Some bullying spouses, abusive extended-family members, people you call friends, bullies in school and bullies at work will try to pressure you to do what they want; to do what they think is right. And they’ll have their “good” reasons in order to justify why you should do what they want. And if you don’t do things their way, they’ll be angry, try to get other people to pressure you or try to force you by threatening to shun you or to hold that grudge forever.
So how can you think of the situation so you’re free to do what you want? And what can you do?
You decide who gets to vote on your choices.
You might allow some decisions be decided by majority vote but there are others in which you want only yourself and your spouse to vote. Common examples in which not everyone should vote are in the planning of events – who gets invited to weddings or graduation or holiday parties. Other examples might be what you do on vacation or what you do for work and where or who you date after your beloved, long-term spouse dies or what you do with your retirement.
There are moments of truth for each of us when we test other people: do they try to beat us into submission to do things their way or do they encourage us to follow our soul’s direction even after they’ve offered advice to go in a different direction?
How do you know you’re being given advice or facing arm-twisting?
If you don’t take advice, the relationship goes on as before. If you don’t take arm-twisting, you’ll son face a head-lock.
Don’t let anyone beat you into submission; not parents or children or friends.
Don’t allow your life to be a debate to figure out the “Right” way to do things, with the rule being majority rules. Don’t give people power over your choices.
If you argue on a bully’s grounds, you’ve already lost. Once you’ve started arguing with someone expressing their opinion, you’ve already agreed that they get to vote and you can’t do what you want unless they give you permission to. But you’ll never convince some people to allow you go your own way when it’s not their way.
If you want to listen to someone’s ideas but not allow them to vote, you can say, “You can share what you would do or how things seem to you, but I won’t discuss, debate or argue what’s ‘right’ or ‘best.’ I’ll make my own decisions.” That will clarify what you’re going to do.
However, be prepared for them to harass and pressure you, and try to beat you into submission anyway. If you allow them to control your life, why should they stop arguing? That’s when you can say, “If you want to try to beat me into submission, I’ll stop talking with you. My life is not a democratic vote.”
But what if they threaten to vent their anger forever or never to see you again?
This is a wonderful opportunity to clarify who you’ll allow on your “isle of song.” This is a wonderful opportunity for you to decide what counts more, good behavior or bullying blood.
This is a moment of truth for you: you get to decide, as an adult, what values, attitudes and beliefs to you want to have in your life. Even more, you get to decide which values are more important when some of those values conflict or are even mutually exclusive.
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:
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.
Get far away physically so there are no more incidents that will trigger you again. End contact by telephone, email, social networks.
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.
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 had been a wonderful 9 months for Jane and her husband. Their youngest child went off to college and they had the house and their lives to themselves. No more picking up after the kids, waiting on them, cleaning up the bathrooms after them, helping them through their emergencies. They got over the initial shock of having an empty nest. They felt free and spontaneous again. Their chores were light.
Then their son moved back in for the summer. And it was like having a 200-pound-baby thrashing about in their nest. He was a good kid, had done well his freshman year and they did love him. But it was a royal pain taking care of him again.
What could they do?
They tried the usual ways of asking, lecturing, berating and arguing, but he continued acting the way he had before he’d left. He seemed to think he was an entitled prince. This was his vacation and he wanted to do only what he wanted to do. When they wanted him to do more, he tried to beat them into submission with angry temper tantrums or to manipulate them to back off by using blame and guilt.
Jane and her husband realized they were making no progress. They had training him to expect to do nothing and get away with being surly. Asking without consequences was just begging. Appeasing him didn’t buy them the civil, polite behavior they wanted.
They didn’t want to throw him out; how could he support himself? Or would he start hanging out with bad company?
They finally told him that since he was no longer a little baby and since he wanted all the rights and privileges of a responsible adult, he was now a guest in their home.
As a guest he had certain responsibilities, like treating their stuff the way they wanted (not the way he felt like), picking up after himself and asking permission to use their things. They knew that he would act like a good guest if he was staying at a friend's or even an aunt or uncle’s house. They loved him and he was doing well at school and seemed to be on his way to making an independent life for himself and they expected him to act like a good guest.
They said they wouldn’t accept being treated like victims, servants or slaves, cleaning up after their master. They wanted an adult relationship with an adult they might like being with. If he wanted something from them like room and board, loan of a car or college tuition, he had to pay for what he got by being fun, polite and civil. He also had to get a job so he wouldn’t be hanging around all day. That’s what adults do.
They said that in his absence, they had created an “Isle of Song” for themselves. No toxic polluters allowed. Anyone who wanted to get on that isle had to add to the music and dance. Was he willing? They knew he could because he acted great around everyone else.
