I’m often asked to help leaders motivate employees because productivity, quality, attitudes and morale are low.  Leaders typically assume that unhappy employees are the problem, and making them happier – with team-building, money, perks or more involvement in decision-making - is the solution. That might seem like good sense but the answer doesn’t lie in accommodation, appeasement or consensus involving the most demanding employees.

To read the rest of this article from the East Bay Business Times, see: You can't make all employees happy -- and shouldn't try http://eastbay.bizjournals.com/eastbay/stories/2004/08/16/smallb6.html

The key isn’t being nicer; the key is leaders leading and followers following.

It’s true that many employees and managers will be more productive when they are treated the way they want.  But it’s equally true that many will enjoy their jobs only if they don’t have to be productive or evaluated honestly.  These people want to control every decision, put their feelings before work, be catered to and applauded for throwing temper tantrums.

Some examples of different leaders who got into trouble trying to be too nice.  For details, see the original article.

  • The staff in one division of a company was unable to form three-person customer service teams because only 15 of 17 people wanted them.
  • At another company, workers were allowed to interrupt senior leader meetings, rudely challenge any decision and make personal attacks on leaders.
  • In an under-performing unit of a third company, a new supervisor evaluating a resistant and mediocre employee saw a five-year history of excellent reviews.

Lack of appropriate leadership at these companies created power vacuums that attracted negative, critical, unhappy and abusive people who wanted control.  Well-meaning leaders had perpetuated the lie that the best way to encourage employee productivity and professional growth was to placate them through sympathy, begging, bribery and allowing them to act out.  These cultures were self-described as “employee centered, caring, consensus and win-win.”

A key initial step in solving the problems was seeing them as cultures of entitlement, appeasement and rule by petulant, demanding “children.”

The workplace is not a therapeutic environment.  Companies do not exist to make us comfortable and happy, or give unconditional approval.  If your feelings are hurt by honest, professional evaluations, prepare for disappointment.  If they’re hurt by differences in responsibility and authority between leaders and followers, become a leader.

We don’t get to vote on everything.  We can’t force everyone to treat us the way we want.  We get rewarded for productivity and success.  We often have to suck it up and be productive when we’d rather not.

Ultimately, companies are in business to make a profit.  Well-meaning leaders who work too hard at being nice, caring people can find themselves carrying 100 percent of the burden to please the most hostile, demanding employees who aren’t contributing to the success of the organization.

Consensus leadership and flat hierarchies are fads that are finally beginning to pass.  They are simply not efficient or effective enough to succeed.

Leaders lead by determining direction, establishing goals and expectations, and judging employees by performance.  Leaders don’t have to be bullies or ogres.  Of course, listening to employees can be a great asset.  But, in the end, leaders are responsible for leading the way so employees can follow.

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

Suppose your toxic parents want you to forgive them for the way they treated you years ago.  They sound sincere and they say that they need you to nurse them now that their health is failing.  They don’t have enough money to live well so you should support them like they once supported you.  Also, they need your help to deal with a health-care bureaucracy they don’t understand. Can you forgive them and do what they want?

Forgiveness is a loaded word. To most people, especially toxic ones, forgiveness means not only you opening your heart to them, but also you giving them what they want.  At the very least it means increased relationship and, usually, endless arguing and debating, endless servitude.

But, suppose also that, trying to help them, you’ve bounced between anger and feeling guilty.  Suppose that the last ten times you’ve forgiven them and tried to be a dutiful child, you’ve gotten entangled in painful interactions.  Every time you get close, they try to control you and you feel angry again.  They don’t listen to your needs; they think their need to have you help them is more important than your values of independence and freedom.

