We seem to focus on the wrong questions; the “why” questions. And even worse, the questions that analyze generalized, abstract reasons for why mostpeople or why our society does something.
One of the latest in the long list of articles about how to be better parents – by being a Tiger Mom or a French Mom – is by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, “Why are American Kids So Spoiled?”
Of course Kolbert gives examples of permissive American parents that raise nasty, narcissistic, self-indulgent, entitled, spoiled brats who harass, abuse and bully their parents. And then we can analyze why we parents raise them that way, and the plusses and minuses of raising kids permissively; or not expecting anything until they’ve understood the advantages of the behavior we want and they’re willing to put forth the effort to give it. And then we wring our hands at adults we see who are aging but still spoiled brats. And then we feel overwhelmed and helpless because we think our society is going downhill.
Ah, the false assumption that if we can figure out, objectively and dispassionately, what’s wrong, we can reason our way to the correct plan that will work for all reasonable people.
A better question is about what behavior each of us wants to demand from our kids and grandkids in a real, specific moment.
Every moment, we’re training our kids about what behavior is acceptable and what the consequences will be for falling below our standards of behavior – whether that’s disapproval, removal, or something else.
Training is more important than explaining.
My question is about specific individuals, situations and moments in time – what do we want to say and do with our kids at that moment? It’s not a “why” question. It’s a "what" question focused on the present and future, not on the past.
What reasons do we want to give to our kids for our standards and demands, when don’t we want give reasons in the moment, and when is their compliance expected whether or not they understand or agree with our reasons?
What immediate rewards and consequences do we want to have for their behavior?
As opposed to the misbehaving kids, who we’ve all seen, in Kolbert’s examples, I’ve seen many young kids behaving wonderfully in public – toward their parents as well as toward non-family members. Their parents have trained these kids and demanded good behavior from them, and the kids have accepted the standards.
We can usually get civil, polite, helpful behavior from our children and grandchildren if we’re willing to do the training.
We do know what we want and we don’t need the latest research studies to justify it. Also, we don’t need to spend our children’s whole childhood analyzing what’s right or begging them to act decently.
Company rules and employees who follow them are essential for the success of your business. But antagonistic “rule-people” can reduce team effort and sabotage your operations.
To read the rest of this article from the Denver Business Journal, see:
How to deal with antagonistic ‘rule people’ in the workplace
See everything in black and white, need all procedures and boundaries clearly defined and labeled, with rewards and consequences spelled out exactly – no gray areas and no choices. They need uniformity and repeatability, can’t handle ambiguity, uncertainty and what they perceive as mixed messages.
Insist on clear titles and privileges. They want to know everyone’s exact job description, authority, responsibility and accountability. They can’t handle matrix management – multiple reporting and task relationships.
Use authority and experts to back up their opinions.
Don’t like change unless they can see immediate and obvious advantages.
Need closure, want decisions made and set in stone, even if nothing has to be begun for years.
Compare themselves with everybody on every criterion.
Relate only through power dynamics – command, control and obeying orders. They’re bullies. They don’t get things done through relationships or by simply pitching in. They need to know where everyone stands. They’re more comfortable knowing they’re on the bottom, than wondering where they are.
We all follow the rules sometimes, but “Edna” is a good example of an antagonistic rule-person. She uses the rules to intimidate people and advance herself at the expense of your supervisory authority and departmental productivity. For example:
Other typical examples of rule-people in crucial roles are human resource and financial managers, and administrative assistants.
To work with an antagonistic, rule-person, you’ll have to:
Be exacting and clear about rules, and demand what you need specifically in writing.
Be prepared to be challenged if you treat the rule-person differently from anyone else.
Include “professional, team behavior” rules – specific, detailed behaviors, not abstractions or attitudes – as important components in performance evaluations.
Clearly label your actions; indirect cues, kindly suggestions, informal messages or casual conversations will not be counted as important. You must say, “This is a verbal warning” or “This is a disciplinary action.” Antagonistic, rule-people take any softening to mean that your feedback doesn’t have to be acted on.
When they excuse their bad behavior with innocuous labels like, “It was a misunderstanding,” or “I’m just an honest person,” you must re-label it clearly as unprofessional. For example: “Yelling or name calling is not a misunderstanding or honesty. Neither is acceptable behavior at this organization, no matter how you feel.”
Generally, rule-people who want to help can become good managers and administrators, but they won’t be outstanding leaders. They can oversee repeatable operations, but they won’t be able to act creatively and appropriately in the face of uncertainty, novel problems and risk.
O, the basic trap of enmeshment and co-dependency; when we think we’re responsible for someone’s happiness, for doing what they want. Both men and women willingly give up their lives to serve others.
Of course, overt and covert (sneaky, manipulative, narcissistic, critical, controlling) bullies try any way they can to get us to shoulder that burden. Sometimes they just want to be catered to but often they actually believe that they’re entitled to our serving them. Both men and women can be demanding.
Tom’s ex had jerked him around for years before Tom finally couldn’t take any more and divorced her. Even though he got custody of their son, his ex continued to try to make Tom do what she wanted. She called him when she needed home chores and repairs, car repairs and computer fixes. She wanted him to change the visitation times to suit her whims or convenience. She wanted him not to find anyone else to be interested in. Of course, she wanted money from him.
He was raised to adjust and accommodate to what other people wanted. Some of his old rules, values and beliefs were that he shouldn’t push what he wanted, that nice people tried to make others happy before they made themselves happy and that he shouldn’t be selfish.
One way she’d previously controlled him was by vindictive retaliation; she’d harass and abuse them relentlessly. He was afraid that if he disagreed or upset her, she’d blow up like she’d always done and attack him and his son verbally, physically or legally. He didn’t want to make it harder on his son, even though he was now 16.
The other way she controlled him was through blame, shame and guilt. If he didn’t do what she wanted, her feelings would be hurt and it’d be his fault. He couldn’t stand to make her cry by asserting himself over matters he thought “trivial”. He convinced himself that it was easier to give in; then he’d waste less time defending himself from her emotional outbursts.
He didn’t think he should ever say anything bad about her to his son. He thought that boys need to love their mothers. Even though his son was a teenager and didn’t want to see his mother, Tom felt he should force them together.
