Some bullying bosses are overt.  They yell, micromanage, criticize relentlessly, make personal remarks, are never satisfied and never promote staff. Other bullies are more covert.

For example, Abby controls her team by making quick decisions and immediately shifting into action.  If you stop to deliberate, she’ll become exasperated and question your intelligence.  Because she’s in a hurry, few people get consulted in advance and things are always done her way. Once she’s made up her mind, she won’t change direction.

To read the rest of this article from the Philadelphia Business Journal, see: Covert bullies like to manage timing of decisions http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2008/09/08/smallb3.html

Abby tries to control her managerial peers with rapid decisions.  Her arguments for speed can be very persuasive: No one wants to be thought of as “slow or stodgy.”

On the other hand, Alex moves with great deliberation and caution.  He’s just as controlling as Abby, but in the opposite way.  He wants to chew and digest all the details before he’ll decide.  If you want to move rapidly, he’ll become exasperated and question your intelligence and good judgment.  Because he controls the snail’s pace, few people even bother making input anymore.

If he doesn’t want to implement a plan, he’ll say he needs endless information and reflection.  Usually, his deliberations push so hard against deadlines that everyone has to work hectically at the last minute, including weekends.  He doesn’t mind because he’s still in control.

Alex tries to control his managerial peers by delaying decisions.  His arguments defending deliberation and caution can be very persuasive.  No one wants to be labeled “thoughtless or careless.”

People who are concerned with making good decisions will adjust their processes and timing to fit the situation.  Some decisions can be made with extensive input and deliberation, while others demand unilateral and rapid action.  Each style can be successful or have disastrous consequences, depending on the situation.

The rapid responses of many small businesses secured them productive niches while corporate goliaths deliberated.  Similarly, decisions made in the blink of an eye – based on accurate intuition, the hair standing up on the back of your neck or a wrenching in your gut – can save your life or business.  If you wait for proof, it will be too late.

But, of course, we don’t want someone building a bridge or an airplane based on snap decisions.

Be warned: Abby and Alex’s covert, controlling techniques are used just as much between couples in personal life and in family businesses.  However, the same mindset and methods that work to manage peers in corporate life can be effective in those more personal situations.

How you cope with bullies using these styles depends on whether you’re a peer, a supervisee or a supervisor – see complete article for details.

There are no formulas, but there are guidelines.

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

If you think that fear of change is normal human nature, you’re wrong.  That’s especially true for the leaders you select. For example, Harry was slated to move up to Senior Vice President in a few years.  In the meantime, his division needed to change its direction and way of doing business.  He must groom a great leadership team and weed the appropriate people.

To read the rest of this article from the Denver Business Journal, see: Select leaders who are excited by challenge, change http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2007/03/12/smallb8.html

One member of Harry’s present, six-person team had to be let go.  He was an excellent project manager and he liked being custodian of repeatable processes.  However, he couldn’t handle the changes required.  His need for controlling every detail led him to resist fluid goals, processes and relationships.  He got rattled, constantly threw up roadblocks and underperformed.  In order to solidify his position, he also tried to sabotage his competition.

Another member of the team felt threatened because there wasn’t enough lead-time to prepare for shifting hurdles or moving targets.  She found a cookie-cutter job with fewer challenges.

Harry got the standard leadership advice:

I disagree. While resistance may be the norm in our society at this moment of time, that doesn’t make it normal.  In other cultures and in America in the past, “normal” was to be excited by change.  That’s where the great rewards are.  Think of Edison, Rockefeller and Ford, for example.

Whenever our ancestors came to America, last year or 30,000 years ago, they faced huge changes and took great risks.  They thrived, or we wouldn’t be here.  We have those hardy genes.  People who thrive today will have the same qualities their ancestors had.  They won’t be brainwashed into feeling fragile.

Our normal reaction to change can be eager anticipation; just as we had before our first day of surfing or skiing.  Like life, these activities are inherently dangerous and exhilarating.

In truth, our only security is in ourselves; not in false guarantees of employment for life.  Anyone who needs guarantees will fight to make an organization stay the way it is, which will kill it.  They won’t rise on their teams.

If we try to force things to stay the same, performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level toleratedNarcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

The higher you go in a company, the more you have to keep your head in the game when things change suddenly.  Harry’s company isn’t downsizing, but most people who stay will have to learn to function well in continual change.  He’ll provide training, consulting and coaching – but not hand-holding.  And he won’t be conflict-avoidant in protecting the high standards he needs.

Of course, there’s tremendous risk in moving ahead.  But there’s more risk in fighting to stay the same.  A static organization will become unprofitable and all staffers will become unemployed.  Since only a few basic processes will stay the same, people who are comfortable only when repeating a known process will become uncomfortable.

Get over discomfort.  Our feelings aren’t handed to us in stone.  Don’t wait until we’ve developed a sense of safety and confidence, or an abundance mentality.  Take responsibility right now.

Life is an open system.  Get used to it.

High standards for how to respond to challenges and change protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Turf wars are a well-known fact of life in many organizations.  Lesser known, but far more destructive, are positioning wars – struggles by two or more opponents for the top spot in an organization. Turf wars aren’t any fun.  But they’re mostly defensive – people trying to protect their turf from encroachment by a real or imagined rival.  Positioning wars are far more aggressive and destructive.  They involve a fight to become No. 1 immediately or, at least, the heir-designate to whoever’s in charge now.

Turf battles often lead to bureaucratic slowdowns.  Positioning wars can ruin the very kingdom being fought over.

To read the rest of this article from the Dallas Business Journal, see: Positioning wars can ruin a business http://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/stories/2007/04/30/smallb2.html

Imagine the consequences when two powerful, competent princes, who run different operational units, fight to determine who’ll inherit when the king retires:

  • Political in-fighting takes precedence over vision, mission, productivity or clients.  Good staff stops trying to make a productive difference.  Meetings degenerate into skirmishes.  Soap opera flourishes.
  • The princes circle each other like birds of prey seeking to uncover hidden agendas. Unofficial power centers are established.  The princes’ teams reflect their antagonism.    They focus on the faults of the other team and the hidden meanings behind looks, words and deeds.  They score trivia points by publicizing the other faction’s setbacks or their own minor victories.
  • Innocent bystanders aren’t safe.  Neutral parties are inevitably drawn into choosing sides. Tension and terror activate childhood coping strategies.  Everyone watches their words more carefully than their productivity.
  • Bad apples suck up to each prince looking for protection and power.  Slackers try to turn their protector against managers who pressure them to be more productive.
  • Previously productive people become double agents or assassins.  Even within teams, suspicion prevents aligned, concerted effort.
  • Clients are ignored or entangled in alliances.

Positioning wars are even more debilitating if the princes had previously been able to work together effectively.  Most people don’t adapt effectively to the dramatic change in environment.  They’re blindsided, feel victimized and waste time bemoaning their undeserved fate.

Competition stimulates creative juices and inspires outstanding achievement.  But cut-throat, internal war inevitably scorches the land.  If you’re still the king, act decisively to aminimize destruction from the princes’ fighting.

Positioning wars create the same symptoms. Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level toleratedNarcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

Don’t waste your valuable people time on slackers.  You won’t make things better being a peacemaker.

Begging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, endless ‘second chances,’ unconditional love and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuseStop emotional bullies and stop bullying.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

To be a successful administrator, basic operational savvy is necessary.  But to be a successful leader, you must also master human savvy. For example, Joe worked his way up through the financial ranks and had mastered three of the major skills of internal operational savvy:

  • Setting high performance standards.
  • Project management.
  • Financial soundness.

