Should kids ever fight physically in order to stop relentless school bullies? I’ve been interviewed a lot on radio and TV.  But when I ask those interviewers how they stopped bullying when they were kids, all the men say that bullies were stopped when someone beat them up.  More important, beating up a bully changed the target’s life.  The targets now felt that they could succeed in the world – they developed courage, confidence and high self-esteem.

Nevertheless, many well-meaning parents tell their kids never to fight.

They say that:

  • Bullies have a hard life so we should have sympathy for what they’re going through and how low their self-esteem must be.
  • Don’t sink to the bully’s level by fighting back.  We have it easy so we should rise above the bullies.
  • If we’re nice enough, kind enough and loving enough, the bullies will respond by being nice in return.
  • We should never push back – verbally or physically.  If we push back, it means we don’t care.
  • Violence is morally wrong and violence never solves anything.  Mahatma Gandhi stopped the British without pushing back and by preaching tolerance and love.

Let’s not even argue with those false statements.  If you watch the video about how being nice and caring doesn’t stop bullies, you’ll hear arguments disproving these statements.

Instead, let’s look at what bullies show us about what it takes to stop them.

Imagine a staircase going up.  The harder the bully pushes on us, the higher up the staircase we have to go in order to stop them.

At the lowest steps we do nice, peaceful things to try to get bullies to stop.  We ignore the bullying, we try to laugh it off, we make jokes to try to be friends with the bullies, we say how much it hurts, we ask them to stop or we try to rise above the hurt – that kind of thing.

If the bullying stops, that’s wonderful.  We’ve learned two things:

  1. Some peaceful techniques that might work with some people who are bullying.
  2. The bully was not a relentless bully.  The bully was a nice kid having a bad day.

But if the bullying does not stop, the bully is showing us that we have to be more firm in order to get that kid to stop.

So we go up to the next steps and push back verbally, and we learn how to do that skillfully.  Sometimes that works.  Bullies often respect other kids who show they’re not afraid and who have clever tongues.

If the bullying stops, that’s wonderful.  And, again, we’ve learned that the other kid was not a relentless bully.

Relentless bullies and determined boundary pushers are not stopped by these peaceful methods.  If we suffer in silence, if we whine, or if we advertise that we’re afraid, bullies think we’re victims waiting to be bullied.  If we’re kind, bullies think we are weak.  They’ll continue harassing and abusing us.

Now we have to go further up the staircase.  At this point targets might talk to school officials they trust to protect and defend them.  And they might get their parents involved.  And they need to remind their parents to get experienced, expert coaching.

If principals, teachers and parents still don’t stop the bullying, the relentless bullies are telling their targets that they’re going to have to fight back.  We’re close to the top of the staircase now.  Basically, we have to beat up the bully really badly – the quicker, nastier and harder the better.

Parents, you should have made sure your kid knows how to fight.  This goes for girls as well as boys.

A lot depends on the situation.  Is it one against one between kids who are the same size?  Is it one against a gang?  Fighting in elementary school can be just fists, but as the kids get older it will probably involve weapons.  There are many situations in which discretion is the better part of valor and the thing to do is to endure until we can get out of a rotten school or neighborhood, or away from a sociopath.

I strongly recommend three things:

  1. Don’t be a victim.  You may be a target but you’re in charge of your response as you judge the situation.  Keep a fire of courage and strength burning in your heart.
  2. Be willing to fight to protect and defend yourself.  Decide whether warning the bully might end the bullying or whether a surprise attack is your best option.
  3. Learn how to fight effectively.  Notice, I did not say, “cleanly.”

What if you get suspended for fighting?  It’s worth getting suspended if you’ve stopped the bullying.  You may be a target; don’t be a victim!

You must be determined, courageous and strong in defending and protecting yourself – not because you deserve it, but because you want to, you have to.  “I want to” is more than enough reason to protect yourself.

I speak this way because I was a short, skinny, four-eyed kid who grew up in a tough, inner city ghetto.  I learned by observation and experience, not by philosophy or wishful thinking.

What’s the price of tolerating bullies; slow erosion of your soul.

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.

I’ll start right off with the bottom line: being “nice” and “caring” won’t help kids stop relentless school bullies. Why not?

I’ve been interviewed a lot on radio and TV.  But when I ask those interviewers how they stopped bullying when they were kids, almost all the women say they were never taught how to stop bullies.  Instead, their well-meaning moms told them:

  • Bullies have a hard life so we should have sympathy for what they’re going through and how low their self-esteem must be.
  • Don’t sink to the bully’s level by fighting back.  You have it easy so you should rise above the bullies.
  • If you’re nice enough, kind enough and loving enough, bullies will respond by being nice in return.
  • You should never push back – verbally or physically.  If you push back, it means you don’t care.
  • Violence is morally wrong and violence never solves anything.  They cite Mahatma Gandhi as someone who stopped the British without pushing back and by preaching tolerance and love.

All these women now bear a grudge against their well-meaning mothers.  Those messages are all wrong.  These women learned the hard way that the way you identify relentless bullies is that “nice” and “caring” don’t convert them from predators to friends.

First, the statement about Gandhi is a complete misunderstanding of his tactics.  Applying ahimsa to relentless bullies is not a good comparison.  If Gandhi had tried his tactics against Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao or the founder of Pakistan, he wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes.

Second, violence was required to stop slavery, Nazism, Fascism and communism, to name just a few.

Third, you have to love yourself first.  Sometimes, the most caring thing you can do for someone who’s a jerk and a bully is to show them that their tactics don’t work.  They’d better learn new tactics.

Fourth, you can’t love relentless bullies enough to change how they treat you.  Ignoring, minimizing and “rising above” do not stop relentless bullies.  Appeasement, begging and bribery do not stop relentless bullies.

Fifth, you’re not the bully’s therapist; it’s not your job to rehabilitate them.  The adults have that responsibility, but only after they protect and defend the targets of bullying.

Appeasement is never effective with determined boundary pushers who always want more.  If you suffer in silence, if you whine, or if you advertise that you’re afraid bullies think you’re a victim waiting to be bullied.  If you are kind, bullies think you are weak.  They’ll continue to harass and abuse you.

Don’t waste time complaining about your society, the media, your parents, your friends, your school officials, or how hard it is.

