Recently, I had a run-in with someone who displays traits of a bully. Because of my experience with the sociopath, the abuser no longer in my life, I didn’t get bullied by his assertions that he was in the right and I was wrong, wrong, wrong — not to mention stupid.
Now, it is disconcerting to have an encounter of this sort. It is never pleasant to have someone yelling at me, or telling me I’d better do what they say, or else. In the case of this individual, the ‘or else’ was connected to his assertion he had the power to ruin my life in this city because, ‘he knows people’. He and his dad are connected and all it would take is one phone call, and wham! I wouldn’t know what hit me.
Once upon a time, encounters like that would have terrified me. Not because I believed he could make a phone call and ruin my life, but rather, because someone’s anger and bullying would have caused me to back down, run away, go underground or simply go silent. I would have been so scared of standing my ground I wouldn’t have had the courage to simply state, as I did in this instance, “This conversation isn’t about your threats, or who you know, it’s about what you need to do to right this situation.”
The first sign of trouble
The man in question is my landlord. Three and a half years ago when I moved back to this city where the debacle with the sociopath had unfolded, I rented a house in the inner city from a really nice couple. The husband took a job outside the country and the real estate market started to boom. He received an offer he couldn’t refuse and I had a new landlord.
I have never met this man though he’s been my landlord for about a year. My first encounter with him was when my original lease expired last March. “You’ve been getting a steal,” he said when he called to negotiate a new rental rate. “I paid $600,000 for that house and the same for the other three on the block. I’m upping your rent $800 a month.”
In this city of booming economics and excess, a leap in rent of that nature is not uncommon. With a vacancy rate of 0.1%, landlords have had free rein to call the shots. My landlord’s intention is to tear down the four contiguous properties he bought and put in upscale town homes. He’s having trouble getting his plans through an overburdened planning commission and is renting the houses on a month-to-month basis until he gets City approval. Because I liked my little house, it was convenient for my daughters and allowed me to keep my dog, I breathed deeply, did the math in my head and agreed to the rental increase. It would be a squeeze but I could just manage it until I could afford to buy something of my own.
One of the questions I had for him at the time was, “What’s happened to my damage deposit?” He assured me it was in trust and life carried on. Over the course of the past year we’ve had a couple of phone conversations but never met. In one of the phone messages he left, he told me he would be using my garage to store some things in. I phoned back and left a message to tell him that was not acceptable. I asked him to call, he never did, and I let the matter go.
When I let it go, I let go of my voice
A few weeks ago, my daughters and I noticed that the garage door was ajar. We thought possibly a homeless individual had taken up residence and decided to let matters rest. It was freezing cold out. We don’t use the garage except to store bikes, recyclables, empty boxes and garden equipment. If someone was desperate enough to use my garage for shelter, as long as they ensured the gate was always closed, and didn’t light a fire, I was not going to disturb them until the weather turned milder.
A week later, the cold snap lifted and I decided to carry the recyclables into the garage and check out the situation.
There was no homeless individual in residence. The door had been ajar because my landlord had stored several appliances in the garage.
I was angry. But cautious. My daughters had met this man when he came over with his brother to fix a toilet. They didn’t like him at first sight. “He’s creepy,” my eldest daughter said. “Sort of reminds me of C.,” she said, naming the sociopath formerly in my life.
I called my landlord and got his answering machine. My message asked him to call me back, immediately, “You do not have permission to store things in my garage,” I told him. He never called back. Time passed, Christmas loomed, busy lives hurried forward and I let the matter drop.
Opportunity knocks and bad behaviour rises
And then I got an opportunity for a house I couldn’t refuse. Friends were moving. I could rent/purchase their home, which I love. It’s in a great area of town. Beautifully renovated. Perfect. I take possession January 15. The monthly payments are less than my current rent, and the operating costs significantly lower as it is properly insulated and has all new windows.
I phoned my landlord at the end of December and left him a message telling him I was moving out by the end of January.
“I don’t have January’s rent cheque,” he reminded me when he promptly called back. “Oh. And what’s the earliest you can move out by?”
“If you deduct the earlier vacancy from my rent, I can move out by the 18th,” I told him.
“You’re required to give me a month’s notice,” he replied. “I don’t have to deduct anything.”
Hello? He asked me if I’d be willing to vacate earlier.
Warning bells started clanging. I asked him about my original $1200 damage deposit.
“I don’t recall anything about it,” he replied.
“When you bought the house, you told me you had the damage deposit in trust.”
“I did?” I could almost hear the shrug of his shoulders over the phone. “Whatever. I’ll be over later to pick up the rent cheque. Just leave it in the mailbox.” And he hung up.
I was concerned. I wanted to be sure the monies for the damage deposit were in a trust account as required by law. I decided to write a cheque for that month’s rent minus the amount of the deposit. I included a note telling him why the cheque didn’t add up to the total amount.
