New research shows that this heightened level of anxiety among victims of bullying—and the bullies themselves—doesn’t stop after elementary school. It can have dramatic effects on a person well into adulthood.”
“Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. Victims of bullying are at increased risk for emotional disorders in adulthood. Bullies/victims are at the highest risk and are most likely to think about or plan suicide. These problems are associated with great emotional and financial costs to society.”
“Those who were both bullies and victims are more likely to have:
The key to cultivating the next leaders of your organization is to work every day to help the candidates get what they need in order to make their next steps. By “cultivation,” I mean gardening – not training, grooming or developing. Cultivation takes time, sunshine, water and manure.
You should require candidates to make the same investment of themselves. Any potential leader who isn’t willing to do that should be removed from your list.
Many small business leaders concentrate on what they’ve been told they need to do in the workplace: develop vision and goals, bring in new clients, oversee daily details and monitor monthly earnings. Their meetings focus on tasks and tactics, on the urgent and daily business.
The key is offering yourself and your time – continuously, honestly and frankly. Give up your excuses for not doing this personal, on-going mentoring, such as “too busy, don’t like emotion and personal interactions, I’m a big picture person, the worthy people will learn by themselves.”
Leaders set the tone for the whole workplace. Like a deadly infection, your emotions and reactions are catching. Generals who panic will create panicky troops. It’s the same at work.
No, you can’t be yourself if you overreact to sudden changes, crises, bad news or big mistakes. Your team will also overreact and blow it if you act:
Over reactors always have excuses for why they must react the way they do. But remember the fire drill that every public figure, including athletes and celebrities, must learn in order to be followed – keep your head, have fortitude, persevere.
Don’t get sucked into any situation as if it’s life-or-death, no matter how important you’re afraid it is. Step back, put it in a long-term context that restores your spirit, and start thinking and strategizing.
Sometimes a walk around the block is enough; sometimes you have to talk it out in order to see the big picture; sometimes you simply have to give up fear and control, and just go for it.
An effective attitude begins with, “We can handle this. Here’s my plan.” Or you first go to the appropriate leaders, develop the best plan you can and then spread it to the troops.
You need a plan, but you don’t need a perfect, 10-year plan. Don’t become immobilized by over planning.
By the way, “all-staff” meetings carry an underlying message of overreaction – unless there’s been a public disaster and everyone needs to see the leader calmly, energetically and resolutely explaining the plan for dealing with the situation.
Otherwise, have the manager of each team champion the plan with determination.
Practice courage and strength by taking on challenges and risks. Be capable of rallying yourself from setbacks and handling seemingly overwhelming crises, or let someone else lead in the face of adversity.
There is an upside; leaders can also set the tone for the good. Like inherited immunity, calm, vigor and stamina are also catching. When you’re spirited and resolute, you’re testing everyone else. People who continue overreacting have to be weeded out before they infect your workplace.
Some people think that fear and anger are always bad. Some people think that fear and anger can’t help stop bullies.
When used and directed appropriately, fear and anger can help us stop bullies in all areas of life – abusive, violent, demeaning spouses; sneaky, manipulative, toxic parents or adult children; taunting, teasing, harassing, predatory school bullies; dangerous and deadly gangs; bullying bosses or coworkers; or even our worry and anxiety about something general and more amorphous like a poor economy and no savings, no insurance and a huge mortgage payments for a house beyond our means.
Fear is a normal feeling we have in order to warn ourselves of danger. It's our way of telling ourselves to get ready, mobilize ourselves and take precautions - there might be a saber-toothed tiger lurking down the trail.
Our childhood responses were useful when we were growing up. After all, we did survive; we did live to become adults. But those over-the-top responses are no longer effective enough; they’re the down-side of allowing our fear to overwhelm us before we respond.
The key to success is to act when our warning fear is small so we can engage our brain in planning how to respond.
Anger is simply our effort to mobilize ourselves, to get us in gear to respond, to give us enough strength and power to act effectively. Most people need some amount of anger when they’re small children in order to get the big people to listen. Anger is simply motivational energy.
But if we let anger build up too much we’ll blow up and kill someone. Just like the case for fear, our childhood responses were useful when we were growing up. After all, we did survive; we did live to become adults. But those over-the-top responses are no longer effective enough; they’re the down-side of allowing our anger to overwhelm us before we respond.
If we start acting when our anger is merely irritation or frustration, we can engage our brains to develop smart, effective action. If we wait too long, we’ll make ourselves much too angry; we’ll turn to rage. We’ll explode and create a bigger mess. Or we’ll repress ourselves totally and live with those terrible consequences, such as depression and low confidence and self-esteem.
Of course, if we respond early and effectively to our hesitation, irritation and frustration in stopping bullies, we can respond more effectively. Fear and anger are simply warnings (like smoke detectors) and fuel for our engines so we can get to where we want to be. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those signals or with that fuel. As long as we act before we’re at their mercy.
Of course, our tactics will be different when we stop bullies in different situations. But once our energy, courage, determination and power are hooked up to our brains, we have a much better chance of success than if we’re overcome by fear or anger.
What if our fear or anger seems to become overwhelming instantly and we feel out of control? Actually, you’ll find it’s not instantaneous; it just seems that way because we’ve practiced soften. For some techniques to overcome worry, fear and anger, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” available fastest from this web site.