Forgive them and move far away – physically, mentally and emotionally. What I mean by that is:

  1. Forgive them, have compassion for their struggles, and also stop thinking about them – about 2 minutes a week might be okay.  Forgiveness means that you don’t replay all the old incidents; you don’t get angry; you don’t try to justify yourself in your eyes or theirs; they occupy very little of your mental and emotional space.
  2. Get far away physically so there are no more incidents that will trigger you again.  End contact by telephone, email, social networks.
  3. Test the relatives and acquaintances.  Who begs you to relieve them of the burden of taking care of your needy parents?  Who tries to twist your arm so that you take care of those toxic parents?  Who tries to convince you that you still owe those toxic bullies loyalty and duty?
  4. You don’t have to confront your toxic parents.  You can simply tell them the way it is for you – calmly, firmly; no debates, no arguments, no justifications, no asking for their approval or permission.  Don’t waste your time in further confrontations.
  5. When they pursue you, keep your distance.  Don’t engage.  Of course they won’t respect your desires and boundaries.  They’ve always known what’s right.  Disappear again.

Think of your personal space as a target with a bull’s eye and many concentric circles going out from the center.  The more toxic people are, the further away from the center of your life you move them.  Every time someone pollutes your environment, for whatever reason, move them at least one circle further away from you; or more if they did something you particularly don’t like.

If someone apologizes, do not move them closer.  Watch their behavior.  How long before they revert to the old harassment, bullying or abuse?  Keep moving them further away.

What if they don’t want you to forgive them?  They just want you to forget what happened and do what they want and need now.

What if they’re angry at you for what they claim you did?  What if they want you to apologize to them before they’ll forgive you?

In what circle do you want to put your toxic parents? You’re in charge of your personal space.  “Because I want to” is more than sufficient reason for placing them in any particular circle and moving them closer or further away.  At what circle do you drop them off your map?

I’d also take the same approach with toxic friends, extended family and adult children.

It’s your life; take charge of it.  Be the hero of your life.

Many situations are examined in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”

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 want to be people of our words; we want to be ethical and honest, and have trustworthy character; we want to do our duty.  But sometimes our loyalty to our vows – especially our marriage vows and vows to take care of parents or children – makes our lives a living hell and also sets a terrible example for our children. Deep in our hearts we know we must stop being loyal to those vows or our lives and spirits will be destroyed. But how can we stop honoring our vows?

Some examples:

Some examples:

  • In public we pledge many things in our marriage vows. But suppose our spouse turns out to have deceived us and reneges on their side of the vows?  Suppose that husband turns out to be physically, mentally and emotionally abusive?  Suppose he harasses, controls, bullies or abuses his wife?  Supposes he justifies his actions by saying that he’s the head of the house and she must do what he says?  Or suppose he blames his lack of self-control on her and uses threats, guilt and shame – his rage and violence are her fault and if she did what she should, he’d treat her better?  Or suppose that wife turns out to be manipulative and controlling?  Or supposes she’s lying, crazy and always verbally, emotionally and physically abusive in order to beat the husband into submission?
  • In private we may pledge many things to our parents, especially as they get older. But suppose they’re narcissistic, demanding, bullying and toxic.  Suppose they squander all their money against our advice and then they insist we spend all our money on them – either taking care of them or sending them to an expensive, assisted living facility?  Suppose they are relentlessly critical, scolding, chastising, whining, complaining and demeaning, and nothing we do is ever good enough?  Suppose they are vicious in private but sweet as sugar in public, so every thinks they’re saints while they act like devils in private?  Suppose they’re lying, manipulative and back stabbing – they praise their favorite child, put us down and leave everything to the favorite while we’re the ones taking care of them?  Suppose we think we’re responsible because they raised us, we think we owe them and we still want their approval?  Suppose we feel guilty if we think of acting like ungrateful children and abandoning them in their hour of need?
  • In our hearts we pledge to take care of our children until they can take care of themselves very well. But suppose they’re 40 and still living with us because they never took our advice and never got good careers or married the right person or held a job?  Suppose our toxic children are rotten to us until they need something?  Or they threaten to deprive us of our grandchildren unless we give them everything they want, even to divorcing our spouse, whom they hate?  Suppose they still act like spoiled, vicious, toxic teenagers, blaming us for all their failures, feeling entitled to everything they want, full of sneering sarcasm, back-talk, temper tantrums and demanding that we slave for them?  Suppose we still think that if we love them enough, if we’re nice enough to them they’ll finally grow up and become successful?  Suppose we’re afraid they’ll fail completely and end up homeless if we don’t give them everything they want?