It’s your job to protect and defend your personal space from predators.  It’s your job to make bullies a small part of your mental and emotional world so you can get on with your education and your life

You must be determined, courageous and strong in defending and protecting yourself – not because you deserve it, but because you want to, you have to.  “I want to” is more than enough reason to protect yourself.

You must learn how to push back verbally, to get help from school officials, your parents and the police, and to fight back when you have to and you can.

You have to succeed even though conditions haven’t been prepared perfectly for you.  Don’t starve while you’re waiting for someone else to set the table.  You have to overcome obstacles; it’s a sign of good character.

You may be a target; don’t be a victim!

What’s the price of tolerating bullies; slow erosion of your soul.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we don’t act promptly and decisively, performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Sometimes we must fight ferociously to stop bullies at school, at home and in the workplace because the responsible authorities won’t act, despite the evidence. But other times, we are the problem.  We have conflicting values we can’t choose between so we don’t act effectively; we stay stuck – uncertain and indecisive.  We vacillate instead of acting with determination and perseverance.  We give in.

A few examples in different areas of life are:

While many other values and reasons can factor in, including important ones like keeping a job that puts food on the table or even survival.  I hope you can see that if all of our values are held to be equally important, then when they contradict each other, we’ll be stuck.  Or, if one value is always held to be most important, for example, non-violence, or being nice and sweet, or never disagreeing or upsetting someone, then we’re guaranteed to fail in some situations.

The way out of this impasse is to:

  1. Rank our values in importance; have a hierarchy of values. Then we know which one is more important in which situations.  For example, is it more important that your children have contact with an angry, hostile, bullying, controlling, abusive, brutal parent because children need parents or is it more important for your to set an example of standing up to bullies and protecting them from being beaten, even if that means they don’t see that parent?
  2. Honor the most important values first. Don’t honor a lesser value if that means you won’t be able to honor a more important value.  If honoring a more important value conflicts with a lesser value, honor the ones that are most important.
  3. Plan a strategy that’s most likely to succeed. Children tend to blurt things out.  They think that if they’re right, that’s enough.  Everyone will follow them or some protector will rescue them and make things right.  Adults know that in order to succeed we often have to be careful in how we do things.  And there may be no rescuer, no matter how right we are or what we think we deserve.
  4. Carry out the strategy with single-minded focus, determination, courage and perseverance. Be relentless in a good cause – your most important values.
  5. I am not recommending situational ethics; I am recommending situational tactics.

We won’t make things better for ourselves or our children by being a peacemaker.  Tactics like begging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, endless ‘second chances,’ unconditional love and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuseWe 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.

If we don’t create a hierarchy for conflicting values, we’ll wallow in negative self-talk, blame, shame and guilt.  We’ll get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated.

We can use many techniques to clarify our patterns and to prioritize our values in a way that will make us more effective and successful.  The take-home message is always to cut through impasses and solve our problemsDon't be a victim waiting forever for other people to protect you.  Use your own powerSay “That’s enough!”  Say “No!”  Stopping bullies is more important than never using violence.

For some examples, see “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,” available fastest from this web site.

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.

Sarah has been best friends with Heather for years, but she’s finally realized how much Heather has taken over her life and poisoned it. Sarah feels like Heather has been a toxic polluter in her environment, but she’s afraid that if:

  • She didn’t have Heather, she’d be all alone.
  • She said goodbye to Heather, Heather would get angry and retaliate with their friends and to Sarah’s family.

What should Sarah do?

Heather has been a sounding board for all Sarah’s decisions.  Heather always knows what Sarah should do to straighten her life out.  Sarah never married because Heather found faults with every guy that Sarah was interested in. Sarah stopped dieting because Heather told her she’d look bad if she was thin.

Sarah doesn’t have much time for herself since she has to be on-call in case Heather needs her.  Heather often has urgent requests for Sarah to do her chores or to meet her.  Sarah’s afraid to disappoint Heather because Heather gets so hurt and makes Sarah pay.

Heather criticizes Sarah relentlessly, spreads lies, rumors and malicious gossip, and gets other people angry at herHeather is angry and demanding, and nothing Sarah does is ever right or good enough.  Sarah is always to blame.

Within their circle of friends, Heather always takes center stage and even steals Sarah’s ideas.  Heather doesn’t allow Sarah to be with the others unless Heather is there.  Heather says it wouldn’t be kind, respectful or loving for Sarah to do things behind her back.

Sarah feels like she’s spent her life trying to please Heather and apologize to her and take the blame for everything.  But no matter how nice, kind and loving Sarah’s been, Heather hasn’t given her credit or changed her opinion or behavior.

How do you know your friend is toxic? I’d rephrase that into, “How do you know your friend is not really a friend?”  There are two types of warning signs:

  • Your inner warning signs – you feel criticized, used, abused, harassed, unsafe, taken advantage of.  Your kindness, consideration, compromise, appeasement, apologies and efforts to please them are not rewarded by them doing the same for you.  They’re always right; you’re never good enough.  You’re afraid of what they’ll do if you displease them.
  • Their external behavior – Their timing, agenda, feelings, desires, needs and wants matter much more than yours do.  If you start talking about your interests or feelings, they’ll rapidly shift the subject to theirs.  They can change the plans or be late but you can’t.  They say nasty things behind your back and justify what they did because they’re sure they’re right.  They make the rules.  If they’re angry over the slightest thing, they can retaliate in what ever outrageous, over-the-top way they want.  Their reasons are right.  It’s your fault and you deserve what you get.  They’re nice to you when they want something, but as soon as they get it, they’re mean and nasty or they put you down because you didn’t do it good enough.  You apologize but they never do.  You have 100% of the responsibility to heal any misunderstandings.

Make a list of behaviors that friends do. When Sarah made the list, she saw that Heather didn’t do these actions.  Since Heather didn’t, then whatever she calls herself or however Sarah thought about her, she’s not really a true friend.  In order to summon the strength, dedication and courage needed to stop bullies, we must see clearly how things really are and also name them accurately.