Everyone has moments that matter: moments when our life can go in either direction; moments when we can choose the strength to soar to heaven or the weakness to fall into hell. You know, those moments in which everything gets absolutely quiet and the air seems to pulse and throb with the power and weight of a choice that will change our life. What will we do? Which path will we choose? What will our life become?
All bullies, all targets and all witnesses have those moments when the rest of their lives hang in the balance. Will they stop bullying? Will they stop being victims of bullies or of their own self-bullying? Will they give up in defeat and despair or will they forge ahead, no matter the consequences?
These are the moments when, if we have the “Will,” we can will ourselves into wonderful futures.
Charles M. Blow reminded me of the moments of truth that I’ve seen in the lives of all the bullies and also all the targets I’ve known. He wrote a wonderful, deep, heart-felt column in the New York Times, “The Bleakness of the Bullied.”
He describes his own experience when he was eight, the subject of “relentless teasing and bullying from all directions – classmates as well as extended family.” In a pit of despair, he contemplated suicide, only to be heartened when a song, often sung by his mother, leapt to his mind, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
He knew he had “to be brave and patient, that this was not to be my last night.”
Every target of bullying I’ve ever coached had a similar moment in their childhood or in our work together: A moment when they faced the bleakness of a future of continuing to be a victim or, alternatively, the brightness of standing up and fighting back in some way. In that moment, they each responded to that choice with a great surge of Will, power and energy. They fanned the spark in their heart into a fierce flame that warmed, strengthened and sustained them.
Once their Will took over their actions, despite a little anxiety, the rest was straightforward.
They would keep that flame alive by daring to protect and defend themselves; by taking the risk of creating a brilliant and wonderful future for themselves, no matter the opinions of their oppressors or the cost to the old, destructive patterns they had been mired in or the people they were related to.
Their action plans were different depending on their circumstances but they had the same Will and they learned the same skills.
I’ve seen the same moment of truth with bullies.
One former bully told me of a moment when he was about nine and was the biggest, toughest angriest kid in his class. He had thought he was simply doing what he had to do to make his place in the world. Then, a principal hauled him into his office, sat him down and told him, in so many words, that he was a bully and he had to stop or he’d be thrown out of school. He was too vicious, nasty and brutal to be allowed to continue harassing and tormenting the kids he was victimizing.
The boy was stunned. He’d never thought of himself as a bully, as vicious and nasty. And he certainly didn’t want to be thrown out of school. In that moment his heart broke open and he vowed never to be a bully again, even if he was the biggest kid in the room.
Why was that bully seeing me? He wanted to learn skills to negotiate his adult life without reverting to bullying in order to get his way. He didn’t want to be a bullying spouse, co-worker or boss. He didn’t want to be a bullying parent.
Many bullies succeed in getting what they want by being angry. Even if they don’t hit physically, they beat their targets verbally, mentally and emotionally. And the threat of physical violence makes other people give in. These bullies have enough control that they haven’t been arrested and sent to prison. That’s why I think of their anger as a tactic.
I’ve coached many of these bullies through the stage of anger management to finally ending anger and creating a different way of Being in the world.
But let’s focus here on what the spouses of these bullies can do in order to have bully-free lives.
For many of these bullies anger is a whole way of life. Their rage is a tactic operating 24/7. No matter what’s going on, no matter what we do to try to please them, they always find something to be angry about. Any moment of peace is just the calm before the storm.
However these bullies got that way – and there are only a small number of typical scenarios – they mastered the use of anger years ago so it feels natural, like that’s who they are, like it’s their identity.
They love “revving their engines.” They feel strong and powerful when they’re angry. They always find good reasons and excuses to be angry, they always find people who are wrong and dumb in the news of the world or in their personal lives. And they always focus on what’s wrong or dumb, and respond to it by getting angry and enraged.
If something in the moment isn’t worth getting angry about, they think of bad things that happened or that might happen so they can get angry. Then they “kick the dog” – whoever happens to be around and does or says something wrong, or does or says nothing and that’s what’s wrong. You or the kids think you’re having an innocent conversation when suddenly you’re attacked for being dumb, stupid, ignorant, wrong, insulting – or simply breathing.
The attack escalates into a listing of all your faults – which loser in the family you’re just like, you’ll always be a loser, you’re lucky to be alive and with them because you’d fail without them. Their anger is never their fault; you’re always to blame. Even if they don’t brutally beat you and the kids, the verbal and emotional abuse takes its toll.
Victims feel blame, shame and guilt. Victims suffer anxiety, fear, frustration, panic and terror. They lose self-confidence and self-esteem. They feel like they have to be perfect in order to deserve good treatment. They feel isolated and helpless. Targeted children often grow up with negative self-talk and self-doubt; they often move on to self-mutilation or rage and revenge of their own. They often grow up playing out the roles of bully or victim in their marriages.
Seven tips to keep anger out of your personal space:
Don’t be an understanding therapist. Your understanding, forgiveness, unconditional love and the Golden Rule won’t change or cure them. And you’re not being paid as a therapist. Those approaches simply prolong the behavior and the typical cycle of anger and rage, followed by guilt and remorse, followed by promises and good behavior temporarily, followed by the next episode of angry and rage. Or the typical escalating spiral of anger, rage and self-righteous justification. The reason the bullying continues is not that those bullies haven’t been loved enough; it’s that the behavior is a success strategy. It’s never been stopped with strong enough consequences that the bully has enough reason to learn a new way of Being in the world.