Those are horrible scenarios but all too common.

Probably, we’ve discovered the hard way that we can’t make things better by being peacemakers.  Tactics like begging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, ‘second chances,’ forgiveness, sympathy and unconditional love, and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  We won’t get the results we want; we won’t stop emotional bullies or physical bullying unless we’re clear about which values are more or less important to us.

So we wallow in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt.  We get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated.  We lose our confidence and self-esteem.

Often, we stay stuck in those versions of hell because we gave our word and we’re people of integrity – even though they broke their side of the bargain, we understand how hard it has been for them.  We think we must honor our pledge or we’d be just as bad as they are.

I say that’s a big mistake. I say, “Choose life, not a slow spiritual and emotional death.”  I say, “Examine your hierarchy of values and get clear about which values are more important to you.  Then honor the most important ones gracefully and cheerfully.”  And make yourself cheerful living a great life with your choice.

Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change or die.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Use your own power.  Say “That’s enough!”  Say “No!”

Often, we avoid examining that hierarchy of values and discarding those early vows until we are forced to.  We may not be willing to protect ourselves but we will act resolutely to defend others.

For example, our crazy or bullying spouse abuses the children and only then does our spirit rise up with fierce determination to protect our children.  We discard that marriage vow for the sake of something much more important than loyalty to a toxic spouse – loyalty to our children

Or the toxic parents are so abusive to our spouse and children that we take the power we need to protect what’s more precious than our toxic parents – our marriage and our children.

Or our toxic children are so vicious, nasty and abusive that our spirits will stand no more – we’ll protect our marriages, our health and our retirement funds from the energy vampires who want to suck us dry, even if they’re our own children

For some examples of different tactics, see, “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

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.

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).

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
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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

The holidays are a perfect time to recognize and respond effectively to the early warning signs of bullying boyfriends, controlling girlfriends and domineering dates.  Whether these control-freaks are stimulated by holiday pressures and stresses, or they simply seize the opportunity to take charge of multiple events, their subversive, controlling tactics become more apparent during the holidays. Many people need coaching help at this time of year to stop the Grinches who want to destroy their family fun.

Call these control-freaks “bullies” when: Call these control-freaks “bullies” when:

  • They won’t allow you to continue family traditions you love.
  • They try to control the timing of visits to your family.
  • They insist that the holidays must be celebrated the way they want.
  • They insist that the holidays are merely foolish, commercial events and you’re not allowed to feel good cheer or to celebrate.
  • They insist on a hostile review your choice of presents.  They won’t allow the “Secret Santa” gifts.
  • They fight over every little arrangement.  They’ll harass you until you give in.

Some of these abusive bullies are overt – they threaten or use force or they simply block your way and won’t let you leave or they throw big fits and threaten to break up with you.

Some of the early warning signs of the subtle, covert, stealthy, sneaky, manipulative bullies are:

  1. They control everything; they make the rules – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on.
  2. They push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what they want.
  3. Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no;” they’re always right and you’re always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they’re not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive.
  4. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt.  Their negativity is depressing.  Or they control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide.
  5. You’re afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage – you walk on eggshells; they intimidate you with words and weapons; they threaten you, the pets, your favorite things.  You’re told that you’re to blame if they’re angry.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  6. They insist that their values are right and yours are “silly” or “wrong” or “illogical.”
  7. They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see your friends or family, go to school or even work.

They use their ruthless logic to prove that they’re right and that you should do things their way.  To defy them means a war that would ruin the holidays.

The temptation for nice people is to find excuses for bullies’ explosive feelings and controlling actions, and to give in.  The temptation is to think you can give them the love they didn’t get when they were kids or that you can love them so much that they’ll become nice.  The temptation is to think that they’ll change with time.

Don’t give in to those temptations.  Don’t argue, debate or try to convince them that they should change.

While they’re still merely boyfriends, girlfriends or dates, vote them off your island.  Make the break before you move in, buy a house or have children.  No matter how much you think you love them, make the break immediately.

