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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead of testing ourselves, we can test the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weaklings and whiners blame temptation and tempters.  That pattern of good reasons, best of intentions, and pathetic excuses and justifications to blame someone else is as old as apples and temptation.  It’s just as lame and weak now as it always was. According to Wall Street Journal articles, Beverly Hall was Superintendant of the Atlanta Public School District when at least 178 teachers have been accused of cheating to elevate student’s test scores en masse.  Administrators were also accused of “impeding the investigation, tampering with tests and intimidating teachers.”

Already, “82 of the 178 teachers and administrators implicated admitted to cheating.”  No examples of such cheating were found in rural schools.  Ms. Hall’s role is not yet clear.  The vast majority of Georgia teachers resisted the temptation to cheat and lie.

According to Kyle Wingfield, reporting for the Journal, “Many politicians and teachers have responded to the report by blaming the test and accountability measures like No Child Left Behind. This is exactly the wrong reaction: Atlanta shows us why public schools need more, not fewer, accountability measures.”  I agree.

Interim School District Superintendant Erroll Davis Jr. is cleaning house.  “At the same time, a former Atlanta deputy superintendent [Beverly Hall] agreed to go on paid leave from a Texas school district that hired her earlier this year.”

The dust will take a long time to settle.  I hope Ms. Hall’s lieutenants and all the other teachers involved spend time in prison and then find jobs in which they will not held out as role models to children trying to better themselves.  We count on teachers to be role models; to demonstrate the highest standards.

Let’s keep the focus on the overall issue – the reasons, excuses and justifications; the whining, complaining and blaming of bullies, abusers and criminals who want to blame temptation, not themselves.

The problem is not the “No Child Left Behind” mandate or standardized tests – although those aren’t perfect.

The problem is in individual humans who fail, who fall short of the standards they promised to uphold and then want to be left off the hook – no consequences, no punishment.

They used to say, “The Devil made me do it.  I had good reasons.  It’s not my fault and, therefore, I shouldn’t have to suffer.”  Now they say, “Society, the bad rules or system, too much pressure, my bad genes, my bad brain chemistry, my bad upbringing and childhood made me do it.  It’s not my fault, I’m a victim and, therefore, I shouldn’t have to suffer.”

Those are the same excuse used by men and women who bully, batter, control and abuse their dates or spouses.  They say, “It’s your fault I’m bullying you.  I can’t help myself.  It’s not my fault.”

Instead, let’s champion individual responsibility in the face of temptation – like all those teachers who resisted temptation.  All through history, in every culture at every time, temptation has been acknowledged as a fact of life.  And the need to overcome that temptation has been emphasized.  Of course we know we won’t always succeed.  Some temptations must be avoided in the beginning because we know once we start down a path; we won’t be able to turn back.

The fault is squarely on the heads and hearts of the elites who did not resist the temptation or report the weaklings who hurt all the students in their care.  The superintendent, the administrators and the teachers who colluded individually and en masse at cheating parties; the people who failed to fulfill their promise as keepers of children’s futures.

Lord Acton said, “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as if it’s a foregone conclusion and we’re simply too weak to resist.

But Peter Parker’s uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Like Spiderman, we all have to rise to our responsibilities.

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

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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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.

These adults can become physically as well as verbally abusive.  Their simmering rage when they’re thwarted can be frightening.  Usually they’re selfish, narcissistic control-freaks, lazy, demanding and surly, and feel entitled to whatever makes their life work most easily.

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.

Popular culture also makes their arguments seductive.  Most people have been raised to think that loving your child (“mother’s love”) means giving them what they want.

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.

Your teenager will be sneaky and manipulative in pushing your buttons and boundaries.  He’s mastered manipulating you for years.

Single parents are often easier to bully than couples.  For example, see the case study of Paula bullied by her daughter, Stacy, in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

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.

There’s a world of difference between being an active witness to bullying and abuse, and being merely a bystander. A bystander has already decided to be an uninvolved spectator, to look the other way, to pretend ignorance if called upon.

A witness can make a tactical decision based on the circumstances – intervene now in some tactical way or speak up later.