He looked for the path of least resistance. He still hoped that if he was nice and forgave her, if he appeased or gave in to her, she’d reciprocate and give in to him graciously next time. Why fight when he could simply do what she wanted? He’d learned that she’d never give up, never forgive or forget.
Intellectually, Tom realized that none of his approaches had ever worked with her. She’d never relent or reciprocate in return for his appeasement, begging, bribery or reasonableness. He knew she was a negative, critical, controlling boundary pusher who kept trying for more once she got something she wanted.
But emotionally, he still looked for the easy way. It was as if the fight over the divorce had used all his strength, courage and determination.
Children are often the reason people finally act.
Eventually, Tom realized that if he gave in to her desires he and his son would never be able to live lives of their own. Also, he’d be giving into his cowardice and a false sense of responsibility. If he gave in to her narcissism and self-indulgence, he’d be exposing is son to a lousy mom. He’d be setting a terrible example for his son. His son came first.
Finally, he realized that she was not the center of his world or his son’s. We’re all responsible for anything a court requires, like alimony, child support and insurance. But she was responsible for her own happiness. He and his son were responsible for theirs.
People divorce to go their separate ways as much or as little as they want, but they are no longer responsible for and intimate with each other. Tom can wish her well but it has to be from a distance and he has to be not responsible for her. He has to protect himself and his son from her clutches.
He realized that he’d trained her to think that she would eventually get her way if she forced him angrily or manipulated him through blame, shame and guilt. Now he’d have to train her differently – and legally.
Elderly parents – even though they were bullying, abusive, demanding, harassing and crazy; even though they brutalized you sexually, verbally and physically all your life, now they say you owe them or they plead poverty or helplessness.
Adult children – they may be incompetent or crazy; they may be lazy, greedy or narcissistic, but now they want to be dependent and they want you to support and cater to them in any way they want.
Extended family – they know better than you do about what’s right and they’re totally demanding and/or totally needy. They say, “You wouldn’t want to disrupt family unity and cohesion by being difficult and uncaring, would you?”
Toxic friends and co-workers – they need you to help or rescue them, to make their lives work for them.
Clients – many mental health professionals, body workers and healers feel responsible for curing their clients.
Nora Ephron (“Silkwood,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail”) said that as she got older she decided she needed a list of people and things she simply was not going to think about any more. In many ways it’s the opposite of a bucket list and just as important. She started by putting a lot of celebrities in her “Ignore Bucket.”
In order to have the physical, mental and emotional space we need to make the life we want, in order to stop bullies and our self-bullying, we also need an “I’m not responsible for” list. As a start, Tom put his wife on his list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Abused, bullied and battered women often end their comments with some version of:
But I still love him.
Sometimes he’s nice to me and I still think I can change him, if only I was good enough.
He still says that he loves me.
I’m afraid to leave because I’m worthless and won’t be able to make it without him.
I’m afraid to leave because he’ll kill me.
Today, let’s focus on the idea that woman can’t dump him because they love him. Of course the same reasons are true for men facing negative, critical, harassing, manipulative, abusive, bullying, battering women.
For a moment, forget what we were taught about love, especially the importance and moral value of unconditional love, when we were young – what it is, what it feels like, how we know we’re really in love and what we’re supposed to do when we feel that way.
As long as the answers don’t affect our lives, we might have fun speculating about those questions. But even though love is usually accompanied by real feelings, it’s still an abstract concept that really isn’t a tangible noun, like a physical object is.
A more useful path is to choose how we want to be loved. That is; what kind of behavior will we allow in our personal space, whether the actions are called “love” or “bullying” or “abuse.”
Also more useful is to choose which of our thoughts and feelings we want to follow in our lives. Or, which feelings, if any, do we want to let blow us over or sweep us away.
Now that we’re adults with more experience, we can see that when we let some feelings sweep us away, we’re like a sail boat without a rudder or keel. We’re blown whichever way the wind and current takes us. We’ve lost control and we’ll never get where we want to sail to. We’re at the mercy of external forces – his whims and actions at the moment. Do we want to continue letting ourselves get blown away?
It’s even worse after kids come. So many women make mistakes about which values are most important. For example, they think that it’s most important that their kids have a father even if that father abuses and bullies them or only their mother. Or they think that they most important value is never to say anything bad about their children’s father, even though their observations are accurate and especially necessary to reinforce what their children see and think. People are being beaten and that’s being called “love.” Children must learn that they are seeing reality and they can trust their perceptions. Covering up the truth or lying creates self-doubt and undermines their confidence and self-esteem.
I think that it comes down to knowing, in our heart-of-hearts, that we can’t let whatever feeling we call “love” take over our lives when that feeling keeps putting us and our children in harm’s way. There are higher standards of behavior than that feeling we call “love.” And that the word “love” doesn’t remove all the pain caused when narcissistic, righteous predators attack their targets.
On the other hand, if we love our spirits, our children and our high standards of behavior that are required in our personal space, then we can stop bullies or get away from their bullying. The number one factor in changing the behavior of relentless bullies is serious consequences.
Of course, it may be scary, dangerous and difficult to get away. Of course, we may be poor and suffer at first. But it’s the only chance we have to clear our personal space so that someone wonderful can come into it; someone who treats us good. We must not be defeated by defeats.
Getting help to create a plan and carry it out with determination, perseverance, strength, courage and resilience.
Having a wiser and more mature sense of love and which feelings to pay attention to. That means straightening ourselves out so we’ll love better people who treat us well.
Feelings and thoughts are like the bubbles of carbonation on a soda. They’re always, always, endlessly bubbling up to the surface and then drifting away. Some of those bubbles can smell pretty bad. Pardon the crudity, but we’ve all had brain farts. And like the other kind, we know that if we wait a minute, the stinky, scary, self-bullying fears, put-downs and “shoulds” will drift off on their own. We can decide not to act on them and simply let them go. We can throw ourselves into other thoughts or activities to speed the process.
Single mom Joan didn’t know what to do. Her teenage daughter, Mindy, was often so nasty to her that Joan would shake with rage, and cry with pain and frustration.
