Learn to identify and label different types of bullies and the tactics they use.  That will give you power.  You’ll know what you’re up against.  You won’t second-guess yourself.  You’ll be able to align and focus your energy and action.  You’ll get the help you need. Some ways many people think of bullying are:

  • Mental, emotional, physical bullying (including harassment and threats).
  • Verbal bullying, non-verbal harassment, physical violence (attacks on people, pets or things).

But I focus on 5 types of bullies and their tactics:

  1. Overt bullies.
  2. Covert bullies.
  3. Cyberbullies.
  4. “Professional Victims.”
  5. Self-bullies.

Often there are no clear and fixed lines between these types of bullies and bullies often use different tactics.  I don’t include sexual bullying as a separate category because that can be done using all the tactics.

Overt bullies act out in public.  They’re easier to see and to get evidence against.

Covert bullies are sneaky, manipulative and controlling.  They abuse in secret; it’s much harder to get evidence against them.

Some of the techniques overt and covert bullies use:

  • They get out of control and throw temper tantrums (like children).  They’ll have physical or verbal explosions or give the “Loud Silent Treatment.”  They get power by anger and rage.
  • They indulge in personal vendettas and scapegoat victims.
  • They make harsh judgments or remarks or put-downs.  They’re experts in personal criticism and negativity.
  • They talk down to people.  They push sensitive places in order to make other people feel bad.
  • Their feelings matter; yours don't.  They make the rules; you don't.  Their reasons make sense; yours don't.  They're right; you're wrong.
  • They’re instigators.  They pour gas on the fire, get other people to fight and they create “uproar.”  They’re splinters.
  • They’re control-freaks and turf protectors.  They’re always right and righteous.
  • They’re relentlessly negative, critical, naysayers who are impossible to please.  They complain until they get attention.
  • They tease, taunt and use name calling put-downs.  They use people as emotional punching bags.
  • They make nasty, ugly, vicious, snide jokes or cut you down, followed by “I was just kidding” or “You’re too sensitive” or “I didn’t mean anything bad” or “I was only having a little fun.”
  • They mock with non-verbal, disrespectful “editorial” comments like eye rolling or snorting.
  • They form school yard cliques to cut out their targets. They’re passive-aggressive.  They manipulate, triangulate, and stimulate unhappiness and drama.
  • They spread rumors, gossip, innuendos and lies.
  • They’re great debaters who never let you win.  They’re antagonistic, boundary pushers who do the minimum and undercut authority and systems.
  • They always blame others.  Nothing is ever their fault.  They have endless excuses and justifications while showing little-no improvement.

Cyberbullies are hostile and personal.  They encourage or organize “mobs” to pile on.

“Professional Victims” – most people overlook this category.  Professional victims act fragile and have hurt feelings in order to gain power and control.  People walk on egg shells near them.  They’re hypersensitive, spoiled brats who cry and blame.  They’re hysterical Drama Queens-Kings.  They make a big deal over things you think aren’t worth fighting about.  They use shame, guilt and anger.

Self-bullies beat themselves up all the time.  They feel unworthy and have low self-esteem.  They wallow in self-questioning and self-doubt, and stay stuck and insecure.  They’re easily manipulated by overt and, especially, by covert bullies.  They’re the hardest people to help.

Please watch the following YouTube videos:

Knowledge is power.  Learn to recognize all types and styles of bullying so you can protect and defend yourself and your children.

Protect your personal environment from pollution.  Get bullies out of your personal space.

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.

When Benni Cinkle was 13, she appeared in a YouTube music video that went viral, receiving over 200 million views.  At first, Benni was ridiculed by millions around the world for her awkward dancing, often referred to as “That girl in pink that can’t dance.”  They called her names and told her she should kill herself. A few of the printable names she was called were “lame, terrible, awkward, horrible, stupid, freak, loser, awful, worthless, annoying, fat and ugly, dumb.”  Other comments included, “She should probably look into suicide,” “Please just die” and “I’ll bet she wants to kill herself now.”

Did she let the jerks drag her down?   Did she lose her self-esteem and get depressed?  Did she commit suicide?

No.  Benni was a target, but she was not a victim!

Instead of reacting defensively, Benni didn’t take it personally.  She kept her spirits up.  She met their criticism with humor, honesty and understanding.  She was open and didn’t hide.  Soon, anonymous cyber bullies became fans and Benni's online reputation as an approachable, down-to-earth teen began to grow.  In the months following her unexpected popularity, Benni received tens of thousands of requests for advice from teens around the world.