At work, co-workers or bosses are bullies; at home, abusive parents will harass and bully one young child while lavishing goodies on the other; in addition, toxic parents will favor one adult child over another with love and inheritance on the line.

I’ll focus here on kids, but the larger implications should be obvious when you think about slavery or the Nazis or a hundred other public examples.

Often, at school and at home, mean kids will try to turn siblings or friends against each other.

For example, Charles’ friend, Brad, was relentlessly nasty to Charles’ sister Sarah.  He made fun of her, called her stupid, dumb and ugly, and, even though Sarah was tall and skilled enough to play with the older boys, he’d cut her out of their games or he’d intentionally knock her down.

Charles looked on in dismay but never interfered.  That was puzzling to Charles’ parents because, in one-to-one situations, Charles played well with Sarah and liked her.  Yet Charles had become a bystander; he wouldn’t step up to what he knew was right.

How come he didn’t protect Sarah from Brad?  Was Charles afraid that if he interfered he’d lose a friend or that Brad would beat him up?  Did Charles secretly want his sister out of the way?

More important than an analysis of “why,” was the potential effect on Charles of being a bystander.  What would be the cost to his character and mental and emotional well-being?  What would be the effect on his conscience and self-esteem if he played along and didn’t speak up against the abuse or if he colluded by joining in the harassment of his sister in order to make friends with Brad?

Without knowing the real answers to the “why” questions, the pain, shame, anxiety and stress of watching his sister tormented and the guilty laceration of his conscience finally drove Charles to choose which side he was on.  He stood up for his sister and for high standards of conduct, but then he had to solve another problem; Brad was a head taller and 30 pounds heavier than he was.

In front of Sarah, Charles got in Brad’s face and told him to cut it out.  If Brad wanted to be his friend and play with him, he had to be nice to Sarah…or else

Most of the Brad’s in the world would back down but this one didn’t.  Angry words led to shoving and Brad grabbed Charles and threw him down.  At this point Charles and Sarah’s advanced planning gave them a tactical advantage.  Sarah, as tall and heavy as Charles, jumped on Brad’s back and the brother and sister piled on Brad and punched and kicked him.

As with most kid fights it was over fast.  Brad got the message; he was facing a team.  If he wanted to play with them he’d have to play with both of them.  If he wanted to fight he’d have to fight both of them.  No parents were involved and Brad chose to play with them and be nice to Sarah.

As much as the incident helped Sarah, Charles was the major beneficiary of his choice.  His self-esteem soared.  He had been courageous and mentally strong.  And he learned that he and his sister could plan and stand firm together.

In a different situation, Ellen was popular and Allison, who was outgoing but had no friends, wanted Ellen all to herself.  At school, Allison put-down and cut out anyone Ellen wanted to play with.  If Ellen refused to follow Allison, Allison would get hysterical, cry and wail that Ellen was hurting her feelings.  Ellen didn’t want to hurt Allison but she wanted to play with whoever she wanted to play with.

The situation came to a head during the summer.  Allison wanted to play with Ellen every day.  And on every play date, Allison would be nasty to Ellen’ younger sister.  She’d mock Jill, order her to leave them alone and demand that Ellen get rid of her younger sister.  They were best friends and there was no room for a little kid.

Numerous times at their house, Ellen’ parents asked Allison to include Jill, but to no avail.  Allison would agree, but as soon as their backs were turned she’d be twice as nasty to Jill.

Ellen faced the same choice that Charles had; hurt her sister in order to collude with her friend or lose a friend and classmate.

Ellen didn’t agonize like Charles had.  Ellen was very clear; colluding is not how a good person would act.  However, her requests that Allison stop only brought on more hysterical anger and tantrums.

Ellen didn’t want to play with Allison any more but didn’t know how to accomplish this.  When she told Allison, Allison threw another fit – hurt feelings and crying.

This situation required different tactics from Charles’ because Ellen was younger and arrangements for them to play during the summer and after school had to be made by their parents.