Don’t minimize, excuse or accept justifications. See anger as a choice. If you accept that anger is a normal or appropriate response to what they’re angry at, if you accept that anger or any emotion is too big to manage (e.g., that they’re in the grips of something bigger than themselves) them you’re right back to “the devil made me do it.” That’s the same excuse, even though the modern words for “the devil” are heredity, brain chemistry, what their parents did to them, how they never learned better.
The best thing you can do to help both of you is to have consequences that matter. That’s the only way to stimulate change.
Face your fears.Don’t be defeated by defeat. Protect yourself. Be a good parent and model for yourself and your children. Emotional control – control of moods, attitudes and actions – and focus of attention are the first things we all must learn. These bullies haven’t learned. Lack of success in this area gets big, painful consequences.
Make your space anger-free. You and the children are targets, not victims. Their anger is not your fault. Dedicate yourself to protecting yourself and the children. Decide that only behavior counts, not psychoanalysis. Clear your space. Don’t give an infinite number of second chances. Either they leave or you and the kids leave, depending on the circumstances.
Promises no longer count. The lesson for your children is that when we’re very young, we get by on a lot of promises and potential, but when we become older than about 10, only performance counts. Let these bullies learn to practice changing on other people’s bodies. How much time do you need before you become convinced that they’ve faced a lot of potential triggers and mastered a different way of dealing with them? A year? Two? Three? Forever? Do this because you want and need to in order to have a chance at the happiness you want, in order to have a chance to find people who treat you the way you want.
Be smart and tactical. Of course, the longer you’ve known them, the harder it will be. Dump angry jerks on the first date; don’t hook up with them. Get legal advice. Get help and support. Get witnesses. Don’t listen to people who want you to be a more understanding therapist. File for divorce. Get custody of the children. Get the police on your side.
Post #176 – How to Know if You’re Bullied and Abused
Men aren’t the only angry bullies. We all know about angry, vicious women on dates or in marriage. There are clichés about venomous wives and mothers-in-law because there are so many. Everything I’ve said applies to them also.
At work, angry, bullying bosses and co-workers are also clichés because there are so many. Anger often succeeds at work. Both the feeling of power and the success at making people do what bullies want function as aphrodisiacs. And the addiction must be fed.
Be strong nside. Ask for what you want. You’ll get what you’re willing to put up with. So only put up with good behavior.
During the typical arguing and fighting leading up to deciding to divorce and during the divorce process itself, what should and shouldn’t you tell the kids? When you think there’s still a chance to salvage the marriage, should you tell them nothing is wrong so they don’t worry? Should you re-assure them that you and your spouse will be together forever? In a nasty divorce, should you tell them what a rat your soon-to-be ex-spouse really is? How can you protect the kids from being scarred and totally messed up later?
Whatever you decide, you must deal with each child and situation as unique and design your answer to deal with each child’s questions in an age appropriate way. And keep adjusting as they grow older.
Think of the process as your needing to peel layers off the children’s concerns. One concern will lead to another or maybe you’ll return to a previous one. Saying something one time will not be enough. You’ll have to return to some issues, depending on the individual, many times. But don’t make a problem where the child isn’t.
If it’s an ugly situation, don’t pretend that your ex is perfect. Be truthful and distinguish between what behavior the kids can count on and what’s just your opinion. Always ask them to check things out for themselves; like little scientists. Help them think of reasonable tests; who keeps promises, who’s on time, who are they afraid of, who can they rely on, who blames, shames and guilt-trips?
Some guidelines, not rigid rules:
Don’t allow the “Big Lie.” When the children sense that there’s frustration and tension that sometimes boils over into anger, bullying, abuse or violence don’t deny their kid-radar. Don’t tell them everything’s fine and that they’re wrong. The most important verification they need is that they’re sensing and seeing reality. They must know that there is trouble and that they can sense it. For example, “Yes, you’re very smart, you can sense what’s going on and your radar is accurate. That skill will help you the rest of your life. Sometimes, I don’t tell you what’s happening or why, because I want to keep it private or maybe you’re too young to understand yet or I don’t want to upset you unduly. But I want you to ask me if you worry about anything.”
The most important assurance they need is that they can be fine. For example, “I know this can be scary and hard and you’ll have lots of questions. Over time, I’ll answer them as best I can as we work out our new living arrangements. But the most important thing is that you dedicate yourselves to having great lives. Never let anything get in the way of that. No matter how scared or upset you might get, overcome it. Make sure that you’ll look back on this tough time as just a speed bump in your lives. Make sure that you’re not bothered much by it. Your parents’ fights have nothing to do with you. You’re not the cause of them. You’re fine. We just don’t get along. Your job is to grow up and get independent and find someone you will get along with. And that this tough time isn’t a big deal in your life.”
Help them overcome uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety, fear and panic. Assure them that you’ll always care for them and take care of them, in whatever way you can. For example, “We’ll figure out how to be together and be safe and have good times. I’ll always see that you have the things and the opportunities you really need. It’s always hard when we’re in a transition or in limbo waiting to see what will happen and you don’t have control. Your job is to focus on what’s most important for you right now and that’s not the emotional turmoil you’re living in. The turmoil isn’t your doing. Your job is to take charge of what you have control over; your moods and attitudes and efforts, which means school. Make this turmoil as small and colorless in your life as you can. Don’t step into it; stay outside of it. This is good training for you in mental and emotional-control. These are the number one skills you need to learn in order to be successful later in life.”