Realizing she had been gifted with a platform that offered international reach, Benni decided to use her 15 minutes of fame for something positive. So she:

  • Started “That Girl in Pink Foundation” as a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of teen suicide.  TGIP focuses on any issue that may directly or indirectly lead to teen suicide, including: Teen Depression, Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, Teen Self-Mutilation, Teen Gay/Lesbian Support, Child Violence, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Violence, Eating Disorders and Teen Pregnancy.
  • Authored “That Girl in Pink’s Internet Survival Guide,” offering teens strategies for handling life online.
  • Organized a flashmob dance to raise donations for American Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief.
  • Organized a walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation that included hundreds of kids from 14 countries walking with her, virtually.
  • Recorded her single, “Can You See Me Now,” and donated profits to TWLOHA and GLSEN.
  • Visited schools across the U.S. delivering her “Don’t Just Stand There” anti-bullying presentation.

Let’s hear three cheers for Benni!

Find her at www.thatgirlinpink.org.  Invite her to speak at your school.  She’ll help you stand up to cyber bullies and stop bullying in its many forms.  She’ll inspire students to become defenders instead of remaining merely bystanders.

Imagine you’re a newly appointed project leader of an existing management team.  How do you know if you’re walking into a club of entrenched buddies who want to run the show and will sabotage your efforts?  And what can you do about it? To read the rest of this article from the Business Journal of Jacksonville, see: Fire people who think they’re entitled to run things http://jacksonville.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/stories/2007/04/23/smallb3.html

I recently observed a team of a dozen managers with that dynamic.  Harry was the newly appointed project leader.  His two predecessors, also experienced leaders, had been unable to move the team forward.  Both reported problems building team agreement and developing aligned effort.

Sitting in on a team meeting, I saw two people repeatedly cast furtive glances to a third, who signaled displeasure by frowning, eye rolling and head shaking.  After each instance, the trio resisted the direction being taken by the rest of the group.  During a break, the three clustered outside, reinforcing caustic personal comments about Harry.

A little investigation on my part revealed the extent of the pattern.  One person was the Queen Bee, obediently supported by her attentive court.  She thought she should run the whole team because she always “knew best.”

The core of the pattern is that righteous and arrogant people feel entitled to special privileges.  They make their own rules and have double standards.  They’re self-reinforcing, and ignore or don’t care about what other people think.

The pattern is a common one.  It’s especially prevalent on boards of directors and in government offices and nonprofits.  People like this trio will fracture any group, destroy productivity and subvert the next generation of potential leaders. Their personal agendas to achieve power and esteem take precedence over the job.

What can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

  • Recognize that fixing it will take determination and skill.  A powerful image of the situation will help keep you on track.  Harry saw them as a grown-up version of a high school clique; three princesses who know they’re the best and deserve to be in charge.
  • You can try reaching out to the offenders in an effort to get them working with the rest of the team.  But don’t count on that approach succeeding.
  • Harry tried a conciliatory approach but the trio was so arrogant and deluded that every gesture he made to find common ground was interpreted by them as an admission that he was wrong, was begging forgiveness and was ready to follow their direction.  The previous two leaders had also tried to placate them and failed
  • But, whether you’re a peer or a project leader, you can’t afford to ignore them.  If left unchallenged, they form a not-so-secret power structure that will sabotage your best efforts to succeed.  They will force you to take sides.  For them, it’s about control and adoration.
  • Don’t be a faithful drone.  Take steps to take away their power to do harm the organization.
  • Reasoning and evidence won’t change these people.  And only a small percentage of them learn their lessons from their obvious failures.
  • This is not a task for wimps.  You’ll need the help of your management, which means you need to do your homework and document your case.  Look for a smoking gun.  When you’re ready, shine a light on the pattern and confront the offenders head on.

If you find yourself in a situation like this one, quietly build an airtight case, gather allies and act decisively.  And be prepared for a battle.  People like that trio are a cancer in any organization. Remove them surgically before they metastasize.

If we don’t act promptly and decisively, performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissists, 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.

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.

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.

You’ve heard it a hundred times, “A great manager can motivate anyone.” Hogwash.

The fact is some slackers simply don’t care and are beyond motivation.  And it’s a waste of your limited time and energy to keep trying.  If you’re sick and tired and stressed out because you’ve accepted responsibility for motivating slackers, prepare for the inevitable effects of continued frustration and emotional pain.  You’ll be exhausted, burn out and get physically ill.

Unfortunately, managers often find themselves pressured to motivate everyone.  And both they and their bosses may see these managers as failures when they can’t pull it off.  It’s time to give them a break.

To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Louisville, see: Don’t stress out trying to motivate slackers http://www.bizjournals.com/louisville/stories/2007/05/28/editorial3.html

Many slackers are like teenagers who don’t want to take out the trash or clean their rooms.  They pretend they’re not responsible or don’t know how.  They act as if there’s a debate going on between them and their managers, and they don’t have to do the work unless they like the bribe.  Slackers are sneaky, manipulative bullies.