Joe’s teams met their goals within budget and deadlines.

But Joe was always passed over for promotions to leadership.  Why?  Basic operational savvy isn’t enough to make leaders even partially successful.

To read the rest of this article from the Memphis Business Journal, see: Leaders who ignore the human element will fail http://www.bizjournals.com/memphis/stories/2007/10/01/smallb4.html

When I explained to Joe that he was missing the human savvy I’ll describe below, he said he couldn’t change.  He had strength of character and responded successfully to the ups and downs, and the challenges of business.  But he said he was an introvert.  He could achieve high performance in operational areas but it wasn’t his personality to excel in people areas.

Joe’s response is nonsense.  He doesn’t need to become an extrovert or develop the personality of an archetypal used-car salesman.  But if he wants to advance his career, he does need to master his innate human savvy—the universal human attributes for empathy and sympathy, for knowing what makes people tick, and for transmitting and enhancing passion and dedication.

Joe’s progress was halting when he was simply memorizing lists of how-to’s.  But his learning took off when he modeled himself after the subject of one of the best leadership books, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Joe saw himself as having a personality similar to Lincoln: a melancholy introvert who could come out of his shell to make human contact.  Lincoln’s human savvy was a crucial component of his success.  Joe resolved, “If Lincoln could do it, so can I.”  Joe drove himself to use Lincoln as his guide and to learn what Lincoln learned.

One of the important personal skills Joe learned was critical listening.  Instead of listening only to the dictionary definitions of words, he trained himself to hear “the message behind the message.”

That essential information taught him what concerns other people have and what they really want.  Joe used what he learned in order to connect with his team on an emotional level, so he could help them dedicate to their mission.

Lincoln said that the most important task of a leader, once he has finally decided on a course of action, is to educate people so they are inspired to proceed on that course.  Lincoln used insightful comparisons and memorable stories to transfuse people with his vision, dedication and perseverance.  Joe realized that appropriate stories have an emotional impact greater than the effects of logical arguments.

Like Lincoln did, Joe can now tell memorable stories of his team’s effort and progress.  His staff is now enthused to achieve team and personal goals in the face of challenges that demand their best.

Joe also sets high behavioral standards and holds his staff accountable for behavior that reflects good attitudes.  He’s stopped bullies and even had some success getting difficult messages across to abusive, toxic staffHis best workers are happier now that he’s weeded out the slackers and bad apples.

Now his superiors say:

Many people teach basic operational savvy as if it’s all that’s necessary for leadership success.  But good administrators aren’t necessarily good leaders.  Basic operational savvy is necessary, but it’s not enough. Leadership success is more all or none.  You can succeed only if you master human savvy.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to:

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Colleagues Who Can Make You Fat,” focuses on people at work who try to sabotage coworkers’ diets.  People reported that colleagues and bosses made them uncomfortable admitting they were on a diet 23% of the time. In contrast, dieters said they were uncomfortable admitting that they were dieting to people in personal life – friends, relatives and spouses – 63% of the time.  That is, there are almost three times as many diet saboteurs among those who are closest to us.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Diet saboteurs use many techniques.  They:

  • Tease, taunt and mock.
  • Criticize, pressure and manipulate.
  • Gleefully predict failure.
  • Get upset because we’re spurning their offerings of fatty, starchy, sugary, calorie-loaded food.
  • Lecture that we’re harming our body by dieting.

The article says that these saboteurs usually mean well.  I disagree. When diet saboteurs continue harassing and abusing us relentlessly, they don’t mean well.  They’re narcissistic bullies who have their own agenda that they think is more important than ours.  They’re righteous. They know better and they’re out to change us – usually by beating us into submission.

Typically, they try to sabotage our diets because:

  • They may feel abandoned because we no longer eat the same food with them.
  • They may be striking back because they take our change as a put down of their old habits.
  • They may feel jealous that they’re not losing weight.
  • They may see our being thinner as a threat.
  • They may simply not like us and are finding another reason, excuse or justification to mock, ridicule, or put us down.

Who cares what their reasons are?  Understanding their reasons won’t help us stop them.  After the first time we’ve asked them to stop, their reasons for continuing now become excuses and justifications for continued harassment, abuse and bullying.  Bullies always find excuses to continue inflicting pain.

What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. People who are closest to us – toxic spouses, family, friends – are the most relentless saboteurs.  Things are not as we would wish. Notice that I didn’t say, “Things are not as they should be.”  Things are as they are.  That’s not what’s wrong with this picture.
  2. What’s wrong with this picture is that people feel uncomfortable and that feeling keeps them from doing what they need toTheir discomfort is their excuse to become victims.

As William Boast said, “It’s important that people know what you stand for.  It’s equally important that they know what you won’t stand for.”

Don’t debate or argue with their justifications.  Don’t accept apologies unless their behavior changes.  They won’t change their behavior; they won’t give up their desire for domination and control.  Instead, stop bullies or get them off our Isle of Song.

These bullying spouses, family members and friends are telling us to examine what kind of behavior we will and won’t allow around us and our families.

To have the wonderful lives we want, we must stop bullying behavior in our personal spaces.  We wouldn’t allow family members to push an alcoholic to have “just one drink” and we wouldn’t allow family abusers or perverts access to our children.  The need to stop diet saboteurs is no different.

Of course, we can start resisting gently by asking them, one-to-one in private, to stop. Or we could ignore it or laugh it off in public.  Those approaches become tests of them.  Do they stop or do they identify themselves as bullies?

We know what doesn’t stop bullies: ignoring, minimizing, conflict-avoidance, begging, bribery, defeatism, forgiveness, appeasement, understanding, unconditional love, the Golden Rule.  Relentless bullies misunderstand our kindness. They take our “rising above” as weakness and, like sharks or hyenas, they’re encouraged to attack us more.

Their relentless attacks force us to confront the central issue: which is more important; good behavior or bad blood?  And when they continue their abuse, bullies force us into an all-or-none choice.  Are we willing to defend the behavior we need to have, even if it breaks the old family dynamic, the code of silence that enables the nastiest spouse or relatives to continue getting away with their abuse for the sake of, “family?”

That choice thrusts us into the second stage of maturitywe’re called upon to decide, as independent adults, what behavior we will or won’t allow into our lives, no matter what the relationship is called.  We’re called upon to have more confidence and self-esteem.

For some examples, see the case studies in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Increasing productivity is relatively easy because you can measure and quantify production, and then respond effectively.  But how do you fix poor attitudes, which you can’t quantify? Actually, it’s not that hard.

A list of poor attitudes typically presented to me by managers and employees includes negativity, insubordination, narcissism, hyper-sensitivity, bullying, abuse of power and lack of responsibility.

To read the rest of this article from the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, see: You can Change Attitude Problems at Work

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2007/11/19/smallb3.html

A typical list of behaviors that result from those attitudes is: chronic gossip, back-stabbing, sarcasm, negativity, manipulation, sabotage, formation of cliques, nepotism, favoritism, critical complaining, whining, demeaning comments, bullying bosses, dishonest evaluations, flaming e-mails, disrupting meetings, abusive remarks, ignoring suggestions, “Drama Queens,” blowing up in response to feedback, turf-control, crabbiness, over-reactions, lack of communication, mind reading, people who want their minds read, pointing fingers, taking things personally, the loud, silent treatment and my all-time favorite: “not my job.”

I use a straightforward, action-oriented approach that changes company cultures infected with poor attitudes.  The key is to be clear and specific about which attitudes and behaviors you want, and then to require participation in a culture that has them.  Don’t be a conflict-avoidant manager.

