Holidays bring out many bullies at home. You know; the control-freaks who have to have things their way; the manipulative, guilt-tripping, back-stabbing, super-critical, put-down stealth bullies. For example, Jane has a mother, brother and two sisters who are masters at these techniques. She used to dread the holidays with the whole family, until she stopped their behavior. It’s funny how often the family of our hearts and spirits is not the family we grew up in.
What goes on in your family? Do you have examples for the next posts on the holidays at work and bullying children during the holidays? Jane’s mother had guilt-tripped her all of her life. Her mother’s voice dripped with hurt and pain when she whined, “You never loved me as much as your sisters did” and “You’re so selfish and uncaring, you won’t do the simple things I want for me, after all I did for you.”
Sister #1 always preened and pointed out how her children, husband and house were better than Jane’s. At the same time, the sister’s husband hated Christmas. He sounded just like Scrooge, “Christmas is humbug and fake. I don’t want to waste my time, I won’t give presents and I won’t have fun.” He was nasty the whole time.
Jane’s brother insisted that Christmas must be done his way; his way was the RIGHT way. Jane was supposed to make a big spread for him at her house early in the morning, prepare the food he wanted and make her children do the activities he wanted.
Sister #2 bragged about how much more she gave her children than Jane did, and how much better she took care of their mother than Jane did. She was the best child and she and her children were mom’s favorites. Also without telling Jane, she invited extra people to come to Jane’s house. Her husband was okay until he started drinking. Then he criticized everything Jane did or had. And he was relentless.
At least, Jane thought, I don’t have elatives that come to stay when I don’t want them or friends who bully me. And this year, for the first time, Jane is looking forward to an afternoon with the extended family. That’s because she won’t allow those old behaviors of theirs in her space.
With coaching and the techniques from the book and CD set, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks,” especially the staircase technique and the guideline of being as firm as she needed, Jane got over her own guilt and self-bullying, and set boundaries and behavioral rules for her family in her house. She started two years ago by not getting hurt feelings, by calling it like it is and even being a little sarcastic.
She said to her mom, “Stop trying to guilt trip me.” When he mother complained, “I was not. I was simply telling you how I felt,” Jane didn’t argue. Instead she firmly responded, “I never thought I’d have a mother who tries to manipulate me using guilt. You’re just like grandma and what she used to do with you.”
We know that everyone talks about how wonderful their children are, and Jane was glad to listen to Sister #1 for a while. But when her sister kept going on, and brought every conversation around to the inevitable comparisons, Jane finally said, with a smile, “Yes, you’ve convinced me again. Your children are much better than mine.” When her sister indignantly protested that wasn’t her intention, Jane didn’t argue about intentions. Each time her sister repeated her nasty comparisons, Jane simply repeated what she had said.
Jane also laid down some rules without asking their opinions. For example, she wants Christmas Eve and morning with her children, and their protests didn’t sway her. She’s willing to give them the afternoon. Also she no longer allows liquor on Christmas day.
Over the past two years, Jane has been steady about her challenges to her family. She rarely debated or helped them do amateur psychoanalysis on why they behaved the way they did. Their better behavior was her test.
She decided which values were more important to her and then made clear that her family had to change or she wouldn’t have them for Christmas. More important than a family gathering with nasty people, was a wonderful time with her children. And she didn’t argue with their protests and justifications.
Jane’s progress was not as fast and smooth as I’m telling in this short post, but it was steady. She’s seen her family change over the last two years and she thinks that this Christmas will be a test for them. She’s pretty sure that if she stands firm, they accept her rules for behavior she allows in her life. Mostly she’s eager for the challenge.
We all have bullies in our family. The holidays seem to bring out the best in some people, while they bring out the worst in others.
Of course, we need to design different tactics to fit everyone’s unique circumstances and the bullying patterns in individual families. That’s what coaching and consulting are for. Some people will be sweeter and softer than Jane, while others will be even more frank and straightforward.