Motivating your employees is an important part of being a good manger.  It’s also important to recognize the ones who can’t be motivated, so you don’t waste time trying to do the undoable.

If they’re not performing, let them know immediately and link consequences and rewards to performanceYou can’t make them happy enough to work hardIf they don’t respond to praise or fear with increased productivity, let them look for a job where they’ll be appreciated for slacking.  Or, maybe, a termination will change their slacker attitude.

You’re not looking for people who require constant motivation and micromanagement.  You’re looking for people who come to you inspired and eager to face challenges, who take responsibility and who succeed.

Keeping a slacker forces good performers to pick up that slack.  You’re simply spreading the stress around so you don’t have to bear the whole burden.  That’s a poor reward for a good performer.  It’s as if you’re saying, “I can count on you so I’m going to give you a bonus of extra work.  We’re going to continue paying that underperforming slacker while you carry their slack in addition to the two jobs you already do.”

The most dismal cases are in organizations that promote slackers to management or allow slacking managers to stay.  That spreads slacking over a wider territory.

In the real world it’s everyone’s job, including a president or CEO, to motivate his supervisors that he’s worth keeping.  Why should it be up to your managers to motivate the slackers on your payroll?  Slackers should be working hard to motivate you to keep them.

Slackers create the same symptoms.  Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissists, 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 peacemakerBegging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, endless ‘second chances,’ unconditional love and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  Stop 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.

You’ve seen the sign, or some variation of it: “Clean up your mess.  Your mom doesn’t work here.”  It’s an obvious reminder to the slobs among us that they’re a real problem. But there’s a flip side to this problem: the office “mom” – male or female – who cleans up after the slobs.  That may sound like a good thing, but office moms create their own set of problems.

Office moms come in two flavors; those who clean up the physical debris left by others and “e-moms” who try to clean up other people’s emotional garbage.

To read the rest of this article from the Cincinnati Business Journal, see: Office moms, slobs, princesses stir up distracting soap opera http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2007/06/25/smallb5.html

There are people who leave physical messes and people who leave emotional messes like hot-tempered, hostile staff no one wants to tangle with and bosses who want go-fers to take care of their personal, menial chores.

The fact is some people are lazy, uncaring and irresponsibleThey act like overgrown children or arrogant princes/princesses expecting to be waited on.  You have to decide which values matter most.  Is it leaving people alone, because of politeness or fear, or setting and enforcing communal standards of behavior, despite resistance?

If you ignore slobs, resentment will grow among staffers who get stuck cleaning up other people’s messes.  Weak staff will also want slob privileges.  Resentment will destroy productivity.

Volunteer office moms clean up other people’s physical messes.  Acting out of courtesy or martyrdom, office moms appear to be benevolent.  But even if they’re happy cleaning up after others, there’s an insidious side effect that can cost more than the immediate benefits.

When someone caters to grown “children,” the latter tend to remain children.  Lack of responsibility about break rooms usually leads to lack of responsibility about team effort.  It spreads to messy, worthless paperwork and incomplete projects.

The most insidious and destructive side of the slob-mom equation are people who dump emotional garbage around the office (e-slobs) and their partners, e-moms, who listen sympathetically and try to clean up the messes.  E-slobs continually vent their hurt, frustration, complaining and criticism.  They want support for personal agendas.

One variant of e-slobs are bosses who want emotional voids filled by endless praise and unconditional love.  They often create loyalty tests for you to prove your love.  For example, they’ll demand that you miss important family events in order to wait on them over trivial matters.

E-moms encourage melodrama and make feelings more important than productivity.

Of course, you want your staff to care about one another, but e-moms and e-slobs take a tremendous toll on overall productivity.  You need to intervene quickly if you have a slob team.

E-moms, e-slobs and princesses create the same symptoms.  Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissists, 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 be a slob or dependent boss who needs an office mom.  Don’t look for a warm, soft, friendly shoulder on which to cry at work.  And don’t waste work time on melodrama.  Handle your feelings on your own time.

On the flip side; don’t be an office mom.  You won’t make things better being a peacemakerBegging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, endless ‘second chances,’ unconditional love and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  Stop emotional bullies and stop bullying.

Work is about work, not soap opera.  Stick to that agenda and you’ll be better off.

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.

You probably don’t want an angry, confrontational, bullying boss.  But, do you want the other extreme – a conflict-avoidant boss? I vote, “No.”  Conflict-avoidant bosses create breeding grounds for passive-aggressive employees and self-appointed tyrants.

For example, Helen’s boss is nice and sweet.  And that’s her problem.

To read the rest of this article from the Austin Business Journal, see: Bosses who avoid conflict create a big mess http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/stories/2007/07/23/smallb3.html

Larry is always thoughtful and considerate.  He tries to agree with everyone.  Although he inspects each employee’s results and asks penetrating questions, he won’t tell them what they must do.  If two of his staff disagrees, he won’t intervene and make a decision, or force them to resolve the issue.