Help them deal with mean, nasty kids who taunt, harass or cut them out. For example, begin with developing their inner strength, “Not having as much money as we did or having some other kids act mean because your parents are divorcing is not really important. You can be invulnerable. You may feel like you need to be liked or be friends with those kids now, but when you’re out of school, with 70 years of life ahead of you, you won’t care what those kids think. You won’t want to be friends with those kids. More important, you’ll see that they’re acting like jerks and you’ll decide never to care what jerks think. You’ll have the freedom to go anywhere and be with anyone so, of course, you’ll choose to be with people who love and like you, appreciate and respect you, and who treat you better.” Follow up by making sure the school principal stops this bullying.
Some other questions they might have are: Are all marriages doomed, will I choose the wrong person just like you did, will we kids be split up, can I stay at the same school, will my other parent move far away so I never see them again, whose fault is it, do I have to take sides, will I still have grandparents, will I still get birthday and Christmas presents, can I use guilt or my temper tantrums to manipulate you, will I still have to brush my teeth? Don’t give into them or give them everything they want because you feel guilty, want them to like you more or think their lives are too hard.
Don’t use your kids as your best friends, confidants or therapists. Don’t use them to comfort yourself or as pawns in a vicious struggle. They’re your kids; they’re not adults or lovers. Take your emotional pain and baggage somewhere else. You have to be a responsible adult, no matter how difficult that is. If you can’t, you should consider making safer arrangements for them. For example, “This is too painful for me to talk about. Sometimes I get tired and stressed out, and I blow up or lose it. I don’t mean to. When I’m like that, don’t take anything I say seriously. Suggest that I need a time out. Your job, children, is to look away and focus on your own tasks so you can have great lives as you grow up. No matter how hard it is, you have to focus on school and getting skills so you can take care of yourselves when you’re adults. That’s what’s important. Your future is what’s most important to me.”
The big message is about the wonderful future they can have. The big message is that they can/should/must decide to let this roll off their backs. Even though it’s happening to them, they can be resilient. They can move beyond it and create wonderful lives for themselves.
We adults make a mistake if we worry that when bad things happen, the children are automatically guaranteed to have huge problems later in life. Looking at them as too fragile and helpless to resist the effects of a difficulty, divorce or trauma is like giving them a terrible thought virus. It’s easy for them to catch that virus.
Actually, our responsibility is to protect them from that too common virus. For example, they might tend to worry that since a classmate is so traumatized because their parents are divorcing they’ll be messed up also. You might say, “No. You’re strong and wise and brave and you have me to keep reminding you that you’ll be fine. Stop bullying yourself. Take power over yourself. So choose to be fine; dedicate and discipline yourself. Choose to be successful, no matter what. That’s my wish for you.”
Tell them stories about ancestors or great people who overcame the same or even worse situations in childhood. For example, “Don’t be victims of what happens to you. Be one of the ‘Invulnerables.’ Did you know that a study of 400 great people born in the 19th and early 20th centuries found that most of these people had absolutely horrible childhoods? Yet they were not destroyed by what had happened; they were invulnerable. They became much stronger. They had great lives – including wonderful marriages. You too, my beloved children, can choose that path for yourselves. Please do.”
Relentless beatings. These instill fear and terror. Children can become convinced they’re always wrong and the price for mistakes is high; maybe even maiming or death. The result can be adults who’re afraid to make decisions, assert or defend themselves, think they’re worthy of respect or good treatment. The result can be adults who expect to be bullied, punished, abused or even tortured.
Relentless and personal criticism, hostility and questioning. The results can be the same as relentless beatings. Kids grow up thinking that no one will help or protect them. Emotional beating can leave even deeper scars. Adults often have mental and emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, self-mutilation and suicide.
The “Big Lie:” “You don’t know what’s really happening.”
The first two seem fairly obvious and much has been written on them. Let’s focus on the Big Lie.
Kids have emotional radar. They’re born with the ability to sense what’s going on. Their survival depends on knowing who’s friendly or hostile, who’s calm or angry, who’s reliable and trustworthy, and who’s liable to explode without obvious provocation. They know who’s nice and who hurts them. They sense when their parents or family are happy or angry.
The effects of being consistently told that they’ve gotten it wrong can be just as devastating as physical or emotional brutality. For example:
When kids sense that their parents are angry at each other, but they’re told that the family is loving and caring they learn to distrust their kid-radar.
When they’re yelled at, teased, taunted or brutalized, when they’re subjected to bullying, they know it hurts. But when they’re told that the parent cares about them or loves them, or that they’re too sensitive, they start to distrust their own opinions.
When they can never predict what’s right or wrong, they can grow up thinking they’re evil, stupid or crazy.
When they’re constantly challenged with, “Prove it. You don’t know what’s really happening. How could you think that; there’s something wrong with you. If you were loving, grateful, caring, you wouldn’t think that way about your parent or family.”
Do you consistently doubt yourself? Do you even doubt that you see reality? Do you think that other people know better about you than you know about yourself?