Enjoy a dateless holiday this year so that you can make space for someone better to come into your life next year.

Toxic parents can make your life miserable, especially if you’re still trying to win their approval or if you think you must see them during the holidays. Most people can call it quits with bullying lovers, end false friendships and divorce abusive spouses.  But stopping bullying by toxic parents seems more difficult.  And it’s even harder if there were one or two loving moments or you think you owe them for feeding you.

Too many therapists won’t show their shock and dismay at the abuse and will encourage adult children to keep interacting with toxic parents in the name of something called “family.”  See, for example, the article by Dr. Richard Friedman in the New York Times.

I disagree.

I’ve seen adult children put up with continual criticism, hostility and anger; even being told by parents that they wish the child had never been born or would die.  Some parents still remind their adult children that they’re never good enough and that they’ll be failures forever.  Some parents make it clear that the other siblings are better in every way and more deserving of love.  Often, the sarcasm, criticism, harassment and hostility are public, as if there’s a real intention to cause embarrassment and emotional pain.

Even worse for these abused adults is the thought that they’ll have to take care of those rotten parents when they get old and dementia makes them even worse.

Yet many adults accept the negativity, abuse and verbal torture.  They endure the stress, discouragement, low self-esteem and depression that usually accompany repeated brutality.  Some even internalize those hostile voices and beat themselves even when their parents aren’t present.

I think that a key sign of becoming an independent adult is deciding what criteria you’ll use for who you allow on your island.  If you believe that family of birth is crucial because that’s the way you were raised or because you think that will get you a star in your crown in heaven or because you think family will be the only ones to take care of you when you need, then you’ve given up control of your island.  You’ve decided to allow your island to be polluted by endless abuse and your spirit to be crushed if someone wants to.

On the other hand, suppose you decide to create an island that supports your emotional and spiritual life.  Now you’re in charge of your life.  Now you can demand good behavior before anyone gets on your island.  Now you’ve created space to find the right people to populate your island.  Now you’re a truly independent adult.

Now your tactics with your bullying parents are straightforward.  You tell them, as sweetly and firmly as you can, how they must behave and what they may not do if they want to see or hear from you.  You follow through with the natural consequences of leaving abusive situations, hanging up the phone, or not walking into the valley of punishment during the holidays.  Your toxic parents have free will and choice.

Notice, I haven’t said anything about long-term, in depth psychoanalysis of toxic parents.  That’s a secondary consideration.  Since these bullies typically think they’re right and don’t need to change, they don’t examine themselves or they stay in therapy forever instead of changing.  It’s not about whether they love you; it’s about how they love you.

You can see how these tactics are effective with parents in the cases of Carrie, Doug, Jake and Ralph in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

Usually, I see more change stimulated when children stand up effectively to abusive parents.  That may start the toxic parents on a path toward acting more loving.

I’ve seen many parents, when confronted by not seeing their children or grandchildren or when they know that their abused children are enjoying life without them, finally change how they treat their children.

Of course, sometimes toxic parents don’t change.  But that’s not the goal of standing up to them.  The goal is having an island that’s not polluted by toxic people, but instead is a paradise for your heart and spirit.

As to the fears that you’ll go through life alone and unloved; that’s nonsense.  People with wonderful islands attract other people who want to be with them, who make their hearts and spirits sing.  And you’ll have more money because you won’t be wasting it on therapy.  And you’ll be setting a wonderful example for your children.

If you want the love and approval of older people, accept that you won’t get that from toxic birth parents.  Go get it from people who have the good taste to caress your spirit, not to abuse it.

You can also remove toxic siblings, relatives and supposed friends from your island if they don’t change.  In “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” you’ll see how Tammy and Kathy use these techniques with Toxic siblings and false friends.

Reports of abusive husbands, who beat and even kill their wives, gather lots of publicity and create huge outcries, as they should.  For example, there are two recent reports from Buffalo, New York and Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.  I hope these guys and any others who do such heinous things to other people, including wives, get put away forever. But there’s an even more prevalent bullying strategy that husbands use to control wives, that tends to get overlooked because it’s not as violent.

