What do you do when someone you depend on must be gone and you have to pick up the slack?  Typical scenarios when this happens include termination, vacation, downsizing or personal crisis. To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Columbus, see: Surviving crises while that crucial someone is gone http://columbus.bizjournals.com/columbus/stories/2005/07/11/smallb4.html

For example, Brad and Harry had been partners for years and depended on each other daily.  When Brad’s father had a stroke and went into a coma, Brad’s work life stopped but Harry’s didn’t.  Harry had to do both their tasks.  But how could he complain when Brad rushed to be at his father’s side?  Brad knew Harry would understand.

As days stretched into weeks, Harry became overwhelmed.  But he certainly didn’t want his weaknesses to burden Brad, who had “more important” things on his mind.

What could Brad and Harry do to repair the torn relationship and keep the company going?  What can you do if you find yourself with a similar situation?

Here are six basic guidelines for dealing with a crisis that requires a team member to be absent from work – for details, see the original article:

  1. Always begin with the relationship.
  2. Accept that you can’t accomplish everything.
  3. Take care of yourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually.
  4. Increase communication appropriately.
  5. Avoid unilateral decisions whenever possible.
  6. No guilt; no recriminations.

Brad and Harry used a seven-question process for daily triage of their tasks. It can work for you, too – for details, see the original article.

  1. What must we do today and this week?
  2. What are we capable of doing; given the energy and help we have at this moment?
  3. What do I need your help with – physically and emotionally?
  4. What can’t I do and what won’t I do?
  5. What will I do?
  6. What must we let go of?
  7. What temporary help do we need?

By disciplining themselves to follow the process, the partnership and business withstood the crisis.

A note to senior managers: Which lower level managers will struggle unless you to provide them with this process?

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

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.

We want to be people of our words; we want to be ethical and honest, and have trustworthy character; we want to do our duty.  But sometimes our loyalty to our vows – especially our marriage vows and vows to take care of parents or children – makes our lives a living hell and also sets a terrible example for our children. Deep in our hearts we know we must stop being loyal to those vows or our lives and spirits will be destroyed. But how can we stop honoring our vows?

Some examples:

Some examples:

  • In public we pledge many things in our marriage vows. But suppose our spouse turns out to have deceived us and reneges on their side of the vows?  Suppose that husband turns out to be physically, mentally and emotionally abusive?  Suppose he harasses, controls, bullies or abuses his wife?  Supposes he justifies his actions by saying that he’s the head of the house and she must do what he says?  Or suppose he blames his lack of self-control on her and uses threats, guilt and shame – his rage and violence are her fault and if she did what she should, he’d treat her better?  Or suppose that wife turns out to be manipulative and controlling?  Or supposes she’s lying, crazy and always verbally, emotionally and physically abusive in order to beat the husband into submission?
  • In private we may pledge many things to our parents, especially as they get older. But suppose they’re narcissistic, demanding, bullying and toxic.  Suppose they squander all their money against our advice and then they insist we spend all our money on them – either taking care of them or sending them to an expensive, assisted living facility?  Suppose they are relentlessly critical, scolding, chastising, whining, complaining and demeaning, and nothing we do is ever good enough?  Suppose they are vicious in private but sweet as sugar in public, so every thinks they’re saints while they act like devils in private?  Suppose they’re lying, manipulative and back stabbing – they praise their favorite child, put us down and leave everything to the favorite while we’re the ones taking care of them?  Suppose we think we’re responsible because they raised us, we think we owe them and we still want their approval?  Suppose we feel guilty if we think of acting like ungrateful children and abandoning them in their hour of need?
  • In our hearts we pledge to take care of our children until they can take care of themselves very well. But suppose they’re 40 and still living with us because they never took our advice and never got good careers or married the right person or held a job?  Suppose our toxic children are rotten to us until they need something?  Or they threaten to deprive us of our grandchildren unless we give them everything they want, even to divorcing our spouse, whom they hate?  Suppose they still act like spoiled, vicious, toxic teenagers, blaming us for all their failures, feeling entitled to everything they want, full of sneering sarcasm, back-talk, temper tantrums and demanding that we slave for them?  Suppose we still think that if we love them enough, if we’re nice enough to them they’ll finally grow up and become successful?  Suppose we’re afraid they’ll fail completely and end up homeless if we don’t give them everything they want?

Those are horrible scenarios but all too common.

Probably, we’ve discovered the hard way that we can’t make things better by being peacemakers.  Tactics like begging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, ‘second chances,’ forgiveness, sympathy and unconditional love, and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  We won’t get the results we want; we won’t stop emotional bullies or physical bullying unless we’re clear about which values are more or less important to us.

So we wallow in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt.  We get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated.  We lose our confidence and self-esteem.

Often, we stay stuck in those versions of hell because we gave our word and we’re people of integrity – even though they broke their side of the bargain, we understand how hard it has been for them.  We think we must honor our pledge or we’d be just as bad as they are.

I say that’s a big mistake. I say, “Choose life, not a slow spiritual and emotional death.”  I say, “Examine your hierarchy of values and get clear about which values are more important to you.  Then honor the most important ones gracefully and cheerfully.”  And make yourself cheerful living a great life with your choice.

Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change or die.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Use your own power.  Say “That’s enough!”  Say “No!”

Often, we avoid examining that hierarchy of values and discarding those early vows until we are forced to.  We may not be willing to protect ourselves but we will act resolutely to defend others.

For example, our crazy or bullying spouse abuses the children and only then does our spirit rise up with fierce determination to protect our children.  We discard that marriage vow for the sake of something much more important than loyalty to a toxic spouse – loyalty to our children

Or the toxic parents are so abusive to our spouse and children that we take the power we need to protect what’s more precious than our toxic parents – our marriage and our children.

Or our toxic children are so vicious, nasty and abusive that our spirits will stand no more – we’ll protect our marriages, our health and our retirement funds from the energy vampires who want to suck us dry, even if they’re our own children

For some examples of different tactics, 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.

The principal and teachers at Sheila’s school were proud of their efforts to stop bullies.  They had a team, including a psychologist, to deal fairly with students accused of bullying. They were certain that:

  1. Students became bullies because they’d been bullied at home.
  2. Bullies had low self-esteem and weren’t aware of other ways of making friends.
  3. Bullying was in retaliation for bad treatment and that if provocation decreased, so would bullying.
  4. If other students stopped hurting the feelings of bullies, bullying would eventually stop.
  5. Since bullying was not the fault of one person, negotiation and mediation, would eventually stop bullying.
  6. The best way to stop bullying was through forgiveness, sympathy, compassion, understanding, education and compromise.

These educators were not going to let those poor, damaged kids who’d turned to bullying be harassed, taunted or abused, verbally or emotionally, or through unjust accusations.

What’s wrong with this picture?

For example, when Sheila finally had enough and complained that a clique of mean girls made disparaging remarks about her weight, hair, pimples and un-cool clothes, her teacher asked for proof.  Sheila could only offer her word against the girls who denied being mean to her.

