Parents can be bullies too
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Toby Ingham MA UKCP BAPPS
29th May, 2009
“I realize my mother is a bully,” says a woman I’ll call Carol. “There was a talk about bullying at my daughter’s school, and it dawned on me that the behaviour the teacher was describing referred very clearly to my mother.”
We think of bullying as being something that happens to children, but it’s not always like that. Some people grow up being picked on and bullied by an angry parent. Home is a playground a child can’t leave, being bullied by a parent can blight your life.
As adults, we tend to make excuses for our badly behaved parents. We put up with things from our parents because we don’t think we can do anything else about it. As we get older the way family members treat us tends to form what feels like an invisible, but restrictive framework around us. We can feel a bit hemmed in by certain behaviours that we might object to from other people, but live with anyway. We have become so used to being treated badly that we don’t know anything else.
Carol says “it is not uncommon for my mother to be really very rude to me. She sometimes hangs up the phone when we are mid conversation which I find very unpleasant. I used to think there was something wrong with me, that I was being too sensitive. But now I can see that my eldest daughter finds her grandmother’s behaviour rather difficult and aggressive too, and that actually makes me feel a bit more confident. I don’t know what I can do about it?”
If you have grown up being bullied by a parent it is likely that your confidence won’t be the same as someone who grow up in a more supportive family environment. In this instance it sounds like Carol has felt vulnerable and alone in her experience of her mother, and that having her daughter agree with her has been a real relief. At last, someone agrees with her, and that means that there night be less wrong with Carol than she thought. Her mother is very difficult and her daughter thinks so too.
For Carol this change might be very significant, finally someone has confirmed what she has long wondered about. Hearing her daughter’s teacher’s comments have helped her think more about this. Carol has gained a valuable insight into the way her family life works. If she can find ways to continue to develop strength and belief in her own ideas, to see herself not as the person who has got it wrong, but the person who can see bad behaviour for what it is, she might be onto something big.
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