.
  • Lie Blatantly.
  • Use the exception to prove the rule.
  • Make arrogant comments.
  • Debates facts, like Climate Change, as if they were opinions
  • Rapid fire, sentences or short phrases (incomplete ideas).
  • Braggadocio

Abusers are often Economically abusive. One glaring political example is the shaming of poor people after the Great Recession. Abusive politicians worked in concert with economic power brokers to set up an economic system like a row of dominoes, and then blamed the dominoes when they fell.  Abusers blame the victim for the mess that the abusers themselves orchestrated. Economic abusers hide resources, lie about finances, steal, cheat, and mishandle resources.

Abusers violate their agreements and the basis for the relationship. ALEC, an alternative legislative process has been established by corporations, acting outside of the constitution. This is the political equivalent of leading a double life.

Abusers have no tolerance for mistakes by you, but claim laxity for themselves. For them the Double Standard is the Golden Rule. They don’t play fair and live by their own set of Rules.

Abusers equate the inequitable. You do It too! This common tactic ignores that fact that the abuser does it to a much greater extent. Since everyone makes mistakes, there is often a smidgeon of truth to what they say, but it is a truth stretched to the max.

Abusers refuse reasonable compromises and insist on unreasonable compromises. Then they complain that you won’t compromise. Abusers will accuse you of the thing that they are doing. If you hold them accountable for their bullying ways, they will complain that they are being bullied.

Note that failing in an earnest attempt at improving the common good is not abusive. Also note that occasional abuses do not an abuser make. Abusers engage in a pervasive pattern of multiple abuses.

Abusers have no intentions of fixing problems because problems serve their dysfunctional goals. Abusers obstruct if they don’t get their way. In families and the culture at large, abusers create conditions that promote physical, emotional, and environmental illness. It is time to learn to recognize bullies, rather than elect them.

©Noreen Wedman 2014

Noreen Wedman is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, WA. Ms. Wedman has been registered or licensed to practice counseling in Washington state for 24 years. She is author of a Toolkit for Healing from Verbally Abusive Relationships and author of the forthcoming Journal for Healing from Emotionally Abusive Relationships.

Domestic Violence Risk Factors for Lethality or Severe Injury

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Risk Assessment for Lethality in Domestic Violence Cases

  1. Leaving an Abusive partner
  2. Leaving an Abusive partner for another partner
  3. Stalking: One Study indicated that 76% percent of female intimate partner murder victims had reported being stalked to the police.[1]
  4. Rape or other forms of Forced Sex[2]
  5. Intimate partner physical assault
  6. Threats to Kill
  7. Prior Attempts to Strangle
  8. Escalating Physical Violence over Time
  9. Threatening partner with a knife or a gun
  10. Multiple forms of abuse
  11. Presence of firearm in the house
  12. Threatening to shoot pet or person the victim cares about
  13. Cleaning, holding, or loading a gun during an argument or during time when tension is high
  14. Firing a gun during an argument
  15. Short Courtships
  16. Male abuser not the father of children in the household
  17. Abuse during pregnancy
  18. Use of Illegal Drugs[3]
  19. Estrangement from a controlling partner
  20. Separating from an abusive partner after living with them, especially If abusive partner is highly controlling
  21. Highly controlling partner
  22. Injury to family pet [4]

Risk Markers for Severe Injury

  1. Alcohol or other drug use
  2. Intermittent Employment or Recent Unemployment

In all domestic violence cases, there is a significant overlap of domestic violence and other criminality, both violent and non violent.



  1. Under optimal conditions, with prompt response by officials and continued oversight, a prior arrest for a domestic violence charge can have an inhibiting effect.
  2. Having never cohabitated with partner.
  3. Electronic Monitoring of Abuser[5]


[1] McFarlane, J., J. Campbell, and S. Wilt. “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide.” Homicide Studies 3(4) (November 1999): 300-316, NCJ 179872.

[2] National Institute of Justice. “Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges.” (Published April 2009):

[3] Jacquelyn C. Campbell, PhD, RN, et al. “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study,”(2003 July; 93(7): 1089–1097, Am J Public Health.

