You’ll be seeing more and more articles by hand-wringers and worriers who claim that stop-bullying programs might become too hyper-vigilant, that “normal” behaviors will now be labeled bullying and that kids will be encouraged to rat each other out. Of course, such over-reactions might be possible, but these anxiety-ridden defenders of the way things are, look only at one side of the equation.

The worriers usually give three types of arguments:

  1. As detailed in his article in the Wall Street Journal, “Stop Panicking About Bullies,” Nick Gillespie’s kid is okay so he thinks the rest of you wimpy parents with wimpy kids are the problem.  Get strong and your kids will stop bullies.
  2. Our country was made strong by individualists, not by big government so let’s not create a bureaucratic monster to solve a kid problem. Statistics show that childhood is safer than ever but today’s worrying parents need something to worry about and want big government to protect their interests.
  3. We’ll go too far and create a Nazi-style socialistic state in which normal kids are labeled bullies and punished too harshly, while all kids are encouraged to become the thought-police; just like in communist or military dictatorships.

These same objections were made to programs designed to protect women from being battered by spouses or raped by dates.  They’re also the same arguments made to justify not having programs to stop bullying at work.

These objections to laws and programs that stop bullies, and requirements that principals, district administrators, teachers and staff stop bullying are based on viewing a tiny possibility as if it’s the whole situation and all that matters.

Yes, these fears might be realized in a very few situations.  Some normal dislikes or arguments between kids might get blown up hysterically into cases of bullying.  Power hungry kids might use accusations of bullying to further their own ends.

But that’s going to be a very small percent of the daily experience of kids at school.  And the responsible adults are supposed to have the intelligence and determination to minimize these injustices.

In the minds of nit-picking perfectionists, laws have to be perfect.  To them, one bad possibility far outweighs the benefits from a thousand situations in which bullying might be stopped.  I think that’s a ridiculous way of thinking.

So let’s expand the picture more and look at daily school life now, without stop bullying programs or principals willing to be strong and courageous.

Approximately 50% of kids admit to having been bullied at school and to not being protected by supposedly responsible adults.  Many more report that they’ve witnessed bullying and when they’ve reported it, they got in trouble.  Are we going to continue tolerating a huge amount of relentless bullying because we’re worried that we might go too far in protecting kids?

How many suicides will it take before we think the risks of not having programs that protect kids far outweigh the risks of over-reacting with programs that are too strong or too misguided?

Let’s expand our vision to similar situations of abuse and brutality to children.  How many Jerry Sandusky’s or child-molesting priests does it take before we demand laws to protect kids, and courageous, right action from respectable adults?

I’d rather swing the pendulum far to the side of protecting the targets and victims of bullying, and live with the very minor consequences of the potential for some misuse of the programs.

Of course, I also coach parents to prepare and protect their kids against real-world bullies.

Although each situation is different, bullies exhibit common styles, techniques and patterns.  These commonalities enable us see what responses are ineffective and also to develop responses that are effective to stop bullying. Whether in relationships, by our own children’s temper tantrums or nastiness, by false friends, at school or in the workplace, there is one rule of thumb that’s critical in order to stop bullies: Don’t suffer in silence.

For some relationship examples, see the comments to the articles:

Too many women see the early warning signs of bullying and abuse, but ignore them.  They feel the jealousy, the control, the verbal and physical abuse, and the isolation.  They’re criticized, chastised, belittled and demeaned endlessly. Their money is taken away.  Their children are brutalized.  Often, the sons imitate their father’s behavior.  Often, the girls grow up to think that such harassment, bullying and abuse are normal, and they should be prepared to accept it when their turn comes.  And yet, these women stay and suffer in silence.  Often, they say they love the bullyThey don’t make the critical step of saying, “That’s enough.  I’m gone or you’re gone.”

Of course, women can inflict the same punishment and pain on their spouses.

At school, too many kids suffer in silence also. Often, kids are physically intimidated into silence. Often, kids are too ashamed to reveal their guilty secret or they don’t think their parents can or will help.  Often, they accurately see that principals, teachers, counselors and psychologists won’t help them.  Often, they think it’s their fault; they must be doing something wrong or they must be bad people in order to attract so much taunting, teasing, harassment and brutality.  Often, other kids pile on physically, verbally and by cyberbullying.

Kids’ silence prevents effective action from the principals and teachers who would protect them.

As parents, we must learn to recognize the signs that our children might be subjected to bullying and abuse.  Sometimes, we must pry the truth out of our reluctant kids.  Sometimes, we must check their phones, computers and social websites.  Sometimes, we must investigate with parents of their friends or with teachers.  Sometimes, we must learn to force reluctant principals to act, even though that might violate our old beliefs or values.

Do-nothing principals promote, collude and enable bullies to flourish in the dark.  Do-nothing principals and teachers are a major factor in student suicides

In all cases, we must not be passive; instead we must respond. Suffering in silence inevitable leads people to feel like victims; helpless and hopeless.

We already know that minimizing or ignoring relentless bullies doesn’t stop them.  We know that trying to understand, forgive, appease, beg, bribe, be nice or reason with real-world bullies doesn’t stop them. The Golden rule doesn’t stop these ignorant, insensitive or narcissistic predators.

I’m not going into the many reasons that targets suffer in silence.  We don’t need a scientific study to analyze all the reasons.  If we and ten friends make a list, we’ll cover more than 90% of the reasons. So what?

What’s important is that whatever our reasons are, we already know we must overcome them.  We must act despite our feelings of reluctance.  Just like we wouldn’t be swayed by bullies’ excuses and justifications, we can’t give in to our self-bullying ones.

We must develop the will to stop bullying. I think of the will as the engine that gives us the power to go where we want to go.  The engine is the will to do whatever it takes to stop bullies – determination, courage, mental and emotional strength, perseverance, resilience, endurance, being relentless.  The old word, still perfectly good, was grit.

Of course, we need skills – learning how to steer.  But without an engine, all our skills, all our ability to steer, won’t matter.  Without an engine we won’t get anywhere.

Don’t suffer in silenceDon’t whine or complain; speak up.  Give yourself a chance.  Test the world: Who’ll help you and who won’t.  That tells you about them and whether you want to vote them off your island.

For some examples, see the case studies in “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.

The best ways to destroy a child’s confidence and self-esteem, and to create an adult riddled with self-doubt, insecurity and negative self-talk are:

  1. Relentless beatings. These instill fear and terror.  Children can become convinced they’re always wrong and the price for mistakes is high; maybe even maiming or death.  The result can be adults who’re afraid to make decisions, assert or defend themselves, think they’re worthy of respect or good treatment.  The result can be adults who expect to be bullied, punished, abused or even tortured.
  2. Relentless and personal criticism, hostility and questioning. The results can be the same as relentless beatings.  Kids grow up thinking that no one will help or protect them.  Emotional beating can leave even deeper scars.  Adults often have mental and emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, self-mutilation and suicide.
  3. The “Big Lie:” “You don’t know what’s really happening.”

The first two seem fairly obvious and much has been written on them.  Let’s focus on the Big Lie.

Kids have emotional radar.  They’re born with the ability to sense what’s going on.  Their survival depends on knowing who’s friendly or hostile, who’s calm or angry, who’s reliable and trustworthy, and who’s liable to explode without obvious provocation.  They know who’s nice and who hurts them.  They sense when their parents or family are happy or angry.

The effects of being consistently told that they’ve gotten it wrong can be just as devastating as physical or emotional brutality.  For example:

  • When kids sense that their parents are angry at each other, but they’re told that the family is loving and caring they learn to distrust their kid-radar.
  • When they’re yelled at, teased, taunted or brutalized, when they’re subjected to bullying, they know it hurts.  But when they’re told that the parent cares about them or loves them, or that they’re too sensitive, they start to distrust their own opinions.
  • When they can never predict what’s right or wrong, they can grow up thinking they’re evil, stupid or crazy.
  • When they’re constantly challenged with, “Prove it.  You don’t know what’s really happening.  How could you think that; there’s something wrong with you.  If you were loving, grateful, caring, you wouldn’t think that way about your parent or family.”

Kids raised this way often grow up riddled with insecurity, self-doubt and self-questioning.  As adults, instead of trusting how they feel, they wonder if they’re being lied to, mistreated or bullied.

They become easy prey for bullies; especially stealthy, covert, manipulative control-freaks who demand, criticize, question or argue about everything.  The more convincing and righteous the bully is, the more the target is thrown into insecurity and panic; the more they become indecisive and frozen.

