How can we recognize and stop covert, sneaky bullies and narcissistic control freaks in relationships. Overt bullies are easy to recognize; they’re loud, obnoxious, threatening and in your face.

Sneaky, stealthy bullies are harder to recognize.  If we don’t recognize their tactics and label them as bullies or control-freaks, we won’t energize ourselves to develop and carry out an effective plan to stop them.

Seven warning signs of bullying controllers are:

  1. They think they know best about everything; just ask them.  They point out all your mistakes and failings.  They think you should ask their permission before you do anything.  They make your life miserable if you don’t do what they say.  Their absolute certainty seduces you into self-doubt and self-bullying.  You become unsure of your own judgment and wisdom; eventually you give in to them.
  2. They think they’re more important than you are.  Your whole life should be devoted to their needs (wants, whims).  Their desires, jealousies, issues and concerns (not yours) become the focus of all interactions.  They’re entitled to get what they want.  Their feelings are their justifications for anger, retaliation and revenge.  Their feelings get hurt so easily that you’re too polite or too afraid to upset them by trying to make your feelings or opinions matter.  They’re controlling, stealth-bullying partners and spouses.
  3. They think their sense of humor is correct.  They can say whatever they want and you’re supposed to take it.  They make nasty, vicious, demeaning, hurtful remarks to you and about you in public, or they tell your embarrassing secrets.  Then they laugh like it’s a joke.  If you object, they say you’re too sensitive or they were kidding.  Your feelings are stupid and not logical.  And you better not say anything they don’t like.
  4. Everyone is a pawn in their game.  You have value only as long as you can help them or you worship them.  They’re selfish, arrogant and demanding; they think they should be catered to or waited on.  Anyone who doesn’t help or who gets in their way becomes an enemy.  You’re afraid that if you disagree, they’ll strike back at you.
  5. They think their excuses, excuse them.  Their reasons are always correct and are enough to justify what they do.  If you don’t agree, you simply don’t understand or you’re evil.  Self-deluded narcissists think their jealousy, anger and hatred are not bad characteristics.  You’d better agree or else.
  6. They think their logic, reasoning and rules, rule.  They’re allowed to do anything they want – to take what they want, to attack or to strike back in any way they want – but everyone else should be bound by their rules.  If your feelings are hurt by what they said or did, it’s your fault and your problem.  They’re right and righteous.  Everything is your fault.  They’re great debaters or they simply talk so loud and long that eventually you give in.
  7. They think they don’t have anything to learn.  They insist on doing things their way, even though they fail repeatedly.  They won’t listen; especially when they’re failing.

Also, anyone who harasses, bullies or abuses helpless people – like clerks and waiters – will eventually get around to bullying you.  Get rid of them on the first date.

You’re never going to change them.  They’re bullying, control-freaks.

Don’t debate or argue with them.  Don’t wait for them to agree or to give you permission.  Plan in secret if you have to.  Dump them or get away as fast as you can.  Even if you’re married with children, get away.  Set a good example for your kids.

Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that the narcissistic control-freak might be right.  If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.

If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey.  Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Company rules and employees who follow them are essential for the success of your business.  But antagonistic “rule-people” can reduce team effort and sabotage your operations. To read the rest of this article from the Denver Business Journal, see: How to deal with antagonistic ‘rule people’ in the workplace http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2006/02/13/smallb6.html

Rule people aren’t necessarily malicious.  But their rigid inflexibility can cause as many problems as any troublemaker.  Rule-people:

  1. See everything in black and white, need all procedures and boundaries clearly defined and labeled, with rewards and consequences spelled out exactly – no gray areas and no choices.  They need uniformity and repeatability, can’t handle ambiguity, uncertainty and what they perceive as mixed messages.
  2. Insist on clear titles and privileges.  They want to know everyone’s exact job description, authority, responsibility and accountability.  They can’t handle matrix management – multiple reporting and task relationships.
  3. Use authority and experts to back up their opinions.
  4. Don’t like change unless they can see immediate and obvious advantages.
  5. Need closure, want decisions made and set in stone, even if nothing has to be begun for years.
  6. Compare themselves with everybody on every criterion.
  7. Relate only through power dynamics – command, control and obeying orders. They’re bullies.  They don’t get things done through relationships or by simply pitching in.  They need to know where everyone stands.  They’re more comfortable knowing they’re on the bottom, than wondering where they are.

We all follow the rules sometimes, but “Edna” is a good example of an antagonistic rule-person. She uses the rules to intimidate people and advance herself at the expense of your supervisory authority and departmental productivity.  For example:

Other typical examples of rule-people in crucial roles are human resource and financial managers, and administrative assistants.

To work with an antagonistic, rule-person, you’ll have to:

  • Be exacting and clear about rules, and demand what you need specifically in writing.
  • Be prepared to be challenged if you treat the rule-person differently from anyone else.
  • Include “professional, team behavior” rules – specific, detailed behaviors, not abstractions or attitudes – as important components in performance evaluations.
  • Clearly label your actions; indirect cues, kindly suggestions, informal messages or casual conversations will not be counted as important.  You must say, “This is a verbal warning” or “This is a disciplinary action.”  Antagonistic, rule-people take any softening to mean that your feedback doesn’t have to be acted on.
  • When they excuse their bad behavior with innocuous labels like, “It was a misunderstanding,” or “I’m just an honest person,” you must re-label it clearly as unprofessional.  For example: “Yelling or name calling is not a misunderstanding or honesty.  Neither is acceptable behavior at this organization, no matter how you feel.”
  • Document everything.

Overly rigid rule-people who use the rules to serve their own selfish interests are problem employees.  They need to be dealt with promptly and decisively – or they will create big problems for you and your organization.

Generally, rule-people who want to help can become good managers and administrators, but they won’t be outstanding leaders.  They can oversee repeatable operations, but they won’t be able to act creatively and appropriately in the face of uncertainty, novel problems and risk.

If you think that fear of change is normal human nature, you’re wrong.  That’s especially true for the leaders you select. For example, Harry was slated to move up to Senior Vice President in a few years.  In the meantime, his division needed to change its direction and way of doing business.  He must groom a great leadership team and weed the appropriate people.

To read the rest of this article from the Denver Business Journal, see: Select leaders who are excited by challenge, change http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2007/03/12/smallb8.html

One member of Harry’s present, six-person team had to be let go.  He was an excellent project manager and he liked being custodian of repeatable processes.  However, he couldn’t handle the changes required.  His need for controlling every detail led him to resist fluid goals, processes and relationships.  He got rattled, constantly threw up roadblocks and underperformed.  In order to solidify his position, he also tried to sabotage his competition.

Another member of the team felt threatened because there wasn’t enough lead-time to prepare for shifting hurdles or moving targets.  She found a cookie-cutter job with fewer challenges.

Harry got the standard leadership advice:

I disagree. While resistance may be the norm in our society at this moment of time, that doesn’t make it normal.  In other cultures and in America in the past, “normal” was to be excited by change.  That’s where the great rewards are.  Think of Edison, Rockefeller and Ford, for example.

Whenever our ancestors came to America, last year or 30,000 years ago, they faced huge changes and took great risks.  They thrived, or we wouldn’t be here.  We have those hardy genes.  People who thrive today will have the same qualities their ancestors had.  They won’t be brainwashed into feeling fragile.

Our normal reaction to change can be eager anticipation; just as we had before our first day of surfing or skiing.  Like life, these activities are inherently dangerous and exhilarating.

In truth, our only security is in ourselves; not in false guarantees of employment for life.  Anyone who needs guarantees will fight to make an organization stay the way it is, which will kill it.  They won’t rise on their teams.

If we try to force things to stay the same, performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level toleratedNarcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

The higher you go in a company, the more you have to keep your head in the game when things change suddenly.  Harry’s company isn’t downsizing, but most people who stay will have to learn to function well in continual change.  He’ll provide training, consulting and coaching – but not hand-holding.  And he won’t be conflict-avoidant in protecting the high standards he needs.