[4] Danger Assessment,

[5] Connecticut restores a program that used GPS to track high-risk domestic-violence offenders

Changing the Focus

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A big part of healing is Changing the Focus. One of the challenges of responding to Emotional Abuse and recovering from Emotional Abuse is that Verbal abuse and other forms of emotional abuse focus the mind on the negative. In psychological terms, the emotional abuse orients the brain toward negativity. Some of the goals of emotional abuse are to throw you off balance, stun or shame you, or transfer blame. The solution involves reorienting, whether it’s responding differently to an emotional attack or recovering from a history of emotional abuse.

In this blog, I’d like to focus recovery by giving a few tips for Creating Shift from a history of emotional abuse. (A ToolKit for Healing covers responding to Verbal Abuse in detail.) Yes, the brain Is wired to respond to dangerous signals. It is also wired toward advantage and, in social creatures, toward sharing with others to benefit the whole, although the later habit usually also involves socialization. These brain habits can be diminished through lack of recovery from emotional abuse and repetitive emotional abuse. gratitude is the hearts memory

Reorientlng from emotional abuse involves recovering the habit of wellbeing, of being at ease in one’s skin. When one is able to reorient, one recovers at sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. Here are some activities to practice on a regular basis:

Cultivate the habit of breathing deeply and evenly.

  • Make a list of all the positive things that anyone has ever said about you. Update it regularly. “Take it out and review it whenever you feel stuck or down. Ask yourself, “Which one of these attributes would be most beneficial for me to embody now?” “What is the best way for me to embody this attribute(s) now?” “What essence(s) are revealed in these comments?” (Essences are qualities like Love, Peace, Wholeness, Joy, Serenity, Value, Truth, Power, Wisdom, Intelligence, Clarity, Creativity, Awe, Courage, Freedom and Presence.)
  • Every night before you go to sleep, list 10 things that you enjoyed and appreciated about the day (or about your life). This practice helps with low grade anxiety that is interfering with sleep. If your mind tends to gravitate toward the problems in your life without finding solutions that trigger a sense of ease, this exercise is especially important for you.
  • Learn to appreciate and accept complements. Breathe in the complement, smile, and say, “Thanks!” If there is a detail about whatever was complemented, say it. For instance, if an article of clothing is complemented, you might add, “It’s my favorite color.” Accepting complements is part of getting the good of life. And it’s also about connecting with others. People get stuck on whether they agree with the complement (especially if they are feeling out of sorts), and neglect the fact that receiving a complement means someone is trying to connect with you.
  • A way to physical reorient from trauma in general is to look around and focus on physical objects that you find attractive or soothing. Focus on the details of one and then another, and then another, until you feel calm and centered. Your heart has stopped racing, your mind has stopped racing, the butterflies have stopped fluttering, your breathing is easy and relaxed, and your muscles are loose or have at least released their tight grip.

These are just a few ways of Changing the Focus and Creating Shift. What are yours?


Extra Difficult Divorces

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What makes highly difficult relationship dissolutions extra difficult?

divorce heart lamp clockProtracted. Reasonable people attempt to get through a divorce as efficiently as possible and with as little drama as possible. They often seek mediation. An abusive person often continues to abuse their partner through the divorce process regardless of whether mediation or the court system is involved.

Abusive partners will use the divorce process to punish their partner economically. Examples are delaying signing financial documents, hiding financial documents, sabotaging the sale of the home, pressuring their partner to sign a financial document that is not in their best interests, etc. are a few examples of economic abuse tactics used by abusive partners.  Prolonging the Divorce unnecessarily and pecayune tangents is a common way of economically punishing the other partner, even though both suffer.

Protracted custody battles. The abusive partner fights for sole custody of the chidren to get revenge on the other parent, who is the more nurturing and constructive of the two parents. Triangulation of the children – putting children in the middle is common. This does not mean that parents who ask for sole custody are abusive – many are legitimately trying to protect their children from physical, sexual, and psychological harm. Nor does it mean that parents who attempt to help their children process feelings about abusive behavior are triangulating. There are ways to do this that focus on the behavior and the child’s feelings, but don’t bad mouth the other parent. These parents usually enlist professional help for their children if they can afford it.