How do you know if you’re a victim of that early treatment?  In addition to your history, the tests are your thoughts, feelings and actions now:

  1. Do you consistently doubt yourself?  Do you even doubt that you see reality? Do you think that other people know better about you than you know about yourself?
  2. Are you indecisive and insecure?  Do you worry, obsess or ruminate forever?  Do you solicit all your friends’ opinions about what you should do or just one friend who seems to be sure they know what’s best?  Do you consistently look for external standards or experts to tell you what’s right or proper?  Do you complete quick tests of ten or twenty questions that will tell you the truth about yourself?
  3. Do you feel bullied but you’re not sure that you are?  Do you let other people tell you about what’s too sensitive or what’s reasonable or “normal?”
  4. Do you think you have to deserve or be worthy of good treatment, or that you have to be perfect according to someone else before they should treat you the way you want to be treated?  Are you filled with blame, shame and guilt?  Do you think that if you were only kinder, nicer, more understanding and more caring, if you asked just right or compromised every time you’d finally get treated the way you want?
  5. Do you struggle to get the respect and appreciation you want?

Of course, we all have moments when we’re unsure, but if you’re consistently insecure or insecure consistently with one or two people then you may have a deep-seated problem.

If you answered “yes” to many of these questions, you may need expert coaching.  All tactics are situational, so we’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of people commanding themselves, stopping bullying and getting free.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

We don’t need more research and statistics to know that domestic violence is a travesty and must be stopped.  For example, watch the graphic five minute video about the effects of that brutality and the work of one safe house helping women and children.  Domestic violence is obvious – you can see the results of physical battering. On the other hand, even though domestic bullying and mental and emotional abuse are more wide spread than overt beating they’re often hidden from view.  Since harassment, bullying and abuse often fly below the bullying-radar of the targets and the public, I want to focus on it here.  Targets who accept the bullies’ promises or threats or on-going torture often don’t recognize how bad it is; how demoralizing and defeating it is; how their souls are being eroded over time.

Of course, some men are bullied by women, but notice the patterns of the bullied women who have written these (edited) comments:

  • “Out of the blue, he started taking control over me (commanding me), which I am not liking.  He is not letting me meet my friends or go out with them on weekends.  He doesn’t let me wear dresses, saying his parents don’t like it.  I am not allowed to do anything; no friends, no meeting people, no phones, nothing.  These things were never an issue previously.  I tried to work out things during last five months by listening to him and not meeting or talking to my friends.  He just keep saying ‘Listen to me and things will work out; otherwise pack your bags and leave.’  He doesn’t let me go out anywhere without him.  He doesn’t want to sort it out by talking.  Whenever I try, he says, ‘I am not here to listen to you.  You have to do whatever I say.   I don’t want to hear a ‘No’.  Now, I am always depressed and sad and smoke a lot more.  I lost my smile.  I lost myself in this relation.  Shall I give up or keep compromising without any expectations in this relationship?”
  • “I have been in a four year relationship, and have a two year-old daughter with him.  I have been feeling depressed lately and having second thoughts about us being together.  He controls me.  I can’t go any where without asking him first.  Sometimes I feel like a little kid asking for permission, even if it’s to go to the store.  My friends ask me to go out for a girls’ night and he gets mad if I mention it, so I stopped asking and him and just tell my friends I’m doing something that night so I can’t go.  Now, they don’t even ask me anymore.  When his friends are here he acts like he’s so cool and even yells at me in front of them.  It’s extremely embarrassing.  I feel alone.  I tried leaving in the past and he won’t let me take the baby.  So I stay because I don’t want to fight and I’m not leaving my child.  What do I do?  How do I make it an easy break up?  How do we get out?”
  • “At first my husband was the sweetest man I ever met.  He complimented me and had such great manners.  Then slowly but surely he began changing into the worst thing I could ever imagine.  The sick thing is I know I don't deserve it, but I can't leave.  It's like he has some strange control over me.  He constantly puts me down about my intelligence, appearance and my mothering abilities, which hurts the most.  It’s such an everyday obstacle that I find myself questioning why I stay.  It's gotten so bad I'm beginning to believe the things he says to me about how I'm useless and no one will ever want me but him.  Every bad thing that happens, he takes out on me.  Every single thing is my fault.  I want to leave but I still find myself staying, feeling bad for him and his feelings.  He can't even compliment at all without letting me know that I'm ugly and lucky he even loves me.  I'm just so sad anymore.  I don't even recognize myself.  I'm not allowed to speak to my family or friends.  I just don't know what to do anymore.  I'm so lost.”
  • “My husband and I have been together for eleven years with four children.  We go through the cycle of an abusive relationship.  Every time we argue, I get called a ‘bitch,’ which I have asked him many times to not do.  We kiss and make up.  Then everything's fine and dandy again.  He doesn't like to talk about our fights and says he will not name-call me again.  But every opportunity he gets, he's right at it again.  I guess I keep hoping he'll change, but I know he never will.   I don't feel any love from this guy.  He has fooled around on me and even went as far as marrying someone else while we were married.  Just recently he took my wedding ring away and threatened to pawn it.  He also promised my kids that he'll take them on a vacation.  He doesn’t even work, so I ended up having to get funds just to take the kids on the vacation.  Today, we fought again and he said sorry and he'll start today on not calling me a bitch.  Then ten minutes later it happened again.  I feel so stuck.  I feel as my only way out is suicide.  But I don't want to give him that satisfaction.  All I did today was cry.  And I don't even have anyone to talk to because everyone is sick of hearing me cry over him.”

Some patterns I see are:

  • He commands, bosses and embarrasses her in public.  She submits because she wants to avoid bigger fights.  She hopes that since she gave in this time, he’ll be nicer next time.  But he’s relentless in arguing, bullying and abusing; he never stops.  If he doesn’t beat her, the threat is there.
  • When she’s nice and logical – discussing, asking, compromising, begging, arguing, appeasing – she may get peace because he’s gotten his way, but it’s only momentary.  Her good behavior doesn’t buy his in return.  He never reciprocates by letting her have her way next time.  Eventually, she submits completely and asks permission to do anything.  He’s in complete control.  When he’s mean, angry or out of control, it’s her fault because she isn’t perfect.  It’s as if, “Since he’s angry, you must have done something wrong.”
  • She’s mocked, criticized, demeaned and humiliated until she doesn’t know what to believe.  She thinks she’s helpless and wouldn’t be loved or succeed on her own.  He’s so convinced and convincing that she begins to question herself, increasing her self-doubt, stress, anxiety and insecurity.  Eventually, the results of emotional and spiritual defeat are physical defeat and sickness.  Even though she knows she doesn’t deserve such treatment, she usually has some self-doubt and guiltShe makes many attempts to be perfect according to his standards.  She forgets that it’s her standards that should matter to her.
  • Step by step, she’s isolated – cut off from friends, family and sources of her own income.  She loses her old self; she loses her confidence and self-esteem; she becomes depressed, heart-broken and ready to give up.
  • It’s even worse if there are children she thinks she’ll have to support if she leaves.  Eventually, she begins to think like a victim – she can’t see how to get safe house help, legal help or the police on her side.

These targets keep hoping they’ll find some magic wand to change him; he’ll become a loving, caring, nice and reasonable person.  But that’s not going to happen.

Or they think that the most important value is making a marriage last even though it’s a marriage of torture.  Or that what matters is whether he loves her or not, when what really matters is how he loves her.

The question they must answer is whether it’s more important to keep a marriage at any cost, while giving in to fear and despair, or whether it’s more important to risk demanding the behavior they want in their personal space.  And if someone won’t behave decently, either they’re voted off our island or we leave theirs.

Maybe if these targets thought that they’re dealing with relentless bullies or predators, they might summon the strength to take steps to get away.  They might accept that the Golden Rule won’t stop narcissistic control-freaks; that appeasement won’t change predators; that unconditional love won’t convert carnivores; that unconditional forgiveness won’t heal the wounds they think drive him to be so abusive.  Maybe they’d realize that asking, threatening, yelling, demanding or an endless number of second chances without consequences are merely begging.

Those abusive, bullying control-freaks always interpret their target’s kindness, reasonableness and compromise as weakness and an invitation to take more from them, to control more of their lives, to eat them alive.

Ultimately, these women get the worst that they’re willing to put up with.  And eventually, the price they pay is slow erosion of their souls.

