We all know micro-managers who need to back off. But just as often, I see employees who refuse to accept accountability and supervision. They want absolute control of their turf and will resist, sabotage and badmouth any supervisor who wants to integrate them into an effective team.
For example, Rita, a high-ranking professional, goes over Tom, her direct supervisor, to complain to a senior manager that Tom is micromanaging and wasting her time, so she can’t complete her tasks. Rita also complains that Tom doesn’t inform her of meetings, springs deadlines on her without warning and talks down to her.
Their standards rule – our “no” isn’t accepted as “no.” Their sense of humor is the right one.
They isolate us.
They control us with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips. They use the opinions other people who agree with them – their friends, their parents – to justify what they do.
“Fighting for Girls: New Perspectives on Gender and Violence,” edited by Meda Chesney-Lind and Nikki Jones, cites recent studies to show that violence by girls has decreased. In a New York Times article, “The Myth of Mean Girls,” Mike Males and Meda Chesney-Lind also state that our common perception that there are mean girls and that girls can be violent, “is a hoax.”
Well, that just gives new research studies a bad name, or at least those conclusions. As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
In the real world, not the world inhabited by academics and researchers, mean girls thrive and their violence toward other girls is no only verbal and physical, it’s now also done in cyberspace. If you track only physical violence on police blotters, you miss the other damage done by stealth bullying mean girls.
Every woman who’s interviewed me on radio and television describes the mean girls they encountered when they were young … and also some they see in their adult personal lives as well as at work. A lot of my coaching is to teach women how to defend themselves against mean girls who now masquerade as adult friends or who are still mean in parent groups at schools, boards of housing associations, book clubs, neighborhood associations, church groups and as mothers protecting their mean daughters.
Get active as a citizen. Organize a core group of active parents to pressure legislators to pass laws requiring schools to have policies and programs to stop bullying. Media pressure will help.
Get active in your school and school district. Form a core group of active parents to make sure your district administrators and school principal actively enforce policies and a school-wide program to stop bullies. Involve all teachers, staff and students in recognizing and stopping the first signs of bullying. Immediate and firm action is necessary. If principals and teachers turn a blind eye, saying “that’s just the way some girls are,” they’re colluding by creating a safe space for mean girls and boundary pushers. The end of school and summer are great times to get these programs started so you’re ready at the start of school in September.
Prepare your daughters. Well-meaning parents are the number one risk factor for creating helpless girls whose confidence and self-esteem will be destroyed by mean girls. Don’t tell your daughters to feel sorry for their abusers and to “rise above” whatever these vicious predators say or do. Don’t expect pious sentiments to prevent stress, anxiety, negative self-talk or depression. Don’t let your daughters be whipping girls or scapegoats. Teach your daughters how to stop the mean girls. If you don’t know how, you need coaching.
Prepare your sons. Tell them about the real-world. Remind them that 10 years from now they probably won’t see any of the kids from high school. Teach them not to take the mean, nasty, vicious comments personally or as a prediction of the future. Their job is to grow up and find a woman who values and appreciates them. Mean girls don’t represent everyone.
Don’t believe studies that supposedly prove that mean girls are an insignificant factor. Don’t believe that if your daughter ignores their meanness or treats them with caring and friendship, they’ll stop being abusive. Real bullies, mean girls and mean women, take offerings of sweetness and friendship as weakness and an invitation to prey on you more.
As Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” and “Things I’ve Been Silent About” said, “My parents did not bring me happiness. They armed me for the battle of life.”
Jane was stuck in an internal war. Every time she made some progress toward goals she’d been pursuing for years – cleaned her house, did things on her to-do list, met people she’d wanted to, signed up for classes toward a better job, courageously risked being honest – she’d start beating herself up in ways she was familiar with since childhood.
