The worst part of having a curmudgeon on your staff is that you may have to put up with him, at least temporarily, if he’s valuable to your organization. But he has to be very valuable. And “temporarily” is the key word.
Imagine, for example, a senior manager who criticizes every idea and decision openly at meetings and also behind his boss’ back. Sometimes, he simply rolls his eyes, snorts, drums his fingers or overtly uses his smart phone. The major expression of his negativity is “harrumph.”
To read the rest of this article from the Memphis Business Journal, see:
When should you keep a curmudgeon?
He’s worse than impersonal. He’s an active curmudgeon. He makes clear he won’t go to birthday parties and other celebrations because they’re a waste of time and he’s too busy. Or he goes and grumbles audibly the whole time. You can almost hear him saying, “Bah. Humbug.”
He always knows the “right” answer and thinks “discussions” are him expressing his opinion, followed by everyone else acting instantly on his plan. He’s an expert at harassment, bullying and abuse of power. If he’s entrenched in the organization, he’ll even criticize his boss publicly.
This curmudgeon’s actually pleased he has a reputation as a no-nonsense guy. When employees leave his department, he’s sure they couldn’t stand his high standards, weren’t willing to work hard enough or didn’t have the brains to keep up with him.
The most devastating effect of allowing such bullies to stay is that your actual culture – not the politically correct statements you’ve posted on wall plaques – is exposed. Around these cranky, negative, toxic people, performance decreases and behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated. Also, creativity is destroyed, morale plummets and turnover increases around him. That may convince you to make a thoughtful decision about removing him.
Many experts tell you to get rid of the curmudgeon right away; it’s the people-oriented, moral thing to do.
Dealing with “special cases”
I have a somewhat different view. In some fields and with some tasks, you may decide to accept the behavior because he’s unique and successful. Typically, those are the fields in which genius counts. Some examples are: the arts and theatre, surgeons, researchers, inventors, programmers, architects and athletes. Or a special case may be the owner’s mother or children.
If you want to retain other valuable managers and maintain a respectful culture for the rest of the organization, make clear to everyone, including the curmudgeon, your reasons for keeping him, the behavioral lines he can’t cross and your plans to minimize brain damage to the rest of the staff. Otherwise you’ll simply allow him to victimize everyone.
As his boss, you’ll have to micromanage him. The words “communicate better” don’t have any meaning to him. He thinks he’s communicating just fine and doesn’t know or value any other way. Use behaviorally specific cue cards, “Say this. Do that.”
Peers will often put up with a curmudgeon because they can minimize contact and laugh behind his back.
But if he’s your boss, decide whether to put up with his behavior cheerfully, try to get upper management to change the behavior, transfer or retire. Don’t endure behavior you can’t live with cheerfully. Life is too short.
Sarah has been best friends with Heather for years, but she’s finally realized how much Heather has taken over her life and poisoned it.
Sarah feels like Heather has been a toxic polluter in her environment, but she’s afraid that if:
She didn’t have Heather, she’d be all alone.
She said goodbye to Heather, Heather would get angry and retaliate with their friends and to Sarah’s family.
What should Sarah do?
Heather has been a sounding board for all Sarah’s decisions. Heather always knows what Sarah should do to straighten her life out. Sarah never married because Heather found faults with every guy that Sarah was interested in. Sarah stopped dieting because Heather told her she’d look bad if she was thin.
Sarah doesn’t have much time for herself since she has to be on-call in case Heather needs her. Heather often has urgent requests for Sarah to do her chores or to meet her. Sarah’s afraid to disappoint Heather because Heather gets so hurt and makes Sarah pay.
Within their circle of friends, Heather always takes center stage and even steals Sarah’s ideas. Heather doesn’t allow Sarah to be with the others unless Heather is there. Heather says it wouldn’t be kind, respectful or loving for Sarah to do things behind her back.
Your inner warning signs – you feel criticized, used, abused, harassed, unsafe, taken advantage of. Your kindness, consideration, compromise, appeasement, apologies and efforts to please them are not rewarded by them doing the same for you. They’re always right; you’re never good enough. You’re afraid of what they’ll do if you displease them.
