Most self-help literature focuses on the last step of a sequence – on how to do something better.  That’s why self-help books and workshops have titles such as “How to …” or “Best practices for …” Knowing what to do and how to do it better are important.  But that’s usually not the problem.

To read the rest of this article from the East Bay Business Times, see: ‘How-to’ methods often miss out on crucial step http://www.bizjournals.com/eastbay/stories/2005/07/18/smallb5.html

More often, the problem is the prior two steps before developing the skill: Developing the will to do something and then actually doing it.

I divide developing the will into two areas:

  • The mindset – Developing effective attitudes and beliefs to get started, and developing the will to treat all excuses and obstacles as just speed bumps.
  • The “heartset” – It means two things: Developing the determination, grit and tenacity to stick with it; and using the same emotional power we’ve utilized when we’ve relentlessly pursued something we’ve wanted, no matter how discouraging the voices, difficulties or obstacles.

The “how-to” steps for learning or improving skills usually are straightforward.  People often already know what to do before they read self-help books.

For example, learning to strike up a conversation with a stranger at a conference is a big fear for many people.  The how-to steps are well known: see the whole article for description.

Many people already know these steps – but just won’t put them into practice.  So they must develop their mindset and heartset in order to implement a potentially effective plan.

Most people have a litany of excuses for why they simply can’t get started or persevere.  Some of the most frequent excuses are: see the whole article for description.

People with these excuses aren’t stuck because of a lack of skill.  They haven’t gotten to the point of improving skills yet.  The real problem is that they’re stuck with poor mindsets and ineffective heartsets – stuck in past failures, being hypercritical of themselves, needing to be right, or feeling that each moment is life and death.  Sum that up as fear, perfectionism, laziness or inertia – real or imagined.

Particularly for managers, the proper mindset and heartset are crucial to overcoming poor time management, negating the fear of giving honest evaluations and not being overwhelmed by too much pressure.  Appropriate mindset and heartset are crucial in areas that can’t be squeezed into a how-to method any fool can follow – like leadership.

Appropriate mindsets and heartsets also are critical for people who want to lose weight and stay in shape.  Most people know exactly what they need to do: Eat less, eat better, work out.  But they have many good reasons why it’s too difficult.

Coaches can help you learn these skills and make you accountable for taking certain actions.  A good coach can also help you get past the mindsets and emotional blocks that have inhibited your resolve and perseverance.

Focus on the step that’s been an obstacle for you, and focus people you manage on the crucial step for them.  Until you develop appropriate and effective mindsets and heartsets, the how-to training won’t be effective.

To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

You’ve heard it a hundred times, “A great manager can motivate anyone.” Hogwash.

The fact is some slackers simply don’t care and are beyond motivation.  And it’s a waste of your limited time and energy to keep trying.  If you’re sick and tired and stressed out because you’ve accepted responsibility for motivating slackers, prepare for the inevitable effects of continued frustration and emotional pain.  You’ll be exhausted, burn out and get physically ill.

Unfortunately, managers often find themselves pressured to motivate everyone.  And both they and their bosses may see these managers as failures when they can’t pull it off.  It’s time to give them a break.

To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Louisville, see: Don’t stress out trying to motivate slackers http://www.bizjournals.com/louisville/stories/2007/05/28/editorial3.html

Many slackers are like teenagers who don’t want to take out the trash or clean their rooms.  They pretend they’re not responsible or don’t know how.  They act as if there’s a debate going on between them and their managers, and they don’t have to do the work unless they like the bribe.  Slackers are sneaky, manipulative bullies.

Motivating your employees is an important part of being a good manger.  It’s also important to recognize the ones who can’t be motivated, so you don’t waste time trying to do the undoable.

If they’re not performing, let them know immediately and link consequences and rewards to performanceYou can’t make them happy enough to work hardIf they don’t respond to praise or fear with increased productivity, let them look for a job where they’ll be appreciated for slacking.  Or, maybe, a termination will change their slacker attitude.

You’re not looking for people who require constant motivation and micromanagement.  You’re looking for people who come to you inspired and eager to face challenges, who take responsibility and who succeed.

Keeping a slacker forces good performers to pick up that slack.  You’re simply spreading the stress around so you don’t have to bear the whole burden.  That’s a poor reward for a good performer.  It’s as if you’re saying, “I can count on you so I’m going to give you a bonus of extra work.  We’re going to continue paying that underperforming slacker while you carry their slack in addition to the two jobs you already do.”