A part of her would say, in an old, familiar voice, “Who do you think you are, you’ll never succeed, you’ll fall back into being a failure, you’re fat and ugly, you’re not good enough to stay on track, you’re weak at your core, you’ll never do the right thing, you’ll fail like you always do, no one likes you, no one will love you, you’ll be alone all your life.”
Then she’d isolate herself and start picking on herself physically. That’d only make things worse. She’d feel ashamed and guilty. “Maybe they’re right,” she’d think. “I’m not good enough. I’ll always be a mess. I’ll never change. I’ll never succeed.”
She’d become angry at her parents and all the people who’d taken advantage of her, at all the people who weren’t supportive now and finally at herself. And the cycle would continue; a little success leading to self-loathing and predictions of failure, followed by anger at everyone in her past and present, followed by more anger and self-loathing. After several wasted days, she’d get herself together to try once more, but the emotional and spiritual cost of each cycle was huge.
Self-bullying– negative self-talk, an internal war between the side of you that fights to do better and the side that seems to despise you, that’s full of self-loathing and self-abuse – can go on a whole lifetime. Of course, the effects can be devastating – anxiety and stress, discouragement and depression, loss of confidence and self-esteem, huge emotional swings that drive good people away and attract bullies and predators.
Perhaps the worst effect is a sense of desperation and panic, isolation and loneliness – it feels like this has been going on forever and doesn’t look like it will ever end; every failure feels like the end of the world; like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You feel helpless and are sure that it’s hopeless.
This is not a war between the left and right sides of our brains. This is usually not our being taken over by an evil spirit that needs exorcised psychologically.
This is usually a battle between two sides of us that split apart because of terrible, overwhelming pressure when we were kids. Back then, we didn’t know how to cope with the horror so we split into two strategies that have been battling with childlike intensity and devotion ever since.
On the one hand, we fight to feel inspired and centered and to do our best; to be courageous and bold and fierce; to try hard, be joyous and hope for success. On the other hand, we fight to make us docile and not try to rise above our meager lot in life, to accept what they tell us and give up struggling against them so they’ll let us survive, to motivate ourselves by whipping ourselves so we’ll make enough effort and do the right things, and maybe then they’ll give us something in return and we’ll have those feelings of peace and joy.
Both voices want us to survive and to feel centered, peaceful and filled with joy. Each takes an opposite path to get there. Instead of a psychological exorcism, we need an internal reconciliation and a release from old battles with our external oppressors and between our internal, battling voices.
The inner goal is clear: We’ll be whole and unified, both sides will be working together toward the same end (http://www.bulliesbegoneblog.com/2008/04/25/getting-over-parents-who-wound-their-children-the-2nd-stage-of-growing-up-and-leaving-home/#more-35): the different possibilities for action will be presented to us in the encouraging voices of coaches; we’ll be inspired and motivated by encouragement, not whipping: we’ll have an adult sense of our strength and capability; we’ll feel like we can cope successfully without tight control over everything and we’ll act in a timely manner; situations won’t put us into a panic; mistakes won’t be a portent of doom.
For example, Jane finally made internal peace. Her warring sides accepted that they had the same outcome – making a good life for her, filling her with the joy she’d always wanted to feel. They realized that neither side could defeat the other; their only hope was to work together using adult strategies of motivating her to take actions that would help her succeed. They saw that her situation now, in middle age, was very different from when she was a helpless child and had to depend on parents who seemed to despise her character, personality and style.
Just as the predatory stepfather has become a cliché, the wicked, greedy stepmother and the colluding father have also become an archetype because so many times the characterization is accurate. So what can you do when your father marries a grasping, bullying, uncaring woman when you’re young? How can you stop such a bully when your father marries one late in life and she wants to get her hands on the family fortune and your most cherished sentimental items?
Of course there are many situations in which a stepmother has loved and enriched the life of her stepdaughter. See “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,” by Georgina Howell for one famous example.
