Sneaky, manipulative, covert bullies try to force us into difficult, all-or-none choices. They figure we won’t make the hard choice; we’ll choose them instead. Don’t accept the choices they present to us. Don’t give them control of how to look at things. For example: Tim’s first wife had died 20 years ago and he’d been happily married to Jennifer for 15 years. She’d tried to be a good step-mother to Tim’s daughter and son, despite hatred and intense provocation, especially from Tim’s daughter, Coral.
Coral was now 28. She’d harassed, abused and bullied Jennifer all during her upbringing. Two years ago she’d even slapped Jennifer in the face. Coral’s excuse was always that she was still suffering because her mother had died, because Jennifer didn’t give her everything she wanted and because it was Tim’s fault that he wouldn’t defend her.
Actually, Tim had been riddled with guilt and, although he’d pleaded with Coral to be nicer to Jennifer and to himself, he’d never enforced any consequences that mattered to Coral. In fact, he’d trained Coral to believe that if she was nasty and negative, and threw temper tantrums long enough, he’d relent and give her what she wanted.
Jennifer had always felt like a second-class citizen, lower on Tim’s priority list than Coral. Tim always excused Coral by saying that she was young and still suffering from her mother’s early death. He excused his tolerating Coral’s behavior, his not protecting Jennifer by saying that eventually, if he loved and forgave Coral enough, she’d come around. He didn’t want Coral to feel unloved.
Jennifer thought Tim simply avoided conflict with his daughter because she’d never be reasonable, apologize or compromise. He gave Coral control because Jennifer was reasonable and understanding, so he could more easily ask her to give in.
Finally Coral had the leverage she wanted. She gave birth to Tim’s only grandchild. Then she laid down the law. He’d have to choose: either her and his grandson or his wife. If he chose Jennifer, he’d never see his grandson and Coral would bad-mouth him to everyone. She’d also turn his grandson against him.
There are many other examples in which bullies below the radar try to force these difficult choices on us:
- New husbands or wives who try to force spouses into choosing between them or the kids from a previous marriage. It’s especially difficult on the parents if the biological kids are going through a troubled time and spreading their unhappiness around.
- Toxic parents who want us to choose between them or our spouse.
In all these examples, a bully presents us with a difficult choice: them or someone else we love. In all these examples, we know the truth we’ve been trying to avoid acknowledging: someone we love is bullying us. They’re trying to beat us into submission in order to get what they want. We also know the difficult truth: if we give in to this blackmail, it’ll never end and the price will keep increasing.
So what can we do?
In all these examples, the same process opens the door to the rich and grand future we yearn for:
- Accept that we’ll never get what we want if we give in to blackmail. Accept that the blackmailer wants to control our lives – they want to tell us what’s right and what we must do; or else. Accept that we’ll never change these narcissistic predators by begging, bribery, peace-making, the Golden Rule or unconditional love. Tim had to accept that although he loved his daughter, he didn’t like her and he dreaded any interaction with her.
- Decide what behavior we must have and what we will tolerate in our personal space. Forget about the name of the relationship and focus on the behavior. Set high standards for how people have to behave in order to be invited into our space. What values are more important than which others? What’s the life we want to live, given the givens that other people try to force on us?
- See the choice for what it really is. Tim finally saw that the choice was not between his daughter or his wife; it was between being beaten and controlled by his daughter or his life. In order to have the life he yearned for, he had to choose to be a person worthy of that life. He had to have the courage of his deepest desires.
- Protect our personal environment from pollution, even by those we love. That meant that Tim had to act with courage and determination to defend his personal space from any toxic polluter, even from his daughter and from the weakest, most needy, most cowardly part of him.
By choosing the life he wanted, which he shared with Jennifer, Tim chose the possibility of a wonderful life. He and Jennifer started doing things they’d always wanted to. They stopped wasting their time thinking about Coral. Tim stopped being depressed and riddled with shame and guilt. They started being happy.
But what about Tim’s broken heart because he couldn’t see his grandson? There’s no way around that. Tim’s daughter was adamant: she wouldn’t let him see his grandson. However, we must remember that we can never appease predators and vampires.
But eventually, Coral and her husband divorced and her husband, who had finally seen how Coral operated but was no longer afraid of her, let Tim and Jennifer bond with his grandson. Eventually Coral needed money and Tim had to decide if he wanted to put her on a pay-for-play plan. Should he give her a little money each time he and Jennifer saw his grandson?