He phoned me the next day. “Where’s the rest of the rent?”
“Where’s the damage deposit?” I shot back.
In the land of paramoralisms, there is no sense in arguing
And that’s when the ‘paramoralisms’ Dr. Steve describes so aptly started.
His arguments ranged from, “I paid $600,000 for that house (why it’s important I know this I’m not sure) to “I did you a favour by renting you that house when I could have rented it to friends.”
I told him the cost of the house was not germaine to our conversation, what was important was the fact he could not provide me proof about my damage deposit. “How dare you suggest you can’t trust me,” he said. “You’re the one who can’t be trusted. You’re refusing to pay the rent.”
“I’m not refusing to pay the rent,” I replied. “I’m holding a portion in arrears until you provide me the proof that my damage deposit has not been lost in the shuffle.”
His anger was palpable on the phone. He went on to tell me that I was unprofessional and untrustworthy.
“You haven’t acted in a particularly trustworthy manner,” I said and reminded him of the appliances being stored in the garage.
“It’s my garage,” he yelled. “I can do whatever I want with it.”
“Not while I’m renting it,” I replied. “You had no legal right to enter the property without notifying me first, especially after I told you that you couldn’t store things there.”
“Who cares? That was months ago. Anyway, you’ve only got a bunch of old boxes and cardboard stored on one side of the garage. The other side was empty.”
“Doesn’t matter. You violated the landlord tenant act. You had no right to enter the property without my permission.”
“And you’re just bringing this up now? What is your problem?”
Now, he was right. I had let it slip and was using this call to bring it forward. In the past, I probably would have backed down. Instead, I held my ground. “I left you a couple of messages asking you to call,” I said. “You never did.”
“I don’t have time to call you over stupid little things like that,” he replied. “I had a guy over to fix your washing machine within hours of your calling to tell me it wasn’t working.”
It’s up to me to keep myself on track
And that’s where the learning from the encounter with the sociopath in the past comes in handy today. Having gained an understanding of the tactics these subject matter experts on human manipulation use to control their victims, I did not fall prey to his aggressive assertions that he was right, and I was in the wrong. I steered the conversation back to the subject that was of most concern — my damage deposit. I did not back down. I did not yell back. I did not give him anything other than to repeat what I needed, for him to provide me proof that the damage deposit was in trust.
“Don’t tell me what I have to do,” he screamed. “I don’t have to prove anything. You have to give me my money.” And he hung up.
Because of my learning from the sociopathic encounter, I knew I needed to arm myself with additional information and to better understand my rights in this situation. I called the government agency responsible for landlord tenant complaints.
During the call, the man on the phone was adamant that I file a complaint. “We get very concerned when landlords indicate they don’t have a damage deposit properly accounted for,” he said. I told him I had withheld a portion of the rent monies. “You’re in arrears, but it doesn’t make much difference at this point if you’re moving out. You’ll be gone long before he can evict you. The matter of his handling of the damage deposit however, needs to be investigated regardless.” The man logged my call and inserted my landlord’s name into the file. “That way, when the investigator gets the file, he or she will have my notes and the landlord’s name to cross-reference against other files,” he said.
I don’t like being in arrears on my rent. I also don’t like having to play hardball, which is why I didn’t take action when I first determined he had stored things in my garage. Fear of losing my little home kept me from speaking out against his violation of our relationship.
The power of learning about sociopaths
Having been down this road with a master of abuse in the past, I know it is my responsibility to stand up for me, to turn up for my rights and to use all available resources to support me. In the fall, I let my landlord off the hook when I did not challenge him on his behaviour. In recognizing my responsibility in that situation, I take action to ensure I am not a victim of my lack of action today.
Encounters with sociopaths hurt. They destroy our trust. Our faith in humanity. Our belief in ourselves, our belief in others, our belief in love. These encounters harm us. But they are also opportunities to learn and grow and become wiser. In the aftermath of that encounter I am much stronger, wiser, more vibrant, more committed to living my life fearlessly and to not giving in to someone else’s assertions they know what is right for me. They don’t. And I will not give them the power to tell me they do.
I have learned a lot since the day the sociopath was arrested four and a half years ago. Where once I would have denied that there are people who spend their lives perfecting their art of manipulating other people, today I know the truth. They are out there. They exist.
They don’t have to be in my life, however, and won’t be, as long as I stay conscious, identify where I am at risk and educate myself about their tactics. I cannot stop a sociopath or a bully from being who they are. I can limit the impact of their antics in my life by knowing who I am. I cannot stop an abuser from being themselves. I can stop abuse in my life by being true to who I am. By being 100% responsible for every thing I do and everything that happens in my life, good and bad, I strengthen my resolve to live fearlessly, passionately and freely.