Bullying Within the Family System

When it comes to bullying, we mostly associate the term with workplace bullying, school bullying or online bullying. Most of us wouldn’t think of associating it with family; this is partly because we have been programmed to believe such conduct is just part of the “normal” dysfunctionality within any family and partly because calling it for what it is, would simply hurt too much–after all, most of us subconsciously hope for a loving, supportive, respectful and safe family.

Most of the time family bullying takes the form of “Relational Aggression”--which is aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone’s relationships, social status, reputation or using gas lighting; usually in an attempt to cover up more disturbing behavior within the family system.

Family bullying turns what should have been the safest “social” circle into the most dangerous enemies; specially to our psyche, as this will have a hard time reconciling the extremes of what was and what should have been–seriously eroding the core of our foundation and our ability to trust not just others, but our own judgements and choices.

Family bullying is usually based on constant criticism, humiliation, contempt and manipulation by parents, siblings, aunts, uncles or other figures towards a particular member. That kind of joint dynamic is almost always directed by a perpetrator who wishes to conceal darker secrets (usually physical and/or mental abuse). Sadly, perpetrators like predators, are expert manipulators to whom certain less powerful or ignorant family members adhere in an effort to avoid conflict or because they do not want to face hard truths. Other times however, family bullying can come masqueraded as “nice”–this means that a family member may use the attitude of “wanting to help”, being congenial only to get information which will later on be twisted, manipulated or used to gas light; hoping to get everyone else to see the victim of bullying as “crazy”, “troublemaker”, “just seeking attention”, among other more malevolent characterizations.

Having the enemy at home means not having any shelter or source of support. Growing up as the black sheep or the ugly duckling is traumatic, as in general these situations are not resolved when they reach adulthood. If the member of the family who is considered to be the “black sheep” chooses to start defending his or herself, he or she is often met with horrendous backlash; the responses will vary from mean behavior, judgmental attitudes, to sayings such as: “if it was true, then why didn’t you say anything as a child” to more cruel ones like “you must have asked for it”.

Such ignorant comments; like the ones above; can only be said by minds so incapable of taking any type of responsibility. Minds which certainly lack any wisdom or maturity to understand children don’t tend to speak up out of fear; when they do, sadly most people don’t believe them…why? because children “have a vivid imagination”. Perhaps it is time we stop promoting such phrase when a child speaks up; after all, children speak or even create their world based on their personal experiences or events they witness–to say otherwise, would be to say all children are delusional and we should not believe anything that comes out of their mouth.

Many times, we express to those who confide in us about having grown up being bullied or who are being bullied as adults, to simply “forget about it”, “just think positive and don’t look back”, “just forgive them”–this type of advice may be well intended, but it reflects our ignorance on the process of healing.

The most common way to avoid bulling is by moving away from the presence causing the oppression; however, as we well know, this is not always possible. The person who is victim of family harassment (specially children) may spend many years in an environment from which it is impossible to flee–let’s think about the ramifications of that before we so easily advice to simply “just get over it”. It is true there are times when victims of bullying or abuse fall prey to getting used to being in the victim seat, and that is not healthy behavior; however, most victims of bullying or abuse just want justicethey want to heal and stop feeling the horrible pain they carry inside–instinctively they know such process won’t seriously start to take place, until they say out loud what they have kept quiet for far too long. Again, here are the wise words from Carl Jung “that which you deny, controls you”, same applies for that which one hides; it can eat at you day in and day out. One may choose to cover it up with superficialities, with false pleasantries and a false idea of forgiveness, meanwhile the wound simply keeps festering and will manifest itself in more destructive ways.

Family bullying can be confusing at first, for it usually starts when we are still young and we normalize certain dynamics. However, as we grow up, we become aware that the behavior of certain family members should not ever be permissible; for no one has the right to steal our peace and erode the foundation of our wellbeing.

The signs of bullying vary, but they usually express themselves as such: they humiliate the victim for who they are, what they do and what they say. They turn him or her into the ugly duckling. They undervalue and demean. They intimidate and silence; not giving him or her any sign of importance to what they say or simply exclude him or her from everything; this usually done in order to avoid certain subjects from coming to “light”. They take sides without hearing the whole truth yet claim to be neutral. They apply emotional blackmail and manipulation. They use disparaging comparisons and use behaviors of superiority. It is common to accuse the victim of selfishness for wanting justice, or of liking “drama”, for exposing malicious, twisted and/or abusive behavior.

Psychology has shown time and time again, the serious repercussions of neglect, abuse, bullying and others. The longer such conduct takes place, the more damage it does to the mind, body and soul of the person on the receiving end. As such, we cannot continue condoning such behavior as “normal” or simply part of the dysfunctionality within very family. It is true every family is difunctional in one way or another; it is not true however, that every family is abusive towards certain members. Such belief can only be fathomed by deeply ignorant minds or people with far lower self-esteem than the person they seek to silence; for it is proven that bullies tend to pick not on the person who is the weakest, but on the person who at his or her core is the strongest–such person usually exposes a gentle nature; specially as a child; however, this does not mean the person is weak.

Setting boundaries, safeguarding our emotions, practicing self-care, seeking out valid support figures and putting distance from aggressive family members is key to our well-being.

No one has the right to cause us any kind of harm. It is fully justified and logical to choose to defend oneself. No figure should instill fear, insecurity, pain, in an effort to turn us into empty people or slaves. The family should be a nourishing setting, not a malicious battlefield– no one has the right to demand your loyalty to tyrannical behavior. Likewise, no one has the right to judge you from staying away from people, who although may share blood ties, choose to use you as their personal escape goat or punching bag.

To be mature isn’t to choose to pretend that everything is fine when it isn’t. To be mature is to be able to face life as it is and to do what is necessary, even if it does not make one the most “popular” or most “accepted” by others.


By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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