Abusive partners lie about their partners blatantly, but often present better in person than their partner (who may present confused, uncertain, depressed or anxious due to the chronic stress of living with an abusive person). Court officials, counselors, guardians ad litem, etc. can be swayed by the abuser’s charm. Their arrogance sometimes passes as confidence.

Abusive partners stalk their estranged partners, physically or via technology and the court system.

Abusive partners may physically threaten or physically abuse their partners.

Abusive partners refuse to be reasonable and make unreasonable demands in ways that are unusual, even for a divorce.

And of course, when both parties are abusive as a style of relating, a highly contentious divorce will result. Note that when even one party is personality disordered, divorces usually get very contentious. The abused party often has to “fight” very hard for the welfare of the children and basic financial security. A mistaken belief is that if a divorce is contentious, both parties are equally at fault or equally dysfunctional. Abusers can be male or female.

Length of time of the relationship – Gray Divorces usually involved complex separation of property and emotions.

If you are in involved in a difficult divorce, it’s important to assemble a profesional support team, including an emotional support team.


Questioning Your Relationship? Red Flags

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(Note: Published originally on by Noreen Wedman 2008, published now with updates)

Do you find yourself questioning your relationship? Counseling can help resolve relationship issues or help you sort out whether it is better for you to leave the relationship. Although the list is written using the word partner, many of the problems signal serious problems in any significant relationship.
1. There is a pattern of sexual, emotional, physical, or financial abuse. Any sexual or physical abuse in a relationship is a signal that counseling is urgently needed.
2. Your self-esteem has deteriorated as a result of being in this relationship.
3. Your relationship feels like a contest, battlefield, or some other interminable game.
4. Nothing you do seems to please your partner.
5. You don’t have fun together.
6. You don’t feel respected or don’t respect your partner.
7. Issues don’t get resolved in a way that brings you closer together.
8. S/he maintains that the problems in the relationship are mainly your fault, yet you are usually the one on the receiving end of the abuse or both of you are abusive.
9. Your partner refuses go to counseling or work on his/her issues.
10. You don’t enjoy talking with your partner.
11. Your children are traumatized by your relationship.
12. Infidelity is not a deathblow to a relationship, but it is important to resolve it. It may indicate some problem with the relationship, a sexual addiction, or a childhood trauma/abandonment issue.
13. Sexless relationship. Physical intimacy is important to a healthy partner relationship.
14. Major problems like addiction and personality disorders will destroy a relationship without major intervention. If you have spent years with a person who is chemically dependent or very difficult, and s/he still hasn’t changed, it may be time to consider how much more you are willing to invest.
15. Your child is being abused by your partner.
16. You fantasize about injuring or murdering your partner or wish your partner were dead. You fantasize about Divorce or your spouse threatens you with divorce (whether they seem serious or not).
17. Some life events often require counseling for successful negotiation of the life passage in a way that keeps the relationship intact. Examples include death of a child, serious illness, or loss of a job.Sometimes these issues get resolved. Sometimes, the issues become destroy the relationship. If your relationship has even one of the above issues, you have probably done some serious procrastination. It is time to resolve the issues or move on in as honorable a way as possible (or, in the case of leaving some abusers, with as little damage as possible).
You may wish to see an Individual Counselor to sort out if it is even safe for you to try couples counseling if there is significant abuse in the relationship. Either Individual or Couples Counseling can help you sort out whether the relationship is salvageable, although resolving Couples Issues best benefit by a combination of Couples and Individual Counseling. Resolving problems of interrelating requires couples counseling. Sometimes the problem is that one or both parties have a significant mental health issue, which requires Individual counseling to manage. Couples or Family counseling can help relatives manage and cope with the process of healing to increase the likelihood of success. If there is physical or sexual violence, or a pattern of emotional abuse in the relationship, it is safer and sometimes more effective for both parties to get Individual Counseling until a pattern of safety has been established in the relationship. One big cue that Individual Counseling is warranted is if you answer, “Yes,” to the question, “Are you afraid of your partner or spouse?”

Negotiating with Bullies: Why our belief in give and take fails us

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We are taught from the time we are young to share and share alike. We are taught to play fair and negotiate and cooperate so that everyone gets what they need and no one is left out. Somehow, bullies, including emotionally abusive adults, learn another lesson. They learn that if they ask for more than what is fair, more than what they deserve, that they will often get their way if they are adamant. Meanwhile the other person loses while getting some fake token compromise.  Meeting a bully halfway doesn’t work because they have asked for way more than is fair and they will still get what they want – often at your expense.