Their external behavior – Their timing, agenda, feelings, desires, needs and wants matter much more than yours do. If you start talking about your interests or feelings, they’ll rapidly shift the subject to theirs. They can change the plans or be late but you can’t. They say nasty things behind your back and justify what they did because they’re sure they’re right. They make the rules. If they’re angry over the slightest thing, they can retaliate in what ever outrageous, over-the-top way they want. Their reasons are right. It’s your fault and you deserve what you get. They’re nice to you when they want something, but as soon as they get it, they’re mean and nasty or they put you down because you didn’t do it good enough. You apologize but they never do. You have 100% of the responsibility to heal any misunderstandings.
Make a list of behaviors that friends do.
When Sarah made the list, she saw that Heather didn’t do these actions. Since Heather didn’t, then whatever she calls herself or however Sarah thought about her, she’s not really a true friend. In order to summon the strength, dedication and courage needed to stop bullies, we must see clearly how things really are and also name them accurately.
Can you say goodbye just because you want to or do you need to be able to prove to them that they’re toxic?
You don’t need an outside expert or a survey in order to decide how toxic your friend is (say, on a scale of 1 to 10) in order to give yourself permission to say goodbye to a toxic friend. You don’t need them to agree that they’re toxic. If your toxic friend doesn’t get it and change their behavior, you can act on your own – just because you want to. It’s important for you to use your own power to keep your personal environment free from toxic polluters. Just because you want to is more than enough reason to do what you want. In order to stop bullying and abuse by toxic people you’ve known for a long time, simply say, “No, that’s enough.”
What can you do if your toxic friend threatens to ruin you?
They might tell your secrets or cut you down to everyone you know, including your family. Of course it can be difficult. But if you don’t say goodbye now, you’ll just prolong your pain indefinitely, maybe for the rest of your life.
If you don’t resist, you’re training that toxic person to do worse to you whenever they want. Narcissistic control freaks and boundary pushers are relentless predators. The only way they’ll stop is when they’re stopped or removed from the environment.
Inefficient technology and operational systems can suck the energy out of a company. Bottomless-pit projects are interminable, yielding few benefits from more effort thrown at them. They’re the subjects of fruitless, time-wasting meetings.
But fixing them is child’s play compared to stopping the human “vampires” who suck the energy out of those around them at work. Unfortunately these narcissistic, bullying energy vampires are all too common. If you ignore them, they’ll destroy productivity and morale.
Here are a few examples to be on the watch for in your workplace:
Honest self-evaluation and course correction are key traits of great leaders, managers and employees.
For example, suppose you complain that almost everyone in your department or organization is turned off and tuned out. Are they all just a bunch of self-indulgent, narcissistic, lazy slackers or a rotten generation – or have you failed somehow?
Should we confront our toxic parents or not? Well, it all depends on us, them and the situation? But here are some guidelines we can use to decide what we want to do.
And what’s the “right time, place and way?”
Don’t use the word “confront” on ourselves. It’s a dirty word that bullies use to get us not to protect ourselves and not to set our boundaries. Bullies demand infinite forgiveness and unconditional love – but from us only; not from themselves. We must “protect ourselves” and we must “set our boundaries.” That’s a much better way of saying it. Notice how “protecting ourselves” and “setting our boundaries” are good and necessary actions. And if toxic, bullying, abusive parents keep trampling our boundaries, we have to ask ourselves, “Why are we with such jerks and control-freaks? Why are we presenting our throats to vampires? Why are we still letting hyenas feast on us? Why do we let sick people vomit on our feet? Why do we allow them in our space? Why are we in theirs?” Protecting ourselves is a more important value than not hurting the feelings of toxic people or not getting them upset or not making a scene or not upsetting the family.
Do we hope that “protecting ourselves” will change relentless bullies? Maybe when we’re young and they’ve just started, we might hope that standing firm and saying, “No! Stop! Sit! Stay!” will change them. Or maybe we might have succeeded by hitting them with a rolled up newspaper or biting them on the lip to show them who’s the alpha dog. But toxic parents have been mean, nasty, vicious predators for as long as we’ve been alive. A little kid really can’t resist them or change them. So by the time we’re middle-aged and they’ve been hurting and bullying us for over 40 years, we can release the hope that we’ll change them. I’ve seen toxic parents remain bullies even after near death experiences or being cut off from their grandchildren, although those two circumstances are the only ones I’ve seen effective in the rare cases of toxic parents who have changed. Standing up for ourselves probably won’t change them. But we can give it one more shot if we want to.
