The Full-Time Nanny site has a list of 30 blogs that feature the best advice on how to stop bullying.
I’m grateful that BulliesBeGone.com is mentioned in the section on how to stop bullying in the workplace.
The article points out that, “as many as 70% of children become the victim of bullying at one point in their lives. Despite increased efforts by support groups, charities and schools, the problem persists. However, bullying is not confined to the classroom and playground – bullying exists in the greater community, online and in the workplace.”
I saw a wonderful book title, the “Good Karma Divorce,” by Judge Michele Lowrance and I want to share what I’ve learned through long experience guiding people through “no-karma divorces.”
Let’s consider the easy situation – no young kids or a joint business involved. If you have those added degrees of difficulty, the guidelines and strategy are the same, but you’ll have to develop different tactics to fit your specific situation.
If two people work together amicably to divorce and then work at getting along afterward, it’s easy to have a no-karma divorce. But what if one person is done with the way the intimate relationship has been while the other person wants to fight to keep the same old patterns going?
Jane knew soon after she married Joe that her husband was not the man she’d dated. He began to be weak and inept. She had to do all the physical labor to keep the house clean, the mental acrobatics to keep them solvent despite his spending on his toys and also the emotional work to keep him happy so he wouldn’t get depressed, angry and even more useless. In addition, he became mean, nasty, sarcastic, controlling and blaming. Everything had to be done his way or he’d sulk, blow up and verbally attack Jane.
In the beginning, Jane didn’t think of leaving. She felt stuck; she was pregnant, she’d been raised to be a people-pleaser and she had promised to obey him all her life. She kept thinking that it was her duty to do all the work and that if she was a good enough wife and mother, he’d be the nice person whom she’d dated.
Jane accepted that she can’t please Joe unless she violates her own spirit by staying with him. Well, he was never really happy with her anyway. But she can still leave in a no-karma way.
Jane adopted a mantra: Don’t argue, don’t blame, don’t explain, don’t justify, don’t defend, don’t seek his permission. Answer “why” questions once or twice and then move on. When he tries to start an argument, just leave. When he says she has to tell the grown kids that she’d changed and it’s her fault and she’s probably having an affair, tell him, “I’ll tell them my truth. I have changed. I’m leaving because I just got tired of putting up with your behavior. I won’t stay and take your bullying any longer. I’m not having an affair. I just want to do better with the rest of my life. I’ll love the kids always and we’ll figure out how to have a great life and great times together even though one of their parents doesn’t want to put up with the behavior of the other one anymore.”
Jane saw a lawyer and made a plan. She thought, given Joe’s behavior for more than three decades, she had to do this in secret before telling him that she wanted a divorce – no, that she was going to divorce him. She made an inventory of all the money and things they had. She learned what to do if he threatened her or physically abused her. She didn’t give up most of their money and stuff, and go free but penniless and become a burden to her kids in order to assuage her guilt. She analyzed what she thought was a fair distribution of stuff – close to 50/50. Then she let her lawyer negotiate with his.
She told Joe she as going to divorce him and she had to repeat it a number of times. She let him blame her, but when he started to rant and bully her, she asked him to leave until he could calm down or she left for a while. She knew he’d need emotional time. He knew how much they’d fought but he never expected her to leave. He thought she’d take it forever. She had to screw up her courage and determination in order to proceed. She also had to commit – no guilt, no blame. She decided that there was no going back, even if he pleaded. She made cue cards to carry and read to him that were her standard answers to his questions and accusations. Using different color cards, she wrote quotes or advice to herself that she could read to strengthen her resolve when she felt herself wavering.
She prepared herself for Joe to try to manipulate the kids to be on his side and to coerce her to stay with him. She guessed that some would agree with him and do his bidding, while others wouldn’t. No-karma meant that she remained calm and truthful as she explained to them why she needed to leave in order to have a chance of creating the future her spirit wanted. No matter what happened, she’d keep reaching out to them – give them and their children birthday presents, holiday gifts, regular letters and calls. She hoped that someday, when they’re older, they’d understand. She cried to herself when some exclude her from their lives. After telling Joe, Jane told the extended family what she was doing. She didn’t ask them what they thought or for their permission. She didn’t discuss family dynamics and whose fault it as. She understood that no one else got to vote.
She took care of her body and spirit through the emotional and physical ups and downs. She had to face her fears – “I’m a bad person” or “He’ll kill me or he’ll kill himself and it’ll be my fault” or “I’m weak and I’ll never survive without him” or “Everyone will hate me and I’ll end up alone and broke.” She knew she’d have to deal with her own emotional upheaval. Divorcing him meant that she’d destroyed a life-long dream. She’d changed the whole structure of her universe that had lasted for decades. The marriage and family had been the gravitational center of her old world. Now there was a void. Everything had to be shifted around; she had to create a new universe with herself and her spirit’s desires at the center, and also include her children and grandchildren. That would be difficult and take time, but she’d simply have to live through the turmoil. She got an expert coach to help her stay on track and to plan her next steps.
She clarified to the kids, her family, his family and their friends, the behavioral standards she had to have in order for people to get close to her. She realized that she was testing them just as they were testing her. She reminded her children that she wanted to have an adult relationship with them now, while she was being a great grandmother to their kids. She decided which events she wanted to attend and which she’d avoid. With her family she made plans for the weekly events with her grandchildren and for yearly holidays and vacations. She also brought up the big public events like graduations, weddings and funerals. She was clear. She’d always be civil, polite and cheerful with Joe on occasions where they’d be together. But she wasn’t going to be friends with Joe anymore. Divorcing him meant that she’d no longer be involved in his daily doings or his emotional life. She would be friendly, but not friends. She would not enable or rescue him physically or emotionally, and she would not call on him even if she felt needy. That’s how she’d avoid any karma.
For Jane, no-karma meant keeping calm, steady and on-track despite Joe’s provocation. And when she did react, she didn’t wallow in self-bullying but forgave herself and got back to how she wanted to Be and act. She wasn’t going to take his attacks personally.
Jane was able to maintain herself; nothing stuck to her and she emerged from the turmoil with no karma.
For different tactics, see the case study of Jean in “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site. Also, I’ve seen the same difficulties when it’s the husband wanting to divorce a controlling wife, or partners splitting up.
Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps. We can design a plan that fits you and your situation. And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.
When Benni Cinkle was 13, she appeared in a YouTube music video that went viral, receiving over 200 million views. At first, Benni was ridiculed by millions around the world for her awkward dancing, often referred to as “That girl in pink that can’t dance.” They called her names and told her she should kill herself.
A few of the printable names she was called were “lame, terrible, awkward, horrible, stupid, freak, loser, awful, worthless, annoying, fat and ugly, dumb.” Other comments included, “She should probably look into suicide,” “Please just die” and “I’ll bet she wants to kill herself now.”
Did she let the jerks drag her down? Did she lose her self-esteem and get depressed? Did she commit suicide?