Since there was no proof, and the accused clique was composed of popular girls, Sheila’s teacher told her that she didn’t believe those girls would act so mean and Sheila better watch her false accusations.  The teacher said that Sheila was probably jealous and maybe she should dress better, lose weight, make friends and avoid antagonizing the popular girls.

Sheila’s mother met with the teacher, principal and school psychologist.  They assured her that there was no evidence for Sheila’s accusations.  Then they asked many questions about Sheila’s home life and psychological state.  Maybe Sheila was going through something difficult at home.  Or maybe she was simply jealous and suffering from some teenage turmoil because she didn’t fit in.

They suggested that Sheila try to make friends with the popular girls – be nice to them, ask them what upset them and try to change that, give them friendship offerings, open her heart to them or turn the other cheek if she was misunderstanding what they said to her.  Maybe Sheila was simply too sensitive to the way high school girls naturally were.

They told accused clique of girls that Sheila had complained about them and encouraged them to be nice to her, despite her complaint.

Having been forewarned and directed at Sheila, but having no consequences to make them stop bullying, the accused girls escalated their attacks and got sneakier.  Sheila was subjected to daily barrages of hostility, venom and meanness.  When nothing happened to the clique, they got bolder and eventually beat Sheila up in the bathroom.

Unfortunately for them, a teacher happened to be in one of the stalls and heard the whole scene.

The school officials now initiated their program to stop bullies.

  • They investigated to find out what Sheila had done to provoke the attack.
  • They told Sheila’s parents to trust them.  They were working on the problem, but because of confidentiality issues, they couldn’t share what they were doing.
  • They encouraged Sheila’s parents not to talk with the parents of the clique girls.
  • They encouraged Sheila’s parents not to go to the media or to a lawyer.
  • They assured Sheila’s parents that the quieter the issue was kept, the more likely there would be a rapid resolution to the situation.

The principal and therapist had Sheila meet with the girls to mediate the situation by themselves.  They told the girls that they thought the students could solve the hostility on their own and that Sheila was willing to compromise with them.

At that meeting, the girls pinched Sheila, punched her, pulled her hair and threatened her with worse after school.  Then they told the principal and therapist that they’d apologized and promised not to do anything if Sheila would treat them nicer, but that Sheila had called them names, insulted them and refused to compromise.

Over the next six months, the attacks on Sheila increased, and the principal and his staff kept trying to educate the bullies.  Subjected to repeated teasing, taunting, harassment and physical abuse during this time, Sheila’s inner demons emerged, she gained more weight, became morose and depressed, and often had suicidal thoughts.  Her confidence, self-esteem and grades plummeted.  She even went through a period of guilt, thinking that the way the girls treated her was, indeed, her fault.

It took a lot to overcome her sense of despair and defeat, activate her fighting spirit and help her recover a sense of purpose, determination and hope.

By the way, the truth of Sheila’s accusations was later verified because one of her narcissistic persecutors had proudly used her phone to record most of the attacks.

There were many early warning signs that could have alerted Sheila’s parents that school officials would do nothing to stop the bullying. There were:

I could say a lot about specific steps that the principal, teachers and therapist could and should have taken to protect Sheila.  But they were the kind of do-nothing administrators who eventually make the headlines.

However, for this article let’s focus on the assumptions these educators had that assured that they wouldn’t consider protecting Sheila effectively.

  1. There are the ones listed at the beginning of this article.
  2. These supposedly responsible authorities cared more about understanding, educating and forgiving the bullies than about protecting their target or about creating a safe environment at their school.
  3. They thought that the feelings and confidentiality of the bullies were more important than Sheila’s pain.
  4. They were willing to sacrifice Sheila for the sake of education and therapy on the bullies.

Almost every student at the school knew what was happening and recognized the accepted culture of bullying.  That’s why there were no witnesses; the students knew better than to risk their necks when they wouldn’t be protected by the adults.

As is usually the case, in a school in which bullies are not stopped, Sheila’s treatment was not an isolated case.  When Sheila’s parents made her situation public, many other parents came forward with reports of how their children had been bullied by other students and how the administrators had not protected them.  Even after many other cases surfaced, the principal and his staff maintained the same approach.

Only the results of extensive media publicity, a court case and the intervention of a district administrator changed the situation.  Actually, more publicity resulted in a faster resolution of the situation.

Obviously, I don’t think that education, compassion and therapy are the best methods of stopping bullying.  The best method is to stop the behavior:

  1. Create an atmosphere in which bullying is not tolerated.
  2. Remove bullies.
  3. Protect targets; don’t convert them into victims.
  4. Encourage witness to come forward, not to become bystanders.

Then we’ll see which bullies respond to education, compassion and therapy.

I won’t sacrifice the targets for the sake of the bullies.

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.

Sometimes, bullies come to us and apologize in private for their behavior and promise that they won’t do it again.  Does that mean that the harassment, abuse and bullying will stop? When we receive a private confession and apology, it’s natural for us to heave a sigh of relief and relax; to give up our fear and anger.  And then share our secrets, fears and hopes, which is often what bullies want.  Real-world bullies will simply use this new information to embarrass us or stab us in the back.

It’s also natural for us to think that bullies are so ashamed they wouldn’t confess and apologize in public.  There are a very small percentage of bullies who will stop after a private apology, but don’t be fooled.  Most will continue manipulating and abusing us after a private apology.  If they give reasons, excuses and justifications, or blame us for their bad behavior, that’s a bad sign.

Don’t be like all those battered women (and men) – beaten verbally, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically – whose abusers come with an apology and want to be taken back in as if nothing happened.  The apology – and maybe candy the next time and flowers the time after – counts for nothing.

Forgiveness, unconditional love, appeasement, understanding and the Golden Rule don’t change real-life bullies. Don’t give into begging or bribery.

Keep those perpetrators at a great distance.  Or give them another chance if you want, but from a great distance.  Make them behave wonderfully for at least five years.  If they can’t court you for five years, vote them off your island.

A public apology counts for much more, especially from covert, sneaky manipulative bullies.

But the bottom line is behavior.  So when we receive a private apology, I’d recommend saying “Thank you.”  And not thinking we have a new friend, but also asking, “What will you do to make amends in public?”  Or even, “Thank you.  I’ll see how you act in the future to know if you’ve really changed.”

We might even suggest acts that we’ll count to mean that the bully has really changed.  That’s how we find out if someone is actually a friend or is a false friend, or if we’ll only be hearing words but not seeing deeds.

Or we might be more gracious in saying nothing but we’ll still keep watching and keeping score.  We shouldn’t give them our wallet or car keys.  We should test bullies by small steps to see if they’re trustworthy.  Be determined and persevering.

For example, see the case study of dieter Tammy being attacked by her false friend Helen in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.  Or the case studies of Brandi and Lucy with their boyfriends.

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.

Joan’s father had bullied and abused her all her life.  He’d yelled, scolded, chastised, taunted and emotionally terrorized her.  He’d been manipulative, sneaky and lying.  He never admitted anything was his fault.  He’d always blamed on her; everything was her fault.  He still treats her the same way.  He’s a narcissistic, control freak. Joan could never understand why he treated her that way.  She hadn’t deserved it.  She knew he’d had a terrible childhood, but she didn’t deserve to be the one he took it out on.