Do we hope that we’ll feel better or more powerful after we stand up for ourselves? We may and those are great reasons for defending ourselves and enforcing consequences. Words are not consequences; words without consequences is begging. Only actions are consequences. Take power. Don’t wait for jackals to empower you.
Will we speak up in private or public? We usually think of saying things in private the first time someone bullies us. But after a private talk, relentless bullies will think they can ignore us since we’re defending ourselves in private and they’re attacking us in public. Therefore, we have to speak out in public. Don’t let a lie or an attack or a put-down or sarcastic criticism pass unchallenged. We can protect ourselves in the moment, in public by saying, “That’s not true. That’s a lie. You’re still a bully and I won’t put up with bullying any more.” Don’t debate or argue whose perception is correct. We stick with our opinion; we’re the expert on us. Make them leave or don’t stay with they if they don’t change.
Might protecting ourselves change the family dynamics? Too many families hide the truth and live on lies. Too many families protect bullies and perpetrators because “That’s just the way they are” or “We have to put up with abuse because it’s family.” No. We don’t repay a debt to toxic parents by being their scapegoats or whipping posts because they once gave us food along with abuse. Don’t collude with these crimes. Speaking out can change the dynamics. Test everyone else. We’ll find out who wants to be friends with us and who wants to repress us – for whatever reasons. We’ll find out who we enjoy being with and who we won’t waste precious time with.
Will protecting ourselves set a good example for our children? Yes. And it’s crucial for us to set great examples. Be a model! Don’t sacrifice our children on some altar of “family.” Protecting children is more important than any benefit they might get from being with toxic grandparents.
What’s the “right time” to speak up? If we hope to change toxic parents, the “right time” and the “right way” can be considerations. But for any other reason, the time to speak up is always “NOW” and the place is always “HERE.”
Should we talk to our parents in a safe environment with our therapists present?The first step in stopping bullies is connecting with our inner strength, courage and determination. We are the safe place in any situation! We’re adults now. So what if they attack us one more time. Don’t be defeated. Look at them as predators or jerks and score them “failed.” We’ll feel much stronger if we say what we have to say firmly and then be strong and apply our consequences when they attack us. If people aren’t nice, don’t waste time on them.
Notice that all these considerations are about us and our judgment, not about the right way to convert toxic parents. It is about us and the personal space we want to create and what behaviors and people we’ll let in.
How can we still relate to the nice people in the family?
I think that we can only relate to those who want to have a wonderful relationship totally separate from the toxic parents. That is, we’ll talk to the nice and fun ones, text them and see them on our own without our toxic parents being part of that. Is that sneaky? No. That’s just cleaning up our homes and sweeping out the crud. And not allowing it back in. Tell the good relatives what’s going on and see if they want to have fun with us.
We must ask ourselves, “Are we doing all the work of self-analysis, apologizing, appeasing, communicating and being perfect? Are we wasting our time trying to turn hyenas into vegetarians?” If we don’t defend ourselves in public when hyenas attack, we’ll only encourage them to go after us more.
I was at a wedding and a funeral last week. Really; not a movie. And the people were fine.
But I was reminded of all the times I’ve been at big family events when some selfish, narcissistic, abusive, controlling, bullying family member demanded that they get their way or they’d make a scene, make everyone miserable and ruin either the celebration festivities or the solemnity. They knew what was best and we’d better do it.
Think of the relatives at all the special occasions – weddings, funerals, births, vacations and holidays. The relatives who get drunk and insist they be allowed to ruin the event; the arrogant jerks who think they own all the attention and air in the place; the nasty, greedy; jealous, vicious-tongued vindictive; the narcissistic, smug, righteous know-it-alls.
Think of the people who take over all the events because they want to. Whatever supposedly logical reasons, excuses and justifications they offer each time, I notice the pattern.
Even though they’re not the important person at the event, they always have to get their way or else. They’re not the bride or groom, they’re not giving birth, they’re not graduating, they’re not getting baptized, confirmed or bar mitzvah-ed; they’re not the host or planner; they’re not the person dying. They’re not even the turkey on the table, although I sometimes entertain fantasies of having a sharp carving knife in my hand.
Did I cover all the bases of your experience also or do you have a few other ones?