How do you clarify attitudes you can’t quantify?  The first step is to acknowledge that although you can’t quantify attitudes like “narcissistic control-freak,” you can recognize and document behaviors without resorting to mind reading, moral judgments or personal attacks.  Then you can act on your documentation of non-professional versus professional behavior.

Make sure it’s legal.  Then everyone from the owner on down is required to subscribe to or sign off on the new code of professional behavior.  The code then becomes a significant part of everyone’s evaluations.  Be consistent in rewarding the desired behavior and having consequences for actions against your code.

You won’t get everyone to buy in immediately.  So what?  Band together with the core group that wants to turn things around or to improve what you already have.

As you weed out a few resistant bullies, you’ll find that merely going through the process will change most employees’ behaviors.

Reinforce your expectations with new employees; publicize your code during hiring interviews.  Don’t bring people on board who argue with the code or who think the team should adjust to accommodate their personality or favorite styles that violate your code.

If someone has toxic behavior in another department, don’t bring them into your team in hopes you can change their long-term patterns.

High standards for positive attitudes protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  Learn what you can do to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Many of us have been taught to ignore putdowns.  It’s considered morally superior to rise above them. That’s a big mistake.  Respond quickly when someone attacks you.

For example, Sybil continually put down her peer, Henry, in private and public.  Each demeaning comment might have been mere insensitivity.  But taken together they represented a hostile pattern.

To read the rest of this article from the Philadelphia Business Journal, see: When insulted by a co-worker, don’t turn the other cheek http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2008/08/11/smallb3.html

Sybil harassed and abused Henry in meetings, in front of the bosses and in the hallways.  Henry tried to defend himself against her negativity with facts, logic and excuses. But he never mentioned the obvious hostility in her attacks.  His arguments didn’t stop her. He felt defeated and gave into despair.

Their coworkers called Sybil “The Queen of Mean” and tiptoed around her because they were afraid of her retaliation.  With her vicious tongue, she controlled the office.

Henry obsessed on her demeaning comments.  He continually complained to co-workers, family and friends.  Then, he’d be angry at himself for getting enraged.  He wished he could let Sybil’s cracks roll off his back.  He didn’t know how to make her stop bullying.

I convinced Henry he was taking the wrong approachHe shouldn’t ignore Sybil’s assaults.  By allowing her to continue whacking him verbally, his confidence, self-esteem and credibility were undermined.  His staff saw him as likeable but weak.

Henry had some common, self-imposed rules that keep him from acting:

Henry believed in the Golden Rule.  His psychological explanations for Sybil’s narcissistic behavior also kept him from acting.  He decided she was simply jealous of him and thought he should forgive her.

I disagree: Just because someone was a victim when they were young or feels hurt now, doesn’t give them a free pass to hurt other people.

The first changes Henry made were internal:

So what did Henry do?  He tried an escalating set of responses, increasing in firmness at each new step.  When he got far enough up the staircase of firmness, Sybil finally showed him what was enough.  She stopped.  The rest of their team now saw Henry as strong and smart.  Their respect for him increased

Don’t be a Henry and ignore insults outwardly, while they tear you up inside.  Don’t be a conflict avoidant manager. Immediately, counter any attacks from the Sybils in your life.  Use Henry’s method of escalating firmness to stop bullies.

Learn what you can do to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Many comments are similar on the articles:

Abused, bullied and battered women often end their comments with some version of:

  • But I still love him.
  • Sometimes he’s nice to me and I still think I can change him, if only I was good enough.
  • He still says that he loves me.
  • I’m afraid to leave because I’m worthless and won’t be able to make it without him.
  • I’m afraid to leave because he’ll kill me.

Today, let’s focus on the idea that woman can’t dump him because they love him.  Of course the same reasons are true for men facing negative, critical, harassing, manipulative, abusive, bullying, battering women.

For a moment, forget what we were taught about love, especially the importance and moral value of unconditional love, when we were young – what it is, what it feels like, how we know we’re really in love and what we’re supposed to do when we feel that way.

Now that we’re adults, we can decide for ourselves what we want to call “love” and how we’ll act when we “love.”  Is love merely lust, or feeling complete or whole, or feeling that we can’t live without the other person?  Do those feelings mean that we’ll be happy because we’re mad for the other person or that we can work out how to live together?  If we feel those feelings, must we move in together and maybe get married?  When we love, must we believe what he says or accept whatever he does, must we be submissive and obey him, must we accept his reasons, excuses, justifications and promises, must we forgive or appease him endlessly, must we debate until he accepts our point of view..

As long as the answers don’t affect our lives, we might have fun speculating about those questions.  But even though love is usually accompanied by real feelings, it’s still an abstract concept that really isn’t a tangible noun, like a physical object is.

A more useful path is to choose how we want to be loved.  That is; what kind of behavior will we allow in our personal space, whether the actions are called “love” or “bullying” or “abuse.”

Also more useful is to choose which of our thoughts and feelings we want to follow in our lives.  Or, which feelings, if any, do we want to let blow us over or sweep us away.

Now that we’re adults with more experience, we can see that when we let some feelings sweep us away, we’re like a sail boat without a rudder or keel.  We’re blown whichever way the wind and current takes us.  We’ve lost control and we’ll never get where we want to sail to.  We’re at the mercy of external forces – his whims and actions at the moment.  Do we want to continue letting ourselves get blown away?

It’s even worse after kids come.  So many women make mistakes about which values are most important.  For example, they think that it’s most important that their kids have a father even if that father abuses and bullies them or only their mother.  Or they think that they most important value is never to say anything bad about their children’s father, even though their observations are accurate and especially necessary to reinforce what their children see and think.  People are being beaten and that’s being called “love.” Children must learn that they are seeing reality and they can trust their perceptions.  Covering up the truth or lying creates self-doubt and undermines their confidence and self-esteem.

I think that it comes down to knowing, in our heart-of-hearts, that we can’t let whatever feeling we call “love” take over our lives when that feeling keeps putting us and our children in harm’s way.  There are higher standards of behavior than that feeling we call “love.”  And that the word “love” doesn’t remove all the pain caused when narcissistic, righteous predators attack their targets.

If “love” means that we’ll never stop the perpetrator and never leave him, he’ll never stop bullying.  Why should he; he’s in control and gets what he wants.  If “love” means that the victim must follow the Golden Rule, never confront or upset the bully and only beg him to change, but never have serious consequences, we’ll never stop bullies.

On the other hand, if we love our spirits, our children and our high standards of behavior that are required in our personal space, then we can stop bullies or get away from their bullying.  The number one factor in changing the behavior of relentless bullies is serious consequences.

We know we must live up to our best aspirations and standards, we must demand only the best for ourselves and our children.  Don’t suffer in silenceWe must say, “No. That’s enough.  I won’t let our lives be ruined for that kind of love.”

Of course, it may be scary, dangerous and difficult to get away.  Of course, we may be poor and suffer at first.  But it’s the only chance we have to clear our personal space so that someone wonderful can come into it; someone who treats us good.  We must not be defeated by defeats.

Three steps are necessary:

  1. Taking power for ourselves, and counting on the strength and determination that will come to us when we keep making good decisions by dumping the jerk.
  2. Getting help to create a plan and carry it out with determination, perseverance, strength, courage and resilience.
  3. Having a wiser and more mature sense of love and which feelings to pay attention to.  That means straightening ourselves out so we’ll love better people who treat us well.

Feelings and thoughts are like the bubbles of carbonation on a soda.  They’re always, always, endlessly bubbling up to the surface and then drifting away.  Some of those bubbles can smell pretty bad.  Pardon the crudity, but we’ve all had brain farts.  And like the other kind, we know that if we wait a minute, the stinky, scary, self-bullying fears, put-downs and “shoulds” will drift off on their own.  We can decide not to act on them and simply let them go.  We can throw ourselves into other thoughts or activities to speed the process.

