Visionary leaders often follow a simple formula to succeed. To avoid getting swamped by details they select independent, result-driven managers, train them, clarify goals and deliverables, and get out of the way. Then they track progress.
But how do you recognize managers who create ever-widening unhappiness, friction, turf fights, turnover and missed deadlines?
Turf protectors believe, “What’s good for me is good for everyone.”
Snooping Puppet Masters seem to think, “Success depends on manipulating, blackmailing or destroying the competition.”
Leaders can see these problems in missed deadlines, high absenteeism, turnover and transfer rate, in exit interviews from a particular department or in anonymous suggestions and internal dissatisfaction surveys. They might hear about them from an executive assistant, trusted manager or brave employee. Discerning leaders will notice turf battles at budget meetings or looks passed around the table behind one manager’s back.
What can visionary leaders do? You have more than enough on your plate and you can’t waste time in details trying to decide which of the fighting children is right. But if you ignore the problems, they’ll grow into disasters.
The two key steps for stimulating change are: - see the original article for details.
Be clear and firm: The manager must change or else.
Bring in a consultant/coach to evaluate and act as the turn-around agent.
These problem managers will need:
Continued pressure to change.
Specific, individualized plans for how to succeed with a new approach.
Cue cards for exactly what to say and do in initial, small steps.
Expert guidance to help them pick the best situations to begin with.
Plans for consistency and perseverance; other people will distrust their new approach.
Behavioral signposts to measure progress.
Frequent review, counseling and independent checks to see that they’ve actually done what they claim.
Often, these problem managers can help themselves by telling other people that they are trying to change and will have to see success with their new approach. Under these conditions, managers who want to continue rising in their companies can change their ways.
How can you stop school bullies by forcing reluctant, do-nothing principals to protect your children? That’s a skill many parents must learn.
First, bullies are always 100% at fault and that never decreases. Kids who act as spectators or cheerleaders, and kids who pile on also are at fault on their own. There’s more than 100% to go around.
The worst are the adults who are responsible for stopping bullying; for creating bully-free schools, but who don’t. Let’s focus on reluctant, do-nothing principals who tolerate bullying at their schools.
Some principals won’t tolerate bullying, but many principals won’t act strongly and effectively.
Five signs of these do-nothing principals are:
They don’t have a school-wide program, including kids and parents, to stop bullies. There’s no training for teachers, administrators, janitors or bus drivers to recognize the early warning signs of overt and covert bullies; of verbal, emotional, physical and cyberbullying.
Even though every kid in the school knows who the bullies are and where and when it happens, do-nothing principals make no effort to monitor areas of the school where most bullying occurs. They plead ignorance and expect you, the parents who are off-site, to provide the proof for them.
They think the best way to stop bullying is through forgiveness, sympathy, compassion, understanding, education and compromise with bullies. They focus on the reasons bullies bully instead of simply stopping them. They think that doing some process counts. But only the results count – stopping bullies.
Do-nothing principals blame the target – your child. They assume your kids must have done something wrong to antagonize the bully. They don’t keep your kid’s complaint confidential. Reluctant principals have great sympathy for how hard the bully’s life is and little sympathy for your child, who is the target of harassment and abuse. Some can’t figure out how to stop a relentless bully so they’d rather look the other way.
To keep you in the dark, they plead confidentiality. Or they ask you to trust them while they handle the situation, but you see that the bullying doesn’t stop.
In these schools, bullying is never one incident; it’s a pattern. Relentless bullies know who has the power and what they can get away with.
Learn how to force reluctant principals to act.
These do-nothing principals are afraid of two things:
Do-nothing principals don’t want to be involved with something that can get messy for them. Often, they’re afraid of the bullying parents of the bullying kids. You must change that. Since do-nothing principals won’t do what’s right on their own, you must make them more afraid of you.
Before there are any incidents, even before school starts, organize a few like-minded parents and start lobbying for a school-wide program including kids and parents. Get media coverage. Make sure there are legal rules and a legal process.
If bullying begins, talk to the principal and staff. Listen carefully for excuses, rationalizations, confessions of ignorance, discussions of what constitutes legal evidence – these are bad signs. Record the conversation. Send to everyone a follow up email listing all the points and promises made.
Give the principal (and counselors and teachers) one chance to stop the bullying – maybe a week or two. Are bullies removed? Does cyberbullying stop? Or is your child picked on even more?
If bullying continues, see an expert lawyer, get an expert coach and start making waves. Contact parents of other kids who are bullied. Get evidence. Contact District Administrators. Contact police. Get publicity from local radio and TV stations. File a law suit. Be prepared for a long, ugly fight. Document, Document!
Most self-help literature focuses on the last step of a sequence – on how to do something better. That’s why self-help books and workshops have titles such as “How to …” or “Best practices for …”
Knowing what to do and how to do it better are important. But that’s usually not the problem.
More often, the problem is the prior two steps before developing the skill: Developing the will to do something and then actually doing it.
I divide developing the will into two areas:
The mindset – Developing effective attitudes and beliefs to get started, and developing the will to treat all excuses and obstacles as just speed bumps.
The “heartset” – It means two things: Developing the determination, grit and tenacity to stick with it; and using the same emotional power we’ve utilized when we’ve relentlessly pursued something we’ve wanted, no matter how discouraging the voices, difficulties or obstacles.
The “how-to” steps for learning or improving skills usually are straightforward. People often already know what to do before they read self-help books.
For example, learning to strike up a conversation with a stranger at a conference is a big fear for many people. The how-to steps are well known: see the whole article for description.
Many people already know these steps – but just won’t put them into practice. So they must develop their mindset and heartset in order to implement a potentially effective plan.
Particularly for managers, the proper mindset and heartset are crucial to overcoming poor time management, negating the fear of giving honest evaluations and not being overwhelmed by too much pressure. Appropriate mindset and heartset are crucial in areas that can’t be squeezed into a how-to method any fool can follow – like leadership.
Appropriate mindsets and heartsets also are critical for people who want to lose weight and stay in shape. Most people know exactly what they need to do: Eat less, eat better, work out. But they have many good reasons why it’s too difficult.
Focus on the step that’s been an obstacle for you, and focus people you manage on the crucial step for them. Until you develop appropriate and effective mindsets and heartsets, the how-to training won’t be effective.
We seem to focus on the wrong questions; the “why” questions. And even worse, the questions that analyze generalized, abstract reasons for why mostpeople or why our society does something.
One of the latest in the long list of articles about how to be better parents – by being a Tiger Mom or a French Mom – is by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, “Why are American Kids So Spoiled?”