That’s why the first step in creating a bully-free personal space is for us to rally our spirits; to become strong, brave, determined and persevering.  Endurance endures.  Then we can make effective plans, take skillful steps and get the help we need.

No matter how difficult it seems, getting away is the only way to have a chance for a wonderful future.

All tactics are situational, so we’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit the target and the other people involved.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of people commanding themselves, stopping bullying and getting free.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage.  Looking at yourself with hostile eyes and talking to yourself with that old critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voice can be demoralizing and debilitating.  Constant repetition of all your imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead you down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Don’t believe it? Think of some examples of relentless self-bullying:

  • The abused wife who accepts her husband’s excuses and justifications that his verbal or physical beatings are her fault. She’s to blame for his failures; she’s never good enough.  If only she were adequate, he wouldn’t be so nasty, vicious and violent.  If she talks to herself with his voice, she’ll never leave.  If she accepts the guilt and shame she’ll keep trying to please him, but she’ll never succeed.  She convinces herself she’ll never make it on her own so she stays and endures more brutality.
  • The kids bullied at school who tell themselves that they’ll never be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough or loved. They think it’s their fault they get harassed, teased, taunted and emotionally and physically bullied.  They give in to bullies.  If their nagging, hostile, abusive voices convince them that there’s no hope for a better future, they become the next Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi or other young suicides.
  • The people harassed at work who’re told they’re dumb, ugly, the wrong color, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. They’re made the butt of jokes and threats; their work ideas are stolen; they’re belittled, ostracized, shamed and passed over for promotions.  If their self-critical voices convince them to give up, their spirits will die.  They won’t be able to summon the will, determination or perseverance to fight back.  They’ll feel overwhelmed and unable to learn the skills they need to protect and defend themselves.
  • The kids who think the deck is stacked against them. Their parents have treated them badly or one or both have blamed or abandoned them.  If they convince themselves they’re stupid and not loveable, they’ll give up.  They’ll accept bullying; their own and from other kids.  They shuffle through life, putting themselves down, defeating their efforts before they’ve really begun.  They lose their fighting spirits; the spirit that will struggle against the conditions and vicissitudes of life in order to make great lives for themselves.

Kids who’ve turned off their engines look and act dull and listless; as if they’ve given up already.  You can almost hear their constant inner, self-dialogue.  They’re so distracted by the destructive IMAX Theater in their minds that they can’t pay attention to what’s happening around them.  Their attention is captured by all the putdowns and listing of all their failures, the magnifying of the problems they face, the making of insurmountable mountains out of molehills, the diminishing of each skill or success, the magnifying of each imperfection.  They’re not resilient; the smallest adversity defeats them.  Happiness is fleeting; bitterness and depression is their lot.  Anything good they get is never enough, never satisfying, never brings joy.

Alternatively, they use their engines, often ferociously, to blame their parents and try to beat them into submission, to extract material possessions and guilt, to vent their hatred of themselves and the world onto their parents or onto the one parent who stays and tries to help them.  They bite every hand that’s offered to them.  They fight against teachers and against learning a skill that might make them financially and physically independent.  They explode with sarcasm and rage in response to the slightest nudging.  What a waste.

All the help offered them seems to bounce off.  They won’t accept what’s offered because that hyper-critical, judgmental voice knows better.

They have no inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience.  They feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  They may go down the path to being victims for life.  Their self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed.  Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated.  They move easily toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Nothing will help them until they turn their engines on again.

Compare them to the kids with great engines; always active and alert, always wanting to learn, willing to face and overcome challenges, seeking risk and reward, capable of overcoming adversity.  They have tremendous drive to live and to succeed.

These spirited kids with great engines can tax your patience almost beyond its limits, but the reward is so apparent.  They’ll make something wonderful of their lives.  They won’t give up.  They won’t be defeated by defeats.

Our job as parents with these spirited kids is clear: help them develop great steering wheels so they can direct themselves to fulfill the promise of their great engines in worthy endeavors.  Whatever direction they travel, they’ll go with passion, intensity and joy.  They’ll overcome setbacks by continuing on with renewed effort.  As Coach John Wooden said, “Hustle can make up for a lot of mistakes.”

There is no formula to save kids who turn off their engines.  Even when you know every detail of their history, there is no formula.  There’s only the continued presenting to them of encouragement and opportunity.  Sometimes a mentor or coach is crucial, sometimes a small success that’s a surprise, sometimes an example of someone else’s life will catch their attention.

We know that attempts to improve their steering wheel won’t help.  No lectures about being better, kinder, gentler people will help.  The beginning of a new life for them is the miracle of starting their engines.  Then they grab opportunities for themselves.  Then we can help them with their steering wheels.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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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
24 CommentsPost a comment

Jane’s sister, Betty, seemed to have been born with a vicious tongue.  She attacked everyone relentlessly.  Holidays with the extended family were a misery for Jane and her family.  Nobody, not even their mother, stopped Betty.  Everyone was afraid to complain directly to Betty.  If they did, Betty would turn on them even more spitefully before. According to Betty, nobody’s children were good enough – they were all ugly, stupid, ignorant, mean or bad.  They were too fat or too skinny; they ate too much or too little; they ate too fast or too slow.  They dreamed too big for their non-existent talents.

Betty laughed joyfully when she pounced on someone’s mistakes, no matter how trivial or irrelevant.  Their choices were always wrong, their clothes and manners were wrong.  Betty always knew better and rubbed everyone’s nose in it.

Some of Betty’s reasons excuses and justifications for why she was so hostile were:

  • “I’m right.”
  • “Those are my feelings.  It’s my honest opinion.  You wouldn’t want me to repress how I feel, would you?”
  • “You're too sensitive.”
  • “I’m doing it for their own good.  You’re too soft on them.  They’ll never get better if you don’t correct them.”
  • “I had to take it when I was a kid.  It’ll make them stronger and tougher.”
  • “They have to learn to take it.  They’ll get it like that in the real-world.”

Of course, everyone can have a bad day and be grumpy.  But with Betty, it was everyday and it was relentless, hostile and mean-spirited.

The family had many reasons, excuses and justifications for why they allowed her to behave the way she did: “That was just the way Betty was and had always been.  She’d probably been hurt a lot when she was little.  She was probably jealous and couldn’t hold it in.  If we say anything, it’ll only get worse and it’ll split the family into warring camps.”

I’ve seen many Betty’s of the world use the same reasons and excuses as justification on one side and, on the other side, many families use the same words to forgive bullies when they harass, taunt, abuse and verbally, emotionally and physically batter family members or people at work.  Bullying spouses and teenagers, and toxic parents and adult children are masters at giving excuses and arguing forever.

Bullies want us to try to argue with their reasons, excuses and justifications.  The more we argue, the more we’re engaged without their ever changing.  If we make a good point, they’ll change the subject and give another excuse or cite a different time when they were right.  They’ll never admit that they need to change; that’s how we know they’re bullies.

Or, if we challenge them, they’ll explode and make our lives miserable.  And it’ll go on forever until we give up and simply accept the abuse.  That’s how we know they’re bullies.

Or, if we challenge them, their feelings will be so hurt that they’ll withdraw into a very loud silent treatment.  And it’ll go on forever until we give up, admit we were cruel, promise never to attack them again and simply accept the abuse.  That’s how we know they’re bullies. What can Jane do?  Remember, all tactics have to be designed to fit our specific situations, what we want to accomplish and the limits of our comfort zones.

Jane once asked Betty not to say anything to Jane’s children; Betty was hurting them and Jane had told them take it because Betty was their aunt.  But Betty hadn’t changed.  Finally, Jane decided that she wasn’t going to expose herself and her family to any more of Betty’s abuse.  She’d end the unrelenting negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame and guilt-trips.

She decided to use a stepwise approach that had been successful with a friend who’d acted like Betty.  At each step Jane would get more firm.  About half way along the path, Jane’s friend had changed rather than lose Jane’s friendship.  If Betty didn’t change, Jane would simply avoid any occasion to be together.