Instead of reacting defensively, Benni didn’t take it personally. She kept her spirits up. She met their criticism with humor, honesty and understanding. She was open and didn’t hide. Soon, anonymous cyber bullies became fans and Benni's online reputation as an approachable, down-to-earth teen began to grow. In the months following her unexpected popularity, Benni received tens of thousands of requests for advice from teens around the world.
Realizing she had been gifted with a platform that offered international reach, Benni decided to use her 15 minutes of fame for something positive. So she:
Started “That Girl in Pink Foundation” as a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of teen suicide. TGIP focuses on any issue that may directly or indirectly lead to teen suicide, including: Teen Depression, Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, Teen Self-Mutilation, Teen Gay/Lesbian Support, Child Violence, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Violence, Eating Disorders and Teen Pregnancy.
Authored “That Girl in Pink’s Internet Survival Guide,” offering teens strategies for handling life online.
Organized a flashmob dance to raise donations for American Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief.
Organized a walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation that included hundreds of kids from 14 countries walking with her, virtually.
Recorded her single, “Can You See Me Now,” and donated profits to TWLOHA and GLSEN.
Visited schools across the U.S. delivering her “Don’t Just Stand There” anti-bullying presentation.
Nobody wants their children to be bullied. We all want responsible school officials to stop bullying at their schools. We all want other parents to teach their children not to be bullies. We all want other kids to be witnesses and defenders when necessary.
We all want the road smoothed for our children.
Of course we must do what we can to prepare the road with good enough laws and with clear requirements to hold school principals and district administrators accountable.
But since no amount of effort or number of laws against bullying in any of its forms – verbal, mental, emotional, physical, cyberbullying – will ever stop mean kids or their protective parents from bullying their targets, what can we do for our children?
Good parenting also requires us to prepare our children for the roads they’ll encounter.
Report to school officials but that’s only the second task.
For example, Tom came home complaining that some other kids called him names, mocked his clothes, belittled his taste in music and even put down the way his parents looked and dressed. His parents blew up and went to school the next day to have it out with the principal. Since they ranted and raved and wanted the kids beaten in public or at least thrown out of school, they got no where.
Then they focused all their energy on the road – they wrote angry letters to the media, organized other parents and tried to get the principal fired.
There will be jerks who target you, but that doesn’t make you a victim. Victims give in and give up. Victims feel isolated and helpless. Victims get depressed and commit suicide.
You’re okay; don’t take it personally. There’s nothing wrong with you. They don’t know you. Test them – are they nice or are they jerks? If they’re jerks, their opinion doesn’t tell you about you; it tells you about them. Don’t ever let jerks control your feelings or emotions.
Stand up; speak up. Use your talent and learn new skills. Come back at them verbally. Use humor; especially sarcastic humor. Speak your piece. Fight back if necessary.
Get your allies to act. Tell your parents; tell your favorite, trustworthy teachers. Get help. Test your friends. Are they real friends or are they just acquaintances or “friendlies” who hang out? If they don’t care enough to get involved, they’re not friends.
Parents, be smart in how you prepare and fix the road.
I’m all for fixing the road. Just be smart about it. The summer is the best time to prepare the road. Work with principals, teachers and parents to develop clear and strong policies and programs. Hit the ground running when school stats in fall. Get the kids involved so they become witnesses and defenders. Make it a whole community effort.
Prepare yourself so that when there’s an incident, like happened with Tom, you know what to do and can do it without being overwhelmed by your emotions. Have a checklist. Is it a one-time argument or on-going harassment, bullying and abuse? What are the power dynamics? What evidence can you get? Does it happen to other kids? Can you get witnesses?
Prepare the friends and their families.
None of Tom’s friends defended him. They wouldn’t even be witnesses until we talked with them and their parents. Then they saw the power of choice and of standing together.
Parenting: Prepare the road or the child?
Don’t make it an either-or choice. Prepare both. Prepare your children to teach your grandchildren. Do you doubt they’ll also have to learn to stop bullies?
Sneaky, manipulative, covert bullies try to force us into difficult, all-or-none choices. They figure we won’t make the hard choice; we’ll choose them instead. Don’t accept the choices they present to us. Don’t give them control of how to look at things.
For example: Tim’s first wife had died 20 years ago and he’d been happily married to Jennifer for 15 years. She’d tried to be a good step-mother to Tim’s daughter and son, despite hatred and intense provocation, especially from Tim’s daughter, Coral.
Coral was now 28. She’d harassed, abused and bullied Jennifer all during her upbringing. Two years ago she’d even slapped Jennifer in the face. Coral’s excuse was always that she was still suffering because her mother had died, because Jennifer didn’t give her everything she wanted and because it was Tim’s fault that he wouldn’t defend her.
Actually, Tim had been riddled with guilt and, although he’d pleaded with Coral to be nicer to Jennifer and to himself, he’d never enforced any consequences that mattered to Coral. In fact, he’d trained Coral to believe that if she was nasty and negative, and threw temper tantrums long enough, he’d relent and give her what she wanted.
Jennifer had always felt like a second-class citizen, lower on Tim’s priority list than Coral. Tim always excused Coral by saying that she was young and still suffering from her mother’s early death. He excused his tolerating Coral’s behavior, his not protecting Jennifer by saying that eventually, if he loved and forgave Coral enough, she’d come around. He didn’t want Coral to feel unloved.
Jennifer thought Tim simply avoided conflict with his daughter because she’d never be reasonable, apologize or compromise. He gave Coral control because Jennifer was reasonable and understanding, so he could more easily ask her to give in.
Finally Coral had the leverage she wanted. She gave birth to Tim’s only grandchild. Then she laid down the law. He’d have to choose: either her and his grandson or his wife. If he chose Jennifer, he’d never see his grandson and Coral would bad-mouth him to everyone. She’d also turn his grandson against him.
New husbands or wives who try to force spouses into choosing between them or the kids from a previous marriage. It’s especially difficult on the parents if the biological kids are going through a troubled time and spreading their unhappiness around.
Toxic parents who want us to choose between them or our spouse.
In all these examples, a bully presents us with a difficult choice: them or someone else we love. In all these examples, we know the truth we’ve been trying to avoid acknowledging: someone we love is bullying us. They’re trying to beat us into submission in order to get what they want. We also know the difficult truth: if we give in to this blackmail, it’ll never end and the price will keep increasing.
So what can we do?
In all these examples, the same process opens the door to the rich and grand future we yearn for:
Accept that we’ll never get what we want if we give in to blackmail. Accept that the blackmailer wants to control our lives – they want to tell us what’s right and what we must do; or else. Accept that we’ll never change these narcissistic predators by begging, bribery, peace-making, the Golden Rule or unconditional love. Tim had to accept that although he loved his daughter, he didn’t like her and he dreaded any interaction with her.
See the choice for what it really is. Tim finally saw that the choice was not between his daughter or his wife; it was between being beaten and controlled by his daughter or his life. In order to have the life he yearned for, he had to choose to be a person worthy of that life. He had to have the courage of his deepest desires.
