Bully Pulpit

17 Apr

Dear LetterBalm: My dad is a malicious bully. He’s verbally abusive to his family and friends and has belittled and mocked me all my life. I’m in my 40s now, and, with the help of therapy, I am beginning to understand why he does what he does. My shrink has helped me realize that I have the power to stop him. She suggests standing up to him and cutting him off verbally when he starts in. I understand all this, but I’m feeling insecure and a little scared. He’s pretty intimidating. What can I say to him to deflect his hurtful words?

–Sticks and Stones

Your therapist made an excellent suggestion. Bullies thrive on intimidation; their noise and bluster help them keep the upper hand. You are in a prime position to bring your dad down a few notches (and, maybe, be a bit of a hero to your long-suffering family). Ms. L.B. suggests you practice phrases in front of a mirror. Learn some breathing exercises to keep you centered and calm and not prone to raising your voice – the last thing you want is to get into a shouting match with a veteran intimidator. Keep in mind the adage: All cruelty springs from weakness. In the actual situation, wait for a moment of quiet and try any of these on for size, then decide whether you leave the room or hang up the phone immediately:

  • I won’t allow you to speak to me like that.
  • If you can’t speak to me politely, I will stop this conversation right now.
  • That’s very rude, and you need to back off.
  • Your behavior is unacceptable, and I’m leaving right now.
  • If you can’t be respectful, I’m ending this conversation immediately.
  • I reject your cruel and malicious behavior towards me.
  • Your behavior is shameful, and I won’t listen to you anymore.
  • You have hurt your entire family and a legion of friends who don’t deserve it. You need to back off.
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