Now, he’s in his late 80s and Joan could see that he was sinking rapidly.

On the one hand, Joan was angry and vindictive.  On the other hand, she felt guilty and ashamed of her dislike and hatred of him.

How can she resolve things with him before he dies?

Sporadically, through the years after she’d left home and made her own life, she’d tried talking with him about how he treats her but he’d always rejected her attempts, calling her weak and bad.  He never admitted he’d done any of the things she said.  That led to the usual angry rant about her failings and what she owed him.  And a demand that he’ll never talk about that again.

Sometimes she never wants to see him any more.  But he’s her father; how can she feel that way?  Think of what she owes him.

How can she resolve things with him before he dies?

Of course, she’s going to try once more.  And maybe a miracle will happen.  But my experience is that any change would be extremely rare.  I’ve see most people recover from near-death experience and be unchanged.  They immediately cover themselves with their old costume of abuse and bullying.

I’ve seen a sexually manipulative perpetrator on his death bed try to grope his daughter, just like he did when he molested her for years when she was young.

It doesn’t matter if Joan looks at her father as a sociopath or a poor, abused soul who never could overcome his rotten childhood.  Her sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love or understanding likely won’t change him.

The real question for Joan is what she means by “resolution” and where she really wants to get internally.

If, by resolution:

  • She means that they’ll have a heart-felt talk, and she’ll say her say again but this time he’ll admit to all he did and apologize and ask for her forgiveness, she’s probably going to be disappointed.  No matter how much she begs, bribes or tries to appease him, likely he won’t change.  He’ll still insist he never did anything bad to her and it’s all her fault.  Also, he’ll never tell everyone to whom he bad-mouthed her, that she was actually a good daughter and he was simply mean and nasty.  So the task for her is to accept that she can’t change him and to find a mental place in which to keep him that doesn’t stimulate any self-bullying by blame, shame or guilt – just like he’d do to her again if he had the opportunity.
  • She means that she can come to like him and they’ll part friends, she’ll be disappointed again.  They’re not friends.  We can’t be friends with someone who has beaten us, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, no matter how hard we try.  A survival part of us doesn’t want us to get close enough so they can abuse us once more.  The task for her is to let the anger and hatred motivate her to get distance, no matter what he thinks of her or accuses her of.
  • She means that she wants to forgive herself for continuing to exaggerate his good side and to have hope he’d change so she continually put herself and her family in harm’s way trying to prove that she was worthy of love, respect and good treatment, she can have that because that’s in her control.  Her task is to find an inner place to put him so that instead of feeling overwhelmed and beaten, or angry and vindictive when she thinks of him, she’ll feel strong, courageous and determined to stop any other bullies and to create an Isle of Song for herself and her family.

His behavior tells her about him.  It doesn’t tell her anything about her and what she deserves.  Instead, she needs to take power over her life.

Should she stay at his bedside while he passes?  If she wants to be with him at the end in order to assuage any guilt she may have for missing a last possible chance for resolution, then she should be there as long as she won’t let him hurt her feelings any more; as long as she doesn’t expect anything more than he’s always been.

Should she have her children visit him at the end?  Again that depends on what she wants from the interactions.  If he’s been manipulative and rotten to her children, or bad-mouthed her to them, then I wouldn’t let them be subjected to that again.  In age and stage appropriate ways, she can talk to them now and as they grow.

For contrasting outcomes in dealing with abusive, bullying parents, see the case studies of Carrie, Kathy, Doug, Jake and Ralph in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site. 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 attended a wonderful presentation on cyberbullying and sexting by an officer from a local police department.  The question came up about spying on our teenagers’ phones and computers: “Do our teenagers have a right to privacy?”  That was followed by the question: “If we spy on our teens, how can they consider us friends?  They’ll never open up to us.  Won’t that thwart our efforts?” Let’s distinguish between two types of threats to our teenagers:

  1. Adult predators who lure them and groom them – whether to exploit them or to gain personal, family information to use against their parents.
  2. Other teens who will slam them, cyberbully them and share sexted pictures.

Although most parents worry about the first situation, most kids worry about the second or will blow it off as “Drama.”  But the answer is the same in either case.

My answers to the big questions about privacy are essentially the same as that officer’s:

  • Teenagers have no privacy.  I want us to know what our kids are doing so we can help them.  We’ve been there and done that and have more wisdom, even though they don’t think so.  If we don’t have wisdom, we should make learning a first priority.
  • As long as they’re dependent on us and we’re responsible for them, we must know.  They may be more technically savvy but we can learn enough.  That’s what our friends are for.
  • There are values more important than that they like us.  Some of these are that we protect them (even from themselves) as best we can and that they know there are limitations and boundaries they must obey.  Of course, I hope they understand.  But even if they don’t understand – especially when they think it’s not fair or they can take care of themselves – those are the “house rules.”

We hope that much of this can be preventative.  Wouldn’t we like to stop our daughter before she sends a nude photo to a boyfriend?  We can say, “How many of your friends’ parents are still with the boyfriends they loved forever way back in middle and high school?”  How many of your friends’ parents were viciously attacked by their ex’s when they broke up?  How many of your friends’ parents were harassed, taunted, bullied, abused and mobbed by people they used to be friends with?

Wouldn’t we like to know if our kids are being pressured to be bystanders instead of witnesses? Or if they know there’s mobbing and they’re being tempted or pressured to pile on?

In addition, of course, we can be alert to the first signs of cyberbullying.  Have they withdrawn or stopped eating, being with friends, or wanting to go to school?  Have they become emotionally labile (mood swings, happy, crying, excited, depressed, angry, hysterical all in 10 seconds)?  Do they engage in negative self-talk and put-downs?  Do they lack self-confidence and self-esteem?  Are they changing everything in order to get friends or please boy or girlfriends?  Are they anxious, stressed, not sleeping?

When they accuse us of not trusting them, we already know the answers:

  • It’s not about trust; it’s about experience, wisdom and safety.
  • They’ve hidden, lied and deceived us before and will do so again.  Of course we don’t trust them, just like our parents shouldn’t have trusted us.
  • It’s about which risks we’ll allow them to take and which we won’t.

When they insist that they’re old enough to make their own decisions, we also know the answer to that: “When you’re capable of supporting yourself and living independently, then you’re old enough to be responsible for yourself.

As for their opening up because we’re their friends; how many of us opened up to our parents – or would have if they tried to be our friends?  We thought we could or had to solve things on our own or we knew better than to open up.

Whether we physically check phone and computer logs or we also use spyware, we must take the initiative.  If they don’t like it, they don’t need a phone.  Also, we should take steps to find out about their friends and what their friends’ parents allow or encourage.

Unfortunately, too many examples can be found in the headlines of what happen when parents don’t know what their teens are doing.

I’m not suggesting we become the thought-police or “Big Brother.”  There’s no need to go overboard.

How many cyberbullying-caused suicides does it take before we start acting like responsible parents and ferret out what’s going on?  We can’t force reluctant principals to act unless we know what’s going on.  We can’t get law enforcement to act unless we know what’s going on.