Sometimes, Mindy would call Joan names, tell her how much she hated her, tell her that she was ruining her life, tell her to get out of her room and leave her alone, and demand that she never ask about school. Even when Joan cooked Mindy’s favorite meals, Mindy would grab and gulp, and never say “Please” or “Thank you.” Over the phone, Mindy would vent and yell at her mother.
Joan admitted that Mindy had always been that way and she’d always let her get away with it. Sometimes Mindy was sweet, but then, for no apparent reason, she’d blow up and verbally attack her mother.
Joan could never bring herself to do anything “nasty” to her daughter no matter how negative she was.
What could Joan do to stop her daughter’s bullying?
Didn’t want to stoop to Mindy’s level. She believed that if she was kind enough, eventually Mindy would see the light and change. She believed in the Golden Rule.
When Mindy went to college, Joan thought her daughter’s behavior would finally change. But she was wrong. On the phone, Mindy berated Joan even more. When Mindy came home for Thanksgiving, she treated her mother even worse. When Joan suggested that Mindy seek help just in case Mindy was feeling more pressure and stress, and taking it out on her mother, Mindy exploded.
Open a previously unassailable belief system to new data. Joan removed her old definition of “nasty” and replaced it with one that labeled her as being nasty to herself and to the person she hoped Mindy would become, if she continued to let Mindy act nasty to her.
Describe the new tactics. Joan would demand the “magic words” again, just like we do when little kids ask for anything. Mindy would have to say, “Please,” and “Thank you” or she wouldn’t get anything. Demanding and bullying would no longer be rewarded.
Have effective consequences for nasty behavior. Joan would let Mindy show her what consequences were enough, by how much it took for Mindy to change. The first time Mindy yelled at her over the phone, Joan calmly said, I won’t allow anyone to talk to me that way,” and she hung up. Despite her fears, she didn’t call back. Mindy called a few hours later and said, “Don’t you love me?” Then she started yelling at Joan for not calling back. Joan said, “I love you so much, I won’t let you talk to me like that.” And she calmly hung up again.
Be sweet, firm and cheerful as we apply consequences.
Read “cue cards.” Stay firm and calm by pulling out cue cards we’ve prepared and simply read them as we apply consequences.
“If you want something from me, make it enjoyable for me.” When Mindy was nasty, demanding her mother take her to the mall, Joan said, “I won’t be bullied, but I might drive you if you make me like going with you.” Mindy said, “I won’t suck up to you.” Joan sweetly responded, “Then I won’t take you,” and she turned cheerfully and left the room.
Be open to bribery. When Mindy was nasty at Christmas, Joan read a cue card she’d made, “Be nice to me, you may want something from me, like a Christmas present.” Mindy said, “That’s bribery!” Joan sweetly replied, “Yes. I’m glad you understand. I work hard for my money and I spend it only on people who are nice to me.”
Have them act like a guest in our home. Before spring break, Joan told Mindy that she’d packed up all of Mindy’s things into boxes she put in the garage. She was converting Mindy’s room into a guest bedroom. Mindy was welcome to come back as long as she behaved like a nice guest in Joan’s home. Mindy was furious and began to yell, but Joan hung up. Mindy later called back and said she’d act like a guest. Joan was delighted and cheerfully said, “I’m so happy. I hoped you would. That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with you. But you should also have a back-up plan just in case you forget, because I’ll only allow good guests to stay. Three weeks is a long time and you may forget what the standards are and need to have somewhere else to go.”
Pushing the boundaries.
Joan expected Mindy to resist because Mindy had always been able to beat her mother into submission. She’d still think she could do the same.
Joan was prepared and steadfast; she expected Mindy to be nice for a while, then to push the boundaries again. She was right. But this time, when Mindy pushed back a little, Joan immediately and sweetly imposed a consequence.
By the next summer, Mindy was treating Joan well. She was polite, civil and sweet. Joan was glad to have Mindy stay as a guest that summer, as long as Mindy had a job. Joan didn’t collect any money, but she knew that if Mindy got lonely and bored, she’d probably slide back to her old, nasty habits.
When should we start requiring good behavior?
How about, as soon as we can? Of course we respond kindly to angry babies. Of course, the process of teaching them new ways of getting what they want is initially very slow and speeds up the older they get. So it’s really our good sense and close observation of each individual child’s growth and development that must guide us.
But the goal is always clear. “We ask for what we want. But we’ll get what we’re willing to put up with.”
Joan’s father had bullied and abused her all her life. He’d yelled, scolded, chastised, taunted and emotionally terrorized her. He’d been manipulative, sneaky and lying. He never admitted anything was his fault. He’d always blamed on her; everything was her fault. He still treats her the same way. He’s a narcissistic, control freak.
Joan could never understand why he treated her that way. She hadn’t deserved it. She knew he’d had a terrible childhood, but she didn’t deserve to be the one he took it out on.
Now, he’s in his late 80s and Joan could see that he was sinking rapidly.
How can she resolve things with him before he dies?
Sporadically, through the years after she’d left home and made her own life, she’d tried talking with him about how he treats her but he’d always rejected her attempts, calling her weak and bad. He never admitted he’d done any of the things she said. That led to the usual angry rant about her failings and what she owed him. And a demand that he’ll never talk about that again.
Of course, she’s going to try once more. And maybe a miracle will happen. But my experience is that any change would be extremely rare. I’ve see most people recover from near-death experience and be unchanged. They immediately cover themselves with their old costume of abuse and bullying.
I’ve seen a sexually manipulative perpetrator on his death bed try to grope his daughter, just like he did when he molested her for years when she was young.
She means that they’ll have a heart-felt talk, and she’ll say her say again but this time he’ll admit to all he did and apologize and ask for her forgiveness, she’s probably going to be disappointed. No matter how much she begs, bribes or tries to appease him, likely he won’t change. He’ll still insist he never did anything bad to her and it’s all her fault. Also, he’ll never tell everyone to whom he bad-mouthed her, that she was actually a good daughter and he was simply mean and nasty. So the task for her is to accept that she can’t change him and to find a mental place in which to keep him that doesn’t stimulate any self-bullying by blame, shame or guilt – just like he’d do to her again if he had the opportunity.
