Twiggy Bean, PhD., a certified mediator, parent coordinator, and consultant, has been bullied herself, and she shares strategies to prevent and respond to what has become a bullying epidemic.
Drawing on her own experiences as well as those of individuals shes helped, she teaches you how to:
identify a divorce bully before their behavior gets out of hand;
fight divorce bullying when it occurs;
protect children and loved ones from a divorce bully;
prevent from becoming a divorce bully yourself.
She also explains that not all divorce bullies were bullies while married. Sometimes, bullying can take place for the first time during a divorce, which can make recognizing it a challenge.
When it comes to a divorce bully, the courts wont protect you and in many cases, bullies will manipulate the system to make you look like the bad one.
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What Is a Divorce Bully?
In normal, healthy relationships, partners support one another, but in a relationship where one partner bullies, there is no mutual support. Within a marriage, bullying may take both verbal and physical forms, and these may come under the guise of domestic violence or not. Just because some partners in marriage bully does not mean they will bully during a breakup and vice versa. Be aware that a new type of bullying can emerge over time when there is a divorce; sometimes a partner who has not displayed bully-like behavior before becomes a bully during the divorce process. Being on the receiving end of bullying during a divorce adds pain to the hurt already caused by the ending of the relationship. It is difficult for the partner who is left behind. Note that one partner usually moves on first, and rarely is a divorce mutual. Even divorces that start out that way often take a negative turn when there are disagreements.
A victim of bullying in a marriage is likely to be a victim of bullying in the divorce. A bully may deny any wrongdoing, targeting his or her spouse and claiming to be the only wronged partner, the true victim. Bullies are often pretty on the outside and vindictive on the inside, and their spouses keep silent for fear of not being believed. The bully mimics the dandelion, the soft, yellow flower that spreads its white, fluffy seeds as the wind blows and shifts. The only trouble is that the dandelion is a weed and not a pretty flower! The bully spreads harm and spitefulness in unkind ways. Let the dandelions serve as a warning: where beautiful dandelion flowers appear, the healthy grass is choked out, and the weed takes over. They remind us not to become complacent and to care for our souls, our children, our futures, and our health.
By all accounts, it appears that bullying has existed throughout time. A classic biblical story about Joseph and his brothers identifies a situation where envy and hostility pitted eleven brothers against one another. Bullying is not a new phenomenon to families and intimate partners.
For this book, bullying behavior is defined as belittling the target's opinion publicly or privately, humiliating the target, accusing the target of lack of effort, as name calling, insulting, intimidating, teasing, preventing access to opportunities (e.g., controlling jobs a partner takes and the education a mate may pursue), physically or socially isolating the target from others, intentionally withholding vital information or funds, putting unwarranted demands on the target, repeatedly reminding the target of errors, withholding intimacy, taking responsibility from the target, and setting the target up to fail (Einarsen, 1997, defining workplace bullying). A divorce bully is defined as one who engages in such bullying tactics during divorce proceedings, and a target is defined as the subject of a bully's abusive actions when he or she coparents or divorces.
Note that not all divorce bullies were bullies in their marriages, as you will see in the scenarios that follow. Additionally, bullying must occur over a period of time, and the behaviors must include more than one occurrence, thus creating a pattern of mean behaviors during the divorce process. We know that in most states divorce may take as little as sixty days and as long as several years. Usually, the longer the divorce period, the greater the scope of the bullying.
Bullying might have begun in a school yard, but this behavior adapts and changes wherever the bully goes. Bullies as intimate partners are not often written about; bullying can easily cross lines into domestic abuse, but not all bullies are brought up on charges for physical abuse. They exist in homes everywhere, and this writer feels it is time to call it what it is.
The court systems that facilitate the divorce process are often outdated, allowing the bully to manipulate the system and perpetuate the bullying with the help of the court, because the bullying often goes unrecognized. It is time to have a dialogue about the systems we use and how they may cause more harm than good.
That being said, a divorce bully may escape the divorce process unscathed because bullies are often charismatic and good-looking and appear to be the good one. They have an answer for everything and are able to be cunning and convincing, always keeping their end goal in mind. Divorce bullies are storytellers who set the target up to fail. They justify their behavior both to the victim and to the authorities. It is important to realize that if one wants to combat this conflict and obtain fair solutions in matters of the heart, the tactics in divorce need to change.
Bullies can be male or female, young or old. None of them carry signs that say, "I am a bully."
(All names have been changed.)
James and Kati
An example that comes to mind is the story of James and Kati. James was a three-time felon, and Kati was fairly squeaky clean in terms of criminal behavior. She had no record but was loud (a self-proclaimed northerner) and often felt out of place in their southern home. They had a son together. James missed the first three years of his child's life while he did time in prison. Kati moved on with her life and was living with another young man, who raised James and Kati's son as his own. When James was paroled, he wanted to be a father to his son and began to appear in Kati's home unannounced, causing lots of trouble for her new family.