These bullies always think they’re right. And they’re willing to argue and fight longer, harder and louder to get their way, than anyone else, especially over what we think is trivial and a waste of time. And they let you know that they’ll retaliate and make us regret resisting them for the rest of our lives. They’ll bad-mouth, criticize and put us down in front of everyone forever. And the scene is our fault, not theirs. They want us the walk on egg shells around them.
So what can we do?
Typically, we find reasons to turn the other cheek. We try to rise above, ignore, look away, appease, understand, excuse because that’s just the way they are or tolerate them for the duration of the event. Typically we give them what they want because we don’t want to be judgmental or we’re too polite to make a scene or we think that if we follow the Golden Rule, they’ll be nice in return. I think that tactic is good to try but only once. Anyone can have one bad day and try to feel better by taking control. But real bullies and boundary pushers simply take our giving them their way as permission to act more demanding. As if they think they’re powerful and everyone is too weak to resist them. Like sharks to bloody prey, they go for more. And it’s always the people who can’t or won’t protect themselves – the weaker, younger, more polite, more bereft ones – who suffer the most when we leave them unprotected.
Instead, be a witness, not a bystander. Recognize that we’re being bullied and abused. Be willing to get out of our comfort zones to take care of the important people. The first time the person bullies, we can take them aside and tell them privately, in very polite and firm words, to “shut up.” But these control-freaks have demanded their ways for years so we know what’s going to happen. Ignore their specific reasons, excuses and justifications. Typically, we give them power because we fell sorry for them, we’re too polite to make a scene and, after all, they’re family. We give them power because they’re more willing to make a scene and act hurt and angry, and walk away. We give them power because they’re willing to destroy the family if they don’t get their way, but we’re not. Take back our power. Be willing to make a scene; to disagree, threaten or throw someone out. Find allies beforehand and stand shoulder to shoulder. We may not change their behavior, but that’s the only way we have a chance of enjoying the events.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During the typical arguing and fighting leading up to deciding to divorce and during the divorce process itself, what should and shouldn’t you tell the kids? When you think there’s still a chance to salvage the marriage, should you tell them nothing is wrong so they don’t worry? Should you re-assure them that you and your spouse will be together forever? In a nasty divorce, should you tell them what a rat your soon-to-be ex-spouse really is? How can you protect the kids from being scarred and totally messed up later?
Whatever you decide, you must deal with each child and situation as unique and design your answer to deal with each child’s questions in an age appropriate way. And keep adjusting as they grow older.
Think of the process as your needing to peel layers off the children’s concerns. One concern will lead to another or maybe you’ll return to a previous one. Saying something one time will not be enough. You’ll have to return to some issues, depending on the individual, many times. But don’t make a problem where the child isn’t.
If it’s an ugly situation, don’t pretend that your ex is perfect. Be truthful and distinguish between what behavior the kids can count on and what’s just your opinion. Always ask them to check things out for themselves; like little scientists. Help them think of reasonable tests; who keeps promises, who’s on time, who are they afraid of, who can they rely on, who blames, shames and guilt-trips?
Some guidelines, not rigid rules:
Don’t allow the “Big Lie.” When the children sense that there’s frustration and tension that sometimes boils over into anger, bullying, abuse or violence don’t deny their kid-radar. Don’t tell them everything’s fine and that they’re wrong. The most important verification they need is that they’re sensing and seeing reality. They must know that there is trouble and that they can sense it. For example, “Yes, you’re very smart, you can sense what’s going on and your radar is accurate. That skill will help you the rest of your life. Sometimes, I don’t tell you what’s happening or why, because I want to keep it private or maybe you’re too young to understand yet or I don’t want to upset you unduly. But I want you to ask me if you worry about anything.”
The most important assurance they need is that they can be fine. For example, “I know this can be scary and hard and you’ll have lots of questions. Over time, I’ll answer them as best I can as we work out our new living arrangements. But the most important thing is that you dedicate yourselves to having great lives. Never let anything get in the way of that. No matter how scared or upset you might get, overcome it. Make sure that you’ll look back on this tough time as just a speed bump in your lives. Make sure that you’re not bothered much by it. Your parents’ fights have nothing to do with you. You’re not the cause of them. You’re fine. We just don’t get along. Your job is to grow up and get independent and find someone you will get along with. And that this tough time isn’t a big deal in your life.”
