How can we recognize and stop covert, sneaky bullies and narcissistic control freaks in relationships.
Overt bullies are easy to recognize; they’re loud, obnoxious, threatening and in your face.
Sneaky, stealthy bullies are harder to recognize. If we don’t recognize their tactics and label them as bullies or control-freaks, we won’t energize ourselves to develop and carry out an effective plan to stop them.
Seven warning signs of bullying controllers are:
They think they know best about everything; just ask them. They point out all your mistakes and failings. They think you should ask their permission before you do anything. They make your life miserable if you don’t do what they say. Their absolute certainty seduces you into self-doubt and self-bullying. You become unsure of your own judgment and wisdom; eventually you give in to them.
They think they’re more important than you are. Your whole life should be devoted to their needs (wants, whims). Their desires, jealousies, issues and concerns (not yours) become the focus of all interactions. They’re entitled to get what they want. Their feelings are their justifications for anger, retaliation and revenge. Their feelings get hurt so easily that you’re too polite or too afraid to upset them by trying to make your feelings or opinions matter. They’re controlling, stealth-bullying partners and spouses.
They think their sense of humor is correct. They can say whatever they want and you’re supposed to take it. They make nasty, vicious, demeaning, hurtful remarks to you and about you in public, or they tell your embarrassing secrets. Then they laugh like it’s a joke. If you object, they say you’re too sensitive or they were kidding. Your feelings are stupid and not logical. And you better not say anything they don’t like.
Everyone is a pawn in their game. You have value only as long as you can help them or you worship them. They’re selfish, arrogant and demanding; they think they should be catered to or waited on. Anyone who doesn’t help or who gets in their way becomes an enemy. You’re afraid that if you disagree, they’ll strike back at you.
They think their excuses, excuse them. Their reasons are always correct and are enough to justify what they do. If you don’t agree, you simply don’t understand or you’re evil. Self-deluded narcissists think their jealousy, anger and hatred are not bad characteristics. You’d better agree or else.
They think their logic, reasoning and rules, rule. They’re allowed to do anything they want – to take what they want, to attack or to strike back in any way they want – but everyone else should be bound by their rules. If your feelings are hurt by what they said or did, it’s your fault and your problem. They’re right and righteous. Everything is your fault. They’re great debaters or they simply talk so loud and long that eventually you give in.
They think they don’t have anything to learn. They insist on doing things their way, even though they fail repeatedly. They won’t listen; especially when they’re failing.
Also, anyone who harasses, bullies or abuses helpless people – like clerks and waiters – will eventually get around to bullying you. Get rid of them on the first date.
Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that the narcissistic control-freak might be right. If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.
If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
Suppose your toxic parents want you to forgive them for the way they treated you years ago. They sound sincere and they say that they need you to nurse them now that their health is failing. They don’t have enough money to live well so you should support them like they once supported you. Also, they need your help to deal with a health-care bureaucracy they don’t understand.
Can you forgive them and do what they want?
Forgiveness is a loaded word.
To most people, especially toxic ones, forgiveness means not only you opening your heart to them, but also you giving them what they want. At the very least it means increased relationship and, usually, endless arguing and debating, endless servitude.
But, suppose also that, trying to help them, you’ve bounced between anger and feeling guilty. Suppose that the last ten times you’ve forgiven them and tried to be a dutiful child, you’ve gotten entangled in painful interactions. Every time you get close, they try to control you and you feel angry again. They don’t listen to your needs; they think their need to have you help them is more important than your values of independence and freedom.
Forgive them and move far away – physically, mentally and emotionally.
What I mean by that is:
Forgive them, have compassion for their struggles, and also stop thinking about them – about 2 minutes a week might be okay. Forgiveness means that you don’t replay all the old incidents; you don’t get angry; you don’t try to justify yourself in your eyes or theirs; they occupy very little of your mental and emotional space.
Get far away physically so there are no more incidents that will trigger you again. End contact by telephone, email, social networks.
You don’t have to confront your toxic parents. You can simply tell them the way it is for you – calmly, firmly; no debates, no arguments, no justifications, no asking for their approval or permission. Don’t waste your time in further confrontations.
