Dealing with a Critic, Control Freak or Verbal Bully?
"Actions lie louder than words." Comedienne Carol Wells
"If only I had
listened to my instincts," Kathy sighed. "I had never been pursued so
ardently. I met Steve at a speed dating event. He asked me out that
night, the next night, and the next. By our sixth date, he asked me to
marry him. I hadn't even been thinking about getting married, but I got
swept up in this whirlwind romance and his insistence that we were
'meant' to be together. He assured me he would plan everything, and I
ended up giving in to his intensity."
"And he did plan
everything. He planned our wedding, our honeymoon, our home . . . and
the next five years of my life. The night before we were supposed to
walk down the aisle, I had a heart-to-heart with my maid of honor. In
the middle of our celebratory evening she looked at me and asked,
'What's wrong?' I started crying and confessed, 'I want to get in a
car, start driving, and never look back.'
asked, 'Why?' I admitted I didn't want to get married. My fiancée had
given me the bum's rush (if I'd only realized then how true those words
would be) and I had said yes because he'd had more than enough
conviction for both of us. My gut was waving a huge red flag telling me
not to go through with the wedding; but I thought it was too late to
Does This Person Have to Be In Charge 24/7?
"I'm in favor of free expression, provided it's kept rigidly in
control." - Alan Bennett, British actor
"Over the next
few years, as long as I went along with what Steve wanted, things were
okay. When I started getting a mind of my own, life started going
downhill fast. If I didn't want to do what he wanted, when he wanted,
the way he wanted, he got angry. If I questioned his opinion about
something, there was hell to pay. I went to a therapist to get some
advice, and after listening to me for awhile, she asked, "Why did you
marry such a controlling person?'
'It never even
occurred to me,' I told her, shaking my head, 'I just thought he really
loved me." The therapist told me Steve had displayed the classic signs
of a controller early on, I just hadn't known it. The urgent pursuit,
the pressure to commit, the handling of all the details . . . all were
indications of someone who has to be in charge.
there were other danger signs; I just didn't recognize them. In that
first year, he started to cut me off from the people I cared about. He
never wanted to go to my folks' house for Sunday dinner and he was
always trashing my friends.
When I met him,
he was really unhappy with his job and very bitter about his ex-wife. I
just thought he had a bad boss and a witch for an ex-wife. It was only
after being around him awhile that I realized EVERY manager he worked
with was incompetent and EVERY woman in his life had somehow 'screwed
him over.' I wish I had listened to my intuition. When he was telling
me all these terrible things about his former wife, this little voice
inside me said, 'Someday he's going to be saying these kinds of things
about you.' That little voice was right."
Bullies Come in All Shapes and Sizes
"A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice
person." - Dave Barry
This man had
indeed displayed several of the ominous characteristics of a
control-freak. One of the primary signs was he hurried her into getting
hitched. He was afraid she'd "find him out" if he waited too long so he
rushed her to the altar so she was locked in before she could discover
what he was really like.
men and women can be bullies, 8 year ol d kids can be bullies; an
80 year old grandparent can be a bully. As indicated below, bullies are
people who have a pattern of abusing the rights of others to get
their own way. A bully isn't someone who occasionally loses her temper
or who says something rude. A bully is someone who intentionally
mistreats or takes advantage of other people because they want to run
the show. Bullies don't want to cooperate; they want to control. They
don't want a win-win; they want to win.
If you're getting involved with someone -- or if you’re about to go to
work for someone -- you might want to compare his/her behavior to the
following checklist to see how s/he stacks up.
These red flag
behaviors are a warning that's something's amiss with this individual.
If the person you're dealing with regularly displays more than a few of
these characteristics; it is in your best interests to get to know this
person better before making any long-term commitments, whether
that's accepting a job offer or a proposal of marriage.
The Characteristics of a Control Freak - Verbal Bully Checklist
Psychologists agree that one of the primary indicators of a troubled
person is incongruent behavior. As Dave Barry pointed out, someone who
is nice to you and nasty to "the help" is not who he or she seems.