Of course be blew up and tried anger (how could they treat him that way) and guilt (didn’t they love him any more?) to continue to get his lazy, selfish, narcissistic, self-indulgent way.
Even though they suddenly saw him as a bully, they laughed good-naturedly and applauded his efforts to get what he wanted from them. Literally applauded. And then they graded his tantrums: was that a 9.2 or a 6.5?
They told him that he had ‘til Friday to find a place with a friend. They were converting his room into the exercise room they’d always wanted. They told him they were going to buy boxes to pack up all his stuff stored in the garage. And then they went out for coffee and left him alone.
When they returned, their son apologized. He could see they were serious and he’d be a great guest. They had previously agreed to act sad if he said this, and to pretend hat they’d really wanted the exercise room.
They’d also agreed with each other previously to take him back provisionally on a weekly basis. They’d provide a list of chores and met weekly to review performance. But cheerful, gracious and polite behavior was graded at every interaction. Harassment, bullying or verbal abuse were not tolerated.
Summer with him became fun; except when his older sister came home for two weeks. But that’s a different story.
A grown child who is independent but has to move back suddenly because he lost his job or just got divorced. It’s only for a short time while he gets back on his feet and moves out again.
A grown child who’s life is a mess and needs to move home because she can’t make it on her own. She hates you and blames all her problems on you. And you’re afraid she’ll move in permanently.
The second edition of “Bullies Below the Radar: Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” documents the personal journey to courage, strength, determination and skill of Grace, a wife and mother, who finally accepted that she was being controlled and bullied by a stealthy, sneaky manipulative husband.
Grace finally accepted that for years:
She’d lived in a frustrating, hostile marriage, full of drudgery and pain.
Even though she hadn’t been physically abused or beaten, she’d been worn down and controlled by serving her husband and by arguing that hadn’t improved the relationship.
She’d suffered watching herself and her children get harassed, manipulated, controlled and bullied.
Her love, understanding, sweetness and kindness had not changed him.
His numerous apologies simply kept her coming back, but he won’t change.
Grace discovered that she couldn’t make things better by being a peacemaker. Tactics like begging, bribery, understanding, endless praise, appeasement, politeness, ‘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 most important to us.
She stopped wallowing in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt, which had led her to get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated. She’d lost her confidence and self-esteem.
On her journey to taking power, effectively setting boundaries and voting her narcissistic husband off her “Isle of Song,” she learned:
To recognize the seven warning signs of bullies below the radar, including sneaky patterns of bullying behavior, and the mental, emotional and spiritual costs accepting bullying.
To stop using the nine common strategies that fail to stop bullies.
What to do if at first she didn’t succeed.
The seven success strategies that will be effective in any bullying situation.
A seven-step process to plan tactics that will be effective in any particular situation.
How to protect her personal ecology and create a bully-free future.
Applying these real-world techniques, she got strong, courageous, determined, persevering and flexible in order to stop bullies of all types – controllers, critics, exploders, pushy perfectionists, prying questioners, emotional intimidators, smiling manipulators, relentless arguers and more
Grace learned that, “History is not destiny.” Using the step-by-step instructions presented here, Grace changed her mind-set and built her courage, character and skill.
My advice: Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change. Don’t accept bullies’ reasons, justifications and excuses. Don’t suffer in silence. Use your own power. Say “That’s enough!” Say “No!”
During the typical arguing and fighting leading up to deciding to divorce and during the divorce process itself, what should and shouldn’t you tell the kids? When you think there’s still a chance to salvage the marriage, should you tell them nothing is wrong so they don’t worry? Should you re-assure them that you and your spouse will be together forever? In a nasty divorce, should you tell them what a rat your soon-to-be ex-spouse really is? How can you protect the kids from being scarred and totally messed up later?
Whatever you decide, you must deal with each child and situation as unique and design your answer to deal with each child’s questions in an age appropriate way. And keep adjusting as they grow older.
Think of the process as your needing to peel layers off the children’s concerns. One concern will lead to another or maybe you’ll return to a previous one. Saying something one time will not be enough. You’ll have to return to some issues, depending on the individual, many times. But don’t make a problem where the child isn’t.
If it’s an ugly situation, don’t pretend that your ex is perfect. Be truthful and distinguish between what behavior the kids can count on and what’s just your opinion. Always ask them to check things out for themselves; like little scientists. Help them think of reasonable tests; who keeps promises, who’s on time, who are they afraid of, who can they rely on, who blames, shames and guilt-trips?