Of course Kolbert gives examples of permissive American parents that raise nasty, narcissistic, self-indulgent, entitled, spoiled brats who harass, abuse and bully their parents. And then we can analyze why we parents raise them that way, and the plusses and minuses of raising kids permissively; or not expecting anything until they’ve understood the advantages of the behavior we want and they’re willing to put forth the effort to give it. And then we wring our hands at adults we see who are aging but still spoiled brats. And then we feel overwhelmed and helpless because we think our society is going downhill.
Ah, the false assumption that if we can figure out, objectively and dispassionately, what’s wrong, we can reason our way to the correct plan that will work for all reasonable people.
A better question is about what behavior each of us wants to demand from our kids and grandkids in a real, specific moment.
Every moment, we’re training our kids about what behavior is acceptable and what the consequences will be for falling below our standards of behavior – whether that’s disapproval, removal, or something else.
Training is more important than explaining.
My question is about specific individuals, situations and moments in time – what do we want to say and do with our kids at that moment? It’s not a “why” question. It’s a "what" question focused on the present and future, not on the past.
What reasons do we want to give to our kids for our standards and demands, when don’t we want give reasons in the moment, and when is their compliance expected whether or not they understand or agree with our reasons?
What immediate rewards and consequences do we want to have for their behavior?
As opposed to the misbehaving kids, who we’ve all seen, in Kolbert’s examples, I’ve seen many young kids behaving wonderfully in public – toward their parents as well as toward non-family members. Their parents have trained these kids and demanded good behavior from them, and the kids have accepted the standards.
We can usually get civil, polite, helpful behavior from our children and grandchildren if we’re willing to do the training.
We do know what we want and we don’t need the latest research studies to justify it. Also, we don’t need to spend our children’s whole childhood analyzing what’s right or begging them to act decently.
You’ll be seeing more and more articles by hand-wringers and worriers who claim that stop-bullying programs might become too hyper-vigilant, that “normal” behaviors will now be labeled bullying and that kids will be encouraged to rat each other out.
Of course, such over-reactions might be possible, but these anxiety-ridden defenders of the way things are, look only at one side of the equation.
The worriers usually give three types of arguments:
As detailed in his article in the Wall Street Journal, “Stop Panicking About Bullies,” Nick Gillespie’s kid is okay so he thinks the rest of you wimpy parents with wimpy kids are the problem. Get strong and your kids will stop bullies.
Our country was made strong by individualists, not by big government so let’s not create a bureaucratic monster to solve a kid problem. Statistics show that childhood is safer than ever but today’s worrying parents need something to worry about and want big government to protect their interests.
We’ll go too far and create a Nazi-style socialistic state in which normal kids are labeled bullies and punished too harshly, while all kids are encouraged to become the thought-police; just like in communist or military dictatorships.
These same objections were made to programs designed to protect women from being battered by spouses or raped by dates. They’re also the same arguments made to justify not having programs to stop bullying at work.
These objections to laws and programs that stop bullies, and requirements that principals, district administrators, teachers and staff stop bullying are based on viewing a tiny possibility as if it’s the whole situation and all that matters.
Yes, these fears might be realized in a very few situations. Some normal dislikes or arguments between kids might get blown up hysterically into cases of bullying. Power hungry kids might use accusations of bullying to further their own ends.
But that’s going to be a very small percent of the daily experience of kids at school. And the responsible adults are supposed to have the intelligence and determination to minimize these injustices.
In the minds of nit-picking perfectionists, laws have to be perfect. To them, one bad possibility far outweighs the benefits from a thousand situations in which bullying might be stopped. I think that’s a ridiculous way of thinking.
Approximately 50% of kids admit to having been bullied at school and to not being protected by supposedly responsible adults. Many more report that they’ve witnessed bullying and when they’ve reported it, they got in trouble. Are we going to continue tolerating a huge amount of relentless bullying because we’re worried that we might go too far in protecting kids?
How many suicides will it take before we think the risks of not having programs that protect kids far outweigh the risks of over-reacting with programs that are too strong or too misguided?
Let’s expand our vision to similar situations of abuse and brutality to children. How many Jerry Sandusky’s or child-molesting priests does it take before we demand laws to protect kids, and courageous, right action from respectable adults?
I’d rather swing the pendulum far to the side of protecting the targets and victims of bullying, and live with the very minor consequences of the potential for some misuse of the programs.
With one exception, workplace cliques are bad for business. If you allow them to operate behind the scenes, they’ll destroy morale, teamwork and productivity. Yet, as the economy continues in a recession, people’s fear and stress will lead them to band together to find comfort and scapegoats.
We usually recognize cliques that use bullying tactics to preserve their turf and to get ahead. Let’s focus on one particular type of clique that will become more prevalent and more destructive as the recession deepens – the Whiners’ Club.
I was at a wedding and a funeral last week. Really; not a movie. And the people were fine.
But I was reminded of all the times I’ve been at big family events when some selfish, narcissistic, abusive, controlling, bullying family member demanded that they get their way or they’d make a scene, make everyone miserable and ruin either the celebration festivities or the solemnity. They knew what was best and we’d better do it.
Think of the relatives at all the special occasions – weddings, funerals, births, vacations and holidays. The relatives who get drunk and insist they be allowed to ruin the event; the arrogant jerks who think they own all the attention and air in the place; the nasty, greedy; jealous, vicious-tongued vindictive; the narcissistic, smug, righteous know-it-alls.
Think of the people who take over all the events because they want to. Whatever supposedly logical reasons, excuses and justifications they offer each time, I notice the pattern.
Even though they’re not the important person at the event, they always have to get their way or else. They’re not the bride or groom, they’re not giving birth, they’re not graduating, they’re not getting baptized, confirmed or bar mitzvah-ed; they’re not the host or planner; they’re not the person dying. They’re not even the turkey on the table, although I sometimes entertain fantasies of having a sharp carving knife in my hand.
Did I cover all the bases of your experience also or do you have a few other ones?
These bullies always think they’re right. And they’re willing to argue and fight longer, harder and louder to get their way, than anyone else, especially over what we think is trivial and a waste of time. And they let you know that they’ll retaliate and make us regret resisting them for the rest of our lives. They’ll bad-mouth, criticize and put us down in front of everyone forever. And the scene is our fault, not theirs. They want us the walk on egg shells around them.
So what can we do?