Can you get them to see they’re toxic and what if they don’t get it? Whenever Sarah asked or begged Heather to stop, Heather’s response for saying and doing such hurtful things was, “’I’m right.  You’re not trying to repress me, are you?”  Heather never thought she was wrong.  She always felt justified and righteousSarah has tried to forgive Heather and to love her unconditionally, but that hasn’t changed Heather’s behavior.  Sarah didn’t think she could ever get Heather to admit how toxic she was.  She knew how quick Heather was to defend herself.  Nevertheless, Sarah tried to explain once more, just to give Heather a chance.  When Sarah brought up the subject, Heather got enraged and attacked Sarah for being a false friend.

Can you say goodbye just because you want to or do you need to be able to prove to them that they’re toxic? You don’t need an outside expert or a survey in order to decide how toxic your friend is (say, on a scale of 1 to 10) in order to give yourself permission to say goodbye to a toxic friend. You don’t need them to agree that they’re toxic.  If your toxic friend doesn’t get it and change their behavior, you can act on your own – just because you want to.  It’s important for you to use your own power to keep your personal environment free from toxic polluters.  Just because you want to is more than enough reason to do what you want.  In order to stop bullying and abuse by toxic people you’ve known for a long time, simply say, “No, that’s enough.”

What can you do if your toxic friend threatens to ruin you? They might tell your secrets or cut you down to everyone you know, including your family.  Of course it can be difficult.  But if you don’t say goodbye now, you’ll just prolong your pain indefinitely, maybe for the rest of your life.

If you don’t resist, you’re training that toxic person to do worse to you whenever they want.  Narcissistic control freaks and boundary pushers are relentless predators.  The only way they’ll stop is when they’re stopped or removed from the environment.

A better question is, “What behavior do you want to allow on your Isle of Song?” Ignore toxic bullies’ reasons, excuses and justifications.  Actions count; not apologies.  It’s your Isle; protect your personal ecology.  Say “goodbye,” no matter who the perpetrator is.

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

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.

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.

Most people think that if they made a mistake, broke the rules, weren’t good at something or did something wrong they deserve what they get.  So they accept being scolded, chastised and browbeaten. This attitude is so common that we have many words and expressions for these put-downs and abuse. For example, admonished, assailed, assaulted, attacked, bashed, bawled out, beaten, berated, blamed, castigated, chewed out, condemned, denigrated, disapproved, disparaged, dressed down, flayed, punished, rebuked, rejected, reprimanded, ridiculed, slammed, straightened out, taken to task, thrashed, told off, tongue-lashing, torn to pieces, upbraided, vilified, whacked.

I used my handy Thesaurus because I want to ask: “Which feels most familiar to you?”  That tells you who you’ve been living with.

Most people allow bullies to bring up incidents forever, whenever the bully feels like attacking them.  After all, victims and oppressors reason, they did wrong; facts are facts.

The real mistake is when we allow ourselves to be bullied, scolded and chastised.

This isn’t about pretending that a mistake wasn’t a mistake or that we were ignorant when we actually could have known better.  Sometimes a fact is a fact.  Sometimes we easily might have known better or done better.  Maybe we weren’t careful enough.  Often there were consequences.

This is about the “so what” if we made a mistake.

There’s a big different between reviewing behavior to see what could have been done better and being scolded or chastised.  There’s a big difference between recognizing our mistakes and determining to do better versus being beaten into submission, verbally or physically, in order to make a point.

You know how it feels when a predator gleefully pounces on you with, “I gotcha.  Now I can beat you.”

Some common examples:

So the first action message is not to allow yourself to be talked to that way.  Period.  Not even “when you deserve it.”  If you catch it early it’s easy to end the relationship.

That method of negative self-talk stimulates self-bullying perfectionism as if, “If I’m not perfect, I’m worthless and deserve to fail and get beaten.”  Allowing yourself to be scolded and chastised increases anxiety, stress and depression, and leads to self-doubt and low self-confidence and self-esteem.  If you allow those nasty, hostile, personal attacks in your space you increase your helplessness and hopelessness.

People who bully this way simply from ignorance and habit can understand rapidly, even though breaking the old habit will take longer.  Allow as many chances as your spirit can take easily, but no more.

People who enjoy the feeling of righteous power rarely change.  You can’t reason, appease or forgive them or love them enough to change them.  The Golden Rule won’t help youVote them off your island before they destroy you.

The second action message is don’t say things that way.

These messages train people to accept bullying and to become bullies.  Don’t train people to respond to messages phrased that way.  Don’t train your children or spouse that they have to be beaten before it’s serious enough for them to change or do better.  Don’t train yourself that you have to be beaten before you’re willing to listen.  Don’t train them that they have to beat you.

Get expert coaching to change these patterns for yourself and others.  Otherwise you create and reinforce an Island in which bullying must occur in order for change to occur.

Being judgmental has gotten a bad name and for good reasons. Our whole world has experienced the horror wrought by people who felt superior and righteous in destroying other people they thought were inferior or even non-human.  Also, in our personal lives, we’ve experienced the damage done by arrogant, righteous spouses, parents, relatives and others who always knew best and felt entitled to taunt, tease, harass, bully and abuse us or to cast us out.

However, it’s a mistake to use these examples of righteous people with poor judgment as proof that:

  1. The process of making judgments is bad.  It’s not.  It’s necessary.
  2. We should accept all perspectives and ways of living in the world as equal or as equally valid.  They’re not.

But that’s all abstract.  The real questions are whether we need to be more or less judgmental and which of our judgments are worth keeping and how.  Take the quick quiz.

Before you take the quick quiz, see “Being Judgmental” as having four parts:

  1. Discerning; making judgments, estimating what the consequences of some action will be, deciding what we like and what we don’t like.
  2. Deciding which ways of behaving are acceptable in our personal space.
  3. Making these boundaries in our personal lives stick.
  4. Getting righteous, indignant or angry when people do what we think is wrong or dumb, or when they don’t do what we think is right or good or best.