You might also check the Verizon cyberbullying site for more information: Verizon Expert Panel, #1, “Understanding and Preventing Cyberbullying:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeXCT8I4uFU&feature=relmfu

Verizon Expert Panel, #2, “When does rude cross the line, online:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzuguaf-hlU&feature=channel_video_title

Verizon Expert Panel, #3, “Is your child being cyberbullied?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZKNgh3_ZjA&feature=relmfu

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.

People often wonder if they’re being bullied, controlled or abused by their spouses.  They want experts to help them recognize the signs and give them an educated, experienced opinion so they’ll have a new weapon in the next round of the endless battle.  That’s a useful tactic but the major benefits are not what most people think. In addition to overt threats and violence, some criteria that we’re facing bullying, controlling or abusive husbands or wives are:

  1. After marriage or kids, they changed from charming to controlling, sometimes step by step.
  2. They make the rules; they control everything.  We feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  3. Their standards rule – our “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”  Their sense of humor is the right one.
  4. They isolate us.
  5. They control us with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips.  They use the opinions other people who agree with them – their friends, their parents – to justify what they do.
  6. They don’t take our kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop.  They take our self-control as an invitation to bully us more.
  7. They’re willing to argue forever and never admit that they have to change.  Whenever we make a good point, they attack on a different subject.

Or we might recognize the seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists:

  1. They think they know best about everything.
  2. Their excitement is contagious and sweeps us along.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.
  4. They’re more important than we are.
  5. They think their rules should rule.
  6. Everyone is a pawn in their game.
  7. They think their excuses should excuse them.

Both lists are phrased as “They,” but really – we give in; we let them win.  We’re the ones who think good reasons or arguments, more understanding, begging, bribery, appeasement, forgiveness, unconditional love or the Golden Rule will work if we try hard enough.  We’re the ones who think we’re wrong if we give up on someone.

The major, but usually overlooked, benefit in recognizing and labeling the patterns of behavior as “bullying” and the person as a “bully” is that it’s a powerful label.

  1. Indeed, many men women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”
  2. But when we label what’s happening as “bullying,” the unknown terror no longer seems so overwhelming; it’s reduced in size as the light of a strong label shines on their behavior.  Our shame, guilt, doubt and hesitation decreaseOur self-bullying, negative self-talk decreases.
  3. Our spirit rises up; we feel energized and empowered to fight back.  Our will, determination and dedication are strengthened.  Our courage, perseverance, endurance and resolution are engaged.  We won’t quit any more and temporary defeats don’t defeat us for long.
  4. We take charge of our attitudes and feelings, and increase our self-confidence and self esteem.  In so doing, we take charge of our actions and our future.  We gain clarity about our goals and seek personalized coaching to develop a plan and carry it out.
  5. Once we know what we’re up against, we look for information, skills and help.  We feel more powerful when we re-enter the fight.

 

In the next article, we’ll talk about an even better tactic than taking the strength we gain from using the words “bullies” and “bullying” into battle as our shield and sword.

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).

Negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage.  Looking at yourself with hostile eyes and talking to yourself with that old critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voice can be demoralizing and debilitating.  Constant repetition of all your imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead you down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Don’t believe it? Think of some examples of relentless self-bullying:

  • The abused wife who accepts her husband’s excuses and justifications that his verbal or physical beatings are her fault. She’s to blame for his failures; she’s never good enough.  If only she were adequate, he wouldn’t be so nasty, vicious and violent.  If she talks to herself with his voice, she’ll never leave.  If she accepts the guilt and shame she’ll keep trying to please him, but she’ll never succeed.  She convinces herself she’ll never make it on her own so she stays and endures more brutality.
  • The kids bullied at school who tell themselves that they’ll never be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough or loved. They think it’s their fault they get harassed, teased, taunted and emotionally and physically bullied.  They give in to bullies.  If their nagging, hostile, abusive voices convince them that there’s no hope for a better future, they become the next Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi or other young suicides.
  • The people harassed at work who’re told they’re dumb, ugly, the wrong color, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. They’re made the butt of jokes and threats; their work ideas are stolen; they’re belittled, ostracized, shamed and passed over for promotions.  If their self-critical voices convince them to give up, their spirits will die.  They won’t be able to summon the will, determination or perseverance to fight back.  They’ll feel overwhelmed and unable to learn the skills they need to protect and defend themselves.
  • The kids who think the deck is stacked against them. Their parents have treated them badly or one or both have blamed or abandoned them.  If they convince themselves they’re stupid and not loveable, they’ll give up.  They’ll accept bullying; their own and from other kids.  They shuffle through life, putting themselves down, defeating their efforts before they’ve really begun.  They lose their fighting spirits; the spirit that will struggle against the conditions and vicissitudes of life in order to make great lives for themselves.

Kids who’ve turned off their engines look and act dull and listless; as if they’ve given up already.  You can almost hear their constant inner, self-dialogue.  They’re so distracted by the destructive IMAX Theater in their minds that they can’t pay attention to what’s happening around them.  Their attention is captured by all the putdowns and listing of all their failures, the magnifying of the problems they face, the making of insurmountable mountains out of molehills, the diminishing of each skill or success, the magnifying of each imperfection.  They’re not resilient; the smallest adversity defeats them.  Happiness is fleeting; bitterness and depression is their lot.  Anything good they get is never enough, never satisfying, never brings joy.

Alternatively, they use their engines, often ferociously, to blame their parents and try to beat them into submission, to extract material possessions and guilt, to vent their hatred of themselves and the world onto their parents or onto the one parent who stays and tries to help them.  They bite every hand that’s offered to them.  They fight against teachers and against learning a skill that might make them financially and physically independent.  They explode with sarcasm and rage in response to the slightest nudging.  What a waste.

All the help offered them seems to bounce off.  They won’t accept what’s offered because that hyper-critical, judgmental voice knows better.

They have no inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience.  They feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  They may go down the path to being victims for life.  Their self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed.  Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated.  They move easily toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Nothing will help them until they turn their engines on again.

Compare them to the kids with great engines; always active and alert, always wanting to learn, willing to face and overcome challenges, seeking risk and reward, capable of overcoming adversity.  They have tremendous drive to live and to succeed.

These spirited kids with great engines can tax your patience almost beyond its limits, but the reward is so apparent.  They’ll make something wonderful of their lives.  They won’t give up.  They won’t be defeated by defeats.

Our job as parents with these spirited kids is clear: help them develop great steering wheels so they can direct themselves to fulfill the promise of their great engines in worthy endeavors.  Whatever direction they travel, they’ll go with passion, intensity and joy.  They’ll overcome setbacks by continuing on with renewed effort.  As Coach John Wooden said, “Hustle can make up for a lot of mistakes.”

There is no formula to save kids who turn off their engines.  Even when you know every detail of their history, there is no formula.  There’s only the continued presenting to them of encouragement and opportunity.  Sometimes a mentor or coach is crucial, sometimes a small success that’s a surprise, sometimes an example of someone else’s life will catch their attention.