Help them overcome uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety, fear and panic. Assure them that you’ll always care for them and take care of them, in whatever way you can. For example, “We’ll figure out how to be together and be safe and have good times. I’ll always see that you have the things and the opportunities you really need. It’s always hard when we’re in a transition or in limbo waiting to see what will happen and you don’t have control. Your job is to focus on what’s most important for you right now and that’s not the emotional turmoil you’re living in. The turmoil isn’t your doing. Your job is to take charge of what you have control over; your moods and attitudes and efforts, which means school. Make this turmoil as small and colorless in your life as you can. Don’t step into it; stay outside of it. This is good training for you in mental and emotional-control. These are the number one skills you need to learn in order to be successful later in life.”
Help them deal with mean, nasty kids who taunt, harass or cut them out. For example, begin with developing their inner strength, “Not having as much money as we did or having some other kids act mean because your parents are divorcing is not really important. You can be invulnerable. You may feel like you need to be liked or be friends with those kids now, but when you’re out of school, with 70 years of life ahead of you, you won’t care what those kids think. You won’t want to be friends with those kids. More important, you’ll see that they’re acting like jerks and you’ll decide never to care what jerks think. You’ll have the freedom to go anywhere and be with anyone so, of course, you’ll choose to be with people who love and like you, appreciate and respect you, and who treat you better.” Follow up by making sure the school principal stops this bullying.
Some other questions they might have are: Are all marriages doomed, will I choose the wrong person just like you did, will we kids be split up, can I stay at the same school, will my other parent move far away so I never see them again, whose fault is it, do I have to take sides, will I still have grandparents, will I still get birthday and Christmas presents, can I use guilt or my temper tantrums to manipulate you, will I still have to brush my teeth? Don’t give into them or give them everything they want because you feel guilty, want them to like you more or think their lives are too hard.
Don’t use your kids as your best friends, confidants or therapists. Don’t use them to comfort yourself or as pawns in a vicious struggle. They’re your kids; they’re not adults or lovers. Take your emotional pain and baggage somewhere else. You have to be a responsible adult, no matter how difficult that is. If you can’t, you should consider making safer arrangements for them. For example, “This is too painful for me to talk about. Sometimes I get tired and stressed out, and I blow up or lose it. I don’t mean to. When I’m like that, don’t take anything I say seriously. Suggest that I need a time out. Your job, children, is to look away and focus on your own tasks so you can have great lives as you grow up. No matter how hard it is, you have to focus on school and getting skills so you can take care of yourselves when you’re adults. That’s what’s important. Your future is what’s most important to me.”
The big message is about the wonderful future they can have. The big message is that they can/should/must decide to let this roll off their backs. Even though it’s happening to them, they can be resilient. They can move beyond it and create wonderful lives for themselves.
We adults make a mistake if we worry that when bad things happen, the children are automatically guaranteed to have huge problems later in life. Looking at them as too fragile and helpless to resist the effects of a difficulty, divorce or trauma is like giving them a terrible thought virus. It’s easy for them to catch that virus.
Actually, our responsibility is to protect them from that too common virus. For example, they might tend to worry that since a classmate is so traumatized because their parents are divorcing they’ll be messed up also. You might say, “No. You’re strong and wise and brave and you have me to keep reminding you that you’ll be fine. Stop bullying yourself. Take power over yourself. So choose to be fine; dedicate and discipline yourself. Choose to be successful, no matter what. That’s my wish for you.”
Tell them stories about ancestors or great people who overcame the same or even worse situations in childhood. For example, “Don’t be victims of what happens to you. Be one of the ‘Invulnerables.’ Did you know that a study of 400 great people born in the 19th and early 20th centuries found that most of these people had absolutely horrible childhoods? Yet they were not destroyed by what had happened; they were invulnerable. They became much stronger. They had great lives – including wonderful marriages. You too, my beloved children, can choose that path for yourselves. Please do.”
Don’t waste your time with nit-picky detractors and critics who have nothing better to offer. Some people will say that they can only do this because Most Precious Blood is a private school or that the program takes too much money or that other school principals and staff don’t have the time. Nonsense.
In a new interview and article, Theresa Marchetta, Investigative Reporter for Denver ABC-TV station, KMGH-TV reports on the steps you need to take to protect your children from becoming victims of bullies and of principals and district administrators who won’t stop taunting, teasing, harassment, bullying and abuse.