Ellen’ parents could have gone to Allison’s parents and told them what Allison was doing.  However, they’d observed that Allison’s parents had never tried to stop her hysterics, blaming and finger-pointing at school.  They’d always believed Allison’s accusations about other kids and added their blame.  They demanded that teachers do what Allison wanted.

Ellen’ parents thought that raising the issue with Allison’s parents would only lead to negativity, accusations and an ugly confrontation, which would carry over to school.

They decided to use an indirect approach; they were simply always too busy for Ellen to play with Allison.  The rest of the summer they made excuses to ensure there would be no play dates.  When school started, they made sure there were no play dates after school, even if Jill wasn’t there.  They didn’t want their daughter to be friends with such a stealthy, manipulative, nasty, control-freak like Allison.

In addition, they told Ellen’s teacher what Allison was doing and asked them to watch if Allison tried to control Ellen and cut out other kids.

Most important, Charles stopped being spectator and became an effective witness-participant.  Ellen also would not remain a bystander.  She made her feelings clear and her parents helped intervene.  Both children learned important lessons in developing outstanding character and values.

Tactics are always dependent on the specifics of the situation.  As parents wanting to help and guide your children and grandchildren, remember that there’s no one-right-way to act.  The people involved get to choose where they want to start the process of standing up as witnesses and participants.  You can get ideas and guidelines from books and CDs but on-going coaching, to prepare you for your “moments of truth,” is essential.  You will need to adjust your plan in response to what happens at each step along the way.

For example, see the studies of Jake and Carrie in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

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,

Stopping bullying by toxic parents and grandparents is only one side of the coin.  The other side is to stop bullying of parents by adult children who are toxic users and abusers. I’ll focus on the adult children who:

  • Make poor decisions and try bully their parents to bail them out time after time.
  • Still yell at or even hit their middle-aged parents just like they did when they were teenagers.
  • Extort money from their parents in return for allowing them to see the grandchildren.

I won’t go into the abuse of elderly or senile parents, nor into situations in which the child is disabled or retarded and will need parental care for life.

For parents, this is one of the most heart-wrenching situations; to see that your adult children are:

  • Still incompetent and failing.
  • Still trying to manipulate or coerce you, long after they should have become independent and work to get what they want from the world.
  • Characterless, nasty, abusive adults – entitled, blaming, narcissistic, weak and desperate.

Of course we parents think we’re at fault.  We can self-bully until we feel guilt and shame.  “Where did we go wrong?”  And of course those selfish, manipulative children try to increase those feelings so that we’ll continue giving them what they want.

Although it’s now too late to begin when your children were young, getting an idea about what we could have done then might help us now. Parenting experts for the last generation have falsely assumed and wrongly encouraged people to think that if they kept protecting their immature, irresponsible children from consequences and kept giving them infinite second changes, the children would eventually mature and develop confidence, self-respect and self-esteem.  They would become competent and independent adults.

Of course, a few children do change and become responsible when they’re coddled.  But this strategy encourages most children to remain weak and needy, expecting to be supported for life if they’re in trouble.  The best way to produce spoiled brats (at any age) is to give them what they want.

Instead, you must not let your heart guide your actions.  You must let them fail and bear the consequences, no matter how hard.  You must keep reminding them that they will need to take care of themselves; they will be dependent on their own judgment and effort.  This is not an all-or-none shift.  There should be a gradual shift as they pass from elementary school to middle or junior high school.

In a loving and firm way, encourage them to learn how the world works and to do their best, but stop protecting them.  I think of that in the same way I think of helping plants get hardy enough to survive in temperate zones – we leave them out longer and longer in chilly nights.

Although there are too many brutal, abusive, uncaring, selfish, demanding parents, the biggest mistake I see parents make is to coddle their children way too long.

Don’t use the word, “supportive;” it’s too non-specific.  Be specific; give them encouragement to work hard and live poor if they can’t do better.  But don’t be a friend, don’t be a bank, don’t be a 7-11.