When they pursue you, keep your distance. Don’t engage. Of course they won’t respect your desires and boundaries. They’ve always known what’s right. Disappear again.
Think of your personal space as a target with a bull’s eye and many concentric circles going out from the center. The more toxic people are, the further away from the center of your life you move them. Every time someone pollutes your environment, for whatever reason, move them at least one circle further away from you; or more if they did something you particularly don’t like.
If someone apologizes, do not move them closer. Watch their behavior. How long before they revert to the old harassment, bullying or abuse? Keep moving them further away.
What if they don’t want you to forgive them? They just want you to forget what happened and do what they want and need now.
What if they’re angry at you for what they claim you did? What if they want you to apologize to them before they’ll forgive you?
In what circle do you want to put your toxic parents?
You’re in charge of your personal space. “Because I want to” is more than sufficient reason for placing them in any particular circle and moving them closer or further away. At what circle do you drop them off your map?
I’d also take the same approach with toxic friends, extended family and adult children.
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.
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.
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 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.
Nowadays, even young children talk back, roll their eyes, are sassy and snarky, and demand to know why before doing what parents want. These kids act as if they can set all the standards, know everything and are entitled to express their thoughts and feelings in any way they want about anything.
Many parents think this is their toughest disciplinary problem. Many parents want to know why this behavior has trickled down from teenagers through tweens to children. Is this behavior the result of the bad influence of the media – television, movies, internet – or their peers? If so, these parents think, how can we control what children are exposed to?
Almost every one of the women who’ve interviewed me on radio or TV admitted that they were raised to be “nice girls.” Their mothers had taught them that the most important value was to be nice, polite and sweet at all times. They should ignore or rise above bullies; feel sorry for how empty and insecure bullies must feel; how horrible bullies’ family lives must be. Nice girls should try to understand those mean girls, to forgive them and to tolerate their nasty, insulting, abusive behavior.
Nice girls should be sweet and kindly in all situations; not be disagreeable, not make scenes, not lower themselves to the level of the mean girls by pushing back verbally or physically. Nice girls were raised to believe that the virtues of loving compassion and sympathy were their own rewards and would also, eventually, stop bullying. Nice girls were to live by the Golden Rule. Being a virtuous martyr was preferable to acting “not-nice.”
As a result, when these nice girls became adults, they had trouble protecting themselves from bullies.
And, in addition to the emotional scars and the feelings of helplessness and impotence in the face of the real world, they bore a measure of anger toward their mothers for not teaching them how to be effective as grown ups.
The start of their change was to openly admit that, in this area, their mothers were wrong.
At first they thought that they needed at least two hierarchies of priorities; one for their home life and one for the outside world. This was abhorrent to many because it sounded like situational ethics. But it wasn’t. They would have the same ethical framework and merely different tactics that fit their different situations.
Determination, will and perseverance were more important qualities than being nice. These qualities gave them the power to take charge of their lives. They didn’t have to be mean, but they did have to be strong, courageous and sometimes firm. They were the ones who decided what they wanted and needed; what was right for them; what their standards were. These decisions were not consensus votes affected by the desires and standards of other people.
Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller. She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures.
If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame. Amy Chua is an abusive bully.
She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.” Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
“Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.
What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?
She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet. I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”). If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
There’s almost no joy in their lives. Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise. But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning. There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.
Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost.
This is a great and necessary value. It has made our society the first world. But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.
No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks. She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection. That’s why people take it so personally. Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons. These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.
Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx. She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon. When she grew up she sued him.
A better approach:
Have you observed your children individually and carefully? One approach does not fit them all.
Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own? Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out? This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own? Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you? How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
Character is critical. All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs. What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it. You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.
By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.” In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices. In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her. That’s not the answer either.
All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.
“Even in his young and footloose days, when Mr. Sanford worked in commercial real estate and Jenny Sullivan was the rare female analyst working at Lazard Frères in New York, he showed signs of being unusually demanding…He drew up a facetious prenuptial agreement that laughingly stated the husband’s right to control the family finances and be the final arbiter in all matters.”