Of course, there’s tremendous risk in moving ahead.  But there’s more risk in fighting to stay the same.  A static organization will become unprofitable and all staffers will become unemployed.  Since only a few basic processes will stay the same, people who are comfortable only when repeating a known process will become uncomfortable.

Get over discomfort.  Our feelings aren’t handed to us in stone.  Don’t wait until we’ve developed a sense of safety and confidence, or an abundance mentality.  Take responsibility right now.

Life is an open system.  Get used to it.

High standards for how to respond to challenges and change protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Although each situation is different, bullies exhibit common styles, techniques and patterns.  These commonalities enable us see what responses are ineffective and also to develop responses that are effective to stop bullying. Whether in relationships, by our own children’s temper tantrums or nastiness, by false friends, at school or in the workplace, there is one rule of thumb that’s critical in order to stop bullies: Don’t suffer in silence.

For some relationship examples, see the comments to the articles:

Too many women see the early warning signs of bullying and abuse, but ignore them.  They feel the jealousy, the control, the verbal and physical abuse, and the isolation.  They’re criticized, chastised, belittled and demeaned endlessly. Their money is taken away.  Their children are brutalized.  Often, the sons imitate their father’s behavior.  Often, the girls grow up to think that such harassment, bullying and abuse are normal, and they should be prepared to accept it when their turn comes.  And yet, these women stay and suffer in silence.  Often, they say they love the bullyThey don’t make the critical step of saying, “That’s enough.  I’m gone or you’re gone.”

Of course, women can inflict the same punishment and pain on their spouses.

At school, too many kids suffer in silence also. Often, kids are physically intimidated into silence. Often, kids are too ashamed to reveal their guilty secret or they don’t think their parents can or will help.  Often, they accurately see that principals, teachers, counselors and psychologists won’t help them.  Often, they think it’s their fault; they must be doing something wrong or they must be bad people in order to attract so much taunting, teasing, harassment and brutality.  Often, other kids pile on physically, verbally and by cyberbullying.

Kids’ silence prevents effective action from the principals and teachers who would protect them.

As parents, we must learn to recognize the signs that our children might be subjected to bullying and abuse.  Sometimes, we must pry the truth out of our reluctant kids.  Sometimes, we must check their phones, computers and social websites.  Sometimes, we must investigate with parents of their friends or with teachers.  Sometimes, we must learn to force reluctant principals to act, even though that might violate our old beliefs or values.

Do-nothing principals promote, collude and enable bullies to flourish in the dark.  Do-nothing principals and teachers are a major factor in student suicides

In all cases, we must not be passive; instead we must respond. Suffering in silence inevitable leads people to feel like victims; helpless and hopeless.

We already know that minimizing or ignoring relentless bullies doesn’t stop them.  We know that trying to understand, forgive, appease, beg, bribe, be nice or reason with real-world bullies doesn’t stop them. The Golden rule doesn’t stop these ignorant, insensitive or narcissistic predators.

I’m not going into the many reasons that targets suffer in silence.  We don’t need a scientific study to analyze all the reasons.  If we and ten friends make a list, we’ll cover more than 90% of the reasons. So what?

What’s important is that whatever our reasons are, we already know we must overcome them.  We must act despite our feelings of reluctance.  Just like we wouldn’t be swayed by bullies’ excuses and justifications, we can’t give in to our self-bullying ones.

We must develop the will to stop bullying. I think of the will as the engine that gives us the power to go where we want to go.  The engine is the will to do whatever it takes to stop bullies – determination, courage, mental and emotional strength, perseverance, resilience, endurance, being relentless.  The old word, still perfectly good, was grit.

Of course, we need skills – learning how to steer.  But without an engine, all our skills, all our ability to steer, won’t matter.  Without an engine we won’t get anywhere.

Don’t suffer in silenceDon’t whine or complain; speak up.  Give yourself a chance.  Test the world: Who’ll help you and who won’t.  That tells you about them and whether you want to vote them off your island.

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

We grow up testing ourselves; “Are we good enough?  If not it’s our fault.  Did we succeed; we still could have done more.  Did we fail; it’s our fault.”  Testing ourselves is a motivation strategy, “Figure out what’s wrong with us and improve it.”  And behind it is the hidden message, “We’re defective and we’d better work at improving and perfecting ourselves every minute or no one will want us and we’ll fail.” The strategy may work for us when we’re children, but it’s self-defeating when we’re adults.

We do grow up; we do get free of our families; we do get jobs, lovers, our own children.  That seems to prove that the self-testing strategy works.  Since we’re obviously still a long way from being good enough, so we’d better keep questioning ourselves in order to improve.

However, when we become adults, the strategy of always testing ourselves, always finding fault with ourselves guarantees failure.  It stimulates guilt, shame, anxiety, sleepless nights and negative self-talk.  And it destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It’s self-destructive, self-bullying.

For evidence, we can look back at our failed relationships.

Think of the times we went with someone when we knew it wasn’t going to work because we had to give up what we wanted, we had to change in order to make another person happy.  We kept asking, “Are we good enough to be liked, to be wanted, to be loved?”  But that didn’t last.

The message of the self-testing strategy is that if only we’d tried hard enough, we could have changed enough to make the relationship work the way the other person wanted.  Then we feel more guilty, more unworthy and we think we have to work harder to change our bad characteristics or personality.

And if we can’t change a pattern, that means we have a great and permanent defect, an evil place inside of us, maybe too much ego, and we’re doomed to fail forever.  And that feeds a vicious cycle:

  • Low self-confidence and low self-esteem --> so we give up ourselves even more --> we pick the wrong people and try to please them by doing what they want --> we fail once again and feel even worse --> our self-confidence and low self-esteem plummets -->…

In addition to failed loves, the same pattern exists for many failed friendships we tried to maintain with the wrong people.

So what can we do to find love and relationships that fit?

Instead of testing ourselves, we can test the world.

  1. Act like we are and set high standards for behavior we want. We’re reasonably good, nice, decent people.  Therefore, in addition to participating in the other person’s activities, ask the other person to participate in ours.  Don’t justify our standardsBe behaviorally specific.  Ask for more than vague words like “kindness, respect, appreciation, love.”  Simply say, “No yelling, no hitting, no threatening, no relentless sarcastic blaming, no controlling, no public humiliating, no demanding perfectionism.  Instead, speak softly, negotiate about what we do, give in and do what I want sometimes for no reason, keep disagreements private and my sense of humor counts.”  We can fill in the rest of our lists from what we got or didn’t get in previous relationships.
  2. To increase confidence and self-esteem, test the other person. If they act the way we want, they can come a step closer.  If they don’t, we move them a step further away.  If they’re relentless boundary pushers or they violate one of the big boundary lines, “one strike and they’re out.”  Notice who has control of the distance; we do.
  3. “Create an isle of song in a sea of shouts.” Rabindranath Tagore said that decades ago.  I agree.  We were told that if we insist on our high standards and what we want, we’ll end up alone.  “The only way to get someone is to lower your standards.”  Nonsense.  Of course, in all relationships we make agreements and we don’t always get our way, but we must not lower our important standards.

Now that we’re adults, now that we’ve been in and out of relationships in which we gave up our true selves, we’ve learned that we’ll never get the love we want if we fill our space with inappropriate, abusive bullies.  We’ll never get what we need if we give up on ourselves.  We’ll only get what we need, we’ll only find someone who loves us for ourselves if we act like ourselves and test the other person to see if they like that.

Of course the other person has free will also.  They can stay or leave if they want.  But if they leave because they don’t want to live up to our standards or they think we’re incompatible, we have to get over the emotional pain and be thankful that our isle is clear for someone else who wants to be with us as we are.