Helen has frequent and critical deadlines, but in order to do her job she needs information supplied by Lindsay, another employee in Larry’s department.  Lindsay says she’s too busy to give Helen the necessary information within the agreed-upon timelines.

Helen asks and asks but nothing seems to work.  She tries begging, twisting Lindsay’s arm and even explaining her predicament at team meetings.  She tries every communication and management technique her friends and human resource professionals suggest.  Lindsay simply goes on her merry way and stonewalls Helen.  She’s a sneaky bully.

In public, Lindsay always agrees to do that part of her job but then simply ignores the commitment.  In private she says Helen’s not important enough.  She doesn’t like Helen and she’s going to sabotage her.  In one-to-one meetings with Larry, she undercuts Helen’s needs, communication skills and performance.

Larry says he can’t do anythingIf he tried to force Lindsay, it’d create conflict – and he doesn’t want confrontationLarry is so sweet and nice.

Larry avoids conflict with Lindsay but creates conflict with Helen.  He’s upset with not getting what he needs from Helen but not upset enough to break the deadlock.  He’s more afraid of Lindsay than he is of Helen.  Lindsay knows she’s secure.  She has no pressure to serve Helen and no consequences for resisting.

There are numerous variations on this theme but they all lead to the same symptoms.  Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissisism, incompetence, laziness, 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.

Absentee bosses – whether they’re waiting for retirement, have distracting personal concerns, are mentally tuned out or are cowards – create sanctuaries for unprofessional behavior.  When there’s a vacuum of authority, the most aggressive, ruthless and controlling people are drawn in to fill it.  It’s like the worst behavior of children coming out when their teacher leaves them alone for the day.

Conflict-avoidant bosses don’t implement decisions necessary for overall productivity because they won’t face resistant people and get them to do what’s necessary.

If you avoid facing someone who’s unhappy, you’re abdicating your responsibility as a leader.  You’ll probably live to regret the pain caused by abandoning your duty.  Your good employees certainly will regret it.

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.

What if you showed up for work to find a new sign posted by the owners: “Keep the best, churn the rest”—and you knew the best, and the rest meant you and your colleagues at all levels? Chances are, it’d get your attention.  And that’s exactly what business owners Dick and Harry (made up names for a true illustration) had in mind when they posted that sign at their medium-sized company.

To read the rest of this article from the Houston Business Journal, see: Fixing your business? Start at the top with managers http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/stories/2007/10/29/smallb5.html

Dick and Harry had allowed their company to drift into unprofitability.  Though they brought in more business, profits never increased.  And the more jobs they took on, the crazier their lives became.  They were so exhausted trying to stay afloat, they didn’t have time to plan how to get out of the mess—until a stress-induced fight finally forced them to stop and think.  It was change or lose the business.

They realized they had a lackadaisical staff, lackadaisically managed, producing minimally.  The big problem was their poor leadership.  Dick and Harry had let their standards slide.  They’d stopped being leaders and had become conflict-avoidant fixers.

They complained whenever something was done wrong, but they fixed it themselves.  They worked harder and dumberNo one was re-trained or fired.  They never stopped bullies. The result?  The more business that came in, the worse their quality and the more profit gushed out of their pipeline.

The more frantic they had become, the less they enforced behavioral standards.  Over time, narcissism, cranky complaining, criticism, whining, demanding, bullying, emotional drama, back-stabbing, sabotage, negativity, hostility, cliques, cyberbullying, personal vendettas, turf fights, entitlement, claims of unhappiness and poor morale, control-freaks, toxic nastiness, gossip, disruptive actions and lying increased.  These behaviors are the typical signs of problems.

When standards slid, the best people left because they got tired of being forced to work with jerks who prevented success.  And they hated being paid the same as jerks.

Dick and Harry started demanding excellence from themselvesBefore they could fix problem employees, they had to fix themselves.

To let their staff know that there would be a new culture of high performance and accountability, they started an internal campaign: “Keep the best, churn the rest.”  To show that wasn’t a punitive exercise or mass downsizing, the slogan meant four things:

  • They began at the top.  If they didn’t perform, they’d leave because they weren’t worthy of leading the company.
  • Fixing managerial problems was urgent because problems at the top cost more.  One problem manager caused more damage than one problem employee.
  • “Keep” meant increasing rewards because each quality worker is worth more than two jerks.
  • “The best” meant competent, productive employees, not just shooting stars.

Although Dick and Harry needed to reward good performers, they also needed to demand high quality and accountability at all levels. That meant honest evaluations, with rewards and consequences.  They knew they had to stop bullying.

Dick and Harry didn’t expect a quick fix.  And there wasn’t one.  During the next 18 months, they turned over about 35 percent of their staff, including managers.  But they stuck to their plan. They walked the walk and talked the talk.