Jane’s steps were:

  1. Once again, she asked Betty to stop talking the way she did and to find nice things to say.  She asked Betty to be nicer, kinder and more polite to family than she would be to strangers.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  2. She didn’t debate or argue with any of Betty’s reasons, excuses or justifications.  She simply said that she was asking Betty to change what she said.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  3. She told Betty she wanted her to feel differently but if she couldn’t, she still wanted her to take charge of her tongue and to repress herself; being an abusive bully is worse than repressing herself.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  4. She told Betty that if the brutality continued, she wouldn’t come if Betty was present. That would cause a rift in the family and it would be Betty’s fault.  Betty didn’t stop.
  5. Jane told the family she’d decided that she’d never let bullies treat her and her family the way Betty did.  She had to take charge of keeping them safe from people who polluted their emotional environment.  She asked them to choose the behavior they’d support even if that meant they all told Betty to change or they’d stop inviting her.  Jane reminded them of what Mr. Spock said, “Never sacrifice the many for the sake of the one.”  But Betty didn’t stop.

At each step, Jane felt that she was being more and more firm, and more and more clear about the consequences.  Jane was not making emotional, but idle threats; she did what she’d promised.

Jane decided that behavior was more important than blood.  More important than victimizing her children by subjecting them to their Aunt Betty’s viciousness, was setting a good example by protecting them from abuse.  She didn’t want them to experience the anxiety, stress and discouragement that had accompanied visits with Betty.  That meant they didn’t see Betty any more.  That also meant they saw the rest of the family only on one-to-one occasions when Betty was not present.

Over the years, Jane saw that the rest of the family still made excuses for Betty’s behavior.  Sometimes someone would argue with a specific statement or reason or excuse, but Betty would argue forever and not take back what she said or how she said it.  They still looked for psychological reasons for why she acted that way, as if, if they knew why, they could say some magic words and Betty would be cured and become civil.

Over the years, the same conversations were replayed after extended family gathering except in Jane’s house.  There, Jane and her family had a wonderful time; free from criticism, bullying and abuse; free from the endless re-hashing of Betty’s latest attacks.

Once Jane had cleared the abuse out of her family’s life, they were able to find friends they loved being with.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to give in to or argue with bullies’ excuses, reasons and justifications.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

I learned by personal and professional experience that unconditional love doesn’t stop real-world bullies.  But others learned the same lesson over 2,500 years ago. Of course, we all have those bad days when everything seems to go wrong and we’re so grumpy that we take it out on the dog or anyone we meet.  But with people like us, a yelp of pain, a kind word, a straightforward appeal, an expression of empathy or sympathy will bring us to our senses.  We’ll be genuinely contrite, make amends and not repeat the behavior again.  But, of course, we’re not relentless, real-world bullies.  We just had a bad day.

Relentless, real-world bullies aren’t stopped when we show them love and kindness.

In fact, they take our love and kindness as signs of weakness and an invitation to increase their bullying.  Here are two ancient examples:

  1. In “The Analects,” 14-34, Confucius says: “Requite injury with uprightness.  Requite kindness with kindness.”
  2. The “Mahabharata” says, “If you are gentle, [bullies] will think you are afraid.  They will never be able to understand the motives that prompt you to be gentle.  They will think you are weak and unwilling to resist them.”

In other words: If you turn the other cheek to bullies, expect that bullies will misinterpret your moral high ground for weakness and be encouraged to taunt, harass, abuse and attack you more.  If you’re willing to have your cheek slapped, then turn the other cheek.  Or if you think that another part of your anatomy is meant by the saying, be prepared to have your cheek bitted by a jackal.

But don’t believe me or the ancient wisdom.  What’s your experience?

Suppose you classify into two groups:

  1. Those who responded to your kindness and love with kind and loving behavior.
  2. Those who responded with suspicion blame and further attacks.

Suppose you label the first group “people who act nice to me when we act nice to each other” and suppose you ignore the reasons, excuses and justifications of people in the second group and simply label them as “bullies” or “predators.”  Would that give you a better idea about how to respond effectively and successfully to their behavior?

And what’s your take on history?  Suppose you did the same classification to famous historical figures.  Suppose you though if, for instance, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, General Custer, Cortez, Pizarro, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, the Inquisition and thousands more would have had their lust for power satisfied, and stopped their brutality and conquest if they were faced with kindness, appeasement, begging, bribery or love?

Oh, I forgot to mention all of the martyrs of every religion, race, color, creed, ethnic group or gender.  And how about those wildebeests crossing that crocodile infested river?  Or a limping zebra being watched by lions and hyenas?

So what can you do?

  1. Don’t be anxious, afraid, discouraged, depressed or suicidal.  Don’t be angry at the way the world is.
  2. Simply requite injury with uprightness.  Be strong, courageous, persevering and resilient.  Stop bullies in their tracks.  Of course, your tactics will vary with the situation.   But your inner qualities and your will and determination will be the same.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules that aren’t appropriate to our desire to thrive in the real-world.

We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being targeted by bullies and to stop bullies in their tracks.  We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” has many examples of children and adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller.  She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures. If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame.  Amy Chua is an abusive bully.

She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.

They also won’t suffer from anxiety, nightmares, negative self-talk and depression because they’ll be successful in her real world.  The bullying and beatings will make them as tough as nails.  They’ll wipe out your kids; you lazy, slacking, guilt-ridden, ambivalent, permissive American parents.

Some of her ideas and claims are:

  • “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
  • “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.”  Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
  • “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches.  Chinese parents aren't.  They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
  • “Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them.  If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough.  That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences.”

Therefore, she proudly states that never allowed her daughters to:

  • “attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.”

Why will some people take her seriously? People who think that American culture produces only losers – selfish, lazy, narcissistic, weak, slacker teenagers and adults who will never succeed – will be tempted to improve their children’s test scores acting like Ms. Chua did.  People who enjoy beating their children into submission will be tempted to use her ideas as a justification for dominating and abusing their children.  People who think that China is the next rising super-power and that today’s Chinese children will rule the world and our children won’t be strong and determined enough to stop them will be tempted to channel their children down Ms. Chua’s narrow track.

There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.

What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?

  • She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
  • She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
  • She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet.  I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
  • She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”).  If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
  • She assumes that there’s only one way to get children to work and succeed.  Because no children want to work at the right subjects, you must beat them into submission physically, verbally and emotionally.
  • She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
  • There’s almost no joy in their lives.  Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise.  But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning.  There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.

Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost. This is a great and necessary value.  It has made our society the first world.  But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.

No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks.  She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection.  That’s why people take it so personally.  Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons.  These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.

Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx.  She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon.  When she grew up she sued him.

A better approach:

  • Have you observed your children individually and carefully?  One approach does not fit them all.
  • Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own?  Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out?  This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
  • What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own?  Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you?  How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
  • Character is critical.  All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs.  What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn?  Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
  • Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it.  You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.

By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.”  In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices.  In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her.  That’s not the answer either.

All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.

Instead, find the fire in your children and feed that fire.  Help them become skillful and competent in areas that matter most to them.  Help them create a life that’s uniquely theirs, not one you think is proper or best for them.

Why do I say that Ms. Chua is abusive and a bully?  Let’s review – what do “Chinese Mothers” and bullies have in common.

  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” don’t care what you think or how much pain you feel.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” can do what they want to you and you’d better like it.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are right and righteous.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are the best because they’re the winners in life.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” beat you into submission for your own good.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” isolate you and make you dependent on them.

My conclusion is that if it looks like a bully, if it acts like a bully and if it feels like bullying then it’s a bully, even if it calls itself “Mommie Dearest.”

