Bully Behavior – Feigning Victimhood

Before a bully can use the tactic of playing the victim with interpersonal bullying (between BFFs, in dating relationships, or in committed partnerships/marriages) the first goal of the bully is to isolate the target.

Early in the relationship the target receives overly expressive love. 

But then he will want her sole attention. Generally it starts with distancing the target from her support network. The bully will jealously question the target about prior relationships, family, friendships and separate communication she has with others.

The bully prefers staying home instead of socializing.

He begins criticizing the target’s friends or family or co-workers. He starts arguments or claims illness or depression to keep the target from going out on her own or needs space.

When socializing is unavoidable or the bully’s persuasion to stay home doesn’t work the bully can behave badly at events involving the target’s support network to embarrass her so that she begins refusing invitations.

Once the target’s access to her support network has been severed or severely diminished, the bully will start working on destroying the target’s self-esteem. He will begin forming side relationships often with people he formerly criticized afterward telling the target that her friends (which have now become acquaintances) talk about her, make fun of her or hate her all the while boosting himself higher in the process.

Once the target breaks free from the bully the smear campaign ramps up so the target can not find a safe network. In order for this to work the bully needs to elicit sympathy from the target’s former relationships which he’s been cultivating behind her back.

A friend or romantic partner who cares about you and loves you will NOT distance you from your other relationships or monopolize your time. If you find you’re in a relationship with someone who does any of the above it is a red flag. Sometimes the warning signs are hard to see because the bully will often use flattery to convince you (‘I love spending time getting to know you – just the two of us.’ ‘I just think you should know because you don’t deserve to be treated this way.’ etc.)

Feigning victimhood: The bully feigns victimhood by manipulating people through their emotions, especially guilt. Expect to hear phrases like:

  • I’m the one being bullied here;
  • I am deeply offended;
  • If it wasn’t for me, she would not be… ;
  • You don’t know how hard it is for me;
  • I’m the one whose under stress;
  • She thinks she’s having a hard time…;
  • After all I have done for her…;
  • etc

Feigned victimhood can include bursting into tears (which is guaranteed to make people uncomfortable and lead to a comfort break or even an end to the discussion), displays of indulgent self-pity, feigning indignation, pretending to be “devastated” or “deeply offended”, being histrionic, playing the martyr and generally trying to make others feel sorry for them – a “poor-me” melodrama.

Other tactics include manipulating people’s perceptions to portray themselves as the injured party, with their target being the villain. The bully may respond to a difficult challenge by claiming to be suffering stress.

As with denial and retaliation, feigning victimhood allows the bully to avoid answering the question and thus avoid accepting responsibility for what they have said or done. This pattern of behavior was learned at a very early age and while most children grow out of it by the time they start school, some do not, and by the time they become adults, it is a well practiced strategy.

Feigned Victimhood should be responded to as with retaliation: i.e. not responding to the substance of the poor-me drama, but the fact of it. Respond to the intent, not the content. Targets should endeavor not to be moved by, feel sorry for, feel guilty about or get angry about the bully’s histrionics, but instead should respond by pointing out that the it is a predictable continuation of the bullying, and insist that the feigned victimhood is added to the target’s original complaint of bullying.

Source: Tim Field 

As a children’s entertainer I speak about bullying and how to stop it. I research the topic, study the animal world for inspiration and use my childhood experiences. I tell kids bullying isn’t just a middle or high-school problem. It can start in young kids and adults bully too.  By shining a spotlight on examples of adult bullying it’s easy to see that it’s not much different from when kids do it because the behavior learned in childhood wasn’t corrected (and maybe even encouraged). SILENCE allows bullying to continue. 

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