The company turned around.  The more they kept the best, the easier it became to churn the rest.  At all levels, unmotivated or incompetent people were gone.

High standards 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.

Being open to suggestions from your team is an important part of being a good leader. But don’t be bullied by whining complainers who always find fault, no matter what you do.  They’re not interested in improving teamwork or performance in the workplace.  They’re interested in feeling superior and in bullying and controlling you by getting you to try to please them.

To read the rest of this article from the Pacific Business News (Honolulu), see: Stop Critical, Complaining Bullies from Undermining Your Leadership http://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/stories/2008/03/10/editorial4.html

For example, Claire is a dynamic manager who wants to resolve problems and get results through team effort.  She asks for input and strives to incorporate it.

Heather was an unhappy employee who always found something to complain aboutShe was never pleased; nothing was ever good enough.  She was demanding, abusive, nit-picky and delighted in pointing out when Claire had, once again, failed to please her.

No matter what Claire did, Heather found something to be angry about.  She always had reasons and justifications for her criticism. Heather complained bitterly and encouraged the rest of the team to express their unhappiness and to harass Claire as well.  Heather’s small clique also gossiped about and was disdainful of Claire’s efforts.

When Claire had accepted the idea that she should make Heather happy, she gave Heather control of the whole team.

Heather was a manipulative bully.  She used her unhappiness to dominate Claire and the team.  She was haughty, sarcastic and demeaning.  She acted as if everyone’s job was to satisfy her every whim.  She was like “the belle of the ball.”  You can imagine her as the leader of a clique of snotty high school girls.

The first question most people have is, “Why didn’t anyone stop this long ago?”  Usually, there are two reasons:

  1. As in Heather’s case, her previous manager was conflict-avoidant and had allowed Heather to control the team.
  2. Many managers naively believe that happy employees are always productive employees.  These managers assume that if they give all employees what they want, they will build high morale and encourage teamwork.  They think that employee satisfaction is the way to increase performance and elevate attitudes and behavior.  Instead, they usually encourage a few selfish, spoiled brats to victimize the rest of the team.

Heather’s unhappiness, verbal abuse and negativity triggered a pattern in Claire that I call “self-bullying.”  Claire assumed that if she were a better manager, Heather would be happy.  Since Heather was unhappy, Claire thought she wasn’t good enough.  Her self-doubt and self-questioning increased, and her confidence and self-esteem were erodedShe felt defeated.

With coaching, Claire stopped assuming that every one of Heather’s complaints was worth satisfying.  She saw that Heather used her unhappiness and negativity to control people.  Heather was like a bucket with no bottom.  No matter how many times Claire did what Heather wanted, she’d never be able to fill the bucket.  Heather’s unhappiness was not Claire’s faultHeather wouldn’t be pleased, no matter what was done for her.

Claire’s big lesson: Bullies don’t take your acquiescence as kindness.  They take your giving in as weakness and an invitation to grab for more.  If you enable them, they’ll be toxic to the whole team.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane’s steps were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may be the target of a bully, but you don’t have to be a victim. Bullies can go after you in many ways; physically harming you or threatening to hurt you; inflicting emotional pain through harassment, relentless criticism, taunting, put-downs, cutting out, manipulation, controlling, back-stabbing, spreading rumors, telling secrets, embarrassing you or generally mean behavior; cyberbullying.

In all these situations, the first step in defending yourself and in stopping bullies is the same and always has been.  This is the first step, even before you use any programs that are designed to stop bullies in schools or at work.

For instance, we can go back to Homer’s “Odyssey.”  At the end, after Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, have killed all the abusive suitors, they flee with two faithful servants to the mountain home of Odysseus’ father, Laertes.  They know they will pursued by all the older men of the city, the fathers and uncles of the dead suitors.

In the final confrontation, hopelessly outnumbered, Laertes kills the father of the most evil suitor.  Odysseus loses control of himself and goes berserk.  He advances in a murderous rage to kill all the fathers and uncles.

Athena suddenly appears and speaks the words that that exemplify a central belief of the Greeks about how to face whatever the world throws at you – whether overwhelming odds, verbal and physical abuse, unfairness, your fear and hesitation, your loss of self-control, bullies.

Take Athena’s command out of context – it’s not about the trigger; it’s about your necessary first step in response to any situation.

Athena says, “Odysseus!  Command yourself!”  And when Athena commands, we best listen.

There it is; the key to all success; the start of everything we must do – “Command yourself.”

Begin by commanding yourself.  In Odysseus’ case, commanding himself meant not starting a bloodbath, which would lead to generations of vendettas that would ruin the country.