We know that attempts to improve their steering wheel won’t help.  No lectures about being better, kinder, gentler people will help.  The beginning of a new life for them is the miracle of starting their engines.  Then they grab opportunities for themselves.  Then we can help them with their steering wheels.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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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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Jane’s sister, Betty, seemed to have been born with a vicious tongue.  She attacked everyone relentlessly.  Holidays with the extended family were a misery for Jane and her family.  Nobody, not even their mother, stopped Betty.  Everyone was afraid to complain directly to Betty.  If they did, Betty would turn on them even more spitefully before. According to Betty, nobody’s children were good enough – they were all ugly, stupid, ignorant, mean or bad.  They were too fat or too skinny; they ate too much or too little; they ate too fast or too slow.  They dreamed too big for their non-existent talents.

Betty laughed joyfully when she pounced on someone’s mistakes, no matter how trivial or irrelevant.  Their choices were always wrong, their clothes and manners were wrong.  Betty always knew better and rubbed everyone’s nose in it.

Some of Betty’s reasons excuses and justifications for why she was so hostile were:

  • “I’m right.”
  • “Those are my feelings.  It’s my honest opinion.  You wouldn’t want me to repress how I feel, would you?”
  • “You're too sensitive.”
  • “I’m doing it for their own good.  You’re too soft on them.  They’ll never get better if you don’t correct them.”
  • “I had to take it when I was a kid.  It’ll make them stronger and tougher.”
  • “They have to learn to take it.  They’ll get it like that in the real-world.”

Of course, everyone can have a bad day and be grumpy.  But with Betty, it was everyday and it was relentless, hostile and mean-spirited.

The family had many reasons, excuses and justifications for why they allowed her to behave the way she did: “That was just the way Betty was and had always been.  She’d probably been hurt a lot when she was little.  She was probably jealous and couldn’t hold it in.  If we say anything, it’ll only get worse and it’ll split the family into warring camps.”

I’ve seen many Betty’s of the world use the same reasons and excuses as justification on one side and, on the other side, many families use the same words to forgive bullies when they harass, taunt, abuse and verbally, emotionally and physically batter family members or people at work.  Bullying spouses and teenagers, and toxic parents and adult children are masters at giving excuses and arguing forever.

Bullies want us to try to argue with their reasons, excuses and justifications.  The more we argue, the more we’re engaged without their ever changing.  If we make a good point, they’ll change the subject and give another excuse or cite a different time when they were right.  They’ll never admit that they need to change; that’s how we know they’re bullies.

Or, if we challenge them, they’ll explode and make our lives miserable.  And it’ll go on forever until we give up and simply accept the abuse.  That’s how we know they’re bullies.

Or, if we challenge them, their feelings will be so hurt that they’ll withdraw into a very loud silent treatment.  And it’ll go on forever until we give up, admit we were cruel, promise never to attack them again and simply accept the abuse.  That’s how we know they’re bullies. What can Jane do?  Remember, all tactics have to be designed to fit our specific situations, what we want to accomplish and the limits of our comfort zones.

Jane once asked Betty not to say anything to Jane’s children; Betty was hurting them and Jane had told them take it because Betty was their aunt.  But Betty hadn’t changed.  Finally, Jane decided that she wasn’t going to expose herself and her family to any more of Betty’s abuse.  She’d end the unrelenting negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame and guilt-trips.

She decided to use a stepwise approach that had been successful with a friend who’d acted like Betty.  At each step Jane would get more firm.  About half way along the path, Jane’s friend had changed rather than lose Jane’s friendship.  If Betty didn’t change, Jane would simply avoid any occasion to be together.

Jane’s steps were:

  1. Once again, she asked Betty to stop talking the way she did and to find nice things to say.  She asked Betty to be nicer, kinder and more polite to family than she would be to strangers.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  2. She didn’t debate or argue with any of Betty’s reasons, excuses or justifications.  She simply said that she was asking Betty to change what she said.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  3. She told Betty she wanted her to feel differently but if she couldn’t, she still wanted her to take charge of her tongue and to repress herself; being an abusive bully is worse than repressing herself.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  4. She told Betty that if the brutality continued, she wouldn’t come if Betty was present. That would cause a rift in the family and it would be Betty’s fault.  Betty didn’t stop.
  5. Jane told the family she’d decided that she’d never let bullies treat her and her family the way Betty did.  She had to take charge of keeping them safe from people who polluted their emotional environment.  She asked them to choose the behavior they’d support even if that meant they all told Betty to change or they’d stop inviting her.  Jane reminded them of what Mr. Spock said, “Never sacrifice the many for the sake of the one.”  But Betty didn’t stop.

At each step, Jane felt that she was being more and more firm, and more and more clear about the consequences.  Jane was not making emotional, but idle threats; she did what she’d promised.

Jane decided that behavior was more important than blood.  More important than victimizing her children by subjecting them to their Aunt Betty’s viciousness, was setting a good example by protecting them from abuse.  She didn’t want them to experience the anxiety, stress and discouragement that had accompanied visits with Betty.  That meant they didn’t see Betty any more.  That also meant they saw the rest of the family only on one-to-one occasions when Betty was not present.

Over the years, Jane saw that the rest of the family still made excuses for Betty’s behavior.  Sometimes someone would argue with a specific statement or reason or excuse, but Betty would argue forever and not take back what she said or how she said it.  They still looked for psychological reasons for why she acted that way, as if, if they knew why, they could say some magic words and Betty would be cured and become civil.

Over the years, the same conversations were replayed after extended family gathering except in Jane’s house.  There, Jane and her family had a wonderful time; free from criticism, bullying and abuse; free from the endless re-hashing of Betty’s latest attacks.

Once Jane had cleared the abuse out of her family’s life, they were able to find friends they loved being with.

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 give in to or argue with bullies’ excuses, reasons and justifications.  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 adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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.

They also won’t suffer from anxiety, nightmares, negative self-talk and depression because they’ll be successful in her real world.  The bullying and beatings will make them as tough as nails.  They’ll wipe out your kids; you lazy, slacking, guilt-ridden, ambivalent, permissive American parents.

Some of her ideas and claims are:

  • “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.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences.”

Therefore, she proudly states that never allowed her daughters to:

  • “attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.”

Why will some people take her seriously? People who think that American culture produces only losers – selfish, lazy, narcissistic, weak, slacker teenagers and adults who will never succeed – will be tempted to improve their children’s test scores acting like Ms. Chua did.  People who enjoy beating their children into submission will be tempted to use her ideas as a justification for dominating and abusing their children.  People who think that China is the next rising super-power and that today’s Chinese children will rule the world and our children won’t be strong and determined enough to stop them will be tempted to channel their children down Ms. Chua’s narrow track.

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 assumes that there’s only one way to get children to work and succeed.  Because no children want to work at the right subjects, you must beat them into submission physically, verbally and emotionally.
  • 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.

Instead, find the fire in your children and feed that fire.  Help them become skillful and competent in areas that matter most to them.  Help them create a life that’s uniquely theirs, not one you think is proper or best for them.

Why do I say that Ms. Chua is abusive and a bully?  Let’s review – what do “Chinese Mothers” and bullies have in common.