The most dismal cases are in organizations that promote slackers to management or allow slacking managers to stay.  That spreads slacking over a wider territory.

In the real world it’s everyone’s job, including a president or CEO, to motivate his supervisors that he’s worth keeping.  Why should it be up to your managers to motivate the slackers on your payroll?  Slackers should be working hard to motivate you to keep them.

Slackers create the same symptoms.  Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

Don’t waste your valuable people time on slackers.  You won’t make things better being a peacemakerBegging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, endless ‘second chances,’ unconditional love and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  Stop emotional bullies and stop bullying.

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

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

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

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

The first step is always inner change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A typical tactic of sneaky, manipulative bullies is to convince their well-meaning targets to try to make the bullies happy.  Although covert bullies and control-freaks aren’t usually so clear, straightforward and blunt about it, what they say is, “You’ve made me unhappy.  It’s your fault that I’m upset, angry, violent and abusive.  If you only acted the way I want, I’d be happy and nice.  It’s your responsibility to make me happy.” Common examples of this tactic are:

Common examples of this tactic are:

  • An abusive spouse yells, controls and beats his partner. Then he blames his loss of self-control and self-discipline on the target.  “If you did what I wanted, I’d be nice.  You brought it on yourself.  It’s your fault I treat you so badly.”  See the case study of Grace in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up.”
  • A covert bully in the workplace will get hysterical and claim to have low morale until you give her everything she wants in order to calm her down and raise her morale. You’ll have to keep the goodies coming because she’ll never trust you; every day you’ll have to convince her anew by doing what she wants. An overt bully at work will use the same approach as an abusive spouse for outrageous acts of bullying, abuse and violence.
  • Facing the temper tantrums of two year-olds, you’re teaching them how to get what they want from you; by being nice or by being nasty.  You’re also training them how to feel when they don’t get what they want.  They learn whether it’s okay to fight you as if not getting what they want is the end of the world or if they have to develop more self-discipline and control.  Once you’re defeated by a two year-olds’ temper tantrums, you’ll have to do what they want forever, or else.  The best way to create a spoiled brat is to accept the task of providing for their happiness.  The worst consequence of your giving in is that they’ll grow up convinced that they can’t be happy unless they’re catered to.
  • Using surly, grumpy, demanding, entitled behavior, teenagers can manipulate or browbeat their parents. Teens will claim that if they fail in life, it’ll be your fault because you didn’t give them enough.  Or they’ll threaten to hurt themselves or damage the house if you upset them.  However, your job is to turn the responsibility around.  You might give them things if they make you like it, not if they try to beat you into giving them what they want.  See the case study of Paula in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

In all these situations, sneaky, manipulative, covert, stealthy bullies try to get what they want by using emotional blackmail and name-calling.  For example, if you don’t give them what they want, “You’re insensitive, selfish and uncaring” or “You’re not a nice person” or “You don’t understand how I feel, what I’ve lived through or how hard it is for me” or “You wouldn’t want me to repress what I feel.  I don’t have any control over what I feel.”

Their hidden assumption is that other people (you) are responsible for their attitudes, moods and happiness.  They have no control over how they feel about getting or not getting what they want.  Also, they have no control over how they act when they’re upset.  And, therefore, your job is to make them happy.

I disagree with all those assumptions.  Also, if you accept the guilt, blame and responsibility, you’ll be a victim for life.

The negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage.  Looking at yourself with their hostile eyes and talking to yourself with their 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 go there.

Their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate.  If you accept the responsibility to please them in order to get them to treat you decently, you’ll give them what they want and all they have to do to keep you giving is never to be satisfied.  Since you’re responsible for their feelings and actions, there will always be more things you have to do to please them.

Don’t let them destroy your inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience.  Don’t go down the path to being a victim for life.  Don’t let them destroy your self-confidence and self-esteem.  Don’t let them stimulate your anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  Don’t let them push you toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Instead, break the game.  Don’t accept the responsibility for their feelings and actions.  You don’t have to be perfect before they have to change how they act.  Give the responsibility back to them.

For example, you can say, “I’m not responsible for how you feel and act.  You are.  I don’t have to make you happy.  You can choose how you feel and what you do, no matter what’s happening.  I’m going to focus only on behavior and decide whether to keep you around based only on your actions.  Your reasons, excuses and justifications won’t count.”

