Is my friend a bully?
Dear Alison and Tony: I am a 40-something single woman who has been friends with “Sally,” another single woman about my age, for the past five years. I enjoyed the friendship at first, but then Sally started to get too close, calling me every night and leaving dozens of messages on my voicemail. I also began to notice that Sally seemed to put me down all the time. At first she made fun of my taste in clothes, which I kind of laughed off. But then she began putting down my relationships with other friends, and ridiculing my job as not being “serious work” (I’m a massage therapist). Initially I thought she was just having a stressful time. The last straw was last night. She yelled at me when I didn’t agree with her and called me “stupid.” I tried to ask her what’s going on to make her so critical and angry, but she refused to talk about it. I have come to rely on Sally’s friendship and it saddens me that I might be lonely again. But I also don’t want to be the object of Sally’s abusive behavior and I can see that it’s not going to stop. In fact, what I’ve told you is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and it’s getting worse. Is there any way I can deal with Sally and stop her from being so nasty, without losing her friendship? Or, is Sally finally just showing her true colors as an abusive woman and a bully. Or, did she finally just go off the deep end? Is my friend really a bully? Should end things with her, even at the risk of being lonely?
Alison’s Take: Is your friend Sally a bully? It might not be her true nature, but her current actions certainly are those of someone who is angry, unstable, and uncaring. So yes, at the moment, she is being a bully. Do her other friends get the same treatment? If so, run!!!
But it could also be (and is more likely) that Sally is immature and selfish, and angry about something and is taking it out on you because she has honed in on you as an easy target. That doesn’t make it right (abuse is still abusive), and her behavior is not acceptable in any situation. Since Sally won’t admit what is really on her mind, you can’t be a supportive friend. Assuming that Sally’s issues are of long standing and they just took a while to surface, she might not even realize (or maybe she doesn’t even care) how her behavior affects others.
Abusive people are too self-centered and self-absorbed to think about the harm they might be doing. Often, even when faced with the undeniable truth about themselves, they will angrily deny any wrong-doing. But someone like Sally may be so insecure that the only way she can feel in control of her life when things aren’t going well is to criticize and break down the confidence of others. And yes, if you want to put a name on it, it’ is “bullying.” I’m sure you have read a lot about bullying of young children and teenagers in the news, but adults are not immune.
Since Sally at one point was nice enough to win your friendship, I know if must feel confusing to find yourself in a relationship now with a woman who seems to be very different. And it is even worse if as you say, you are lonely. It’s hard to walk away from any relationship in which you’ve invested your time, effort and heart.
A true abuser (if that’s what Sally really is) knows that you have developed feeling for him or her, and relies on that need to keep you in the relationship. After all, the ultimate power of abuse is control…manipulating someone else to suit your own needs against their will, whatever the consequences
You can’t change Sally, but you can change your response to her. You can dump Sally and get rid of your problem that way, or take a risk and confront her with honesty. Tell her that whatever is happening in her life, you’d be there to support her, but that you’re not going to tolerate her taking out her frustrations on you. Say: “If you want to treat me with respect we can continue being friends, but if you are only looking for someone to dump on, our friendship is not going to survive.” If you think you can’t pull this off in person, send her a note or email. Anything is better than nothing.
It is possible that Sally really doesn’t know what she’s doing, but it is just as likely that she will get defensive and angry, deny it, and heap on more abuse. In this case you have no other alternative than to end the friendship once and for all — because a relationship like that really isn’t a friendship at all.
Tony’s Take: Although you will have often about men who will dominate and isolate a woman so that the woman is totally dependent upon them emotionally, you will less often hear of it in this context. But whether it’s a man or a woman, this is the same isolating behavior that a sociopath uses on their victim, making the person feel small and dependent. The sociopath is attempting to make sure that the victim can never leave them. The basics are to isolate, by breaking all contact with the victim’s other friends and then humiliating and degrading the victim to the point that she thinks herself only acceptable to the sociopath. As with the male of this species, your only recourse is to get as far away as possible from this person, because like the male of this species, there are ones who will stalk you, harass you, or threaten you. Sally seems to fit this description.
To any woman who finds themselves being degraded by someone in their life take note — you are so much more! Don’t believe the person abusing you. Get to some place where you can get support.
While Sally may not have yet gotten to the really bad part sof her problems, she does need help, but you can’t give it to her. You need to be far away from her. Do it now.