People who are willing to use sarcasm, yelling, name-calling, threats, intimidation, withdrawal of love, and even physical attacks on you when you won’t do, think, or feel what they want are bullies.
It is not just that they are frustrated, hurt, or angry—it is the fact that they choose to try to make you have the response that they want by doing something that hurts you, scares you, or makes you feel coerced. When someone threatens your self-esteem, your emotional well-being, or your personal safety, they are bullying you.
You may have had experiences in school being bullied by someone bigger or stronger who was trying to exert power over you. You probably never expected to be bullied by someone who also says that they love you. We expect love relationships to be more equal in power, and to benefit the well-being of both people. But when a narcissist or borderline person becomes emotionally activated, they can explode at you and begin bullying to get whatever it is that they want at that moment. Much of the time they can behave normally, but even very small things can set them off—the silverware drawer being messy, the towels not folded “correctly," arriving late to pick them up, or too early, or in the wrong car.
That’s when the bullying begins.
When someone is bullying you, they are trying to make you feel small, weak, and powerless. The bully’s demands are designed to gain power over you, so you will do exactly as he or she wants. We know from studies of bullies that every time you give in, you lose power and are put yourself in the situation of being bullied again. That is the same thing that happens in a relationship with the borderline or narcissist. Every time you allow or accept their bullying, you are creating a worse situation for yourself—and reinforcing the bullying behavior.
Caretakers in relationship with a narcissist or borderline often think that they are giving in to the bullying behavior to keep the peace, or to let things blow over, or because it just doesn’t matter enough to have a fight about it. But this never really works. The bullying behavior may stop for that moment, but it has been reinforced and will return, stronger than before. That is partly why trivial issues keep coming up and never get resolved. Bullies know you will eventually give in, so they just keep nagging and nagging until you do.
Caretakers often feel powerless in their relationship with a borderline or narcissist, but you actually have quite a lot of power. You have the power to say No, to walk away, to refuse to discuss it, to keep yourself calm and not engage, to talk to someone else about the problem, to go to a friend’s house, to take action to protect yourself. Would you tell your child at school to give in to a bully? Probably not—but at the same time, you probably wouldn’t want him or her to get into a fight with a bully either. You would most likely tell your child to get help from a teacher, the principal, or from you—all people outside the situation with more power.
Bullies try to cut their victims off from outside sources of power and protection. Who are your outside sources? Tell them that you're being bullied. Get their help and support. Use their insight and understanding to increase your self-esteem—and learn the skills you need to stand up for yourself or to protect yourself.
Seeing the bigger picture can help you get out of reacting in the moment. It will help you stay out of bigger fights and give you insight about how to stop reinforcing the behavior that is hurting you. That lays the groundwork for changing a relationship so that you can have healthier, happier, and more loving connections.