Some guidelines, not rigid rules:
Don’t allow the “Big Lie.” When the children sense that there’s frustration and tension that sometimes boils over into anger, bullying, abuse or violence don’t deny their kid-radar. Don’t tell them everything’s fine and that they’re wrong. The most important verification they need is that they’re sensing and seeing reality. They must know that there is trouble and that they can sense it. For example, “Yes, you’re very smart, you can sense what’s going on and your radar is accurate. That skill will help you the rest of your life. Sometimes, I don’t tell you what’s happening or why, because I want to keep it private or maybe you’re too young to understand yet or I don’t want to upset you unduly. But I want you to ask me if you worry about anything.”
The most important assurance they need is that they can be fine. For example, “I know this can be scary and hard and you’ll have lots of questions. Over time, I’ll answer them as best I can as we work out our new living arrangements. But the most important thing is that you dedicate yourselves to having great lives. Never let anything get in the way of that. No matter how scared or upset you might get, overcome it. Make sure that you’ll look back on this tough time as just a speed bump in your lives. Make sure that you’re not bothered much by it. Your parents’ fights have nothing to do with you. You’re not the cause of them. You’re fine. We just don’t get along. Your job is to grow up and get independent and find someone you will get along with. And that this tough time isn’t a big deal in your life.”
Help them overcome uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety, fear and panic. Assure them that you’ll always care for them and take care of them, in whatever way you can. For example, “We’ll figure out how to be together and be safe and have good times. I’ll always see that you have the things and the opportunities you really need. It’s always hard when we’re in a transition or in limbo waiting to see what will happen and you don’t have control. Your job is to focus on what’s most important for you right now and that’s not the emotional turmoil you’re living in. The turmoil isn’t your doing. Your job is to take charge of what you have control over; your moods and attitudes and efforts, which means school. Make this turmoil as small and colorless in your life as you can. Don’t step into it; stay outside of it. This is good training for you in mental and emotional-control. These are the number one skills you need to learn in order to be successful later in life.”
Help them deal with mean, nasty kids who taunt, harass or cut them out. For example, begin with developing their inner strength, “Not having as much money as we did or having some other kids act mean because your parents are divorcing is not really important. You can be invulnerable. You may feel like you need to be liked or be friends with those kids now, but when you’re out of school, with 70 years of life ahead of you, you won’t care what those kids think. You won’t want to be friends with those kids. More important, you’ll see that they’re acting like jerks and you’ll decide never to care what jerks think. You’ll have the freedom to go anywhere and be with anyone so, of course, you’ll choose to be with people who love and like you, appreciate and respect you, and who treat you better.” Follow up by making sure the school principal stops this bullying.
Some other questions they might have are: Are all marriages doomed, will I choose the wrong person just like you did, will we kids be split up, can I stay at the same school, will my other parent move far away so I never see them again, whose fault is it, do I have to take sides, will I still have grandparents, will I still get birthday and Christmas presents, can I use guilt or my temper tantrums to manipulate you, will I still have to brush my teeth? Don’t give into them or give them everything they want because you feel guilty, want them to like you more or think their lives are too hard.
Don’t use your kids as your best friends, confidants or therapists. Don’t use them to comfort yourself or as pawns in a vicious struggle. They’re your kids; they’re not adults or lovers. Take your emotional pain and baggage somewhere else. You have to be a responsible adult, no matter how difficult that is. If you can’t, you should consider making safer arrangements for them. For example, “This is too painful for me to talk about. Sometimes I get tired and stressed out, and I blow up or lose it. I don’t mean to. When I’m like that, don’t take anything I say seriously. Suggest that I need a time out. Your job, children, is to look away and focus on your own tasks so you can have great lives as you grow up. No matter how hard it is, you have to focus on school and getting skills so you can take care of yourselves when you’re adults. That’s what’s important. Your future is what’s most important to me.”
The big message is about the wonderful future they can have. The big message is that they can/should/must decide to let this roll off their backs. Even though it’s happening to them, they can be resilient. They can move beyond it and create wonderful lives for themselves.
We adults make a mistake if we worry that when bad things happen, the children are automatically guaranteed to have huge problems later in life. Looking at them as too fragile and helpless to resist the effects of a difficulty, divorce or trauma is like giving them a terrible thought virus. It’s easy for them to catch that virus.
Actually, our responsibility is to protect them from that too common virus. For example, they might tend to worry that since a classmate is so traumatized because their parents are divorcing they’ll be messed up also. You might say, “No. You’re strong and wise and brave and you have me to keep reminding you that you’ll be fine. Stop bullying yourself. Take power over yourself. So choose to be fine; dedicate and discipline yourself. Choose to be successful, no matter what. That’s my wish for you.”
Tell them stories about ancestors or great people who overcame the same or even worse situations in childhood. For example, “Don’t be victims of what happens to you. Be one of the ‘Invulnerables.’ Did you know that a study of 400 great people born in the 19th and early 20th centuries found that most of these people had absolutely horrible childhoods? Yet they were not destroyed by what had happened; they were invulnerable. They became much stronger. They had great lives – including wonderful marriages. You too, my beloved children, can choose that path for yourselves. Please do.”
