One of the typical tactics of sly, sneaky, stealthy, manipulative bullies is to work in the dark; to not be seen to be bullies.  Then, when a light is shined on their abusive behavior, they claim that they were just having fun; that they were just kidding around; that they didn’t know their target was offended, hurt or minded their attacks. This tactic is used at home by bullying, toxic spouses, parents or children, and by bullies and their cliques in schools and at work.

In order to stop these bullies you must protest; you must say “No!”

Often, people decide to ignore the bullying.  These targets (on their way to becoming victims):

Ignoring bullies can be a good first response, but only if we use it as a test.  If we ignore the bully and he stops, fine.  We’re okay.  But if the bully moves on to bully someone else, the question then becomes, “Are we willing to be good witnesses?”

But what if the bullying doesn’t stop?  Usually, determined, relentless bullies are only encouraged by lack of resistance.  They see a non-resisting target as holding up a “victim” sign and they escalate.  They can’t understand the moral impetus behind such kindness.  They’re bullies. They interpret our lack of push-back as fear and weakness, no matter how we interpret it.  They’re encouraged to organize cliques to demean, mock, attack and hurt us more.

Other people assume that if we’re not protesting, we must know we’re in the wrong; we must deserve the treatment we’re getting.  Our society saw that phenomenon when women didn’t cry “rape!”

At school, if we and our children don’t protest loudly, clearly and in writing to teachers, principals and district administrators, bullies can excuse and justify their behavior by claiming they didn’t know we thought of their actions as bullying.  So, of course, they felt free to continue bullying.  And we’ll have no defense.  This goes for physical, mental, emotional and cyber-bullying.

At work, many bullies use the same tactic.  Even if our company has rules against bullying, if we didn’t protest loudly, firmly and in writing, we’ll have no legal grounds to stand on later.  Our supervisors need written documentation in order to act.  And we need it in order to hold cowardly, conflict-avoidant supervisors accountable later.

Of course, we must also protest against abuse by overt bullies, even if that makes them feel proud.  But that will get the ball rolling for our resistance.

But, if we protest, won’t the bullying get worse? Maybe or maybe not.  Remember, what happened we tried the test of not protesting?  When we didn’t protest, the harassment, abuse and bullying got worse.  So we might as well learn to protest effectively; the first step of which is creating records and documentation.

And we don’t want to live our lives as cowards, do we?  Remember the old and very true sayings about cowards dying a thousand deaths.  That’s an underestimate.  If we don’t protest, our negative self-talk, blame, shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, stress and depression will pervade our lives.  Our lives will shrivel like prunes.

For some techniques to overcome worry, fear and hesitation, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” available fastest from this web site.

If we protest, will the bullies stop? Although there’s a guarantee that relentless bullies will escalate if we don’t protest, there’s no guarantee that simply protesting will stop them.  Protesting is only the first step in responding effectively.  We may need to go up to higher steps to stop a particular bully.

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.

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?

Some were afraid of the economic consequences of resisting spouses, parents or grandparents with money.  Some were afraid the bullying would increase.

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.

They had tried everything they could think of: understanding, reasoning, sweet-talk, begging, bribery, appeasement, the Golden Rule and threats but nothing had been effective in changing the bullying behavior.

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.

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

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.

In all cases, we have to fight the culture we’re embedded in.  Plans have to be developed that fit the specific situations we’re in: are spouses on the same page, how bad is the economic dependence, how far away do we live?

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).

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

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

The first step is always inner change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Should you tell your children about your toxic parents, their toxic grandparents?  What should you tell them and how? Imagine that your parents no longer abuse you physically or sexually, but they still demean you, scapegoat you, ignore or scorn you, make nasty, hostile, sarcastic remarks and put-downs, and let you know that you’re not good enough.  No matter what you do or don’t do, you’re wrong.  They take charge of your life when you see them and break appointments whenever they feel like it.  Their wants and feelings are the center of the world and you don’t count.

Imagine also that you used to think that if you told them, in just the right way and at the right time, how hurtful their treatment was and is, they’d stop.  Or that you used to think your job was to rise above that treatment because they’re your parents, they’re getting old, they’re suffering, they deserve a little peace and happiness, and you owe them.