As for the shame and guilt you might feel because the children didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped; give it up.  They have free will.  By the time they’re adults they make their own choices.  Truthfully, how much success did any of us have giving advice to teenagers?  They listen to their own drumbeat; just like we did, whether our parents liked it or not. So what can we do now?  The same thing we should have done back then: cut them off economically.  Ignore promises; behavior counts.  Give your treats to the independent, self-supporting children who don’t need them.  Don’t give them to the irresponsible children who depend on and demand them.

Don’t let them yell, shove or hit you; don’t let them harass or abuse you.  Hang up or throw them out immediately.  Remember, we’re adults; we must demand civilized behavior on our islands.  If they can’t be polite, they can’t be on our islands.

Make a family rule: we get together to have a good time, not to straighten each other out, or review our bank balances, or complain, whine or blame.  Keep offering fun when you get together.  Stop offering advice or money.

Don’t debate or argue about what’s right or fair.  We suffered enough of those when they were teenagers.  It’s your money, you get to do what you want with it; they’re not entitled to anything.

Of course, your heart will bleed, but keep that to yourself.  Worry, cry and pray in private.  Remind them that it’s their lives and they have to succeed on their own.

With the grandchildren, we have two paths.  The first is to remain firm and suffer the consequences when they withhold the grandchildren.  We all know the truth about blackmail and extortion: bullies raise the price and there will be no end to it.  If they deny you access to the grandchildren; write, call, send presents and keep records.  You’ll make your case when the grandchildren turn 18.

The second path is to purchase time with your beloved grandchildren in hopes that you can have an effect on them so they won’t turn out like your children did.  Expect the price in money and abuse of you to increase with time.  Unfortunately, the grandchildren usually learn to hold you up for what they want.

There is no instant and easy cure.  Your children have free will.  They have chosen and can continue to choose to be weak and irresponsible.  You didn’t cause it, although you might have enabled it by giving them too much.  They can try to drag you under when they flail around because they think they’re drowning.  Don’t let them drag you under.

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,

This is about the opposite side of the coin from the toxic parents and grandparents that many people have experienced. One of the saddest cries for help I hear is from nice, kindly, well-meaning grandparents whose daughters have given in to their controlling husbands.  Their daughters don’t come to visit and don’t bring the grandchildren, they schedule visits and cancel at the last minute, the daughters and sons-in-law won’t allow the grandchildren to receive presents, the sons-in-law blame the grandparents because everything they do offends them and the daughters take his side and become verbally abusive in every attack.

The poor grandparents try everything, but no matter what they do they’re blamed.  When they try to point out what’s happening, their daughters attack them.  According to the daughters, the grandparents are completely at fault.  Their husbands are reasonable and correct.  The grandparents are blamed for what they do and blamed for what they don’t do.

The grandparents see their daughters isolated from their former friends and families, not allowed access to computers and not allowed to have cars.  And yet, their daughters accept that treatment and defend their husbands.  They see their daughters harassed, bullied and abused but don’t know what they can do to stop it.  The frustration and helplessness are agonizing.

What can you do for now? I’m sorry, but there isn’t much you can do.  Until your daughters are ready to get away from their controlling husbands, there isn’t anything you can do.

If you ever see fresh and obvious evidence of battering or beating, or obvious evidence of child neglect or abandonment you can report that.  But be sure that’s what it is.  You don’t want to get identified as a person who “cries wolf.”  Of course you’ll get blamed, but you get blamed for everything anyway.

You might offer to take the grandchildren on trips without their grandparents.  But beyond that, there’s not much you can do for now.  Since your daughters aren’t minors, they’re entitled to live their own lives, no matter how horrible we think they are.

Stop self-bullying I’m talking to grandparents who were decent parents.  I’m not talking to negative, controlling, toxic, abusive bullies.  Don’t wallow in blaming yourself or trying to identify the specific incidents of bad parenting that led your daughters to accept their husband’s abuse and to hate you.  It’s not your fault.  Every one of us didn’t like some of the things our parents did and most of us got over it.  Probably, your daughters were fine before they met the sons-in-law.  Your daughters have chosen a different path for now. Stop the negativity and bullying self-talk.  That destroys self-esteem and leads to depression.  That won’t make you behave good enough or the right way to finally please your daughters and their husbands.  Forgive yourself when you’re provoked and lash back.