She means that she can come to like him and they’ll part friends, she’ll be disappointed again. They’re not friends. We can’t be friends with someone who has beaten us, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, no matter how hard we try. A survival part of us doesn’t want us to get close enough so they can abuse us once more. The task for her is to let the anger and hatred motivate her to get distance, no matter what he thinks of her or accuses her of.
Should she stay at his bedside while he passes? If she wants to be with him at the end in order to assuage any guilt she may have for missing a last possible chance for resolution, then she should be there as long as she won’t let him hurt her feelings any more; as long as she doesn’t expect anything more than he’s always been.
Should she have her children visit him at the end? Again that depends on what she wants from the interactions. If he’s been manipulative and rotten to her children, or bad-mouthed her to them, then I wouldn’t let them be subjected to that again. In age and stage appropriate ways, she can talk to them now and as they grow.
Most people think that if they made a mistake, broke the rules, weren’t good at something or did something wrong they deserve what they get. So they accept being scolded, chastised and browbeaten.
This attitude is so common that we have many words and expressions for these put-downs and abuse. For example, admonished, assailed, assaulted, attacked, bashed, bawled out, beaten, berated, blamed, castigated, chewed out, condemned, denigrated, disapproved, disparaged, dressed down, flayed, punished, rebuked, rejected, reprimanded, ridiculed, slammed, straightened out, taken to task, thrashed, told off, tongue-lashing, torn to pieces, upbraided, vilified, whacked.
I used my handy Thesaurus because I want to ask: “Which feels most familiar to you?” That tells you who you’ve been living with.
Most people allow bullies to bring up incidents forever, whenever the bully feels like attacking them. After all, victims and oppressors reason, they did wrong; facts are facts.
This isn’t about pretending that a mistake wasn’t a mistake or that we were ignorant when we actually could have known better. Sometimes a fact is a fact. Sometimes we easily might have known better or done better. Maybe we weren’t careful enough. Often there were consequences.
A bullying husband or wife who always points out every mistake with exasperated sarcasm and scolding – accompanied by attacks on their spouse’s personality and character. Even if they don’t say the words, you can hear the silent, “You’re so stupid. You always fail. You’d be nothing if I didn’t straighten you out. Now I have an excuse for being as lazy, dumb, selfish or narcissistic as I want.”
Parents who pick on their children for every mistake, even if the children are too young to have learned the desired behavior. You can hear the justifications, “I’m only trying to teach them right from wrong. I want to make sure they remember the lesson.”
In the workplace, bosses or co-worker know-it-alls gleefully and loudly pointing out every mistake. Or sneakily stabbing some one in the back by revealing mistakes in confidence.
The second action message is don’t say things that way.
These messages train people to accept bullying and to become bullies. Don’t train people to respond to messages phrased that way. Don’t train your children or spouse that they have to be beaten before it’s serious enough for them to change or do better. Don’t train yourself that you have to be beaten before you’re willing to listen. Don’t train them that they have to beat you.
Many people wrote and called for coaching after last week’s post, “Stop Bullies Who Demand their Way.” Although their circumstances varied, their fundamental hesitation was the same: “How can I defend the behavioral standards I want if that means angry confrontations with my blood relationships?”
Some common situations were:
All the callers recognized that continued, long-term exposure to those bullies would destroy their own and their children’s self-confidence and self-esteem. They could see how the bullying was causing sleepless nights, anxiety, nail-biting, discouragement, negative self-talk and even depression. Their children’s school work suffered. They could see their children either being beaten into submission or adopting bullying as their own strategy for success. So why didn’t the adults act?
However, most were afraid that if they objected to such treatment of themselves or of their children, they would split the family into warring groups or have the whole family turn against them. Most were embedded in cultures that reinforced the idea that “family is family” and “blood is the most important thing.” Most thought it was morally wrong to say “No” to elders or relatives.
So they were stuck, knowing they were tolerating bullies and behavior that was harming them and their children.
Their hope was that I could provide a magic technique to convert those adult bullies into nice, sweet, kindly relatives; the loving, caring, concerned relatives they thought they’d have.
But they had already tried all the “magic wand” techniques and discovered that those family bullies wouldn’t change. After all, from the bullies’ perspective, why should they change? They’d gotten away with being abusive, demanding bullies for years; they got their way so why change? They were beyond appeals to conscience or to considering the feelings they were hurting.
I’ve seen bullies like that have near-death experiences due to cancer or accidents, and still resist changing. They’ve mastered brutality as a strategy to get what they want from life. By now, it’s all they know.
In my long experience, each successful client had to face a difficult choice and make a different one then they had before.
They had to support good behavior instead of bad blood.
They had to change their inner questions from, “How can I fit in?” or “How can I do what I’m supposed to?” to a question of “What behavior will I allow toward my children or in my space, no matter who the perpetrator is?”
They had to insist on good behavior toward themselves and their children, even if that meant challenging the previously rotten family dynamic. They had to become models of the actions they were preaching to their children.
We can begin a little soft, but bullies inevitably force us to become firm. Sometimes that meant denying the perpetrators access to their children. Sometimes that means leaving when the bullying starts. Sometimes that means standing alone and being a scapegoat. But often, when we insist on good behavior, many members of the family will also step up to the higher standards; they’ve simply been waiting for someone to take the lead.
But in all cases, we must hold out to ourselves and our children a better culture, in which people behave with caring, kindness and respect to each other.
We have to overcome our fears that we’ll be alone; fears that in the end, the only people who stand by us are family, so we have to pay the high price it costs to maintain relationships. However, we’ll discover that by clearing brutality out of our space, we’ll open up space for people we want to be with.
Review the case studies of Carrie, Jean, Doug, Kathy, Jake and Ralph facing different family bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site. Many times, when faced by our firmness, family bullies will give in. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).
I was at a wedding and a funeral last week. Really; not a movie. And the people were fine.
But I was reminded of all the times I’ve been at big family events when some selfish, narcissistic, abusive, controlling, bullying family member demanded that they get their way or they’d make a scene, make everyone miserable and ruin either the celebration festivities or the solemnity. They knew what was best and we’d better do it.