We don’t need more research and statistics to know that domestic violence is a travesty and must be stopped. For example, watch the graphic five minute video about the effects of that brutality and the work of one safe house helping women and children. Domestic violence is obvious – you can see the results of physical battering.
On the other hand, even though domestic bullying and mental and emotional abuse are more wide spread than overt beating they’re often hidden from view. Since harassment, bullying and abuse often fly below the bullying-radar of the targets and the public, I want to focus on it here. Targets who accept the bullies’ promises or threats or on-going torture often don’t recognize how bad it is; how demoralizing and defeating it is; how their souls are being eroded over time.
Of course, some men are bullied by women, but notice the patterns of the bullied women who have written these (edited) comments:
“Out of the blue, he started taking control over me (commanding me), which I am not liking. He is not letting me meet my friends or go out with them on weekends. He doesn’t let me wear dresses, saying his parents don’t like it. I am not allowed to do anything; no friends, no meeting people, no phones, nothing. These things were never an issue previously. I tried to work out things during last five months by listening to him and not meeting or talking to my friends. He just keep saying ‘Listen to me and things will work out; otherwise pack your bags and leave.’ He doesn’t let me go out anywhere without him. He doesn’t want to sort it out by talking. Whenever I try, he says, ‘I am not here to listen to you. You have to do whatever I say. I don’t want to hear a ‘No’. Now, I am always depressed and sad and smoke a lot more. I lost my smile. I lost myself in this relation. Shall I give up or keep compromising without any expectations in this relationship?”
“I have been in a four year relationship, and have a two year-old daughter with him. I have been feeling depressed lately and having second thoughts about us being together. He controls me. I can’t go any where without asking him first. Sometimes I feel like a little kid asking for permission, even if it’s to go to the store. My friends ask me to go out for a girls’ night and he gets mad if I mention it, so I stopped asking and him and just tell my friends I’m doing something that night so I can’t go. Now, they don’t even ask me anymore. When his friends are here he acts like he’s so cool and even yells at me in front of them. It’s extremely embarrassing. I feel alone. I tried leaving in the past and he won’t let me take the baby. So I stay because I don’t want to fight and I’m not leaving my child. What do I do? How do I make it an easy break up? How do we get out?”
“At first my husband was the sweetest man I ever met. He complimented me and had such great manners. Then slowly but surely he began changing into the worst thing I could ever imagine. The sick thing is I know I don't deserve it, but I can't leave. It's like he has some strange control over me. He constantly puts me down about my intelligence, appearance and my mothering abilities, which hurts the most. It’s such an everyday obstacle that I find myself questioning why I stay. It's gotten so bad I'm beginning to believe the things he says to me about how I'm useless and no one will ever want me but him. Every bad thing that happens, he takes out on me. Every single thing is my fault. I want to leave but I still find myself staying, feeling bad for him and his feelings. He can't even compliment at all without letting me know that I'm ugly and lucky he even loves me. I'm just so sad anymore. I don't even recognize myself. I'm not allowed to speak to my family or friends. I just don't know what to do anymore. I'm so lost.”
“My husband and I have been together for eleven years with four children. We go through the cycle of an abusive relationship. Every time we argue, I get called a ‘bitch,’ which I have asked him many times to not do. We kiss and make up. Then everything's fine and dandy again. He doesn't like to talk about our fights and says he will not name-call me again. But every opportunity he gets, he's right at it again. I guess I keep hoping he'll change, but I know he never will. I don't feel any love from this guy. He has fooled around on me and even went as far as marrying someone else while we were married. Just recently he took my wedding ring away and threatened to pawn it. He also promised my kids that he'll take them on a vacation. He doesn’t even work, so I ended up having to get funds just to take the kids on the vacation. Today, we fought again and he said sorry and he'll start today on not calling me a bitch. Then ten minutes later it happened again. I feel so stuck. I feel as my only way out is suicide. But I don't want to give him that satisfaction. All I did today was cry. And I don't even have anyone to talk to because everyone is sick of hearing me cry over him.”
He commands, bosses and embarrasses her in public. She submits because she wants to avoid bigger fights. She hopes that since she gave in this time, he’ll be nicer next time. But he’s relentless in arguing, bullying and abusing; he never stops. If he doesn’t beat her, the threat is there.
When she’s nice and logical – discussing, asking, compromising, begging, arguing, appeasing – she may get peace because he’s gotten his way, but it’s only momentary. Her good behavior doesn’t buy his in return. He never reciprocates by letting her have her way next time. Eventually, she submits completely and asks permission to do anything. He’s in complete control. When he’s mean, angry or out of control, it’s her fault because she isn’t perfect. It’s as if, “Since he’s angry, you must have done something wrong.”