Typically, we find reasons to turn the other cheek. We try to rise above, ignore, look away, appease, understand, excuse because that’s just the way they are or tolerate them for the duration of the event. Typically we give them what they want because we don’t want to be judgmental or we’re too polite to make a scene or we think that if we follow the Golden Rule, they’ll be nice in return. I think that tactic is good to try but only once. Anyone can have one bad day and try to feel better by taking control. But real bullies and boundary pushers simply take our giving them their way as permission to act more demanding. As if they think they’re powerful and everyone is too weak to resist them. Like sharks to bloody prey, they go for more. And it’s always the people who can’t or won’t protect themselves – the weaker, younger, more polite, more bereft ones – who suffer the most when we leave them unprotected.
Instead, be a witness, not a bystander. Recognize that we’re being bullied and abused. Be willing to get out of our comfort zones to take care of the important people. The first time the person bullies, we can take them aside and tell them privately, in very polite and firm words, to “shut up.” But these control-freaks have demanded their ways for years so we know what’s going to happen. Ignore their specific reasons, excuses and justifications. Typically, we give them power because we fell sorry for them, we’re too polite to make a scene and, after all, they’re family. We give them power because they’re more willing to make a scene and act hurt and angry, and walk away. We give them power because they’re willing to destroy the family if they don’t get their way, but we’re not. Take back our power. Be willing to make a scene; to disagree, threaten or throw someone out. Find allies beforehand and stand shoulder to shoulder. We may not change their behavior, but that’s the only way we have a chance of enjoying the events.
Negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage. Looking at yourself with hostile eyes and talking to yourself with that old critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voice can be demoralizing and debilitating. Constant repetition of all your imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead you down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide. Don’t believe it?
Think of some examples of relentless self-bullying:
The kids bullied at school who tell themselves that they’ll never be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough or loved. They think it’s their fault they get harassed, teased, taunted and emotionally and physically bullied. They give in to bullies. If their nagging, hostile, abusive voices convince them that there’s no hope for a better future, they become the next Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi or other young suicides.
The people harassed at work who’re told they’re dumb, ugly, the wrong color, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. They’re made the butt of jokes and threats; their work ideas are stolen; they’re belittled, ostracized, shamed and passed over for promotions. If their self-critical voices convince them to give up, their spirits will die. They won’t be able to summon the will, determination or perseverance to fight back. They’ll feel overwhelmed and unable to learn the skills they need to protect and defend themselves.
The kids who think the deck is stacked against them.Their parents have treated them badly or one or both have blamed or abandoned them. If they convince themselves they’re stupid and not loveable, they’ll give up. They’ll accept bullying; their own and from other kids. They shuffle through life, putting themselves down, defeating their efforts before they’ve really begun. They lose their fighting spirits; the spirit that will struggle against the conditions and vicissitudes of life in order to make great lives for themselves.
Kids who’ve turned off their engines look and act dull and listless; as if they’ve given up already. You can almost hear their constant inner, self-dialogue. They’re so distracted by the destructive IMAX Theater in their minds that they can’t pay attention to what’s happening around them. Their attention is captured by all the putdowns and listing of all their failures, the magnifying of the problems they face, the making of insurmountable mountains out of molehills, the diminishing of each skill or success, the magnifying of each imperfection. They’re not resilient; the smallest adversity defeats them. Happiness is fleeting; bitterness and depression is their lot. Anything good they get is never enough, never satisfying, never brings joy.
Alternatively, they use their engines, often ferociously, to blame their parents and try to beat them into submission, to extract material possessions and guilt, to vent their hatred of themselves and the world onto their parents or onto the one parent who stays and tries to help them. They bite every hand that’s offered to them. They fight against teachers and against learning a skill that might make them financially and physically independent. They explode with sarcasm and rage in response to the slightest nudging. What a waste.
All the help offered them seems to bounce off. They won’t accept what’s offered because that hyper-critical, judgmental voice knows better.
They have no inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience. They feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless. They may go down the path to being victims for life. Their self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed. Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated. They move easily toward isolation, depression and suicide. Nothing will help them until they turn their engines on again.
Compare them to the kids with great engines; always active and alert, always wanting to learn, willing to face and overcome challenges, seeking risk and reward, capable of overcoming adversity. They have tremendous drive to live and to succeed.
These spirited kids with great engines can tax your patience almost beyond its limits, but the reward is so apparent. They’ll make something wonderful of their lives. They won’t give up. They won’t be defeated by defeats.
Our job as parents with these spirited kids is clear: help them develop great steering wheels so they can direct themselves to fulfill the promise of their great engines in worthy endeavors. Whatever direction they travel, they’ll go with passion, intensity and joy. They’ll overcome setbacks by continuing on with renewed effort. As Coach John Wooden said, “Hustle can make up for a lot of mistakes.”
We know that attempts to improve their steering wheel won’t help. No lectures about being better, kinder, gentler people will help. The beginning of a new life for them is the miracle of starting their engines. Then they grab opportunities for themselves. Then we can help them with their steering wheels.
If used well, blame and guilt don’t lead to self-bullying. They’re useful ways of motivating us to do better, even though they can cause a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, minds and hearts.
If we analyze our actions objectively we might take on the blame for some of what we did or failed to do. We can decide how to make amends. We can decide what actions would be better and we can strive to do better next time.
We can also use guilt and feeling ashamed of an action to motivate us to act better next time. That’s a hard way of motivating ourselves but it’s often effective.
Unrelenting and deep shame, on the other hand, leads to destructive self-bullying – negative self-talk, self-doubt and self-harassment, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and increased anxiety and depression.
By shame, I mean the idea that “There’s something wrong with me; I’m bad, evil or defective; I’ll never be free from sin; I’ll never succeed; I’m cursed.”
This kind of deep shame, as opposed to the way I’m using blame, guilt and feeling ashamed, is not focused on an action. This kind of deep shame points us at supposed defects deep within us, at defects that we can’t change, at defects in our identity. There’s no escape from the flaws we imagine are inherent and permanent. The self-laceration of this kind of shame is endless and self-defeating.
Where does this deep shame come from? We’re not born with this kind of shame. We’re born demanding that we be fed, clothed and have our diapers changed. Little babies don’t question whether they deserve to get what they need for survival; they demand it. That demanding approach is necessary for our survival.
Deep shame can only be taught to us through continued and brutal repetition – physical, verbal, emotional. Eventually, most children internalize constant harassment, criticism, put-downs and denigration – assaults on our identity.
Imagine how you’d feel if someone shouted or scolded you, 24/7, “You’re bad. You’re defective. You’re wrong. You shouldn’t have been born. You’ll never do better. I wish you were dead.”
However those harsh and shaming messages were thrown at us, whoever the bullies were, our task as adults is to leave them behind. The two critical steps in leaving home are to leave physically and to leave mentally-emotionally.