Only one of many examples: A homely, awkward girl with a wonderful personality and spirit.  Of course, during high school and college she was rejected by all the boys who were looking for cheerleaders.  As much as she wanted to be wanted, she knew in her heart that she didn’t want jerks like that and she wasn’t going to abandon herself in order to please one. Then she met someone who was worthy of what she wanted.  And wonder of wonders, he was hot for her, body and soul.  They’re still enthralled with each others’ unique greatness and with their fit with each other.

How can we improve if we’re not always testing ourselves?  It’s simple, although not necessarily easy.  We know when we haven’t lived up to our standards, when we’ve done or not done something we should have.  We don’t have to beat ourselves up in order to apologize, make amends and do better next time.  We simply dedicate ourselves to that task.

So we mustn’t give up on ourselves.  Test other people; some will stay and some will leave of their own accord. The real power is in our making our choice; who do we want to send away and who do we want to keep on our isle of song?  Only then will it truly be our isle and our song.

If you need personalized coaching to maintain your strength and courage, your determination and dedication, call me at 303-458-6616.

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:

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).

Newspaper videos show a suburban Dallas teacher watch one of his high school students get beaten by another student.  This was not an isolated incident.  That student was targeted for months.  Since Dallas doesn’t have a policy, teachers are on their own in deciding what to do.  In that environment, do you think that this is an isolated incident?  Not likely.  Is this only a problem for Dallas schools?  Not likely. I have a lot of sympathy for the teacher (even though he was a relatively large man) and even more for the target, who’d been turned into a victim by school-system adults who were irresponsible.  Don’t focus only on the teacher; focus on all the adults in the Dallas school system who abandoned that kid – from board members to principals and teachers and the teachers’ union.

Everyone involved in schools knows there’s a problem.  Everyone points fingers at everyone else but no one takes the obvious actions.  Why wait until there’s another killing or another suicide before they act?

Sometimes I get mad enough to want to see the bullies and the adults’ people’s pictures in the post office among the most wanted, or on television, so we can recognize the slackers when we see them at the supermarket.  Who do I fault?

  • Legislators and school board members: How can they not have laws and policies?  I know there are lots of problems writing good laws and crafting effective policies, but if they’re not up to the task, resign and let us get some adults who can.  We all know that if their kids were targeted, they’d spring into action.
  • The teachers’ union: I’m appalled that the union isn’t leading the fight (read, “spending their lobbying dollars”) to make legislators pass laws and school boards implement strong policies to empower and protect teachers when they intervene.  They have all the evidence they need to act.
  • According to the article in the Dallas News, “Rena Honea, president of Dallas teachers association Alliance-AFT, says, ‘Teachers have intervened in the past.  They have been injured.  They have not been able to return to work.  They have been reprimanded for intervening.  So there is a huge question mark as to what's truly appropriate.  Teachers who have intervened in the past have found themselves on the ground, suffering from sometimes serious injuries, a 2008 story by Tawnell Hobbs found.  She found that assaults by students on Dallas ISD employees and volunteers had more than doubled over a 5-year span from 147 incidents in 2002-03 to 312 in 2006-07, according to district statistics.
  • Of course, bullies don’t respect adults who don’t maintain lines of civil behavior.  Of course, bullies will attack people, even adults, they think can’t protect and defend themselves.
  • Principals and teachers: They’re stuck, hanging out to dry on their own, unprotected by their employers (school boards) and by their union.  That teacher in Seagoville, Texas was risking his career and his personal life if he intervened.  The attacker could have beaten him.  The attacker and his parents could have sued him.  No one is protecting him.  He’s in a no-win situation.  How come the school district doesn’t have a clear, strong program that requires principals and teachers to act?
  • The bully and his parents: Have his parents done anything to teach their child?  Has the kid never learned any better?  How come the parents haven’t come forward to apologize or ask the police to prosecute their child?  Are the adults in the school system so afraid of being sued that they’ve abandoned our children?

Harassing, bullying, abusing and beating kids are terrible acts.  Irresponsible adults who have good reasons, rationalizations, excuses and justifications for not intervening are even worse.  They convert targets into victims.

Targets can resist and get help from responsible adults.

Victims are unprotected, helpless and isolated.  When victims grow up:

The next articles will deal with what we, as parents, can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to our children; especially what we can do during the summer.

But the general take-home for parents is that all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right.

 

“How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” have many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family.  They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us.  They count on our self-bullying and guilt.  They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval...  They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad.  And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune. Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.”  They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.

Of course, we’ve tried everything we can think of, but the negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame, bullying and abuse haven’t stopped.  We’ve tried to do exactly what they want, but it’s never enough.  We’ve apologized and pleaded with them to stop, but that just makes them act nastier.  We’ve gotten angry and threatened not to see them, but they broke down in such tears of distress we felt guilty or they blamed on us even more or they acted nice for a few minutes but, when we relaxed, they attacked us more about something different they didn’t like.

So what can we do now?

  1. For the sake of peace and quiet in the whole family, we could keep trying to endure the abuse while begging them to stop.  After all, we never know; if we only kept trying, if we only did enough, they might change.  Also, they might leave us in the will.  And it’d be our fault if we quit too soon.  Many people fly low until they have children and see their toxic parents either criticizing and emotionally abusing their children or belittling and criticizing them while being sweet to the grandchildren.
  2. We might continue objecting and arguing; enduring our frustration and anger.  Usually this tactic repeats endlessly and often spirals out of control.  Relentlessly toxic parents won’t admit they’re wrong and give up.  Eventually they’ll escalate and cut us out of the will.
  3. We might try withdrawing for a while; not seeing them, telling them we won’t return emails and calls, and then carrying through.  People usually shift from the first two tactics to this one when they see the effect of their toxic parents on their own children.  This tactic sometimes convinces nasty, mean, bullying parents that they’d better change their ways or they’ll lose contact with their grandchildren.  But the relentlessly toxic parents don’t care.  They’re sure they’re fine and they’re sure they’ll win if they push hard enough, like they’ve always won in the past.  So they don’t change and we go back to arguing or we give up or we finally respond more firmly.
  4. The next step is to withdraw for a long time, maybe forever – no contact.  It’s sad but we have to protect the family we’re creating from our own predatory parents.  It’s usually both scary and very exciting.  Most people, despite any guilt they feel, also feel a huge surge of relief, as if a giant weight or a fire-breathing dragon has been removed from their shoulders.  Our spouse and children may celebrate.  Get out of town, go on a vacation, turn the phones and email off.

What to expect and how to respond?

  1. They’ll attack when we withdraw.  Expect them to make angry calls and send hostile emails.  Save these on an external drive or a cheap recorder before deleting them.  They want to engage us, so do not engage endlessly and fruitlessly; no return calls or emails, no hateful or vindictive responses.  We’ve only gotten to this point because they haven’t changed after many approaches and warnings.  We might have to change our phone numbers to unlisted ones and change our email addresses.
  2. They’ll rally the extended family.  Prepare by making cue cards of what to say; no excuses or justifications.  Just tell the family what you said and did, and what you plan.  Ask them not to intervene.  Tell them we’d like to see them but only if our toxic parents are not present.  We’re sorry they’re caught in the middle but that’s life.  They do have to choose who to believe and what behavior to support.  Be prepared to withdraw from anyone who attacks or interferes.
  3. They’ll disinherit us.  When they can’t manipulate us through love, blame, shame and guilt, they’ll try greed.  If we don’t do what our toxic parents want right now, they’ll cut us out of the will.  Don’t be a slave to greed; it’s a deadly sin.  If we want to have a bully-free family life, we’ll have to make it on our own.  The real benefit is not merely ending the brutality, it’s the strength of character and the skills we gain when we make decisions for ourselves and chart our own course in the world.  We’ll end the negativity, stress, anxiety and depression usually caused by toxic parents.  We’ll develop the strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience we all need to make wonderful lives.  We’ll be able to express our passion and joy without cringing, waiting for the next blow to fall.
  4. We’ll have an empty space in our lives.  Even more than the empty physical space we’ll now have at the times when we used to get together with our toxic parents, we’ll have a huge mental and emotional space.  How many hours have we wasted thinking about our parents, worrying about the next episode, dreading what might happen next, agonizing over what to do.  We don’t have to do that any more.  Of course, being weaned from an old habit takes a little time.  We must be gentle with ourselves.  Focus on the freedom we now have.  Now we can think about the things we want to think about; not about pain and suffering, not about past failures.  Now we have space to bring into our lives people who will be part of the tribe of our heart and spirit.
  5. Our children will wonder why.  Tell the kids in a way that’s age appropriate.  Are we protecting them from the verbal abuse of their toxic grandparents or from lies that paint us as bad people?  They’ll want to know what’s going to stay the same.  Will they have fun, celebrate holidays, get presents, have extended family?