Protect our personal environment from pollution, even by those we love. That meant that Tim had to act with courage and determination to defend his personal space from any toxic polluter, even from his daughter and from the weakest, most needy, most cowardly part of him.
By choosing the life he wanted, which he shared with Jennifer, Tim chose the possibility of a wonderful life. He and Jennifer started doing things they’d always wanted to. They stopped wasting their time thinking about Coral. Tim stopped being depressed and riddled with shame and guilt. They started being happy.
But what about Tim’s broken heart because he couldn’t see his grandson?
There’s no way around that. Tim’s daughter was adamant: she wouldn’t let him see his grandson. However, we must remember that we can never appease predators and vampires.
But eventually, Coral and her husband divorced and her husband, who had finally seen how Coral operated but was no longer afraid of her, let Tim and Jennifer bond with his grandson. Eventually Coral needed money and Tim had to decide if he wanted to put her on a pay-for-play plan. Should he give her a little money each time he and Jennifer saw his grandson?
We want to be people of our words; we want to be ethical and honest, and have trustworthy character; we want to do our duty. But sometimes our loyalty to our vows – especially our marriage vows and vows to take care of parents or children – makes our lives a living hell and also sets a terrible example for our children.
Deep in our hearts we know we must stop being loyal to those vows or our lives and spirits will be destroyed. But how can we stop honoring our vows?
In public we pledge many things in our marriage vows. But suppose our spouse turns out to have deceived us and reneges on their side of the vows? Suppose that husband turns out to be physically, mentally and emotionally abusive? Suppose he harasses, controls, bullies or abuses his wife? Supposes he justifies his actions by saying that he’s the head of the house and she must do what he says? Or suppose he blames his lack of self-control on her and uses threats, guilt and shame – his rage and violence are her fault and if she did what she should, he’d treat her better? Or suppose that wife turns out to be manipulative and controlling? Or supposes she’s lying, crazy and always verbally, emotionally and physically abusive in order to beat the husband into submission?
In private we may pledge many things to our parents, especially as they get older. But suppose they’re narcissistic, demanding, bullying and toxic. Suppose they squander all their money against our advice and then they insist we spend all our money on them – either taking care of them or sending them to an expensive, assisted living facility? Suppose they are relentlessly critical, scolding, chastising, whining, complaining and demeaning, and nothing we do is ever good enough? Suppose they are vicious in private but sweet as sugar in public, so every thinks they’re saints while they act like devils in private? Suppose they’re lying, manipulative and back stabbing – they praise their favorite child, put us down and leave everything to the favorite while we’re the ones taking care of them? Suppose we think we’re responsible because they raised us, we think we owe them and we still want their approval? Suppose we feel guilty if we think of acting like ungrateful children and abandoning them in their hour of need?
In our hearts we pledge to take care of our children until they can take care of themselves very well. But suppose they’re 40 and still living with us because they never took our advice and never got good careers or married the right person or held a job? Suppose our toxic children are rotten to us until they need something? Or they threaten to deprive us of our grandchildren unless we give them everything they want, even to divorcing our spouse, whom they hate? Suppose they still act like spoiled, vicious, toxic teenagers, blaming us for all their failures, feeling entitled to everything they want, full of sneering sarcasm, back-talk, temper tantrums and demanding that we slave for them? Suppose we still think that if we love them enough, if we’re nice enough to them they’ll finally grow up and become successful? Suppose we’re afraid they’ll fail completely and end up homeless if we don’t give them everything they want?
Those are horrible scenarios but all too common.
Probably, we’ve discovered the hard way that we can’t make things better by being peacemakers. Tactics like begging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, ‘second chances,’ forgiveness, sympathy and unconditional love, and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse. We won’t get the results we want; we won’t stop emotional bullies or physical bullying unless we’re clear about which values are more or less important to us.
So we wallow in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt. We get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated. We lose our confidence and self-esteem.
Often, we stay stuck in those versions of hell because we gave our word and we’re people of integrity – even though they broke their side of the bargain, we understand how hard it has been for them. We think we must honor our pledge or we’d be just as bad as they are.
I say that’s a big mistake.
I say, “Choose life, not a slow spiritual and emotional death.” I say, “Examine your hierarchy of values and get clear about which values are more important to you. Then honor the most important ones gracefully and cheerfully.” And make yourself cheerful living a great life with your choice.
Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change or die. Don’t suffer in silence. Use your own power. Say “That’s enough!” Say “No!”
Often, we avoid examining that hierarchy of values and discarding those early vows until we are forced to. We may not be willing to protect ourselves but we will act resolutely to defend others.
For example, our crazy or bullying spouse abuses the children and only then does our spirit rise up with fierce determination to protect our children. We discard that marriage vow for the sake of something much more important than loyalty to a toxic spouse – loyalty to our children
Or the toxic parents are so abusive to our spouse and children that we take the power we need to protect what’s more precious than our toxic parents – our marriage and our children.
Or our toxic children are so vicious, nasty and abusive that our spirits will stand no more – we’ll protect our marriages, our health and our retirement funds from the energy vampires who want to suck us dry, even if they’re our own children
The principal and teachers at Sheila’s school were proud of their efforts to stop bullies. They had a team, including a psychologist, to deal fairly with students accused of bullying.
They were certain that:
Students became bullies because they’d been bullied at home.
Bullies had low self-esteem and weren’t aware of other ways of making friends.
Bullying was in retaliation for bad treatment and that if provocation decreased, so would bullying.
If other students stopped hurting the feelings of bullies, bullying would eventually stop.
Since bullying was not the fault of one person, negotiation and mediation, would eventually stop bullying.
The best way to stop bullying was through forgiveness, sympathy, compassion, understanding, education and compromise.
These educators were not going to let those poor, damaged kids who’d turned to bullying be harassed, taunted or abused, verbally or emotionally, or through unjust accusations.
Sheila’s mother met with the teacher, principal and school psychologist. They assured her that there was no evidence for Sheila’s accusations. Then they asked many questions about Sheila’s home life and psychological state. Maybe Sheila was going through something difficult at home. Or maybe she was simply jealous and suffering from some teenage turmoil because she didn’t fit in.
They suggested that Sheila try to make friends with the popular girls – be nice to them, ask them what upset them and try to change that, give them friendship offerings, open her heart to them or turn the other cheek if she was misunderstanding what they said to her. Maybe Sheila was simply too sensitive to the way high school girls naturally were.
They told accused clique of girls that Sheila had complained about them and encouraged them to be nice to her, despite her complaint.
Having been forewarned and directed at Sheila, but having no consequences to make them stop bullying, the accused girls escalated their attacks and got sneakier. Sheila was subjected to daily barrages of hostility, venom and meanness. When nothing happened to the clique, they got bolder and eventually beat Sheila up in the bathroom.
Unfortunately for them, a teacher happened to be in one of the stalls and heard the whole scene.
The school officials now initiated their program to stop bullies.
They encouraged Sheila’s parents not to talk with the parents of the clique girls.