The first leaving is obvious to most of us; we get financially independent in order to stay physically independent. We test ourselves against the world, not our parent’s opinions. Can we earn a leaving? Can we meet people and make friends? Can we love and be loved?
The second leaving is mental, emotional and spiritual. We put aside all their beliefs, ideas, attitudes, values, opinions, rules, roles and moods – all the ways they thought mattered in how to face the world, how to earn a living, what equaled a good life, how to be a good person.
We put aside all the false ways they thought about us – whether we were good or bad, strong or weak, stupid or smart, pretty or ugly, hard-working or lazy, the prized child or the scapegoated child, probably going to be successful or guaranteed to fail, blessed to be happy or doomed to be miserable.
We put aside all we were handed when we were children and all we accepted because they were the big, right and righteous people and we were the little and learning people, and because we knew what would happen to us if we disagreed.
To become independent adults we must cast aside all of their opinions and, as independent no-longer children, we must choose and adopt our own beliefs. Some may be the same as theirs; some may be exactly the opposite.
The two important aspects of that mental, emotional and spiritual leaving: One is that our ideas are now adopted by us as adults, with our adult understandings, meanings and limitations. The second is that they are not carved in stone as childhood ideas are. We change them as we get feedback from the world – does this idea actually fit the reality I can now see clearly with adult eyes; does this way of facing the world get me closer to what I want; does it help me be and do good as I now think of that?
In this destroying and creating anew our inner world and our ideas of the ways of the outer world, we can choose whether to keep blame or guilt. But, in order to be free and independent, we must discard deep shame as a way of thinking about ourselves and of facing the world. We can excise the stain we once accepted, we can heal the great empty space we once had, and we can fill us with ourselves at our best. We can develop strength, courage and skill.
Then we can look back at the bullies in our family and decide whether to be with them at all or when and how to be with them. If they continue to bully us, if their bullying continues to trigger our self-bullying patterns we are better served by disconnecting, by making distance – electronically and physically.
If they treat us as newly made adults they’ve just met and want to be friends with, instead of forcing us back into their old images, instead of continuing to try to beat us into the shape they want we will probably want to be with them sometimes.
My recommendations: Don’t stay where you’re continually blamed, guilted or shamed. Be where you’re respected, appreciated, honored. Also, don’t accept the one of you that continually blames, guilts or shames you. Train and discipline yourself so that you have better internal self-talk. Live with the good inner coach you create, not with the internal bully who sounds like your parents, still ripping you down.
Maybe the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince will finally wake us up. Maybe the articles in the New York Times, Huffington Post, People magazine and dozens of others will wake us up. Maybe the long list of charges against the bullies and tormentors will finally goad the public to demand strong action. Maybe charges of statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment and stalking will get a stronger response from the district attorney than, “The inactions of some of the adults at the school are troublesome.”
Phoebe’s suicide is another red alert. But we know that hundreds of other children in our schools are being bullied, harassed, tormented and abused every day. And parents and school officials are not protecting these targets of bullying. Some of these kids will gain strength by fighting back effectively against these predators.
Others will be overwhelmed and destroyed by the bullying, but even more, by the lack of protection by the very adults who have taken on the responsibility to protect them. These kids will grow up concluding that they are helpless and their situations are hopeless. They will grow up with debilitating, negative self-talk, with anxiety, stress and depression, with little confidence and low self-esteem.
We don’t need more suicides to remind us of what we saw at our own schools, what we see in our adult personal relationships and the interactions we observe at work. We know the depths to which humans can sink. We know how alert and courageous we must be to prevent the worst consequences.
A huge number of people failed in Massachusetts. Start with the two boys and four girls between the ages of 16 to 18 who have been charged as adults. Continue with the three minors who have been charged as juveniles. Continue with their parents. Their parents failed to teach and control their children. Of course it’s difficult to teach and control teenagers. But will those parents now defend their venomous children or will they stand with Phoebe Prince?
I think the greatest failure is that of the school authorities, especially the principal and the district administrators who set the tone for the teachers and staff. They pretend to be education experts. They pretend to be worthy to teach children. Yet none would stand up for Phoebe or for the other girl in school who was bullied by one of the accused teenagers.
We know that there are difficulties and that they will hide behind the lie that “we didn’t know how bad it was.” So what? Personally as a parent and grandparent, professionally as a coach, consultant and expert on how to stop bullies I say that these people represent failure and should be forced to go into jobs in which their tasks don’t matter.
Would you want someone who pleads “difficulties” as an excuse for their failures when your life is on the line – for example, a school bus driver, a doctor, a pilot, a cop, a fire fighter, a repairman of train tracks, a quality control worker on an assembly line for your medication, pacemaker or your car’s brakes or accelerator? I wouldn’t give them the responsibility. All that education has been wasted on them. And maybe the type of education currently in how-to-be-a-teacher courses is a waste.
Whether the abuse is cyber-bullying, physical violence, sexual attacks or the many varieties of mean and vicious verbal and emotional abuse – the spite, gossip, rumor-mongering, ostracism, targeting or mocking – there will always be “experts” who say “it’s not so bad,” lawyers who say that it’s too difficult to write enforceable laws, and there will always be difficulties in stopping harassment, bullying and abuse. So what if there are difficulties? If we can’t overcome those difficulties, we don’t deserve the responsibility and trust, and we will reap the bitter fruits that will await us in our hours of need.
State laws and school policies are necessary, but they’re not enough to stop school bullies. The third necessary ingredient is the responsible people who are paid to make schools safe. If teachers, psychologists and counselors, assistant principals, principals, district administrators and school board members don’t create effective school programs and don’t enforce the laws and policies, perpetrators will be freed and their targets will be victimized.
According to the ABC News and investigative reporter Theresa Marchetta, Caitlin Smith was sexually assaulted in the final days of a summer program for incoming freshman at Englewood High School in a Denver, Colorado suburb. The evidence seemed clear-cut and, indeed, a court recently found the boy guilty of unlawful sexual contact with no consent.
The school had suspended him for the last three days of the summer program but what happened when school started in the fall?
The story is titled, “District Policies Fail Teen Victim: Guilty Attacker Remains in School.”
In order for Caitlin to be allowed to enter school, the vice principal had the Smiths sign a “No-Contact Notice” which reads, "You have been involved in an incident that may be criminal in nature," and suspects can not "harass, threaten, annoy, disturb, follow or have verbal/physical contact with any victim or witness in this incident.”