The most important lessons we offer our children are not through books and lectures.  Those are important, but the most important ones are the ones they see in our behavior when we’re models of behavior we want them to learn.

Be a model for them of someone who protects himself and them from anyone who would target them, even someone who’s close by blood.  Being close by behavior counts more than blood.  Show them not to be victimized even by blood relations.

Show them to how to be the hero of their lives.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to endure whatever bullying and abuse our toxic parents dish out simply because they’re our parents.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives. “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of children and adults getting over their early training and freeing themselves from toxic relationships.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Today is officially, “Dump the Jerk Day.”  Seriously.  Clear out the debris and deadwood.  Make space for someone who treats you good so you can have a wonderful Valentine’s Day.  Worse than being alone is feeling alone when someone else is taking up all the space and breathing all the air.  Then you’re not only feeling alone, there’s also no space for someone good to come into your life. This is a good time to hold your dating choices under the microscope and, when appropriate, to recognize your bad choices for the jerks that they are.  Then, jettison those persons from your life before Valentine’s Day comes around.

With expert, personalized coaching, you can learn:

The bullies who yell or hit are easy to recognize, but the sneaky, manipulative, controllers who start off nice are more dangerous and more difficult to stop.

In “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” read how Brandi learned to get rid of the jerks in her life.

Even if you’re married with children, you can do it.  In some ways, despite the difficulties, it’s more important because you need to set a good example for your sons and daughters.  Teach them to stop abuse and bullying.

You’ll find quotes, links to articles and other useful material to help you stop bullies at work, in personal relationships and with children at the BulliesBeGone page of Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bullies-Be-Gone/125559177508773 Or you can go directly to the wall at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bullies-Be-Gone/125559177508773#!/pages/Bullies-Be-Gone/125559177508773?v=wall

I hope you “like” what’s there already and let all your friends know.  And I expect to get audio and video content on soon.

In her article in the New York Times, “The Playground Gets Even Tougher,” Pamela Paul points out that Mean Girls begin their nasty, vicious harassment, bullying and abuse on the playground and in pre-school.  They don’t wait until fifth grade or junior high school. In my experience, mean girls put down targeted kids for whatever reasons they can find – from poor, discounted, unfashionable clothes or the lack of the latest cell phones and bling, to race, religion, physical differences and hair color.  Mean girls also form cliques that ostracize, exclude and cut-out their targets or scapegoats.  Mean girl behavior cuts across all socio-economic categories – inner-city, rural, suburban and expensive, private schools.  The movies, “Mean Girls” and “Camp Rock,” give some graphic examples.

Consequences for the targets can include stomach aches, throwing up and pulling hair out before school, as well as anxiety, nightmares, sleep walking and excessive crying.  Even worse are self doubt, negative self-talk, self-hatred and loathing, loss of confidence and destruction of self-esteem.  Too often, suicide and its effects on families and communities follow. Childhood bullies and mean girls who aren’t stopped usually grow up to become bullying adult as spouses, parents, friends, and at work as co-workers and bosses.  Similarly, targets who become victims unable to stop bullies usually grow to become adult victims as spouses, parents, friends, and at work as co-workers and bosses.

Of course, mean boys are just as bad as mean girls and mean dads are just as bad as mean moms.

In my experience, mean behavior is a natural tactic for many girls to try – children naturally try to take all the toys and to feel powerful and superior by putting down other girls.  Even when they’re very young, some shift into forming mean girl cliques. Let’s point the finger at the source: With children this young, the problem is their parents Mean girls have parents who fail their responsibility to channel their daughters into better ways of acting.  The four-fold problem is:

  • Mean moms who ignore mean girl behavior at home, on the playground and in preschool.  These moms have many opportunities to step in and teach their daughters how to do better in age-appropriate ways, but they don’t.  I think of these as absentee moms, whatever their reasons – whether they’re simply uncaring or not paying attention or don’t want to deal with it or not physically present.  Nannies can be even less responsible, especially if their employers don’t want to hear about it.
  • Mean moms who set a bad example by acting mean to their extended families, to their children and to helpless servers in all forms – waiters, checkout clerks, nannies, maids, etc.  Mean girls imitate what they see and hear from their mean moms, not pious platitudes or empty commands thrown at them.
  • Mean moms who encourage mean girl behavior.  They enjoy watching their daughters be popular, superior and controlling.  They may think it’s cute and a sign of leadership potential, but whatever they think, they train their daughters to be mean.
  • Mean moms who protect and defend their mean daughters when they get feedback about mean behavior.  Of course, one-in-a-million children will be sneaky enough to be mean only when their parents aren’t looking.  Sneaky, mean girls can bully targets by acting as if the target did something to hurt their feelings and get their protective moms to get the target in trouble.  Or mean girls will simply threaten a target by saying they’ll get their moms to get the target in trouble.  Mean moms collude and often encourage this behavior.  Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series is an example of a mean boy protected by his mean father.

Suppose you’re the parent of a child who’s bullied by a mean girl, what can you do?  If you’re convinced that your daughter was not a provocateur who tried to get the other girl to react and get in trouble, should you talk to the mean girls, their moms, teachers and principals?

  • Know your daughter; will she assert and defend herself?  Since she might not talk about the meanness, you have to watch carefully on the playground and look for signs after school.  Mean girls are bullies who try to assert themselves over less assertive and less aggressive children.  Don’t ask your daughter to suffer or “rise above” because a mean girl and mean mom don’t know any better or have difficulties in their lives.
  • You might encourage your pre-school or kindergarten daughter to stand up for herself, but you should give plenty of encouragement and specific direction.  Even though your daughter is young, champion her inner strength, courage and perseverance.  She might be a target but she doesn’t have to become a victim.  Never believe mean girls’ opinions and don’t give in to their demands.
  • Intervene rapidly when your daughter seems unable to defend herself.  Don’t let the behavior continue.  Say something strongly and firmly to the mean girl.  Girls who were merely experimenting with a mean behavioral tactic will stop and not repeat it.  That’s a test of the girl – nice girls stop when you set a behavioral standard but mean girls don’t.  Mean girls think they’re smarter than you and that they have their own mothers’ protection.
  • If the mean girl doesn’t stop, test the mean girl’s mom one time.  Calmly detail the behavior and listen carefully for the response.  Is the mom appalled at her daughter’s behavior or does the mom blow it off or explain it away?  Just as in sports and childhood, your daughter might have been provocateur and then looked innocent when another girl retaliated.  So it’s natural for the other girl’s mother to try to discover the whole context and behavior before the incident.  But does the other mom immediately get defensive and angry, and twist the facts in order to blame your daughter?  Does she insist that her daughter is never wrong?  Is the mean girl’s mom too busy with her own life to educate her daughter or has she turned her child over to a nanny who won’t correct the child?
  • If these attempts change the girl’s behavior, you weren’t dealing with a hard-core mean girl and a mean mom.  But mean girls and mean moms aren’t stopped by the easy tactics.  Now you have to cut off after school activities including parties, despite the ramifications.  Also, get the pre-school teachers and principals involved.  Some will be helpful; they’ll keep it confidential, they’ll monitor to get their own evidence and then they’ll intervene.  They’ll get the mean girl out of your daughter’s class, they’ll break-up the clique, they’ll stop the behavior at school and they’ll have proactive programs to talk about mean girl behavior.  Depending on the age of the girls, they’ll teach witnesses what to do.  Unfortunately, unhelpful, uncaring, lazy, cowardly teachers and principals will look the other way or condone or even encourage mean girl behavior.  They’ll put you off with excuses.  Don’t let this happen.  Remember, principals fear publicity and law suits.

