Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Colleagues Who Can Make You Fat,” focuses on people at work who try to sabotage coworkers’ diets. People reported that colleagues and bosses made them uncomfortable admitting they were on a diet 23% of the time. In contrast, dieters said they were uncomfortable admitting that they were dieting to people in personal life – friends, relatives and spouses – 63% of the time. That is, there are almost three times as many diet saboteurs among those who are closest to us.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Diet saboteurs use many techniques. They:
- Tease, taunt and mock.
- Criticize, pressure and manipulate.
- Gleefully predict failure.
- Get upset because we’re spurning their offerings of fatty, starchy, sugary, calorie-loaded food.
- Lecture that we’re harming our body by dieting.
The article says that these saboteurs usually mean well. I disagree. When diet saboteurs continue harassing and abusing us relentlessly, they don’t mean well. They’re narcissistic bullies who have their own agenda that they think is more important than ours. They’re righteous. They know better and they’re out to change us – usually by beating us into submission.
Typically, they try to sabotage our diets because:
- They may feel abandoned because we no longer eat the same food with them.
- They may be striking back because they take our change as a put down of their old habits.
- They may feel jealous that they’re not losing weight.
- They may see our being thinner as a threat.
- They may simply not like us and are finding another reason, excuse or justification to mock, ridicule, or put us down.
Who cares what their reasons are? Understanding their reasons won’t help us stop them. After the first time we’ve asked them to stop, their reasons for continuing now become excuses and justifications for continued harassment, abuse and bullying. Bullies always find excuses to continue inflicting pain.
What’s wrong with this picture?
- People who are closest to us – toxic spouses, family, friends – are the most relentless saboteurs. Things are not as we would wish. Notice that I didn’t say, “Things are not as they should be.” Things are as they are. That’s not what’s wrong with this picture.
- What’s wrong with this picture is that people feel uncomfortable and that feeling keeps them from doing what they need to. Their discomfort is their excuse to become victims.
Don’t debate or argue with their justifications. Don’t accept apologies unless their behavior changes. They won’t change their behavior; they won’t give up their desire for domination and control. Instead, stop bullies or get them off our Isle of Song.
These bullying spouses, family members and friends are telling us to examine what kind of behavior we will and won’t allow around us and our families.
To have the wonderful lives we want, we must stop bullying behavior in our personal spaces. We wouldn’t allow family members to push an alcoholic to have “just one drink” and we wouldn’t allow family abusers or perverts access to our children. The need to stop diet saboteurs is no different.
Of course, we can start resisting gently by asking them, one-to-one in private, to stop. Or we could ignore it or laugh it off in public. Those approaches become tests of them. Do they stop or do they identify themselves as bullies?
We know what doesn’t stop bullies: ignoring, minimizing, conflict-avoidance, begging, bribery, defeatism, forgiveness, appeasement, understanding, unconditional love, the Golden Rule. Relentless bullies misunderstand our kindness. They take our “rising above” as weakness and, like sharks or hyenas, they’re encouraged to attack us more.
Their relentless attacks force us to confront the central issue: which is more important; good behavior or bad blood? And when they continue their abuse, bullies force us into an all-or-none choice. Are we willing to defend the behavior we need to have, even if it breaks the old family dynamic, the code of silence that enables the nastiest spouse or relatives to continue getting away with their abuse for the sake of, “family?”
That choice thrusts us into the second stage of maturity – we’re called upon to decide, as independent adults, what behavior we will or won’t allow into our lives, no matter what the relationship is called. We’re called upon to have more confidence and self-esteem.
For some examples, see the case studies in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.