Are you indecisive and insecure? Do you worry, obsess or ruminate forever? Do you solicit all your friends’ opinions about what you should do or just one friend who seems to be sure they know what’s best? Do you consistently look for external standards or experts to tell you what’s right or proper? Do you complete quick tests of ten or twenty questions that will tell you the truth about yourself?
Do you feel bullied but you’re not sure that you are? Do you let other people tell you about what’s too sensitive or what’s reasonable or “normal?”
You may be the target of a bully, but you don’t have to be a victim.
Bullies can go after you in many ways; physically harming you or threatening to hurt you; inflicting emotional pain through harassment, relentless criticism, taunting, put-downs, cutting out, manipulation, controlling, back-stabbing, spreading rumors, telling secrets, embarrassing you or generally mean behavior; cyberbullying.
In all these situations, the first step in defending yourself and in stopping bullies is the same and always has been. This is the first step, even before you use any programs that are designed to stop bullies in schools or at work.
For instance, we can go back to Homer’s “Odyssey.” At the end, after Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, have killed all the abusive suitors, they flee with two faithful servants to the mountain home of Odysseus’ father, Laertes. They know they will pursued by all the older men of the city, the fathers and uncles of the dead suitors.
In the final confrontation, hopelessly outnumbered, Laertes kills the father of the most evil suitor. Odysseus loses control of himself and goes berserk. He advances in a murderous rage to kill all the fathers and uncles.
Don’t give in to your racing mind – when your reasoning and logic might talk you out of following your accurate intuition, might discourage and depress you into giving up or might spook and panic you into doing something dumb.
Don’t give in to your lust or greed or laziness or any other of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Begin by commanding yourself. In Odysseus’ case, commanding himself meant not starting a bloodbath, which would lead to generations of vendettas that would ruin the country.
In the case of facing a bully, we must take charge of ourselves, gather ourselves and command ourselves. Even when we don’t know how things will turn out, we do know that we want to act bravely, resolutely and greatly. Therefore, command yourself and go for it; 110%.
If we give in to fear, anxiety, perfectionism and self-doubt, we’ll do nothing to protect ourselves – we’ll become victims of our own panic and terror. If we give in to anger and rage, we’ll explode, act unskillfully and do things we’ll regret. If we don’t command ourselves, we’ll lose confidence and self-esteem; we’ll get depressed and become easy victims of the predators.
We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being targeted by bullies and to stop bullies in their tracks. We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.
When we command ourselves, we can overcome whatever confronts us. We will let nothing crush us; our spirits will remain strong. We can plan and take charge of our actions. We can act with strength, courage and skill. We can act with perseverance and resilience. We can get the help we need. We can succeed.
Self-bullying perfectionism can suck the joy out of success and ruin our lives. It’s one of the worst forms of negative self-talk.
We know that harassing, abusive, inner voice that focuses only on what we didn’t do perfectly according to some old standard that was shoved down our throats when we were children. It has the most horrible, bullying tone when it picks on our emotions, spirit and flesh. It’s all-or-none when it reminds us of the 1% we didn’t do perfectly according to our parents’ standards for us. It’s full of should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.
It makes us 100% responsible for every problem; it points out how we never do enough, give enough, say enough. It’s demeaning, smug and sarcastic. It stacks up every mistake we ever made or failure we ever had. Of course it knows every hot button and self-hatred trigger we have. It can generate blame, shame and guilt in an instant.
The effects of perfectionistic self-flagellation are obvious – increased anxiety, stress and depression; a sense of failure even in the midst of success and happiness; a foreboding about the future that leads to desperation and panic; insecurity, self-doubt, lack of confidence and low self-esteem. Especially debilitating is the internal argument with the side that puts us down relentlessly and the side that tries to defend us – usually weaker and defensive, especially when we’re tired or getting sick or alone and lonely.
Perfectionism guarantees inner emptiness, pain and self-loathing. No matter how much we succeed, no matter how much we’re praised, it’s never enough to heal our inner wounds. That inner voice always reminds us that we’re imposters, failures who’ll be unmasked eventually. We’re like hamsters spinning our wheels; afraid that if we slow down, disaster awaits losers like us.
Nit-picking perfectionism turned outward can help us succeed by harassment, bullying and abuse of others. But turned inward, it’s an incapacitating method of judging our self-worth.
Whether people in our childhoods were simply mean, nasty and rotten; whether they thought they had to protect us from the character flaws they saw in us; whether that was the only way they knew how to express love and caring, or how to motivate us doesn’t matter much now that we’re adults.
Once we’ve overcome the internal war over perfectionism and how to motivate ourselves, we can decide what we think about them and how we want to interact with them now, if at all. We set the standards of acceptable behavior and how people talk with each other – about what and when. We’re in charge of our adult personal spaces.
Those relentless, childhood put-downs and bullying by our parents, siblings, classmates or other people led us to split into two warring sides. One side took on the perfectionistic, self-bully voice; we continue beating ourselves down long after we’ve left those people or even after they’re dead. The other side argued and defended us against the attacks. It champions our success and tries to affirm our strength and a wonderful future that’s possible. It often asserted itself by making us mutiny against what those tormentors told us to do; whether that’s really good for us or not.