Of course, every action plan must be designed for your specific situation; depending on the children, the parents, the school and the relationships.  That’s where expert coaching will help.

Teach your children what’s right and also how to defend themselves.  Don’t convert your daughter into a victim.  Don’t sacrifice your child on the altar of your ignorance, fear or sympathetic heart.  Protect and defend your child even though there may be a high cost socially.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Inept, unskilled or over-protective mothers sabotage their daughters. Almost all the women who’ve interviewed me on radio and TV or who’ve called in with comments have said that their mothers told them to rise above mean girls, to be nicer and kinder to bullies, to be nice because the mean girls were being bullied at home, to feel sorry for the bullies because they had low self-esteem or to simply forgive mean girls as a spiritual thing to do.

That’s bad advice; those methods don’t stop real-world bullies and mean girls.  Those mothers trained their daughters to be easy targets and victims.  Those grown daughters still bear the wounds and scars of being hurt and victimized while not being allowed or knowing how to defend themselves.

In addition, some over-protective mothers said that they’re home-schooling their daughters because they were bullied at school.  There are many good reasons to home-school children, but I think that’s not one of them.

The number one cause of daughters being bullied repeatedly and then growing up to be bullied adults in relationships and at work is well-meaning mothers who are philosophically opposed to fighting back verbally or physically or who are inept or unskilled at stopping bullies.  They make bullying a multi-generational problem by not teaching their daughters effective skills and techniques to stop bullies.

Of course we don’t throw our children into deep water and risk their drowning.  First, we teach them how to swim.  Everything I say also relates to fathers and sons.

So what can mothers do?

  • If you’re fearful and protect your daughters in a cocoon, you’ll create problems for them when they grow up. Don’t make being a victim into a multi-generational problem.  The fear they sense will lead them to think they’re weak, fragile and incompetent.  They’ll develop anxiety and low self-confidence and self-esteem.  They’ll be naïve and unskillful and, therefore, easy prey for abusers and predators in their adult love life, with friendships and at work.
  • Accept that you must educate and train your daughters to stop bullies skillfully. They won’t be able to function successfully in the real-adult world if you let them think that the whole universe is a safe place; that if they’re nice and loving all people will be nice to them in return; that treating people according to the Golden Rule will get kindness and consideration back; that they’ll be more spiritual if they forgive and rise above harassment and abusive behavior.
  • Teach your daughters that the real-world has predators and also teach them how to recognize bullies. Overt bullies are easy to recognize.  Also, teach them the early warning signs of stealthy, covert bullies and mean girls.
  • Teach your daughters how to stop school bullies individually – verbally and physically. Predators will misinterpret their kindness and offers of friendship as weakness and an invitation to abuse them more.  Teach your daughters techniques of increasing firmness to get bullies to stop or to get away from them.  Teach them how to rally their friends to help them.
  • Teach your daughters how to get adult help from you, school officials and police. Convince them that you can help if they’re targeted by cyber-bullies or if they witness cyber-bullying.
  • Be a model. Become skillful in stopping the bullies in your life – at home, at work, as a customer and in the school system.  Learn how to rally and support good principals and teachers, and how to make reluctant administrators protect your daughter.

If you’re over-protective or if you try to ignore, minimize or appease bullies, you’ll teach your daughter to do the same.  And she’ll grow up to feel just as helpless as you do.

Do better for your daughter.  Remember all the women who interviewed me and the mixed feelings they now have about their mothers.

There are many examples of children and adults stopping bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”  Or call me at 877-8BULLIES (877-828-5543) to teach you how to help yourself and your daughter.

 

Just as many girls as boys are bullies but girls more often target other girls. Girls do bully other girls physically.  One publicized example is the Florida girls who beat up a classmate and then posted the video on YouTube.

However, most girl-girl bullying is verbal and emotional.  Seven of the nine bullies were girls in the publicized case that led to the recent suicide of Phoebe Prince.  Their attacks on Phoebe were choreographed, strategically planned and relentlessly executed.  The abuse was verbal, physical and through cyber space.

“Mean girls” are masters of catty remarks, put-downs, scorn, mockery, criticism, sarcasm, cyber bullying and forming cliques led by a Queen Bee.  Mean girls are also masters of covert, “stealth bullying;” backstabbing, rumor-mongering, telling secrets, cutting out and spreading gossip and innuendo while pretending to be friends.

Girl bullies often are control-freaks and emotional blackmailers.  Common bullying statements are, “If you don’t do what I want, you’re not my best friend, “ or “My best friend wouldn’t talk to that other girl,” or “You hurt my feelings, you’re a false friend.”  They often set up boys to attack their targets.

Boys tend to use overt physical tactics more than girls.

Girls: it’s easy to tell if you’re being overtly bullied; it’s harder to tell if the bullying is stealthy.  You’re probably being bullied if you’re feeling controlled, forced to do things you don’t want to do, scared of what another girl might do to you, afraid of getting ostracized or ganged up on, or not wanting to go to school at all.  Trust your gut and talk to your parents no matter how reluctant you are.

Parents: the major signs that your daughter is being bullied are unexplained, 180 degree changes in behavior.  For example, no longer talking about school or friends, not wanting to be with classmates, spending all her time in her room, avoiding checking text messages, social web sites or answering the phone, no longer doing homework, not eating lunch at school, stopping after-school activities, wanting to change or quit school, loss of weight, chewing fingernails, not caring about appearance, can’t sleep, nightmares, loss of confidence and self-esteem, emotionally labile (crying suddenly alternating with explosive anger and temper tantrums alternating with despondency and depression – “I’m helpless, it’s hopeless”).  Be careful; teenagers typically go through periods of these behaviors.  Parents must check out the causes.  Be persistent.  Don’t be stopped by initial resistance. If your daughter is being bullied, parents must proceed down two paths simultaneously:

  • Teach your daughter how to protect herself.
  • Make teachers, principals and school district administrators protect targets.

Bullying at school is rarely an isolated event.  Usually there is a pervasive pattern of overlooking, minimizing, denying, tolerating or even encouraging bullying.  Strategies for how parents can proceed depend on the situations they’re dealing with; especially the people.  The bottom line is that most, but not all, principals want to avoid the subject, do nothing, cover-up with platitudes, avoid law suits and won’t confront bullying parents who protect their darling little bullies.

Beware of principals who think that their primary task is to understand, rehabilitate or therapeutize bullies.  You will have to get other parents involved and be very tactical in order to get principals to act firmly and effectively. There is one absolute “Don’t.”  Every female client and every woman who has interviewed me said that they were verbally bullied when they were young.  Unfortunately, their mothers told them, “Rise above the bully.  That bully is hurting so much inside that they’re taking their pain and inferiority out on you.  Understand and forgive them.  You’re better than they are.  If you act nice enough, people will return your kindness with kindness.”

Every one of these bullied women bears deep wounds including stress, anxiety, negative self-talk, lack of confidence and self-esteem problems.  They also bear an underlying hatred of their mothers for those messages.  Those messages are absolutely wrong.  Mothers must teach their daughters how to protect themselves, not how to act like willing victims.

Remember, the Golden Rule doesn’t stop real-world bullies.  Prepare your daughters for the real-world they’ll face in school, at work, in intimate relationships and with friends.

Some control freaks at work are complete narcissists, others cover up major insecurities.  We can make lists of possible reasons that led someone to be a controlling adult – for example, genetics, they grew up with control freaks, they had no control when they were kids, their control when they were kids saved them, control assuages their terror of the unknown, control helps them succeed, they really are smarter and more competent than the rest of us, they want to feel like they’re smarter and more competent than the rest of us, or the feeling of righteousness is intoxicating. Of course even more reasons can be listed, but especially at work where our influence is small and temporary, our psychoanalysis of these abusive bullies rarely helps us change their behavior.  In the workplace, we suffer from the symptoms of their behavior, not the causes.