I’ve focused on bullying spouses, but the same can be said about demanding, bullying, toxic family members, like parents, siblings and extended family.  They bully and say that we should accept the bad treatment because we’re “family.”  But requiring good behavior is a better standard than tolerating bad blood.

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.

Joan’s father had bullied and abused her all her life.  He’d yelled, scolded, chastised, taunted and emotionally terrorized her.  He’d been manipulative, sneaky and lying.  He never admitted anything was his fault.  He’d always blamed on her; everything was her fault.  He still treats her the same way.  He’s a narcissistic, control freak. Joan could never understand why he treated her that way.  She hadn’t deserved it.  She knew he’d had a terrible childhood, but she didn’t deserve to be the one he took it out on.

Now, he’s in his late 80s and Joan could see that he was sinking rapidly.

On the one hand, Joan was angry and vindictive.  On the other hand, she felt guilty and ashamed of her dislike and hatred of him.

How can she resolve things with him before he dies?

Sporadically, through the years after she’d left home and made her own life, she’d tried talking with him about how he treats her but he’d always rejected her attempts, calling her weak and bad.  He never admitted he’d done any of the things she said.  That led to the usual angry rant about her failings and what she owed him.  And a demand that he’ll never talk about that again.

Sometimes she never wants to see him any more.  But he’s her father; how can she feel that way?  Think of what she owes him.

How can she resolve things with him before he dies?

Of course, she’s going to try once more.  And maybe a miracle will happen.  But my experience is that any change would be extremely rare.  I’ve see most people recover from near-death experience and be unchanged.  They immediately cover themselves with their old costume of abuse and bullying.

I’ve seen a sexually manipulative perpetrator on his death bed try to grope his daughter, just like he did when he molested her for years when she was young.

It doesn’t matter if Joan looks at her father as a sociopath or a poor, abused soul who never could overcome his rotten childhood.  Her sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love or understanding likely won’t change him.

The real question for Joan is what she means by “resolution” and where she really wants to get internally.

If, by resolution:

  • She means that they’ll have a heart-felt talk, and she’ll say her say again but this time he’ll admit to all he did and apologize and ask for her forgiveness, she’s probably going to be disappointed.  No matter how much she begs, bribes or tries to appease him, likely he won’t change.  He’ll still insist he never did anything bad to her and it’s all her fault.  Also, he’ll never tell everyone to whom he bad-mouthed her, that she was actually a good daughter and he was simply mean and nasty.  So the task for her is to accept that she can’t change him and to find a mental place in which to keep him that doesn’t stimulate any self-bullying by blame, shame or guilt – just like he’d do to her again if he had the opportunity.
  • She means that she can come to like him and they’ll part friends, she’ll be disappointed again.  They’re not friends.  We can’t be friends with someone who has beaten us, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, no matter how hard we try.  A survival part of us doesn’t want us to get close enough so they can abuse us once more.  The task for her is to let the anger and hatred motivate her to get distance, no matter what he thinks of her or accuses her of.
  • She means that she wants to forgive herself for continuing to exaggerate his good side and to have hope he’d change so she continually put herself and her family in harm’s way trying to prove that she was worthy of love, respect and good treatment, she can have that because that’s in her control.  Her task is to find an inner place to put him so that instead of feeling overwhelmed and beaten, or angry and vindictive when she thinks of him, she’ll feel strong, courageous and determined to stop any other bullies and to create an Isle of Song for herself and her family.

His behavior tells her about him.  It doesn’t tell her anything about her and what she deserves.  Instead, she needs to take power over her life.

Should she stay at his bedside while he passes?  If she wants to be with him at the end in order to assuage any guilt she may have for missing a last possible chance for resolution, then she should be there as long as she won’t let him hurt her feelings any more; as long as she doesn’t expect anything more than he’s always been.

Should she have her children visit him at the end?  Again that depends on what she wants from the interactions.  If he’s been manipulative and rotten to her children, or bad-mouthed her to them, then I wouldn’t let them be subjected to that again.  In age and stage appropriate ways, she can talk to them now and as they grow.

For contrasting outcomes in dealing with abusive, bullying parents, see the case studies of Carrie, Kathy, Doug, Jake and Ralph in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site. 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.

Should we confront our toxic parents or not?  Well, it all depends on us, them and the situation?  But here are some guidelines we can use to decide what we want to do. And what’s the “right time, place and way?”

Should we confront toxic parents?  It depends on what we hope to gain from the interaction.

  1. Don’t use the word “confront” on ourselves. It’s a dirty word that bullies use to get us not to protect ourselves and not to set our boundaries.  Bullies demand infinite forgiveness and unconditional love – but from us only; not from themselves.  We must “protect ourselves” and we must “set our boundaries.”  That’s a much better way of saying it.  Notice how “protecting ourselves” and “setting our boundaries” are good and necessary actions.  And if toxic, bullying, abusive parents keep trampling our boundaries, we have to ask ourselves, “Why are we with such jerks and control-freaks?  Why are we presenting our throats to vampires?  Why are we still letting hyenas feast on us?  Why do we let sick people vomit on our feet?  Why do we allow them in our space?  Why are we in theirs?”  Protecting ourselves is a more important value than not hurting the feelings of toxic people or not getting them upset or not making a scene or not upsetting the family.
  2. Do we hope that “protecting ourselves” will change relentless bullies? Maybe when we’re young and they’ve just started, we might hope that standing firm and saying, “No!  Stop!  Sit!  Stay!” will change them.  Or maybe we might have succeeded by hitting them with a rolled up newspaper or biting them on the lip to show them who’s the alpha dog.  But toxic parents have been mean, nasty, vicious predators for as long as we’ve been alive.  A little kid really can’t resist them or change them.  So by the time we’re middle-aged and they’ve been hurting and bullying us for over 40 years, we can release the hope that we’ll change them.  I’ve seen toxic parents remain bullies even after near death experiences or being cut off from their grandchildren, although those two circumstances are the only ones I’ve seen effective in the rare cases of toxic parents who have changed.  Standing up for ourselves probably won’t change them.  But we can give it one more shot if we want to.
  3. Do we hope that we’ll feel better or more powerful after we stand up for ourselves? We may and those are great reasons for defending ourselves and enforcing consequences.  Words are not consequences; words without consequences is begging.  Only actions are consequences.  Take power. Don’t wait for jackals to empower you.
  4. Will we speak up in private or public? We usually think of saying things in private the first time someone bullies us.  But after a private talk, relentless bullies will think they can ignore us since we’re defending ourselves in private and they’re attacking us in public.  Therefore, we have to speak out in public. Don’t let a lie or an attack or a put-down or sarcastic criticism pass unchallenged.  We can protect ourselves in the moment, in public by saying, “That’s not true.  That’s a lie.  You’re still a bully and I won’t put up with bullying any more.”  Don’t debate or argue whose perception is correct.  We stick with our opinion; we’re the expert on us.  Make them leave or don’t stay with they if they don’t change.
  5. Might protecting ourselves change the family dynamics? Too many families hide the truth and live on lies.  Too many families protect bullies and perpetrators because “That’s just the way they are” or “We have to put up with abuse because it’s family.”  No.  We don’t repay a debt to toxic parents by being their scapegoats or whipping posts because they once gave us food along with abuse.  Don’t collude with these crimes.  Speaking out can change the dynamics.  Test everyone elseWe’ll find out who wants to be friends with us and who wants to repress us – for whatever reasons.  We’ll find out who we enjoy being with and who we won’t waste precious time with.
  6. Should we say something if we’re witnesses? Definitely.  Be a witness to these crimes, not a bystander.  We can protect other people we see abused.
  7. Will protecting ourselves set a good example for our children? Yes.  And it’s crucial for us to set great examples.  Be a model!  Don’t sacrifice our children on some altar of “family.” Protecting children is more important than any benefit they might get from being with toxic grandparents.
  8. What’s the “right time” to speak up? If we hope to change toxic parents, the “right time” and the “right way” can be considerations.  But for any other reason, the time to speak up is always “NOW” and the place is always “HERE.”
  9. Should we talk to our parents in a safe environment with our therapists present? The first step in stopping bullies is connecting with our inner strength, courage and determination.  We are the safe place in any situation!  We’re adults now.  So what if they attack us one more time.  Don’t be defeated.  Look at them as predators or jerks and score them “failed.”  We’ll feel much stronger if we say what we have to say firmly and then be strong and apply our consequences when they attack us.  If people aren’t nice, don’t waste time on them.