When we accomplish this, our paths open up. Our internal self-talk stops being negative and becomes encouraging and strengthening. We develop realistic goals and expectations. We motivate ourselves by desire for the future we want instead of by avoiding the pain of old wounds lacerated. We decide what’s good enough. We and can enjoy our success and happiness.
Jane was stuck in an internal war. Every time she made some progress toward goals she’d been pursuing for years – cleaned her house, did things on her to-do list, met people she’d wanted to, signed up for classes toward a better job, courageously risked being honest – she’d start beating herself up in ways she was familiar with since childhood.
A part of her would say, in an old, familiar voice, “Who do you think you are, you’ll never succeed, you’ll fall back into being a failure, you’re fat and ugly, you’re not good enough to stay on track, you’re weak at your core, you’ll never do the right thing, you’ll fail like you always do, no one likes you, no one will love you, you’ll be alone all your life.”
Then she’d isolate herself and start picking on herself physically. That’d only make things worse. She’d feel ashamed and guilty. “Maybe they’re right,” she’d think. “I’m not good enough. I’ll always be a mess. I’ll never change. I’ll never succeed.”
She’d become angry at her parents and all the people who’d taken advantage of her, at all the people who weren’t supportive now and finally at herself. And the cycle would continue; a little success leading to self-loathing and predictions of failure, followed by anger at everyone in her past and present, followed by more anger and self-loathing. After several wasted days, she’d get herself together to try once more, but the emotional and spiritual cost of each cycle was huge.
Self-bullying– negative self-talk, an internal war between the side of you that fights to do better and the side that seems to despise you, that’s full of self-loathing and self-abuse – can go on a whole lifetime. Of course, the effects can be devastating – anxiety and stress, discouragement and depression, loss of confidence and self-esteem, huge emotional swings that drive good people away and attract bullies and predators.
Perhaps the worst effect is a sense of desperation and panic, isolation and loneliness – it feels like this has been going on forever and doesn’t look like it will ever end; every failure feels like the end of the world; like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You feel helpless and are sure that it’s hopeless.
This is not a war between the left and right sides of our brains. This is usually not our being taken over by an evil spirit that needs exorcised psychologically.
This is usually a battle between two sides of us that split apart because of terrible, overwhelming pressure when we were kids. Back then, we didn’t know how to cope with the horror so we split into two strategies that have been battling with childlike intensity and devotion ever since.
On the one hand, we fight to feel inspired and centered and to do our best; to be courageous and bold and fierce; to try hard, be joyous and hope for success. On the other hand, we fight to make us docile and not try to rise above our meager lot in life, to accept what they tell us and give up struggling against them so they’ll let us survive, to motivate ourselves by whipping ourselves so we’ll make enough effort and do the right things, and maybe then they’ll give us something in return and we’ll have those feelings of peace and joy.
Both voices want us to survive and to feel centered, peaceful and filled with joy. Each takes an opposite path to get there. Instead of a psychological exorcism, we need an internal reconciliation and a release from old battles with our external oppressors and between our internal, battling voices.
The inner goal is clear: We’ll be whole and unified, both sides will be working together toward the same end (http://www.bulliesbegoneblog.com/2008/04/25/getting-over-parents-who-wound-their-children-the-2nd-stage-of-growing-up-and-leaving-home/#more-35): the different possibilities for action will be presented to us in the encouraging voices of coaches; we’ll be inspired and motivated by encouragement, not whipping: we’ll have an adult sense of our strength and capability; we’ll feel like we can cope successfully without tight control over everything and we’ll act in a timely manner; situations won’t put us into a panic; mistakes won’t be a portent of doom.
For example, Jane finally made internal peace. Her warring sides accepted that they had the same outcome – making a good life for her, filling her with the joy she’d always wanted to feel. They realized that neither side could defeat the other; their only hope was to work together using adult strategies of motivating her to take actions that would help her succeed. They saw that her situation now, in middle age, was very different from when she was a helpless child and had to depend on parents who seemed to despise her character, personality and style.
Sometimes we need to replay the horrible things that people did to us – whether it was once or repeatedly, whether they were the perpetrators or they stood by or even colluded and ignored the abuse and our pain. Sometime we need to get angry and vent and imagine all the ways we could retaliate and extract vengeance and justice. Sometimes we blame ourselves, wishing we could finally win their love and undo the hurt. During those times we typically say, “It’s not fair. Why me? Why don’t they understand and appreciate me? What did I do wrong?”
But in the end, whatever the specifics of our situations, we all know where we have to get to if we’re going to make the rest of our lives worth living.
By whatever process we use successfully, through whatever pain we have to endure, after we stop the harassment, bullying, abuse and torment inflicted upon us, we have two choices – to let our lives be destroyed by the rotten people who abused us or to move on somehow, to create families and lives worth living.
I’m not minimizing the damage and the pain or the time it may take, but throughout history, we see the same pattern in response to individual and cultural or societal horrors. Some people’s spirits are destroyed by what was done to them. Other people stay alive and vital.
Examples are all around of famous individuals who turned their backs on the perpetrators and moved on – Maya Angelou and Winston Churchill easily come to mind. There are also inspiring examples known only to our families. We must keep our eyes focused on the light at the end of the tunnel of pain – the light that reminds us to keep moving ahead despite the temporary discouragement, depression and despair.