And then you have to make the consequences count.

If a stealthy, manipulative bully says, “You’re being selfish,” you can respond with, “Thanks for noticing.” And you keep doing what you were doing.

The tactics they use tell you how close you want people to be; how close you want to let them come to your wonderful, peaceful, joyous island.

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

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” has many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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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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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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Which professions, in their teaching schools and in their on-the-job practices, foster or tolerate the worst and most flagrant forms of bullying?  I don’t know, but teaching is right up there with doctors and lawyers and others I may be overlooking. I see two kinds of principals running two very different kinds of public schools.

The smaller percent won’t tolerate bullying among the students, won’t tolerate bullying of the students by teachers and also won’t tolerate bullying of teachers by other teachers.  These principals and teachers are a pleasure to work with.  We can design policies and proactive programs to keep students and teachers safe and focused on teaching.  These people say, “We don’t tolerate bullying here.”

Unfortunately, the larger percent of principals and teachers tolerate or ignore bullying on the part of students and the faculty.  Even if they have anti-bullying policies, they don’t have effective programs and they won’t stand up to bullies – students or teachers.  They’re usually the schools at which principals and even counselors will look me in the eye and say, as if they believe it, “We have no bullying here,” – even though teachers and students know who the bullies are and where, when and how the bullying occurs, and they’ve complained publically about bullying, and even after there have been suicides.

By the way, not only public schools, but also colleges, universities and professional, post-graduate training schools (teacher training, medical schools, and law schools) are hotbeds of faculty harassing and bullying students, and faculty bullying other faculty.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the law suits and blogs.  Ask the teachers, doctors and lawyers you know personally.  Ask about arrogant, narcissistic, abusive control-freaks. How do teachers bully other teachers?

  • Senior individuals, including principals, have power and control over junior teachers and will misuse that power for personal reasons, including sex.  One variant is, “Suck up to me or I’ll sabotage your career.”  Another is, “I’m powerful and I enjoy making you squirm.”  Or, “They did it to me and now I’ll do it to you.”  And, “It’s for your own good.  It’ll make you stronger.”
  • Often, cliques of senior or even junior teachers try to run the show.  One variant is, “Join our clique and suck up to us or else.”  Another is, “Don’t change my perks or the status quo, and don’t threaten my job.  Don’t expose our failures or dirty laundry even though we’re not changing.  If you do, we’ll get you.”  Their favorite tactics are to ostracize the offender and to blame all the problems on him or her.  These vicious gangs will try to silence or remove offenders for nitpicky, trumped up reasons.

What can you do if you’re managing such an environment?

  • In my experience, successful change starts from the top down.
  • At a college, university or professional school, it takes a very powerful and very politically astute new administrator or new department head to change the environment.  The new person will have to weed through his staff slowly and carefully, replacing the worst bullies and narcissists for legal reasons and in legal ways.  He’ll have to have support because there will be widespread personal attacks and law suits.
  • At a public school, change requires a new principal supported by the district administrators and school boards.  The new principal will have to be a master at enrolling a core group of supportive teachers and the media, and maneuvering around the union.  Entrenched people, like infected splinters, are hard to reach and remove.  But persevering and savvy principals can set a new tone in their schools.

What can you do if you’re a target?

  • Notice the signs.  If you’re ignored, blamed or attacked in public, especially in front of students, you’re being set-up to be the target of a public media campaign as a troublemaker who needs fired for the well-being of the school.  There’s no negotiating with these righteous predators and flying low won’t get them to back off.  You won’t get the union to back you.
  • Hire a good lawyer who knows how to get the right publicity – not the school lawyer.  Being right won’t prevent a smear campaign, full of innuendos and lies, against you.  Learn what to document on your home computer.
  • You’ll probably end up looking for a job in another state with one of the few district administrators who can see the truth and are willing to take a chance on a “potential troublemaker.”

It’s particularly sad when the people who are responsible to guard our children against bullying are bullies themselves.  We each have to fight our own private battle against abuse by people in power or those out of power who want to gain power and control.

Hire an expert coach and read the examples in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

At every presentation for teachers wanting to stop school bullying, I get asked, “Is bullying normal?When I look at child development, I see that we’re born demanding.  We must demand that our parents feed and change us when we want, not merely when they feel like getting around to it, not at their convenience or pleasure.  As babies, the more strong and tough, the more determined and persevering we are, the better our chances of getting what we need. Therefore, drive, determination, will and perseverance are normal. Asserting our needs and fighting for ourselves are normal.  Grit – perseverance, endurance and resolve – is normal.  All these are normal and desirable qualities.