When can you stop trying to build bridges?  When can you cut off communication?  When can you tell your children why?

Harassment, bullying and verbal, physical and sexual abuse is usually multi-generational.  Families help perpetuate the abusive behavior by keeping secrets and telling lies.  If you give them a chance, your parents will likely do to your children what they did to you.  The old wounds still throb even if your parents are nice sometimes.  They still bleed when your parents repeat the same old treatment even now.

When you grow up, you may vow to break the cycle and treat your children better, but how can you protect them from the example they see of their grandparents still bullying you or them now?  And how can you stop obsessing on your childhood trauma or yesterday’s verbal battering?

Once you’ve tried everything you can think of, every approach, every sweet way of suggesting or speaking truthfully (say, a thousand times) and your parents (or step-parents) still protect each other, perpetuate the lies and tell you that you’re nasty and crazy, I think that’s enough.

Protect yourself and your children, turn your back to them, and create a safe and wonderful island of life for your family.  That means that your parents don’t get on it.

See the case studies of Carrie, Jake and Doug in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” for some tactics that were successful.

Some suggestions:

  • Always remember the effects on your life and how they tried to crush your spirit.  Don’t let a running, internal debate about them suck all your energy down a black hole.  Stop negative self-talk; it’ll only discourage and depress you, increase self-doubt, destroy self-confidence and self-esteem, keep you fixated and stuck, and take your eyes off the great future you want for yourself and your family.
  • You don’t need more understanding of them.  You don’t need to save them from themselves or each other.  Don’t be their therapist.  Let them fix themselves on their own time and their own bodies; not yours.
  • Spirit counts more than biology.  Start calling them by their first names.  Don’t give them titles they don’t deserve, like “Grandma” or “Grandpa.”
  • Don’t argue or debate with your parents.  You’ll never convince them that you’re doing the right thing.  Bullies always want what they want – to feast on your feelings and flesh.  Simply tell them that they’re off your island.  Take steps to cut off communication.  Change your phone numbers and e-mails.  Move if you have to.
  • Tell your children what’s age appropriate.  They don’t need the gory details when they’re six, but they do when they’re sixteen.  Gather them together and make it a serious occasion.  The framework is that they need to know how to protect themselves and to set standards for their own behavior.  Don’t go into psychoanalytical reasons why your parents did it or why they, and maybe the rest of the family, collude to protect them.  That’s obvious.  You’ll probably have to re-visit the conversation.
  • Be invulnerable.  That’s the term coined by Victor and Mildred Goertzel in their study of the lives of more than 300 famous 20th-century men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962).  Instead of finding that these highly successful people had wonderful parents, they found that many had agonizing childhoods spent in bleak, troubled homes, including domineering, alcoholic, rage-aholic or neglectful parents. They described the children who succeeded, despite a psychologically damaging childhood, as resilient or invulnerable.
  • Be a model for your children.  Show them that abusive behavior drives people away.  Show them how to stand up to abuse, which sometimes means creating distance instead of being sucked into a battle that ties up your life.
  • Create a new family including new elders; a family of your heart and spirit.  Have so much fun, bring so much joy that there’s not a hole anymore that would be filled with thoughts of biological grandparents.
  • Get an expert coach to increase your determination, perseverance, courage and resilience, and to create tactics for your individual situation.

Your task is to create a fabulous life.  Don’t let toxic parents or grandparents – or siblings or friends – ruin it.  Shine a light on bullies.  Your children need you to show them how to thrive in the face of abuse, cover-ups and lies.

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

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

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

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

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

Typically, toxic coworkers have patterns in which they:

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

Typically, teammates of these bullies should ask themselves:

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

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

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

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

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

So what can you do?

Divide your response into two areas:

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

Will

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

Skill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mostpeople are afraid of the economic forecast.  Some have lost jobs; more will.  Some have lost retirement funds; more will.  Some have lost hope; more will.  Fear and stress stimulate mostpeople to huddle around the campfire, worrying, whining and complaining about their uncertain future.  They convince themselves that they’re too weak and helpless to succeed.  They’re victims together. A long, cold recession or depression is the consensus prediction.  But that’s not the prediction for my life and it doesn’t have to be for yours either.  And that’s not because I have guaranteed money flowing in or I’m sure my business will be immune to the next little ice age.  There’s a different reason.

