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:

  1. 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.
  2. Get far away physically so there are no more incidents that will trigger you again.  End contact by telephone, email, social networks.
  3. Test the relatives and acquaintances.  Who begs you to relieve them of the burden of taking care of your needy parents?  Who tries to twist your arm so that you take care of those toxic parents?  Who tries to convince you that you still owe those toxic bullies loyalty and duty?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

It’s your life; take charge of it.  Be the hero of your life.

Many situations are examined in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”

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.

You probably don’t want an angry, confrontational, bullying boss.  But, do you want the other extreme – a conflict-avoidant boss? I vote, “No.”  Conflict-avoidant bosses create breeding grounds for passive-aggressive employees and self-appointed tyrants.

For example, Helen’s boss is nice and sweet.  And that’s her problem.

To read the rest of this article from the Austin Business Journal, see: Bosses who avoid conflict create a big mess http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/stories/2007/07/23/smallb3.html

Larry is always thoughtful and considerate.  He tries to agree with everyone.  Although he inspects each employee’s results and asks penetrating questions, he won’t tell them what they must do.  If two of his staff disagrees, he won’t intervene and make a decision, or force them to resolve the issue.

Helen has frequent and critical deadlines, but in order to do her job she needs information supplied by Lindsay, another employee in Larry’s department.  Lindsay says she’s too busy to give Helen the necessary information within the agreed-upon timelines.

Helen asks and asks but nothing seems to work.  She tries begging, twisting Lindsay’s arm and even explaining her predicament at team meetings.  She tries every communication and management technique her friends and human resource professionals suggest.  Lindsay simply goes on her merry way and stonewalls Helen.  She’s a sneaky bully.

In public, Lindsay always agrees to do that part of her job but then simply ignores the commitment.  In private she says Helen’s not important enough.  She doesn’t like Helen and she’s going to sabotage her.  In one-to-one meetings with Larry, she undercuts Helen’s needs, communication skills and performance.

Larry says he can’t do anythingIf he tried to force Lindsay, it’d create conflict – and he doesn’t want confrontationLarry is so sweet and nice.

Larry avoids conflict with Lindsay but creates conflict with Helen.  He’s upset with not getting what he needs from Helen but not upset enough to break the deadlock.  He’s more afraid of Lindsay than he is of Helen.  Lindsay knows she’s secure.  She has no pressure to serve Helen and no consequences for resisting.

There are numerous variations on this theme but they all lead to the same symptoms.  Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissisism, incompetence, laziness, 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.

Absentee bosses – whether they’re waiting for retirement, have distracting personal concerns, are mentally tuned out or are cowards – create sanctuaries for unprofessional behavior.  When there’s a vacuum of authority, the most aggressive, ruthless and controlling people are drawn in to fill it.  It’s like the worst behavior of children coming out when their teacher leaves them alone for the day.

Conflict-avoidant bosses don’t implement decisions necessary for overall productivity because they won’t face resistant people and get them to do what’s necessary.

If you avoid facing someone who’s unhappy, you’re abdicating your responsibility as a leader.  You’ll probably live to regret the pain caused by abandoning your duty.  Your good employees certainly will regret it.

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.

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

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

The first step is always inner change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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My last post focused on children, teenagers and adults facing moments of choice when they’re targets of or bystanders-witnesses to harassment, bullying and abuse.  People who repeatedly turn away from that call to step up usually develop terrible long-term consequences including increased stress, insecurity, discouragement and depression; increased blame, shame, guilt and negative self-talk; and loss of self-confidence and self-esteem. The valor of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger focuses us on a different but just as critical a set of choices our kids and teens face as they grow up.

In a Wall Street Journal article, Jeffrey Zaslow, co-author, with Captain Sullenberger, of his book, "Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters," Captain Sullenberger faced a number of difficult situations when he was growing up.  He responded to these moments with powerful choices that led him to be prepared to act effectively in the moment when both engines of his Airbus A320 on US Airways flight 1549 went out and he ditched the plane safely in the Hudson River.

Sullenberger’s choices did not begin when danger was thrust on him; they began when he prepared himself for the dangers of real-life, long before he developed his flying skills.