Notice that all these considerations are about us and our judgment, not about the right way to convert toxic parents.  It is about us and the personal space we want to create and what behaviors and people we’ll let in.

How can we still relate to the nice people in the family? I think that we can only relate to those who want to have a wonderful relationship totally separate from the toxic parents.  That is, we’ll talk to the nice and fun ones, text them and see them on our own without our toxic parents being part of that.  Is that sneaky?  No.  That’s just cleaning up our homes and sweeping out the crud.  And not allowing it back in.  Tell the good relatives what’s going on and see if they want to have fun with us.

What if we don’t act dignified in protecting ourselves? We have to stop expecting ourselves to be perfect and stop bullying ourselves.  Of course we won’t be skillful at first.  But the more we practice standing up for ourselves, the more skilled we’ll become.  Which is more important: protecting ourselves or looking dignified?

We each make our own decisions and choices. Now we can make them with a better idea of what’s motivating us and what’s likely to happen.  If we try to talk with them one more time and they attack us again, maybe that will be our last attempt to carry the burden of making a good relationship possible.  Maybe now it’s their turn.

We must ask ourselves, “Are we doing all the work of self-analysis, apologizing, appeasing, communicating and being perfect?  Are we wasting our time trying to turn hyenas into vegetarians?” If we don’t defend ourselves in public when hyenas attack, we’ll only encourage them to go after us more.

We must listen to our pain and trust our judgment.  We must trust our accurate opinion of what predators will do – they will attack us when they want.

Some toxic parents simply attack us relentlessly.  Others lure us close with overtures of friendship or claims that they need us to help them now that they’re old only to attack us when we come near.  These tactics are like those of a pervert trying to lure a little girl intro his car.  Don’t get into a pervert’s car!

“Create an Isle of Song in a Sea of Shouts.”  And don’t let anyone dump toxic waste on your Isle.  Create a better life with better people in your space.

For some examples of stopping toxic parents, see the case studies of Carrie, Doug, Kathy, Jake and Ralph in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

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.

It’s your life.  Be the hero of your life.

When we follow experts’ checklists, and we recognize and label our spouses’ behavior as “bullying” and our demanding, controlling, narcissistic, abusive spouses as “bullies,” we generate our own power.  We may use that power to re-enter the fight with renewed vigor and a new sense that we’re right. But many bullies, especially demanding, controlling, narcissistic, sneaky, manipulative, abusive spouses, will not be convinced to change by our experts or our internal power.

There’s a better way.

Bullying spouses will often get their own experts or friends or mothers to say that our experts are wrong.  Their experts will say, “Our spouses are in the normal range and it’s our fault that they’re acting the way they do.  We made them do it.”

Also, many bullies like to debate, argue and fight foreverThey never concede a point or give ground.  No matter how many experts we get to prove that they’re bullies, they won’t changeThey expect to wear us down.  We can see how that argument can go around and around forever.

The fundamental problem with that approach is our willingness to debate and argue because outside experts tell us that we’re right or that we’ve been wronged, and, therefore, our spouses should change.

The better course, the winning way is to ask our inner expert. We ask ourselves, not if they’re bullying us, but simply whether we like or don’t like what they do.  We know what we like and don’t like; we know how much we like or hate it; we know what we’re willing to compromise about or put up with and what we’re not.

We begin with our judgment and act on that judgment. The fundamental and true justifications for what we do are “I want to” and “I don’t want to.”  Not necessarily as a snap judgment, but as a source of energy and power.  Later, we supply a thin coating of logical reasons to make people think we’re rational.

We’re acting on our own standards and for the benefit of our heart and soul – and probably for our kids also.  That’s real power.  Since we know what we want, we don’t need to change our spouse or get our spouse to agree or give permission.  Gone are doubt, hesitation, self-questioning, negative, self-bullying self-talk, insecurity, lack of confidence and low self-esteem.

A declaration of what we want or don’t want is unassailable by outside experts.  We know right away that any who tries to talk us out of what we want by saying, “That’s dumb.  That’s crazy.  That’s silly.  That’s unreasonable.  That’s selfish.  That’s arrogant.  That’s too demanding.  That’s not loving,” is not a person we want to keep as a lover, friend or relative.

Acting because we want to is more than enough justification. Acting as our own expert, on our own best judgment, because we want to is how we take charge of our present and future.

Instead of thinking we need to prove or justify something according to our spouse’s logic, we’re now testing our spouse.

  • We say what we will never tolerate and what we must have.
  • We say what we want and don’t want strongly, and how many chances we’re giving.
  • We say what we’re willing to negotiate or to give, and what we must have in return – and how many chances.

 

This technique is detailed in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” available fastest from this web site.

Don’t pay attention to objectors or inner objections:

We can’t let our feelings ruin our future.  We’ll fall in love again with someone even better.

Given our standards, is our spouse willing to act in a way that we’ll allow them to stay on our island or will we vote them off?  It’s our island and we’re the only one who votes.

It’s that clear and simple even though the specific action plan will have to be adjusted depending on the situation – money, kids, relatives, culture, etc.

But what if we’re wrong or too picky? On the one hand we do know that experts are wrong.  For example, expert advice for the best way to parent has changed every few years during my lifetime.  There are no guarantees.

On the other hand, we might make a mistake.  So what?  We are learners.  The more we listen to our inner expert, the more expert it will become and the more it will help us.  We’re not children any more.  It’s better to follow our own path than be ruled by parents, spouses or experts.

This choice is wonderfully illustrated in the Daniel Day-Lewis movie version of “The Last of The Mohicans”.

British Major Duncan wants Cora to marry him.  Her father wants her to marry him.  But Cora hesitates.  Cora is thinking about breaking away from the cage of her upbringing.   She tells him of her hesitation.

Duncan says, “Why not let those whom you trust, like your father, help settle what is best for you.  In view of your indecision, you should rely on their judgment and mine.  Will you consider that?”

At first she’s not sure, but later she sees a side of Major Duncan she would never let herself live with.  She tells Duncan, “I have considered your offer.  The decision I have come to is that I would rather make the gravest of mistakes than surrender my own judgment.  My answer to you must be, ‘No.’”

She will follow her own judgment, not theirs.  She will not let those “experts” rule her life.

Be brave.  We can get help to access the expert within us and learn to trust our inner expert.  We can act because we want to and be the hero of our lives.