Step by step, she’s isolated – cut off from friends, family and sources of her own income. She loses her old self; she loses her confidence and self-esteem; she becomes depressed, heart-broken and ready to give up.
It’s even worse if there are children she thinks she’ll have to support if she leaves. Eventually, she begins to think like a victim – she can’t see how to get safe house help, legal help or the police on her side.
These targets keep hoping they’ll find some magic wand to change him; he’ll become a loving, caring, nice and reasonable person. But that’s not going to happen.
Or they think that the most important value is making a marriage last even though it’s a marriage of torture. Or that what matters is whether he loves her or not, when what really matters is how he loves her.
Those abusive, bullying control-freaks always interpret their target’s kindness, reasonableness and compromise as weakness and an invitation to take more from them, to control more of their lives, to eat them alive.
Ultimately, these women get the worst that they’re willing to put up with. And eventually, the price they pay is slow erosion of their souls.
Jane’s sister, Betty, seemed to have been born with a vicious tongue. She attacked everyone relentlessly. Holidays with the extended family were a misery for Jane and her family. Nobody, not even their mother, stopped Betty. Everyone was afraid to complain directly to Betty. If they did, Betty would turn on them even more spitefully before.
According to Betty, nobody’s children were good enough – they were all ugly, stupid, ignorant, mean or bad. They were too fat or too skinny; they ate too much or too little; they ate too fast or too slow. They dreamed too big for their non-existent talents.
Betty laughed joyfully when she pounced on someone’s mistakes, no matter how trivial or irrelevant. Their choices were always wrong, their clothes and manners were wrong. Betty always knew better and rubbed everyone’s nose in it.
Some of Betty’s reasons excuses and justifications for why she was so hostile were:
“Those are my feelings. It’s my honest opinion. You wouldn’t want me to repress how I feel, would you?”
“You're too sensitive.”
“I’m doing it for their own good. You’re too soft on them. They’ll never get better if you don’t correct them.”
“I had to take it when I was a kid. It’ll make them stronger and tougher.”
“They have to learn to take it. They’ll get it like that in the real-world.”
Of course, everyone can have a bad day and be grumpy. But with Betty, it was everyday and it was relentless, hostile and mean-spirited.
Bullies want us to try to argue with their reasons, excuses and justifications. The more we argue, the more we’re engaged without their ever changing. If we make a good point, they’ll change the subject and give another excuse or cite a different time when they were right. They’ll never admit that they need to change; that’s how we know they’re bullies.
Or, if we challenge them, their feelings will be so hurt that they’ll withdraw into a very loud silent treatment. And it’ll go on forever until we give up, admit we were cruel, promise never to attack them again and simply accept the abuse. That’s how we know they’re bullies.
What can Jane do? Remember, all tactics have to be designed to fit our specific situations, what we want to accomplish and the limits of our comfort zones.
Jane once asked Betty not to say anything to Jane’s children; Betty was hurting them and Jane had told them take it because Betty was their aunt. But Betty hadn’t changed. Finally, Jane decided that she wasn’t going to expose herself and her family to any more of Betty’s abuse. She’d end the unrelenting negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame and guilt-trips.
Once again, she asked Betty to stop talking the way she did and to find nice things to say. She asked Betty to be nicer, kinder and more polite to family than she would be to strangers. But Betty didn’t stop.
She told Betty she wanted her to feel differently but if she couldn’t, she still wanted her to take charge of her tongue and to repress herself; being an abusive bully is worse than repressing herself. But Betty didn’t stop.
She told Betty that if the brutality continued, she wouldn’t come if Betty was present. That would cause a rift in the family and it would be Betty’s fault. Betty didn’t stop.
Jane told the family she’d decided that she’d never let bullies treat her and her family the way Betty did. She had to take charge of keeping them safe from people who polluted their emotional environment. She asked them to choose the behavior they’d support even if that meant they all told Betty to change or they’d stop inviting her. Jane reminded them of what Mr. Spock said, “Never sacrifice the many for the sake of the one.” But Betty didn’t stop.
Jane decided that behavior was more important than blood. More important than victimizing her children by subjecting them to their Aunt Betty’s viciousness, was setting a good example by protecting them from abuse. She didn’t want them to experience the anxiety, stress and discouragement that had accompanied visits with Betty. That meant they didn’t see Betty any more. That also meant they saw the rest of the family only on one-to-one occasions when Betty was not present.
Over the years, the same conversations were replayed after extended family gathering except in Jane’s house. There, Jane and her family had a wonderful time; free from criticism, bullying and abuse; free from the endless re-hashing of Betty’s latest attacks.