I think of drive, determination, will and grit as part of our engines.  Without strong engines we’ll never get anywhere.  With strong engines, we have a chance of making wonderful lives.

As we grow, our parents are supposed to teach us how to get what we want or need using methods other than bullying or abuse; using peaceful methods that are more considerate of other people.  Indeed, most of us do learn to ask nice and to use the magic words (“please,” “thank you”).

As we grow, our parents are supposed to keep reminding us to think about how little Johnny or Jane feel when we don’t share or when we take their toys or when we whack them physically or verbally.  And eventually, especially when we feel the pain of being harassed, bullied and abused ourselves, we understand how the other person feels when we bully them.  And we stop bullying in order to get what we want.

If these methods are reinforced and rewarded at home – if we see compassion, empathy and negotiation successfully used within our families, successfully used by our families when dealing with outsiders like clerks, cops and strangers, successfully used on the streets by our peers and their parents – we’re likely to learn these techniques.

But we, individually and as a society, do not admire drive, determination, will and grit without limits.  We do not admire barbariansWe don’t want to raise brutes, thugs and bullies who grab whatever they want and crush everyone in the way.

We will not take our freedom by subjugating or enslaving other people.  We do not admire bullies or tyrants.  We know that if we teach only drive, determination, will and grit, if we preach only Darwinian Survival of the Mightiest we are in danger of creating barbarians.

Therefore, it’s also normal in our society for us to learn not to use harassment, threats, bullying and abuse to get what we want. Compassion, concern, caring, empathy and respect are normal in our society; they’re part of our steering wheels.  We, individually and as a society, value these qualities.

Children are born with drive, determination, will and grit; we teach them compassion, concern, caring, empathy and respect.  A car with a strong engine but a lousy steering wheel will take us no where good.  Examples of societies that lack a good steering wheel are obvious; our own failures are glaring.

At the same time, we do not admire compassion, concern, caring and empathy without limits.  People with these qualities, but with no drive, determination, will and grit won’t survive in the real-world.  They’ll be too weak, afraid and dependent.  Typically, they’ll lack confidence and have low self-esteem but have a veneer of self-righteousness, arrogance and entitlement.

We don’t want our children to become adults dependent on handouts from us or a “Big Brother” government.  We don’t want them to become so dependent on comforts, self-indulgence and entitlements that they won’t fight for their national, political or individual liberty.  We certainly don’t want our kids to become weak, wimpy citizens still sponging off us as adults because the world is too harsh, cruel or difficulty for them.

We want bullies to have more compassion, concern, caring, empathy and respect for their targets.

We want our children to have more drive, determination, will, grit and skill so they’ll be strong and smart enough to stop bullies.  And we want the responsible adults to protect them.  We don’t want to subject our children to continued bullying because we’re overwhelmed with sympathy for the bullies who we assume must be bullied at home and on the street.

Personally I want to make sure my children and grandchildren have wonderful engines.  Then I’ll teach good steering wheels.  And I look at each and ask, “What does that person need more of?”

To function most effectively, we need both strong engines and good steering wheels.  We need the cluster of drive, determination, will and grit, and we also need the cluster of compassion, concern, caring, empathy and respect.

There are many examples of children and adults stopping bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”  Or call me for coaching at 877-8BULLIES (877-828-5543).

 

When is guilt bad; when is guilt good?  When is it a normal, healthy emotion and when is it harmful?  Most people try to answer these questions the wrong way.  And they forgot to consider how bullies try to use our guilt to harass and abuse us.  Most people analyze whether the guilt we feel in a particular situation is right, is what we should feel because we’re behaving or behaved badly, is normal because the average person should or would feel guilty for acting the same way. But let’s stand the approach on its head.

Let’s not judge the actions and situation by some external standards of right or wrong.  Instead, let’s look at guilt as if it’s a force for motivation, as if the purpose of guilt is to get us to do differently or better, as if we keep replaying the guilty feelings until we act to make things better, until we live up to our own standards.

When I think this way, the picture is much clearer.