But when you’re young and an evil stepmom moves in, with our without her own children, and treats you like Cinderella, you have only one court of appeal, your father. If he won’t see the truth and rectify his mistake, you have only a few options:
Keep resisting, fighting and rebelling; keep trying to make him see the light.
Fly low; be devious, learn to dissemble, lie and hide in order to minimize the damage.
The first strategy usually has disastrous consequences for children. Typically, fathers never get it. Sometimes relatives might defend you, but they can rarely open your blinded father’s eyes. For many reasons, none important for your later life, your father typically won’t accept or value that you’re being mistreated and he won’t get rid of the witch.
Kids who use this strategy usually end up ruining their lives because they’ve only prepared themselves to resist, fight and rebel. All their energy goes into trying to get justice from a stone. They don’t prepare themselves to have wonderful careers and lives.
Kids who use the second strategy often succeed in later life. Don’t waste your youth fighting an unwinnable battle. Use your time and effort to develop skills that prepare you for a good career and a great life.
Of course, a bullying stepmom will harass and abuse you whenever she can. She’ll also try to align your father against you. And if she brings her own children into the marriage, she’ll try to shove you out so hers can inherit the love and money. So what? History is full of kids who succeeded despite the unfairness and injustice of such situations.
Since your father is besotted and blinded, there’s little you can do to obtain justice. When you’re young, you can’t understand how a person can do what he’s doing. When you become older and can see the reasons, there’s still little comfort in that understanding.
In this situation, the key to success is an inner one: keep your spirit alive and burning fiercely until you can get away and make your own life. Of course you won’t have the head start you would have if your father had done better for you. So what? That’s not the end of the world.
Of course you’ll get blamed for everything. Your wicked stepmom will heap shame and guilt on you. Don’t accept it. It’s not your fault. Of course, you did some things wrong, but even if you’d been perfect, it wouldn’t have been good enough for her. You were in her way or she needed a scapegoat or she simply liked to inflict pain. The way she treated you was her fault, not yours.
Stay invulnerable to outrageous fortune; verbal, emotional and physical. You aren’t at the mercy of events. Don’t let them crush your spirit. Your spirit can endure and soar. You can create a great life for yourself.
The other typical situation occurs when your father marries late in life and forces a selfish, greedy, narcissistic new wife into your family. Encourage your father to make a prenuptial agreement to protect the family fortune he had before he met her and specify in his will who gets each sentimental treasure from your childhood.
If there’s no written assignment, after your father dies she’ll keep your biological mother’s things and even your most cherished toys. She’ll make you grovel to get any of your father’s items.
Of course she’ll blame you for why she’s mean and keeps things from you. She’ll say that you didn’t communicate lovingly enough with her, you hurt her feelings or she needs and deserves what ever she wants. And she’ll say that she has a right to it all. She needs it to comfort her for her great loss.
She’ll try to divide your siblings into warring camps; if you’re not on her side you’re her enemy for life. She’ll make you crawl in order to get anything, and then she’ll jerk it away just as you think you’re about to get it. It’s as if she enjoys raising your hopes and causing you pain.
Recognize as bullies these manipulative, hypercritical, distorting, demanding, lying toxic people who use their hurt feelings and anger to control everyone else. Notice who has all the responsibility for making her be just or generous; she never accepts any blame, never has to please you, never has to apologize. You always have to please her, accept all the blame for any problem and do all the apologizing.
If you try to negotiate with these bullies, you’ll always give up something in hopes that she’ll reciprocate. But you’ll be disappointed. After you give something up, the negotiations will immediately become about what you must give up next.
Accept that you’re in a war with a bitter, relentless and ruthless enemy who won’t compromise or negotiate in good faith. Fight to get what’s yours. Then turn your back and walk away. She wants to trap your energy for the rest of your life; either pleasing her or fighting her; it doesn’t matter which.
Should you tell your children about your toxic parents, their toxic grandparents? What should you tell them and how?