In the case of facing a bully, we must take charge of ourselves, gather ourselves and command ourselves.  Even when we don’t know how things will turn out, we do know that we want to act bravely, resolutely and greatly.  Therefore, command yourself and go for it; 110%.

If we give in to fear, anxiety, perfectionism and self-doubt, we’ll do nothing to protect ourselves – we’ll become victims of our own panic and terror.  If we give in to anger and rage, we’ll explode, act unskillfully and do things we’ll regret.  If we don’t command ourselves, we’ll lose confidence and self-esteem; we’ll get depressed and become easy victims of the predators.

If we don’t command ourselves, nothing we do will have the power and energy needed to succeed.  We’ll be weak, hesitant, vacillating.  We’ll become victims.  We’ll take our first steps down the path to suicide.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can learn to command ourselves.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.

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

When we command ourselves, we can overcome whatever confronts us.  We will let nothing crush us; our spirits will remain strong.  We can plan and take charge of our actions.  We can act with strength, courage and skill.  We can act with perseverance and resilience.  We can get the help we need.  We can succeed.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” have many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8BULLIES (877-828-5543).

 

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.

However, wallowing or obsessing in blame or guilt without changing behavior is merely self-bullying.  At some point, self-abuse becomes addictive and gratifying.  There can be a sinister pay-off in the pleasure of feeling wretched.

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.

For clear examples, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the studies of how Kathy, Doug, Jake and Carrie got away from bullying, abusive parents.

Just as many girls as boys are bullies but girls more often target other girls. Girls do bully other girls physically.  One publicized example is the Florida girls who beat up a classmate and then posted the video on YouTube.

However, most girl-girl bullying is verbal and emotional.  Seven of the nine bullies were girls in the publicized case that led to the recent suicide of Phoebe Prince.  Their attacks on Phoebe were choreographed, strategically planned and relentlessly executed.  The abuse was verbal, physical and through cyber space.

“Mean girls” are masters of catty remarks, put-downs, scorn, mockery, criticism, sarcasm, cyber bullying and forming cliques led by a Queen Bee.  Mean girls are also masters of covert, “stealth bullying;” backstabbing, rumor-mongering, telling secrets, cutting out and spreading gossip and innuendo while pretending to be friends.

Girl bullies often are control-freaks and emotional blackmailers.  Common bullying statements are, “If you don’t do what I want, you’re not my best friend, “ or “My best friend wouldn’t talk to that other girl,” or “You hurt my feelings, you’re a false friend.”  They often set up boys to attack their targets.

Boys tend to use overt physical tactics more than girls.

Girls: it’s easy to tell if you’re being overtly bullied; it’s harder to tell if the bullying is stealthy.  You’re probably being bullied if you’re feeling controlled, forced to do things you don’t want to do, scared of what another girl might do to you, afraid of getting ostracized or ganged up on, or not wanting to go to school at all.  Trust your gut and talk to your parents no matter how reluctant you are.

Parents: the major signs that your daughter is being bullied are unexplained, 180 degree changes in behavior.  For example, no longer talking about school or friends, not wanting to be with classmates, spending all her time in her room, avoiding checking text messages, social web sites or answering the phone, no longer doing homework, not eating lunch at school, stopping after-school activities, wanting to change or quit school, loss of weight, chewing fingernails, not caring about appearance, can’t sleep, nightmares, loss of confidence and self-esteem, emotionally labile (crying suddenly alternating with explosive anger and temper tantrums alternating with despondency and depression – “I’m helpless, it’s hopeless”).  Be careful; teenagers typically go through periods of these behaviors.  Parents must check out the causes.  Be persistent.  Don’t be stopped by initial resistance. If your daughter is being bullied, parents must proceed down two paths simultaneously:

  • Teach your daughter how to protect herself.
  • Make teachers, principals and school district administrators protect targets.

Bullying at school is rarely an isolated event.  Usually there is a pervasive pattern of overlooking, minimizing, denying, tolerating or even encouraging bullying.  Strategies for how parents can proceed depend on the situations they’re dealing with; especially the people.  The bottom line is that most, but not all, principals want to avoid the subject, do nothing, cover-up with platitudes, avoid law suits and won’t confront bullying parents who protect their darling little bullies.

Beware of principals who think that their primary task is to understand, rehabilitate or therapeutize bullies.  You will have to get other parents involved and be very tactical in order to get principals to act firmly and effectively. There is one absolute “Don’t.”  Every female client and every woman who has interviewed me said that they were verbally bullied when they were young.  Unfortunately, their mothers told them, “Rise above the bully.  That bully is hurting so much inside that they’re taking their pain and inferiority out on you.  Understand and forgive them.  You’re better than they are.  If you act nice enough, people will return your kindness with kindness.”

Every one of these bullied women bears deep wounds including stress, anxiety, negative self-talk, lack of confidence and self-esteem problems.  They also bear an underlying hatred of their mothers for those messages.  Those messages are absolutely wrong.  Mothers must teach their daughters how to protect themselves, not how to act like willing victims.