  • For most people, “bad, unhealthy, useless” guilt then becomes a major form of “self-bullying” that’s a waste of time.  We’re not proud of ourselves.  We run ourselves down, beat ourselves up, feel ashamed and harm ourselves.  Or we cover up the guilt, declare ourselves innocent and blame the other person.  We become righteous and indignant; it’s not our fault.  Or we wallow publicly in guilt, looking for sympathy.  But we don’t do better.  We keep repeating the actions we feel guilty about.  Wallowing in guilt, perfectionism and continued self-bullying increases stress and leads to loss of confidence, low self-esteem and depression.  And, eventually, we may even get a thrill from self flagellation.  We’ll resent people who take the fun out of our misery.
  • “Good, healthy, effective” guilt leads us to do something productive.  We stop procrastinating, get over addictions, act better toward people, set boundaries we need, live up to our highest standards and make amends.  Some examples: we apologize for being nasty to our kids, spouse or partner and don’t do it again; we do the difficult chores at home or work that we’ve been avoiding; we give more generously to those in need; we pay our share; we return the stuff we’ve borrowed; we stop making sarcastic and catty remarks about our friends’ clothes, habits children and struggles to lose weight.  We know many specific situations in our own lives.
  • What if people don’t feel guilt when they should?  Looking with this perspective, we can see them as not motivated to change and as being aboveboard at it.  I can trust that they don’t have the standards I do.  Good.  Now I know that I have to protect myself against them.  Many bullies act ashamed and contrite.  They promise to change and they bring candy, flowers and sweet words.  I look at the behavior.  If they don’t change, I wish them well in their therapy and rehabilitation, but I won’t go on that roller coaster ride with them.  The pain is too much.  From them, I have to protect the island my kids and I live on.  I vote them off our island, no matter what the relationship and their suffering, promises and claims that I owe them so much that I should allow them to abuse and brutalize me.
  • How do bullies use our guilt?  Predators are always on the attack.  They try to get us to question the purity of our motives and past behavior.  Stealth bullies are especially effective at this.  Once we start questioning ourselves, our imperfections, self-doubt, 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 them.  Before bullies would admit they need to change, they want us to waste our time trying to be perfect according to their standards.  For example, see the case studies of Carrie, Kathy and Ralph responding to guilt-tripping bullies in different situations in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”
  • Guilt is over-rated as a motivating force.  When we’re kids, we all try guilt to get us to do what we don’t want to.  Then we become afraid that if we stop whipping ourselves, we’ll become lazy, immoral and unfeeling slugs and failures.  But as adults, we can transition to motivation strategies that depend on the desire to do what’s good and right, and makes us joyful.

Joining our highest standards to our passion creates a different one of us, gives us a different motivating force and creates a different world for us.  Yes, that’s a big change.  But it’s a change we’ve hungered for.

How different our worlds would be if we stood up for ourselves, our families and what’s right because we are passionate in service to our best and strongest, not ashamed and guilty of what we did wrong?

Toxic parents can make your life miserable, especially if you’re still trying to win their approval or if you think you must see them during the holidays. Most people can call it quits with bullying lovers, end false friendships and divorce abusive spouses.  But stopping bullying by toxic parents seems more difficult.  And it’s even harder if there were one or two loving moments or you think you owe them for feeding you.

Too many therapists won’t show their shock and dismay at the abuse and will encourage adult children to keep interacting with toxic parents in the name of something called “family.”  See, for example, the article by Dr. Richard Friedman in the New York Times.

I disagree.

I’ve seen adult children put up with continual criticism, hostility and anger; even being told by parents that they wish the child had never been born or would die.  Some parents still remind their adult children that they’re never good enough and that they’ll be failures forever.  Some parents make it clear that the other siblings are better in every way and more deserving of love.  Often, the sarcasm, criticism, harassment and hostility are public, as if there’s a real intention to cause embarrassment and emotional pain.

Even worse for these abused adults is the thought that they’ll have to take care of those rotten parents when they get old and dementia makes them even worse.

Yet many adults accept the negativity, abuse and verbal torture.  They endure the stress, discouragement, low self-esteem and depression that usually accompany repeated brutality.  Some even internalize those hostile voices and beat themselves even when their parents aren’t present.

I think that a key sign of becoming an independent adult is deciding what criteria you’ll use for who you allow on your island.  If you believe that family of birth is crucial because that’s the way you were raised or because you think that will get you a star in your crown in heaven or because you think family will be the only ones to take care of you when you need, then you’ve given up control of your island.  You’ve decided to allow your island to be polluted by endless abuse and your spirit to be crushed if someone wants to.