Understanding this process, we can now take the quick quiz to help us decide whether you’re being bullied and whether to be more or less judgmental and in which areas of our lives:

  1. Do you ignore early warning signs and get stuck in situations that are painful?  Do you distrust your own judgment?
  2. Do other people often tell you what’s right or what you should do?  Do you need to act more on your own judgment and listen less to other people?
  3. Do you feel like other people or one other person runs your life or decides what you can or cannot do?  Do you accept harassment and bullying?
  4. Does someone else have more control over your time, money, friends or activities?  Do you try to understand, compromise or give in but they don’t?  Are you anxious, stressed or afraid of what they might do?
  5. Do you need to get angry before you act?  Do you often feel guilty or ashamed afterward?
  6. Do people ignore, laugh, argue or avoid what you want when you insist that they act in certain ways in your personal space?  ?
  7. Do people trample over your boundaries?  Do they get away with not changing?  Do you let them stay in your life?  Do they wear you down?  Is life an endless struggle?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions – if you feel bossed and controlled, if you get taken advantage of, if you’re the one who almost always gives in or tries to make peace, if you rarely get your way, if you have to justify everything you do or ask permission before you can do anything – then you’re not protecting yourself enough, you’re not being judgmental enough and you’re not acting based on what you know in your heart-of-hearts to be true.

If you answered “yes,” to most of these questions, you need to act firmly, courageously, strongly and skillfully on your own judgments.  You need to build your confidence and self-esteem.  You need to take power over your own actions, whether the other person likes it or not.

Many people ask, “But how do I know if I’m right or fair or normal in what I want?  How can I demand what I want when I’m not sure I deserve it or if I might be selfish?”

That way of thinking leads us no where.  That way of thinking puts us under the control of someone else who thinks they know better than we do.  There’s no chance for happiness down that path – only submission.

The path that has a chance of yielding happiness and joy and fulfillment is the path of being discerning, of having more and better judgments, and of making our judgments stick in our lives.

Getting angry, righteous and indignant are motivation strategies.  We typically generate those feelings to get ourselves angry enough to act.  The problem with that method of motivation is contained in “The Emotional Motivation Cycle” (See “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up).  This method usually isn’t effective long-term.

Instead, a better method is shown in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”  Trust the signals from our guts when they’re just at the level of irritation or frustration, and use the effective five-step process.  When we act based on that level of emotion, we’ll make better plans and carry them out more effectively.

That doesn’t tell us how to accomplish what we need; that doesn’t tell us how to get free from oppression we’ve previously accepted, but that tells us that we must.  All plans and tactics must be designed to fit us and our specific situation.  That’s why we need expert coaching and, maybe, legal advice.  But now we know the direction we must set in our lives.

Many bullies succeed in getting what they want by being angry.  Even if they don’t hit physically, they beat their targets verbally, mentally and emotionally.  And the threat of physical violence makes other people give in.  These bullies have enough control that they haven’t been arrested and sent to prison.  That’s why I think of their anger as a tactic. I’ve coached many of these bullies through the stage of anger management to finally ending anger and creating a different way of Being in the world.

But let’s focus here on what the spouses of these bullies can do in order to have bully-free lives.

For many of these bullies anger is a whole way of life.  Their rage is a tactic operating 24/7.  No matter what’s going on, no matter what we do to try to please them, they always find something to be angry about.  Any moment of peace is just the calm before the storm.

However these bullies got that way – and there are only a small number of typical scenarios – they mastered the use of anger years ago so it feels natural, like that’s who they are, like it’s their identity. They love “revving their engines.” They feel strong and powerful when they’re angry.  They always find good reasons and excuses to be angry, they always find people who are wrong and dumb in the news of the world or in their personal lives.  And they always focus on what’s wrong or dumb, and respond to it by getting angry and enraged.

If something in the moment isn’t worth getting angry about, they think of bad things that happened or that might happen so they can get angry.  Then they “kick the dog” – whoever happens to be around and does or says something wrong, or does or says nothing and that’s what’s wrong.  You or the kids think you’re having an innocent conversation when suddenly you’re attacked for being dumb, stupid, ignorant, wrong, insulting – or simply breathing.

The attack escalates into a listing of all your faults – which loser in the family you’re just like, you’ll always be a loser, you’re lucky to be alive and with them because you’d fail without them.  Their anger is never their fault; you’re always to blame.  Even if they don’t brutally beat you and the kids, the verbal and emotional abuse takes its toll.

Victims feel blame, shame and guilt.  Victims suffer anxiety, fear, frustration, panic and terror.  They lose self-confidence and self-esteem. They feel like they have to be perfect in order to deserve good treatment.  They feel isolated and helpless.  Targeted children often grow up with negative self-talk and self-doubt; they often move on to self-mutilation or rage and revenge of their own.  They often grow up playing out the roles of bully or victim in their marriages.

Seven tips to keep anger out of your personal space:

  1. Don’t be an understanding therapist. Your understanding, forgiveness, unconditional love and the Golden Rule won’t change or cure them.  And you’re not being paid as a therapist.  Those approaches simply prolong the behavior and the typical cycle of anger and rage, followed by guilt and remorse, followed by promises and good behavior temporarily, followed by the next episode of angry and rage.  Or the typical escalating spiral of anger, rage and self-righteous justification.  The reason the bullying continues is not that those bullies haven’t been loved enough; it’s that the behavior is a success strategy.  It’s never been stopped with strong enough consequences that the bully has enough reason to learn a new way of Being in the world.
  2. Don’t minimize, excuse or accept justifications. See anger as a choice.  If you accept that anger is a normal or appropriate response to what they’re angry at, if you accept that anger or any emotion is too big to manage (e.g., that they’re in the grips of something bigger than themselves) them you’re right back to “the devil made me do it.”  That’s the same excuse, even though the modern words for “the devil” are heredity, brain chemistry, what their parents did to them, how they never learned better.
  3. The best thing you can do to help both of you is to have consequences that matter. That’s the only way to stimulate change.
  4. Face your fears. Don’t be defeated by defeat.  Protect yourself.  Be a good parent and model for yourself and your children.  Emotional control – control of moods, attitudes and actions – and focus of attention are the first things we all must learn.  These bullies haven’t learned.  Lack of success in this area gets big, painful consequences.
  5. Make your space anger-free. You and the children are targets, not victims.  Their anger is not your fault.  Dedicate yourself to protecting yourself and the children.  Decide that only behavior counts, not psychoanalysis.  Clear your space.  Don’t give an infinite number of second chances.  Either they leave or you and the kids leave, depending on the circumstances.
  6. Promises no longer count. The lesson for your children is that when we’re very young, we get by on a lot of promises and potential, but when we become older than about 10, only performance counts.  Let these bullies learn to practice changing on other people’s bodies.  How much time do you need before you become convinced that they’ve faced a lot of potential triggers and mastered a different way of dealing with them?  A year?  Two?  Three?  Forever?  Do this because you want and need to in order to have a chance at the happiness you want, in order to have a chance to find people who treat you the way you want.
  7. Be smart and tactical. Of course, the longer you’ve known them, the harder it will be.  Dump angry jerks on the first date; don’t hook up with them.  Get legal advice.  Get help and support.  Get witnesses.  Don’t listen to people who want you to be a more understanding therapist.  File for divorce.  Get custody of the children.  Get the police on your side.