These are husbands who abuse and control their wives by sneaky, covert, manipulative tactics that demean the women and keep them subservient.  I call these controlling husbands, “stealth bullies.”

Even though overt, physical, domestic violence isn’t involved in these cases, women need name the emotional abuse and violence, harassment and domination as “bullying” in order to rally their spirits, strengthen their backbones and get the help they need to stop the abuse or to get away.

Of course, the sooner women recognize and label what’s going on (especially before they have children); the easier they’ll be able to get away.

Here are some of the warning signs of stealthy, controlling husbands.

  1. They control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on.  They may say that they work hard and make the money, so they should have control of it.
  2. Their make the rules – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”  They’re always right and you’re always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they’re not abusing you, you’re too sensitive.  Your concerns generally don’t get dealt with – theirs are more important, so they can ignore your wishes.
  3. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame and guilt – no matter what you do; you’re wrong or not good enough.  You’re told that if you were perfect, you’d be treated better.  They blow up over minor things or if you resist in any way.  You’re to blame if they hurt you. Or they control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings, whining and threats to commit suicide.
  4. They argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what they want.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.  You walk on eggshells; they threaten you, the children, the pets, your favorite things.
  5. You’re told you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them.  They stimulate your self-questioning and self-doubt.
  6. They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work.
  7. You’re told that a woman’s place is to be treated like they treat you.  You should accept whatever they dish out.  They often get their friends and even your family of origin to agree with them.  You have to tolerate their behavior until you can convince them to change.

Of course, the same type of list applies to abusive, controlling, stealth-bullying wives, partners, coworkers, bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, teenagers and friends.

Many women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”  When you recognize and label these bullies’ tactics and tricks, you’ll be empowered to resist them.  When you learn effective skills and techniques, you can resist them successfully.

Peaceful methods (understanding, tolerating, logic, reasoning, forgiveness, their sympathetic therapy) sometimes stop mild bullying.  But you need firmer, stronger methods to stop relentless, determined husbands.

Of course it’s usually not easy to stop the behavior or to get away.  There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.  Tactics must be designed for each situation.  Factors such as money, children, outside support, age, health, threatened increase in abuse to physical brutality and murder, and family of origin and cultural values can be extremely important in designing effective tactics.

But the first step is always for women to make an internal shift from acceptance or tolerance (even though you may hate them) to a commitment and determination to end the abuse and bullying, no matter what it takes.  Without that inner commitment, women usually end up begging the husband to change and waiting forever.  The inner commitment is necessary to give strength and power to the right tactics in your hands.

You’ll find many examples of stealth bullies in my books and CDs “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”  You’ll also learn practical, real-world tactics to stop these bullies or to get away safely.

My last post was about adults who carry to their graves the wounding and scars they got from their parents.  These adults never grow up mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  They never leave their parents’ mental and emotional homes, even if they leave physically. While watching the John Adams mini-series, I saw a classic example.

Whether the program was factual or not, the picture it showed of John and Abigail’s youngest son, Charles, was so typical and true that I’ll comment as if it was factual.

Because John was gone during the Revolutionary years for long periods of time in Philadelphia and Europe, and Abigail also went to Paris, Charles did not get as much of his parents’ love and affection as he wanted.  Charles especially wanted his father’s approval.  But John would never approve of Charles’ lack of serious, studious devotion to a stable career dedicated to building his country and supporting his family.

Forget about what John and Abigail should have done.  We can feel sorry for Charles, but the obvious reality is that Charles was never going to get what he wanted from his parents.  And the more Charles wasted his life in whining, drinking, frivolous daydreams and squandering his talent and money, the less likely that he would get what he wanted from them.

Here’s the key: Charles is faced with an emotional reality that is as real as rain or snow or hail or drought or flood or grasshoppers eating your crops.  What is Charles’ task?  No matter what, Charles has the same task we all have.