And, “After their wedding there were warning bells…When Ms. Sanford’s beloved grandfather died, Mark saw no reason to attend the funeral. When she was pregnant with their first son, he got bored after a single Lamaze class and insisted that he needed no instruction. As the book colorfully recalls, he said, ‘I’ve spent many long nights helping cows give birth and I know what to do when the baby gets stuck.’
Everyone is a pawn in their plans. They use you and justify it logically.
“Mark Sanford had relied on his wife of 20 years for professional and moral support, even if his reasons for recruiting her services were not always the most noble. ‘But you’re free,’ he once pointed out, explaining why she should run his first Congressional campaign. He wasn’t referring to her uncluttered schedule.”
By the way, their reasons and justifications tell you what their most important priories are. And that your expected role in life is to help them satisfy those priorities.
It’s all about them. They think they know best about everything. Their rules should rule. They should control everything.
Governor Sanford’s first move after the teary news conference last June, in which he expressed his sincere love for his Argentine girlfriend, was to get on the phone to his wife as soon as the cameras were off, and ask her: “How’d I do?”
“He even sought her permission to continue his affair, and expected her to empathize with his loneliness, she says. ‘What he does not see is how morally offensive it is to me even to listen to this.’”
Their excuses should excuse. They lie and when they’re caught they’ll justify and argue relentlessly, including splitting hairs like a lawyer and changing the subject.
“Amazed by the ego stroking that came with a political career, Ms. Sanford writes, she watched her husband morph into a restless, distant character. He stopped bothering to be strict with their four children. He worried about his bald spot. And he spent more and more time away from home, telling what turned out to be flagrant lies about his reasons for travel. A trip to New York to talk with publishers about his book on conservative values turned out to be a surreptitious tryst with the Argentine woman.”
“Once Ms. Sanford figured out what was going on and fought vehemently with her husband, he sided adamantly with his lover. (‘She is not a whore!’)”
Jenny Sanford is bright and perceptive; she saw the signs of harassment, bullying and abuse. She tolerated his behavior. She ignored or hoped that he wouldn’t take the path he did. That’s a choice common to people who end up in Jenny’s situation, whether experienced under the microscope of national television or in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
Of course, bullying women also show these same warning signs and men go along for the ride.
Great people, people on great and consuming missions show these behaviors. What you do in response to these signs is your business. You may be willing to tolerate bullying in service to the person you love and to the mission.
Numerous articles, including Sandy Maple’s on parentdish.com, “Teen Insult Web Site Shut Down,” have reported that online free speech has bowed to the pressure of community values. In an effort to stop online harassment, cyber bullying and abuse, a coalition has pressured Go Daddy, the internet host, to pull a web site, “People’s Dirt,” out of cyberspace. Calling it an “insult site” is misleading. The site was forum for anonymous hate mail.
What did it take to pressure Go Daddy to drop the site?
The site was very popular with vindictive and vicious high school students who used it anonymously to publically trash-talk, harass, abuse and embarrass their targets. The combination of slander and defamation on the hate board was illegal, but the anonymity offered by the site protected the abusers.
The Go Daddy hosting service agreement with its users allows Go Daddy to end service for sites whose content includes activities that “defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten, slander or harass third parties.” The contents on the site, including a threat to kill students and staff, racial slurs, claims of promiscuity about named high school students, and accusations against named teachers fit into those prohibited categories.
Go Daddy could have resisted the effort and forced the group to go to court to prove some sort of illegal activity. But this is a much better solution: common cause to stop bullying and abuse. Go Daddy will find other ways to make money.
Every society or community limits complete free speech because of a more important value: The balance necessary to maintain the strong sense of community that enables the people to live together peacefully. Neither end of the scale – complete free speech or complete censorship and repression – yields a society worth living in. Some form of compromise, some balancing of individual and communal desires and needs is always reached in communities that move ahead amicably.
Whether the site will remain offline is still an open question. Other internet hosts may be willing to carry it. Alfredo Castillo, the site's founder, has previously said that if the site was removed by Go Daddy, he would move it to an international host, where it could skirt any American prosecution.
Mr. Castillo is a person who doesn’t care about his community. He’s an individual isolated from his community’s values. He’s interested only in his own desires to make money. Those are some of the identifying characteristics of bullies and sociopaths. Anyone know where he lives and where his children go to school?