James and Kati came to me through the court system to take classes in cooperative parenting. Kati was hurt and angry at the time; she resented having to attend the classes. James thought that he should resume where he left off before his prison sentence, and it did not matter to him what he had done to harm Kati and their new baby. Once, he had sold the baby furniture to buy drugs.
We worked and talked. Finally, the classes ended, and they went on their merry way to coparent their son. One of the concepts in cooperative parenting is to treat one another in a businesslike manner and to try to build a different kind of respect for one another. James and Kati tried, but there was soon an altercation, and then another. Eventually, Kati lost custody of their son to the father, the felon, for lying about a video of an altercation they had had in a store.
I was stunned because James had committed more crimes since our classes had ended and was being prosecuted for stealing. But the judge felt that Kati was loud, and the judge held a grudge because she had lied about the store incident. The judge ultimately went with the charismatic option and awarded custody of the young boy to James. Bullies are often very good at what they do. The sad part is that the little boy could possibly end up a felon too because he is learning to lie and manipulate like his father. At the age of five, the young boy was caught shoplifting. Poor Kati spent every last cent she had to try to win custody in an appeal, but she lost again. Additionally, two separate parent coordinators fired James because he threatened them. He even wiggled out of that in court by claiming the professionals were biased in some way. Each parent coordinator wrote to the judge, and other professionals sided with the mom, but the charisma of the bully was too great. At each turn, the judge sacrificed the child to keep the mother in her place. We later learned that the felon father was a drug informant, and the judge was just playing along because of some unwritten protection system.
James had constantly pretended to be the good one while breaking the law and lying about it to the judge. All the professionals saw through his antics. Even though the judge may one day realize that he failed the young son, reversing custody would require the judge to admit an error in his own judgment. That is not likely.
In this case, Kati bullied James, James bullied Kati, the judge bullied Kati, and James bullied everyone who ever tried to help them. He was conniving and convincing at each turn. He was one step ahead along the way. When their five-year-old was caught stealing, it saddened my heart, because James found a way to make that someone else's fault too. The cycle of conflict around James is constant and follows a bully pattern, and unless someone changes it, he is unable to.
James and Kati's relationship began while James was addicted to drugs. He plotted to buy more drugs at each turn to feed his habit — even selling their child's crib and baby furniture while Kati delivered the baby in the hospital. His mother bought it back for the baby and enabled him further. Kati tried to make sense out of nonsense to keep her new family together, but James was mean and cunning. She retreated and took care of their infant son, allowing James to move them into his parents' home. From there he was sent to jail for felony drug charges. Kati tried to stay there and wait for him, but his family soon turned on her because they wanted the child without her. So she ran.
As Kati tried to make a new home, she raised her standards. The new man in her life was good to her, but the old stuff came back when James was released on parole a few years later and resumed his control of her. We really can't run from conflict; it finds us at each turn. The moral of the story is to change while the conflict is ongoing. The saddest part of all is that Kati lost that new relationship as she fought the old one. All is not lost, for she plans to tackle law school in the future and work on correcting the system that failed her.
James was calculating and deliberate as he planned Kati's demise. He based those plans solely on revenge and making her pay for being the one to dash his dreams when he left prison. Getting his son back was accomplished by using his bullying and calculating behaviors.
Doug and Mary
Another couple I recall had three teenage daughters. Doug was a strict father because he wanted to keep his girls safe and smart. Doug was attending graduate school and working part time in construction. Mary, his exwife, was a nurse. (Nurses bully in the workplace more than any other profession; that has been documented.) Mary constantly made reports to the local social service agency, accusing Doug of spanking the girls, yelling at the girls, or drinking in his home when the girls were having timeshare. I worked with Doug for anger management, parenting, and other services and found him to be fit and fine as a father. I supervised his visitations with his daughters; they loved him. They always cried when they had to leave. Professionally, I just could not see what Doug saw in Mary.
I felt he needed to be a coparent, free from Mary's interference. She was very rude and mean to me and my staff, in addition to being mean to Doug. Mary had painted a picture of Doug to the judge and all who would listen, and I was probably the first professional to see another side of the situation. And to Doug's credit, he was patient with the system. While the stress ruined a relationship he had with a new person, he was constant in his resolve to be a part of his daughters' lives. Eventually the truth was revealed, in an unlikely way.