Think of the relatives at all the special occasions – weddings, funerals, births, vacations and holidays. The relatives who get drunk and insist they be allowed to ruin the event; the arrogant jerks who think they own all the attention and air in the place; the nasty, greedy; jealous, vicious-tongued vindictive; the narcissistic, smug, righteous know-it-alls.
Think of the people who take over all the events because they want to. Whatever supposedly logical reasons, excuses and justifications they offer each time, I notice the pattern.
Even though they’re not the important person at the event, they always have to get their way or else. They’re not the bride or groom, they’re not giving birth, they’re not graduating, they’re not getting baptized, confirmed or bar mitzvah-ed; they’re not the host or planner; they’re not the person dying. They’re not even the turkey on the table, although I sometimes entertain fantasies of having a sharp carving knife in my hand.
Did I cover all the bases of your experience also or do you have a few other ones?
These bullies always think they’re right. And they’re willing to argue and fight longer, harder and louder to get their way, than anyone else, especially over what we think is trivial and a waste of time. And they let you know that they’ll retaliate and make us regret resisting them for the rest of our lives. They’ll bad-mouth, criticize and put us down in front of everyone forever. And the scene is our fault, not theirs. They want us the walk on egg shells around them.
So what can we do?
Typically, we find reasons to turn the other cheek. We try to rise above, ignore, look away, appease, understand, excuse because that’s just the way they are or tolerate them for the duration of the event. Typically we give them what they want because we don’t want to be judgmental or we’re too polite to make a scene or we think that if we follow the Golden Rule, they’ll be nice in return. I think that tactic is good to try but only once. Anyone can have one bad day and try to feel better by taking control. But real bullies and boundary pushers simply take our giving them their way as permission to act more demanding. As if they think they’re powerful and everyone is too weak to resist them. Like sharks to bloody prey, they go for more. And it’s always the people who can’t or won’t protect themselves – the weaker, younger, more polite, more bereft ones – who suffer the most when we leave them unprotected.
Instead, be a witness, not a bystander. Recognize that we’re being bullied and abused. Be willing to get out of our comfort zones to take care of the important people. The first time the person bullies, we can take them aside and tell them privately, in very polite and firm words, to “shut up.” But these control-freaks have demanded their ways for years so we know what’s going to happen. Ignore their specific reasons, excuses and justifications. Typically, we give them power because we fell sorry for them, we’re too polite to make a scene and, after all, they’re family. We give them power because they’re more willing to make a scene and act hurt and angry, and walk away. We give them power because they’re willing to destroy the family if they don’t get their way, but we’re not. Take back our power. Be willing to make a scene; to disagree, threaten or throw someone out. Find allies beforehand and stand shoulder to shoulder. We may not change their behavior, but that’s the only way we have a chance of enjoying the events.
If you worry that your child will be bullied in school next school year, but you don’t know what to do until bullying happens again in September, you’re missing a golden opportunity this summer. Summer is the best time to organize in order to protect your children on day-one.
Seven tips for what you can do this summer:
Don’t wait until there’s an incident or a history of incidents.
Make sure your district administrators and school principals have clear and strongly worded policies and programs to stop school bullies. Make sure they have emergencies procedures to institute swift and effective investigation and action. Does the program start on day one? What initial assemblies will be held with students? How will they be involved in on-going programs? What training will teachers and all staff get to help them recognize and stop sneaky bullies? How will hot-spots be monitored – buses, bathrooms, lockers, hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds? What support will teachers and staff get to protect them from angry, bullying parents? How will they deal with the first boundary pushers so that the message of zero-tolerance gets out?
Learn what constitutes evidence and how to document it. Learn how to support proactive principals. Learn what you will need to do to motivate lazy, uncaring, colluding or cowardly principals. Do you know what media and legal pressure will stimulate your principal to act? Talk to a lawyer now so you’re prepared.
Publicize the policy and program before school starts. Organize parent-principal-teacher assemblies to gain buy-in to the school’s program and processes. Encourage parents to educate their children about not bullying and about what to do when they witness bullying.
Rather than buy a packaged anti-bullying program that ends up buried in a storeroom, stimulate school and district officials to create their own, based on what will be effective for your specific school situation. Expert consulting and coaching are necessary to implement an effective program.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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?
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?”
Don’t waste your time with nit-picky detractors and critics who have nothing better to offer. Some people will say that they can only do this because Most Precious Blood is a private school or that the program takes too much money or that other school principals and staff don’t have the time. Nonsense.
You can’t convince bullying spouses to change; you’ll never prove that you’re right or should have what you need; you’ll never deserve the rewards they withhold from you. They’re not interested in the truth or in your reasons or your wonderful logic. They’re not interested in loving you the way you want to be loved. They know best and they’re only interested in getting their way; in controlling everything – money, sex, cars, computers, phones, friends, family.
So many blog comments are from women wanting to be told that they’re right in their arguments with their husbands; that they should be allowed to do a few things like see their parents or girl friends or have a few dollars for groceries. They seem to think they need to get permission from their controlling husbands to even spend a few dollars of the money they earn. They’re always surprised that their good arguments don’t convince these control-freaks and bullies to change their behavior.
Many coaching clients come or call when they’re stuck in the same endless dynamic. Some husbands say the same things about the controlling wives.
Eventually the women get worn down. They’re too tired to fight about everything, especially the silly little stuff so they give up and accept the bully’s rule. Then they become victims. They accept that it is their fault; there must be something wrong with them.
The solution begins with a difficult realization: When it gets to that point, you’ll never win the argument. You’re being poisoned slowly, there’s no convincing a toxic predator to change and your only hope is getting away.
Of course it’s hard. When you’re living in the ninth circle of hell, it takes a lot to get out. But that’s what you’re being called to do. Your spirit is calling you to make the effort. Your bright future is calling you to make the journey.
If you have children, don’t see them as an impediment. Let them stimulate you to break out of prison and start a new life as far away as you need.
Of course, if we can catch it earlier, it’s easier to declare and maintain your boundaries. Then it’s easier to demand loving behavior and to get away if the abuse continues.
Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller. She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures.
If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame. Amy Chua is an abusive bully.
She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.” Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
“Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.
What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?
She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet. I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”). If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
There’s almost no joy in their lives. Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise. But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning. There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.
Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost.
This is a great and necessary value. It has made our society the first world. But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.