They encouraged Sheila’s parents not to go to the media or to a lawyer.
They assured Sheila’s parents that the quieter the issue was kept, the more likely there would be a rapid resolution to the situation.
The principal and therapist had Sheila meet with the girls to mediate the situation by themselves. They told the girls that they thought the students could solve the hostility on their own and that Sheila was willing to compromise with them.
At that meeting, the girls pinched Sheila, punched her, pulled her hair and threatened her with worse after school. Then they told the principal and therapist that they’d apologized and promised not to do anything if Sheila would treat them nicer, but that Sheila had called them names, insulted them and refused to compromise.
Cindy was up again at 2 AM, infuriated at her mother and her older sister. They were so mean and cruel. What they’d said and done hurt so much. It was like she was a child again, subjected to their verbal beatings. The more she thought of what they had done, the angrier she became. She couldn’t stop her racing mind from obsessing on what they’d said.
She linked the episode yesterday afternoon to the thousands of times she’d felt the same pain and frustration. She wanted to beat them, even kill them, or never see them again. But they were her family and she thought she couldn’t talk back or leave them. She felt frustrated and stuck.
As the rage took her over, guilt and shame started growing. How could she feel that hateful about her family? Maybe they really were trying to help her? The more she tried to get back to sleep, the more she jumped back and forth between rage and guilt. She hadn’t seemed to make any progress in becoming a better, more spiritual person.
Cindy is stuck in “The Emotional Motivation Cycle.”
The episode yesterday was like the key that started her emotional motivational engine. And the more she thought about it, the faster ands hotter the engine went.
This cycle can be triggered by external events like Cindy’s mother and sister attacking her, or by thoughts and memories of previous episodes of harassment, blame or put-downs. Once triggered the cycle repeats and builds in intensity and speed until we are taken over by it. At 2 AM, in a half-sleep state we are most vulnerable to simply watching it run, as if on its own, and take over our minds and bodies.
Fear --> Run, Freeze --> Self-Bullying (Blame, shame guilt) --> Frustration --> Anger, Fear -->
Of course, the crucial question for each of us is, “What are the repeating stages in our cycle?” We probably know exactly which thoughts, memories and words will follow in which sequence because we’ve done it to ourselves so many times.
What’s the Purpose of the Cycle?
The purpose of the cycle is not really to make us feel angry and bad, even though it inevitably does. The purpose is to motivate ourselves to make effective action. Feeling is a tool; make us feel bad enough and we’ll finally break out of the iceberg that traps us and do something so they can’t hurt us again.
The major downsides to the Emotional Motivation Cycle method of self-motivation are that:
It can make us too depressed to act. We make ourselves feel like we did when we were children; all our strength, energy, adult wisdom, determination and skill are sucked out of us, and we feel helpless and hopeless again, like we did when we were children.
Two responses, often championed in self-help literature, do not work:
Stop thinking about it. However, ignoring the insistent call of our spirit is not effective, and who would want it to be? Our spirit wants us to do something effective; to stop bullying on our Isle of Song. Nothing less will satisfy our spirit. Why should we settle for less?
Become more spiritual, understanding, forgiving – act like the Golden Rule requires. The assumption here is that our unconditional love and perfection will convert bullies and they’ll stop abusing us. Or we’ll get into heaven faster. That’s simply not true for real-world bullies. Our spirit knows that also; that’s why it won’t stop bringing us back to the problem.
Instead, I recommend:
At 2 AM, wake up so we can be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong, not weak. Get out of bed, eat a little chocolate, shower if you need and plan what to do to act effectively.
Often, the desire to protect our children from obvious, blatant rotten behavior motivates us to break the cycle and stop the abuse.
We can train ourselves to respond to our spirit when the situation is merely an irritation or frustration. We can develop good habits that function naturally, automatically, easily. The more we start listening to our inner voice, the more we’ll respond effectively in the moment of an assault or at the first self-hating thought.
Amy was raised to be a nice girl. She had learned not to act if she felt angry or if she sensed any resentful or vindictive feelings within her. When she held back because her motives weren’t pure enough, she became easy prey for her bullying brother.
When they were middle-aged, her brother moved back to their small town after having been gone for 20 years. He began spreading vicious lies and rumors about Amy. He blackened her reputation around town and even manipulated their mother into believing that Amy had always been jealous of him and that’s why she would claim he was nasty to her.
Amy obsessed on what he was saying and what was happening. She couldn’t sleep, she wallowed in negative self-talk, shame and guilt, and became grumpy and angry at her family and at work. She got anxious and depressed. She even contemplated suicide as a solution to her dilemma.
He accused her of being evil. Her anger and desire to retaliate proved how bad she was. Since she did feel angry, resentful and vindictive, maybe he was right and she was deluding herself by thinking she was a good person.
Never act if your motives are impure; if you feel the slightest amount of anger, resentment or vindictiveness.
When she could see that the wonderful life she’d created and her teenage children’s happiness were threatened, she broke free from her old rules and roles. She evaluated those old rules-roles as an adult with much more experience than she had when she was a child.
She told her teenage children what she’d realized. She’d told them secrets about her brother that she’d hidden because she didn’t want them to know how rotten he’d always been. But she had to protect her family from someone who’d destroy it, even though he was her brother.
She told their mother the truth, even though that hurt mom. Her mother had always tried to ignore how bad her son had been. Now she had a choice, face the truth and side with her daughter, who’d always been good to her, or continue siding with a son who was weak and manipulative.
Amy told the truth to her friends and many of the important people in town. The hardest part for her was to overcome her reluctance and produce evidence for many of the rotten things her brother had done while he’d been gone. There were newspaper clippings to back up what she said.
Also, she reminded people to judge by character and history. How had she behaved to them over the years: had she lied, deceived or harmed them? Or had she always been kindly, considerate and truthful?
Her brother had to leave town. Amy felt sorry for him, but she knew that her responsibilities were more important that her sympathy for her brother, who was now reaping the painful harvest of the seeds he’d sown.
Most important, she had a much better sense of what she had to do to fulfill her responsibilities and that she wouldn’t allow her feelings to put her in harm’s way. Also, she saw that she had not let herself be overwhelmed by anger or resentment. She hadn’t blown up and lost her character or the respect of the people in town. Instead, she had stayed calm and thoughtful, and developed a plan that succeeded.
I attended a wonderful presentation on cyberbullying and sexting by an officer from a local police department. The question came up about spying on our teenagers’ phones and computers: “Do our teenagers have a right to privacy?” That was followed by the question: “If we spy on our teens, how can they consider us friends? They’ll never open up to us. Won’t that thwart our efforts?”
Let’s distinguish between two types of threats to our teenagers:
Adult predators who lure them and groom them – whether to exploit them or to gain personal, family information to use against their parents.
Other teens who will slam them, cyberbully them and share sexted pictures.
Although most parents worry about the first situation, most kids worry about the second or will blow it off as “Drama.” But the answer is the same in either case.