Plan for the future Keep writing to your grandchildren, keep sending gifts to them and keep a record.  Someday, you may have an opportunity to show them the truth.  Try to hold your tongue quiet and don’t engage in arguments about who’s right or how badly your daughters treat you.  You might say, “I know you look at it that way.  That’s your privilege.  But there’s another side.”  Don’t explain the other side; simply state it.

Allow your daughters to create distance.  Accept the treatment for now and hope and pray for the future.  You don’t want to push your daughters further into their husbands’ control because they don’t want to face your, “I told you so.”

Go have a wonderful life in all other areas.  Keep your focus on the rest of life as best you can.  I know that’s hard but that’s what you’ve been given.  It’s like the weather; snow and sun, drought and hurricanes.  And you don’t get to choose.

We all recognize as bullies, brutes (male or female) at work or in our love and family lives who hit people or threaten physical violence.  But more bullies get away with their harassment, bullying and abuse by taking advantage of their victims’ rules about politeness. In her article in the Miami Herald, “It's time to get our behavior under control,” Robin Sarantos uses television’s “House” as an example of rude, inconsiderate, arrogant, discourteous, entitled behavior.  He eats other people’s food, searches his boss’ desk, reads a coworkers email, yells at and blames his coworkers.  And we’re supposed to think he’s funny because he’s a wonderful doctor.

But would you enjoy working with someone like him, who goes into your desk, listens to your private calls, says demeaning things about you, curses, cheats, stabs you in the back and spreads gossip and rumors?  Would you enjoy dating or being best friends with someone like that?

Do you enjoy the family members who come for the holidays or family occasions with their vicious, nasty, jealous tongues?  Do you enjoy exposing yourself to greedy, sarcastic or loud mouthed relatives?

What kind of loving relationship could you have with someone who puts you down, exposes your secrets, harasses you or makes cutting remarks with a smile and a laugh – pretending he’s just having a little fun or claiming that you’re too sensitive or can’t take a joke?

Often, when confronted by their smiling viciousness, we’re confused by the double message and think, “Maybe they don’t know how much what they said hurts,” or “If I say something, it’ll sound whiny or nasty.”  Many of us, when we’re surprised, shocked, baffled and stunned, revert to one of the three primitive human responses: We freeze.  And then it’s too late to protest.  Fear not, those bullies will always give you more chances.

Don’t be blinded by romantic feelings of love, or by family duty, or by your fear of a powerful person at work. Politeness doesn’t stop relentless bullies or psychopaths.  Relentless bullies don’t take your hesitation, politeness and passivity as a kindly invitation to respond with civility.  They take your lack of resistance as an invitation to bully you more.  They’re like jackals that sense easy prey.  The problem is not that they’re ignorant of social conventions: They know exactly what they’re doing: Pushing you around and getting away with it.

How do we know the difference between a relentless, abusive bully and a well-meaning person who stepped on our toes by accident?  It’s easy: Look for a pattern.

Well-meaning people who accidently said something hurtful, feel bad, apologize sincerely, make amends and promise not to do that again.  And they don’t do it again.  The last step is the key one: They don’t repeat the behavior.

Bullies will minimize what they did, or justify their actions by blaming on some fault of ours, or go through many of the steps of apologizing.  But they don’t make real amends and they don’t stop.  When bullies whack us and buy us candy or flowers, they’re simply bribing us to be available the next time they want to whack us.

The initial steps in resisting are easy.  We must react.  We may say “Ouch” or we may ask them nicely to stop.  If they’re well-meaning people, they’ll apologize and they won’t behave that way again.  If they’re bullies, we’ll have to do the more difficult work of being more firm and forceful.  Sometimes we can embarrass them to stop the bullying, but with relentless bullies we have to find real consequences that stop them.

If we ignore or minimize, if we beg or bribe them, if we appeal to their civility and manners, we’re asking to be whacked again.

