Mobbing is the bullying or collective attack of an individual by a group. It entails the victimization of a target in order to demean, discredit, humiliate, undermine, exclude, alienate and isolate them. It’s conducted via smear campaigns, harassment, DARVO, bureaucratic hassles and manipulating law enforcement and/or the courts to attack the target.
Of course, mobbing can happen in schools, churches, at work, on social media, in all kinds of organizations that tolerate these kinds of behaviors. It can also occur within families.
- Sister is offended by Brother’s opinion that she shouldn’t interfere with her ex’s custody time. Sister trash talks Brother. She pressures their Family to take sides, calling him a “traitor” and the Family gives him the cold shoulder.
- Uncle divorces Aunt and smears her on social media. He alleges that she’s an adulterous “Jezebel,” quoting bible verses as part of the smear campaign. He also slanders her at church and their faith community ostracizes her. In reality, Aunt didn’t cheat on Uncle. She left him after years of his rage episodes and his alcohol abuse.
- Mother is likely an undiagnosed borderline personality disorder who verbally, physically, financially and sexually abused Father throughout the marriage. She routinely undermines, attacks and disrespects Father to the kids, and encourages them to do the same. After Father files for divorce, Mother deputizes the 12-year old son to assist in alienating the younger kids during visitation time with Father.
Bullies of all ages — including children and teens — are capable of and engage in this kind of malicious behavior. It’s the responsibility of parents, teachers and other role model adults to correct and teach kids not to bully and mob. Of course, when mom, dad or grandmother model this behavior they teach their kids, grandchildren, students, etc., that it’s okay. In fact, they teach their kids that abuse is the answer to disagreements, accountability and how to get wants and needs met.
The usual suspects who engage in mobbing in divorce and custody disputes.
A mob usually has one or two ringleaders who in turn have deputies, flunkies, suck-ups and flying monkeys to carry out the abuse of the target(s). In divorce cases, the aggressor typically enlists friends, family members, the children, law enforcement, teachers, pastors, rabbis, neighbors and/or strangers on social media (i.e., GoFundMeImmaVictim! pages) to attack and/or shun the target.
Not everyone who participates in mobbing is a narcissist, histrionic, borderline, psychopath or other Cluster B variety pack. However, the ringleaders likely have some kind of personality disorder or enough Cluster B traits to be able to justify or rationalize their abuse and criminality and, as ever, see themselves as victims. Whatever labels you prefer to apply to these individuals, they all share the same basic traits that drive these behaviors.
In varying degrees, they lack empathy, are pathologically entitled, blame others (usually their victims) for their (usually self-created) problems and are pathological liars. They’re also highly manipulative, vindictive, ruthless, emotionally and psychologically immature, angry and enjoy conflict. And, the most maddening of traits, they believe themselves to be victims if and when they’re finally ever held accountable and experience consequences for their abusive and/or criminal behavior.
Common traits bullies and people with NPD, BPD, HPD, psychopathy and sociopathy share include:
- Anger issues. They’ve poor conflict resolution skills and explosive, unpredictable rage.
- Impulsive and reckless.
- Low threshold for frustration and/or boredom.
- Professional victim or tendency of interpersonal victimhood. They see themselves as the victim in most situations even when they’re demonstrably the aggressor.
- DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim and offender).
- Contempt for laws and social norms and rules.
- Authority issues.
- They use physical, emotional and social violence as entertainment (i.e., self-stimulation) or as a means to get what they want.
- Control issues.
- They use physical strength, charm and/or popularity to intimidate and/or persuade others to attack their targets.
- Jealous and spiteful of others talents, abilities and accomplishments.
- Pathological liars.
Mobbing ringleaders are bullies who try to dominate and control others. The behaviors can be covert or overt. Mobbing utilizes the surreptitious (i.e., sneaky) use of rumor, innuendo, inappropriate jokes and public discrediting. When the bullying is overt, it’s often presented as moral superiority, righteous indignation, victim playing and/or virtue signaling.
Why do many narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and other toxic personalities engage in mobbing in high conflict divorce and custody disputes?
Namie and Namie (2000) describe bullies as, “inadequate, defective, and poorly developed people.” Generally, they’re angry, unpredictable, critical, jealous and manipulative (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999; Namie and Namie, 2000). They revel in the excitement produced by their animosity. It produces a pleasurable buzz or high. Westhues (2002) refers to this as “the euphoria of collective attack.”
In other words, these individuals derive a sense of power and pleasure from controlling and abusing their target(s). Narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and other aggressors also derive pleasure and a sense of power and superiority by getting away with their malicious behavior, scams, false victim narratives and other predatory acts.
All bullies are repeat offenders. Meaning, if they’ve bullied once and gotten away with it, they’ll do it again. Getting away with it is its own reward as is being able to manipulate and control both the target and the system. In other words, dupers delight.
When does it stop?
The harassment doesn’t stop unless someone with the authority to make it stop (e.g., a family court judge) implements painful consequences as behavioral deterrents and disincentives. Or, the aggressor abuses the target into quitting, getting them fired, expelled, banned or, sadly, walking away from one’s children. The abuser’s ultimate goal is to force the target out of the group, organization or family. Even when the bully is successful in their endeavors, they may still continue to attack their targets.
Mobbing is especially painful when the aggressor manipulates one’s family and friends to turn against them. Losing one’s community and family of origin (no matter how dysfunctional they may be) is emotionally devastating. Clients whose parents, siblings, etc., side with their abusive ex or partner are often personality disordered and/or mentally ill themselves and abused these clients in childhood.
The present day divorce and custody battle provides these pathogenic families an opportunity to attack, smear, abuse, triangulate, split, gaslight, etc., all over again. It’s sick. Many adults who were abused as kids grow up and partner with women and men who are similar to the abusive/mentally ill parent, thus replaying the childhood trauma anew.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals with relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. For over a decade, she has specialized in helping men and women break free of abusive relationships, cope with the stress of ongoing abuse and heal from the trauma. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. If you’d like to work with Dr. Palmatier, please visit the Schedule a Session page or you can email her directly at email@example.com.
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