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AuthorBen Leichtling
Tagsabusing, abusive, accomplish, activities, adults, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, allowed, ambivalent, American, Amy Chua, anxiety, anxious, article, attacking, attacks, Aung San Suu Kyi, barbarian, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, beating, beatings, beats, beauty, book, brutality, brute, bullies, Bullies at School, bully, bullying, bureaucrats, character, Charles Dickens, children, China, Chinese, Chinese Mothers, choose, Chua, claims, Communist, compassion, compete, competitive, complain, computer, computer games, connection, control, control-freak, creative, culture, cultures, Darwin, dedicated, defeat; win, demand, depression, desires, desperate, determination, determined, discourage, dominating, emotionally, encourage, encouraged, energetic, entrepreneurs, esteem, excoriate, failures, Fascist, fragility, fundamental, games, Gates, grades, guilt, happy, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hildegard of Bingen, honor, In Defense of the Guilty, inconvenience, independent, individuality, individually, inhumanity, Isolate, Joan of Arc, joy, jungle, justification, lawyer, lazy, liberty, literature, losers, love, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Marx, material, mothers, narcissistic, narrow, Nazi, negative, negative self-talk, nightmares, nurture, pain, parenting, parents, passionate, perfect, performance, permissive, physically, piano, playdate, power, preferences, Preoccupied Western Mom, professor, psyches, publicity, punish, right, righteous, rigid, rule, scores, self-determination, self-esteem, self-talk, selfish, shame, skill, Slacker, slacking, slaves, sleepover, social climbers, solution, soul, spirit, spirituality, sport, Steve Jobs, strength, strong, structure, submission, substandard, Succeed, successful, suffer, super-power, superior, teenagers, test, test scores, torturer, traditions, TV, uncaring, uniquely, values, verbally, victim, victory, violin, Waldman, Wall Street Journal, weak, western parents, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, wimpy, winners, work, wrong
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Many types of family bullying are obvious, whether it’s physical or verbal harassment, nastiness or abuse, and targets or witnesses usually jump in to stop it.  The typical perpetrators are mothers and fathers bullying each other or the kids, sibling bullies, bullying step-parents or kids sneakily bullying a step-parent in order to drive a wedge between a biological parent and their new partner. But many people allow extended family members to abuse their children or their spouses, especially at the holidays, because they’re afraid that protest will split the family into warring factions that will never be healed.  They’re afraid they’ll be blamed for destroying family unity or they accept a social code that proclaims some image of “family” as the most important value.

Except in a few, rare situations, that’s a big mistake.

A rare exception might be an aged, senile and demented, or a dying family member whose behavior is tolerated temporarily while the children are protected from the abuse.

But a more typical example of what shouldn’t be tolerated was a grandpa who had a vicious tongue, especially when he drank.  He angrily told the grandchildren they were weak, selfish and dumb.  He ripped them down for every fault – too smart, too stupid; too fat, too skinny; too short, too tall; too pretty, too ugly; too demanding, too shy.  He also focused on fatal character flaws; born lazy, born failure, born evil, born unwanted.

For good measure, he verbally assaulted his own children and their spouses – except for the favorite ones.  He even did this around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables when the parents and their spouses were present.  He was always righteous and right.

Imagine that you see the fear, stress, anxiety and pain on your children’s faces and on your spouse’s face; you feel the pain and anger in your own heart.  You hate being there; you hate exposing your family to the negativity and abuse.  The rest of the adults try to shrug it off saying, “It’s only dad.  He really does love us.  His life has been hard.”  Or they insist, “Don’t upset the family, don’t force us to choose sides, family comes first.”

What can you do?

I assume you’ve asked him to stop or given him dirty looks, but that only seemed to encourage him to attack you and your children more.  Or he apologized, but didn’t stop for even minute.  When you arrived late and tried to leave early, he attacked your family even more.  He blamed you for disrupting the family.  The rest of the adults also said that it’s your fault you aren’t kind and family oriented enough to put up with him.

What else can you do?

I think you have to step back and look at the big picture – a view of culture, society and what’s important in life.  Only then can you decide what fights are important enough to fight and only then will you have the strength, courage and perseverance to act effectively.

Compare two views: one in which blood family is all important. We are supposed to do anything for family and put up with anything from family because we need family in order to survive or because family is the greatest good.  This view says that if you put anything above family, especially your individual conscience or needs, you’ll destroy the foundations of civilized life and expose yourself in times of need.  In this view, we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves and our children to our biological family – by blood or by marriage.

We can see the benefits of this view.  When you’re old and sick, who else will take care of you but kith and kin?  In this view, the moral basis of civilization is the bond of blood and marriage.  Violate that relationship, bring disunity into the family by standing up for your individual views and you jeopardize everything important and traditional.

In my experience, this view is usually linked to the view that men and inherited traditions should rule.  Boys are supposed to torment girls because that teaches them how to become men.  Girls are supposed to submit because that’s their appointed role – sanctioned by religion and culture.  If men are vicious to women and children, if old people are vicious to the young, that’s tolerated.

Contrast this view with an alternative in which behavior is more important than blood. Your individual conscience and rules of acceptable behavior are more important than traditions that enable brutality and pain generation after generation.  What’s most important in this view is that you strive to create an environment with people who fill your heart with joy – a family of your heart and spirit.

If you choose the first view, you’ll never be able to stop bullying and abuse.  Your children will see who has the power and who bears the pain.  They’ll model the family dynamics they saw during the holidays.   You’ve abdicated the very individual conscience and power that you need to protect yourself and your children.  You’ll wallow in ineffective whining and complaining, hoping that someone else will solve your problem.

The best you can hope for outside the family, when your children face bullies who have practiced being bullies or being bullied at home, is that school authorities will do what’s right and protect your children from bullies.  But how can you expect more courage from them than you have?  Or why shouldn’t they accept the culture which tolerates bullying and abuse, just like you have?

Once you’ve decided that you will stop accepting intolerable behavior, your action plan will have to be adjusted to the circumstances, for example:

  • Are you the biological child in the family or merely a spouse?
  • Is your spouse willing to be as strong as you?
  • Who’s the perpetrator – a grandparent, another adult or spouse, a cousin, a more distant relative?
  • Do you see the perpetrator every year or once a decade?
  • Do other adults acknowledge the abuse also?

Expert coaching and good books and CDs like “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up” and “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” will help you make the necessary inner shifts and also develop a stepwise action plan that fits your family situation and newly developed comfort zone.  For example, see the case studies of Kathy, Jake and Ralph.

Keep in mind that while you hope the perpetrator will change his or her behavior, your goal is really to have an island with people who make every occasion joyous.  You must be prepared to go all the way to withdrawing from family events or to starting a fight that will split the family into two camps.  But at least you’ll be in a camp in which you feel comfortable spending the holidays.

Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.  Sometimes when one person speaks up, many others join in and the combined weight of opinion forces an acceptable change.  Sometimes if you say you’ll withdraw, you’ll be seen as the most difficult person in the room and the rest of the family will make the abuser change or ostracize him or her.

Let’s analyze a worst-case scenario for loving, caring parents. You were pretty good parents but one of your children has turned out toxic – not a psychopath but someone who acts like she (or he) hates you.

It’s not your fault, but she blames you for not giving her everything she wanted or wants now, she’ll be sweet one moment and then abusive, vicious and hateful the next, she harasses and bullies you relentlessly when she wants something; she tries to involve the rest of the family in her schemes and feuds.  Or her boyfriend or husband hates you and she goes along with it and it gets worse every year.  And they’re narcissistic losers; they barely have enough money and you know that they’ll leech off you forever if you let them.

It breaks your heart, but finally you realize that you can’t help by giving them what they can’t earn themselves.  They’ll bleed you dry and still blame their problems on you.  They’ll bully and abuse you forever if you let them.  So you expect to live your whole life with the emotional pain of knowing that, despite your best efforts, you planted a bad seed.  But at least you can distance yourself physically and monetarily.

But that’s not the worst-case.  The worst-case is when that toxic child has children.  Your daughter has let you play with your grandchild, let you grow to love him and vice versa.  Of course he loves you; you’re the sane rock in his life.  He’s safe around you – no craziness, no yelling and screaming, no lies and broken promises, and no anxiety, brutality or manipulation of his affections like in his interactions with his mother and father.  You treat him with loving kindness and he can trust what you say.  When he’s with you he’s not stressed out; not blamed, guilty and abused for everything he does wrong.

The worst-case is when your daughter starts blackmailing you emotionally.  She won’t let you see your grandchild unless you play her games and give her everything she wants.  She raises the ante every day.  You know she lies to your grandchild about you and why he doesn’t see you.  It’s worse if she’s divorced because then you get jerked around and thrust in the middle by her ex-spouse and his family.

You love your grandson.  He’s important to you, you’re important to him and you hope you can be a lifeline to help him make a better life than the chaos he’s growing up in.  But no matter what you do, it’ll be wrong and your daughter will blame and abuse you.  There will be days when you want to run away, leave no forwarding address, change your names and fingerprints, get new social security numbers and telephones.  But you won’t because of the hope you can help your grandson.

What can you do to stop the bullying and extricate yourself from a horrible situation?