Remember, the Golden Rule doesn’t stop real-world bullies.  Prepare your daughters for the real-world they’ll face in school, at work, in intimate relationships and with friends.

Sometimes we need to replay the horrible things that people did to us – whether it was once or repeatedly, whether they were the perpetrators or they stood by or even colluded and ignored the abuse and our pain.  Sometime we need to get angry and vent and imagine all the ways we could retaliate and extract vengeance and justice.  Sometimes we blame ourselves, wishing we could finally win their love and undo the hurt.  During those times we typically say, “It’s not fair.  Why me?  Why don’t they understand and appreciate me?  What did I do wrong?” But in the end, whatever the specifics of our situations, we all know where we have to get to if we’re going to make the rest of our lives worth living.

By whatever process we use successfully, through whatever pain we have to endure, after we stop the harassment, bullying, abuse and torment inflicted upon us, we have two choices – to let our lives be destroyed by the rotten people who abused us or to move on somehow, to create families and lives worth living.

I’m not minimizing the damage and the pain or the time it may take, but throughout history, we see the same pattern in response to individual and cultural or societal horrors.  Some people’s spirits are destroyed by what was done to them.  Other people stay alive and vital.

Examples are all around of famous individuals who turned their backs on the perpetrators and moved on – Maya Angelou and Winston Churchill easily come to mind.  There are also inspiring examples known only to our families.  We must keep our eyes focused on the light at the end of the tunnel of pain – the light that reminds us to keep moving ahead despite the temporary discouragement, depression and despair. What keeps most people stuck in the abyss of pain for years; long after they’re physically and fiscally capable of separating?  Mostly, it’s a combination of:

  • Wanting the perpetrators to acknowledge what they did and to apologize or beg for our forgiveness.  Or wanting vindication and revenge.
  • Wanting the bullies to give us the love or money we desperately desire and deserve.  We waste hours trying to figure out how to say and do the right things so that we’ll finally win the love and respect we want.
  • We don’t know how to stop replaying the pain, which triggers emotional hell and reinforces the connection to the past.

There may be other desires that keep us enmeshed with the perpetrators or with our memories of past abuse but, in order to get free, we don’t need an exhaustive list or even to know the specific one that keeps us trapped.

Real predators – real bullies, abusers, perpetrators – no matter what their reasons and excuses, do not change.  Staying enmeshed in a dance of pain and anger only leads to spiritual death.  On this path, there is no rebirth; there is no new life.

We recognize someone still trapped in the pain and victim talk, not ready to move on when we hear them:

The results of this self-bullying victim talk are clear – stress, anxiety, self-doubt, guilt, shame, panic, low self-confidence and self-esteem; huge overreactions as if everything is a matter of life or death; a life ruled by the past, time wasted circling around the carcass of the past, chewing over the gristle of every past and present episode of abuse. The light at the end of the tunnel is when our spirits rise and make us indomitable and invulnerable, determined and indefatigable; when:

  • We won’t be weighed down by the baggage of the past.  We don’t have to please the perpetrators or excuse or justify our behavior to our abusers and we also don’t have to rebel any more just to prove that we’re independent.  We stop sacrificing ourselves for further flagellation and spurning.
  • The voices of the past become irrelevant; we now make decisions directed by our own spirits.
  • We won’t be at the mercy of external events, especially the past.  Instead we’ll create our own futures, no matter what.

This is the goal of all the talk, catharsis, coaching.  We become our original, fiery selves – strong, brave and determined – and now skilled adults.

In this new state, the fear of failure or success is gone.  We no longer view the world through the lens of “deserve, justify, punish or forgive.”  The emotional motivation cycle – endless self-criticism and self analysis, and then criticism of the criticism, and then criticism of the criticism of the criticism – of the old victim side of us is gone.

We no longer have overwhelming emotional reactions to whatever happens.  Mistakes are no longer life threatening.  Failing at something is no longer a portent of a bleak future.  Doing something wrong no longer consigns us to hell forever.

We ride through these ups and downs, buoyed by certain knowledge that we’ll keep plugging along, doing what we can, following our Heart’s Desire.

From here we can easily recognize other people who are still in the old place – underneath their franticness and self-flagellation, they look and sound like victims, not willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves; attracting old and new predators.  Predators also recognize easy targets.

From here we can see how boring the victim personality is.  It’s all about their pain and problems, as if that’s really who they are.  They’re still trying to squeeze love or justification from a stone.  They still want to interact with scavengers.

In our new space, we’re interested and interesting, excited and exciting.  We focus on what feeds our spirits; not on endless cud-chewing and psychoanalysis.  We leave the predators behind and seek the families of our hearts and spirits.