  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” don’t care what you think or how much pain you feel.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” can do what they want to you and you’d better like it.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are right and righteous.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are the best because they’re the winners in life.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” beat you into submission for your own good.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” isolate you and make you dependent on them.

My conclusion is that if it looks like a bully, if it acts like a bully and if it feels like bullying then it’s a bully, even if it calls itself “Mommie Dearest.”

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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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,

Just as many girls as boys are bullies but girls more often target other girls. Girls do bully other girls physically.  One publicized example is the Florida girls who beat up a classmate and then posted the video on YouTube.

However, most girl-girl bullying is verbal and emotional.  Seven of the nine bullies were girls in the publicized case that led to the recent suicide of Phoebe Prince.  Their attacks on Phoebe were choreographed, strategically planned and relentlessly executed.  The abuse was verbal, physical and through cyber space.

“Mean girls” are masters of catty remarks, put-downs, scorn, mockery, criticism, sarcasm, cyber bullying and forming cliques led by a Queen Bee.  Mean girls are also masters of covert, “stealth bullying;” backstabbing, rumor-mongering, telling secrets, cutting out and spreading gossip and innuendo while pretending to be friends.

Girl bullies often are control-freaks and emotional blackmailers.  Common bullying statements are, “If you don’t do what I want, you’re not my best friend, “ or “My best friend wouldn’t talk to that other girl,” or “You hurt my feelings, you’re a false friend.”  They often set up boys to attack their targets.

Boys tend to use overt physical tactics more than girls.

Girls: it’s easy to tell if you’re being overtly bullied; it’s harder to tell if the bullying is stealthy.  You’re probably being bullied if you’re feeling controlled, forced to do things you don’t want to do, scared of what another girl might do to you, afraid of getting ostracized or ganged up on, or not wanting to go to school at all.  Trust your gut and talk to your parents no matter how reluctant you are.

Parents: the major signs that your daughter is being bullied are unexplained, 180 degree changes in behavior.  For example, no longer talking about school or friends, not wanting to be with classmates, spending all her time in her room, avoiding checking text messages, social web sites or answering the phone, no longer doing homework, not eating lunch at school, stopping after-school activities, wanting to change or quit school, loss of weight, chewing fingernails, not caring about appearance, can’t sleep, nightmares, loss of confidence and self-esteem, emotionally labile (crying suddenly alternating with explosive anger and temper tantrums alternating with despondency and depression – “I’m helpless, it’s hopeless”).  Be careful; teenagers typically go through periods of these behaviors.  Parents must check out the causes.  Be persistent.  Don’t be stopped by initial resistance. If your daughter is being bullied, parents must proceed down two paths simultaneously:

  • Teach your daughter how to protect herself.
  • Make teachers, principals and school district administrators protect targets.

Bullying at school is rarely an isolated event.  Usually there is a pervasive pattern of overlooking, minimizing, denying, tolerating or even encouraging bullying.  Strategies for how parents can proceed depend on the situations they’re dealing with; especially the people.  The bottom line is that most, but not all, principals want to avoid the subject, do nothing, cover-up with platitudes, avoid law suits and won’t confront bullying parents who protect their darling little bullies.

Beware of principals who think that their primary task is to understand, rehabilitate or therapeutize bullies.  You will have to get other parents involved and be very tactical in order to get principals to act firmly and effectively. There is one absolute “Don’t.”  Every female client and every woman who has interviewed me said that they were verbally bullied when they were young.  Unfortunately, their mothers told them, “Rise above the bully.  That bully is hurting so much inside that they’re taking their pain and inferiority out on you.  Understand and forgive them.  You’re better than they are.  If you act nice enough, people will return your kindness with kindness.”

Every one of these bullied women bears deep wounds including stress, anxiety, negative self-talk, lack of confidence and self-esteem problems.  They also bear an underlying hatred of their mothers for those messages.  Those messages are absolutely wrong.  Mothers must teach their daughters how to protect themselves, not how to act like willing victims.

Remember, the Golden Rule doesn’t stop real-world bullies.  Prepare your daughters for the real-world they’ll face in school, at work, in intimate relationships and with friends.

State laws and school policies are necessary, but they’re not enough to stop school bullies.  The third necessary ingredient is the responsible people who are paid to make schools safe.  If teachers, psychologists and counselors, assistant principals, principals, district administrators and school board members don’t create effective school programs and don’t enforce the laws and policies, perpetrators will be freed and their targets will be victimized. According to the ABC News and investigative reporter Theresa Marchetta, Caitlin Smith was sexually assaulted in the final days of a summer program for incoming freshman at Englewood High School in a Denver, Colorado suburb.  The evidence seemed clear-cut and, indeed, a court recently found the boy guilty of unlawful sexual contact with no consent.

The school had suspended him for the last three days of the summer program but what happened when school started in the fall?

The story is titled, “District Policies Fail Teen Victim: Guilty Attacker Remains in School.”

In summary, the victim was ostracized and the perpetrator was allowed to roam free.

  • In order for Caitlin to be allowed to enter school, the vice principal had the Smiths sign a “No-Contact Notice” which reads, "You have been involved in an incident that may be criminal in nature," and suspects can not "harass, threaten, annoy, disturb, follow or have verbal/physical contact with any victim or witness in this incident.”
  • The perpetrator was immediately allowed back in school with Caitlin in the fall.  He did not sign a No-Contact Notice and was still allowed back in school.  This is despite a statement by Englewood Superintendent Sean McDaniel that, "I think that [the No-Contact Notice] would be a piece on the perpetrators side not on the victim’s side."
  • On Caitlin’s first day back in school, she was taken right back to the scene of the attack.  "They guaranteed they wouldn’t take me down that hallway. I was freaking out, crying, upset.  I didn’t want to go through, was closing my eyes,” she said.  School authorities asked Caitlin’s mother to keep her daughter out of school.  She reports that, "They're asking me to hold my daughter out of school and giving an education to a child [the bully] who shouldn't even be there."
  • To deal with such incidents, the Englewood School District has policies “which clearly states, multiple times, what happened to Caitlin was a ‘level one’ offense, ‘those which will result automatically in a request for expulsion to the superintendent.’”
  • When Marchetta asked Superintendent McDaniel, “Should a student be expelled or consider being expelled for having unwanted sexual contact with a student?" he replied, "Absolutely, no question.  Sexual contact?  I would expect an administrator to suspend with a recommendation for expulsion.  Then, that would land in my office.”  But he then admitted that the perpetrator was allowed to remain in school without even signing the No-Contact Notice and that now, over six months after the incident, he didn’t know what the principal was doing about the situation.
  • When Superintendent McDaniel was asked, “theoretically speaking, if it would ever be acceptable for a student accused of committing such an offense to remain in the population during the proceedings, he answered, ‘That’s a great question.  No,’ [he added], ‘In that scenario to just to turn the kid loose back in to the student population with no requirements, parameters?  No, I can not foresee a situation like that.’"  But he then admitted that the perpetrator was allowed to remain in school without even signing the No-Contact Notice.