Imagine that your parents no longer abuse you physically or sexually, but they still demean you, scapegoat you, ignore or scorn you, make nasty, hostile, sarcastic remarks and put-downs, and let you know that you’re not good enough. No matter what you do or don’t do, you’re wrong. They take charge of your life when you see them and break appointments whenever they feel like it. Their wants and feelings are the center of the world and you don’t count.
Imagine also that you used to think that if you told them, in just the right way and at the right time, how hurtful their treatment was and is, they’d stop. Or that you used to think your job was to rise above that treatment because they’re your parents, they’re getting old, they’re suffering, they deserve a little peace and happiness, and you owe them.
When can you stop trying to build bridges? When can you cut off communication? When can you tell your children why?
Harassment, bullying and verbal, physical and sexual abuse is usually multi-generational. Families help perpetuate the abusive behavior by keeping secrets and telling lies. If you give them a chance, your parents will likely do to your children what they did to you. The old wounds still throb even if your parents are nice sometimes. They still bleed when your parents repeat the same old treatment even now.
When you grow up, you may vow to break the cycle and treat your children better, but how can you protect them from the example they see of their grandparents still bullying you or them now? And how can you stop obsessing on your childhood trauma or yesterday’s verbal battering?
Once you’ve tried everything you can think of, every approach, every sweet way of suggesting or speaking truthfully (say, a thousand times) and your parents (or step-parents) still protect each other, perpetuate the lies and tell you that you’re nasty and crazy, I think that’s enough.
Protect yourself and your children, turn your back to them, and create a safe and wonderful island of life for your family. That means that your parents don’t get on it.
Always remember the effects on your life and how they tried to crush your spirit. Don’t let a running, internal debate about them suck all your energy down a black hole. Stop negative self-talk; it’ll only discourage and depress you, increase self-doubt, destroy self-confidence and self-esteem, keep you fixated and stuck, and take your eyes off the great future you want for yourself and your family.
You don’t need more understanding of them. You don’t need to save them from themselves or each other. Don’t be their therapist. Let them fix themselves on their own time and their own bodies; not yours.
Spirit counts more than biology. Start calling them by their first names. Don’t give them titles they don’t deserve, like “Grandma” or “Grandpa.”
Don’t argue or debate with your parents. You’ll never convince them that you’re doing the right thing. Bullies always want what they want – to feast on your feelings and flesh. Simply tell them that they’re off your island. Take steps to cut off communication. Change your phone numbers and e-mails. Move if you have to.
Tell your children what’s age appropriate. They don’t need the gory details when they’re six, but they do when they’re sixteen. Gather them together and make it a serious occasion. The framework is that they need to know how to protect themselves and to set standards for their own behavior. Don’t go into psychoanalytical reasons why your parents did it or why they, and maybe the rest of the family, collude to protect them. That’s obvious. You’ll probably have to re-visit the conversation.
Be invulnerable. That’s the term coined by Victor and Mildred Goertzel in their study of the lives of more than 300 famous 20th-century men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962). Instead of finding that these highly successful people had wonderful parents, they found that many had agonizing childhoods spent in bleak, troubled homes, including domineering, alcoholic, rage-aholic or neglectful parents. They described the children who succeeded, despite a psychologically damaging childhood, as resilient or invulnerable.
Be a model for your children. Show them that abusive behavior drives people away. Show them how to stand up to abuse, which sometimes means creating distance instead of being sucked into a battle that ties up your life.
Create a new family including new elders; a family of your heart and spirit. Have so much fun, bring so much joy that there’s not a hole anymore that would be filled with thoughts of biological grandparents.
Get an expert coach to increase your determination, perseverance, courage and resilience, and to create tactics for your individual situation.
Your task is to create a fabulous life. Don’t let toxic parents or grandparents – or siblings or friends – ruin it. Shine a light on bullies. Your children need you to show them how to thrive in the face of abuse, cover-ups and lies.