On the other hand, suppose you decide to create an island that supports your emotional and spiritual life.  Now you’re in charge of your life.  Now you can demand good behavior before anyone gets on your island.  Now you’ve created space to find the right people to populate your island.  Now you’re a truly independent adult.

Now your tactics with your bullying parents are straightforward.  You tell them, as sweetly and firmly as you can, how they must behave and what they may not do if they want to see or hear from you.  You follow through with the natural consequences of leaving abusive situations, hanging up the phone, or not walking into the valley of punishment during the holidays.  Your toxic parents have free will and choice.

Notice, I haven’t said anything about long-term, in depth psychoanalysis of toxic parents.  That’s a secondary consideration.  Since these bullies typically think they’re right and don’t need to change, they don’t examine themselves or they stay in therapy forever instead of changing.  It’s not about whether they love you; it’s about how they love you.

You can see how these tactics are effective with parents in the cases of Carrie, Doug, Jake and Ralph in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

Usually, I see more change stimulated when children stand up effectively to abusive parents.  That may start the toxic parents on a path toward acting more loving.

I’ve seen many parents, when confronted by not seeing their children or grandchildren or when they know that their abused children are enjoying life without them, finally change how they treat their children.

Of course, sometimes toxic parents don’t change.  But that’s not the goal of standing up to them.  The goal is having an island that’s not polluted by toxic people, but instead is a paradise for your heart and spirit.

As to the fears that you’ll go through life alone and unloved; that’s nonsense.  People with wonderful islands attract other people who want to be with them, who make their hearts and spirits sing.  And you’ll have more money because you won’t be wasting it on therapy.  And you’ll be setting a wonderful example for your children.

If you want the love and approval of older people, accept that you won’t get that from toxic birth parents.  Go get it from people who have the good taste to caress your spirit, not to abuse it.

You can also remove toxic siblings, relatives and supposed friends from your island if they don’t change.  In “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” you’ll see how Tammy and Kathy use these techniques with Toxic siblings and false friends.

My last post was about adults who carry to their graves the wounding and scars they got from their parents.  These adults never grow up mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  They never leave their parents’ mental and emotional homes, even if they leave physically. While watching the John Adams mini-series, I saw a classic example.

Whether the program was factual or not, the picture it showed of John and Abigail’s youngest son, Charles, was so typical and true that I’ll comment as if it was factual.

Because John was gone during the Revolutionary years for long periods of time in Philadelphia and Europe, and Abigail also went to Paris, Charles did not get as much of his parents’ love and affection as he wanted.  Charles especially wanted his father’s approval.  But John would never approve of Charles’ lack of serious, studious devotion to a stable career dedicated to building his country and supporting his family.

Forget about what John and Abigail should have done.  We can feel sorry for Charles, but the obvious reality is that Charles was never going to get what he wanted from his parents.  And the more Charles wasted his life in whining, drinking, frivolous daydreams and squandering his talent and money, the less likely that he would get what he wanted from them.

Here’s the key: Charles is faced with an emotional reality that is as real as rain or snow or hail or drought or flood or grasshoppers eating your crops.  What is Charles’ task?  No matter what, Charles has the same task we all have.

We each and all must suck it up and succeed.  We must take responsibility for creating futures that are wonderful, no matter what our givens are.  In my forthcoming e-book on how to stop school bullies in their tracks, you’ll find a case study of a teenager facing this decision.  But you know it’s true.  You had to face it.  Everyone has to face it.  Charles’ brother, John Quincy, had to face it.  And John Quincy sucked it up successfully, despite not liking it.

As Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Life is like a game of cards.  The hand that is dealt to you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” 

Charles ran from the difficult responsibility of being in charge of creating a wonderful future.  He blamed his failures on his parents’ lack of giving him what he wanted.  As if he was the first person not to get enough from his parents.  Do you really think that if John had come home from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and said that he thought Charles was a delightful, sweet, charming and lovable fellow, with good stuff buried inside, Charles would have become strong, responsible and successful?

Charles wasn’t resilient enough to succeed in the face of the bad weather in his life.  He couldn’t put his parents off to his mental and emotional side.  He wasn’t courageous, strong and hardworking enough for himself, his wife and his child.  He failed.  And history rolls over the failures.