No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks. She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection. That’s why people take it so personally. Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons. These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.
Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx. She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon. When she grew up she sued him.
A better approach:
Have you observed your children individually and carefully? One approach does not fit them all.
Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own? Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out? This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own? Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you? How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
Character is critical. All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs. What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it. You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.
By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.” In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices. In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her. That’s not the answer either.
All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.
There’s a world of difference between being an active witness to bullying and abuse, and being merely a bystander.
A bystander has already decided to be an uninvolved spectator, to look the other way, to pretend ignorance if called upon.
A witness can make a tactical decision based on the circumstances – intervene now in some tactical way or speak up later.
At work, co-workers or bosses are bullies; at home, abusive parents will harass and bully one young child while lavishing goodies on the other; in addition, toxic parents will favor one adult child over another with love and inheritance on the line.
I’ll focus here on kids, but the larger implications should be obvious when you think about slavery or the Nazis or a hundred other public examples.
Often, at school and at home, mean kids will try to turn siblings or friends against each other.
For example, Charles’ friend, Brad, was relentlessly nasty to Charles’ sister Sarah. He made fun of her, called her stupid, dumb and ugly, and, even though Sarah was tall and skilled enough to play with the older boys, he’d cut her out of their games or he’d intentionally knock her down.
Charles looked on in dismay but never interfered. That was puzzling to Charles’ parents because, in one-to-one situations, Charles played well with Sarah and liked her. Yet Charles had become a bystander; he wouldn’t step up to what he knew was right.
How come he didn’t protect Sarah from Brad? Was Charles afraid that if he interfered he’d lose a friend or that Brad would beat him up? Did Charles secretly want his sister out of the way?
Without knowing the real answers to the “why” questions, the pain, shame, anxiety and stress of watching his sister tormented and the guilty laceration of his conscience finally drove Charles to choose which side he was on. He stood up for his sister and for high standards of conduct, but then he had to solve another problem; Brad was a head taller and 30 pounds heavier than he was.
In front of Sarah, Charles got in Brad’s face and told him to cut it out. If Brad wanted to be his friend and play with him, he had to be nice to Sarah…or else
Most of the Brad’s in the world would back down but this one didn’t. Angry words led to shoving and Brad grabbed Charles and threw him down. At this point Charles and Sarah’s advanced planning gave them a tactical advantage. Sarah, as tall and heavy as Charles, jumped on Brad’s back and the brother and sister piled on Brad and punched and kicked him.
As with most kid fights it was over fast. Brad got the message; he was facing a team. If he wanted to play with them he’d have to play with both of them. If he wanted to fight he’d have to fight both of them. No parents were involved and Brad chose to play with them and be nice to Sarah.
As much as the incident helped Sarah, Charles was the major beneficiary of his choice. His self-esteem soared. He had been courageous and mentally strong. And he learned that he and his sister could plan and stand firm together.
In a different situation, Ellen was popular and Allison, who was outgoing but had no friends, wanted Ellen all to herself. At school, Allison put-down and cut out anyone Ellen wanted to play with. If Ellen refused to follow Allison, Allison would get hysterical, cry and wail that Ellen was hurting her feelings. Ellen didn’t want to hurt Allison but she wanted to play with whoever she wanted to play with.
The situation came to a head during the summer. Allison wanted to play with Ellen every day. And on every play date, Allison would be nasty to Ellen’ younger sister. She’d mock Jill, order her to leave them alone and demand that Ellen get rid of her younger sister. They were best friends and there was no room for a little kid.
Ellen faced the same choice that Charles had; hurt her sister in order to collude with her friend or lose a friend and classmate.
Ellen didn’t agonize like Charles had. Ellen was very clear; colluding is not how a good person would act. However, her requests that Allison stop only brought on more hysterical anger and tantrums.
Ellen didn’t want to play with Allison any more but didn’t know how to accomplish this. When she told Allison, Allison threw another fit – hurt feelings and crying.
This situation required different tactics from Charles’ because Ellen was younger and arrangements for them to play during the summer and after school had to be made by their parents.
Ellen’ parents could have gone to Allison’s parents and told them what Allison was doing. However, they’d observed that Allison’s parents had never tried to stop her hysterics, blaming and finger-pointing at school. They’d always believed Allison’s accusations about other kids and added their blame. They demanded that teachers do what Allison wanted.
Ellen’ parents thought that raising the issue with Allison’s parents would only lead to negativity, accusations and an ugly confrontation, which would carry over to school.
They decided to use an indirect approach; they were simply always too busy for Ellen to play with Allison. The rest of the summer they made excuses to ensure there would be no play dates. When school started, they made sure there were no play dates after school, even if Jill wasn’t there. They didn’t want their daughter to be friends with such a stealthy, manipulative, nasty, control-freak like Allison.
In addition, they told Ellen’s teacher what Allison was doing and asked them to watch if Allison tried to control Ellen and cut out other kids.
Most important, Charles stopped being spectator and became an effective witness-participant. Ellen also would not remain a bystander. She made her feelings clear and her parents helped intervene. Both children learned important lessons in developing outstanding character and values.
Tactics are always dependent on the specifics of the situation. As parents wanting to help and guide your children and grandchildren, remember that there’s no one-right-way to act. The people involved get to choose where they want to start the process of standing up as witnesses and participants. You can get ideas and guidelines from books and CDs but on-going coaching, to prepare you for your “moments of truth,” is essential. You will need to adjust your plan in response to what happens at each step along the way.
If used well, blame and guilt don’t lead to self-bullying. They’re useful ways of motivating us to do better, even though they can cause a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, minds and hearts.
If we analyze our actions objectively we might take on the blame for some of what we did or failed to do. We can decide how to make amends. We can decide what actions would be better and we can strive to do better next time.
We can also use guilt and feeling ashamed of an action to motivate us to act better next time. That’s a hard way of motivating ourselves but it’s often effective.
Unrelenting and deep shame, on the other hand, leads to destructive self-bullying – negative self-talk, self-doubt and self-harassment, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and increased anxiety and depression.
By shame, I mean the idea that “There’s something wrong with me; I’m bad, evil or defective; I’ll never be free from sin; I’ll never succeed; I’m cursed.”