Teenagers have no privacy. I want us to know what our kids are doing so we can help them. We’ve been there and done that and have more wisdom, even though they don’t think so. If we don’t have wisdom, we should make learning a first priority.
As long as they’re dependent on us and we’re responsible for them, we must know. They may be more technically savvy but we can learn enough. That’s what our friends are for.
In addition, of course, we can be alert to the first signs of cyberbullying. Have they withdrawn or stopped eating, being with friends, or wanting to go to school? Have they become emotionally labile (mood swings, happy, crying, excited, depressed, angry, hysterical all in 10 seconds)? Do they engage in negative self-talk and put-downs? Do they lack self-confidence and self-esteem? Are they changing everything in order to get friends or please boy or girlfriends? Are they anxious, stressed, not sleeping?
When they accuse us of not trusting them, we already know the answers:
It’s not about trust; it’s about experience, wisdom and safety.
They’ve hidden, lied and deceived us before and will do so again. Of course we don’t trust them, just like our parents shouldn’t have trusted us.
It’s about which risks we’ll allow them to take and which we won’t.
When they insist that they’re old enough to make their own decisions, we also know the answer to that: “When you’re capable of supporting yourself and living independently, then you’re old enough to be responsible for yourself.
As for their opening up because we’re their friends; how many of us opened up to our parents – or would have if they tried to be our friends? We thought we could or had to solve things on our own or we knew better than to open up.
Whether we physically check phone and computer logs or we also use spyware, we must take the initiative. If they don’t like it, they don’t need a phone. Also, we should take steps to find out about their friends and what their friends’ parents allow or encourage.
Unfortunately, too many examples can be found in the headlines of what happen when parents don’t know what their teens are doing.
We don’t need more research and statistics to know that domestic violence is a travesty and must be stopped. For example, watch the graphic five minute video about the effects of that brutality and the work of one safe house helping women and children. Domestic violence is obvious – you can see the results of physical battering.
On the other hand, even though domestic bullying and mental and emotional abuse are more wide spread than overt beating they’re often hidden from view. Since harassment, bullying and abuse often fly below the bullying-radar of the targets and the public, I want to focus on it here. Targets who accept the bullies’ promises or threats or on-going torture often don’t recognize how bad it is; how demoralizing and defeating it is; how their souls are being eroded over time.
Of course, some men are bullied by women, but notice the patterns of the bullied women who have written these (edited) comments:
“Out of the blue, he started taking control over me (commanding me), which I am not liking. He is not letting me meet my friends or go out with them on weekends. He doesn’t let me wear dresses, saying his parents don’t like it. I am not allowed to do anything; no friends, no meeting people, no phones, nothing. These things were never an issue previously. I tried to work out things during last five months by listening to him and not meeting or talking to my friends. He just keep saying ‘Listen to me and things will work out; otherwise pack your bags and leave.’ He doesn’t let me go out anywhere without him. He doesn’t want to sort it out by talking. Whenever I try, he says, ‘I am not here to listen to you. You have to do whatever I say. I don’t want to hear a ‘No’. Now, I am always depressed and sad and smoke a lot more. I lost my smile. I lost myself in this relation. Shall I give up or keep compromising without any expectations in this relationship?”
“I have been in a four year relationship, and have a two year-old daughter with him. I have been feeling depressed lately and having second thoughts about us being together. He controls me. I can’t go any where without asking him first. Sometimes I feel like a little kid asking for permission, even if it’s to go to the store. My friends ask me to go out for a girls’ night and he gets mad if I mention it, so I stopped asking and him and just tell my friends I’m doing something that night so I can’t go. Now, they don’t even ask me anymore. When his friends are here he acts like he’s so cool and even yells at me in front of them. It’s extremely embarrassing. I feel alone. I tried leaving in the past and he won’t let me take the baby. So I stay because I don’t want to fight and I’m not leaving my child. What do I do? How do I make it an easy break up? How do we get out?”
“At first my husband was the sweetest man I ever met. He complimented me and had such great manners. Then slowly but surely he began changing into the worst thing I could ever imagine. The sick thing is I know I don't deserve it, but I can't leave. It's like he has some strange control over me. He constantly puts me down about my intelligence, appearance and my mothering abilities, which hurts the most. It’s such an everyday obstacle that I find myself questioning why I stay. It's gotten so bad I'm beginning to believe the things he says to me about how I'm useless and no one will ever want me but him. Every bad thing that happens, he takes out on me. Every single thing is my fault. I want to leave but I still find myself staying, feeling bad for him and his feelings. He can't even compliment at all without letting me know that I'm ugly and lucky he even loves me. I'm just so sad anymore. I don't even recognize myself. I'm not allowed to speak to my family or friends. I just don't know what to do anymore. I'm so lost.”
“My husband and I have been together for eleven years with four children. We go through the cycle of an abusive relationship. Every time we argue, I get called a ‘bitch,’ which I have asked him many times to not do. We kiss and make up. Then everything's fine and dandy again. He doesn't like to talk about our fights and says he will not name-call me again. But every opportunity he gets, he's right at it again. I guess I keep hoping he'll change, but I know he never will. I don't feel any love from this guy. He has fooled around on me and even went as far as marrying someone else while we were married. Just recently he took my wedding ring away and threatened to pawn it. He also promised my kids that he'll take them on a vacation. He doesn’t even work, so I ended up having to get funds just to take the kids on the vacation. Today, we fought again and he said sorry and he'll start today on not calling me a bitch. Then ten minutes later it happened again. I feel so stuck. I feel as my only way out is suicide. But I don't want to give him that satisfaction. All I did today was cry. And I don't even have anyone to talk to because everyone is sick of hearing me cry over him.”
He commands, bosses and embarrasses her in public. She submits because she wants to avoid bigger fights. She hopes that since she gave in this time, he’ll be nicer next time. But he’s relentless in arguing, bullying and abusing; he never stops. If he doesn’t beat her, the threat is there.
When she’s nice and logical – discussing, asking, compromising, begging, arguing, appeasing – she may get peace because he’s gotten his way, but it’s only momentary. Her good behavior doesn’t buy his in return. He never reciprocates by letting her have her way next time. Eventually, she submits completely and asks permission to do anything. He’s in complete control. When he’s mean, angry or out of control, it’s her fault because she isn’t perfect. It’s as if, “Since he’s angry, you must have done something wrong.”
Step by step, she’s isolated – cut off from friends, family and sources of her own income. She loses her old self; she loses her confidence and self-esteem; she becomes depressed, heart-broken and ready to give up.
It’s even worse if there are children she thinks she’ll have to support if she leaves. Eventually, she begins to think like a victim – she can’t see how to get safe house help, legal help or the police on her side.
These targets keep hoping they’ll find some magic wand to change him; he’ll become a loving, caring, nice and reasonable person. But that’s not going to happen.
Or they think that the most important value is making a marriage last even though it’s a marriage of torture. Or that what matters is whether he loves her or not, when what really matters is how he loves her.