We each and all must suck it up and succeed.  We must take responsibility for creating futures that are wonderful, no matter what our givens are.  In my forthcoming e-book on how to stop school bullies in their tracks, you’ll find a case study of a teenager facing this decision.  But you know it’s true.  You had to face it.  Everyone has to face it.  Charles’ brother, John Quincy, had to face it.  And John Quincy sucked it up successfully, despite not liking it.

As Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Life is like a game of cards.  The hand that is dealt to you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” 

Charles ran from the difficult responsibility of being in charge of creating a wonderful future.  He blamed his failures on his parents’ lack of giving him what he wanted.  As if he was the first person not to get enough from his parents.  Do you really think that if John had come home from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and said that he thought Charles was a delightful, sweet, charming and lovable fellow, with good stuff buried inside, Charles would have become strong, responsible and successful?

Charles wasn’t resilient enough to succeed in the face of the bad weather in his life.  He couldn’t put his parents off to his mental and emotional side.  He wasn’t courageous, strong and hardworking enough for himself, his wife and his child.  He failed.  And history rolls over the failures.

Charles shouldn’t have let his parents’ deficiencies be more important in his life than his future.  His parents – our parents – are not excuses for failing.  Why let people ruin your future if they didn’t give you what you need when you were young and still don’t?  Move beyond them.  Find other parents (older people) who will love and appreciate you.  Find models to inspire you.  Succeed, despite the harsh weather.

What else is worth doing with the energy and days given you?

Recently, I’ve seen articles and heard parents saying that since words can hurt, we shouldn’t deny our children what they want or ever say, "No" to them.  They think that if we deny them or say "No", we’ll damage their confidence and self esteem.  But if we give them continual praise and approval, we’ll help them develop high self-esteem and a willingness to take risks.  Some studies are even quoted about the harmful effects of the words parents use. I disagree with that advice and parenting style.

Of course words matter; and even more important is how they’re delivered – frequency, voice tone, body language and with beating or caressing.

Of course, unrelenting yelling, insults, criticism, humiliation, shame, guilt, dismissing, ridicule and rejection are harmful.  Personal insults hurt little children.  Hostility and personal attacks tell children that they are bad people for wanting what they want or for doing something wrong or for not doing something right.  It’s easy for children to think their identity is damaged, defective or blemished in ways that cannot be rectified.

A few days ago, I saw a chilling video made at a car wash.  A mother was holding the arm of an approximately 3-4-year-old child while torturing her with the power washing hose.  The child was screaming in pain and writhing to break free.  The mother was screaming that the child had better respect her.  Of course, we don’t need research to tell us that’s lousy parenting and abuse.

Such unrelenting viciousness isn’t confined to parents; it’s also dished out at work.  It’s as if some people really believe the motto attributed to Captain Bligh of the “Bounty:” The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Don’t live a life fueled by such anger and viciousness.  Weigh your life heavily toward approval, encouragement and praise.  After all, children naturally want to learn, explore and imitate their loving parents.  Maintain control of yourself during moments when your frustration might break out into emotional abuse and intimidation, or verbal and physical violence.

Create a background of loving physical and verbal caresses for all your interactions with your children.  Against that background, it’s critically important that you correct, deny and say "No" sometimes.  Don’t give children everything they want.  Set age-appropriate limits on their behavior.  Teach them how to get along socially.

Most important: Teach them that they can be denied and be told "No", and the world doesn’t end.  Their lives go on just fine without getting everything.  Maybe they’ll get what they want another day.  Or maybe, they’ll have to grow up and earn the money to get what they want for themselves.  Or maybe, as they grow older, they’ll become more aware of the consequences of what they want and they’ll learn to not want it.  That’s called self-discipline, character and integrity.

If you never say "No", you end up with spoiled, selfish children like Veruka Salt from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Teach them to be resilient so a "No" doesn’t crush their spirits.  Then, denial doesn’t stop them from ever wanting or asking again and a "No" isn’t emotional abuse and doesn’t cause emotional damage.

Teach your children what’s safe and unsafe, what’s right and wrong, what’s worthy and not good enough, what’s honorable and dishonorable.  Without your guidance, TV will teach them.