Parents and students need to know what to do after such an incident:

  • Don’t hide; make a fuss.  Immediately go to the appropriate school authorities and the police.  That’s like we encourage victims to report rape immediately.
  • Don’t stop at being polite, sweet and docile; at being a “good girl.”  Immediately, find out what the school policies and state laws are.  Ask for what you need and be prepared with consequences for authorities who won’t act.
  • Find and rally other students and parents who have been harassed, bullied or abused – emotionally, sexually or physically.  If any other kids excuse the perpetrator’s behavior and tell you that you’re being too harsh or if any other kids hassle, threaten or bully you, report them.  Record evidence; that’s what cell phones are for.  Travel with your friends.
  • Give the school principal, therapist, district administrator and school board members one chance to act strongly.  Do they rally other students to protect you?  Do they deal swiftly with friends of the bully who harass you?  Don’t be put off by stalling tactics.  Be strong, brave and firm.  Read “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”
  • If the authorities won’t act, immediately get a lawyer skilled in both the pertinent laws and in how to bring media pressure to bear.  Plan an overall strategy and tactics.
  • Get an expert coach or therapist to keep your spirits up and to rally your strength and determination.
  • Don’t accept bullying; don’t take the blame.  In most cases the girl is not a “slut” or “whore” that others will call you.  It’s usually not your fault.  You should know that if the school authorities won’t act, they’re the problem, not you.  You don’t have to be perfect according to their standards in order for them to actively help you.  Don’t indulge in self-bullying.  Negative self-talk, blame, shame and guilt never help.  They only increase anxiety, stress and depression, and destroy confidence and self-esteem.  Don’t believe negative predictions; your life isn’t ruined and in 10 years you won’t want to be friends with your high school classmates – certainly not the hyenas who pile on.

Isn’t it amazing that this happened in a Denver suburb near where the Columbine High School shootings occurred?

As you can see, state laws and school policies are necessary to give principals and administrators the leverage to act safely without fear of law suits by bullying parents of school bullies.  But the responsible authorities must be willing to act courageously, energetically, skillfully and effectively.  When they don’t, laws and policies become scraps of paper, blowing in the wind of their excuses.

Since the principal and district administrator didn’t protect a target of such bullying and abuse, I predict that there have already been other incidents at Englewood High School and there will be in the future.  Bullies are predators.  They look for easy prey and they push the boundaries.  Once one hyena gets away with boundary pushing – darting in, ripping off some flesh and darting back safely – the rest of the pack will pile on.

In addition to the perpetrator and his family, the principal and district administrator have a lot to answer for.  I hope a public outcry focuses on them.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
TagsABC, ABC News, abuse, abused, accused, administrators, annoy, anxiety, assaulted, attack, attacker, authorities, Behavior, blame, Board, boundaries, brave, Bullied, bullies, bully, bullying, Caitlin Smith, cell phones, classmates, coach, Colorado, Columbine, Columbine High School, committing, confidence, consent, consequences, contact, counselors, courageously, court, criminal, crying, daughter, Denver, depression, determination, District, disturb, docile, education, effectively, emotionally, energetically, enforce, Englewood, Englewood High School, esteem, evidence, excuses, expelled, expert, expulsion, family, fault, follow, free, freed, friends, guaranteed, guilt, guilty, harass, Harassed, harsh, hassle, high school, incident, incidents, investigative, laws, lawyer, Marchetta, McDaniel, media, negative, offense, ostracized, parameters, parents, perpetrator, perpetrators, physical, physically, police, policies, polite, predators, Predict, predictions, pressure, principals, problem, programs, protect, psychologists, rape, Report, reporter, requirements, ruined, safe, safely, scene, school board, School Bullies, schools, Sean McDaniel, self-bullying, self-esteem, self-talk, sexual, sexually, shame, shootings, skilled, skillfully, Smith, stalling, state, statement, stop school bullies, strategy, strength, stress, students, superintendent, suspend, suspended, Tactics, targets, teachers, teen, therapist, Theresa Marchetta, threaten, unlawful, upset, verbal, victim, victimized, witness
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Toxic step-fathers and step-mothers are clichés because they’re all too common.  But the ubiquity of harassment, bullying and verbal, sexual and physical abuse doesn’t diminish the pain and long-term damage inflicted on defenseless kids. Of course, kids can also treat their step-parents cruelly, and step-mothers and biological parents can also be relentlessly cruel, but let’s focus here on step-fathers who abuse their size, control and power.

These step-fathers sexually abuse one or all of their step-daughters while the moms ignore the evil.  The perpetrators are to blame and the daughters’ anger is rightly focused on these men.

But let’s also look at the moms who won’t see or hear anything bad about their new husbands even though the complaints and evidence are clear, and the damage to their children is striking.

Later, when the complaints and evidence are brought forth by the now-adult and articulate children, these mothers will usually still defend and excuse the predators they invited into their homes.  Typically, the mothers whine and demand that their children should perpetuate the lies and secrets.  “After all,” they complain, “they deserve a little happiness after all they’ve suffered.  Their daughters should understand how hard it was for them.”

Nonsense.  These narcissistic mothers deserve nothing; certainly not the allegiance of their abused daughters.  Most daughters make repeated overtures of friendship to their uncaring and unsympathetic mothers.  The daughters hope that by understanding why their mothers didn’t protect and defend them they’ll be able to forgive their mothers and maintain a loving connection.

I hope that the emotional blackmail and manipulation contained in the word “forgiveness” will be the last straw.  How can the mothers heal the wounds they ignored and let fester during years of abuse?  In addition, these mothers rarely start making amends by getting rid of the perpetrators.

The daughters, who held the pain and trauma when they were young, are still left holding the emotional bag.  There’s no way they can release their anger by simply beating the bullies to death or making them burn slowly, even though he deserves even worse.

Separate from what social services and the police might have been able to do, what can the adult children do now?

  • Don’t debate or argue.  Don’t try to get your mother and step-father to admit what they did.  They can keep you hung up, focusing on them for years.  Take your time and energy away from them and focus on a new life.
  • Stop abusing yourself with negative self-talk and predictions of failure that increase self-doubt, stress and depression, and destroy self-confidence and self-esteem.  Convert those inner, self-bullying voices into helpful coaches.
  • Get away from both your mother and step-father; physically and emotionally.  Get away from triggers that are guaranteed to keep you in emotional turmoil.  Don’t let abusers keep hitting a very black-and-blue area of your body, emotions and spirit.  Distance and no contact will help you focus on your present and future instead of on your past.
  • Don’t let your children near them.  More important than their knowing their toxic grandparents is your protecting them from emotional and physical perpetrators.  Be a model for them to keep a flame of strength, courage and determination burning in their hearts no matter what happens to them.
  • Forget about understanding and forgiveness; let these come in their own time, if they ever do.  Understanding why that old man, who may or may not be truly sorry now, could torture you like he did does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding how your mother could allow you to be tortured does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding why they maintained a conspiracy of silence then and now does not excuse or justify the behavior.
  • Become internally invulnerable.  Use the past pain to inspire your present life.  I know that’s easy to say and hard to do.  Find people to remind you of your fighting spirit when your energy flags.  Get an expert coach to help you put the wounds behind you.  Fill the mental space in front of you with your vision of the present and future you want.

