Many people wrote and called for coaching after last week’s post, “Stop Bullies Who Demand their Way.” Although their circumstances varied, their fundamental hesitation was the same: “How can I defend the behavioral standards I want if that means angry confrontations with my blood relationships?” Some common situations were:
- A bullying spouse.
- A bullying teenager.
- Sometimes parents or other biological relatives, sometimes in-laws and sometimes step-parents, who are nasty, demanding, degrading, brutal and abusive.
- Relatives, sometime biological, sometimes in-laws and sometimes step-parents, who reject, demean and even hit the callers’ children. These tyrannical, sarcastic relatives call the kids losers, compare them unfavorably to siblings, cousins and ancestors who turned out bad (“You’re just like so-and-so”) and demean and degrade the kids relentlessly.
All the callers recognized that continued, long-term exposure to those bullies would destroy their own and their children’s self-confidence and self-esteem. They could see how the bullying was causing sleepless nights, anxiety, nail-biting, discouragement, negative self-talk and even depression. Their children’s school work suffered. They could see their children either being beaten into submission or adopting bullying as their own strategy for success. So why didn’t the adults act?
Some were afraid of the economic consequences of resisting spouses, parents or grandparents with money. Some were afraid the bullying would increase.
However, most were afraid that if they objected to such treatment of themselves or of their children, they would split the family into warring groups or have the whole family turn against them. Most were embedded in cultures that reinforced the idea that “family is family” and “blood is the most important thing.” Most thought it was morally wrong to say “No” to elders or relatives.
They had tried everything they could think of: understanding, reasoning, sweet-talk, begging, bribery, appeasement, the Golden Rule and threats but nothing had been effective in changing the bullying behavior.
So they were stuck, knowing they were tolerating bullies and behavior that was harming them and their children.
Their hope was that I could provide a magic technique to convert those adult bullies into nice, sweet, kindly relatives; the loving, caring, concerned relatives they thought they’d have.
But they had already tried all the “magic wand” techniques and discovered that those family bullies wouldn’t change. After all, from the bullies’ perspective, why should they change? They’d gotten away with being abusive, demanding bullies for years; they got their way so why change? They were beyond appeals to conscience or to considering the feelings they were hurting.
I’ve seen bullies like that have near-death experiences due to cancer or accidents, and still resist changing. They’ve mastered brutality as a strategy to get what they want from life. By now, it’s all they know.
In my long experience, each successful client had to face a difficult choice and make a different one then they had before.
They had to support good behavior instead of bad blood.
They had to change their inner questions from, “How can I fit in?” or “How can I do what I’m supposed to?” to a question of “What behavior will I allow toward my children or in my space, no matter who the perpetrator is?”
They had to insist on good behavior toward themselves and their children, even if that meant challenging the previously rotten family dynamic. They had to become models of the actions they were preaching to their children.
The first step in creating a bully-free personal space is always for us to rally our spirits; to become strong, brave, determined and persevering. Endurance endures. Then we can make effective plans, take skillful steps and get the help we need.
We can begin a little soft, but bullies inevitably force us to become firm. Sometimes that meant denying the perpetrators access to their children. Sometimes that means leaving when the bullying starts. Sometimes that means standing alone and being a scapegoat. But often, when we insist on good behavior, many members of the family will also step up to the higher standards; they’ve simply been waiting for someone to take the lead.
In all cases, we have to fight the culture we’re embedded in. Plans have to be developed that fit the specific situations we’re in: are spouses on the same page, how bad is the economic dependence, how far away do we live?
But in all cases, we must hold out to ourselves and our children a better culture, in which people behave with caring, kindness and respect to each other.
We have to overcome our fears that we’ll be alone; fears that in the end, the only people who stand by us are family, so we have to pay the high price it costs to maintain relationships. However, we’ll discover that by clearing brutality out of our space, we’ll open up space for people we want to be with.
Review the case studies of Carrie, Jean, Doug, Kathy, Jake and Ralph facing different family bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site. Many times, when faced by our firmness, family bullies will give in. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).