Mary had taken possession of the marital home for her and the girls in the divorce property settlement. They were sent to me by a local judge to attend cooperative parenting and divorce classes, so I was aware that there was a clause in the property settlement that prevented her from moving without notifying Doug, whose name was still on the mortgage instrument. When Mary decided to remarry, she abandoned the marital home and moved closer to a hospital where she was employed. She destroyed the home, removing all light fixtures and appliances, even ceiling fans. Per the couple's property settlement, Doug was to assume possession if she stopped paying the mortgage. The cost of the repairs exceeded $8,000. Doug filed a court motion; he was awarded damages and unsupervised visitation. Finally, the judge was able to see who the real bully was in that relationship. Doug finished graduate school and is now employed and enjoying real quality time with his daughters, finally free of Mary's interference.
In fairness to judges everywhere, they are often limited in the amount of time they are privileged to hear a couple's issues, and they are bound by the legal maneuvering of the attorneys to block testimony, etc. As a professional mediator and coach, I do wish they could actually talk to us about the nuances of couples and the "real" issues in relationships. Sometimes we professionals have spent hours with couples as they attend an eight- or ten-week course; the truth is revealed to us sooner.
In both of the above cases, the court systems could not recognize what the professionals could clearly see, and judges became biased in their opinions. Until something horrific was placed before them, the judges bullied to get their way, based on outside information (like a drug informant) and a nurse (because how could a nurse possibly do bad things?). Divorce bullying is not recognized yet by attorneys and court officials. This is changing, but the good-ol'-boys system is alive and well.CHAPTER 2
The Divorce Bully Cycle
Bullying begins when the aggressor feels a strong sense of self and their thoughts center around self-serving goals; this is followed by the goal of getting those goals met. Without exception, the target will carry out the aggressor's desires, whether they like it or not. At the point in time when they stop being a target, the bully cycle is broken.
It looks something like this:
Step 1 — Perpetrator with self-centered focus needs to accomplish a task for self-purpose (self-righteous).
Step 2 — Perpetrator's thoughts center on accomplishing a task, with the motivation to do whatever it takes to get the job done well (entitlement).
Step 3 — Perpetrator has large sense of responsibility and must act to get the job done. They often see action as their duty (integrity).
Step 4 — The target needs to complete all or part of the designated task and will receive all the perpetrator has to dispense in order to complete the task at hand, reacting in the same expected fashion as behavior patterns demonstrated in the past (justification).
Step 5 — The target may focus on the perpetrator's behaviors and not the task at hand. There will be conflict, and sometimes the target reacts from fear, feeding into the perpetrator's hands.
It is important to note that when the divorce begins, there is sure to be a period of grief. Anger is a stage of grief; if we allow it to consume us, we may change to someone we may not know for a time. Anger may cause a bully to act in a vengeful way. That provides the justification to carry out this cycle at any cost. Hence, the bully feels completely justified in doing so. Some of the bullies I have worked with say things like, "They deserved it"; "I was the one who was wronged"; "They are lucky I am only going after the kids"; "I'll show him/her what he/she did was wrong." This becomes the moment when perfectly rational people turn into bullies.
A divorce bully may be male or female. Each almost always claims to be victimized in some way, and they feel oh so right. They talk about the harm they have experienced at the hand of their mate. If the two are parents — oh my! They go on and on about the harm the other parent has inflicted upon the children. They retaliate to show the entire world how this terrible thing has happened to them. Upon further exploration, they almost always explain they "lost control" and wonder "how he or she could do that to me?" They justify every action they have taken to date. They claim integrity and wear it like a crown. The kicker is that they strongly feel they are the better parent and therefore entitled to everything — the house, the car, the kids, and, above all, the right to inflict pain upon the other parent.
Believe it or not, a divorce bully can be found in any of us. Perfectly normal people change when divorce starts; we do things we would not otherwise do. As you read the following stories, it is easy to understand why. Divorce hurts! It causes all of us to act in ways we may or may not otherwise act.
A divorce bully acts out in ways that are hurtful, spiteful, judgmental, and absolutely mean and vengeful. One partner threatens, scares, withholds child support or spousal support; the other partner moves on too soon to another relationship in a vengeful fashion. These are only some examples. Power may be a big factor in bullying, but in divorce, most people do not want power; they want their families back. They may want power in order to stop feeling powerless if they are victim, but if a partner is exercising power over a former mate, it is usually because they can. I have never once had a bully tell me they want power. Yet the literature we read from a target's perspective dwells on this.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Divorce Bullying: An Epidemic"
Copyright © 2018 Twiggy Bean, Ph.D..
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 What Is a Divorce Bully?, 1,
Chapter 2 The Divorce Bully Cycle, 13,
Chapter 3 Things a Bully Might Do, 25,
Chapter 4 Other Considerations, 45,
Chapter 5 Characteristics of Divorce Bullies, 57,
Chapter 6 What about the Kids?, 63,
Chapter 7 How to Overcome, 73,