We each have self bullies.

The little, self-bullying voices:

  • Know our every fear and weakness, our every mistake and sin.
  • Demean and ridicule us, discourage and depress us.
  • Predict failure, as if they want to make us lose hope and give up.
  • Don’t like us even though they pretend to be trying to help us.
  • That are so persuasive.

We know where we heard those voices that told us they knew better – our parents, relatives, siblings, teachers, ministers, schoolmates, peers.  We know how we made their voices into our self-bullying voices.

I refuse to listen to self bullying.  I refuse to be a victim of my times and circumstances.  You also can rise above mostpeople.

Don’t be a victim of your past.  History is not destiny.  Command yourself.  Ignore self-bullies.  Our self-bullying voices do not know what’s best for us, do not know the future and can’t accurately predict that we’ll fail.

Of course, the economy is lousy and times will be hard.  Most of us won’t be able to maintain our previous standard of living.  Mostpeople are angry because they thought they were guaranteed increasing wealth and security if they did things right.

We haven’t been trained to survive a depression.  So what?  We can survive and even thrive.

Think about what our ancestors survived.  There has always been rotten weather like recessions and depressions, poverty and war.  They’re part of the natural weather cycles – hurricanes, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, avalanches, droughts or floods, earthquakes and tsunamis.  There have also been plagues, famine, pestilence and war.

If we let recession-induced fear and self bullying sap our strength and will, we won’t have the right stuff, we won’t act skillfully and the economic tide will pull us under.  We have within us the inheritance of an unbroken line of people who thrived.  We have within us the seeds of strength, courage and joy.

These economic ice ages have happened in America before.  For example, economic crashes occurred in about 1787, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1897, 1907 and the great depression from 1929-1941.  The rest of the world had similar experiences.

What can we do when we get down on ourselves?  We need WILL and SKILL.

  • In order to succeed, we must choose to ignore self bullying, choose to command ourselves, choose to create the futures we want, no matter what the circumstances.  As individuals, we must have the WILL to persevere, with grit, determination and resilience.

Call that hyper-critical, fear-mongering side of us a “self-bully” so we’ll react with passion and power against it.  So we’ll rally ourselves against its words.  We wouldn’t lie down in front of those old bullies and we wouldn’t let ourselves be abused by bullies now.

  • We need SKILL to ignore our self-bullying voices – turn off the discouraging TV; stop listening to people moaning, whining and complaining; stop listening to victim stories.  Walk away politely from mostpeople who wallow in the dumps of fear and panic.  If you’ve kept your job, don’t wallow in survivor’s guilt.  Get off the emotional roller coaster.

Find friends who don’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead handle things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible.  Find friends with inner lights that give them joy even when they don’t have all the comforts and toys they once did.  Become such a friend.

When the self bullying voices start again, tell them we’ve heard all that before and if they want to help us, they can use a different voice and become encouraging coaches that strengthen our spirits.  Fill the IMAX screen of our minds with the future we hope we’ll have and the friends we want in our lives.  Throw ourselves into activities like physical exercise.  Don’t feed our addictions; eat well.  Feed our spirits with movies, music and books that lift up our spirits and renew our energy.

  • We need SKILL to make plans to keep our jobs or find others, to spend less while still treating our spirits better.  We need skill to get over our feelings, plans and expectations.  Loss of riches, comforts and dreams is not really the end of the world.  Get going again.

Find a coach to keep your spirits up and organize your efforts.  Read the self-bullying section in "How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks."

While the growing recession is the world in which I function, it’s not the world in which I live.  I invite you wonderful people to enter the world that is waiting for you, if you but have the courage to take the first steps.

