3 Tiny Signs Your Ex Is An Emotional Bully

Take their bullying power away.

Last updated on Apr 19, 2024

Woman on the phone, feeling badly while speaking to her ex Getty Images | Unsplash

Do you feel drained after every conversation, text, or email with your ex? If so, you might be dealing with an emotional bully. For most of us, divorce is already a very emotionally difficult time. We're grieving the losses and loneliness. We're afraid we're not good enough and wonder if anyone will ever really love us.

Emotional bullies manipulate through shame and blame. They're masters of creating even more misery during a time when we're already vulnerable. So, how do you know if your ex is an emotional bully?


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Here are 3 tiny signs your ex is an emotional bully:

1. Nothing you do is ever good enough

Your ex makes statements like "And you say you put the kids first," "You should be ashamed of yourself," and, "You never were any good at ____."

To deal with this type of bullying, you must do two things. First, remember you are always doing your best no matter what your ex thinks or says. Second, you can respond with either silence, or you might say something like, "Interesting perspective, but I disagree," and then (this is the hard part) leave it at that.


she refuses to hear itPhoto: via Shutterstock

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2. They throw a fit when you don't do exactly what they want, when/how they want you to do it

In this case, your ex is bullying you by using your fear of disconnection. This may sound weird, but if their fit-throwing bothers you, you care what they think of you, and on some level, you want a connection with them. Dealing with this type of behavior requires you to accept the divorce disconnected the two of you. It's time to establish some healthy boundaries for yourself.




3. Your ex acts like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

You do one little thing they disagree with, and they have a meltdown out of proportion to the situation. But when you offer praise, they relax with happiness or visible satisfaction. This behavior exposes an emotional bully's Achilles heel — They also have huge fears about feeling disconnected and not good enough. (Yup, deep down they harbour the same fear they're preying upon. How ironic.) They probably feel inferior to you. Knowing this, you can use appropriate praise to defuse potential blow-ups.

Of course, these tips seem easy to implement when you're in a peaceful place reading them. But I know when you face a bully, acting rationally isn't always what happens. Most of us want to defend ourselves (or flee). Unfortunately, all both do is escalate or enable the situation.

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Brené Brown says the twin fears of 'not being good enough' and 'fear of disconnection' are at the root of shame. Leveraging these natural shame-based fears against us during divorce is exactly the tactic emotional bullies use.

The best long-term defense against an emotional bully is to bolster your self-esteem. The better you feel about yourself, the less their behavior impacts you. Feeling good about yourself means you won't easily fall for your ex's tactics of shame and blame, taking their bullying power away. If they can't bully you, they need to interact with you differently. Hopefully, that will (eventually) include respect.

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Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce, and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo, Psych Central, Huffington Post, Prevention, and The Good Men Project, among others.