Post #176 – How to Know if You’re Bullied and Abused

Men aren’t the only angry bullies.  We all know about angry, vicious women on dates or in marriage.  There are clichés about venomous wives and mothers-in-law because there are so many.  Everything I’ve said applies to them also.

Many people still have friends that use anger to control interactions.

At work, angry, bullying bosses and co-workers are also clichés because there are so many.  Anger often succeeds at work.  Both the feeling of power and the success at making people do what bullies want function as aphrodisiacs.  And the addiction must be fed.

Be strong nside.  Ask for what you want.  You’ll get what you’re willing to put up with.  So only put up with good behavior.

All tactics are situational so expert coaching is required.  We’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Some patterns I see are:

  • 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.”
  • She’s mocked, criticized, demeaned and humiliated until she doesn’t know what to believe.  She thinks she’s helpless and wouldn’t be loved or succeed on her own.  He’s so convinced and convincing that she begins to question herself, increasing her self-doubt, stress, anxiety and insecurity.  Eventually, the results of emotional and spiritual defeat are physical defeat and sickness.  Even though she knows she doesn’t deserve such treatment, she usually has some self-doubt and guiltShe makes many attempts to be perfect according to his standards.  She forgets that it’s her standards that should matter to her.
  • 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.

The question they must answer is whether it’s more important to keep a marriage at any cost, while giving in to fear and despair, or whether it’s more important to risk demanding the behavior they want in their personal space.  And if someone won’t behave decently, either they’re voted off our island or we leave theirs.

Maybe if these targets thought that they’re dealing with relentless bullies or predators, they might summon the strength to take steps to get away.  They might accept that the Golden Rule won’t stop narcissistic control-freaks; that appeasement won’t change predators; that unconditional love won’t convert carnivores; that unconditional forgiveness won’t heal the wounds they think drive him to be so abusive.  Maybe they’d realize that asking, threatening, yelling, demanding or an endless number of second chances without consequences are merely begging.

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.

That’s why the first step in creating a bully-free personal space is 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.

No matter how difficult it seems, getting away is the only way to have a chance for a wonderful future.

All tactics are situational, so we’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit the target and the other people involved.

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

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
12 CommentsPost a comment

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).

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
24 CommentsPost a comment

You can’t convince bullying spouses to change; you’ll never prove that you’re right or should have what you need; you’ll never deserve the rewards they withhold from you.  They’re not interested in the truth or in your reasons or your wonderful logic.  They’re not interested in loving you the way you want to be loved.  They know best and they’re only interested in getting their way; in controlling everything – money, sex, cars, computers, phones, friends, family. So many blog comments are from women wanting to be told that they’re right in their arguments with their husbands; that they should be allowed to do a few things like see their parents or girl friends or have a few dollars for groceries.  They seem to think they need to get permission from their controlling husbands to even spend a few dollars of the money they earn.  They’re always surprised that their good arguments don’t convince these control-freaks and bullies to change their behavior.

Many coaching clients come or call when they’re stuck in the same endless dynamic.  Some husbands say the same things about the controlling wives.

I have to say: Give it up. You’ll never prove anything to someone who doesn’t want to be convinced; to someone who thinks their best interests are served by always being right and always being in charge.

One of the favorite tactics of bullies is to attack.  These verbal and emotional bullies are always finding fault and picking on flaws.  The natural response at first is for the wives to defend themselves.  But that only perpetuates the cycle of attack and defense.  There’s never an end to the constant harassment and negativity.

Eventually the women get worn down.  They’re too tired to fight about everything, especially the silly little stuff so they give up and accept the bully’s rule.  Then they become victims.  They accept that it is their fault; there must be something wrong with them.

The bully will destroy their confidence and self-esteem.  The stress, anxiety and negative self-talk will lead to depression.  They think that if only they were perfect enough, he’d be nice and encouraging and loving.

The solution begins with a difficult realization: When it gets to that point, you’ll never win the argument.  You’re being poisoned slowly, there’s no convincing a toxic predator to change and your only hope is getting away.

No matter what the cost, if you don’t get away, the poison will take its effect; your soul will be destroyed.  Even if you have to begin from square-one again, you must begin.  You’ll need all the strength and courage you can muster.  You’ll develop the endurance and skill as you proceed.

Of course it’s hard.  When you’re living in the ninth circle of hell, it takes a lot to get out.  But that’s what you’re being called to do.  Your spirit is calling you to make the effort.  Your bright future is calling you to make the journey.

If you have children, don’t see them as an impediment.  Let them stimulate you to break out of prison and start a new life as far away as you need.

Of course, if we can catch it earlier, it’s easier to declare and maintain your boundaries.  Then it’s easier to demand loving behavior and to get away if the abuse continues.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching can help you make a plan that fits you and your situation.  Expert coaching can help you overcome the voices of your fears and self-bullying.  Expert coaching can help you honor the commitments and responsibilities you still want to honor.

You’ll find many examples of children and adults stopping bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.  Or call me for coaching at 877-8BULLIES (877-828-5543).

Of course also, everything I’ve described here is true about harassing, bullying, abusive bosses, co-workers, friends, parents, family, children.  How easy is it to convince a teenager who wants something desperately?  How easy is it to prove yourself to a rage-aholic parent who thinks you’re bad or will be a loser?  How easy is it to convert a know-it-all boss?  How easy is it to prove yourself to a parent who loves one of your sisters or brothers more?  How easy is it to change a righteous Church Elder?

