Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bullying and alcoholism

There has been a lot of information lately about bullying.  I see it on the news all the time.  Mostly, it seems to happen with kids who pick on other kids.  It is tragic and can lead to some dire consequences for those who are harangued by others.

But what about bullying due to alcoholism?  I have heard about it in meetings and actually experienced it first hand.   My experience was related to how I acted around the alcoholic, and not how she acted to me.   I would intentionally try to get her to react because I was angry.  I would nag her about her drinking.  I never thought at the time that I was bullying, but by repetitively goading her and arguing with her when she was drinking, I was indeed bullying.

I have also experienced the flip side in which the alcoholic is the bully.  I have a friend who sets boundaries and expects them to be respected by all.  However, he has no problem disregarding the boundaries of others.  I restate my boundaries with him, but his hearing is selective.  We are on much better footing now than before when his angry outbursts were emotionally exhausting.  As my recovery has progressed,  I have been able to not take his bullying personally.  I restate my boundaries and firmly tell him that I won't be present when he throws a tantrum.

I read an assessment of bullying behavior which stated that bullies are emotionally, physically and mentally needy. They are often rudest to those that care about and love them. Bullies are ready to point out the faults of others but deny that they have any problems.  A bully likes to be the director of others, telling them what to do and what they did wrong.  A negative out look on life and a judging persona is the hall mark of a bully. 

Not surprising,  Al-Anon has shown me that my bullying was motivated by fear.  Fear seems to be the basis for so many behaviors.  Once I learned to detach and let go,  no longer trying to control the alcoholic,  so much of the dynamics in the relationship changed.  We both heaved an enormous sigh of relief.

And the same thing is true with my friend.  By setting clear boundaries and not accepting excuses for "dry" drunk behavior,  our friendship is not strained.  I also don't react with anger to his angry outbursts.  I do my best to walk away and realize that none of what he is angry about has anything to do with me. 

Here are some other helpful ways to cope with bullying alcoholic behavior:

1. Don't excuse the behavior or defend it.  Walk away and let the bully accept responsibility.
2. Take care of yourself by not responding to every request for help.  Repetitive demands don't need to be taken on by me.  I don't need to do for others what they can do for themselves.
3.  Lower expectations and realize that my detachment is for me.  Expecting the alcoholic to change is unreasonable on my part.
4. Do something for yourself that is fun.  Find a place of solace and an activity that you enjoy.  Leave the bully to fume.  Don't be intimidated into living in misery.
5. Find someone to share with, whether it be a good friend, a 12 step group or a therapist. I was not only amazed that alcoholism had made me a bully, but I was equally amazed that I could get help and deal with my fears around the disease by being in Al-Anon. 

Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke. ~Benjamin Disraeli

Be open. Stand in our truth. Trust what you know. And refuse to buy into denial, nonsense, bullying, or coercion that would like to take you off course. ~Melodie Beattie


  1. I agree bullying is wrong. And if you find yourself to be a bully you should STOP IT. I'm not sure about the WIDE SPREADING blanket that is now called bullying. Especially when it comes to kids. We aren't all "nice" people. Kids need to learn to deal with different personalities out there. Strong personalities. And sometimes rude personalities and actions. I know there is REAL bullying going on, but I think the pendulum may be swinging too far to the left in the reaction to conflict management.

  2. i hear you...there are some great things in your bullets...i was the target of bullying as a kid...not a lot of fun...

  3. I could feel some angst well up in me when I was reading the part about your friend holding his own boundaries but not yours.

    This has been an issue for me and I get mad when someone doesn't play fair. It feels like disrespect when it is really self- absorbtion. Living in the me world where you don't matter. It is the you don't matter (my interpretation) that hurts me. My thoughts that hurt me. Truth is we all do it sometimes but it is easier to spot when on the receiving end.

  4. I've never really thought of bullying in this sense. But it makes a lot of sense.

  5. I am very new to Al-Anon. I just attended my third meeting last night. I read this and it really hit home for me. I have been bullied physically, verbally, and and emotionally by my husband who was "dry" until today. He has now disappeared again. I really don't know what to do except keep going to these meetings and talk to some of the other women. I can't allow myself to think about anything except this second. I am scared of tonight and tomorrow and all the days to follow. I am enraged. Your writing has given me some hope that with time this can all change.

  6. I found your site during searches on the subject of al-anon, and I'm writing to offer a note of appreciation for your expressions. I am considering a first meeting today.

  7. I grew up with a bully, but never knew what to call it. This post today helps me to outline what that behavior was and where it came from. Some things I knew, she did it to the people she loved the most and when she was in the most pain. I learned, too, to react the same way. I'm grateful today that things can change, at least on my part. Thank you for this informative information.

  8. Do you ever read comments on news articles? Sometimes that's all they are... bullies. Would they say that stuff if they were in a room with the person?

    I only read blog comments now.

    I've encountered the kind of person that freely disregards the boundaries of others and I just had to walk away.

  9. Wonderful post, Syd. It's a good reminder that we need to own our own feelings and behaviors. I did my share of bullying when my daughter didn't do what I wanted her to do. It took me a very long time to learn to detach with love, and I'll be working on that for life.


  10. I have never understood why some people are so angry. Some don't drink/drug, they are just mean people with no excuse. I'm grateful God gave me a disposition of the "glass half full."

  11. Helpful post, Syd. I hope you are managing to stay cool in the hot southern coastal weather.



  12. Reminds me of the book "Boundries: When to say yes, How to say no" by psychologist Henry is a good book, granted I have only read half & its buried under some books somewhere (classic ACA trait ;) but this post makes me want to go finish it! I have "reacted" instead of "acted" in response to my loved ones most of my life...setting healthy boundries helps one to escape the "victim" mindset that is so self sabbatoging!! Thanks for the reminders Syd!! Good work :)

  13. Syd, I found your blog on "bullying" to be very helpful to me. I am experiencing that right now in my marriage,and I grew up with an alcoholic father who was verbally abusive, so this is hard for me to deal with. I like what you said about setting boundaries and walking away. That is what I try to do.
    I know from attending Al-Anon for many years, that I can't change anyone but myself, and my self-esteem comes from within myself, and no other person can give that to me. Recovery is all about taking baby steps,and the journey never ends.
    I am findng your blog very helpful and emotionally comforting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with others.

  14. Thanks, Syd~ I need reminders to walk away as I am the "target".


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.