This kind of deep shame, as opposed to the way I’m using blame, guilt and feeling ashamed, is not focused on an action. This kind of deep shame points us at supposed defects deep within us, at defects that we can’t change, at defects in our identity. There’s no escape from the flaws we imagine are inherent and permanent. The self-laceration of this kind of shame is endless and self-defeating.
Where does this deep shame come from? We’re not born with this kind of shame. We’re born demanding that we be fed, clothed and have our diapers changed. Little babies don’t question whether they deserve to get what they need for survival; they demand it. That demanding approach is necessary for our survival.
Deep shame can only be taught to us through continued and brutal repetition – physical, verbal, emotional. Eventually, most children internalize constant harassment, criticism, put-downs and denigration – assaults on our identity.
Imagine how you’d feel if someone shouted or scolded you, 24/7, “You’re bad. You’re defective. You’re wrong. You shouldn’t have been born. You’ll never do better. I wish you were dead.”
However those harsh and shaming messages were thrown at us, whoever the bullies were, our task as adults is to leave them behind. The two critical steps in leaving home are to leave physically and to leave mentally-emotionally.
The first leaving is obvious to most of us; we get financially independent in order to stay physically independent. We test ourselves against the world, not our parent’s opinions. Can we earn a leaving? Can we meet people and make friends? Can we love and be loved?
The second leaving is mental, emotional and spiritual. We put aside all their beliefs, ideas, attitudes, values, opinions, rules, roles and moods – all the ways they thought mattered in how to face the world, how to earn a living, what equaled a good life, how to be a good person.
We put aside all the false ways they thought about us – whether we were good or bad, strong or weak, stupid or smart, pretty or ugly, hard-working or lazy, the prized child or the scapegoated child, probably going to be successful or guaranteed to fail, blessed to be happy or doomed to be miserable.
We put aside all we were handed when we were children and all we accepted because they were the big, right and righteous people and we were the little and learning people, and because we knew what would happen to us if we disagreed.
To become independent adults we must cast aside all of their opinions and, as independent no-longer children, we must choose and adopt our own beliefs. Some may be the same as theirs; some may be exactly the opposite.
The two important aspects of that mental, emotional and spiritual leaving: One is that our ideas are now adopted by us as adults, with our adult understandings, meanings and limitations. The second is that they are not carved in stone as childhood ideas are. We change them as we get feedback from the world – does this idea actually fit the reality I can now see clearly with adult eyes; does this way of facing the world get me closer to what I want; does it help me be and do good as I now think of that?
In this destroying and creating anew our inner world and our ideas of the ways of the outer world, we can choose whether to keep blame or guilt. But, in order to be free and independent, we must discard deep shame as a way of thinking about ourselves and of facing the world. We can excise the stain we once accepted, we can heal the great empty space we once had, and we can fill us with ourselves at our best. We can develop strength, courage and skill.
Then we can look back at the bullies in our family and decide whether to be with them at all or when and how to be with them. If they continue to bully us, if their bullying continues to trigger our self-bullying patterns we are better served by disconnecting, by making distance – electronically and physically.
If they treat us as newly made adults they’ve just met and want to be friends with, instead of forcing us back into their old images, instead of continuing to try to beat us into the shape they want we will probably want to be with them sometimes.
My recommendations: Don’t stay where you’re continually blamed, guilted or shamed. Be where you’re respected, appreciated, honored. Also, don’t accept the one of you that continually blames, guilts or shames you. Train and discipline yourself so that you have better internal self-talk. Live with the good inner coach you create, not with the internal bully who sounds like your parents, still ripping you down.
Stopping bullying by toxic parents and grandparents is only one side of the coin. The other side is to stop bullying of parents by adult children who are toxic users and abusers.
I’ll focus on the adult children who:
Make poor decisions and try bully their parents to bail them out time after time.
Still yell at or even hit their middle-aged parents just like they did when they were teenagers.
Extort money from their parents in return for allowing them to see the grandchildren.
I won’t go into the abuse of elderly or senile parents, nor into situations in which the child is disabled or retarded and will need parental care for life.
For parents, this is one of the most heart-wrenching situations; to see that your adult children are:
Still incompetent and failing.
Still trying to manipulate or coerce you, long after they should have become independent and work to get what they want from the world.
Of course we parents think we’re at fault. We can self-bully until we feel guilt and shame. “Where did we go wrong?” And of course those selfish, manipulative children try to increase those feelings so that we’ll continue giving them what they want.
Although it’s now too late to begin when your children were young, getting an idea about what we could have done then might help us now.
Parenting experts for the last generation have falsely assumed and wrongly encouraged people to think that if they kept protecting their immature, irresponsible children from consequences and kept giving them infinite second changes, the children would eventually mature and develop confidence, self-respect and self-esteem. They would become competent and independent adults.
Of course, a few children do change and become responsible when they’re coddled. But this strategy encourages most children to remain weak and needy, expecting to be supported for life if they’re in trouble. The best way to produce spoiled brats (at any age) is to give them what they want.
Instead, you must not let your heart guide your actions. You must let them fail and bear the consequences, no matter how hard. You must keep reminding them that they will need to take care of themselves; they will be dependent on their own judgment and effort. This is not an all-or-none shift. There should be a gradual shift as they pass from elementary school to middle or junior high school.
In a loving and firm way, encourage them to learn how the world works and to do their best, but stop protecting them. I think of that in the same way I think of helping plants get hardy enough to survive in temperate zones – we leave them out longer and longer in chilly nights.
Don’t use the word, “supportive;” it’s too non-specific. Be specific; give them encouragement to work hard and live poor if they can’t do better. But don’t be a friend, don’t be a bank, don’t be a 7-11.
As for the shame and guilt you might feel because the children didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped; give it up. They have free will. By the time they’re adults they make their own choices. Truthfully, how much success did any of us have giving advice to teenagers? They listen to their own drumbeat; just like we did, whether our parents liked it or not.
So what can we do now? The same thing we should have done back then: cut them off economically. Ignore promises; behavior counts. Give your treats to the independent, self-supporting children who don’t need them. Don’t give them to the irresponsible children who depend on and demand them.