What keeps most people stuck in the abyss of pain for years; long after they’re physically and fiscally capable of separating? Mostly, it’s a combination of:
Wanting the perpetrators to acknowledge what they did and to apologize or beg for our forgiveness. Or wanting vindication and revenge.
Championing their pain as different and greater than anyone else’s or saying that their hurt and pain was so bad that they’ve been damaged for the rest of their lives.
Wallowing in negative self-talk and self-abuse.
The results of this self-bullying victim talk are clear – stress, anxiety, self-doubt, guilt, shame, panic, low self-confidence and self-esteem; huge overreactions as if everything is a matter of life or death; a life ruled by the past, time wasted circling around the carcass of the past, chewing over the gristle of every past and present episode of abuse.
The light at the end of the tunnel is when our spirits rise and make us indomitable and invulnerable, determined and indefatigable; when:
We won’t be weighed down by the baggage of the past. We don’t have to please the perpetrators or excuse or justify our behavior to our abusers and we also don’t have to rebel any more just to prove that we’re independent. We stop sacrificing ourselves for further flagellation and spurning.
The voices of the past become irrelevant; we now make decisions directed by our own spirits.
We won’t be at the mercy of external events, especially the past. Instead we’ll create our own futures, no matter what.
This is the goal of all the talk, catharsis, coaching. We become our original, fiery selves – strong, brave and determined – and now skilled adults.
In this new state, the fear of failure or success is gone. We no longer view the world through the lens of “deserve, justify, punish or forgive.” The emotional motivation cycle – endless self-criticism and self analysis, and then criticism of the criticism, and then criticism of the criticism of the criticism – of the old victim side of us is gone.
We no longer have overwhelming emotional reactions to whatever happens. Mistakes are no longer life threatening. Failing at something is no longer a portent of a bleak future. Doing something wrong no longer consigns us to hell forever.
We ride through these ups and downs, buoyed by certain knowledge that we’ll keep plugging along, doing what we can, following our Heart’s Desire.
From here we can easily recognize other people who are still in the old place – underneath their franticness and self-flagellation, they look and sound like victims, not willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves; attracting old and new predators. Predators also recognize easy targets.
From here we can see how boring the victim personality is. It’s all about their pain and problems, as if that’s really who they are. They’re still trying to squeeze love or justification from a stone. They still want to interact with scavengers.
In our new space, we’re interested and interesting, excited and exciting. We focus on what feeds our spirits; not on endless cud-chewing and psychoanalysis. We leave the predators behind and seek the families of our hearts and spirits.
The process of leaving the old, victim place usually includes many instantaneous epiphanies, as well as the time necessary to develop new habits through many ups and downs. But that’s merely a process to leave the old and to be completely comfortable in the new.
When we live in a state of inner freedom, we don’t forget the pain. We remember that abuse all our lives. We hold that memory sacred – but we don’t use the pain to motivate ourselves, we convert it to a source of strength and courage to create a new life, a life that’s built on the ashes of childhood dreams destroyed.
During economic ice ages or recessions, when times get hard, hardness tends to run rampant. Most people are justifiably afraid they’ll lose their jobs and the lives they planned. Will they get laid off or downsized through no fault of their own? What will happen to their savings, insurance, college and retirement funds? Will they be able to keep their homes or even eat next month?
How do people react in the face of their recession-stimulated fears? What type of bullying, harassment and abuse will increase at work? How can we decrease negative self-talk that increases stress and destroys self-esteem and self-confidence?
Harassment by Leaders and Managers
Managers and leaders will squeeze more from themselves and staff in order to reduce costs and stay afloat. But some managers and leaders will abuse employees and subordinates just because they know they can. Many people will tolerate bullying and abuse because they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they don’t give in. But don’t give in to bullying, harassment or obnoxious treatment. You are still protected from those abuses. Don’t be pugnacious in return, but do insist on politeness and decent treatment. Know the law, get allies and advisors, and document on your home computer.
Bullying by Coworkers
Expect a huge increase in stealth bullying by coworkers and managerial peers. Many will think that their survival requires them to get rid of you. Some will become masters of backstabbing, criticism, sarcasm, snide put-downs, blaming, spreading rumors and gossip, smear tactics, taking credit from you, and forming cliques. They’ll smile when they do it. Keep your opinions to yourself and watch out for people who produce nothing, suck up and cover their backs. Form your own clique of productive people you trust. Also, ally with someone productive who has great people skills and a sense of what’s happening throughout the whole office.
Negative Self Talk
The worst problem will be a dramatic increase in this type of “self-bullying.” Your inner voices will make dire predictions of the future, tell you that you’re helpless in the grip of huge forces beyond your control and predict that, no matter how hard you try, you’ll inevitable fail. Your supercritical inner voices will try to stress, depress and discourage you, and make you give up. Your inner voices, full of self-questioning and self-doubt, can erode your self-esteem and self-confidence, destroy your hope and immobilize you.
Self-bullying is the most destructive form of bullying because it saps your will to overcome your circumstances. Self-bullying can rob you of your determination, courage, strength and skill. With those voices shouting or whispering in your ear, it’s impossible to gather yourself and make consistent, focused effort. If you let fear and self-bullying destroy your strength and will, you won’t have the right stuff, you won’t do the right thing and the economic tide will pull you under.