  • Usually there’s little you can do legally.  It’s hard to exercise “grandparents rights” if your daughter or her spouse won’t let you.  You can consult a lawyer and learn to document enough evidence to show delinquency and neglect so you can get custody, but that’s a faint hope.
  • You have to make one of the hardest decisions for anyone; how much will you sacrifice in order to get any time with your grandson?  Realize that no matter what you decide, your heart will be broken thousands of times until he’s independent and maybe even for your whole life.  Recognize also that nothing you do will change your daughter – this pain and violence to your spirit will go on as long as she has any control over your grandson.  Understand that she will trample any boundaries you think you’ve set.
  • There is no magic bullet that will cure her.  You won’t bring her to her senses, help her to act reasonably and consistently, make her to keep her promises, convert her to see that the child is better off with you or get her away from a controlling husband.  Even if you act reasonably, she won’t.  You’ll never understand why she does what she does; she’s selfish, nasty and changeable from moment to moment.  You’ll be embroiled in her painful games and anger as long as she controls your grandson.  Each episode will rip you apart.
  • Suppose you choose to get as much time with your grandson as you can; what are the best things you can do to help him?  Most people choose this path.  After all, how can we give up, turn our backs and live with our broken hearts?
  • In a loving couple, most grandparents differ over how much time and money they’re willing pay and how much pain they can stand for the privilege of seeing their grandchild.  Love each other and keep working with that difference, knowing that both your hearts are broken anew every day.  Don’t let this drive a wedge between you.
  • Plant seeds in your grandchild He sees the truth but he’s told by his parents that his vision is wrong.  He needs to learn to trust his vision.  He needs you to tell him that what he sees about his home and parents is true.  He’s not crazy – he didn’t do anything to deserve it; it’s not his fault; it’s just the way it is.  That won’t confuse him; that’ll reinforce his confidence and self-esteem.  He needs to know who’s jerking all of you around and the price you all have to pay as long as he’s in their clutches.
  • Collude with him to lie to his parents.  Strong children – survivors – sense what they need to do in order to stay safe in a chaotic and hostile world.  For example; he can’t say he’s having too much fun with you; that he loves you too much; that he’d rather be with you.  He already knows what he has to hide.
  • Make a safe place for his heart and his favorite stuff.  With you, he can dream big and not get his dreams crushed or used against him.  Keep your promises consistently.  Let him express his frustration and anger.  Anger is better than apathy or depression.  You can express your helplessness.  At your home, don’t let him use the tactics he sees at your daughter’s home.  Appeal to his better nature.  Be very gentle with correction and discipline; he gets yelled at enough at home.
  • Prepare him emotionally and spiritually for the future.  The more he can ignore his crazy parents, the better.  Keep a spark alive in him that by biding his time, one day he’ll get free.  He has to stop the bully in his head.  When he’s 18 (to pick a number) he can leave and make his own way.  Remind him of all the great and wonderful people who escaped from cages and prisons.  He owes your toxic daughter, his mother, absolutely nothing.
  • Prepare him economically for the future.  For him to live free he must plan to become monetarily independent.  Depending on his brains and talents, he has to develop a marketable skill, even if his parents don’t like it and he has to do it in secret.  Help him do that now and when he leaves home.
  • You’re unique – make up your tactics as you go along.  Get support to vent and help to plan.

Many children are too weak to overcome their toxic parenting.  But there are always some who are invulnerable to horrible circumstances, some who keep that spark alive and get free from the cage or prison they’ve been trapped in.

Your heart insists that you try to help your grandchildren.  For clear examples, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the studies of how Kathy, Doug, Jake and Carrie got away from manipulative or toxic parents.  Also, see the example of teenage Stacy bullying her mother.

In almost all cases where the child flies free, they never look back and neither do their grandparents.  If they or you look back, you’ll be turned into pillars of salt.

Endure the pain because of the hope.  Good luck.

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,

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

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

I disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an email I received from an abused wife, hoping her story helps other women recognize and get away from their controlling, bullying, abusive husbands before it’s too late. “I hope my story might help someone.  I have known my husband since I was 18 years-old.  We worked together and his sister and I were friends.  I was married at 16 to my first boyfriend, so my now husband was just a friend, although I always knew he had a soft spot for me.”

“Years later, when I was divorced, I went out with my now husband, but I didn’t have the feelings for him at that time that I do now, so I ended the relationship.  Eventually we ended up back together and he won me over.  He was a quiet man, very deep, didn’t say much, but was always very kind and nothing was too much trouble.”

“My sons who obviously had known him since they were little boys, but are now grown up and married, adored him.  We ended up getting married and I thought I had met the man of my dreams, but it didn’t last.  As soon as we got engaged it all started to change.  He has hit me, nearly broken my fingers, but the violence has stopped since I called the police.”

“He had never been married before and never wanted to, that I know for a fact.  He is very moody and often put himself in the box room for weeks on end and not speaking. I own my own home and have always worked full time.  I am very bubbly person and have lots of friends, where he has always been a loner.”

“He told me that I needn’t work full time anymore, so I took a 2-day-a-week job.  That’s when it really got bad.  He often leaves in the clothes he stood in and takes all of the bill and shopping money.  He would stay away for 3 weeks at a time.  It wasn’t about him being with women or anything, that I know, but he goes on drinking binges which he never used to do.  He spends all of the money and texts me all of the time, calling me names, putting me down and being very abusive.”

“I have started divorce proceedings as he is putting the home I have lived in for 25 years at risk, with him taking all of the money.  Because the house is mine and in my name, he said that my sons should pay the mortgage when he is not there as it is their inheritance, as he calls it.  Obviously I love him but cannot take anymore.”

“To anyone out there, these people will not change and are unable to change.  They will grind you down, just as I have been and you will end up feeling worthless.  I am a good person and I have a medical working background, so I have a pretty good idea what I am talking about.  I also have friends in the medical field who have advised me that these controlling people will never change.”

“I am at the moment trying to keep hold of my home.  He keeps sending me texts saying he is going to see me in the gutter.  Please don’t let these controlling people to this to us. I hope my story helps in someway.”

Notice some typical early warning signs:

  1. He changed from charming to abusive, sometimes step by step.  When she put up with a step, he escalated to the next step.  Bullies don’t stop until you stop them.
  2. Overt physical violence – they shove, slap or hit you; force you to have sex; force you to lie or drop the charges if the police were called.  In this case, she stopped the overt physical violence when she called the police.  Good.  Now there’s a police record.  But he then shifted to control and bullying, which wouldn’t get the police involved.  When she stayed with him, she gave him a green light.
  3. They make the rules; they control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  4. Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no;” they’re always right and you’re always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they’re not abusing you, you’re too sensitive.
  5. They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work.  When she quit her full-time job and became depended on him, the control and abuse increased.
  6. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame and guilt – no matter what you do; you’re wrong or not good enough.

Bullies don’t take your kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop.  They take your passivity as an invitation to bully you more.  It’s the same at work, at school and in romance.

A few suggestions for then and now

  1. Get away or get rid of him at the first sign.  Notice that she had signs when they were engaged, before they were married and there were also no children at stake.
  2. Don’t think you can change him by staying.  The best help you can provide is getting away.  That may or may not be motivation for him to change on his own, but at least he’ll be far away from you.
  3. Don’t let him control you.  Notice what happened when she quit her job.  Don’t believe him when he says you’re worthless and the problems are your fault.
  4. Since he’s harassing you with text messages and has a history of physical violence, get a restraining order.  Keep a record of all the messages (including the threatening ones).  Call the police if he continues.  Cut off all contact with him.
  5. Find allies and supporters.  Remove any splinters – people who don’t support you.
  6. Be brave, determined and relentless.

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

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

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

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

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

Why do we need federal laws to make bullying a crime and to require schools to have anti-bullying policies? The saga of Billy Wolfe should be enough to convince you.  Over a year ago, the New York Times reported that Billy was being bullied relentlessly by two bigger guys from his high school in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  He was beaten up in a bathroom at school and on the school bus and in shop class and in Spanish class.  The bullies put up a Facebook page harassing him.  A brother of one of the bullies even recorded on his cell phone camera, the bully getting out of a car, walking up to an unsuspecting Billy, who was waiting at a bus stop, punching him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead and then showing the video around the school.

The authorities did nothing while the violence and brutality went on for three years.  Billy’s parents tried to get the bully’s parents and the school authorities to stop the bullying but the assistant principal, Byron Lynn Zeigler, did nothing to stop it.

Oh, he said it was Billy’s fault and immediately suspended him.  He blamed the victim.  Days later Ziegler watched the recording and showed Billy’s parents that their son was innocent.  But he didn’t stop the bullies.

Billy’s parents finally went to court.  After almost a year, the court has ruled on whether to keep considering the motions on behalf of Billy.