His youthful choices led him to develop the character and skill he needed when a moment of truth was thrust upon him and lives were at stake.  Some of the choices he made long before he captained that flight:

  1. Act when someone is helpless in the face of danger.  For example, when he was 13 he watched the news about Kitty Genovese, a New York woman who was stabbed to death while her neighbors ignored her screams and didn’t even act to call the police.  Sullenberger decided then “that if I was ever in a situation where someone such as Kitty Genovese needed my help, I would choose to act.  No one in danger would be abandoned.  As they’d say in the Navy: ‘Not on my watch.’”
  2. Work hard to protect people’s lives; don’t be a bystander.  Sully says that after his “father killed himself in 1995, ‘His death had an effect on how I view the world.  I am willing to work hard to protect people’s lives, not to be a bystander, in part because I couldn’t save my father.’”
  3. Accept what’s happening and work to better the situation.  After their struggles with [his wife’s] infertility and the arduous journey of trying to become adoptive parents, Sully says, “The challenges [we] faced made me better able to accept the cards I’ve been dealt.”
  4. Be prepared.  Study how things can go wrong and plan ahead to overcome potential problems.  In order to see what went wrong and to figure out what to do better, he examined many plane wrecks in person and read many transcripts of cockpit vice recorders taken just before crashes.  The lessons he chose to learn: “Be vigilant and alert.”  He saw that Charles Lindbergh’s “success was due almost entirely to preparation, not luck.”
  5. Develop the right mindset.  He says, "In so many areas of life, you need to be a long-term optimist but a short-term realist… You have to know what you know and don't know, and what your airplane can and can't do in every situation."
  6. Sacrifice lower priority goals for more important ones.  "By attempting a water landing," he says, "I would sacrifice the 'airplane goal'—trying not to destroy an aircraft valued at $60 million—for the goal of saving lives."
  7. Compartmentalize.  Focus on the immediate task; don’t be distracted by extraneous thoughts.  “Sully says his family did not come into his head. ‘That was for the best. It was vital that I be focused; that I allow myself no distractions. My consciousness existed solely to control the flight path.’”

Captain Sullenberger is justly praised for what he did as an adult on the day he saved 155 lives.  And I see a hero in the 13 year-old boy who started and continued to make wonderful choices in response to the difficult situations he faced; preparing himself for the moment when the duty to respond was thrust on him 40 years later.

We never know how many lives will be on the line when our call to action comes; we must develop the will and also the skill so that we can respond effectively.  We must also prepare our children to recognize and respond successfully when their calls to higher duty come.  Facing bullies or witnessing bullying is only one of those situations.

A lot of feedback about stopping bullying by toxic parents focused on what children owe those abusive parents.  After all, even though they harassed, abused and tormented their children, those parents still fed, clothed and housed them. Many of those parents now claim that a debt is owed them.  No matter how bad they were and still are, they claim their children owe them care, sympathy and loyalty.  And usually willingness to be continually abused.

I disagree.

To illustrate my point of view, here’s a story told to me repeatedly by my father.  He said it was a traditional story.  I call it “The Mother and the Three Baby Birds.”  It appeared in a wonderful collection of stories annotated Steve Andreas, published by Real People Press, “Is there life after birth?”

~~~~~~~~~~~ At the time of the great flood, when the storm had just begun and the earth was beginning to be covered with water, a mother bird saw the danger.  She realized that her three babies were no longer safe in their nest at the top of a high tree.  Even if she remained with them, they would be swept away and drowned.  So she picked up the first baby and started to fly through the storm, across the rising water, seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

As she flew, she spoke to the first baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the first baby turned to her and said, “No.  When your day has passed, when you can no longer take care of yourself, then I will not dedicate my whole life to taking care of you.  I will dedicate all my energy and strength to taking care of myself.”

The mother bird said, “No!  This is not the baby to save.”  And so she let go of the first baby and it fell, helplessly flailing its tiny wings, down into the raging waves.

Tired and wet, the mother bird turned and flew back to the nest, which she hoped would still be above the rising waters.

She found the nest and picked up the second baby bird.  Weary and wet, she struggled to fly higher, through the beating rain, against the driving wind.  Seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

And as she struggled, she spoke to the second baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the second baby turned to her and said, “Yes.  When you have used all your energy and strength, when you are too exhausted to go further, I will dedicate my whole life to taking care of you.”

And the mother bird said, “No!  This also is not the baby to save.”  And so she let go of the second baby and it fell, helplessly flailing its tiny wings, down into the raging waves.

Almost exhausted now, bedraggled, beaten by the driving rain and raging wind, summoning all her remaining strength, the mother bird turned and flew back to the nest, which she hoped would still be above the rising waters.

She found the nest and, just as the raging waves washed it away, she picked up the third baby bird.  With barely enough strength to rise above the foam and spray, to move forward against the driving wind, she struggled bravely on.  Desperately seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

And as she struggled, with her voice and body failing, she spoke to the third baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the third baby turned to her and said, “No.  When you have used all your energy and strength, when you are too exhausted to go further, I will not dedicate my whole life to taking care of you.  But instead, I will dedicate all my strength and energy to taking care of my children, just as you are taking care of me now.”

And the mother bird said, “Yes!  This is the baby to save.”  And with renewed hope and renewed strength, she steadily flew higher and faster and further.  Despite the beating rain, despite the driving wind, despite the raging waves.  She flew steadily.  And she did find a new place that was high enough to save the child who must be saved.