Some people still have scars because of what their parents said and did repeatedly.  And, of course, some have more and deeper scars.  But let’s be clear.  All of us ultimately have the same task: to get over our childhoods and create better lives for ourselves and our children.  Whether the scars were caused by parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors, teachers, school bullies or rotten strangers, the task is the same. How can we do that?  I always look to the people who had it worst: The ones who survived genocidal wars, prison camps, slavery.  How do they look at themselves and the world that they can still laugh and sing and dance and love?  And it’s our job to become like them also.

In addition, we can now resist the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual attacks by spouses, co-workers and bosses.  We can now resist putdowns and bullies; we can now reject their opinions or fight back. We must now train our own memories and fears: The future does not have to be as bad as the past was.  Otherwise we become adult victims to what they did to us when we were children.

Don’t let those ruin the rest of your life.  Grow up.  They might have been in charge of the past, but you’re in charge of the future.

History is not destiny.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
Tags"No", abuse, adult, adult victims, advice, age-appropriate, age-appropriate limits, anger, approval, articles, attacks, bad, bad people, beating, beatings, Behavior, blemished, body, body language, bosses, break free, bullies, Bullies at School, camps, car wash, caresses, caressing, character, child, childhoods, children, co-workers, confidence, consequences, control, correct, criticism, crush, damage, damage self esteem, damaged, dance, defective, denied, deny, destiny, dishonorable, dismissing, effects, emotional, emotional abuse, emotional damage, encouragement, explore, fears, fight, fight back, frustration, future, genocidal, Grow up, guidance, guilt, harmful, harmful effects, high self-esteem, History, honorable, hostility, humiliation, hurt, identity, imitate, insults, integrity, intimidation, language, laugh, learn, lousy parenting, love, loving parents, memories, Mental, morale, mother, neighbors, not good enough, opinions, pain, parenting, parents, past, personal, personal insults, physical, physical violence, praise, prison, prison camps, putdowns, rejection, relatives, research, resilient, resist, respect, ridicule, right, risks, safe, say, say "No", scars, School Bullies, screaming, self-discipline, self-esteem, selfish, shame, siblings, sing, slavery, spirits, spiritual, spoiled, spouses, strangers, studies, survived, take risks, teachers, tone, torturing, TV, unsafe, verbal, viciousness, victims, video, violence, voice, voice tone, wars, words, work, worthy, writhing, wrong, yelling
5 CommentsPost a comment

What are the warning signs of controlling husbands?  Here's my list of the top dozen.  Do you have any to add? 1. Overt physical violence - they shove, slap or hit you; force you to have sex; force you to lie or drop the charges if the police were called. 2. You're afraid you'll trigger a violent rage - you walk on eggshells; they intimidate you with weapons; they threaten you, the children, the pets, your favorite things. 3. They make the rules; they control everything - what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it's spent on. 4. You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained. 5. You're told you're incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them. 6. You're told that you're to blame if they hurt you. 7. They push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don't do exactly what they want. 8. Their standards rule - your "no" isn't accepted as "no;" they're always right and you're always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they're not abusing you, you're too sensitive. 9. They isolate you - they won't allow you to see you friends or your family, go to school or even work. 10. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame and guilt - no matter what you do; you're wrong or not good enough. 11. Your concerns generally don't get dealt with - theirs are more important so they can ignore your wishes. 12. They control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide.

In addition to controlling you by making you afraid, they are the sneaky, manipulative schoolyard bullies who have developed adult ways to dominate, abuse and bully.

Many people allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don't recognize and label the control and abuse as "bullying."  When you recognize and label their tactics and tricks, you'll be empowered to resist them.  When you learn effective skills and techniques, you can resist them successfully.

The same list applies to abusive, controlling, bullying wives, partners, boyfriends, girlfriends, teens and friends.

Peaceful methods (understanding, tolerating, logic, reasoning, forgiveness) sometimes stop mild bullying.  But you need firmer, stronger methods to stop relentless, determined husbands.