People often wonder if they’re being bullied, controlled or abused by their spouses.  They want experts to help them recognize the signs and give them an educated, experienced opinion so they’ll have a new weapon in the next round of the endless battle.  That’s a useful tactic but the major benefits are not what most people think. In addition to overt threats and violence, some criteria that we’re facing bullying, controlling or abusive husbands or wives are:

  1. After marriage or kids, they changed from charming to controlling, sometimes step by step.
  2. They make the rules; they control everything.  We feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  3. Their standards rule – our “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”  Their sense of humor is the right one.
  4. They isolate us.
  5. They control us with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips.  They use the opinions other people who agree with them – their friends, their parents – to justify what they do.
  6. They don’t take our kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop.  They take our self-control as an invitation to bully us more.
  7. They’re willing to argue forever and never admit that they have to change.  Whenever we make a good point, they attack on a different subject.

Or we might recognize the seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists:

  1. They think they know best about everything.
  2. Their excitement is contagious and sweeps us along.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.
  4. They’re more important than we are.
  5. They think their rules should rule.
  6. Everyone is a pawn in their game.
  7. They think their excuses should excuse them.

Both lists are phrased as “They,” but really – we give in; we let them win.  We’re the ones who think good reasons or arguments, more understanding, begging, bribery, appeasement, forgiveness, unconditional love or the Golden Rule will work if we try hard enough.  We’re the ones who think we’re wrong if we give up on someone.

The major, but usually overlooked, benefit in recognizing and labeling the patterns of behavior as “bullying” and the person as a “bully” is that it’s a powerful label.

  1. Indeed, many men women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”
  2. But when we label what’s happening as “bullying,” the unknown terror no longer seems so overwhelming; it’s reduced in size as the light of a strong label shines on their behavior.  Our shame, guilt, doubt and hesitation decreaseOur self-bullying, negative self-talk decreases.
  3. Our spirit rises up; we feel energized and empowered to fight back.  Our will, determination and dedication are strengthened.  Our courage, perseverance, endurance and resolution are engaged.  We won’t quit any more and temporary defeats don’t defeat us for long.
  4. We take charge of our attitudes and feelings, and increase our self-confidence and self esteem.  In so doing, we take charge of our actions and our future.  We gain clarity about our goals and seek personalized coaching to develop a plan and carry it out.
  5. Once we know what we’re up against, we look for information, skills and help.  We feel more powerful when we re-enter the fight.

 

In the next article, we’ll talk about an even better tactic than taking the strength we gain from using the words “bullies” and “bullying” into battle as our shield and sword.

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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Many people still feel like children when their parents boss, belittle, criticize, demean, blame, shame, bully, abuse and guilt-trip them.  The now-adult children still feel afraid, just like they did years ago. Angry, hostile, harassing, taunting parents still elicit the most primitive responses from their adult children – fight, flight or freeze.

How can these adult children free themselves from uncivil, impolite, nasty, manipulative or toxic parents who trample their boundaries?

The first step is always inner change.

Grown children need to mature into adults; to free ourselves from our childhood rules expectations and roles, from our fears and guilts.  In many ways it’s like shedding our old skin and growing one that fits better, or going into a cocoon and emerging as a butterfly.  It’s also just as natural.

We must make up our adult minds and hearts about what we will allow in our personal space.  Will we allow anyone to treat us like a child or simply treat us badly, or will be allow only our parents?  If our answer is “yes,” then we’ll probably be bullied, abused and terrorized by toxic parents for the rest of our lives.

That is a life choice many people make.  If we make it as an adult, not only as a beaten and submissive child, then it’s our choice and we get to live with it.

Many cultures consider that duty, obligation, respect and catering to parents – even vicious, abusive, bullies – as the most important duty of a good child.  It’s often called “filial piety.”  The principle is that we owe them our lives and must pay that debt as long as we live.  If we’re lucky, our children will pay their debt to us in the same way.  Some cultures have been organized around filial piety for thousands of years; it works and is self perpetuating.

However, the negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode our spirit, sap our strength, ruin our focus and destroy our courage.  Looking at ourselves with demanding, toxic parents’ hostile eyes and talking to ourselves with their critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voices can be demoralizing and debilitating.  Constant repetition of all our imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead us down a path toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Don’t go there.

In many ways, the Enlightenment in the West broke with that old tradition of filial piety championed a new way of being in the world.

As adults, we have the freedom and responsibility to make a different choice.  We have the moral right, permission and strength to stand against our parents and other people’s commandments.  We may and can and must choose for ourselves.

We can choose not to look over our shoulders and bow to our ancestors in fear and obedience.  Instead we can look ahead to our descendents with hope.  We can focus on taking care of our physical and spiritual children more than our parents.

The old way was to ask authorities, ask “What’s right?”  Now, we say, “That’s for us to decide.  We will follow the call of our Spirit, not the roles, beliefs and ideas we accepted when we were children.”  Of course, the Enlightenment’s way has its own downsides, but I’d rather have its upsides.

Maturing requires us to stand our Spirit’s ground, especially with our parents and extended family.  The longer we endure what we think of as mistreatment, the more our Spirits will shrivel and die, day-by-day. We must say some form of, “I love you but I’ll allow you in my space only if you treat me like I want to be treated, like you’d treat a person whose affections you’re trying to win.  I’m an adult; treat me nicely, kindly, respectfully and with fear that you might anger me.”

Often, we hold back because of our fears – fear of offending a moral code, fear of the condemnation of the “elders,” fear that we must think they’re evil, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of going too far, fear of our bullying parent’s power and retaliation, fear of being on our own emotionally even if we’re already married and have our own children.  We hold back because of the Golden Rule.  We hold back because we accept their excuses and justifications.

If we hold back, their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate.  If we still try to beg, bribe, please and appease them in order to get them to treat us decently, they’ll keep thinking they’re right and safe in continuing to beat us into submission.  We’ll get what we’re willing to tolerate.

Instead, break the game.  We don’t have to be perfect before they have to change how they act.  We’re not mature until we simply tell them what we want and have rewards if they’re nice and consequences if they continue abusing us.

Many people think that before they act they should do psychoanalysis until their fear is gone.  That’s a seductive trap, especially because it means they don’t have to act.  That way makes us think we’re weak and cowardly – it fills us with anxiety, stress and self-recrimination; we lose confidence and self-esteem; we’re more easily subject to physical ailments; we isolate ourselves and become depressed.

Speaking up and acting to make our words real is the way of courage; it builds strength, confidence and power.  Those fine qualities are developed only by overcoming fear and strong challenges.  Don’t wait until we’re “ready” to act in a way that’s perfect.  Act now; act next time.  We don’t have to be perfect the first time. If we go too far or not far enough, accept no blame, shame or guilt.  Simply adjust so we get closer to the way we want next time…and the time after…and the time after.  There will be more “time after’s.”

Some parents will finally see the consequences of losing contact with us; they’ll change their behavior.  Some won’t.  They also have free will and choice.

We’re not mature until we make an adult decision about what we’ll allow in our personal space and then back up that decision with rewards and consequences.

Of course the predicament is the same for parents with abusive children, or even worse since the children can deny their parents contact with the grandchildren

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  We must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome our fears and hesitations, and parents who won’t treat us right.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” contains the case studies of Carrie, Kathy, Doug, Jake and Ralph taking charge of themselves and stopping bullying parents and extended family members.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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You can’t convince bullying spouses to change; you’ll never prove that you’re right or should have what you need; you’ll never deserve the rewards they withhold from you.  They’re not interested in the truth or in your reasons or your wonderful logic.  They’re not interested in loving you the way you want to be loved.  They know best and they’re only interested in getting their way; in controlling everything – money, sex, cars, computers, phones, friends, family. So many blog comments are from women wanting to be told that they’re right in their arguments with their husbands; that they should be allowed to do a few things like see their parents or girl friends or have a few dollars for groceries.  They seem to think they need to get permission from their controlling husbands to even spend a few dollars of the money they earn.  They’re always surprised that their good arguments don’t convince these control-freaks and bullies to change their behavior.