If used well, blame and guilt don’t lead to self-bullying.  They’re useful ways of motivating us to do better, even though they can cause a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, minds and hearts. If we analyze our actions objectively we might take on the blame for some of what we did or failed to do.  We can decide how to make amends.  We can decide what actions would be better and we can strive to do better next time.

We can also use guilt and feeling ashamed of an action to motivate us to act better next time.  That’s a hard way of motivating ourselves but it’s often effective.

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

Unrelenting and deep shame, on the other hand, leads to destructive self-bullying – negative self-talk, self-doubt and self-harassment, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and increased anxiety and depression.

By shame, I mean the idea that “There’s something wrong with me; I’m bad, evil or defective; I’ll never be free from sin; I’ll never succeed; I’m cursed.”

This kind of deep shame, as opposed to the way I’m using blame, guilt and feeling ashamed, is not focused on an action.  This kind of deep shame points us at supposed defects deep within us, at defects that we can’t change, at defects in our identity.  There’s no escape from the flaws we imagine are inherent and permanent.  The self-laceration of this kind of shame is endless and self-defeating.

Where does this deep shame come from?  We’re not born with this kind of shame.  We’re born demanding that we be fed, clothed and have our diapers changed.  Little babies don’t question whether they deserve to get what they need for survival; they demand it.  That demanding approach is necessary for our survival.

Deep shame can only be taught to us through continued and brutal repetition – physical, verbal, emotional.  Eventually, most children internalize constant harassment, criticism, put-downs and denigration – assaults on our identity.

Imagine how you’d feel if someone shouted or scolded you, 24/7, “You’re bad.  You’re defective.  You’re wrong.  You shouldn’t have been born.  You’ll never do better.  I wish you were dead.”

However those harsh and shaming messages were thrown at us, whoever the bullies were, our task as adults is to leave them behind.  The two critical steps in leaving home are to leave physically and to leave mentally-emotionally.

The first leaving is obvious to most of us; we get financially independent in order to stay physically independent.  We test ourselves against the world, not our parent’s opinions.  Can we earn a leaving?  Can we meet people and make friends?  Can we love and be loved?

The second leaving is mental, emotional and spiritual.  We put aside all their beliefs, ideas, attitudes, values, opinions, rules, roles and moods – all the ways they thought mattered in how to face the world, how to earn a living, what equaled a good life, how to be a good person.

We put aside all the false ways they thought about us – whether we were good or bad, strong or weak, stupid or smart, pretty or ugly, hard-working or lazy, the prized child or the scapegoated child, probably going to be successful or guaranteed to fail, blessed to be happy or doomed to be miserable.

We put aside all we were handed when we were children and all we accepted because they were the big, right and righteous people and we were the little and learning people, and because we knew what would happen to us if we disagreed.

To become independent adults we must cast aside all of their opinions and, as independent no-longer children, we must choose and adopt our own beliefs.  Some may be the same as theirs; some may be exactly the opposite.

The two important aspects of that mental, emotional and spiritual leaving: One is that our ideas are now adopted by us as adults, with our adult understandings, meanings and limitations.  The second is that they are not carved in stone as childhood ideas are.  We change them as we get feedback from the world – does this idea actually fit the reality I can now see clearly with adult eyes; does this way of facing the world get me closer to what I want; does it help me be and do good as I now think of that?

In this destroying and creating anew our inner world and our ideas of the ways of the outer world, we can choose whether to keep blame or guilt.  But, in order to be free and independent, we must discard deep shame as a way of thinking about ourselves and of facing the world.  We can excise the stain we once accepted, we can heal the great empty space we once had, and we can fill us with ourselves at our best.  We can develop strength, courage and skill.

Then we can look back at the bullies in our family and decide whether to be with them at all or when and how to be with them.  If they continue to bully us, if their bullying continues to trigger our self-bullying patterns we are better served by disconnecting, by making distance – electronically and physically.

If they treat us as newly made adults they’ve just met and want to be friends with, instead of forcing us back into their old images, instead of continuing to try to beat us into the shape they want we will probably want to be with them sometimes.

My recommendations: Don’t stay where you’re continually blamed, guilted or shamed.  Be where you’re respected, appreciated, honored.  Also, don’t accept the one of you that continually blames, guilts or shames you.  Train and discipline yourself so that you have better internal self-talk.  Live with the good inner coach you create, not with the internal bully who sounds like your parents, still ripping you down.

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

Let’s analyze a worst-case scenario for loving, caring parents. You were pretty good parents but one of your children has turned out toxic – not a psychopath but someone who acts like she (or he) hates you.

It’s not your fault, but she blames you for not giving her everything she wanted or wants now, she’ll be sweet one moment and then abusive, vicious and hateful the next, she harasses and bullies you relentlessly when she wants something; she tries to involve the rest of the family in her schemes and feuds.  Or her boyfriend or husband hates you and she goes along with it and it gets worse every year.  And they’re narcissistic losers; they barely have enough money and you know that they’ll leech off you forever if you let them.

It breaks your heart, but finally you realize that you can’t help by giving them what they can’t earn themselves.  They’ll bleed you dry and still blame their problems on you.  They’ll bully and abuse you forever if you let them.  So you expect to live your whole life with the emotional pain of knowing that, despite your best efforts, you planted a bad seed.  But at least you can distance yourself physically and monetarily.

But that’s not the worst-case.  The worst-case is when that toxic child has children.  Your daughter has let you play with your grandchild, let you grow to love him and vice versa.  Of course he loves you; you’re the sane rock in his life.  He’s safe around you – no craziness, no yelling and screaming, no lies and broken promises, and no anxiety, brutality or manipulation of his affections like in his interactions with his mother and father.  You treat him with loving kindness and he can trust what you say.  When he’s with you he’s not stressed out; not blamed, guilty and abused for everything he does wrong.

The worst-case is when your daughter starts blackmailing you emotionally.  She won’t let you see your grandchild unless you play her games and give her everything she wants.  She raises the ante every day.  You know she lies to your grandchild about you and why he doesn’t see you.  It’s worse if she’s divorced because then you get jerked around and thrust in the middle by her ex-spouse and his family.