Charles shouldn’t have let his parents’ deficiencies be more important in his life than his future.  His parents – our parents – are not excuses for failing.  Why let people ruin your future if they didn’t give you what you need when you were young and still don’t?  Move beyond them.  Find other parents (older people) who will love and appreciate you.  Find models to inspire you.  Succeed, despite the harsh weather.

What else is worth doing with the energy and days given you?

According to numerous reports, a teenager was bullied at West Middle School in metro Denver.  The boy had pencils, markers and a calculator taken; he was called fat; he was called “gay” because he was involved in musical theater; because he was from musical theater, he was called a “Nazi.”  Eventually, he tried fighting back against his tormentors.  But he wasn’t big or strong enough and was beaten severely.  He suffered a broken collar bone and head injury.  The published picture of him is self-evident.  Now that the case has become public, the community is in an uproar and the Cherry Creek School District has responded by expelling the bully.  The bullied boy has reported that the bully threatened to beat him more when he returns.  Three other students, who also threatened to beat up the victim, have been required to sign contracts that they won’t harass the boy.  That’s nice of the school district to go that far. Of course the legal wrangling will go on for a long time.

There’s so much to say about this example of hostility, abuse and brutality.  I want to comment on only a few areas.

The adults failed.  Whether they blame the legal system or say they didn’t know; they failed. Since the severe beating happened at the end of November, don’t you think that every student in school knew what was happening? 

The parents of the bully and his collaborators failed.  They are supposed to know their children’s character and to stop their children’s bullying.

The teachers failed.  They are supposed to know who torments, abuses and bully’s another student and they are supposed to stop it.  They allowed a hostile, abusive environment to continue.  If the typical educational approaches don’t work rapidly, they are supposed to intervene in other ways.

The principal failed.  The principal is supposed to set a tone of zero tolerance.  The principal is supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullies.  If the teachers don’t stop it, the principal is supposed to stop it and then get rid of those cowardly and/or ignorant teachers.  The worst beating happened at the end of November and the principal did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.

The administrators in the school district failed.  The administrators are supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullying.  If the principal doesn’t stop it, the school district administrators are supposed to step in and then get rid of that cowardly and/or ignorant principal.  The worst beating happened at the end of November and the district administrators did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.

How can we hold up these teachers, principal and school district administrators as models for children?  They have failed as models.  Despite, or maybe because of, their colleges and universities, their degrees and certifications, their possible expertise in some course matter, they have shown themselves to be ignorant or cowardly or inept or all three.  They have failed the public trust and are unfit to be teachers, principal or administrators.

They should not be allowed to hide behind a poor legal system.  We all know that there are schools in the most violent locations in which courageous administrators, principals and teachers bullying.  And they do it in the face of the same.

The 14 year-old boy who was bullied has shown himself to be courageous.  He has succeeded.  At first he did what we all try to do.  We try accommodating in hopes that the bully will move on.  We ask bullies to stop; we take the bullying; we try to understand what lousy home lives we think bullies must have; we try to rise above it.  These tactics may stop many kids who are temporarily trying on bullying to see what it feels like, but those tactics don’t stop dedicated, relentless bullies.  They are not effective for teaching children to stop bullies at school.

Eventually that boy fought.  I say he succeeded because, even though he was severely beaten he did what was necessary to try to stop his tormentors.  He lost the fight but he emerges as the one person who is not a coward in this affair.  He can hold his head up high all his life.  He can keep his self-esteem.  He can judge the adults as cowards and failures.  I hope he is resilient enough to bounce back  and continues to resist to bullies the rest of his life.  I hope that when he becomes an adult with more choices, he creates a personal life that is bully-free.  Sometimes, a tormented teen can fight back and win – as in the case of the “Teen acquitted in punch.”

Of course, bullies will always exist .  America is not unique, nor are we the worst people in the world.  We are outraged and we will try to make better systems.  And more important, we still must train , seek and hire people who can act effectively, no matter how poor the system is at any moment.  And we must educate and prepare individuals to be as courageous as that 14 year-old boy.

Among other places, this story was carried by the Denver Post (Bullies called teen “Nazi” and “gay”), 9news (Student says he was bullied, beaten because he’s German), the Denver Channel News (Boy: School Bullies Harassed Him Because Of German Ancestry) and the Denver Post Neighbors Forum (Article Discussion: Cherry Creek teen may face bully in court).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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