The real question at work is not why they act the way they do, but how to stop them.

The obvious controllers harass us overtly; their arrogant, narcissistic, nit-picking personalities oppress us continually.  Even if they don’t have power over us, they’ll be relentless.  But at least we can recognize the source of our pain and we can focus on creating tactics that get them off our backs.

The most difficult control freaks to stop are the sneaky, manipulative, covert bullies.  They use a style in which:

  • They make what seem to be innocuous suggestions for our best interests.
  • Their understated certainty is overwhelming.
  • They always know better ways to do everything even if they suggest them quietly.
  • They’re so enthusiastic that our hesitations are swept away.
  • Their feelings are the center of attention and who can resist helping them.
  • They subtly increase our self-doubt and decrease our confidence and self-esteem so we’ll take their direction.
  • Their reasons, excuses and rules are quietly but firmly presented with better logic and more certainty than we can articulate.  Our resistance seems petty, ludicrous and selfish.

In order to succeed at work, we need to take charge some of the time.  Control freaks need to be in charge all the time over everything.  They’d rather dominate than have relationships that bring out the greatest in everyone.

The reason I focus on the symptoms you need to deal with, instead of the psychological causes is that no presentation to the control-freak of why they use their controlling style/personality and no attempts to beg, bribe or assuage their fears ever changes their behavior.  The beginning of all change for control freaks is when their controlling strategy no longer works.

No one strategy stops control freaks.  The creation of a successful tactical plan depends on the people, the style of the controller, the situation and the power dynamics.  But there are a few guidelines.

  • Since control freaks want to take over everything, don’t ever give ground.  You’re trying to convince them never to try to control you, but instead to go control other people.
  • Don’t argue or debate what’s best.  If you use their suggestions don’t ever acknowledge their guidance.  If they know that you accepted their input, even if they made it in a suggestive way, that opening will encourage them to push your boundaries consistently and relentlessly.  Go your own way and live with the consequences.
  • Shine a light on their bullying tactics and the damage it causes to productivity and teamwork.  Never focus on your feelings.
  • Don’t get sucked into becoming their confident or therapist.  Your narcissism in thinking that you can help them will be your downfall.
  • Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that the control-freak might be right.  If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.

Assume that you can’t therapeutize or rehabilitate them.  You’re never going to change them.  They’re bullying, control freaks.  Get the coaching you need to get them away from you as fast as you can.  You don’t need their direction.  You’re simply trying to keep them from taking over team meetings and stifling input from other people.

Control freaks at home rarely change for any length of time.  After their bullying is confronted, they may promise to do better, but their good behavior will last only for a while.  They’ll revert or get sneakier about exerting their control.  While you can bring continual pressure to bear on your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, parents or children, or friends, real change is in the bully’s hands.  Change typically requires bullies to face the loss of what they value most.  Do they value you and the children more, or will they cling to their personal style as their identity forever?

Maybe the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince will finally wake us up.  Maybe the articles in the New York Times, Huffington Post, People magazine and dozens of others will wake us up.  Maybe the long list of charges against the bullies and tormentors will finally goad the public to demand strong action.  Maybe charges of statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment and stalking will get a stronger response from the district attorney than, “The inactions of some of the adults at the school are troublesome.” Phoebe’s suicide is another red alert.  But we know that hundreds of other children in our schools are being bullied, harassed, tormented and abused every day.  And parents and school officials are not protecting these targets of bullying.  Some of these kids will gain strength by fighting back effectively against these predators.

Others will be overwhelmed and destroyed by the bullying, but even more, by the lack of protection by the very adults who have taken on the responsibility to protect them.  These kids will grow up concluding that they are helpless and their situations are hopeless.  They will grow up with debilitating, negative self-talk, with anxiety, stress and depression, with little confidence and low self-esteem.

We don’t need more suicides to remind us of what we saw at our own schools, what we see in our adult personal relationships and the interactions we observe at work.  We know the depths to which humans can sink.  We know how alert and courageous we must be to prevent the worst consequences.

A huge number of people failed in Massachusetts.  Start with the two boys and four girls between the ages of 16 to 18 who have been charged as adults.  Continue with the three minors who have been charged as juveniles.  Continue with their parents.  Their parents failed to teach and control their children.  Of course it’s difficult to teach and control teenagers.  But will those parents now defend their venomous children or will they stand with Phoebe Prince?

I think the greatest failure is that of the school authorities, especially the principal and the district administrators who set the tone for the teachers and staff.  They pretend to be education experts.  They pretend to be worthy to teach children.  Yet none would stand up for Phoebe or for the other girl in school who was bullied by one of the accused teenagers.

We know that there are difficulties and that they will hide behind the lie that “we didn’t know how bad it was.”  So what?  Personally as a parent and grandparent, professionally as a coach, consultant and expert on how to stop bullies I say that these people represent failure and should be forced to go into jobs in which their tasks don’t matter.

Would you want someone who pleads “difficulties” as an excuse for their failures when your life is on the line – for example, a school bus driver, a doctor, a pilot, a cop, a fire fighter, a repairman of train tracks, a quality control worker on an assembly line for your medication, pacemaker or your car’s brakes or accelerator?  I wouldn’t give them the responsibility.  All that education has been wasted on them.  And maybe the type of education currently in how-to-be-a-teacher courses is a waste.

Then there’s the rest of us: the legislators who didn’t pass laws and demand policies and programs that would protect courageous principals from law suits by the bullying parents of bullying kids; the parents who didn’t demand the best from their legislators or the enforcement of strong anti-bullying programs by their principals; the by-standers who looked the other way and remained uninvolved; the citizens who won’t pay teachers enough to attract courageous and good ones; the unions that protect their failures from consequences.

Whether the abuse is cyber-bullying, physical violence, sexual attacks or the many varieties of mean and vicious verbal and emotional abuse – the spite, gossip, rumor-mongering, ostracism, targeting or mocking – there will always be “experts” who say “it’s not so bad,” lawyers who say that it’s too difficult to write enforceable laws, and there will always be difficulties in stopping harassment, bullying and abuse.  So what if there are difficulties?  If we can’t overcome those difficulties, we don’t deserve the responsibility and trust, and we will reap the bitter fruits that will await us in our hours of need.

Imagine that you have a new boyfriend who seems wonderful and you’re looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day.  But in your past relationships you were harassed, bullied, controlled and abused.  You finally realize you have a tendency to pick the wrong guys.  What should you look for with this new one and what should you do if you see any warning signs? Step back and take a look at how he treats people now.  Don’t listen to any of his reasons, explanations or excuses.  Look only at his actions.  Everyone can blow up once a year under extreme pressure, so count how often he behaves that way.  Look for patterns.

Test him now … before it’s too late.

Does he harass, bully, abuse or control you?

  1. Does he push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what he wants?
  2. Does he make the rules and control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on?  Does he think that his sense of timing and rules of proper conduct are the right ones?
  3. Do his standards rule?  Is your “no” not accepted as “no?”  Is he always right and you’re always wrong?  Is sex always when and what he wants and for his pleasure?  Is his sense of humor always right?  Does he say that he’s not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive?  Do your issues get dealt with or are his more important so he can ignore your concerns or wishes?
  4. Does he control you with negativity, disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt?  For example, no matter what you do, are you wrong or not good enough?  Does he cut you down in subtle ways and claim that he’s just kidding?  Or does he control you with his hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide?
  5. Are you afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage?  For example, do you walk on eggshells?  Does he intimidate you with words and weapons?  Does he threaten you, your children, your pets or your favorite things?
  6. Are you told that you’re to blame if he’s angry?  Do you feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained?  In this relationship, has your self-doubt increased, while your self-confidence and self-esteem decreased?
  7. Does he isolate you?  Are you allowed to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work?  Does he force you to work because he needs your money?  Are you told that you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them him?
  8. Does he need your money to make his business schemes work?  Does he have a pattern of not keeping jobs, even though he blames his lack of success on other people or bad luck?  Is he looking for someone to support him like he thinks he deserves?