Of course, if your wonderful principal protects your children, your two tasks are still to:
“Request a meeting with the school principal…I expect that principal to meet with you the next day, the day after -- that fast.”
“To prepare for that meeting, parents must bring any evidence of the bullying including hate notes, e-mails, texts, pictures and any details of the child’s story.”
If you cannot stay calm, bring someone who can. “If you're not calm you'll be targeted as the angry parent throwing a fit.”
“Does the bullying stop? I'll give them a week or a day depending on how bad it is…My tests are, is the bully separated to another part of the room or is the bully allowed access to my child? Is my child the one who is kicked out of class or is my child protected?...If your child, the victim, is the one having to make changes, that is a red flag.”
If the situation is not resolved quickly, take the case directly to the district superintendent and the school board.”
Theresa Marchetta, Investigative Reporter for Denver ABC-TV station, KMGH-TV reports in an article and video on a two more incidents in different Denver area schools in which principals made the bullied girls (aged 7 and 12) do all the changing while nothing happened to the bullies. They were clear cases of, “Blame the victim, avoid the bully.”
This, parents’ say, despite the clear policies the school districts involved already have to protect their kids
Of course, that means that principals must be willing to stop difficult children and often resist their bullying fathers and mothers who threaten to sue the principal and school district administrators. Principals know where bullying kids learned to bully.
Colorado Senate is currently considering a bill to start fighting bullying. According to District 30 House Representative Kevin Priola, “School should be a safe place where kids can go and excel and learn to do reading, writing and math and not have to worry about fear of intimidation.”
Wheat Ridge Rep. Sue Schafer said, “Most importantly, there is research showing that when there is a high level of safety, the CSAP scores go up. Conversely, low safety, CSAP scores go down. This bill is going to raise the awareness of our school boards and our administrators that this has become a serious problem and our bill asks or encourages every school district to do a climate survey.”
The bill doesn’t go far enough or fast enough for the parents of the two girls, who need effective action from their principals right now.
Theresa Marchetta, Investigative Reporter for Denver ABC-TV station, KMGH-TV reports on the response of the principal of Roxborough Intermediate School, Douglas County, Colorado to a serious case of bullying.
“Irene Rockwell reports that her 6th grade daughter, who had been a peer mentor, choir member, A+ student and student body representative, was made to sit in the hallway so she could hear the lessons while the bully was allowed to remain in the classroom.”
“That was four months ago and until the investigative broadcast, nothing was done to remove the bully from school even though there were many further incidents.”
“The Rockwells said they were in constant contact with Ashley’s teacher, school principal Rick Kendall and other school officials, as the bullying continued. Yet all along, the Rockwells said Kendall allowed the bully to remain in the same class with Ashley.”
"[Ashley] was sitting outside her class for almost 30 percent of the day hearing instruction because she could not sit in class without being tormented and harassed by this kid," Rockwell said.
“Rockwell read the instructions her daughters received from the school, Ashley and Victoria will sit on the north side of the cafeteria and will sit so she is facing the north wall."
With the showings of “Race to Nowhere,” and the publicity surrounding “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua, many people are excited by the debate about whether kids are being pressured too much to get perfect grades in school and to be perfect in extra-curricular activities. The assumption in these debates is that if we talk and reason enough, if we listen to the kids’ feelings and the parents fears and hopes we’ll figure out just the right balance.
That can be a fun debate if someone else is providing the food and drinks, but I think these are the wrong considerations based on the wrong assumptions.
The corollary of course is what do we, as adults, have that draws us with the same passion and intensity? I hope there’s something and I hope it never ends.
There’s an archetypal story of Teddy Roosevelt (I believe) going to pay homage to Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his 90s, before the great man died. When he enters, he sees Holmes reading Plato. Knowing Holmes age and impending death, Roosevelt asks, “Why are you reading Plato?” Holmes answers, “To improve my mind.”
Another example of the opposite is a person who, at age 45, said she didn’t need to learn anything more in her life. She knew enough to make it the rest of the way. So she kept trudging in her rut the rest of the way. Where’s the excitement and joy in that?
Distinguish between what’s worthy of your life’s energy and what wastes it. Then do it with passion and intensity, with joy and wonder. What could be a better use of your time and energy?