Don’t let toxic step-fathers and colluding mothers ruin any more of your life than they did when they had physical control of you.  You’re now an adult.  You have control of your physical, emotional and spiritual island.  Vote them off it.

Imagine that you have a new boyfriend who seems wonderful and you’re looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day.  But in your past relationships you were harassed, bullied, controlled and abused.  You finally realize you have a tendency to pick the wrong guys.  What should you look for with this new one and what should you do if you see any warning signs? Step back and take a look at how he treats people now.  Don’t listen to any of his reasons, explanations or excuses.  Look only at his actions.  Everyone can blow up once a year under extreme pressure, so count how often he behaves that way.  Look for patterns.

Test him now … before it’s too late.

Does he harass, bully, abuse or control you?

  1. Does he push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what he wants?
  2. Does he make the rules and control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on?  Does he think that his sense of timing and rules of proper conduct are the right ones?
  3. Do his standards rule?  Is your “no” not accepted as “no?”  Is he always right and you’re always wrong?  Is sex always when and what he wants and for his pleasure?  Is his sense of humor always right?  Does he say that he’s not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive?  Do your issues get dealt with or are his more important so he can ignore your concerns or wishes?
  4. Does he control you with negativity, disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt?  For example, no matter what you do, are you wrong or not good enough?  Does he cut you down in subtle ways and claim that he’s just kidding?  Or does he control you with his hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide?
  5. Are you afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage?  For example, do you walk on eggshells?  Does he intimidate you with words and weapons?  Does he threaten you, your children, your pets or your favorite things?
  6. Are you told that you’re to blame if he’s angry?  Do you feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained?  In this relationship, has your self-doubt increased, while your self-confidence and self-esteem decreased?
  7. Does he isolate you?  Are you allowed to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work?  Does he force you to work because he needs your money?  Are you told that you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them him?
  8. Does he need your money to make his business schemes work?  Does he have a pattern of not keeping jobs, even though he blames his lack of success on other people or bad luck?  Is he looking for someone to support him like he thinks he deserves?

If you answered yes to most (or even any of these questions), pull out a piece of paper and write, in big capital letters, “Bully” and “Control-Freak” and “Abuser.”  Now you know what you’re dealing with.  Post these signs on your mirror, car, computer and work space.  Put them in your purse.

When you protest, does he promise to stop?

  1. Whatever his reasons, if he isn’t convincing when he says he’s sorry, run away real fast.
  2. After he promises to stop, does treat you nice for a while before the next incident?

Remember, apologies, excuses, reasons and justifications count only one time.  After that, only actions count.

While bullies are courting you, until he gets you, he’ll treat you the best he’ll ever treat you.  For bullies, it’s all downhill after he thinks he’s got you. How does he treat other people like: 

  1. Servers – waiters and waitresses, clerks at the movies and retail stores, people who work for airlines.  Does he harass, bully and abuse them?  Does he try to get something for free?
  2. Supervisees, coworkers and vendors.  Does he think they’re stupid, incompetent and lazy?   Does he jerk them around?  Does he retaliate viciously if he feels offended?
  3. Acquaintances and friends?  Does he keep them only if he’s the boss or center of attention?  Does he have friends who have lasted?   Are the relationships brutal or are they like those you’d like between equals?
  4. His former girlfriends or ex-wives.  What would they say about those relationships?  Does he claim all those women were bad or rotten?  Did he retaliate in the end?
  5. His parents and siblings?  Does he abuse them because they deserve it, or has he simply walked away because they’re impossible to have a good relationship with?

Don’t think you’re unique, different and safe; don’t think that he’ll never treat you that way.  That’s magical thinking.  A person who has mastered harassment, bullying, controlling and abusing these people, especially the helpless servers, supervisees and vendors will eventually get around to you.

What does he wish he could do to those other people?

  1. Does he wish he could have had the strength, courage and opportunity to retaliate without bad consequences to himself?
  2. Is he itching to take his anger or rage out on someone else (like, maybe you)?

He probably will do those things to you once he thinks you’re under his thumb – after you’re married, have children, or become dependent on his approval, permission or money.

Ignore your overwhelming feelings of true love.  Don’t waste your life trying to fix him.  Get rid of him now before it’s too late; before you live together, or he slowly gets you to give him control.  He’s only a boyfriend.  Find a better one to have all those feelings of true love with.

See the case studies of Brandi and Lucy in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

You’ll need an expert coach to develop specific tactics to get away while keeping your money, car, home, family, friends and job.

Spend this Valentine’s Day alone and work with your therapist or coach to prepare for a loving Valentine’s Day next year.

Of course, women harass, bully, control and abuse men just as much in their own ways, but that will be the subject of a different article.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling

The holidays are a perfect time to recognize and respond effectively to the early warning signs of bullying boyfriends, controlling girlfriends and domineering dates.  Whether these control-freaks are stimulated by holiday pressures and stresses, or they simply seize the opportunity to take charge of multiple events, their subversive, controlling tactics become more apparent during the holidays. Many people need coaching help at this time of year to stop the Grinches who want to destroy their family fun.

Call these control-freaks “bullies” when: Call these control-freaks “bullies” when:

  • They won’t allow you to continue family traditions you love.
  • They try to control the timing of visits to your family.
  • They insist that the holidays must be celebrated the way they want.
  • They insist that the holidays are merely foolish, commercial events and you’re not allowed to feel good cheer or to celebrate.
  • They insist on a hostile review your choice of presents.  They won’t allow the “Secret Santa” gifts.
  • They fight over every little arrangement.  They’ll harass you until you give in.

Some of these abusive bullies are overt – they threaten or use force or they simply block your way and won’t let you leave or they throw big fits and threaten to break up with you.

Some of the early warning signs of the subtle, covert, stealthy, sneaky, manipulative bullies are:

  1. They control everything; they make the rules – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on.
  2. They push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what they want.
  3. Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no;” they’re always right and you’re always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they’re not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive.
  4. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt.  Their negativity is depressing.  Or they control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide.
  5. You’re afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage – you walk on eggshells; they intimidate you with words and weapons; they threaten you, the pets, your favorite things.  You’re told that you’re to blame if they’re angry.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  6. They insist that their values are right and yours are “silly” or “wrong” or “illogical.”
  7. They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see your friends or family, go to school or even work.

They use their ruthless logic to prove that they’re right and that you should do things their way.  To defy them means a war that would ruin the holidays.

The temptation for nice people is to find excuses for bullies’ explosive feelings and controlling actions, and to give in.  The temptation is to think you can give them the love they didn’t get when they were kids or that you can love them so much that they’ll become nice.  The temptation is to think that they’ll change with time.

Don’t give in to those temptations.  Don’t argue, debate or try to convince them that they should change.

While they’re still merely boyfriends, girlfriends or dates, vote them off your island.  Make the break before you move in, buy a house or have children.  No matter how much you think you love them, make the break immediately.

Enjoy a dateless holiday this year so that you can make space for someone better to come into your life next year.