Once Jane had cleared the abuse out of her family’s life, they were able to find friends they loved being with.
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 give in to or argue with bullies’ excuses, reasons and justifications. 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 adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).
Parents who bully children, and parents who bully and abuse each other are all too common, but an often unrecognized bullying situation is teenagers who bully their parents, especially their single parents.
Of course, teenage girls can be manipulative bullies, but for a typical example, let’s focus on a 19 year-old boy who is mentally and physically capable of being independent but who’d rather sponge off his mother and lead an easy life at home. He’s not working enough to support himself, he’s not succeeding in full-time school and he’s not struggling sixteen hours a day to become an Olympic champion. He’s merely hanging out trying to have a good time every moment.
They’re good at arguing. They want to convince you that “love” and “support” mean that you give them money. You have to love and give to them, but they don’t have to give anything in return. Their hidden assumption is that if you can’t make them agree with any changes, they don’t have to change. They’re masters of whining, complaining and blaming others, especially you, for their problems.
They’re great emotional blackmailers: “A good, loving mother would take care of me while I’m getting it together. A caring mom would help me.” They’re also master manipulators of your fear that, if you don’t cater to them, they’ll fail in life and it’ll be your fault, not theirs: “I need your love to keep me away from bad company. If you kick me out, I’ll be emotionally damaged.” They’ll subtly hint that they’ll commit suicide if you don’t coddle them. They always have a friend who has a “good mother” taking care of him.
Your caring and fear make their arguments seductive. No matter how much you had to struggle on your own to be successful, it’s easy to think that if you only give them one more chance, they’ll finally wake up and get it. So you give him one more chance – over and over and over.
In my experience, one path in dealing with healthy, intelligent teenage boys almost guarantees failure. That’s the path of giving them what they want. The more you let them leech off your energy, wallet and good will, the softer they’ll become, the harder it will be for them to become strong and independent, the greater the chances that they’ll fall in with other lazy losers. The more you give them, the more lazy, entitled and spoiled they’ll become.
In my experience, the path that has the greatest probability of success is to kick those little birds out of the nest before they grow too big for their fledgling wings. They’ve already grown too big for the nest. In order to fly, they need to strengthen their wings by use under pressure and stress.
Of course there’s a risk. They might fail and turn to drugs, booze or burglary to support themselves. They might give in to depression. But, in my experience, staying home wouldn’t prevent that. Leeching off you will only make them weaker.
Confidence and self-esteem are developed by succeeding at real and difficult challenges in which there’s a chance of failing. Staying at home avoids important, meaningful challenges.
Some of the things to say to them when you tell them they’re moving out, depending on the circumstances, are:
“I know that inside you, you have this great one of you struggling to take charge of your life. Now’s your chance for that ‘you’ to take over. Struggle and succeed. I’d rather you struggle and prove me wrong while hating me, than that you love me and stay here as a whining, complaining loser.” Use the word “loser” a lot. Challenge them to prove you wrong.
“This is not a discussion or a debate; you don’t get to vote. This is definitely not fair according to you. I know you think I don’t understand your side of it or how hard it is in today’s economy, but that’s the way it is. I’m protecting myself from my own flesh and blood, who’d suck me dry if I let him. You can try to argue but it won’t change anything. It’ll just waste your time. If you threaten me or damage the house, I’ll call the police and there’ll be no going back.” Don’t engage in debate. Walk away.
“I love you and this is scary for me, but that fear won’t stop me. If you become a loser, just like (fill in the blank), I’ll be sad and cry that you wasted your life, but I won’t feel guilty. I won’t regret what I’m doing.” Then walk away.
“I’m going to have a joyous, good time in my life. After you move out, if you make it fun for me, I’ll take you out to a restaurant sometimes or have you over for a good meal. But if you nag at me and make it a rotten time, I won’t want to waste my time with you. Your job is to make it fun for me to be with you. Yes, that’s blackmail. You pay for my attention, kindness and money. Be the nicest to people who are closest. Be nicer and sweeter to me than you would be to a stranger. Suck up to me as if you want something from me. You do. Even if you can prove to me logically that it’s not fair, that’s the way it is.”
“You, my beloved son, are now facing the choice we all face in life at this age. Will you settle for being a loser with a good excuse – your mother didn’t love or suckle you enough – or will you be a winner despite your mother? Every one of your ancestors faced this. Your ancestors lived through plague, famine, flood, war and slavery. They lived through worse than you. I know you have the stuff of a hero in you. Your choice is whether you bring that out and succeed, or to be a whining, petulant, blaming loser.”
