My father was both an emotional bully and the most loving of men. This meant I never knew when he called my name if I was going to be loved or verbally abused. I think he probably never knew as well. He was easily triggered by his own wounds from his family of origin and rather than sorting them out, took them out on my mother, brother and me. To most people he was generous, humorous and did great acts of kindness and love. He put up that act quite well but behind closed doors, he was an emotional tyrant. His unhappy emotions were the only ones which ruled and the rest of us had to suppress ours. As an adult and after years of counseling and personal development, I now recognize how quickly I armor myself when there is an emotional conflict arising in my adult relationships. Rather than stay open and be able to negotiate, I shut down my feelings and prepare to flee the emotional scene. I disengage as engagement may mean more pain.
My friend is a school teacher in the local LA school district. You might think she is the authority in her class. You are wrong. She is being emotionally bullied by her teen students whose behaviors border on physical abuse. Unable to deal with their own pain from their family of origin or from their neighborhood where they may be abused, they bring these to the classroom and threaten her. She is afraid to go to work. She has to psychologically and physically armor herself to enter the classroom everyday. This drains her. Her personal life affected by the work she has to do. The school system doesn’t stand on her side. Until the current boy bully does an actual act of violence, they see and hear nothing. The emotional terrorism that runs through the classroom now is deemed, non-existent.
I have seen emotional terrorism at work in my coaching clients’ lives. At home it looks like one person (could even be the child) gets to call all the shots and when he or she walks in the room, the air becomes thin and conversation becomes muted or lost. Everyone tries to create the least amount of reason to let the emotional terrorist pick on them. The family has secrets and these are kept from the emotional terrorist. These secrets only exist because they act against what the emotional terrorist may deem appropriate. For example, a colleague may let another read materials the emotional terrorist boss told them that he/she could not access, just as a power play. The father might sign off on a permission slip for an activity that the mother disapproves, simply for her own reasons like avoiding a neighbor or she doesn’t like the coach. You never really feel you can be your full self in this space. Your full self is judged. So you only show a part of yourself or hide every part of yourself the best you can. The inconsistency of the terrorism is what is most unsettling. The day could have been wonderful, everyone aligned and loving and all it takes is one small misdemeanor or sometimes nothing at all to trigger the emotional terrorist to lash out. Making the beautiful memory now bitter sweet or totally bitter and the next time we avoid that event or play it down hoping to avoid instigating the emotional terrorist.
I am writing this to help both the emotional terrorist bully as well as the victims. I am writing for the health of relationships at home and work and organizations. When one person or a few people hold the power to make all rules their rules and all conversations have to fit their emotional illogical rights and wrongs, there is emotional terrorism. This is not mere inequality, it is total inequality. The victims live in a perpetual state of fear and feel powerless.
As the victim realize that your emotional needs cannot be met by this person. Start to cultivate your own safe space in the midst of these verbal attacks. Go inward but never shut down. When we shut down the emotional terrorist wins not just this battle but every battle after. We gave up our lives to them. We play by their rules and we lose ourselves. As you go inwards build your emotional grounding. Fight back internally and prepare your hearts for the next attack not by shutting down but by standing up. Will you be bruised? Possibly. But will you also be defending your emotional and psychological life? Yes.
Emotional terrorists like all bullies thrive when they are not challenged. Once challenged they lose their power center. Challenge implies questioned or showing them other ways of being in relationship. It can be less confrontation then you imagine. By simply giving in we feed the emotional terrorist but by engaging in conversation and communication we open the possibility for a change in him or her.
If you are an emotional terrorist, you may not realize this. You are blindsided by thinking you know better. You believe you are the true leader and everyone else in the home, office, team, organization is wrong. You see something and jump in always. You do not let fresh ideas and new ways of seeing the world exist. You see black and white from your own eyes and you are blinded by your own pain and lack of self awareness. How will you know if you are an emotional bully? The only people who come to you at social events at work are your crones. You never really know anyone in great depth emotionally. You are the loudest and only talker in the room and when someone does speak up you can barely hold yourself back for 2 minutes before you take that conversation over and make it a monologue. You grow louder, stronger and angrier each time you speak. You thrive on being right.
I really want us to call this daily terrorism out as it is. We speak about democracy and we say we love our family and friends. Yet what if this is a fake sense of love and democracy? On the surface it seems like a authoritative government and company. Yet in the core, it is a land under siege.