Many coaching clients come or call when they’re stuck in the same endless dynamic.  Some husbands say the same things about the controlling wives.

I have to say: Give it up. You’ll never prove anything to someone who doesn’t want to be convinced; to someone who thinks their best interests are served by always being right and always being in charge.

One of the favorite tactics of bullies is to attack.  These verbal and emotional bullies are always finding fault and picking on flaws.  The natural response at first is for the wives to defend themselves.  But that only perpetuates the cycle of attack and defense.  There’s never an end to the constant harassment and negativity.

Eventually the women get worn down.  They’re too tired to fight about everything, especially the silly little stuff so they give up and accept the bully’s rule.  Then they become victims.  They accept that it is their fault; there must be something wrong with them.

The bully will destroy their confidence and self-esteem.  The stress, anxiety and negative self-talk will lead to depression.  They think that if only they were perfect enough, he’d be nice and encouraging and loving.

The solution begins with a difficult realization: When it gets to that point, you’ll never win the argument.  You’re being poisoned slowly, there’s no convincing a toxic predator to change and your only hope is getting away.

No matter what the cost, if you don’t get away, the poison will take its effect; your soul will be destroyed.  Even if you have to begin from square-one again, you must begin.  You’ll need all the strength and courage you can muster.  You’ll develop the endurance and skill as you proceed.

Of course it’s hard.  When you’re living in the ninth circle of hell, it takes a lot to get out.  But that’s what you’re being called to do.  Your spirit is calling you to make the effort.  Your bright future is calling you to make the journey.

If you have children, don’t see them as an impediment.  Let them stimulate you to break out of prison and start a new life as far away as you need.

Of course, if we can catch it earlier, it’s easier to declare and maintain your boundaries.  Then it’s easier to demand loving behavior and to get away if the abuse continues.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching can help you make a plan that fits you and your situation.  Expert coaching can help you overcome the voices of your fears and self-bullying.  Expert coaching can help you honor the commitments and responsibilities you still want to honor.

You’ll find many examples of children and adults stopping bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.  Or call me for coaching at 877-8BULLIES (877-828-5543).

Of course also, everything I’ve described here is true about harassing, bullying, abusive bosses, co-workers, friends, parents, family, children.  How easy is it to convince a teenager who wants something desperately?  How easy is it to prove yourself to a rage-aholic parent who thinks you’re bad or will be a loser?  How easy is it to convert a know-it-all boss?  How easy is it to prove yourself to a parent who loves one of your sisters or brothers more?  How easy is it to change a righteous Church Elder?

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,

Some control freaks at work are complete narcissists, others cover up major insecurities.  We can make lists of possible reasons that led someone to be a controlling adult – for example, genetics, they grew up with control freaks, they had no control when they were kids, their control when they were kids saved them, control assuages their terror of the unknown, control helps them succeed, they really are smarter and more competent than the rest of us, they want to feel like they’re smarter and more competent than the rest of us, or the feeling of righteousness is intoxicating. Of course even more reasons can be listed, but especially at work where our influence is small and temporary, our psychoanalysis of these abusive bullies rarely helps us change their behavior.  In the workplace, we suffer from the symptoms of their behavior, not the causes.

The real question at work is not why they act the way they do, but how to stop them.

The obvious controllers harass us overtly; their arrogant, narcissistic, nit-picking personalities oppress us continually.  Even if they don’t have power over us, they’ll be relentless.  But at least we can recognize the source of our pain and we can focus on creating tactics that get them off our backs.

The most difficult control freaks to stop are the sneaky, manipulative, covert bullies.  They use a style in which:

  • They make what seem to be innocuous suggestions for our best interests.
  • Their understated certainty is overwhelming.
  • They always know better ways to do everything even if they suggest them quietly.
  • They’re so enthusiastic that our hesitations are swept away.
  • Their feelings are the center of attention and who can resist helping them.
  • They subtly increase our self-doubt and decrease our confidence and self-esteem so we’ll take their direction.
  • Their reasons, excuses and rules are quietly but firmly presented with better logic and more certainty than we can articulate.  Our resistance seems petty, ludicrous and selfish.

In order to succeed at work, we need to take charge some of the time.  Control freaks need to be in charge all the time over everything.  They’d rather dominate than have relationships that bring out the greatest in everyone.

The reason I focus on the symptoms you need to deal with, instead of the psychological causes is that no presentation to the control-freak of why they use their controlling style/personality and no attempts to beg, bribe or assuage their fears ever changes their behavior.  The beginning of all change for control freaks is when their controlling strategy no longer works.

No one strategy stops control freaks.  The creation of a successful tactical plan depends on the people, the style of the controller, the situation and the power dynamics.  But there are a few guidelines.

  • Since control freaks want to take over everything, don’t ever give ground.  You’re trying to convince them never to try to control you, but instead to go control other people.
  • Don’t argue or debate what’s best.  If you use their suggestions don’t ever acknowledge their guidance.  If they know that you accepted their input, even if they made it in a suggestive way, that opening will encourage them to push your boundaries consistently and relentlessly.  Go your own way and live with the consequences.
  • Shine a light on their bullying tactics and the damage it causes to productivity and teamwork.  Never focus on your feelings.
  • Don’t get sucked into becoming their confident or therapist.  Your narcissism in thinking that you can help them will be your downfall.
  • Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that the control-freak might be right.  If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.

Assume that you can’t therapeutize or rehabilitate them.  You’re never going to change them.  They’re bullying, control freaks.  Get the coaching you need to get them away from you as fast as you can.  You don’t need their direction.  You’re simply trying to keep them from taking over team meetings and stifling input from other people.

Control freaks at home rarely change for any length of time.  After their bullying is confronted, they may promise to do better, but their good behavior will last only for a while.  They’ll revert or get sneakier about exerting their control.  While you can bring continual pressure to bear on your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, parents or children, or friends, real change is in the bully’s hands.  Change typically requires bullies to face the loss of what they value most.  Do they value you and the children more, or will they cling to their personal style as their identity forever?

There are toxic people in every environment – toxic family, toxic friends, toxic lovers and toxic coworkers.  If you don’t recognize and respond effectively to toxic, bullying coworkers they can make your life miserable, harass you, turn the rest of your team against you, scapegoat you and even get you fired. For example,

Jane is known to be difficult, obnoxious and an out of control retaliator.  But she’s very bright and hard working so management tends to minimize the problems she causes, overlook the tension, hostility and chaos she creates, and explain away her behavior by saying, “That’s just Jane.  She must have a good heart.”  She specializes in vendettas.  Most people are afraid of her; they usually walk on egg shells around her and try to avoid setting off one of her tirades.

The bosses make you the leader of an important project that requires tact and people skills because they don’t trust Jane.  Jane is enraged.  Sometimes she blames and threatens you – you stole her job, she’ll report everything you do wrong, she’ll ruin your reputation and she’ll get you fired.  Sometimes she acts sweet – as if she wants to be your best friend.  Sometimes she tries to make you feel guilty so you’ll refuse to lead the project she thinks should be hers – that’s the only way you can prove to her that you’re a good person and her friend.

Is Jane right?  Are you sneaky and manipulative and have you wronged her?  Or is this a misunderstanding you can overcome so she’ll still be your friend?