The perpetrator was immediately allowed back in school with Caitlin in the fall. He did not sign a No-Contact Notice and was still allowed back in school. This is despite a statement by Englewood Superintendent Sean McDaniel that, "I think that [the No-Contact Notice] would be a piece on the perpetrators side not on the victim’s side."
On Caitlin’s first day back in school, she was taken right back to the scene of the attack. "They guaranteed they wouldn’t take me down that hallway. I was freaking out, crying, upset. I didn’t want to go through, was closing my eyes,” she said. School authorities asked Caitlin’s mother to keep her daughter out of school. She reports that, "They're asking me to hold my daughter out of school and giving an education to a child [the bully] who shouldn't even be there."
To deal with such incidents, the Englewood School District has policies “which clearly states, multiple times, what happened to Caitlin was a ‘level one’ offense, ‘those which will result automatically in a request for expulsion to the superintendent.’”
When Marchetta asked Superintendent McDaniel, “Should a student be expelled or consider being expelled for having unwanted sexual contact with a student?" he replied, "Absolutely, no question. Sexual contact? I would expect an administrator to suspend with a recommendation for expulsion. Then, that would land in my office.” But he then admitted that the perpetrator was allowed to remain in school without even signing the No-Contact Notice and that now, over six months after the incident, he didn’t know what the principal was doing about the situation.
When Superintendent McDaniel was asked, “theoretically speaking, if it would ever be acceptable for a student accused of committing such an offense to remain in the population during the proceedings, he answered, ‘That’s a great question. No,’ [he added], ‘In that scenario to just to turn the kid loose back in to the student population with no requirements, parameters? No, I can not foresee a situation like that.’" But he then admitted that the perpetrator was allowed to remain in school without even signing the No-Contact Notice.
Parents and students need to know what to do after such an incident:
Don’t hide; make a fuss. Immediately go to the appropriate school authorities and the police. That’s like we encourage victims to report rape immediately.
Find and rally other students and parentswho have been harassed, bullied or abused – emotionally, sexually or physically. If any other kids excuse the perpetrator’s behavior and tell you that you’re being too harsh or if any other kids hassle, threaten or bully you, report them. Record evidence; that’s what cell phones are for. Travel with your friends.
If the authorities won’t act, immediately get a lawyer skilled in both the pertinent laws and in how to bring media pressure to bear. Plan an overall strategy and tactics.
Get an expert coach or therapist to keep your spirits up and to rally your strength and determination.
Don’t accept bullying; don’t take the blame. In most cases the girl is not a “slut” or “whore” that others will call you. It’s usually not your fault. You should know that if the school authorities won’t act, they’re the problem, not you. You don’t have to be perfect according to their standards in order for them to actively help you. Don’t indulge in self-bullying. Negative self-talk, blame, shame and guilt never help. They only increase anxiety, stress and depression, and destroy confidence and self-esteem. Don’t believe negative predictions; your life isn’t ruined and in 10 years you won’t want to be friends with your high school classmates – certainly not the hyenas who pile on.
As you can see, state laws and school policies are necessary to give principals and administrators the leverage to act safely without fear of law suits by bullying parents of school bullies. But the responsible authorities must be willing to act courageously, energetically, skillfully and effectively. When they don’t, laws and policies become scraps of paper, blowing in the wind of their excuses.
Since the principal and district administrator didn’t protect a target of such bullying and abuse, I predict that there have already been other incidents at Englewood High School and there will be in the future. Bullies are predators. They look for easy prey and they push the boundaries. Once one hyena gets away with boundary pushing – darting in, ripping off some flesh and darting back safely – the rest of the pack will pile on.
In addition to the perpetrator and his family, the principal and district administrator have a lot to answer for. I hope a public outcry focuses on them.
Toxic step-fathers and step-mothers are clichés because they’re all too common. But the ubiquity of harassment, bullying and verbal, sexual and physical abuse doesn’t diminish the pain and long-term damage inflicted on defenseless kids.
Of course, kids can also treat their step-parents cruelly, and step-mothers and biological parents can also be relentlessly cruel, but let’s focus here on step-fathers who abuse their size, control and power.
These step-fathers sexually abuse one or all of their step-daughters while the moms ignore the evil. The perpetrators are to blame and the daughters’ anger is rightly focused on these men.
But let’s also look at the moms who won’t see or hear anything bad about their new husbands even though the complaints and evidence are clear, and the damage to their children is striking.
Later, when the complaints and evidence are brought forth by the now-adult and articulate children, these mothers will usually still defend and excuse the predators they invited into their homes. Typically, the mothers whine and demand that their children should perpetuate the lies and secrets. “After all,” they complain, “they deserve a little happiness after all they’ve suffered. Their daughters should understand how hard it was for them.”
The daughters, who held the pain and trauma when they were young, are still left holding the emotional bag. There’s no way they can release their anger by simply beating the bullies to death or making them burn slowly, even though he deserves even worse.
Stop abusing yourself with negative self-talk and predictions of failure that increase self-doubt, stress and depression, and destroy self-confidence and self-esteem. Convert those inner, self-bullying voices into helpful coaches.
Don’t let your children near them. More important than their knowing their toxic grandparents is your protecting them from emotional and physical perpetrators. Be a model for them to keep a flame of strength, courage and determination burning in their hearts no matter what happens to them.
Forget about understanding and forgiveness; let these come in their own time, if they ever do. Understanding why that old man, who may or may not be truly sorry now, could torture you like he did does not excuse or justify the behavior. Understanding how your mother could allow you to be tortured does not excuse or justify the behavior. Understanding why they maintained a conspiracy of silence then and now does not excuse or justify the behavior.
Become internally invulnerable. Use the past pain to inspire your present life. I know that’s easy to say and hard to do. Find people to remind you of your fighting spirit when your energy flags. Get an expert coach to help you put the wounds behind you. Fill the mental space in front of you with your vision of the present and future you want.
Should you tell your children about your toxic parents, their toxic grandparents? What should you tell them and how?
Imagine that your parents no longer abuse you physically or sexually, but they still demean you, scapegoat you, ignore or scorn you, make nasty, hostile, sarcastic remarks and put-downs, and let you know that you’re not good enough. No matter what you do or don’t do, you’re wrong. They take charge of your life when you see them and break appointments whenever they feel like it. Their wants and feelings are the center of the world and you don’t count.
Imagine also that you used to think that if you told them, in just the right way and at the right time, how hurtful their treatment was and is, they’d stop. Or that you used to think your job was to rise above that treatment because they’re your parents, they’re getting old, they’re suffering, they deserve a little peace and happiness, and you owe them.
When can you stop trying to build bridges? When can you cut off communication? When can you tell your children why?