If you answered yes to most (or even any of these questions), pull out a piece of paper and write, in big capital letters, “Bully” and “Control-Freak” and “Abuser.”  Now you know what you’re dealing with.  Post these signs on your mirror, car, computer and work space.  Put them in your purse.

When you protest, does he promise to stop?

  1. Whatever his reasons, if he isn’t convincing when he says he’s sorry, run away real fast.
  2. After he promises to stop, does treat you nice for a while before the next incident?

Remember, apologies, excuses, reasons and justifications count only one time.  After that, only actions count.

While bullies are courting you, until he gets you, he’ll treat you the best he’ll ever treat you.  For bullies, it’s all downhill after he thinks he’s got you. How does he treat other people like: 

  1. Servers – waiters and waitresses, clerks at the movies and retail stores, people who work for airlines.  Does he harass, bully and abuse them?  Does he try to get something for free?
  2. Supervisees, coworkers and vendors.  Does he think they’re stupid, incompetent and lazy?   Does he jerk them around?  Does he retaliate viciously if he feels offended?
  3. Acquaintances and friends?  Does he keep them only if he’s the boss or center of attention?  Does he have friends who have lasted?   Are the relationships brutal or are they like those you’d like between equals?
  4. His former girlfriends or ex-wives.  What would they say about those relationships?  Does he claim all those women were bad or rotten?  Did he retaliate in the end?
  5. His parents and siblings?  Does he abuse them because they deserve it, or has he simply walked away because they’re impossible to have a good relationship with?

Don’t think you’re unique, different and safe; don’t think that he’ll never treat you that way.  That’s magical thinking.  A person who has mastered harassment, bullying, controlling and abusing these people, especially the helpless servers, supervisees and vendors will eventually get around to you.

What does he wish he could do to those other people?

  1. Does he wish he could have had the strength, courage and opportunity to retaliate without bad consequences to himself?
  2. Is he itching to take his anger or rage out on someone else (like, maybe you)?

He probably will do those things to you once he thinks you’re under his thumb – after you’re married, have children, or become dependent on his approval, permission or money.

Ignore your overwhelming feelings of true love.  Don’t waste your life trying to fix him.  Get rid of him now before it’s too late; before you live together, or he slowly gets you to give him control.  He’s only a boyfriend.  Find a better one to have all those feelings of true love with.

See the case studies of Brandi and Lucy in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

You’ll need an expert coach to develop specific tactics to get away while keeping your money, car, home, family, friends and job.

Spend this Valentine’s Day alone and work with your therapist or coach to prepare for a loving Valentine’s Day next year.

Of course, women harass, bully, control and abuse men just as much in their own ways, but that will be the subject of a different article.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling

One of the questions I’m most often asked is, “Why Do Bullies Keep Abusing Us?” I hear that from:

  • Kids who want to stop bullies and cvber bullies at school.
  • Adults who want to stop bullying in their love lives or in relationships with their siblings, parents and friends.
  • Adults who don’t understand why their teenagers are so demanding, nasty and surly.
  • Adults who want to stop bullying at work by managers and co-workers.

That question is usually asked in the context of, “I’m a nice person; I don’t deserve to be treated that way.  Why is that person so nasty to me?”

The apparent perplexity behind the question comes from the idea that we’re supposed to get what we put out, not only in interactions with those we love, who also love us, but also in interactions with everyone in the world.  As if, if we’re nice we’re supposed to be treated nicely in return.  These people forget that bullies have different agendas and methods.

The hidden fears behind the question are:

  1. “Maybe I have done something to deserve being harassed and abused; maybe it really is my fault.”  Of course, people thinking this way are usually riddled by self-doubt and negative self-talk.  Their hidden hope is, “If I knew what I’d done wrong, I could apologize, do what the bully wants, and then they’d treat me nicely.”  Their hidden anger comes from deep knowledge, “I didn’t do anything wrong; how dare that bully treat me that way!”
  2. “If the world is so unfair, it’s out of my control.”  Of course, people thinking this way are afraid that they’re not strong enough to thrive in a world that’s dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable.  Their hidden hope is that they could control the world if only they learned the magic secrets.  Their hidden anger comes from the sense that, “I didn’t ask for this kind of world; I’m entitled to something better and more rational.”

Before I answer “Why do bullies keep abusing us,” let’s understand what bullying is about in a way that helps us stop bullies in their tracks.  Distinguish between two questions:

  1. Why do children try bullying tactics?
  2. Why do they keep bullying as they grow up?

The way I look at it, babies and children naturally take or demand what they want; they naturally try bullying tactics.  That’s necessary for their survival – babies must make us feed and change them whether we want to or not.  Children’s survival-level job is to figure out how to get us to give them what they want.

Impulses to bully come up all the time, in all of us.  It feels good to be a strong and powerful and simply take what we want.  Unless kids are taught how to feel good or how to get what they want by other methods, they’ll continue bullying.

Parents train children how to get what they want; which means how to bully, manipulate, harass or abuse people, or how to negotiate with us to give them what they want.  We train them to keep using bullying tactics or to try other methods.

There are three general reasons why children grow up and continue using bullying techniques.

  1. Bullying is what they see – they see one or both parents bullying successfully or it’s the only tactic they know.  Their parents and family don’t teach them not to bully and also don’t teach them better ways to get what they want.
  2. They keep bullying because bullying succeeds – well-meaning parents, principals and teachers don’t say “No” and they don’t stop the bullying.  Sometimes, we may let bullies succeed while we’re negotiating with them or because we’re too tired and worn down to be strong.  You’ve seen parents teach children to get cookies, candy or toys by yelling loud enough, throwing hysterical fits or simply taking it from a younger or smaller kid.
  3. There’s a small group of sociopaths and psychopaths who won’t be teachable in any reasonable length of time, if ever.

Many people say that “Children become bullies because they have low self-esteem.  To make themselves feel better, they bully people who are weaker.”  This is usually followed by the hope that, “If I understand why bullies bully, I’ll be able to teach bullies why bullying is wrong, and then they’ll stop bullying.”  These people typically allow bullies to continue abusing their targets, while they educate, beg, bribe, appease or therapeutize bullies.

Instead, take the focus away from psychotherapy of bullies and focus on stopping bullying first.  Teach your kids to protect themselves from kids who haven’t learned impulse control or to use other means to navigate in the world.  After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies.  As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time; let’s protect target children and adults right now. Educating bullies begins with stopping them.  Their main motivation for learning new tactics is when the old methods no longer succeed.

So why do bullies keep abusing us: Because they’re not stopped by the responsible adults.  Also, the responsible adults don’t train the targets and bystanders how to stop the bullies.  In addition, principals, teachers and parents often punish the targets for taking matters into their own hands, tongues or fists.

The secret to stopping bullies is to stop them.  Be as firm as you need – bullies will show you what you must do to stop them.

In an article in the New York Times on May 9, 2009, “Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work,” Mickey Meece describes numerous cases of women bullying women at work. Of course, women abuse, harass and sabotage other woman at work, just like men do to each other.  Sometimes they’re overt and sometimes they’re stealthy, sneaky.  Isn’t that your experience?

More important than distracting questions and considerations about how much they do it, why they do it or do they do it more or differently than men, are:

  • Do you recognize the early warning signs of bullies?
  • Do you know how to stop them skillfully?

Women often say that other women aren’t as overt about bullying; they’re more likely to be stealth bullies.  Some use tactics that are sneaky, manipulative, backstabbing; some form cliques and start rumors or demeaning put-downs; some pretend to be friends and bad mouth you behind your back; some are negative, whining, complaining “professional victims;” some are passive-aggressive.  And some can be nit-picking, control-freaks just as much as men.