Those abusive, bullying control-freaks always interpret their target’s kindness, reasonableness and compromise as weakness and an invitation to take more from them, to control more of their lives, to eat them alive.
Ultimately, these women get the worst that they’re willing to put up with. And eventually, the price they pay is slow erosion of their souls.
I learned by personal and professional experience that unconditional love doesn’t stop real-world bullies. But others learned the same lesson over 2,500 years ago.
Of course, we all have those bad days when everything seems to go wrong and we’re so grumpy that we take it out on the dog or anyone we meet. But with people like us, a yelp of pain, a kind word, a straightforward appeal, an expression of empathy or sympathy will bring us to our senses. We’ll be genuinely contrite, make amends and not repeat the behavior again. But, of course, we’re not relentless, real-world bullies. We just had a bad day.
In fact, they take our love and kindness as signs of weakness and an invitation to increase their bullying. Here are two ancient examples:
In “The Analects,” 14-34, Confucius says: “Requite injury with uprightness. Requite kindness with kindness.”
The “Mahabharata” says, “If you are gentle, [bullies] will think you are afraid. They will never be able to understand the motives that prompt you to be gentle. They will think you are weak and unwilling to resist them.”
In other words: If you turn the other cheek to bullies, expect that bullies will misinterpret your moral high ground for weakness and be encouraged to taunt, harass, abuse and attack you more. If you’re willing to have your cheek slapped, then turn the other cheek. Or if you think that another part of your anatomy is meant by the saying, be prepared to have your cheek bitted by a jackal.
But don’t believe me or the ancient wisdom. What’s your experience?
Suppose you classify into two groups:
Those who responded to your kindness and love with kind and loving behavior.
Suppose you label the first group “people who act nice to me when we act nice to each other” and suppose you ignore the reasons, excuses and justifications of people in the second group and simply label them as “bullies” or “predators.” Would that give you a better idea about how to respond effectively and successfully to their behavior?
And what’s your take on history? Suppose you did the same classification to famous historical figures. Suppose you though if, for instance, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, General Custer, Cortez, Pizarro, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, the Inquisition and thousands more would have had their lust for power satisfied, and stopped their brutality and conquest if they were faced with kindness, appeasement, begging, bribery or love?
Oh, I forgot to mention all of the martyrs of every religion, race, color, creed, ethnic group or gender. And how about those wildebeests crossing that crocodile infested river? Or a limping zebra being watched by lions and hyenas?
So what can you do?
Don’t be anxious, afraid, discouraged, depressed or suicidal. Don’t be angry at the way the world is.
With expert coaching and consulting, we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying. We can overcome childhood rules that aren’t appropriate to our desire to thrive in the real-world.
We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being targeted by bullies and to stop bullies in their tracks. We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.
You may be the target of a bully, but you don’t have to be a victim.
Bullies can go after you in many ways; physically harming you or threatening to hurt you; inflicting emotional pain through harassment, relentless criticism, taunting, put-downs, cutting out, manipulation, controlling, back-stabbing, spreading rumors, telling secrets, embarrassing you or generally mean behavior; cyberbullying.
In all these situations, the first step in defending yourself and in stopping bullies is the same and always has been. This is the first step, even before you use any programs that are designed to stop bullies in schools or at work.
For instance, we can go back to Homer’s “Odyssey.” At the end, after Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, have killed all the abusive suitors, they flee with two faithful servants to the mountain home of Odysseus’ father, Laertes. They know they will pursued by all the older men of the city, the fathers and uncles of the dead suitors.
In the final confrontation, hopelessly outnumbered, Laertes kills the father of the most evil suitor. Odysseus loses control of himself and goes berserk. He advances in a murderous rage to kill all the fathers and uncles.
Don’t give in to your racing mind – when your reasoning and logic might talk you out of following your accurate intuition, might discourage and depress you into giving up or might spook and panic you into doing something dumb.
Don’t give in to your lust or greed or laziness or any other of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Begin by commanding yourself. In Odysseus’ case, commanding himself meant not starting a bloodbath, which would lead to generations of vendettas that would ruin the country.
In the case of facing a bully, we must take charge of ourselves, gather ourselves and command ourselves. Even when we don’t know how things will turn out, we do know that we want to act bravely, resolutely and greatly. Therefore, command yourself and go for it; 110%.
If we give in to fear, anxiety, perfectionism and self-doubt, we’ll do nothing to protect ourselves – we’ll become victims of our own panic and terror. If we give in to anger and rage, we’ll explode, act unskillfully and do things we’ll regret. If we don’t command ourselves, we’ll lose confidence and self-esteem; we’ll get depressed and become easy victims of the predators.
We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being targeted by bullies and to stop bullies in their tracks. We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.
When we command ourselves, we can overcome whatever confronts us. We will let nothing crush us; our spirits will remain strong. We can plan and take charge of our actions. We can act with strength, courage and skill. We can act with perseverance and resilience. We can get the help we need. We can succeed.
There are toxic people in every environment – toxic lovers, husbands, wives, parents, children, relatives, bosses and coworkers. Many people let bullying friends continue abusing them because they want to maintain the friendship. They won’t disagree with or hurt the feelings of the false-friend even if he or she’s a righteous, narcissistic control-freak.
However, if you don’t stop these bossy, self-centered bullies, they’ll increase your anxiety and stress, harass you and make your life miserable, take over your life and eventually turn other friends against you.
Joan had a problem with her friend Shelly. Shelly was sure that she knew what’s right about everything and was intent on straightening out Jane. She told Jane that Jane was a failure because of numerous character flaws; that’s why Jane’s children were not as successful as Shelly’s. She said that if Jane didn’t do things the way Shelly told her, Jane’s part-time business would fail and Jane would be a failure her whole life.
Shelly corrected Jane about every detail; how Jane dressed, what she ate, who she talked to, what she read and where she went to church. She also knew how Jane should behave to prove she was a true friend to Shelly. If Jane didn’t change, Shelly either cried or got very indignant and angry.
Shelly was always convinced she was absolutely right and perceptive enough to recognize Jane’s hidden fears. Faced with Shelly’s certainty and a few accurate remarks by her, Jane was thrown into self-questioning and self-doubt. She agonized that maybe Shelly was right. It was hard to argue against Shelly’s righteousness and total conviction. As soon as Jane started, Shelly got angry and rebutted every one of Jane’s objections with reasonable sounding answers. Or Shelly changed the subject and verbally attacked Jane. Jane could never convince Shelly that she was wrong or that she was a self-righteous bully.
Also, selfish Shelly was the center of attention. Most of their conversation was about Shelly’s emotional melodrama. Only at the very end did Shelly pause to tell Jane where she was wrong.
The few times Jane has brought up a problem of Shelly’s, Shelly attacked Jane, claiming that Jane was jealous of Shelly or that Jane once did what she didn’t want Shelly to do.
After every conversation with Shelly, Jane felt discouraged, depressed and defeated. She was afraid that if she told Shelly what she really felt, she’d lose her best friend.