These smiling bullies and control freaks actually produce more bullying incidents than the overt bullies who use violence.  Stop them or live like a frightened deer while they abuse your mind, heart and spirit.

During economic ice ages or recessions, when times get hard, hardness tends to run rampant.  Most people are justifiably afraid they’ll lose their jobs and the lives they planned.  Will they get laid off or downsized through no fault of their own?  What will happen to their savings, insurance, college and retirement funds?  Will they be able to keep their homes or even eat next month? How do people react in the face of their recession-stimulated fears?  What type of bullying, harassment and abuse will increase at work?  How can we decrease negative self-talk that increases stress and destroys self-esteem and self-confidence?

Harassment by Leaders and Managers Managers and leaders will squeeze more from themselves and staff in order to reduce costs and stay afloat.  But some managers and leaders will abuse employees and subordinates just because they know they can.  Many people will tolerate bullying and abuse because they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they don’t give in.  But don’t give in to bullying, harassment or obnoxious treatment.  You are still protected from those abuses.  Don’t be pugnacious in return, but do insist on politeness and decent treatment.  Know the law, get allies and advisors, and document on your home computer.

Bullying by Coworkers Expect a huge increase in stealth bullying by coworkers and managerial peers.  Many will think that their survival requires them to get rid of you.  Some will become masters of backstabbing, criticism, sarcasm, snide put-downs, blaming, spreading rumors and gossip, smear tactics, taking credit from you, and forming cliques.  They’ll smile when they do it.  Keep your opinions to yourself and watch out for people who produce nothing, suck up and cover their backs.  Form your own clique of productive people you trust.  Also, ally with someone productive who has great people skills and a sense of what’s happening throughout the whole office.

Negative Self Talk The worst problem will be a dramatic increase in this type of “self-bullying.”  Your inner voices will make dire predictions of the future, tell you that you’re helpless in the grip of huge forces beyond your control and predict that, no matter how hard you try, you’ll inevitable fail.  Your supercritical inner voices will try to stress, depress and discourage you, and make you give up.  Your inner voices, full of self-questioning and self-doubt, can erode your self-esteem and self-confidence, destroy your hope and immobilize you.

Self-bullying is the most destructive form of bullying because it saps your will to overcome your circumstances.  Self-bullying can rob you of your determination, courage, strength and skill.  With those voices shouting or whispering in your ear, it’s impossible to gather yourself and make consistent, focused effort.  If you let fear and self-bullying destroy your strength and will, you won’t have the right stuff, you won’t do the right thing and the economic tide will pull you under.

You know which people spoke to you in those voices.  You know who really didn’t like or respect or appreciate you.  And which people thought they’d motivate you better by beating you down.  In either case, whether they ridicule your efforts or are simply certain of the bleak future they predict, their old style is no good for you now.  You need encouraging self-coaching now, not self-bullying.

In addition to finding a great coach or therapist to guide you in the inner work necessary to convert those voices into effective coaches, there’s a lot you can do to help yourself.

Turn off the parts of the outer world that feed fear, despair and depression.  Turn off the television and radio; don’t read newspapers or magazines; stop checking the snippets of fear on your smart phone.  Don’t waste your life being discouraged by endless analysis of what’s wrong and the latest expert’s predictions of impending and long lasting doom.  Walk away politely from people who wallow in fear and panic.  You don’t need those moment-to-moment, panic-making obsessions to know what you need to do to stay strong and do your best.

Look around.  Who doesn’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead, handles things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible?  Who has an inner light that gives them joy even when they don’t have all the comfort and toys they want?  Ask them how they look at the world.

Make new friends and acquaintances who stimulate your strength, courage and joy.  Find other great people to stand with.  In one swift and mighty sweep, end the self-doubt, the need to analyze and question, the self-bullying and brainwashing.  You have great sources of inner strength and power, if you would but let yourself feel them.  You have the guts and grit to thrive in this little ice age.  Your ancestors did and you have their strong genes.

Don’t give in to self-bullying or harassment or abuse by other people.  Overcome your fears.  Be a courageous leader, wherever you are in your company.