The process of leaving the old, victim place usually includes many instantaneous epiphanies, as well as the time necessary to develop new habits through many ups and downs.  But that’s merely a process to leave the old and to be completely comfortable in the new.

When we live in a state of inner freedom, we don’t forget the pain.  We remember that abuse all our lives.  We hold that memory sacred – but we don’t use the pain to motivate ourselves, we convert it to a source of strength and courage to create a new life, a life that’s built on the ashes of childhood dreams destroyed.

An article by Hillary Stout in the New York Times, “For Some Parents, Shouting is the New Spanking,” focuses on the damage to children done by parents’ shouting and, therefore, the need for parents to control their tempers. Although I agree that a steady diet of shouting and bullying isn’t a good way for well-meaning, devoted parents to act, the experts in the article miss the real source of the problem and, therefore, the real solution.

Those experts point out that the proper way to be a good parent is “never spank their children,” “friend our teenagers,” “spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings,” “reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3” and “have a good interaction based on reason.”

I disagree with their basic assumptions about good parenting and their solution that parents should control their tempers.

Of course, repeated sarcasm, criticism, beatings and abuse are bad parenting.  I’m talking here to frustrated, well-meaning, devoted parents; not abusive bullies.

Good parenting sometimes involves spanking, has nothing to do with “friending,” is not focused on teaching children to merely understand their feelings and is not usually about good interactions based on reason.  Reason is only a small part of being an effective parent, especially when the children are young.

Children are exquisitely adept at knowing your true limitations and which buttons to push.  It’s a survival skill for them.  They know exactly how many times you’ll yell before you act.  They distinguish between yelling and threatening that won’t be followed up, and the “Mom” or “Dad” look and voice that means you will act.  And they perform a precise calculus based on how much they’ll get the next time versus a punishment and your guilt this time.  They know when they can get unreasonable and stubborn, and win.  They also know that if you blow up and yell now, they’ll win later.

Winning those battles won’t increase their self-esteem.  Pushing their parents around will make them insecure.

What leads to repeated shouting is frustration.  Those parents have so limited their allowed responses that they’re no longer effective – the kids know that they don’t have to do what the parents want and nothing serious will happen.  Those parents have taught their children to be stubborn and unreasonable in order to win.  See the case study of Paula as she stops being bullied by her daughter Stacy in "How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks."

Those parents’ lack of creativity and effectiveness increases their frustration until they blow up and shout.  Then those parents feel guilty, apologize, give the kids more power and set in motion the next cycle of not getting listened to leading to more frustration and further shouting.

The solution is for parents to take charge and be parents – speak and act straight.  Decide – as age, stage and specific kid appropriate – what decisions you make and when the child simply must obey, and what decisions the kid gets to make and within what limits.  In your areas, it’s nice if the child understands your needs and reasons, but you’ll never convince a two or sixteen year-old by reasoning that your way is best and they should be happy not getting what they want.

Sometimes you must be firm about your sense of urgency, which is not matched by theirs.  Sometimes, your needs and wishes must be taken into account.  You’re not their slave or servant all the time.  They don’t get what they want every time.  More important than helping them understand their feelings is teaching them how to deal effectively when they’re feeling demanding or angry or frustrated or needy.

And some kids seem to want to be punished sometimes.  Really, they do.  And they feel much better afterward.  When you’ve gone through the sequence of reminding and timeout without effect, a spank is sometimes the best thing to do.

Your frustration and shouting is a message to you that you’re not being effective.  You need to do more than merely learn the latest technique; you need to change the limits you place on yourself.  That will open up other ways to making them do what you need when you’re under pressure.

Good parenting means that you can say, “Here’s the way it is.  I need to move fast and I insist that you do the same.”  Or “You don’t vote on this decision and we’ll talk about it later.”  Of course, you will talk about it later.  Or “I’m not taking you there today.  I need to unwind right now over a latte.  I love you.  Now go read and leave me alone for a while.”  Of course, most of the time we devoted parents will take them to places they want to go.

Don’t reason more than once with a five year-old who doesn’t want to brush her teeth, “You’re making a bad decision,” as those experts suggest.  Simply say, “In our family, we brush our teeth, so you will.”

It’s not, as those experts say, that “Yelling parents reflect a complete inability to express themselves in any meaningful, thoughtful, useful or constructive way.”  It’s that yelling parents aren’t allowing themselves to express the right thought, which is that “I, the parent, am drawing the line here and you will do what I want.  I have good reasons.  I hope you understand now and I know you’ll understand later.  But even if you don’t understand, you will do what I want now.”

In addition to what I learned professionally, we have six, now-grown children who taught me that well-meaning parents yell when they’re irritable, anxious, pressured, overwhelmed and frustrated because they don’t know how else to make things work for them

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

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

I disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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