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Constant criticism, aggression, anger, resentment, hatred, stress, taunting, provocation, denial? Sounds like bullying

Dealing with anger caused by bullying and harassment
Also, anger caused by unresolved grief

On this page
The cause of anger | Dealing with anger
Strategies for dealing with anger
Unresolved grief as a source of anger
Anger statistics | More information and books

The cause of anger

All targets of bullying get angry. This is "normal", for anger builds inside a person for months, sometimes for years. It is a feature of targets that they internalise their anger rather than express it. That is what we teach our children to do. Most often the cause of the anger is a bully who is a serial bully, a devious, manipulative, deceptive, a compulsive liar with a Jekyll and Hyde nature who can also be charming when required - especially when accountability needs to be evaded.

Living or working with a serial bully can drive you mad. Although it feels like you're going insane, in most cases targets of bullying are completely sane but mad with anger. Bullying drives many people to suicide. Most people will experience prolonged negative stress which causes injury to health and over time becomes traumatising, resulting in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is a psychiatric injury, not a mental illness, despite some superficial similarity. To understand the difference, click here.

What contributes most to anger is the bully's constant denial of what they said or did yesterday, plus the fact you can never hold a mature adult conversation with the person; the bully flits from topic to topic, denying everything, always blaming others, especially the target of bullying. It's like nailing jelly to a tree.

Bullies use anger to control their target. Weeks, months or years of provocation, taunting, denial and projection cause great anger even in the calmest people. Bullies know that they can tap into that anger whenever they like and use it to control their target, often by obtaining an inappropriate release of that anger.

The most maddening thing about dealing with an aggressive, dysfunctional serial bully is that nothing works. No matter what you try or what you say, nothing works. It's only when you realise that the bully has a different mindset from yourself and that he or she has the behaviour profile of the serial bully that this person's aggressive, disorganised, disordered behaviour starts to make sense. Even then, most people are trapped in their job (or their relationship) and cannot escape the bully. This aspect of captivity seems to be one of the main contributors to the development of PTSD.

Dealing with anger

As a society we don't learn how to deal with anger, no-one teaches us, it's a taboo subject. I recommend Managing Anger by Gael Lindenfield - it's one of the few books on the subject, is practical and easy to read.

Bottling up anger is thought to be a cause of many types of illness, including cancer. I've come across many cases where a person has died from cancer and their partner (or close family member) is a psychopathic serial bully. See report at BBC News Online.

Feeling angry is "normal" under the circumstances, however, the choice to be angry - or rather one's choice to express anger - is also an unwitting choice to allow the bully to continue to control you outside and beyond the experience.

One way of reducing the feelings of anger is, whenever you feel angry, say to my self, methodically and pedantically, "I feel angry, I have a right to be angry given what has happened, but when I get angry I'm allowing X [the bully] to continue to control me by tapping into my anger and using it to provoke an inappropriate reaction. I can choose not to express anger and instead retain control by not getting angry." This takes some doing but it does help to quell the angry feelings, especially when you can channel them into motivating you to do something constructive. Anger can be a powerful motivating force, provided you can harness it and direct it towards achieving your objectives in life. A bullying experience is an opportunity for defining or reviewing your goals.

I believe half the population are angry from being bullied or harassed or abused; click here to see if this fits your experience in life. Many emailers and callers to my UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line are dealing with a violent or abusive partner, sometimes as well as a serial bully at work. Bully OnLine provides insight and practical information to validate the abuse people are experiencing; the sound of relief is often almost audible!

Strategies for dealing with anger

All targets of bullying (including abuse, harassment, stalking etc) have a lot of locked-up anger which is very difficult to contain. Small irritations tend to set off an explosive release. These triggers can come wittingly or unwittingly from our adversaries or from our friends and colleagues.