You love your grandson.  He’s important to you, you’re important to him and you hope you can be a lifeline to help him make a better life than the chaos he’s growing up in.  But no matter what you do, it’ll be wrong and your daughter will blame and abuse you.  There will be days when you want to run away, leave no forwarding address, change your names and fingerprints, get new social security numbers and telephones.  But you won’t because of the hope you can help your grandson.

What can you do to stop the bullying and extricate yourself from a horrible situation?

  • Usually there’s little you can do legally.  It’s hard to exercise “grandparents rights” if your daughter or her spouse won’t let you.  You can consult a lawyer and learn to document enough evidence to show delinquency and neglect so you can get custody, but that’s a faint hope.
  • You have to make one of the hardest decisions for anyone; how much will you sacrifice in order to get any time with your grandson?  Realize that no matter what you decide, your heart will be broken thousands of times until he’s independent and maybe even for your whole life.  Recognize also that nothing you do will change your daughter – this pain and violence to your spirit will go on as long as she has any control over your grandson.  Understand that she will trample any boundaries you think you’ve set.
  • There is no magic bullet that will cure her.  You won’t bring her to her senses, help her to act reasonably and consistently, make her to keep her promises, convert her to see that the child is better off with you or get her away from a controlling husband.  Even if you act reasonably, she won’t.  You’ll never understand why she does what she does; she’s selfish, nasty and changeable from moment to moment.  You’ll be embroiled in her painful games and anger as long as she controls your grandson.  Each episode will rip you apart.
  • Suppose you choose to get as much time with your grandson as you can; what are the best things you can do to help him?  Most people choose this path.  After all, how can we give up, turn our backs and live with our broken hearts?
  • In a loving couple, most grandparents differ over how much time and money they’re willing pay and how much pain they can stand for the privilege of seeing their grandchild.  Love each other and keep working with that difference, knowing that both your hearts are broken anew every day.  Don’t let this drive a wedge between you.
  • Plant seeds in your grandchild He sees the truth but he’s told by his parents that his vision is wrong.  He needs to learn to trust his vision.  He needs you to tell him that what he sees about his home and parents is true.  He’s not crazy – he didn’t do anything to deserve it; it’s not his fault; it’s just the way it is.  That won’t confuse him; that’ll reinforce his confidence and self-esteem.  He needs to know who’s jerking all of you around and the price you all have to pay as long as he’s in their clutches.
  • Collude with him to lie to his parents.  Strong children – survivors – sense what they need to do in order to stay safe in a chaotic and hostile world.  For example; he can’t say he’s having too much fun with you; that he loves you too much; that he’d rather be with you.  He already knows what he has to hide.
  • Make a safe place for his heart and his favorite stuff.  With you, he can dream big and not get his dreams crushed or used against him.  Keep your promises consistently.  Let him express his frustration and anger.  Anger is better than apathy or depression.  You can express your helplessness.  At your home, don’t let him use the tactics he sees at your daughter’s home.  Appeal to his better nature.  Be very gentle with correction and discipline; he gets yelled at enough at home.
  • Prepare him emotionally and spiritually for the future.  The more he can ignore his crazy parents, the better.  Keep a spark alive in him that by biding his time, one day he’ll get free.  He has to stop the bully in his head.  When he’s 18 (to pick a number) he can leave and make his own way.  Remind him of all the great and wonderful people who escaped from cages and prisons.  He owes your toxic daughter, his mother, absolutely nothing.
  • Prepare him economically for the future.  For him to live free he must plan to become monetarily independent.  Depending on his brains and talents, he has to develop a marketable skill, even if his parents don’t like it and he has to do it in secret.  Help him do that now and when he leaves home.
  • You’re unique – make up your tactics as you go along.  Get support to vent and help to plan.

Many children are too weak to overcome their toxic parenting.  But there are always some who are invulnerable to horrible circumstances, some who keep that spark alive and get free from the cage or prison they’ve been trapped in.

Your heart insists that you try to help your grandchildren.  For clear examples, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the studies of how Kathy, Doug, Jake and Carrie got away from manipulative or toxic parents.  Also, see the example of teenage Stacy bullying her mother.

In almost all cases where the child flies free, they never look back and neither do their grandparents.  If they or you look back, you’ll be turned into pillars of salt.

Endure the pain because of the hope.  Good luck.

Self-bullies wallow in perfectionism, self-doubt, self-questioning, blame, shame, guilt and negative self-talk.  Real self-bullies run themselves down and beat themselves up in almost every area of life.  But even people who don’t use self-bullying tactics normally will condemn themselves if one of their children turns out incompetent or toxic. A hundred fifty years ago, the fad was to think that if children turned out bad – weak, lazy, apathetic, unkind or uncaring – they had made bad choices; it was the child’s fault.  But as Richard Friedman points out in his article in the New York Times, “Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds,” the recent fad has been to blame the parents.

We’ve grown up thinking, “there are no bad children, only bad parents.”  Therefore, when one child turns out bad, parents will vent their frustration and pain on themselves by continually asking, “What did we do wrong?  What did we do to deserve this?

After all, if we know who’s to blame and what they did wrong, we’ll be able to figure out how to fix it.  That’s not true, but what else can we do?

Even though you didn’t do anything particularly heinous to that child – no physical, sexual or emotional abuse, brutality or torture – therapists usually reinforce your responsibility and guilt by blaming some mistakes you made; you weren’t 100% consistent, one or both of you weren’t around enough; you didn’t give the nasty, needy child enough love, toys or enough discipline.

Of course, surly, rotten, loser children also reinforce this attitude; it’s easy for them to blame parents in order to take themselves off the hook.  You’ll hear these now-adults complain, “It’s your fault, if only you gave me more stuff or love when I was younger; if only you give me the stuff I want now, I’d be fine.”

But after giving time after time, at some points parents have to look in the mirror and say, “It’s not our fault.  We didn’t do everything that child wanted, but we didn’t do anything particularly bad.  He or she still acts like he’s entitled to everything he wants.  That child is simply angry and maybe hates us.  Maybe he or she is just a weak or bad seed.  If we continue giving, he’ll suck every drop of blood from us and drag us down, all the while complaining that it’s our fault.”

So when do parents decide, “that’s enough!  We have to protect ourselves from this toxic person, our beloved child, who will poison us if we allow him to.”

