Self-bullies wallow in perfectionism, self-doubt, self-questioning, blame, shame, guilt and negative self-talk. Real self-bullies run themselves down and beat themselves up in almost every area of life. But even people who don’t use self-bullying tactics normally will condemn themselves if one of their children turns out incompetent or toxic. A hundred fifty years ago, the fad was to think that if children turned out bad – weak, lazy, apathetic, unkind or uncaring – they had made bad choices; it was the child’s fault. But as Richard Friedman points out in his article in the New York Times, “Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds,” the recent fad has been to blame the parents.
We’ve grown up thinking, “there are no bad children, only bad parents.” Therefore, when one child turns out bad, parents will vent their frustration and pain on themselves by continually asking, “What did we do wrong? What did we do to deserve this?”
After all, if we know who’s to blame and what they did wrong, we’ll be able to figure out how to fix it. That’s not true, but what else can we do?
Even though you didn’t do anything particularly heinous to that child – no physical, sexual or emotional abuse, brutality or torture – therapists usually reinforce your responsibility and guilt by blaming some mistakes you made; you weren’t 100% consistent, one or both of you weren’t around enough; you didn’t give the nasty, needy child enough love, toys or enough discipline.
Of course, surly, rotten, loser children also reinforce this attitude; it’s easy for them to blame parents in order to take themselves off the hook. You’ll hear these now-adults complain, “It’s your fault, if only you gave me more stuff or love when I was younger; if only you give me the stuff I want now, I’d be fine.”
But after giving time after time, at some points parents have to look in the mirror and say, “It’s not our fault. We didn’t do everything that child wanted, but we didn’t do anything particularly bad. He or she still acts like he’s entitled to everything he wants. That child is simply angry and maybe hates us. Maybe he or she is just a weak or bad seed. If we continue giving, he’ll suck every drop of blood from us and drag us down, all the while complaining that it’s our fault.”
So when do parents decide, “that’s enough! We have to protect ourselves from this toxic person, our beloved child, who will poison us if we allow him to.”
I am saying that there are children who grow up nasty, surly, rotten and toxic, and it wasn’t your fault; you didn’t do anything to deserve it. Whichever bandwagon of explanations you jump on – they have a defective gene combination (they were born sick mentally or defective emotionally) or they choose to be the way they are – the effect is the same.
No matter how much you love them or give them, no matter how much you beat yourself up, no matter how much you feel guilty because you don’t like them, you won’t be able to rehabilitate them.
People do not have an unlimited potential to change and develop by any methods we know or will know. Instead, while you’re trying to reason with them or rehabilitate them, these toxic predators will take everything you have and eat you alive.
So stop beating yourselves up; stop wallowing in self-doubt and self-flagellation. Give up shame and guilt; they’ll only prevent you from doing what you need to do. Of course, we’re less sure that it wasn’t our fault if an only child is the bad seed. If other children turned out well, we can see more easily how that toxic child turned out the way he did on his own.
Once we start questioning ourselves, our imperfections, negative self-talk, self-hatred and self-loathing will keep us stuck; weak and easy prey. We won’t have the strength, courage and perseverance to stop toxic children.
Face the problem thoughtfully and carefully, just like you’d face any other situation in which someone is trying to take everything you have and harass, abuse and torture you in the process. Of course this is different because your heart will be broken endlessly, anxiety and depression will become constant companions and the selfish, hate-filled and hateful child will continue blaming on you.
Plan tactics that fit you and your situation; know your limits and what you’re capable of doing. Take your emotional tie and the unending pain into account when you plan tactics. Get help to keep you strong, courageous and persevering.
I know that’s not a specific list of “the seven steps that are guaranteed to make everything fine.” There are no guarantees of success.
But there is the wisdom that has been clear since the beginning of recorded history. The first and necessary step is to see clearly. Then become the one of you who has the grit, resilience and skill to stop a predator; even a predator you love. Only then will you be able to carry out an effective plan successfully. Anything less and that beloved predator will ravage you.
For a clear example, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the study of how Paula slowly succeeded with her teenage daughter, Stacy,