In her article in the New York Times, “Fearless Preschoolers Lack Empathy,” Pamela Paul reports on a study that claims that fearless kids lack empathy and warns that fearless kids are at risk for growing up to be aggressive, bullies and to exhibit “severe antisocial behaviors.” They claim that these 3 and 4 year-olds “Are curious, easygoing and friendly…may be charming, but they’re also highly manipulative and deceptive and skilled at getting their way – even at age 3 or 4.”
Wow. There’s another way-over-the-top study designed to scare parents into beating their children into submission.
I love kids with great engines; kids who are physical, active and fearless, and learn how to manipulate their parents to get what they want.
I also love kids who hold back, test the water one toe at a time and learn to manipulate their parents to get what they want.
The worst thing parents can do is overreact. To correct your child at age 3-4 as if they’re already firmly on the path to having “severe antisocial behaviors” is a good way to increase their self-doubt and destroy their confidence and self-esteem. Intense correction plants a thought virus that there’s something wrong with them; that they carry a bad seed that will destroy them or inevitably make them bad people.
No consequences or legal penalties for school officials who don’t stop bullies or who actively protect bullies or who remove victims from classes and activities while still allowing bullies and their friends complete access to their targets.
If you don’t think that principals and other school officials ignore bullying, then read about the many suicides that have occurred in the past year. In almost every case, the parents say that they talked to principals many times over 6-12 months, but the principals now claim that they didn’t know what was happening. Also, consider why they need a law to “Bar teachers or school administrators from punishing students who report bullying.”
“Jane Urschel, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the bill would not only be burdensome for schools who will have to form and adopt a new bullying policy, but it also asks them to address an issue they are already acutely aware of. This bill would put mandates on districts that they can’t afford. The school districts are not ignoring this issue and want every child to be safe. Schools already have a handle on this.”
“Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, has already said he is skeptical of the need for it. ‘I have a huge problem with legislating personal behavior. Bullying is something that is already addressed by schools as incidents occur. A state law isn’t going to change anything.’”
I’d point out that:
School officials do not have a handle on this. In answer to Ms. Urschel and Representative Ramirez, the problem is that there are no laws that require principals to stop bullies. That’s why there are so many cases in Colorado in which bullying is tolerated, which means condoned. For example, see the investigative report by Theresa Marchetta of KMGH-TV (ABC affiliate in Colorado). Without laws, principals can do nothing to stop bullies and be safe from personal consequences. In addition, with no additional funding, many schools in Colorado with principals who want to prevent bullying manage to do so. I live in Colorado and have grandchildren in some of those schools.
When there are no laws or there are no penalties for breaking laws, people do what they want with impunity. Can you imagine how effective laws against robbery and murder would be if there were no penalties? How effective would child labor laws or laws to prevent unsafe working conditions be with no penalties?
We know what will change the whole system. It’s not suicides. It’s when principals, teachers, counselors and school district administrators are fired for not protecting our children. It’s when law suits are successful against officials who are being paid to be responsible for protecting children but fail in that primary duty. Suddenly, all the excuses and foot dragging will be gone. A few principals will quit and I’ll applaud. The rest will magically discover reasons why and how they can make programs that stop bullying. In other contexts it’s called “skin in the game.” Right now, school officials don’t have any skin in the game.
I’d think that Ms. Urschel and Representative Ramirez were actually interested in stopping bullying if they came forward with strong, realistic, effective proposals of their own, complete with penalties, instead of merely being critics.
If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials who aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge. With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right. We can plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.
Do we have to decide that a bully is bad, evil and unredeemable in order to stop them or get them out of our lives? Do we have to be judgmental in order to act – to kick someone out of school, to divorce someone, to sever a relationship, to put someone in prison?
Many people think they’d have to be much too judgmental and punitive in order to act. After all, we don’t know the heart of someone since we can’t really walk in their shoes, and we don’t know who can be transformed or redeemed.
But is that way of looking at bullies true or useful?
I think that those are the wrong questions. They’re not questions that will help us; instead they get us into unanswerable philosophic discussions.
I think more useful questions are: “What actions from whom are we willing to have in our environment? What are we willing to do to remove people who act in ways that are painful, demeaning, denigrating, abusive and bullying?”
If or when bullies change their behavior, we can decide how many times we have to see them act decently or over how long a span before we give them more chances to get close. Or maybe, we’ll never let them get close again.