You know which people spoke to you in those voices. You know who really didn’t like or respect or appreciate you. And which people thought they’d motivate you better by beating you down. In either case, whether they ridicule your efforts or are simply certain of the bleak future they predict, their old style is no good for you now. You need encouraging self-coaching now, not self-bullying.
In addition to finding a great coach or therapist to guide you in the inner work necessary to convert those voices into effective coaches, there’s a lot you can do to help yourself.
Turn off the parts of the outer world that feed fear, despair and depression. Turn off the television and radio; don’t read newspapers or magazines; stop checking the snippets of fear on your smart phone. Don’t waste your life being discouraged by endless analysis of what’s wrong and the latest expert’s predictions of impending and long lasting doom. Walk away politely from people who wallow in fear and panic. You don’t need those moment-to-moment, panic-making obsessions to know what you need to do to stay strong and do your best.
Look around. Who doesn’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead, handles things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible? Who has an inner light that gives them joy even when they don’t have all the comfort and toys they want? Ask them how they look at the world.
Make new friends and acquaintances who stimulate your strength, courage and joy. Find other great people to stand with. In one swift and mighty sweep, end the self-doubt, the need to analyze and question, the self-bullying and brainwashing. You have great sources of inner strength and power, if you would but let yourself feel them. You have the guts and grit to thrive in this little ice age. Your ancestors did and you have their strong genes.
Mostpeople are afraid of the economic forecast. Some have lost jobs; more will. Some have lost retirement funds; more will. Some have lost hope; more will. Fear and stress stimulate mostpeople to huddle around the campfire, worrying, whining and complaining about their uncertain future. They convince themselves that they’re too weak and helpless to succeed. They’re victims together.
A long, cold recession or depression is the consensus prediction. But that’s not the prediction for my life and it doesn’t have to be for yours either. And that’s not because I have guaranteed money flowing in or I’m sure my business will be immune to the next little ice age. There’s a different reason.
We each have self bullies.
The little, self-bullying voices:
Know our every fear and weakness, our every mistake and sin.
Demean and ridicule us, discourage and depress us.
Predict failure, as if they want to make us lose hope and give up.
Don’t like us even though they pretend to be trying to help us.
That are so persuasive.
We know where we heard those voices that told us they knew better – our parents, relatives, siblings, teachers, ministers, schoolmates, peers. We know how we made their voices into our self-bullying voices.
I refuse to listen to self bullying. I refuse to be a victim of my times and circumstances. You also can rise above mostpeople.
Don’t be a victim of your past. History is not destiny. Command yourself. Ignore self-bullies. Our self-bullying voices do not know what’s best for us, do not know the future and can’t accurately predict that we’ll fail.
Of course, the economy is lousy and times will be hard. Most of us won’t be able to maintain our previous standard of living. Mostpeople are angry because they thought they were guaranteed increasing wealth and security if they did things right.
We haven’t been trained to survive a depression. So what? We can survive and even thrive.
Think about what our ancestors survived. There has always been rotten weather like recessions and depressions, poverty and war. They’re part of the natural weather cycles – hurricanes, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, avalanches, droughts or floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. There have also been plagues, famine, pestilence and war.
If we let recession-induced fear and self bullying sap our strength and will, we won’t have the right stuff, we won’t act skillfully and the economic tide will pull us under. We have within us the inheritance of an unbroken line of people who thrived. We have within us the seeds of strength, courage and joy.
These economic ice ages have happened in America before. For example, economic crashes occurred in about 1787, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1897, 1907 and the great depression from 1929-1941. The rest of the world had similar experiences.
What can we do when we get down on ourselves? We need WILL and SKILL.
In order to succeed, we must choose to ignore self bullying, choose to command ourselves, choose to create the futures we want, no matter what the circumstances. As individuals, we must have the WILL to persevere, with grit, determination and resilience.
Call that hyper-critical, fear-mongering side of us a “self-bully” so we’ll react with passion and power against it. So we’ll rally ourselves against its words. We wouldn’t lie down in front of those old bullies and we wouldn’t let ourselves be abused by bullies now.
We need SKILL to ignore our self-bullying voices – turn off the discouraging TV; stop listening to people moaning, whining and complaining; stop listening to victim stories. Walk away politely from mostpeople who wallow in the dumps of fear and panic. If you’ve kept your job, don’t wallow in survivor’s guilt. Get off the emotional roller coaster.
Find friends who don’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead handle things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible. Find friends with inner lights that give them joy even when they don’t have all the comforts and toys they once did. Become such a friend.
When the self bullying voices start again, tell them we’ve heard all that before and if they want to help us, they can use a different voice and become encouraging coaches that strengthen our spirits. Fill the IMAX screen of our minds with the future we hope we’ll have and the friends we want in our lives. Throw ourselves into activities like physical exercise. Don’t feed our addictions; eat well. Feed our spirits with movies, music and books that lift up our spirits and renew our energy.
We need SKILL to make plans to keep our jobs or find others, to spend less while still treating our spirits better. We need skill to get over our feelings, plans and expectations. Loss of riches, comforts and dreams is not really the end of the world. Get going again.
While the growing recession is the world in which I function, it’s not the world in which I live. I invite you wonderful people to enter the world that is waiting for you, if you but have the courage to take the first steps.
"What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." Ralph Waldo Emerson