Emerson was right when he said, “What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”

Julie (late 30’s) had been living with Harry (also late 30’s) for 6 months when she discovered that he often snuck off to his computer room in the middle of the night to look at internet porn.  They both have good jobs and Julie says the sex is good, so what’s with Harry? Harry says that there’s no problem; it’s perfectly normal and it’s no big deal.  It doesn’t affect how he feels about her; it’s on his own time and there’s no reason for him to stop.  She shouldn’t be so judgmental.

Julie can’t find a good reason to justify her dislike of it, but she’s concerned about where it might lead.

What would you do?

Julie shouldn’t debate about what’s normal or try to convince Harry that her feelings should matter.

She should see clearly what’s ahead and get out of there.  She has already gotten her gut response to the question, “Do I want to be with someone who leaves our bed and sneaks off to look at porn?”  She should trust her gut response of “No.”  Her feelings are sufficient for her to act; she doesn’t have to convince him she’s reasonable or right.

She may be getting along well with Harry now, but in addition to dealing with a person who leaves their bed to look at internet porn, she’s also dealing with a narcissistic, covert, stealthy bullying boyfriend.

When there are problems or pressure in the relationship, he’ll choose porn over her.  He’ll withdraw from the difficulties of face-to-face intimacy and turn to virtual, not real, reality.  Later, as a stealth bully, he’ll get blaming, manipulative and demanding.  He’ll try to make her feelings sound wrong, old fashioned and uncaring.  He’ll claim that his porn habit is her fault.  He’ll say that she should stop nagging and trying to guilt-trip him.  If she only gave him what he needed, he’d stop.  But no matter what she does, it’ll never be exactly right or it’ll never be enough for him.

Why do I predict that?  Experience as a coach and therapist.  I’ve seen it over and over.  And it also happened in this example.

Julie should focus on behavior she wants or doesn’t want in her environment; not on philosophical arguments.  She’s never going to change him.  Later responsibilities as a husband and father won’t change him.  He’s a bullying, narcissistic control-freak who’s addicted to porn.  She doesn’t need to convince him that he needs therapy to end his addiction.  She should get the coaching she needs to get away as fast as she can.

Julie needs coaching to decrease self-doubt and self-bullying (Case Studies # 8 and 9 in “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks”).  She also needs counseling to get past her fear that Harry is right; if he leaves, she’ll never find anyone else.  She should ignore her self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like her, that tells her that Harry might be right.

She needs to start living the life she wants to lead.  Just like Lucy in case study # 14 of my book, if she doesn’t trust her own guts, she’ll get sucked in.  The longer she goes on Harry’s roller coaster ride, the harder it will be to get off.  Does she want to settle for Harry as the best she’ll ever get?  Does she want the pain?

Even doctors, supposedly intelligent, skilled, well-trained and focused on giving the best care possible to their patients, are sometimes bullies toward other staff.  The behavior of that 3-4 percent of doctors can cause medical mistakes, preventable complications and even death to patients who could otherwise be saved. In her column in the New York Times, on December 2, 2008, “Arrogant, Abusive and Disruptive – and a Doctor,” Laurie Tarkin gives compelling evidence, surveys and examples of this bullying behavior. The examples included obnoxious, intimidating, abusive behavior; shouting, yelling, belittling, insulting, humiliating, ridiculing, blaming, berating and denigrating actions, often in front of patients and other staff members.  Some staff had to duck to avoid scalpels thrown across the operating room by angry surgeons.

Often, staff was made to feel like the bottom of the food chain.  Sometimes, staff was intimidated by a doctor so that they did not share their concerns about orders for medication that appeared to be incorrect

This hostile environment erodes cooperation and a sense of commitment to high-quality care.  Surveys of hospital staff members blame badly behaved doctors for low morale, stress and high turnover.

Although this article focused on doctors, we all know that the same behavior goes on at companies and organizations in every industry and area.

Do you have examples of your own?

I’ve described similar behavior in posts on the top ten ways to create a hostile workplace, verbal abuse by a know-it-all boss, a bullying coworker in the next cubicle and an unhappy employee creating a hostile workplace.