Every situation is different; every situation has complications that limit possible solutions. Solutions to each situation will have to be designed specifically for the people involved. For example, in Jane’s case, she was afraid that if she argued or disagreed with Shelly, Shelly would sabotage Jane to all their friends.
However, there is a general rule: The longer you accept the righteous put-downs and control by a bullying, abusive false-friend, the more your confidence and self-esteem will be battered. You must gather the will and determination to act. You must learn skills of planning and successfully executing effective tactics.
The key to Jane’s breaking free was to see that Shelly was an abusive bully, not a true friend. Jane realized that true friends don’t act the way Shelly did. That realization gave Jane the will – the determination, perseverance and grit – to be honest with Shelly. Jane realized that the friendship she might lose was one that hurt, even though Shelly called it “best friends.” Jane also prepared herself and her other friends for what Shelly was likely to do in retaliation.
Jane didn’t argue, debate or try to prove to Shelly that she was a bully. Jane simply stated how people had to act in order to be her friend and to be in her personal space. Shelly was shocked that Jane finally found the backbone. Of course, Shelly was convinced that Jane was wrong. Shelly tried to turn their friends against Jane, but Jane’s preparation paid off. The friends had had similar experiences with Shelly.
For another example, in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” see how Tammy stopped a false-friend who tried to force food down Tammy’s throat even though Tammy was trying to diet.
There are moments of choice in all our lives when we are called upon to stand up for our best dreams and aspirations. Sometimes we recognize and seize these opportunities, sometimes we ignore these moments and sometimes we don’t ever hear their call to our spirits. Each of these moments and our responses create long-lasting effects on our self-confidence and self-esteem; on our vision of the futures we want and on the dedication and determination with which we pursue our dreams.
Obviously, being subjected to harassment, bullying and abuse, or giving in to the temptation to bully helpless people creates these critical moments. And being a bystander or a witness to bullying and abuse is also one of these moments that calls out to our spirits. Will we step up and defend what we know to be right? Are we cowards or lazy? Do we know what to do? Are we skilled?
There are major long term effects on kids who are bystanders and look away or don’t know how to act effectively or who aren’t supported in their actions by responsible adults. New studies are beginning to provide public evidence, but from our own experiences we all know what the results of those studies will be.
When we see a wrong being done, often repeatedly, and when we don’t act or when no one else acts to right that wrong, we are deeply affected. When we don’t know what to do to stop the wrong our helplessness increases. When the adults and other students don’t act to protect targets of abuse, our own vulnerability and insecurity increases tremendously. Our guilt for our inaction tries to goad us to do better next time.
When we’re children, we try to make sense of the world. When we see actions that don’t make sense or that seem evil, we are thrown into confusion and fear. Naturally, we want our world to be reasonable and controllable. And we want to be protected by the responsible adults – principals, teachers, parents. When evil triumphs or wrong goes unpunished, the world becomes bleak and too many kids lose confidence in their own efforts and chances of success; we can get insecure, stressed, unassertive, discouraged and depressed, and we can give up. And we also carry a great burden of guilt, shame and negative self-talk.
Since 60-70% of school children witness bullying, the scars on a significant percent of the population can be staggering.
A key factor in every successful program is that bystanders-witnesses are rallied to support bullied targets, have been trained to be skillful in their actions and are backed by principals, teachers and staff.
Opportunities, moments of choice are precious and critical in every child’s development. Every call we spurn becomes a burden that weighs us down. The scars left by inaction when facing wrong or evil can last a lifetime and can diminish our lives. They always remain to call us to do better next time.
As Pat Tillman’s father said about his son answering such a call, “You only get a few chances in life to show your stuff. Often it’s a split second when you step up or you don’t. If you don’t step up and you should have, that eats away at a young man. And I don’t think it goes away when he gets older.” The same goes for a young woman.
A lot of feedback about stopping bullying by toxic parents focused on what children owe those abusive parents. After all, even though they harassed, abused and tormented their children, those parents still fed, clothed and housed them.
Many of those parents now claim that a debt is owed them. No matter how bad they were and still are, they claim their children owe them care, sympathy and loyalty. And usually willingness to be continually abused.
To illustrate my point of view, here’s a story told to me repeatedly by my father. He said it was a traditional story. I call it “The Mother and the Three Baby Birds.” It appeared in a wonderful collection of stories annotated Steve Andreas, published by Real People Press, “Is there life after birth?”
At the time of the great flood, when the storm had just begun and the earth was beginning to be covered with water, a mother bird saw the danger. She realized that her three babies were no longer safe in their nest at the top of a high tree. Even if she remained with them, they would be swept away and drowned. So she picked up the first baby and started to fly through the storm, across the rising water, seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.
As she flew, she spoke to the first baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”
And the first baby turned to her and said, “No. When your day has passed, when you can no longer take care of yourself, then I will not dedicate my whole life to taking care of you. I will dedicate all my energy and strength to taking care of myself.”
The mother bird said, “No! This is not the baby to save.” And so she let go of the first baby and it fell, helplessly flailing its tiny wings, down into the raging waves.
Tired and wet, the mother bird turned and flew back to the nest, which she hoped would still be above the rising waters.
She found the nest and picked up the second baby bird. Weary and wet, she struggled to fly higher, through the beating rain, against the driving wind. Seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.
And as she struggled, she spoke to the second baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”
And the second baby turned to her and said, “Yes. When you have used all your energy and strength, when you are too exhausted to go further, I will dedicate my whole life to taking care of you.”
And the mother bird said, “No! This also is not the baby to save.” And so she let go of the second baby and it fell, helplessly flailing its tiny wings, down into the raging waves.
Almost exhausted now, bedraggled, beaten by the driving rain and raging wind, summoning all her remaining strength, the mother bird turned and flew back to the nest, which she hoped would still be above the rising waters.
She found the nest and, just as the raging waves washed it away, she picked up the third baby bird. With barely enough strength to rise above the foam and spray, to move forward against the driving wind, she struggled bravely on. Desperately seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.
And as she struggled, with her voice and body failing, she spoke to the third baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”
And the third baby turned to her and said, “No. When you have used all your energy and strength, when you are too exhausted to go further, I will not dedicate my whole life to taking care of you. But instead, I will dedicate all my strength and energy to taking care of my children, just as you are taking care of me now.”
And the mother bird said, “Yes! This is the baby to save.” And with renewed hope and renewed strength, she steadily flew higher and faster and further. Despite the beating rain, despite the driving wind, despite the raging waves. She flew steadily. And she did find a new place that was high enough to save the child who must be saved.
In this recession, lots of specific problems crop up that we moan and groan about. But habitual whiners and complainers want us to wallow in their negativity even in the best of times. In her article in the Financial Times, “Office moaners are something to groan about,” Emma Jacobs points out that habitual complainers can demoralize and depress any office.
The skill to critically foresee potential problems and try to solve them is totally different from an endless stream of hostility, negativity and victim-talk. Of course, good managers pay attention to comments from productive staff.