I am saying that there are children who grow up nasty, surly, rotten and toxic, and it wasn’t your fault; you didn’t do anything to deserve it.  Whichever bandwagon of explanations you jump on – they have a defective gene combination (they were born sick mentally or defective emotionally) or they choose to be the way they are – the effect is the same.

No matter how much you love them or give them, no matter how much you beat yourself up, no matter how much you feel guilty because you don’t like them, you won’t be able to rehabilitate them.

People do not have an unlimited potential to change and develop by any methods we know or will know.  Instead, while you’re trying to reason with them or rehabilitate them, these toxic predators will take everything you have and eat you alive.

So stop beating yourselves up; stop wallowing in self-doubt and self-flagellation.  Give up shame and guilt; they’ll only prevent you from doing what you need to do.  Of course, we’re less sure that it wasn’t our fault if an only child is the bad seed.  If other children turned out well, we can see more easily how that toxic child turned out the way he did on his own.

Once we start questioning ourselves, our imperfections, negative self-talk, self-hatred and self-loathing will keep us stuck; weak and easy prey.  We won’t have the strength, courage and perseverance to stop toxic children.

Face the problem thoughtfully and carefully, just like you’d face any other situation in which someone is trying to take everything you have and harass, abuse and torture you in the process.  Of course this is different because your heart will be broken endlessly, anxiety and depression will become constant companions and the selfish, hate-filled and hateful child will continue blaming on you.

Plan tactics that fit you and your situation; know your limits and what you’re capable of doing.  Take your emotional tie and the unending pain into account when you plan tactics.  Get help to keep you strong, courageous and persevering.

I know that’s not a specific list of “the seven steps that are guaranteed to make everything fine.”  There are no guarantees of success.

But there is the wisdom that has been clear since the beginning of recorded history.  The first and necessary step is to see clearly.  Then become the one of you who has the grit, resilience and skill to stop a predator; even a predator you love.  Only then will you be able to carry out an effective plan successfully.  Anything less and that beloved predator will ravage you.

For a clear example, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the study of how Paula slowly succeeded with her teenage daughter, Stacy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the questions I’m most often asked is, “Why Do Bullies Keep Abusing Us?” I hear that from:

  • Kids who want to stop bullies and cvber bullies at school.
  • Adults who want to stop bullying in their love lives or in relationships with their siblings, parents and friends.
  • Adults who don’t understand why their teenagers are so demanding, nasty and surly.
  • Adults who want to stop bullying at work by managers and co-workers.

That question is usually asked in the context of, “I’m a nice person; I don’t deserve to be treated that way.  Why is that person so nasty to me?”

The apparent perplexity behind the question comes from the idea that we’re supposed to get what we put out, not only in interactions with those we love, who also love us, but also in interactions with everyone in the world.  As if, if we’re nice we’re supposed to be treated nicely in return.  These people forget that bullies have different agendas and methods.

The hidden fears behind the question are:

  1. “Maybe I have done something to deserve being harassed and abused; maybe it really is my fault.”  Of course, people thinking this way are usually riddled by self-doubt and negative self-talk.  Their hidden hope is, “If I knew what I’d done wrong, I could apologize, do what the bully wants, and then they’d treat me nicely.”  Their hidden anger comes from deep knowledge, “I didn’t do anything wrong; how dare that bully treat me that way!”
  2. “If the world is so unfair, it’s out of my control.”  Of course, people thinking this way are afraid that they’re not strong enough to thrive in a world that’s dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable.  Their hidden hope is that they could control the world if only they learned the magic secrets.  Their hidden anger comes from the sense that, “I didn’t ask for this kind of world; I’m entitled to something better and more rational.”

Before I answer “Why do bullies keep abusing us,” let’s understand what bullying is about in a way that helps us stop bullies in their tracks.  Distinguish between two questions:

  1. Why do children try bullying tactics?
  2. Why do they keep bullying as they grow up?

The way I look at it, babies and children naturally take or demand what they want; they naturally try bullying tactics.  That’s necessary for their survival – babies must make us feed and change them whether we want to or not.  Children’s survival-level job is to figure out how to get us to give them what they want.

Impulses to bully come up all the time, in all of us.  It feels good to be a strong and powerful and simply take what we want.  Unless kids are taught how to feel good or how to get what they want by other methods, they’ll continue bullying.

Parents train children how to get what they want; which means how to bully, manipulate, harass or abuse people, or how to negotiate with us to give them what they want.  We train them to keep using bullying tactics or to try other methods.

There are three general reasons why children grow up and continue using bullying techniques.

  1. Bullying is what they see – they see one or both parents bullying successfully or it’s the only tactic they know.  Their parents and family don’t teach them not to bully and also don’t teach them better ways to get what they want.
  2. They keep bullying because bullying succeeds – well-meaning parents, principals and teachers don’t say “No” and they don’t stop the bullying.  Sometimes, we may let bullies succeed while we’re negotiating with them or because we’re too tired and worn down to be strong.  You’ve seen parents teach children to get cookies, candy or toys by yelling loud enough, throwing hysterical fits or simply taking it from a younger or smaller kid.
  3. There’s a small group of sociopaths and psychopaths who won’t be teachable in any reasonable length of time, if ever.

Many people say that “Children become bullies because they have low self-esteem.  To make themselves feel better, they bully people who are weaker.”  This is usually followed by the hope that, “If I understand why bullies bully, I’ll be able to teach bullies why bullying is wrong, and then they’ll stop bullying.”  These people typically allow bullies to continue abusing their targets, while they educate, beg, bribe, appease or therapeutize bullies.

Instead, take the focus away from psychotherapy of bullies and focus on stopping bullying first.  Teach your kids to protect themselves from kids who haven’t learned impulse control or to use other means to navigate in the world.  After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies.  As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time; let’s protect target children and adults right now. Educating bullies begins with stopping them.  Their main motivation for learning new tactics is when the old methods no longer succeed.

So why do bullies keep abusing us: Because they’re not stopped by the responsible adults.  Also, the responsible adults don’t train the targets and bystanders how to stop the bullies.  In addition, principals, teachers and parents often punish the targets for taking matters into their own hands, tongues or fists.

The secret to stopping bullies is to stop them.  Be as firm as you need – bullies will show you what you must do to stop them.