Make a family rule: we get together to have a good time, not to straighten each other out, or review our bank balances, or complain, whine or blame. Keep offering fun when you get together. Stop offering advice or money.
Of course, your heart will bleed, but keep that to yourself. Worry, cry and pray in private. Remind them that it’s their lives and they have to succeed on their own.
With the grandchildren, we have two paths. The first is to remain firm and suffer the consequences when they withhold the grandchildren. We all know the truth about blackmail and extortion: bullies raise the price and there will be no end to it. If they deny you access to the grandchildren; write, call, send presents and keep records. You’ll make your case when the grandchildren turn 18.
The second path is to purchase time with your beloved grandchildren in hopes that you can have an effect on them so they won’t turn out like your children did. Expect the price in money and abuse of you to increase with time. Unfortunately, the grandchildren usually learn to hold you up for what they want.
There is no instant and easy cure. Your children have free will. They have chosen and can continue to choose to be weak and irresponsible. You didn’t cause it, although you might have enabled it by giving them too much. They can try to drag you under when they flail around because they think they’re drowning. Don’t let them drag you under.
Adults who don’t understand why their teenagers are so demanding, nasty and surly.
Adults who want to stop bullying at work by managers and co-workers.
That question is usually asked in the context of, “I’m a nice person; I don’t deserve to be treated that way. Why is that person so nasty to me?”
The apparent perplexity behind the question comes from the idea that we’re supposed to get what we put out, not only in interactions with those we love, who also love us, but also in interactions with everyone in the world. As if, if we’re nice we’re supposed to be treated nicely in return. These people forget that bullies have different agendas and methods.
The hidden fears behind the question are:
“Maybe I have done something to deserve being harassed and abused; maybe it really is my fault.” Of course, people thinking this way are usually riddled by self-doubt and negative self-talk. Their hidden hope is, “If I knew what I’d done wrong, I could apologize, do what the bully wants, and then they’d treat me nicely.” Their hidden anger comes from deep knowledge, “I didn’t do anything wrong; how dare that bully treat me that way!”
“If the world is so unfair, it’s out of my control.” Of course, people thinking this way are afraid that they’re not strong enough to thrive in a world that’s dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Their hidden hope is that they could control the world if only they learned the magic secrets. Their hidden anger comes from the sense that, “I didn’t ask for this kind of world; I’m entitled to something better and more rational.”
Before I answer “Why do bullies keep abusing us,” let’s understand what bullying is about in a way that helps us stop bullies in their tracks. Distinguish between two questions:
Why do children try bullying tactics?
Why do they keep bullying as they grow up?
The way I look at it, babies and children naturally take or demand what they want; they naturally try bullying tactics. That’s necessary for their survival – babies must make us feed and change them whether we want to or not. Children’s survival-level job is to figure out how to get us to give them what they want.
Impulses to bully come up all the time, in all of us. It feels good to be a strong and powerful and simply take what we want. Unless kids are taught how to feel good or how to get what they want by other methods, they’ll continue bullying.
Parents train children how to get what they want; which means how to bully, manipulate, harass or abuse people, or how to negotiate with us to give them what they want. We train them to keep using bullying tactics or to try other methods.
There are three general reasons why children grow up and continue using bullying techniques.
Bullying is what they see – they see one or both parents bullying successfully or it’s the only tactic they know. Their parents and family don’t teach them not to bully and also don’t teach them better ways to get what they want.
They keep bullying because bullying succeeds – well-meaning parents, principals and teachers don’t say “No” and they don’t stop the bullying. Sometimes, we may let bullies succeed while we’re negotiating with them or because we’re too tired and worn down to be strong. You’ve seen parents teach children to get cookies, candy or toys by yelling loud enough, throwing hysterical fits or simply taking it from a younger or smaller kid.
There’s a small group of sociopaths and psychopaths who won’t be teachable in any reasonable length of time, if ever.
Many people say that “Children become bullies because they have low self-esteem. To make themselves feel better, they bully people who are weaker.” This is usually followed by the hope that, “If I understand why bullies bully, I’ll be able to teach bullies why bullying is wrong, and then they’ll stop bullying.” These people typically allow bullies to continue abusing their targets, while they educate, beg, bribe, appease or therapeutize bullies.
Instead, take the focus away from psychotherapy of bullies and focus on stopping bullying first. Teach your kids to protect themselves from kids who haven’t learned impulse control or to use other means to navigate in the world. After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies. As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time; let’s protect target children and adults right now.
Educating bullies begins with stopping them. Their main motivation for learning new tactics is when the old methods no longer succeed.
Don’t try to make all your employees happy. But do make your best employees happy.
Do you recognize who the best employees and managers are?
We can’t define who the best are, but we all recognize them. They’re the ones with inspiration – the inner drive to accomplish things and succeed. At all levels, they’re superstars and solid, steady, productive professionals. They’re the beavers eager to learn, develop skills and be competent and productive. They want to be efficient and effective. They take responsibility and they care.
They’re the ones who anchor a culture of success. They keep communication channels open and they get along well enough with other productive individuals in order to make their teams succeed. They take care of customers and teammates. They partner with employees on other teams when success depends on joint effort. They’re the low-maintenance people we can count on.l
It’s a pleasure to make them happy. They appreciate your efforts and respond with more of their own.
You can generalize by thinking that your organization has about 15% stars and 75% solid producers – all in that group of high quality employees you want to keep happy.
Don’t try to make them happy. It’s an impossible task. You’d have to cater to them and give away your organization to them. Instead, good leaders and managers help them go somewhere else. Maybe they’ll be happy at another company or maybe you can get them a job in a competitor’s organization.
Give your time, energy and goodies to your high quality employees. How? You don’t need my top 10 list to get started making your best employees happy. Maximize their chances for success. Give them all the training, equipment, operating systems and support they need to succeed. To high quality people, accomplishment is an aphrodisiac. Beyond that – ask them. Every individual will have an individual list of desires – training, opportunities for advancement, cleansing their environment of losers, more flex-time and money, etc. Then do your best to give it to them.
What if there’s more than 15% bottom feeders at your company, and management doesn’t care? Be one of the best employees. Try to get the attention of leaders. If that doesn’t work, go be a best employee at your competitor’s company.