You have the body and mind of an adult. You want to make adult choices in living the life you want. Now you’re being tested. Being an adult means taking care of yourself financially and physically. You probably didn’t prepare yourself. That’s your problem. I could never teach you anything because you never listened to me when I gave you good advice. We both know that. You think you know everything. You think you know what’s best for you. Now prove it. The less you learned useful skills, the more you’ll have to struggle now. So what? That’s just struggle. I hope you’ll grow strong by struggling.”
Mom, make a specific plan. For example, “You must be out by (date). If not, I’ll throw your stuff out the window and call the police if I have to. No negotiation. No promises. We allow little children to get by on promises and potential. When they’re 13 or so, we start demanding performance. Now that you’re 19, I demand performance. Your performance earns what you get.” Mom, don’t give in to satisfy one more promise. Think through what you’ll give, if anything, and under what conditions. My bottom line is, “Make me enjoy it and I’ll consider it. Beat me up, physically or verbally, and you get nothing.” The more calm you are, the better. If he can get you upset, he’ll think he can win again…as usual.
Stepchildren can jerk your chain more. A couple that disagrees strongly (one stern and one permissive) can be the worst case scenario.
This is a start. Because all solutions depend on the specifics of the situation, you will need coaching. Some circumstances that might alter your plans are if your teenager is not physically or mentally competent or needs extensive mental health counseling or is 13-16 or is a girl or there are drugs or alcohol involved or there are younger children at home?
Stay strong and firm. Don’t let him move back in even for a just week or month. It’ll reinforce the laziest in them and it’ll become permanent.
"Energy Vampires" are bullies at work. They’ll suck your motivation and drive, and destroy morale and productivity. But because they’re usually not recognized and labeled as bullies, they’re allowed to flourish.
Rather than give a wordy description, let’s identify and label some common examples of their bullying:
The Know-It-All. He’s right about everything – what the president should do to solve everything, why our sports teams lose, why kids are worse today, what’s wrong with our education, health, and legal system, why the ocean is blue. Arguing with him is a waste of time and most people have stopped trying. But just hearing his voice gets you too frustrated and angry to get back to work.
The Angry Victim. Her life stinks because everyone picks on her or “the system” is a mess and doesn’t adjust itself to her needs. She’s indignant if you dare to disagree or if you’re not sympathetic or helpful enough. If you don’t give her all the credit she wants, you’ll pay. Since she goes on and on about co-workers and bosses who are jerks, you know she’ll run you down to everyone if you don’t please her. There’s no reasoning with her; she’s too angry to see anyone else’s side of things. So you try to be invisible or walk on eggshells. Of course, you’re too scared to be productive or creative.
The Blackmailer. He won’t give you the reports or data he’s supposed to unless you listen to him babble for an hour. You’d better listen or he’ll bad-mouth you publically as unfriendly and not-a-team-player. He won’t send things electronically; he insists on lengthy personal contact. By the time you’ve told four friends his latest antics, you’ve wasted half a day.
The Mousy Victim. She’s hurt and weepy, but tries to put on a brave face. Everything anyone says or does hurts her feelings; she’s a genius at taking things the wrong way. Her hyper-sensitivity has rallied everyone to come to her defense and cater to her every whim. She creates a continual soap opera revolving around her hurt feelings. Everyone must take their precious time and energy to salve her feelings and bring her identified persecutor into line. The result is another day focused on melodrama instead of work.
The Loud-Mouthed Bigot. He frequently makes sexist, racist and other intolerant and vicious remarks about co-workers and anyone else who attracts his attention. He’s more interested in broadcasting his opinions and winning arguments than in getting work done. If you engage him, you’ll come away too drained and angry to get back to work.
The Bore who’s Fascinated With Her Life. She’s so wonderful and important that you must listen to all the excruciating details of her life – especially the very personal ones about her bodily functions or love-life. You want to close your door and hide. In order to appear caring, you almost feel compelled to tell her similar details of your life. She counts on your politeness not to throw her out. In this case you feel more slimed than drained, but you’re still too upset to get back to work.
The Whining Slacker. He’s lazy and won’t lift a finger to meet deadlines; he’s a no-show at crunch time. He whines, complains and wants sympathy and help. Everyone has to pitch in and do his job or the team looks bad. He’s never grateful and doesn’t return the effort to help others. Since they keep paying him for slacking, you grit your teeth and feel like slacking also. Slacking is a communicable disease.
These energy vampires control the turf and productivity plummets. They leave a wake of frustration and anger; co-workers and managers feel drained by every interaction, like someone took a quart of blood. And then we go home and drain our families, either by repeating the details of what happened or by taking out our frustration and stress on our loved ones.
These vampires go from team to team, leaving a wake of corpses, but hiding their harassment and abuse behind good-sounding excuses and justifications. It’s always someone else’s fault and everyone’s against them.