Why do Billy and his parents need laws?   Why do we need to require schools to have anti-bullying policies?

According to the story by Scott F. Davis in the Northwest Arkansas Times, although the court kept intact many of the charges, it ruled that the plaintiffs (Billy and his parents) failed to show that the school had an official policy that led to the alleged problems surrounding bullying.

Let’s put that in simple English.  Assistant principal Ziegler argued that since the school didn’t have an official policy supporting bullying, it wasn’t the school’s fault that bullying occurred on school premises and they can’t be held liable for the bullying.  Also, since the school didn’t have official anti-bullying policies, Ziegler didn’t have to stop the bullying; even that part of the bullying that occurred on school grounds.  The court agreed.

Because there are no laws specifically about bullying and beating kids up, Billy’s parents had to try to use laws that are on the books against sexual harassment.

Now do you understand the need for laws that would require administrators to take proactive measures to prevent bullying on school grounds and also laws that would require administrators to stop bullying that’s brought to their attention?

The teenagers at school all knew what was going on.  They saw the cell phone video.  They knew that the legitimate authorities had turned their backs and given the bullies a free hand.  When the responsible authorities allow bullies to control the turf, they allow violence and scapegoating, harassment and brutality.

Billy may have tried to fight back, but that doesn’t make him the problem.  That just makes him one child against two bigger kids.  And with the size disparity that often happens in middle school and high school, he can’t win without adult help.  When his parents went to the school, way back at the beginning when it was only threats, the district wouldn’t act.

I’m sensitive to principals that don’t protect the victims because I’m from Denver.  Remember Columbine High School.

Of course, the bullies’ parents are to blame for allowing their sons to act that way.  But when schools tolerate bullying, the real problems are the administrators (principals and assistants) and teachers.

Have those ignorant, cowardly principals in Fayetteville not learned anything.  There are many schools in the country which don’t tolerate bullying because the principals won’t tolerate it and, therefore, their teachers and staff won’t either.  And the successful ones have no better statutes to back them.  However, they do have consciences.

Whatever the court decides on the basis of law; shame on those adults.  They have shamed themselves and their community.  They are definitely not models who should be allowed to teach or administer for children.

On an individual basis, parents must teach children how to face the real world in which they’ll meet bullies all their lives, even if the children are small and outnumbered.  That’s independent of the type of bullying – cyber bullying, physical bullying or verbal harassment or abuse.  Help your children get out of their previous comfort zones and stop bullies.

True bullies will take empathy, kindness and tolerance as weakness.  They’ll think we’re easy prey.  It will encourage them, like sharks, to attack us more.  Bullies will show you how far you need to go to stop them.

Read “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”  Get coaching to design tactics that fit your specific situation.  Take charge of your personal space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do if the person in the next cubicle constantly gives you the silent treatment, glares, ignores your requests for information, makes belittling comments in meetings, puts you down in public, spreads false gossip about you, takes credit for what you did, accuses you falsely of making mistakes, tries to rally other people to be nasty to you and cuts you down to your manager? Even worse, what do you do if that’s your boss, and he also yells at you, makes personal and derogatory comments in front of the rest of the team, gives you unreasonable projects or deadlines so you’ll fail, evaluates you dishonestly and harshly, and is relentlessly critical?

Women, just as much as men, create hostile workplaces by verbal abuse and emotional intimidation.  They may even be more sneaky and manipulative.

What’s happened to you?  And what can you do?

In her column in the New York Times, “When the Bully Sits in the Next Cubicle,” and her blog post, “Have You Been Bullied at Work,” Tara Parker-Pope gives statistics for how prevalent these behaviors are.  Statistics are cold, but the individual pain of being treated this way is very hot.

I use the term “stealth bullies” for the subtle, sneaky, manipulative, critical, controlling workplace bullies who don’t use physical violence.  Most people at work let this behavior fly below their radar.  If we recognized and labeled these people as bullies, we’d be energized to resist.

Instead, many people take part of the blame and suffer in isolation.  They feel helpless and hopeless.

On an individual level, I think the first key to resisting is to recognize and label the actions as bullying so you’re galvanized to resist.  Then find allies and shine a light on it.  Think tactically and understand you’re in a war.  Because laws won’t help much, you’ll have to find other levers to exert pressure.

I don’t spend much time analyzing why bullies do it.  We know the major categories: personal dislikes, using brutality or someone’s back as a stepping stone, and ego stroking (“If I put you down, I’m one up).  You could probably reel off a few more.  In general, the approach of understanding doesn’t help.

I see hostile workplaces, verbal abuse and emotional intimidation not only in medical, legal and academic environments, but especially in government offices, non-profits and public service.  In those areas, people are often afraid of “confrontation” or of making “judgments” (someone is a bully).  In those areas, the typical culture thinks that the best way to stop bullying is to educate and rehabilitate bullies instead of simply stopping them first.  That’s like telling a battered wife (or husband) to endure the brutality while her husband gets therapy.

The purpose of most workplaces is not to be a therapeutic community for their workers.  Set high standards and enforce them at all levels.  But if the people at the top won’t dedicate themselves to stopping harassment and bullying, you won’t be able to stop it.  That’s like schools in which principals and teachers won’t stop bullying.

As a coach, consultant and speaker, I encourage people to fight to win.  The book, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and the CD set, “Eliminate the High Cost of Low Attitudes,” can help but it’s crucial to design tactics for your specific needs and the situation.

But if you can’t win, don’t stay in a place where the powers are out to crush you mentally and emotionally, or where your spirit will be destroyed.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling

What would you do if you were the principal of a school in which a boy’s brother records on his cell phone camera the boy getting out of the car, walking up to an unsuspecting Billy Wolfe waiting at a bus stop, punching him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead and then showing the video around the school? What would you do when Billy gets beaten up in the bathroom or on the school bus or in shop class or in Spanish class or has a harassing facebook page directed at him?  What would you do if that violence and brutality went on for three years?

What would you do if you were the parents of the bullies?

In his column in the New York Times, “A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly,” Dan Barry documents what really was done.  In Fayetteville, Arkansas, the authorities did nothing at all or nothing effective.  Mostly, they said it was Billy’s fault.  They blamed the victim.  The school bus incident was on tape but the Principal suspended Billy and only days later watched the tape and showed Billy’s parents that their son was innocent.

Because the authorities and administrators didn’t stop the bullies, it went on three years and it’s still going on now.

Of course, the school district mouths platitudes about a program to promote tolerance and respect, and protecting the identity of the perpetrators.  They try to convert bullies, but they don’t stop bullies first.  The district doesn’t want to get sued.  That seems more important than doing anything effective.  Maybe they’ll do something if Billy’s parents sue the district.

The kids at school all know what’s going on.  They know that the legitimate authorities have turned their backs and given the bullies a free hand.  When the responsible authorities allow bullies to control the turf, they allow violence and scape-goating, harassment and brutality.

Billy may have tried to fight back, but that doesn’t make him the problem.  That just makes him one child against a gang.  And with the size disparity that often happens in middle school and high school, he can’t win without adult help.  When his parents went to the schools, way back at the beginning when it was only threats, the district wouldn’t act.

Billy needs to be extremely resilient in order to graduate and create a better life for himself.  Otherwise he might end up like the cyberbullying suicide case that was in the news a while ago.

I’m sensitive to principals that don’t protect the victims because I’m from Denver.  Remember Columbine High School.  Have those ignorant, cowardly principals in Fayetteville not learned anything.  There are many schools in the country in which bullying isn’t tolerated because the principals won’t tolerate it and, therefore, their teachers and staff won’t either.  And they’re bound by the same laws as in Fayetteville.

Shame on those adults.  They have shamed their community.

If I was Billy’s coach, I’d encourage him to stay strong on the inside and keep fighting, no matter what happens on the outside.  Have the grit to thrive despite adults who fail!

According to numerous reports, a teenager was bullied at West Middle School in metro Denver.  The boy had pencils, markers and a calculator taken; he was called fat; he was called “gay” because he was involved in musical theater; because he was from musical theater, he was called a “Nazi.”  Eventually, he tried fighting back against his tormentors.  But he wasn’t big or strong enough and was beaten severely.  He suffered a broken collar bone and head injury.  The published picture of him is self-evident.  Now that the case has become public, the community is in an uproar and the Cherry Creek School District has responded by expelling the bully.  The bullied boy has reported that the bully threatened to beat him more when he returns.  Three other students, who also threatened to beat up the victim, have been required to sign contracts that they won’t harass the boy.  That’s nice of the school district to go that far. Of course the legal wrangling will go on for a long time.

