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When a sudden storm descends it can unravel our lives in a blink. We’re forced to call upon an inner strength we didn’t know we had. If we’re lucky, we take shelter in the arms of family, friends, church and community. Often we’re forced to become our own strength. When James died unexpectedly that Christmas, his family wasn’t there for me, but then he’d predicted that.

“If I go first,” James once told me, “They [his family] won’t be there for you. I’m sorry, but you know how they are.”

Days after James’s died, the therapist who counseled me and one of his blood family said James was the glue that held the family together. James embodied God, country, family and fairness. Friends, family, even ex-family valued and relied on his strength, compassion and logic.

Later the therapist told me, “I don’t know about you, but I know crazy when I see it,” referring to the family member–the bully–who’d lunged at me in the therapist’s office, veins bulging, inches from my face and in essence threatened me. The therapist believed that since the rest of James’s family had no backbone, the bully would quickly move the troops into line.

Beginning with planning James’s memorial service, without consulting me, the bully ordered there would be no music, and no friends and/or family would speak at the service. Like a waddle of baby ducklings, the family followed the bully into the church—without me—and sat on the wrong side of the church. When it came time to stand in the receiving line and greet those who’d come to pay their respects, James’s blood family stood to the side with the bully. More’s the pity because they missed three hours of stories about James’s kindness and humor and statements of admiration and love. While it was the family’s loss, it was mine as well. They left me to stand in the receiving line by myself, and that was lost on no one.

James and I used to say, “Our kingdom to be a fly on the wall in that house.” They were odd, but they were the family I’d known and in some cases, loved for 16 years. Many never bothered to get to know me past a cursory level but came year after year to Christmas dinner and never said please or thank you, or let us help you clean up the table.

The same family that the day before he died, James had finally had enough of and vowed we would never spend another Christmas with any of them, and so it was.

Since then I’ve wondered if they fell into line like good little soldiers, afraid of setting off the bully. Countless times I remember one of them warning James, “I wouldn’t say that if I were you. You know how [the bully] is.” Did they even question or wonder why I’d been kicked to the curb? Did they ever stop to consider that as result, I lost my entire family that day? How hurt and alone I was, or how many months and years I cried and grieved for more than just James? Not even a “how are you doing” call. Nothing.

I know and the bully knows why. More importantly, God knows. The bully banned all contact with me so there would be no chance the bully might learn how devastated James was–to his core–about the bully who, also couldn’t face the thought of contributing to James’s death.

Do you have a bully in your family? Have you ever thought that by enabling them, you’re also complicit in their far-reaching destructive behavior? At what point do you stand up to a bully and say, “Enough?” I hope you never know the pain of such a sudden storm.

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26 thoughts on “EVERY FAMILY HAS A BULLY”

  1. So insightful. Sorry, my friend, that was such a hurtful storm thrust upon you forcing you to weather it. But God’s grace, your strength and resiliency made you the woman you are today. Sometimes, as cruel as they can be, that bully has no idea the strength they create in the one person they want to destroy.

  2. Always remember Brenda, the loudest voice in the room is the weakest.Thanks for sharing your story.God bless.Lorna Wight Australia

  3. This happens way too often in families. This is why everything should be written down and certified as to what someone wants at their moment of death. It can’t make the family act like a family but it can at least give the departed and his loved ones some peace. So very sorry. Thank you for this.

    • You make an important point, Renee. Other than if we want to be cremated, most of us don’t leave many instructions about how we want things to be handled after our death. Thank you! Brenda

  4. Thank you for sharing your story! And yes, we all have bullies around that deserve nothing but silence and pity from us. They are so small and you are so BIG! I’m sorry for everything you went through!

  5. It is beyond sad that James family would be so blind. Bullies are the most thin-skinned and vulnerable if someone is willing to challenge them. You rose above them, as only you can. I hope there’s some solace in that, Brenda.

    • Unfortunately, James’s family wasn’t blind. They know exactly what the bully is. They just have no backbone. Thank you for your sweet words, Barbara. I love you for that. xoxox, Brenda

  6. Oh Brenda how sad. My husband’s family has a similar bully and no doubt I will deal with the same banishment if he passes first.
    I took my power back from her and called the rest of the family out. It’s been interesting.
    My sister is my side of the family’s bully. I don’t talk with her other than hello and goodbye.
    I’ve learned that family is who is there for you, who celebrates you and who calls you out gently when you are wrong is family, blood or not.

    • Doreen, That doesn’t surprise me a bit that you took your power back!! Not at all. At least you know you might be banished if that day comes, but it doesn’t guarantee you won’t be devastated and hurt. And your sister? Oh wow! That’s tough. You’re right about family as well. Family is by choice not by blood. xoxox, Brenda

  7. It’s hard to know how to handle the hateful antics of bullies. It’s been a long time for me, but I think the most useful survival tactic was reminding myself “It’s not about me.” It sounds like this wound hasn’t healed gracefully for you yet. I hope this post is a step towards healing.

    • You’re right, Pennie. It wasn’t about me. You’re also right that there was nothing graceful about any of it. Actually I am healed. I no longer grieve for them or want them in my life. Something triggered a thought about all of these sad little people, so I decided to write about it. Thanks for your comment. Brenda

  8. There are those reading this that are thinking “that could never happen. Could it?” Yes it could, and something like it happened to my best friend’s sister after her husband died (from cancer). The bully even threw her out of her house, which was built on family property. She had little choice but to move out of state, to be close to my friend. I feel for you and am so sorry you had to go through all this pain.

    • Thank you, Alana. What a nightmare your friend’s sister has gone through. I hope she’s beginning to heal. When I wrote this I knew there were lots of families with bullies, but the response I’ve gotten–especially email–has shown me it’s rampant. Who knew there were so many people who, for whatever reason, feel that by controlling is the only way they feel powerful? xoxox, Brenda

    • Strangers on the street DID respond with more kindness and love! It was devastating for James and for me to realize there was such a bully in the family! Thank you, Mithra.

  9. Jame’s family really lost; James and getting to know you! My husband has a sort of bully, more of a liar/manipulator/mean/total downer in his family.She hasn’t been invited to our house in a decade because I won’t allow it. Sounds stringent but after I caught her stealing from us and pulling an end table over spilled red wine instead of cleaning it up, I said no more and my husband agrees.

    • For years James was told not to say certain things to the bully. He was beyond devastated, inconsolable, when he realized he’d followed the wrong advice. The next afternoon he was dead. You did the right thing, Haralee. It’s not easy to find our voice and say “enough,” but good for you! I’m so happy your husband’s in agreement with you. Brenda

  10. I’m so sorry you had to go through such a hurtful experience, Brenda, adding to the pain of losing your beloved James. One of my father’s brothers is a bully and years ago he nearly destroyed my father with his behaviour – which included trying to take our family’s farm off us – which was only made worse by the other seven siblings following the bully’s lead. I won’t have anything to do with any of my aunts and uncles now, they don’t deserve my trust. Essie xx

    • I’m sorry your father and your family has experienced this pain. No, they don’t deserve our trust or the time of day. I won’t cut bullies an excuse, whether they were bullied as children or teens; had controlling/bullying parents; they get off on making other people look small, or they’ve been traumatized. The damage they do is irreparable. Thank you, Essie. xoxox, Brenda

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