Someone who makes racist remarks and then tries to laugh them off is
revealing his or her true character (or lack of). Someone who says s/he
loves children but seems remote or rigid when around them is displaying
dissonance -- defined as "inconsistency between one’s beliefs and one’s
actions." What this means is that you cannot take this person at his or
her word. Everything they say will be suspect because you won't know
when they're telling the truth and when they're not.
2. Possessiveness. Someone who comes on strong and wants (or has!) to be
with you constantly is showing a dangerous need to have you all to=2
0him or herself. Possessiveness is defined as "a desire to own or
dominate." Bullies often don't have many (or any) friends of their own
which means they grow to resent your other relationships. Does this
person pout or try to make you feel guilty for abandoning him or her
when you spend time with others? Does this person want to know all about
your previous partners/bosses, and somehow resent the fact that you've
been with or worked for someone other than him or her? Bullies are so
insecure they see everyone you care for as competition and as a threat
to their dominance. This reluctance to share you with others will only
get worse and become more perverse.
People who don't want to discuss their background and don't want you to
meet their family or colleagues may have something to hide. People who
refuse to reveal anything about their past are often concealing
emotional baggage. What you don't know can hurt you. Someone
who doles out self-revelations in small quantities may seem mysterious
and alluring in the beginning. In the long run, being with a private
person who withholds most of himself or herself gets lonesome.
4. Bitterness. Does this person have a lot of animosity for his or her parents, former
spouse, or previous managers? Please understand you will be reliving
and working out the unresolved traumas of this individual's childhood
and prior work relationships. You've heard the Zen saying, "Wherever
you go, there you are?" This person hasn't yet figured out that his or
her source of bitterness is internal, not external. If this individual
is lugging around deep-seated resentments, it is only a matter of time
before s/he starts accusing you of the same "crimes" former significant
others supposedly perpetrated upon him or her.
5. Twists words.
Does this person take what you say and turn it into something you didn't
mean? Do you sometimes feel on the defensive and don't even know why?
Does this person obfuscate - make confusing statements and then accuse
you of misunderstanding? Bullies often make commitments and then claim
they never made them in the first place. This is a crazy-making ploy
designed to turn you inside-out so you don't know what's up.
6. Holds you responsible for their unhappiness.
Does this person
blame you for his or her bad moods? If they're sad, it's because you
didn't ask about their day? If they're depressed, it's because you
don't take them anywhere anymore? If they're angry, it's because you
said something that provoked them? There will be no pleasing this kind
of person. They essentially haven't grown up, and never will as long as
they continue holding everyone else but themselves accountable for how
7. Perfectionist. Does this person nit-pick? Does he or she have such
high standards no one ever measures up? Does this individual have to do
things himself because anyone else would just "mess it up"? If you're
still in the honeymoon or courting phase, you may be temporarily exempt
from this person's unceasing criticism. In time though, their
insistence on things being done a certain way (their way) will transfer
to you and then you'll never be able to do anything right. Jimmy Hoffa
once said, "I may have my faults, but being wrong is n't one of them."
Tyrants won't admit to any faults, least of all being wrong.
8. Pinpoints your weakness and uses them against you.
Tyrants have a talent for ferreting out your emotional Achilles Heel and
hobbling you with it. If you don't want to be considered selfish,
they'll call you selfish. If you don't want to be perceived as
controlling, they'll accuse you of being controlling. If you're unsure
of your parenting skills, they'll attack your parenting skills. This is
a classical Machiavellian method of exploiting your weakness so you're
impotent (lacking power or strength) and they're omnipotent (having
unlimited influence or authority.) Their goal is to make you doubt
yourself so you're vulnerable to their attempts to own you.
9. Plays martyr. Does he or she try to lay on the guilt trip by saying things like, "Go
ahead and go skiing with your friends. I don't mind. I mean, who wants
to spend time with an old fogie like me anyway? I'm sure I'll find
something to do." Does this person play the long-suffering individual
who's unappreciated? Is it a common theme that s/he is the only one
holding the office together and everyone else is frivolous, hedonistic,
incompetent, or selfish?