Anger is a beast that controls you. When you express it you lose control. Bullies know this, it's why they constantly provoke you. By expressing anger you are thus choosing to allow the bully to control your actions long after the experience. The expression of anger can become like a drug because of the pleasurable feeling that comes with the exercise of power and control. Good people will often then feel guilty, which replenishes the anger for the next time.

Try these:

1) Get an empty plastic milk container or similar and jump up and down on it until it becomes a two-dimensional object. Do this in private otherwise you may get a visit from two men in white coats.
2) Save up all your empty bottles and visit the bottle bank. The sound of breaking glass is so soothing, especially when you are doing the breaking. Do NOT experiment on your neighbour's windows.
3) Talk things through with your counsellor and therapist.
4) Empower yourself with knowledge and insight and learn defensive phrases such as "I'm sorry you choose to feel like that" - see action/words.htm if you haven't already.
5) Take time to rebuild your boundaries so that it's harder for people to pull your triggers (wittingly or unwittingly).
6) Every time you have a negative thought force yourself to say repeatedly "I am responsible, I am responsible.." (not for the source of the anger, but for your response to the emergence of your anger)
7) Read Gael Lindenfield's book Managing anger and Mike Fisher's book Beating anger
8) Cut contact with all the negative people in your life - if this is not possible (eg the bully is a close relative) then minimise contact, practice verbal self-defence and read Patricia Evans' book "The Verbally Abusive Relationship". See and and
9) Rediscover your integrity which has taken a battering and work regularly on rebuilding it, strengthening it and practising it.
10) Concentrate on what YOU want to do with your life. Whilst everyone has the right to take legal action to obtain compensation for detriment, because the law is so weak there's a good case for deciding on *either* committing yourself to several years of legal action (ie more bullying and reliving your experience repeatedly), *or* focusing on your strengths (which are considerable - that's what attracted the bully in the first place, remember?) and carving out a new career for yourself. In most cases it won't take many years to earn more than you might have got through the courts.

Another source of anger - unresolved grief

As a society we are often hopeless at dealing with grief at the loss of a loved one. Admonitions that "you've got to move on with your life" or similar may be well meant but they do not recognise the depth of loss that people, especially children, feel after the death of someone close to them. Grief comprises many symptoms, including anger which is directed at the person who has died and caused so much pain by dying. It's an odd feeling to have but is a normal part of grief. Most people then feel guilty for feeling anger at the person who has died. The process of mourning helps us deal with these natural feelings which also include sadness, loss, undeservingness, unworthiness, guilt, and more. When a person does not grieve properly these feelings are internalised and end up as inwardly-directed anger. This builds more anger and the process repeats until the person experiences depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Statistics from the British Association of Anger Management

More information

My pages on self harm and suicide.

Full behaviour profile of the serial bully including links and articles on psychopaths and sociopaths as well as personality disorders.

For dealing with an abusive partner or family member, I recommend Patricia Evans' book The verbally abusive relationship. Patricia Evans has her own web site.

British Association of Anger Management (BAAM).

Anger Management Techniques

Anger Management

Angry teenagers 'risking health'

Beating Anger: the eight-point plan for coping with rage, Mike Fisher, ISBN 184413564-0, Rider, 2005.

Managing anger: positive strategies for dealing with difficult emotions, Gael Lindenfield, Thorsons, ISBN 0722527152.

Living or working with a person who fits the profile of the serial bully will make result in a great deal of anger; if you are living or working with or for a serial bully then these books may also prove useful:

Without conscience: the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us, Robert D Hare, The Guilford Press, 1999, ISBN 1-57230-451-0. Mostly about serial killers but the behaviour profile is the same.

The standard work on psychopathy which describes at length the damage a psychopath causes to families and to the community is The mask of sanity by Hervey Cleckley (C V Mosby Publishing, Fifth Edition, 1976). It's still in print and if you're dealing with a serial bully it's essential reading. First written in 1941 it's rather long and the language is at times quaint but it's as insightful today as it was then.

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