"What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."    Ralph Waldo Emerson

My advice was asked on this situation on condition that the author remains anonymous.  What would you do if you faced a two-faced coworker or teammate who treated you civilly in public but attacked you when you were alone?  And no one else in the office knew or would believe you. In public, Bart (fictitious name) smiled and seemed helpful to Fran (fictitious name).  Even though he didn’t know her specialty, he started offering polite, detailed suggestions in an authoritative and convincing way about how she could improve her performance.  Fran felt like she was being micro-managed in a way she couldn’t resist or argue back.  It would take too long to show why his suggestions wouldn’t work and she didn’t think everyone else was really interested.  Other members of the team started to think she was pretty incompetent since Bart knew so much more.

In private, Fran asked Bart to stop being so controlling and making her look bad.  He agreed to, but then he continued to subtly demean her in public.  In addition, he started ignoring her, leaving her out of the information loop, and putting her down subtly in front of others.  Fran again asked him to stop.  Bart said he wanted them to have a good working relationship and suggested a meeting to clear the air.  Fran was initially wary, but he persisted and she agreed.

At the private meeting, Bart told Fran she was the worst person he'd ever worked with.  She wasn’t completely bad professionally, but she had the worst personality he’d ever seen.  He wanted her to treat him with as much friendliness as she treated other people in public.  Fran was mystified because he didn't say who these other people were and she thought she already treated everyone politely and professionally.

He said Fran was bullying him, he couldn't sleep at night because of her, she was just as hostile and nasty as another girl he used to work with and his girlfriend agreed that Fran was bullying him, even though Fran had never met her.  He said he’d been verbally cruel to people in the past, but he didn't want to be with her.  He said Fran was the worst person he'd ever worked with and the worst thing about his otherwise perfect job.

Fran felt scared because nothing like this had ever happened to her before and because Bart said everything very quietly and calmly with a twisted look of pure hate on his face.  He seemed to be enjoying it.  Fran had never seen him look or act this particular way before, so she thought others wouldn't believe her.

He carried on this way for an hour and Fran felt like she was in the presence of a psycho.  She apologized profusely.  He kept twisting the knife.  She said she was sorry for “bullying” him.  He kept twisting the knife.  She asked how she could make things better between them.  He kept twisting the knife.

Since she had to work with him closely, Fran pretended to be his friend from that day on.  She followed up two weeks later to see if he was happier.  He said he no longer thought of her at night, but added that he hated her because of the way she treated him.  He didn’t stop correcting her in public and he continued to sabotage her work.

Don’t waste time psychoanalyzing Bart and Fran or thinking that some trust building exercises, communication techniques or skillful conflict resolution will bring them together.  Fran should realize that she and Bart live on different planets.  She thinks she’s okay and he’s a scary psycho.  He hates her guts, thinks she bullies him and that professional behavior allows him to vent his feelings and hatred.

In her world, she’s faced with a relentless, crazy person who blames everything on her and is out to get her.  In that office, she’ll always feel his hatred shooting into her back.  She’s also afraid he might blow and physically harm her.  She must be willing to skillfully fight a work war against a fanatic or have her credibility and reputation destroyed.  Or leave.  For example; see my article in the Denver Business Journal on winning a work-war.

Notice that every time she tried to please him by taking the blame or being nice, he only twisted the knife more.  Fran’s comment that she never met his girlfriend probably shows that she thinks she can prove her case with reasoning, logic and good will because everyone will listen and be objective.

There are many other variants of the two-faced, bullying colleague.  Some stealth bullies spread rumors and lies behind your back.  Some cut you down behind your back.  Some drive a wedge between you and other people by telling them that you said bad things about them.  These back-stabbers always work in the dark and can’t be pinned down

My books, CDs and coaching can help.

What did Fran do?  Fran secretly hated Bart for what he had put her through.  She didn’t want to become buddies with him.  Also, she didn’t want to waste her time proving to everyone how mean and crazy he was.  Three month's later, she secured another job and left.  Since then, she’s been happy at the new job.

That’s one effective solution to deal with people like Bart, but what will Fran do if she encounters another one.  For example, if she’s highly skilled and competent, she’ll make someone else jealous, scared and angry.  If she’s beautiful, she’ll arouse these same feelings in some other women.

What would you do if you were Fran?