Bullies don’t discuss or negotiate – they control. Besides insisting on more than what is fair, they have other strategies. They may add an innocous exception, which they latter use to justify breaking a part or all of the agreement. Or they may flat out refuse to honor an agreement, arguing the they thought you meant something else or that they remembered the agreement differently.  Just the negotiation involved in everyday boundary setting and problem solving with a spouse or partner who bullies  is fraught with frustration.

The average person cannot conceive of the extreme need for protection behind the insatiable demands of a bully. It can be demands for anything – power, money, sex, fame, time, etc. They don’t negotiate fairly because they have learned that their strategy works and because they’re terrified of the vulnerability of losing. AND, they recognize your weaknesses:  your tendency to assume that the other person has good intentions and your penchant for being overly fair and agreeable, which the bully is highly skilled at manipulating. They also know your penchant for self-doubt and how to manipulate it.

Bullies are also skilled in the manipulation of the public’s idea of fairness. Bullies try to make you look unfair and have no qualms about accusing you of being unreasonable when it is they who are unreasonable.  They know your fear of confrontation because relying on your fear has been a survival strategy for them. Survival for the bully means besting others, which is way more effective for getting what they want than the victim’s strategy of just getting by. But you don’t have to have a history of abuse to be cheated by a bully. It’s just worse for you if you’ve haven’t healed your victim strategies. Bullies bully and don’t negotiate because it rewards them immensely. It “works” for them, at least in the short run, but it harms others.

And if all else fails, the bully will retaliate unfairly. A fear of confrontation is costly when dealing with a bully. Plus, with their relentlessness, for the sake of peace and quiet, many people living with bullies relent more than they know is right. They also pick and chose their battles, which is not an unreasonable survival strategy. In order to confront a bully, you have to steal yourself for the consequences. They will accuse you of being the selfish one. While that feels deeply personal, it is mostly a manipulative survival strategy. They may punish you in a variety of ways, and it is important to be prepared for that reality. It will be unpleasant for awhile and keep an eye out for your long term goals. (Of course, if they are physically dangerous, it is important to plan an exit strategy.)

 At the beginning of the Chapter Verbal Self-Defense in A ToolKit for Healing, there is this guideline:

One doesn’t argue. One doesn’t explain. One doesn’t negotiate. It’s about setting boundaries and serving notice that you will not tolerate abuse.

As long as you are explaining yourself to the bully, as long as you are dealing with the literal content and not the context of what they are saying, and as long as you are trying to negotiate as if you are dealing with someone negotiating in good faith, you will be ineffective in dealing with bullies. They will know that you are not wise to their game, which automatically gives them the winning cards. Bullies have to be held accountable.

With bullies, you need to start by calling them on their game – calling them on their tactics and unfairness and manipulation – that is to say call them on exactly what they are doing. Describe the game. Be prepared for their ridicule or to turn and be sweetly or deceptively manipulative. Then you have to be adamant and stick to your truth. This is calling game is up: “We are not playing that game anymore.” When you negotiate with them, there is a line that you must not cross – Insist on fairness. Initially, when you negotiate, you will probably have to ask for far more than is reasonable or that you could hope for. Match their outrageousness with outrage at their selfishness, their brazenness with bravery, their implacability with firmness, and their rigidity with diligence for what is right. In addition to boundary setting, you may also have to make more unilateral decisions than you would wish for in a relationship for your own sanity and well-being. Bullies will accuse you of being unfair. Don’t buy it. It is for your own good and their own good.

Humans have let bullies rule for a long time. We elect bullies to political office and hire them as CEOs, mistaking their brazenness for strength and their cunning for wisdom. They well know how to use the masses. But fortunately, the masses grew up believing in being fair. Bringing the case to the public for goodness and fairness can be used to stem their power. Bullies can be emotionally, economically, sexually and physically violent: Sometimes you have to call for reinforcements because they are difficult and dangerous to deal with alone.

©Noreen Wedman, M.S. 2013