Energy vampires can be purged by a concerted effort of managers and their teams. If you aren’t willing to do that difficult work, you must start looking to work in another department of your company or for a new company. But wait; there’ll be vampires there too!
Here’s a new slant on the cluster of suicides of four teenage girls from Schenectady High School, New York, that was stimulated by abuse and bullying in school and a war-zone environment outside school.
Instead of working together to transform the school and the neighborhood environment, Rev. Veron House, pastor of the Life Changes World Ministries in Schenectady, and school superintendent, Eric Ely, are arguing over who was to blame and who should be responsible for fixing the problem.
Rev. House has been quoted as saying, “This is not a community problem, this is not a church problem, this is a school problem, and this is becoming a school epidemic because everyone that has done this is from Schenectady High."
On the defensive, Superintendent Ely responded, "We're not the parents of these children. We have them a third of the time, parents have them two thirds of the time. We're going to do everything we can to keep it from happening. But ultimately, when a child goes home and takes their life, there's not a whole lot a school employee can do about that."
Who’s right? Of course both of them are right. But facing each other with finger-pointing makes both of them wrong.
The useful question is not who’s to blame and who should be punished, the people in the neighborhood or the principal and teachers in school. The better question is how to bring people together after numerous and tremendously painful deaths, in order to create a community that simply won’t tolerate hate and violence in the school or on the streets. Here in Denver, after the massacre at Columbine High School, it has taken 10 years for that healing spirit to become evident.
This question is not new. The difficulty of establishing a safe and functional communal life after multiple, horrible deaths has been part of human struggles since the beginning of time. For example, we see the same struggle in the families of Romeo and Juliet.
Even further back, the same subject and a wise solution are described in graphic detail in the three tragedies called the Oresteia, written by Aeschylus in 458 BC. In the Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers and the Eumenides, the murders are for different reasons than in Schenectady and Columbine High School, but the end effect is the same. Violent death rips apart the fabric of a community and people struggle with what to do.
Why do I bring up literature that’s 2,500 years old? Because the violence of today has also been faced by people in all cultures, times and places, and we have recorded the approaches that only lead to more pain and also the wisdom that points the way to solutions.
Aeschylus shows that the age-old solution – pointing fingers, apportioning blame, imposing punishment, retribution and vengeance – only drives people into separate, warring camps and perpetuates the cycle of violence. He also shows that only after the people involved have come together, having been transformed by the intense pain and suffering that everyone feels underneath their defensive and hostile poses, can they dedicate themselves to change the environment together. One line from the tragedy is, “We must suffer, suffer into [wisdom].”
As community leaders, Rev. House and Superintendent Ely are failing in their responsibility. Instead of analyzing and parsing out the blame, they must lead the community to come together to create a new spirit that will neither tolerate harassment, bullying and abuse at school nor the street violence that requires police and metal detectors at school doors.
Until Rev. House and Superintendent Ely rally a core of outraged students and parents to rid the area of violence, there are no tactics, plans and skills that will help them. I’d expect Rev. House to know how rituals for painful grieving can transform the hearts of his parishioners into wisdom and determined action. Only after they have united resolutely to clean up the school and the neighborhood, will expert tactical advice and guidance be productive.
For years I’ve watched bullies disrupt professional meetings and create hostile workplaces. It’s bad enough when team members dominate meetings, but it’s always worse if it’s the boss who’s a control freak.
Here are the top 10 tactics I’ve seen them use. What situations and actions irritate and frustrate you most?
These methods are even worse when they’re repeatedly used. But of course, that’s a sign of bullying behavior; bullies don’t change. My top 10 are:
Unprepared and latecomers – especially when they make a loud entrance.
Interrupters – they may be show-offs or clowns; they may interrupt vocally or by eating and drinking loudly or they may use their cell phones, Blackberrys or computers. They have the attention span of two year-olds.
Boring ramblers with their lengthy personal conversations or digressions.
Naysayers – they are relentlessly negative and can put down and block every proposal; “There are problems, we tried that, nothing ever works except my ideas.”
Angry people who indulge in personal attacks and put-downs, belittling and bringing up old errors. They’re often defensive but, after a while, who cares about their psychotherapy?
Nit-pickers, distracters and side trackers who are full of irrelevant facts. They prevent progress by correcting or arguing over irrelevant details. They may want to re-think every previous decision; they never take action.
Side conversation experts – their ideas, whims or self-important witticisms seem to them more important than the agenda.
Editorial comments – they may be verbal or non-verbal, including snorting, rolling eyes, drumming fingers, turning their chairs around, laughing sarcastically and barely audible disparaging or ridiculing remarks.
Passive-aggressive backstabbers – they keep quiet or even agree during meetings, but then disagree, complain or put down people after meetings.