How about Meryl Streep and other unsavory characters in “The Devil Wears Prada?”

Some are splinters, rotten apples and cancers – at all levels in your organization.  Just like men who bully.

As I show in my books and CDs of case studies, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Eliminate the High Cost of Low Attitudes,” bullies are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same – whether they’re men or woman.  That’s why we can find ways to stop them.

Ignoring the problem or begging, bribery, appeasement, simply reinforce low attitudes and behavior at all levels.  A major part of the problem are conflict-avoidant leaders, managers and co-workers who think that if we all talk nicely to each other or try to make bullies happy, they’ll stop bullying.

If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey.  Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill.  We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they face – men or women.

Of course, individual coaching will help you design tactics that fit your specific situation.

Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies.  I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
9 CommentsPost a comment

Narcissistic control-freaks rule!  They think. Some narcissistic personalities are so over the top that it’s easy to detect them.  You’ll follow your gut reaction and get away as fast as you can.

But watch out.  If you’re not careful, stealthy narcissists will take over your life – at home, in relationships, at work.  Are you sure you can detect the stealthy ones?

Seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists are:

  1. They think they know best about everything.  They know what’s best for you; just ask them.  They give you advice and make your life miserable if you don’t do what they say.  They point out all your mistakes and failings.  They’re spouses, relatives or friends who could direct your life better than you can.  They’re yelling, threatening, demeaning bosses.  Their absolute certainty seduces you into self-doubt and self-bullying.  You become unsure of your own judgment and wisdom so you might as well follow theirs.
  2. Their excitement is contagious and sweeps you along.  Whether it’s for a new product, career, love interest or activity, it’s the best and greatest – even if it’s the opposite of what they thought 10 minutes ago.  You should jump on board if you know what’s good for you.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.  They’re new employees or interns who know everything and don’t need to learn from people who are already doing their jobs well.  They’re nit-picking, micro-managers.  They’re children or teenagers who won’t practice or learn, who won’t do anything the way other people say is best.  They insist on doing it their way, even though they fail repeatedly.  They won’t listen; especially when they’re failing.
  4. They’re more important than you are.  Actually, they’re more important than the rest of the world.  Their feelings are so intense that you’re too polite or afraid to upset them by trying to make your feelings or opinions matter.  Their feelings get hurt easily and are powerful justifications for anger, retaliation and revenge.  Their jealousies, issues and concerns (not yours) become the focus of all interactions.  Their desires – for promotions, toys they want, relationships they want, enemies they want to get – are the most important things and they’re entitled to get what they want.  They’re controlling, stealth-bullying husbands.  Your time – actually, your whole life – should be devoted to their needs (wants, whims).
  5. Everyone is a pawn in their game.  You have value only as long as you can help them or worship them.  They’re selfish, arrogant, demanding teenagers, spouses or dates who think they should be catered to or waited on.  Anyone who doesn’t help or who gets in the way becomes the enemy.  You’re afraid that if you disagree or distance yourself, they’ll strike back at you.
  6. Their excuses, excuse.  Their reasons are always correct and are enough to justify what they do.  If you don’t agree, you simply don’t understand or you’re evil.  Their jealousies, anger and hatred are not bad characteristics – like other people’s jealousy, anger and hatred.  Self-deluded narcissists (aren’t they all, by definition) think they’re merely feeling, thinking and doing what any normal person would feel, think and do.  They’re saints in their own minds.  You’d better agree or else.
  7. Their rules, rule.  They know how the world should be and how people should act.  They’re allowed to do anything they want – to take, attack or strike back in any way they want – but everyone else should be bound by their rules.  If your feelings are hurt by what they’ve said or done, it’s your fault and your problem.  They are virtuous and righteous.  They’re great debaters or they simply talk so loud and long that you give in.

In order to thrive, we all need some of these characteristics some of the time.  Narcissists have them all and they won’t give them up.  They’d rather dominate than succeed or have relationships that bring out the greatest in everyone.

Take a look at yourself: What attracts you to someone who is sure they’re important, they’re right and your life would be better if you do what they say or if you serve them?

Kind-hearted therapy-junkies in families or in the workplace think they can convert these selfish, self-absorbed bullies by loving them enough, by appeasing them or by educating them.  Forget it.

You’re never going to change them.  They’re bullying, control-freaks.  Get the coaching you need to get away as fast as you can.  You don’t need their direction.  Don’t ask for or even allow them to give their opinions.  Make your own mistakes and create your own successes.

Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that narcissists might be right.  If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.

As I show in my books and CDs of case studies, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks,” “Bullies Below the Radar” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” bullies, including narcissistic personalities, are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same.  That’s why we can find methods to stop most of them.  If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey.  Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

In her article in the Wall Street Journal, “When women derail other women in the office,” Rachel Emma Silverman comments on Peggy Klaus’ article in the New York Times, “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting.” Both discuss an estimate that female office bullies who commit verbal abuse, sabotage performance or hurt relationships, aim at other women more than 70% of the time.  Both discuss the psychological reasons why women hurt other women and why they don’t protect them.

Of course, women abuse, harass and sabotage other woman at work.  Sometimes they’re overt and sometimes they’re stealthy, sneaky.  Isn’t that your experience?

More important than distracting questions and considerations about how much they do it, why they do it or do they do it more or differently than men, are:

  • Do you recognize the early warning signs of bullies?
  • Do you know how to stop them skillfully?

Women often say that other women aren’t as overt about bullying; they’re more likely to be covert, stealth bullies.  Some of the common tactics and perpetrators are:

How about Meryl Streep and other unsavory characters in “The Devil Wears Prada?”

Some are splinters, rotten apples and cancers – at all levels in your organization.  They need removed just like men who bully.

As I show in my books and CDs of case studies, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Eliminate the High Cost of Low Attitudes,” bullies are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same – whether they’re men or woman.  That’s why we can find ways to stop them.

Ignoring the problem or begging, bribery and appeasement simply reinforce low attitudes and behavior at all levels.  A major part of the problem are conflict-avoidant leaders, managers and co-workers who think that if we all talk nicely to each other or try to make bullies happy, they’ll stop bullying.

If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey.  Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill.  We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies we face – men or women.

Of course, individual coaching will help you design tactics that fit your specific situation.

Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies.  I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
TagsA Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting, abuse, agencies, aggressive, agreements, appeasement, article, attitudes, avoidant, backstabbing, bad mouthing, begging, Behavior, behavioral, behavioral standards, books, bribery, bullies, bully, bullying, cancers, case studies, CDs, character, characters, cliques, co-workers, coach, Coaching, comments, commit, companies, complaining, conflict, conflict-avoidant, considerations, consultant, control, control-freaks, covert, demeaning, derail, determination, Devil Wears Prada, early warning signs, Eliminate, Eliminate the High Cost of Low Attitudes, empower, female, friends, government, government agencies, ground rules, happy, harass, How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks, hurt, hurt relationships, ignoring, individual, individual coaching, Infighting, Klaus, leaders, levels, Low Attitudes, managers, manipulative, men, Meryl Streep, negative, New York Times, Nit-picking, non-profits, office, office bullies, organization, overt, passive, Passive-aggressive, patterns, Peggy Klaus, performance, perpetrators, Pretending, problem, productivity, professional, professional victims, promote, protect, psychological, psychological reasons, put-downs, questions, Rachel Emma Silverman, real world, reasons, reinforce, Relationships, removed, resilience, rotten apples, rules, rumors, sabotage, signs, Silverman, Sisterhood, situation, skill, skillfully, sneaky, splinters, staff, Standards, stealth, stealthy, Stop Bullies, stop bullies in their tracks, stop bullying, strength, studies, Tactics, team, unsavory, verbal, verbal abuse, victims, Wall Street Journal, warning, warning signs, When women derail other women in the office, whining, women, work, workplace
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