Harassment, bullying and verbal, physical and sexual abuse is usually multi-generational. Families help perpetuate the abusive behavior by keeping secrets and telling lies. If you give them a chance, your parents will likely do to your children what they did to you. The old wounds still throb even if your parents are nice sometimes. They still bleed when your parents repeat the same old treatment even now.
When you grow up, you may vow to break the cycle and treat your children better, but how can you protect them from the example they see of their grandparents still bullying you or them now? And how can you stop obsessing on your childhood trauma or yesterday’s verbal battering?
Once you’ve tried everything you can think of, every approach, every sweet way of suggesting or speaking truthfully (say, a thousand times) and your parents (or step-parents) still protect each other, perpetuate the lies and tell you that you’re nasty and crazy, I think that’s enough.
Protect yourself and your children, turn your back to them, and create a safe and wonderful island of life for your family. That means that your parents don’t get on it.
Always remember the effects on your life and how they tried to crush your spirit. Don’t let a running, internal debate about them suck all your energy down a black hole. Stop negative self-talk; it’ll only discourage and depress you, increase self-doubt, destroy self-confidence and self-esteem, keep you fixated and stuck, and take your eyes off the great future you want for yourself and your family.
You don’t need more understanding of them. You don’t need to save them from themselves or each other. Don’t be their therapist. Let them fix themselves on their own time and their own bodies; not yours.
Spirit counts more than biology. Start calling them by their first names. Don’t give them titles they don’t deserve, like “Grandma” or “Grandpa.”
Don’t argue or debate with your parents. You’ll never convince them that you’re doing the right thing. Bullies always want what they want – to feast on your feelings and flesh. Simply tell them that they’re off your island. Take steps to cut off communication. Change your phone numbers and e-mails. Move if you have to.
Tell your children what’s age appropriate. They don’t need the gory details when they’re six, but they do when they’re sixteen. Gather them together and make it a serious occasion. The framework is that they need to know how to protect themselves and to set standards for their own behavior. Don’t go into psychoanalytical reasons why your parents did it or why they, and maybe the rest of the family, collude to protect them. That’s obvious. You’ll probably have to re-visit the conversation.
Be invulnerable. That’s the term coined by Victor and Mildred Goertzel in their study of the lives of more than 300 famous 20th-century men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962). Instead of finding that these highly successful people had wonderful parents, they found that many had agonizing childhoods spent in bleak, troubled homes, including domineering, alcoholic, rage-aholic or neglectful parents. They described the children who succeeded, despite a psychologically damaging childhood, as resilient or invulnerable.
Be a model for your children. Show them that abusive behavior drives people away. Show them how to stand up to abuse, which sometimes means creating distance instead of being sucked into a battle that ties up your life.
Create a new family including new elders; a family of your heart and spirit. Have so much fun, bring so much joy that there’s not a hole anymore that would be filled with thoughts of biological grandparents.
Get an expert coach to increase your determination, perseverance, courage and resilience, and to create tactics for your individual situation.
Your task is to create a fabulous life. Don’t let toxic parents or grandparents – or siblings or friends – ruin it. Shine a light on bullies. Your children need you to show them how to thrive in the face of abuse, cover-ups and lies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Will – determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance, grit.
Skill – overall strategy, tactics and the ability to maintain your poise and carry out your plan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Imagine that you have a new boyfriend who seems wonderful and you’re looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day. But in your past relationships you were harassed, bullied, controlled and abused. You finally realize you have a tendency to pick the wrong guys. What should you look for with this new one and what should you do if you see any warning signs?
Step back and take a look at how he treats people now. Don’t listen to any of his reasons, explanations or excuses. Look only at his actions. Everyone can blow up once a year under extreme pressure, so count how often he behaves that way. Look for patterns.
Does he push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what he wants?
Does he make the rules and control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on? Does he think that his sense of timing and rules of proper conduct are the right ones?
Do his standards rule? Is your “no” not accepted as “no?” Is he always right and you’re always wrong? Is sex always when and what he wants and for his pleasure? Is his sense of humor always right? Does he say that he’s not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive? Do your issues get dealt with or are his more important so he can ignore your concerns or wishes?
Does he control you with negativity, disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt? For example, no matter what you do, are you wrong or not good enough? Does he cut you down in subtle ways and claim that he’s just kidding? Or does he control you with his hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide?
Are you afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage? For example, do you walk on eggshells? Does he intimidate you with words and weapons? Does he threaten you, your children, your pets or your favorite things?
Are you told that you’re to blame if he’s angry? Do you feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained? In this relationship, has your self-doubt increased, while your self-confidence and self-esteem decreased?
Does he isolate you? Are you allowed to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work? Does he force you to work because he needs your money? Are you told that you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them him?
Does he need your money to make his business schemes work? Does he have a pattern of not keeping jobs, even though he blames his lack of success on other people or bad luck? Is he looking for someone to support him like he thinks he deserves?
If you answered yes to most (or even any of these questions), pull out a piece of paper and write, in big capital letters, “Bully” and “Control-Freak” and “Abuser.” Now you know what you’re dealing with. Post these signs on your mirror, car, computer and work space. Put them in your purse.
While bullies are courting you, until he gets you, he’ll treat you the best he’ll ever treat you. For bullies, it’s all downhill after he thinks he’s got you.
How does he treat other people like:
Servers – waiters and waitresses, clerks at the movies and retail stores, people who work for airlines. Does he harass, bully and abuse them? Does he try to get something for free?
Supervisees, coworkers and vendors. Does he think they’re stupid, incompetent and lazy? Does he jerk them around? Does he retaliate viciously if he feels offended?
Acquaintances and friends? Does he keep them only if he’s the boss or center of attention? Does he have friends who have lasted? Are the relationships brutal or are they like those you’d like between equals?
His former girlfriends or ex-wives. What would they say about those relationships? Does he claim all those women were bad or rotten? Did he retaliate in the end?
His parents and siblings? Does he abuse them because they deserve it, or has he simply walked away because they’re impossible to have a good relationship with?
Don’t think you’re unique, different and safe; don’t think that he’ll never treat you that way. That’s magical thinking. A person who has mastered harassment, bullying, controlling and abusing these people, especially the helpless servers, supervisees and vendors will eventually get around to you.
What does he wish he could do to those other people?
Does he wish he could have had the strength, courage and opportunity to retaliate without bad consequences to himself?
Is he itching to take his anger or rage out on someone else (like, maybe you)?