There’s so much to say about this example of hostility, abuse and brutality.  I want to comment on only a few areas.

The adults failed.  Whether they blame the legal system or say they didn’t know; they failed. Since the severe beating happened at the end of November, don’t you think that every student in school knew what was happening? 

The parents of the bully and his collaborators failed.  They are supposed to know their children’s character and to stop their children’s bullying.

The teachers failed.  They are supposed to know who torments, abuses and bully’s another student and they are supposed to stop it.  They allowed a hostile, abusive environment to continue.  If the typical educational approaches don’t work rapidly, they are supposed to intervene in other ways.

The principal failed.  The principal is supposed to set a tone of zero tolerance.  The principal is supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullies.  If the teachers don’t stop it, the principal is supposed to stop it and then get rid of those cowardly and/or ignorant teachers.  The worst beating happened at the end of November and the principal did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.

The administrators in the school district failed.  The administrators are supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullying.  If the principal doesn’t stop it, the school district administrators are supposed to step in and then get rid of that cowardly and/or ignorant principal.  The worst beating happened at the end of November and the district administrators did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.

How can we hold up these teachers, principal and school district administrators as models for children?  They have failed as models.  Despite, or maybe because of, their colleges and universities, their degrees and certifications, their possible expertise in some course matter, they have shown themselves to be ignorant or cowardly or inept or all three.  They have failed the public trust and are unfit to be teachers, principal or administrators.

They should not be allowed to hide behind a poor legal system.  We all know that there are schools in the most violent locations in which courageous administrators, principals and teachers bullying.  And they do it in the face of the same.

The 14 year-old boy who was bullied has shown himself to be courageous.  He has succeeded.  At first he did what we all try to do.  We try accommodating in hopes that the bully will move on.  We ask bullies to stop; we take the bullying; we try to understand what lousy home lives we think bullies must have; we try to rise above it.  These tactics may stop many kids who are temporarily trying on bullying to see what it feels like, but those tactics don’t stop dedicated, relentless bullies.  They are not effective for teaching children to stop bullies at school.

Eventually that boy fought.  I say he succeeded because, even though he was severely beaten he did what was necessary to try to stop his tormentors.  He lost the fight but he emerges as the one person who is not a coward in this affair.  He can hold his head up high all his life.  He can keep his self-esteem.  He can judge the adults as cowards and failures.  I hope he is resilient enough to bounce back  and continues to resist to bullies the rest of his life.  I hope that when he becomes an adult with more choices, he creates a personal life that is bully-free.  Sometimes, a tormented teen can fight back and win – as in the case of the “Teen acquitted in punch.”

Of course, bullies will always exist .  America is not unique, nor are we the worst people in the world.  We are outraged and we will try to make better systems.  And more important, we still must train , seek and hire people who can act effectively, no matter how poor the system is at any moment.  And we must educate and prepare individuals to be as courageous as that 14 year-old boy.

Among other places, this story was carried by the Denver Post (Bullies called teen “Nazi” and “gay”), 9news (Student says he was bullied, beaten because he’s German), the Denver Channel News (Boy: School Bullies Harassed Him Because Of German Ancestry) and the Denver Post Neighbors Forum (Article Discussion: Cherry Creek teen may face bully in court).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Are your children and teens resilient?  Do they bounce back after they’ve been disappointed or faced hostility, bullies, abuse or trauma?  Are you resilient?  Do you know how to resist a hostile, abusive, controlling or bullying husband or wife?  Can you resist your self-bullying tendencies?  How about abusive, controlling or bullying friends, relatives or neighbors?  How about at work; hostile, abusive, bullying bosses, managers or co-workers?  Do you bounce back from getting passed over, terminated or fired from a hostile workplace?  You know – lies, yelling, cursing, back-stabbing, verbal abuse, demeaning insults, harassment, false complaints or accusations. According to a Newsweek article written by Mary Carmichael (The Resiliency Gene: A genetic variant may protect some abused kids from depression and other long-term effects) the National Institute of Mental Health is funding studies to find the genes associated with resiliency to hostility, abuse and trauma.  As a former practicing biochemist, I can say that, of course, we’ll find genes associated with almost every pattern of behavior.

But, I think it’s a dead end if we focus merely on the genetic expressions of what’s going on.

Why do I think it’s a dead end?  Because you end up thinking that either you have the right stuff or you don’t.  That belief won’t help your children develop strength of character or as much resilience as they can.  For example, contrast the behavior of the teen in cyber-bullying suicide case with the teen who was acquitted of punching a racist tormentor . . Worrying about the resiliency gene won’t help you be courageous either.  You’ll remain a victim; hoping the system can be made 100 percent safe and fair.  You’re better off thinking that you can develop the right stuff to protect yourself, to create a bully-free environment.  That approach to make the world totally and completely safe is being tried right now in our schools .

Resiliency is something that we’ve seen and studied throughout history.  For example, in their elegant studies of about 700 famous men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962), Victor and Mildred Goertzel, called the eminent survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, “The Invulnerables.”  Our history is full of men and women who failed and then bounced back, struggled and succeeded.

In my coaching of adults (including parents wanting to know how to help their children), I encourage them to focus on the “free will” aspects of their lives.  You have much more control over what you create in life right now, than you do over your genetics.  No matter what life throws at us, whether we’re subjected to natural disasters, large scale human destruction or individual family brutality and trauma, we all must struggle to rise above those events in order to create as great a life as we can.  We can take charge of our efforts  even though we can’t control the results.

Inspire your children by them to look back at their inheritance.  Think of what their ancestors must have lived through.  No matter what their ancestry, they come from an unbroken line of men and women who survived drought, flood, plague, famine, disease, war, uprooting, slavery, rape and every other form of disappointment, hostility, control, abuse, brutality and trauma known.  Everyone one of their ancestors survived long enough to make a baby who grew up to make a baby who grew up to make a baby … until they were born.  If one of their ancestors hadn’t grown up to do his or her part, they wouldn’t be here.  They have a legacy of survivors.

Also think of their mental and spiritual inheritance.  There must have been people who took in some of their ancestors and nurtured, encouraged and stimulated them; even though they weren’t blood relatives.  Despite all the abuse and trauma, here they are.  They have the legacy of survivors.  Stop worrying about their genes and start training them to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong.  Start helping them develop the discipline that’s worthy of all the struggle and effort that went into getting them here.

I remember the stories of what my grandparents went through in order to get here.  They didn’t have credit cards, cell phones, health insurance or own their homes.  How can I let them down by not living as gloriously as I can?  How can I let them down by not encouraging my children to do the same – no matter what their genetics has given them?

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AuthorBen Leichtling
Tagsabuse, abused, abused kids, abusive, accusations, acquitted, adults, ancestors, ancestry, at work, back-stabbing, Behavior, belief, biochemist, blood, blood relatives, bosses, bounce back, bounced back, brutality, bullies, bully-free, bullying, bullying bosses, bullying husband, Carmichael, cell phones, character, childhood, childhood abuse, children, co-workers, Coaching, control, controlling, controlling husband, courageous, credit cards, cursing, cyber-bullying, cyber-bullying suicide, defeated, demeaning, demeaning insults, depression, destruction, develop, develop strength of character, disappointment, disasters, discipline, disease, drought, emotionally, encouraged, encouraging, fair, false complaints, family, famine, fired, flood, free will, friends, Gene, genetic, genetic variant, gloriously, grandparents, harassment, Health, health insurance, homes, hostile, hostile workplace, hostility, human, husband, individual, inheritance, Inspire, insults, invulnerables, kids, legacy, legacy of survivors, lies, managers, Mary Carmichael, men, Mental, Mental Health, mentally, National Institute of Mental Health, natural, natural disasters, neighbors, Newsweek, nurtured, parents, passed over, plague, protect, punching, racist, racist tormentor, rape, relatives, resilience, Resiliency, Resiliency Gene, resilient, resist, results, right stuff, safe, schools, self-bullying, slavery, spiritual inheritance, spiritually strong, stimulated, stories, strength, struggle, struggled, studies, succeeded, suicide, survived, survivors, survivors of childhood abuse, teaching, teens, terminated, tormentor, trauma, uprooting, variant, verbal abuse, victim, war, wife, women, workplace, worrying, yelling
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