You’ll also find ways to combat this behavior in my book, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks.”  Leaders and managers who want to change hostile work environment should listen to my CD set, “Eliminate the High Cost of Low Attitudes.”

As a coach, consultant and speaker, I encourage people to fight to win.  It’s crucial to design tactics for your specific needs and the situation.

This post is based on the following comment: WOW!!!  I was amazed to find your post, "How do you know if someone is your friend?" right when I needed it most.  I now know what category my daughter's best friend falls under.  My daughter has gone through MOST of the examples that were used in this post with her friend for over 3 years and because there is no hitting involved...it was hard to really label what was going on.  But terming her a "Stealth Bully" is perfect!! I actually can't believe how on target your examples were; they’re so close to what my daughter has been experiencing with a person who was supposed to be her friend.  Just recently, she finally told her supposed friend that she is going to take a break from their relationship because the friend won't stop her negative behavior.  The supposed friend had a fit at school (uncontrollable crying) and got sympathy from other students.  She told everyone my daughter was bullying her and she didn't know why my daughter won't be her friend anymore.  Her supposed friend also manipulated the teacher by breaking out into tears in the classroom and telling the teacher that she has no idea why she is being ignored.

The teacher yelled at my daughter and told her that she will not tolerate any bullying in her class.  My daughter had no chance to explain her side and is devastated at how this has blown up in her face when she is not the bully.

Tears are a very strong weapon when used by manipulative, professional victim children.  I am coaching my daughter now what to say to the teacher because I want her to learn how to stand up for her rights in a respectful way.  I am going to show her your post so that she can understand more what is going on here.  Hopefully this will make her feel better, although right now she feels everyone is on her friend’s side.  Thanks for the post!

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Hi,

I’m glad you found the post and that it helped.

Taking what you said as accurate and true, you and your daughter have run into a common manipulative, stealthy bullying tactic.

When someone (your daughter’s supposed friend) cries, most people assume that someone else (your daughter) must have done something bad and should be stopped.  Most people react to their assumptions and attack the designated perpetrator (your daughter).  Your daughter got labeled unfairly and without being allowed to present her side.  Also, the teacher didn’t judge by character, because bullies like your daughter’s supposed friend usually manipulate the same way repeatedly.  They can be recognized by their repeating pattern of behavior – that’s how the get what they want.  And I’d suspect that your daughter doesn’t have a pattern of bullying or abusing her friends.  Shame on that teacher for jumping to conclusions, supporting the bully and blaming the true victim.

A person who uses the crying, victim tactic repeatedly is a special type of manipulative, stealth bully that I call “Professional Victims.”  Your daughter has been victimized by a person using their hurt feelings to gain power and control; a sneaky professional victim.  We often see this between brothers and sisters who want to manipulate their parents.

You’re on the right track coaching your daughter how to stand up for herself.  However, since I suspect that she’s younger than high school age, and since adults sometimes won’t admit error in front of children, you also may need to talk with the teacher and the principal to make your daughter’s case.  Gather evidence, if you can, of other times when the supposed friend has used the same sort of tactics that depend on her feelings being hurt.

Maybe they also need a copy of the original blog post and my book, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks.”  My next book, “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and a 10 disc CD set containing both books should be out right after Thanksgiving.

Of course, the professional victim is not really a friend of your daughter’s.  Professional victims are selfish, vicious, ruthless control-freaks.  They try to manipulate authorities to defend them and to punish people they’re trying to beat into line.

Your daughter is now testing everyone at school.  She should make her case and then see who is foolish enough to believe the false friend.  Your daughter doesn’t really want to be friends with people who don’t recognize her good character, as opposed to the professional victim’s.  Your daughter may find out that no one at school sees clearly.  Well, now she knows about them.  Be resilient.  Move on and get better friends when she moves up to the next school.  She simply won’t be going to reunions with those people.  No great loss.

I know that may sound difficult if she wants to gain acceptance by a peer group.  But part of her job in life is to test the whole world and keep on her island only the people who see her worth and whom she likes.

Good luck and best wishes.