While occasional griping is a natural part of our lives, a Grump’s steady stream of bad attitudes coupled with attempts to prove that we should all feel as bad as he does, rapidly convert our sympathy into anger.
Negativity also promotes workplace divisiveness. Moaners ostracize anyone who won’t join in and their continued focus on what’s unfair or wrong leads co-workers to focus also on what’s wrong at work instead of finding solutions or staying productive.
Although most people moan and groan for a while in response to specific situations, typically, you’ll encounter three types of habitual moaners:
People who routinely feel discouraged, depressed and victimized, and just want to whine endlessly about how hard life is.
Co-workers who batter you with their views about how bad the world or the company is. You have to agree or you just don’t understand (“you fool”) or you’re one of the “oppressors.”
Behind this stealth bullying is the moaning bullies’ desire to control what correct behavior should be (“Those rotten people should do …) and their rules for how we should respond to what they see as major injustices.
Don’t hang out with negative people. Leave the break room or sweetly remove them from your cubicle or office while saying, “I have too much to do right now” and turn to do it, or “I have so many deadlines, would you do this for me” and give them a simple task.
Don’t debate with them. They don’t want to change their minds. Notice that if you win one debate, they rapidly come up with something else to moan about. Their goal is to moan, not solve problems.
Individually stand on your own ground. You might say, “You’re right but that’s not important enough to waste much time on,” or “you’re right but that’s part of life so I don’t get upset about it,” or “you’re right but that’s too big for me to do anything about at this moment so I’d rather focus on the things that lift my spirit and energy.”
At a workshop someone suggested what’s become my favorite. With a straight face say, “My therapist says I can’t have any discouraging talk for seven days straight, so do you have any happy or uplifting things to tell me?” This has worked every time.
Of course the same could be said about whiners, moaners and complainers at home. They’ll drag your energy down if you let them. As Henry Adams said, “Even the gayest of tempers succumbs at last to constant friction.” In your personal life, give whining complainers a chance to change or vote them off your island.
Obviously there are great parents. And there are children who repeatedly wound their parents. But let’s focus on parents who repeatedly wounded their children … and still continue to bully and control them even after the children have become adults.
Whether that’s done consciously and intentionally, or the parents are righteous and oblivious to the effects they’re having, or they think that they’re preparing their children to be humble and moral or to face a hostile world, the pain is real and the effects can last for decades.
Before we review a typical case study and offer the keys to moving on and creating the life you want, let me ask, have you been wounded by your parents?
In general, boys are wounded just as much as girls, but let’s look at Irene. She’s now a skilled and competent nurse, but getting there was a long struggle. Her parents relentlessly belittled, denigrated and punished her. They didn’t hit her often, but they forced her to do everything their way. They knew best and were always right; she was always wrong. They said that her character and personality was fundamentally flawed. Despite everything they did for her benefit, they knew she’d never be a good or successful person. She’d always be a loser.
In response to their hostile criticism, emotional blackmail and verbal abuse, Irene became insecure and shy. Although she was very mature and competent in her professional life, when she faced her parents, she became a little girl again. She was intimidated by their certainty and rules. Facing these bullies, Irene became a self-bully; bullied by the old attitudes, beliefs, rules and critical voices she carried in her head.
Irene was like so many other wounded people in life-long therapy. She was completely focused on her parents’ continuing bullying, on resisting them, on hating them, on finally pleasing them, on getting past them. She gnawed on the bone of her parents endlessly. She was depressed and sometimes suicidal. She thought she needed repeated catharsis to keep functioning.
The relationship with her parents consumed her life. Irene kept trying to convince them to give in to her and to approve of her so she could feel good. She just wanted them to be fair and reasonable … and to like and appreciate her. She thought she mustn’t ever create a safe distance from them even though they still bullied her. The guilt would be overwhelming.
Let’s focus on the perspective that gave Irene back her life. I think there are developmental transitions we all go through. The first stage of growing up and leaving home is when we leave physically. Most of us go to school, get jobs, get stuff (homes and cars), get spouses or partners, get children, get debts … get self-supporting. We often move away so we can spread our wings without our parents’ eagle eyes on us. Then we think we’ve become free and independent adults. Externally, maybe.
We usually make this outer transition between the ages of 16-35. When did you?
But that’s only the first transition. There’s a second, necessary transition before we become truly unique, independent selves. In this transition, we clean out the internal mental, emotional and spiritual homes we gave our parents. We discard everything we took in when we were children. And we take in what fits us now. Some of the attitudes and ideas may be the same as our parents have, but much of it will be different.
In this transition, we get over our parents. The present and the future we want to create become the focus of our world. Our parents aren’t the focus any more. They no longer fill up our world. We move them off to the side or into the background, whether they like it or not.
Now we can take in attitudes and ideas as adults; adjusting them with our adult experience and wisdom. Children take in ideas as black-or-white, all-or-none RULES, and apply those rules everywhere. There’s no gray for them. Adults know there’s gray in many areas. We all did our best and it was good enough to keep us alive and get us to where we are now. But we didn’t have the experience to judge with wisdom. We misunderstood, misinterpreted and had very narrow visions. We were kids.
This second transition is usually age and life-stage dependent. For example, our careers reach a plateau, we can see the children leaving home, we become middle-aged, we notice the same, repeating life patterns and lessons, or we wonder if we’ll ever fulfill our heart’s desire.
Are you there yet?
When we’ve done this, we’re no longer controlled by our parents’ voices, rules, beliefs and attitudes. We have our own view of life and what’s important for us and how we can get it. We can create the life we’ve wanted, independent of whether they like it or not. We may or may not reject them; we’re simply not controlled by them or by having to be like or different from them. We make up our own minds.
When Irene saw her life’s movement with this perspective, she heaved a sigh of relief. She wasn’t a loser or flawed sinner caught forever in an insoluble bind. Her parents’ opinions of her faults and what she needed to do were merely their personal opinions, shaped by their upbringing. Nothing more truthful or important than personal opinions. She no longer put them on a pedestal.
She wasn’t helpless. The situation wasn’t hopeless. She was normal. She just had to persevere in order to create a life that she could call her own. And if her parents didn’t like it; so what? They didn’t get to vote. If they wanted to get close to her, they have to pass the tests of her 9 Circles of Trust.
Some people get this in a blinding flash when they’re relatively young. For Irene, it took much longer. The transition wasn’t easy for her but it was do-able. She felt free and light, like a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders. She was always stubborn. Now she could use her stubbornness to persevere. The light at the end of her tunnel was the life she’d always wanted to live.
She won’t let her parents wound her any more. The big difference from decades ago was that now she was just as tall as they were. She was an adult. Keeping herself safe from them was more important than old rules that had led her to accept their abuse and control. When she made her parents’ opinion unimportant and she turned to face the light at the end of her tunnel, she could feel her wounds healing, as wounds naturally do when no one is picking at the scabs.
Where are you with your parents? Where are you with your own growing independence?