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Adult Bullies

I work with many adult bullies and so do many of my colleagues. Recently at a meeting, my colleagues and I were discussing being the target of adult bullies, the result of the work we do. Amazingly all of us at this meeting had been bullied by clients in our social work practice.

How do you know a client is a bully? Because when they donít like what you say or try to hold them accountable, or provide feedback as to the impact of their behaviour, they attack you, viciously, personally, professionally. They seek to intimidate to get you to back down.

The adult version of the bully in my work is the one who will write complains about your professional practice to your licensing body or write trash about you on websites whose only purpose is to give people a place to spew their vitriol.

The adult bullies I work with are always in troubled relationships. Their relationships are troubled because they bully their partner. Ne real surprises here.

Having been subject to the atrocious behavior when the bully doesnít want to be helped or held accountable or approached as to their contribution to distress, I can only tell you, that my heart goes out to the partners of these bullies.

Sometimes despite our expertise in helping people assess and change their own behaviour, there are those folks who are quite simply resistant to help. We see them as having personality disorders, typically of a narcissistic or anti-social type.

Despite complaints, both to my professional licensing body and on complaint boards, I continue to meet with couples in distress the result of a bully as do my colleagues. This is part and parcel of the work we do. These are our occupational hazards.

However, for every complaint received, you have got to know there is a victim of the bullying who is pleased to have had their experience validated and who is pleased to have removed themselves from the abusive relationship.

That is why we do this work and that is why we continue to serve, even when we the service providers become the target of the bully.

Oddly enough, complaints against me, particularly those on the internet have only served to strengthen my practice. While posted with the intent of hurting business, people see through the vitriol and recognize the comments as a reflection on the person commenting. Bullies are self-evident.

If you are in a relationship with a bully, please do not despair. Instead, see it for what it is and do not be embarrassed or ashamed. Itís not you. It is the bully. You need not fight, but neither do you need to back down. You find a way to walk away. If you have children between you, the need is to find strategies for self-protection that minimizes the need for ongoing contact. At times, an intermediary is preferred. Such is the role of the Parenting Coordinator.

If you need strategies to cope with a bully in your life, it would be my pleasure to be of service.

If you are a colleague who works with bullies and have become their next target, also, do not despair. They are only showing you why they have terrible relationships; they are only demonstrating the behaviour that creates their distress in the first place. It is a reflection on the bully and not you.

The partner of the bully will be grateful for your understanding and support. As we stand strong, so too can the partner. These clients count on us.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.


Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.



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27 Sina Street, Georgina, ON, Canada L4P 3E9 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: gary@yoursocialworker.com