We’re not required to share time and space with anyone now, no matter what our previous relationship was or how much they want to see us now. Their desire to date us doesn’t alter our freedom to say, “Not interested. Go be happy somewhere else.”
We don’t have to have good, logical reasons. We don’t have to figure out what the “Right” action is. We don’t have to justify our decisions. We can just be with the people we feel like because we want to.
It’s not a judgment about them; it’s about how compatible we feel or the dangers and risks we want to take or just because “We wanna or we don’t wanna.” And we get total control over these choices because it’s about us; not them. There are no outside rules or social codes that force us to do what we’re not comfortable with.
So keep it simple. No great philosophical questions; no questions about character, identity or future possibilities, no questions about good or evil, no questions about future possibilities of redemption: only questions about the behavior we want in our personal environment or the behavior we won’t tolerate.
With expert coaching and consulting, we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying. We can overcome childhood rules and simply take charge of our personal choices. We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being coerced by bullies into doing what we don’t want. We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.
“How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults getting over their early training and creating the environment and life they want. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).
In her New York Times article, “Web of Popularity Achieved by Bullying,” Tara Parker-Pope describes increased bullying used by social climbers trying to become popular. As they near the top, these climbers increase harassment, bullying and abuse, especially cyber bullying, in order to increase their popularity by crushing those slightly above and below them. The studies claim that at the uppermost levels of the “in crowd,” bullying between peers decreases. Of course, everyone feeds on the little fishes when they want.
According to the study, it’s all about increasing social networks and status.
With expert coaching and consulting, we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying. We can overcome childhood rules and simply take charge of our personal choices. We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being coerced by bullies into doing what we don’t want. We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.
“How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” have many examples of kids and adults getting over their early training and creating the environment and life they want. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).
Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family. They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us. They count on our self-bullying and guilt. They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval... They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad. And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune.
Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.” They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
“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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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).
I learned by personal and professional experience that unconditional love doesn’t stop real-world bullies. But others learned the same lesson over 2,500 years ago.
Of course, we all have those bad days when everything seems to go wrong and we’re so grumpy that we take it out on the dog or anyone we meet. But with people like us, a yelp of pain, a kind word, a straightforward appeal, an expression of empathy or sympathy will bring us to our senses. We’ll be genuinely contrite, make amends and not repeat the behavior again. But, of course, we’re not relentless, real-world bullies. We just had a bad day.
In fact, they take our love and kindness as signs of weakness and an invitation to increase their bullying. Here are two ancient examples:
In “The Analects,” 14-34, Confucius says: “Requite injury with uprightness. Requite kindness with kindness.”
The “Mahabharata” says, “If you are gentle, [bullies] will think you are afraid. They will never be able to understand the motives that prompt you to be gentle. They will think you are weak and unwilling to resist them.”
In other words: If you turn the other cheek to bullies, expect that bullies will misinterpret your moral high ground for weakness and be encouraged to taunt, harass, abuse and attack you more. If you’re willing to have your cheek slapped, then turn the other cheek. Or if you think that another part of your anatomy is meant by the saying, be prepared to have your cheek bitted by a jackal.
But don’t believe me or the ancient wisdom. What’s your experience?
Suppose you classify into two groups:
Those who responded to your kindness and love with kind and loving behavior.
Suppose you label the first group “people who act nice to me when we act nice to each other” and suppose you ignore the reasons, excuses and justifications of people in the second group and simply label them as “bullies” or “predators.” Would that give you a better idea about how to respond effectively and successfully to their behavior?
And what’s your take on history? Suppose you did the same classification to famous historical figures. Suppose you though if, for instance, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, General Custer, Cortez, Pizarro, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, the Inquisition and thousands more would have had their lust for power satisfied, and stopped their brutality and conquest if they were faced with kindness, appeasement, begging, bribery or love?
Oh, I forgot to mention all of the martyrs of every religion, race, color, creed, ethnic group or gender. And how about those wildebeests crossing that crocodile infested river? Or a limping zebra being watched by lions and hyenas?
So what can you do?
Don’t be anxious, afraid, discouraged, depressed or suicidal. Don’t be angry at the way the world is.
With expert coaching and consulting, we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying. We can overcome childhood rules that aren’t appropriate to our desire to thrive in the real-world.
We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being targeted by bullies and to stop bullies in their tracks. We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.