Subtle Abuse in the Home/Family

The home is supposed to be a haven, a place to go when there is no place else to go

"Sometimes abuse is not blatant. It sneaks up slowly, only occasionally

until it becomes the norm.

Then it lies unrecognized, unidentified until....."(1)

The typical, subtle bully/abuser is a nice person. A good person with many outstanding qualities. A lovable person who sometimes exhibits harmful behavior and attitudes. This kind of abuse is very hard to recognize. When unrecognized, the bully's power grows in relationship to the victim's growing weakness--both sides unrecognized on a conscious level. Over time, this kind of abuse will most likely increase in intensity and frequency. Ultimately, it is likely to include or end with physical abuse. By this time, the interaction of communications patterns and behavior may be so set that it may be very difficult or impossible to change.

Especially in these kinds of situations, the victim may not feel low self-esteem. In fact, maintaining a relatively healthy self-esteem may deepen the pain felt from sometimes being treated with such low regard.(2)

A husband accuses his wife of caring more about their children than about helping him

For perceived infractions, a family member may be required to do something unusual as punishment, such as eat something repulsive or take a cold shower.

A family member may be temporarily abandoned away from home for not doing what was expected.

The bully may criticize the victim in public.

The bully may criticize at an inappropriate time and place when remedial action is impossible.

The bully takes offense at constructive ideas that are contrary to his or her wishes, blaming the victim for causing discomfort.

The bully cuts off conversation, replacing what might have been said for what the bully thinks was going to be said.

The bully often speaks in absolutes such as, "You always..."

A bully walks away from confrontation resulting in frustration and unresolved issues which fester. Avoidance may include physically leaving, illness/headaches, withdrawal of affection, denying touch, refusal to discuss issues, working or participating in outside recreation for long hours.

A bully may refuse counseling saying he/she doesn't need it. It is the "victim" who needs it. [In this case, the victim does need to go--alone.]

Extreme cases may result in a dictatorial family system.

The victim may think, "Some day things will get better." (when the children are grown, after a stress-causer is removed, when retired). This is probably wishful thinking, although stress can be a trigger for bullying, and it might stop when the stress ends, depending on the longevity and intensity.


1. Beverly Johnson at Business & Professional Women/Kansas (BPW/KS) - Kansas Family & Community Education of Kansas (KAFCE) Lobby Day 02/24/2000

2. Ibid.