10. Hates to have authority questioned. Does this person take umbrage if you dare dispute his or
her facts or opinions? Does s/he come across as a "know-it-all" who has
to have all the answers? Bullies can't stand to be challenged because
they're afraid their "power-house of cards" could come falling down.
Their "my way or the highway" communication style is based on their need
to be in control and beyond reproach.
If you disagree
with this person, does he or she escalate their intensity in an effort
to force you to concede? If so, it means that every conversation is
going to turn into a verbal battleground. It means this person will
start disparaging your intelligence, expertise, and experience so you no
longer know what you know and won't have the intellectual confidence to
11: Lies, Lies, Lies:
Mark Twain once commented that "Truth is more of a
stranger than fiction." Does that description fit the person you're
dealing with? Does he or she self-aggrandize and exaggerate his or her
achievements? In order to win respect, bullies often claim to have been
to places they've never been, boast of knowing people they've never met,
and excel at things they've never tried.
In the mid
1970's, I had the privilege of working with Grand-Slam tennis champion
Rod Laver at his Hilton Head Island resort. A couple times a year we
sponsored national tennis camps. Every once in awhile, someone would
blow in and we would sense that we were able to deal with a type of
individual the Aussies playfully refer to as "all flap and no
throttle." These "blowhards" always talked a bigger game than they
delivered. They often had the latest racquet and the fanciest clothes
but didn't have the strokes to back it up.
Does the person
you're dealing with display "blowhard" tendencies? Does he or she wax
eloquently (or not so eloquently) about past accomplishments? Did this
individual somehow manage in the first few minutes of meeting you to let
you know how much money he made, what degrees she had, or what awards
he's won? Was she so intent on impressing you with her curriculum vitae
that she failed to ask about yours? Watch out. Red alert. Bully on
Is The Person You're Dealing with a Fault-Finder?
"A critic is someone who's at his best when you're at your worst."
do their best to make you feel worse. They always focus on what you do
wrong, never on what you do right.
thinking, "Well, my partner or boss does some of these things some of
the time, but so do I! After all, no one is perfect."
We all have bad days. However, bullies don't have bad days once in a
while, they make the people around them have bad days most of the time.
The key question to ask yourself is a) how frequently does this
person engage in the above behaviors and b) is s/he willing to change?
If you checked
off many of the behaviors above, then this person is not just having a
bad day -- they are knowingly throwing their weight around because it's
working for them. They probably have little incentive to change because
their bully behavior is succeeding in giving them the power they crave.
Do you have any
clout or leverage with this person? Are they open to input or are they
so defensive they'll dispute anything you say?
If you have
tried to reason with this person; if you have tried to be logical and
fair and have gotten nowhere -- it's because bullies don't respond to
reason. They want what they want and they'll do whatever they have to
do to get it.
successfully with bullies requires a whole different approach. Kindness
will be perceived as weakness. I'm not suggesting you sacrifice your
integrity and become a bully yourself. I am suggesting that if you've
suffered in silence; if you've waited for the bully to "come to his/her
senses" and apologize for their inappropriate behavior; that's never
going to happen.
YOU must take
the bully by the horns if you want things to get better. YOU must
change the way you respond to the bully or he or she will continue to
take advantage of your good nature and make your work or home
The good news
is, there's help.
My Take the
Bully by the Horns book/CD package=2 0features a series of questions you
can ask to determine whether:
personal or professional relationship is worth saving
* it is
possible for this relationship to change or get better (and if it is
possible, what you can say or do to motivate this person to treat you
with the respect you want, need and deserve
* you may need
to end the relationship to save your sanity, soul and health.
It also features
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your life. In fact, bestselling author Dave Pelzer ("A Child Called
It") says my Take the Bully by the Horns system is "the perfect
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with Verbal Bullies?
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