Ignore your overwhelming feelings of true love. Don’t waste your life trying to fix him. Get rid of him now before it’s too late; before you live together, or he slowly gets you to give him control. He’s only a boyfriend. Find a better one to have all those feelings of true love with.
Rolling Stone reports how “Twilight: New Moon” star Taylor Lautner stopped school bullies. Taylor told Rolling Stone, “I was never extremely confident. Because I was an actor, when I was in school there was a little bullying going on. Not physical bullying but people making fun of what I do. But Taylor says the bullies didn’t stop him from taking on the role of Jacob in Twilight: New Moon, which transformed him into a Hollywood heartthrob.”
How did Taylor stop the bullies and do what he wanted to do?
Developing a mind-set that’s strong enough to help you thrive. You don’t accept what bullies say as true or meaningful or predictive of your future. You don’t let bullies get to you. You develop mental and emotional toughness and grit. You don’t let their views or words decrease your self-esteem or self-confidence. You’re not harassed or abused inwardly by their negativity. You don’t become an emotional victim. You see them for the jerks they are. You set your mind and heart on the future you want to create. You keep a spark of hope and resolution alive. You know you’ll get away from jerks like that when you grow up. You find heroes that inspire your emotional strength, courage and endurance.
Developing real-world tactics that are effective for you. You have complete choice depending on the situation and the styles you want to try. You don’t use the nine tactics that fail to stop relentless bullies. Instead, you might respond with snappy come-backs of your own. You might form your own clique of people who think you’re fine and worth being friends with. Depending on the type of bullying, you might get your parents and the principal and teachers involved. You might beat them up. I know that lots of people will cringe at that. But it works. Ask people who were successful against bullying.
Taylor commented only the first step. He said: “I just had to tell myself I can't let this get to me. This is what love to do. And I'm going to continue to do it.” That was good enough.
Think of the wonderful interaction that helped Michael Oher, as described in “The Blind Side.” Even though the movie downplays his knowledge of football (he had studied the game since he was 10), notice the support of Michael by people who believed in him and were skilled enough to nurture his will and fighting spirit.
More important than distracting questions and considerations about how much they do it, why they do it or do they do it more or differently than men, are:
Do you recognize the early warning signs of bullies?
Do you know how to stop them skillfully?
Women often say that other women aren’t as overt about bullying; they’re more likely to be stealth bullies. Some use tactics that are sneaky, manipulative, backstabbing; some form cliques and start rumors or demeaning put-downs; some pretend to be friends and bad mouth you behind your back; some are negative, whining, complaining “professional victims;” some are passive-aggressive. And some can be nit-picking, control-freaks just as much as men.
How about Meryl Streep and other unsavory characters in “The Devil Wears Prada?”
Some are splinters, rotten apples and cancers – at all levels in your organization. Just like men who bully.
If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they face – men or women.
Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies. I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.
During economic ice ages or recessions, when times get hard, hardness tends to run rampant. Most people are justifiably afraid they’ll lose their jobs and the lives they planned. Will they get laid off or downsized through no fault of their own? What will happen to their savings, insurance, college and retirement funds? Will they be able to keep their homes or even eat next month?
How do people react in the face of their recession-stimulated fears? What type of bullying, harassment and abuse will increase at work? How can we decrease negative self-talk that increases stress and destroys self-esteem and self-confidence?
Harassment by Leaders and Managers
Managers and leaders will squeeze more from themselves and staff in order to reduce costs and stay afloat. But some managers and leaders will abuse employees and subordinates just because they know they can. Many people will tolerate bullying and abuse because they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they don’t give in. But don’t give in to bullying, harassment or obnoxious treatment. You are still protected from those abuses. Don’t be pugnacious in return, but do insist on politeness and decent treatment. Know the law, get allies and advisors, and document on your home computer.
Bullying by Coworkers
Expect a huge increase in stealth bullying by coworkers and managerial peers. Many will think that their survival requires them to get rid of you. Some will become masters of backstabbing, criticism, sarcasm, snide put-downs, blaming, spreading rumors and gossip, smear tactics, taking credit from you, and forming cliques. They’ll smile when they do it. Keep your opinions to yourself and watch out for people who produce nothing, suck up and cover their backs. Form your own clique of productive people you trust. Also, ally with someone productive who has great people skills and a sense of what’s happening throughout the whole office.
Negative Self Talk
The worst problem will be a dramatic increase in this type of “self-bullying.” Your inner voices will make dire predictions of the future, tell you that you’re helpless in the grip of huge forces beyond your control and predict that, no matter how hard you try, you’ll inevitable fail. Your supercritical inner voices will try to stress, depress and discourage you, and make you give up. Your inner voices, full of self-questioning and self-doubt, can erode your self-esteem and self-confidence, destroy your hope and immobilize you.
Self-bullying is the most destructive form of bullying because it saps your will to overcome your circumstances. Self-bullying can rob you of your determination, courage, strength and skill. With those voices shouting or whispering in your ear, it’s impossible to gather yourself and make consistent, focused effort. If you let fear and self-bullying destroy your strength and will, you won’t have the right stuff, you won’t do the right thing and the economic tide will pull you under.
You know which people spoke to you in those voices. You know who really didn’t like or respect or appreciate you. And which people thought they’d motivate you better by beating you down. In either case, whether they ridicule your efforts or are simply certain of the bleak future they predict, their old style is no good for you now. You need encouraging self-coaching now, not self-bullying.
In addition to finding a great coach or therapist to guide you in the inner work necessary to convert those voices into effective coaches, there’s a lot you can do to help yourself.
Turn off the parts of the outer world that feed fear, despair and depression. Turn off the television and radio; don’t read newspapers or magazines; stop checking the snippets of fear on your smart phone. Don’t waste your life being discouraged by endless analysis of what’s wrong and the latest expert’s predictions of impending and long lasting doom. Walk away politely from people who wallow in fear and panic. You don’t need those moment-to-moment, panic-making obsessions to know what you need to do to stay strong and do your best.
Look around. Who doesn’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead, handles things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible? Who has an inner light that gives them joy even when they don’t have all the comfort and toys they want? Ask them how they look at the world.
Make new friends and acquaintances who stimulate your strength, courage and joy. Find other great people to stand with. In one swift and mighty sweep, end the self-doubt, the need to analyze and question, the self-bullying and brainwashing. You have great sources of inner strength and power, if you would but let yourself feel them. You have the guts and grit to thrive in this little ice age. Your ancestors did and you have their strong genes.