How can you distinguish a friendly coworker who’s justifiably upset from one of these toxic bullies?  Simple.  You look for patterns in how Jane acts and how you and others feel when you’re around her.

Typically, toxic coworkers have patterns in which they:

  • Are selfish and narcissistic – it’s always about them; only their interpretations and feelings matter.  Only their interpretations are true.
  • Are sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing stealth bullies.
  • Are over-reactive, control freaks – their interpretations give them permission to search and destroy, no matter how slight or unintentional the insult.  They throw fits and attack or embarrass people they’re upset at.
  • Act sweet one time only pry out people’s secrets and look for the opportunity to strike back even more.  Remember, they’re acting polite doesn’t mean they’re nice.
  • Will openly lie and deny it.  They’re always 100% convinced and convincing.
  • Relentlessly disparage, demean, spy on and report “bad” conduct (often made up) about their targets.

Typically, teammates of these bullies should ask themselves:

  • Are you afraid of what Jane might do or that Jane won’t be friends with you?
  • Does she threaten you?
  • Have you seen Jane attack, manipulate or lie about other targets before you?
  • Does Jane apologize but not change or even strike back later?
  • Does Jane tell you that you’re special and she’d never go after you?
  • Does Jane make efforts to be reasonable and to overcome misunderstandings, to say that the problem is partly her fault and then does she make amends and change?

Of course, you want to be careful that you’re not overreacting.  You want to know if you’re seeing their actions clearly.  But if you answer the first five questions with “yes,” and the last one with “no,” you should beware.

When you identify Jane as someone who is relentless, implacable and has no conscience in pursuing her targets, you know what you’re dealing with.  She’s out to destroy you just like she went after other coworkers in the past.

Your first thought may be, “How can I win her friendship?” or it may be, “She’s suffered so much in her own life, how can I not forgive her?”  If you follow these thoughts with feelings of kindness, compassion and compromise, if you don’t mobilize to protect you life, limb and job you will be sacrificing yourself on an altar of silly sentimentality.

I take a strong approach: Recognize evil and recognize crazy or out of control people who won’t negotiate or compromise.  The Jane’s and John’s of this world are bullies, abusers and predators that do tremendous damage.  They’re why well-meaning people have to consult with experts.  Remember, you would have already resolved situations with coworkers who are reasonable, willing to examine their own actions honestly, and to negotiate and compromise.  You need help with the terminators that you face.

So what can you do?

Divide your response into two areas:

  1. Will – determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance, grit.
  2. Skill – overall strategy, tactics and the ability to maintain your poise and carry out your plan.

Will

  1. Convert doubt and hesitation into permission to act and then into an inner command to act effectively.  Until you have the will, no tactics will help – you’ll give in, back off, bounce from one strategy to another and you'll fail, even with the best plan.
  2. Don’t let your good heart blind you to the damage she’ll do to you.  You’ve already given her second and third chances.  That’s enough.  She’s not merely misunderstanding you in any way you can clear up; logic, reason and common sense aren’t effective with the Jane’s of this world.
  3. See Jane as a terminator – she’s relentless, implacable and has no conscience.  Under her human-looking skin she’s out to destroy you.  Your good heart and attempts to reason politely won’t stop her.
  4. Assume that you can’t rehabilitate or convert Jane in your life time.  That’s not what they pay you for at work anyway.  You’re merely Jane’s coworker with an important personal life, a personal island that needs protecting.  Let Jane’s therapist change her in professional space and on professional time that she pays for.
  5. You don’t owe her anything because she got you the job or rescued you from drowning.  She’s out to get you and you must protect yourself.  Let Jane struggle to change on someone else’s professional time.  Don’t put your reputation, your job or your family’s livelihood in harm’s way.  Don’t minimize or excuse.  Deal only with Jane’s behavior.

Skill

  1. All plans must be adjusted to your specific situation – you, Jane, the company, your personal life.  Added complications would be if Jane is your boss or the manager of your team likes her or is afraid of her and will collude with her against you.
  2. Don’t believe Jane’s promises; don’t be fooled if she acts nice and sweet one time.  Pay attention to the pattern of actions.  If she’s sweet, she’s probably seeking to get information that she can use against you.
  3. Don’t expect her to tell the truth.  She’ll say one thing to you and report exactly the opposite to everyone else.  She’ll lie when she reports bad things you have supposedly done.  She knows that repetition is convincing; eventually some of her dirt might stick to you.  Have witnesses who’ll stand up for you in public.
  4. Don’t argue the details of an interaction to try to convince her of your side.  State your side in a way that will convince bystanders.  Always remind bystanders of your honesty, integrity and good character, which they should know.
  5. Document everything; use a small digital recorder.  Find allies as high up in the company as you can.  When you report Jane, be professional; concentrate on her behavior, not your hurt feelings.  Make a business case to encourage company leaders to act.  It’s about the money, coworkers and clients that the company will save when they terminate Jane.
  6. When you listen to voice mails from Jane or talk with her in person, tighten the muscles of your stomach just below your belly button, while you keep breathing.  That’ll remind you to prepare for a verbal gut-punch.
  7. Get your own employment lawyer and a good coach to strengthen your will, develop your courage and plan effective tactics.

Each situation is different – you, the toxic coworker and the rest of the company.  The need to protect yourself and your career remains the same, while the tactics vary with the situation.  All tactics are situational tactics.

The holidays are a perfect time to recognize and respond effectively to the early warning signs of bullying boyfriends, controlling girlfriends and domineering dates.  Whether these control-freaks are stimulated by holiday pressures and stresses, or they simply seize the opportunity to take charge of multiple events, their subversive, controlling tactics become more apparent during the holidays. Many people need coaching help at this time of year to stop the Grinches who want to destroy their family fun.

Call these control-freaks “bullies” when: Call these control-freaks “bullies” when:

  • They won’t allow you to continue family traditions you love.
  • They try to control the timing of visits to your family.
  • They insist that the holidays must be celebrated the way they want.
  • They insist that the holidays are merely foolish, commercial events and you’re not allowed to feel good cheer or to celebrate.
  • They insist on a hostile review your choice of presents.  They won’t allow the “Secret Santa” gifts.
  • They fight over every little arrangement.  They’ll harass you until you give in.

Some of these abusive bullies are overt – they threaten or use force or they simply block your way and won’t let you leave or they throw big fits and threaten to break up with you.

Some of the early warning signs of the subtle, covert, stealthy, sneaky, manipulative bullies are:

  1. They control everything; they make the rules – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on.
  2. They push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what they want.
  3. 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 merely too sensitive.
  4. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt.  Their negativity is depressing.  Or they control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide.
  5. You’re afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage – you walk on eggshells; they intimidate you with words and weapons; they threaten you, the pets, your favorite things.  You’re told that you’re to blame if they’re angry.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  6. They insist that their values are right and yours are “silly” or “wrong” or “illogical.”
  7. They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see your friends or family, go to school or even work.

They use their ruthless logic to prove that they’re right and that you should do things their way.  To defy them means a war that would ruin the holidays.

The temptation for nice people is to find excuses for bullies’ explosive feelings and controlling actions, and to give in.  The temptation is to think you can give them the love they didn’t get when they were kids or that you can love them so much that they’ll become nice.  The temptation is to think that they’ll change with time.

Don’t give in to those temptations.  Don’t argue, debate or try to convince them that they should change.

While they’re still merely boyfriends, girlfriends or dates, vote them off your island.  Make the break before you move in, buy a house or have children.  No matter how much you think you love them, make the break immediately.

Enjoy a dateless holiday this year so that you can make space for someone better to come into your life next year.