~~~~~~~~~~

Even though the mother bird was not a bully, the same lessons apply.  Don’t let a sense of obligation and duty lead you to allow yourself to be harassed and brutalized by toxic parents; don’t be stopped if they say you shouldn’t be better than they are; don’t seek approval from bullies; don’t listen when they say that you owe them whatever they want; don’t be depressed by their negativity; don’t let them destroy your self esteem; and don’t devote your life only to your own selfish pleasures.

Instead, take care of yourself so you can devote yourself to something greater and longer-lasting.  Devote yourself to the children of your body, heart, mind and spirit.  That’s what you owe your ancestors, no matter what other claims they may press on you.

What’s important are the responsibilities you take up joyously, not the onerous ones claimed by toxic parents.

We all recognize as bullies, brutes (male or female) at work or in our love and family lives who hit people or threaten physical violence.  But more bullies get away with their harassment, bullying and abuse by taking advantage of their victims’ rules about politeness. In her article in the Miami Herald, “It's time to get our behavior under control,” Robin Sarantos uses television’s “House” as an example of rude, inconsiderate, arrogant, discourteous, entitled behavior.  He eats other people’s food, searches his boss’ desk, reads a coworkers email, yells at and blames his coworkers.  And we’re supposed to think he’s funny because he’s a wonderful doctor.

But would you enjoy working with someone like him, who goes into your desk, listens to your private calls, says demeaning things about you, curses, cheats, stabs you in the back and spreads gossip and rumors?  Would you enjoy dating or being best friends with someone like that?

Do you enjoy the family members who come for the holidays or family occasions with their vicious, nasty, jealous tongues?  Do you enjoy exposing yourself to greedy, sarcastic or loud mouthed relatives?

What kind of loving relationship could you have with someone who puts you down, exposes your secrets, harasses you or makes cutting remarks with a smile and a laugh – pretending he’s just having a little fun or claiming that you’re too sensitive or can’t take a joke?

Often, when confronted by their smiling viciousness, we’re confused by the double message and think, “Maybe they don’t know how much what they said hurts,” or “If I say something, it’ll sound whiny or nasty.”  Many of us, when we’re surprised, shocked, baffled and stunned, revert to one of the three primitive human responses: We freeze.  And then it’s too late to protest.  Fear not, those bullies will always give you more chances.

Don’t be blinded by romantic feelings of love, or by family duty, or by your fear of a powerful person at work. Politeness doesn’t stop relentless bullies or psychopaths.  Relentless bullies don’t take your hesitation, politeness and passivity as a kindly invitation to respond with civility.  They take your lack of resistance as an invitation to bully you more.  They’re like jackals that sense easy prey.  The problem is not that they’re ignorant of social conventions: They know exactly what they’re doing: Pushing you around and getting away with it.

How do we know the difference between a relentless, abusive bully and a well-meaning person who stepped on our toes by accident?  It’s easy: Look for a pattern.

Well-meaning people who accidently said something hurtful, feel bad, apologize sincerely, make amends and promise not to do that again.  And they don’t do it again.  The last step is the key one: They don’t repeat the behavior.

Bullies will minimize what they did, or justify their actions by blaming on some fault of ours, or go through many of the steps of apologizing.  But they don’t make real amends and they don’t stop.  When bullies whack us and buy us candy or flowers, they’re simply bribing us to be available the next time they want to whack us.

The initial steps in resisting are easy.  We must react.  We may say “Ouch” or we may ask them nicely to stop.  If they’re well-meaning people, they’ll apologize and they won’t behave that way again.  If they’re bullies, we’ll have to do the more difficult work of being more firm and forceful.  Sometimes we can embarrass them to stop the bullying, but with relentless bullies we have to find real consequences that stop them.

If we ignore or minimize, if we beg or bribe them, if we appeal to their civility and manners, we’re asking to be whacked again.

These smiling bullies and control freaks actually produce more bullying incidents than the overt bullies who use violence.  Stop them or live like a frightened deer while they abuse your mind, heart and spirit.