Sometimes, even successful women give up their own identities and slowly accept boyfriends controlling their lives. These women give up their independence and become willing victims. A mild example was described by Dr. Irene S. Levine. The bullying may start immediately, but usually there’s a step-by-step process of boundary pushing and giving in. The bully’s harassment is relentless, no one incident is worth a huge fight and if she refuses to do what he wants, she’s wrong and he becomes more abusive or threatens to leave.
What happens in a more extreme case and what can these women do to get away?
In one case, when Kate met Carl at work, she was successful with her own goals, place, money, car and an active social life. At first, Carl was very charming and confident, and they became good friends. Kate says they were two peas in a pod. How wrong she was!
After they actually moved in together, Carl changed. He knew that Kate had tattoos on her arms, but after they became a couple, he said that she needed to wear long sleeves when she was with him. He wouldn’t be linked to a person with tattoos. Kate thought that he was a jerk. Now she thinks that she should have said goodbye right there, but she did what he said. After all, she thought, it was only one small thing.
Carl wanted to move to a new town to start his own business. Kate was reluctant because she’d also have to quit her job, but Carl insisted. Before they lived together, Kate was a member of three coed gyms, but in the new town, Carl insisted that she go to an all-women's gym. She gave in because she didn't want the headache of disagreeing with him, but she kept feeling like she was the one who was making all the changes.
Sat in the home office for six-ten hours a day working for Carl.
Sold her car so he could get one he wanted, in his name.
Was never allowed to talk or go out with her friends.
Had a credit card that she was allowed to use only for household purchases, which Carl monitored.
Cooked, cleaned and took care of the dogs.
Was 20 pounds overweight and flat broke – he gave her only enough for household shopping and his errands.
Carl was always in a bad mood and yelled at her all the time. Every thing she did set him off. He said that his nasty moods were because he was stressed and she wasn’t helpful enough, so she had to put up with them. He didn’t communicate with her; he just blew up at her. He never said that he was sorry; he acted like it didn’t matter.
Kate finally realized that she’d become his slave! What I say in, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” she eventually understood in her gut. “What’s the price of tolerating bullies? Slow erosion of your soul.”
Looking back, she realized that bullies and control freaks don’t take your kindness, reasonableness and tolerance as decent behavior they should reciprocate. They take it as an invitation to grab for more. They won’t stop until they have everything, which is never, or until they get bored.
There’s no point going into great analysis about why Kate did what she did. Her tasks were to forget trying to change him and to stop listening and acquiescing to him. She had to get away as soon as she could, find allies and supporters where she lived, go to coed gyms and lose weight, and get a money-making job again. She also needed a coach to bolster her resolve, perseverance and resilience, and to plan effective tactics.
Early on, she had been independent and could have left, but she didn’t. She had to struggle a lot to dig herself out of the pit she was in, but it was worth the rest of her life to become independent again.
Mostpeople are afraid of the economic forecast. Some have lost jobs; more will. Some have lost retirement funds; more will. Some have lost hope; more will. Fear and stress stimulate mostpeople to huddle around the campfire, worrying, whining and complaining about their uncertain future. They convince themselves that they’re too weak and helpless to succeed. They’re victims together.
A long, cold recession or depression is the consensus prediction. But that’s not the prediction for my life and it doesn’t have to be for yours either. And that’s not because I have guaranteed money flowing in or I’m sure my business will be immune to the next little ice age. There’s a different reason.
We each have self bullies.
The little, self-bullying voices:
Know our every fear and weakness, our every mistake and sin.
Demean and ridicule us, discourage and depress us.
Predict failure, as if they want to make us lose hope and give up.
Don’t like us even though they pretend to be trying to help us.
That are so persuasive.
We know where we heard those voices that told us they knew better – our parents, relatives, siblings, teachers, ministers, schoolmates, peers. We know how we made their voices into our self-bullying voices.
I refuse to listen to self bullying. I refuse to be a victim of my times and circumstances. You also can rise above mostpeople.
Don’t be a victim of your past. History is not destiny. Command yourself. Ignore self-bullies. Our self-bullying voices do not know what’s best for us, do not know the future and can’t accurately predict that we’ll fail.
Of course, the economy is lousy and times will be hard. Most of us won’t be able to maintain our previous standard of living. Mostpeople are angry because they thought they were guaranteed increasing wealth and security if they did things right.
We haven’t been trained to survive a depression. So what? We can survive and even thrive.
Think about what our ancestors survived. There has always been rotten weather like recessions and depressions, poverty and war. They’re part of the natural weather cycles – hurricanes, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, avalanches, droughts or floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. There have also been plagues, famine, pestilence and war.
If we let recession-induced fear and self bullying sap our strength and will, we won’t have the right stuff, we won’t act skillfully and the economic tide will pull us under. We have within us the inheritance of an unbroken line of people who thrived. We have within us the seeds of strength, courage and joy.
These economic ice ages have happened in America before. For example, economic crashes occurred in about 1787, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1897, 1907 and the great depression from 1929-1941. The rest of the world had similar experiences.
What can we do when we get down on ourselves? We need WILL and SKILL.
In order to succeed, we must choose to ignore self bullying, choose to command ourselves, choose to create the futures we want, no matter what the circumstances. As individuals, we must have the WILL to persevere, with grit, determination and resilience.
Call that hyper-critical, fear-mongering side of us a “self-bully” so we’ll react with passion and power against it. So we’ll rally ourselves against its words. We wouldn’t lie down in front of those old bullies and we wouldn’t let ourselves be abused by bullies now.
We need SKILL to ignore our self-bullying voices – turn off the discouraging TV; stop listening to people moaning, whining and complaining; stop listening to victim stories. Walk away politely from mostpeople who wallow in the dumps of fear and panic. If you’ve kept your job, don’t wallow in survivor’s guilt. Get off the emotional roller coaster.
Find friends who don’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead handle things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible. Find friends with inner lights that give them joy even when they don’t have all the comforts and toys they once did. Become such a friend.
When the self bullying voices start again, tell them we’ve heard all that before and if they want to help us, they can use a different voice and become encouraging coaches that strengthen our spirits. Fill the IMAX screen of our minds with the future we hope we’ll have and the friends we want in our lives. Throw ourselves into activities like physical exercise. Don’t feed our addictions; eat well. Feed our spirits with movies, music and books that lift up our spirits and renew our energy.
We need SKILL to make plans to keep our jobs or find others, to spend less while still treating our spirits better. We need skill to get over our feelings, plans and expectations. Loss of riches, comforts and dreams is not really the end of the world. Get going again.
While the growing recession is the world in which I function, it’s not the world in which I live. I invite you wonderful people to enter the world that is waiting for you, if you but have the courage to take the first steps.
"What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." Ralph Waldo Emerson