Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Are you a hero or a bystander?” will help you analyze your potential to be a hero.  It’ll give you clues as to whether you’re likely to step up in a crisis. The article is typical of a way of thinking that’s irrelevant, misleading and destructive.

Some of the hidden assumptions behind the article are:

  1. You are who you are; which is a product of the way you’ve been raised.
  2. If you have certain beliefs – the reasons people gave for why they stepped up in a crisis – then that will determine how you’ll act.  If you don’t have those beliefs, you’re stuck as a bystander.
  3. If we examine the factors that people give for why they act brave, then we understand heroism and we can replicate it.

That approach is a dead end and a waste of time; it’s all mental and irrelevant in human affairs.

Instead, try a much simpler approach:

  1. Confront your fears.
  2. Decide how you want to act in any 10 recent examples that have made the headlines – the shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, witnessing a car crash, hearing someone scream for help, etc.
  3. Train yourself to act the courageous way you want to without thinking in the moment.

I know that sounds too simple but give it a try.

Remember, that’s the way we train cops, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, etc.  That’s the way we train football, basketball and soccer players.  They do the drills over and over and over until they react the way they want without thinking.

For example, only a small percent of us will go to war, but a large percent of us will witness harassment, bullying and abuse.  How do you want to respond in the moment?  Do you want to be a bystander or spectator?  Do you want to be a witness or a defender?

Train yourself – discipline and preparation.

Remember Captain Chesley Sullenberger.  He’s the pilot who put that commercial, jumbo jet full of passengers down in the Hudson River with no loss of life.  He didn’t crash into Manhattan, which would probably have killed thousands.  How did he know what to do?  He’ll tell you that he heard of something horrific when he was about 11 years old, when people simply looked away instead of being courageous.  He vowed he’d always act bravely and he trained himself to be prepared so he could act effectively.  Discipline and practice.

Never accept that you are the way you are – fixed in stone – because of the genetics, family of origin, beliefs, values and attitudes you grew up with.

History is not destiny.

Instead, determine how you want to be and then train yourself.  It’s the only way to have a chance to be the person you want to be.

It’s your life.  Be the hero of your life.

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.

Clara had finally created a family life with her husband and three children in which they could open up their feelings, fears, hopes and dreams and know they’d be listened to with understanding, caring and tenderness.  They wouldn’t stab each other in the back, throw up old mistakes and fears, put each other down or try to control the turf.  Instead, they’d be polite and civil in sorting through disagreements and in trying to find solutions they could all live with.  Acts of charity and compromise would be reciprocated. But with some of her extended family and some of her co-workers those tactics and her principles of openness, honesty, kindliness, consideration, compromise and tenderness got her routinely bullied, putdown and taken advantage of.

She didn’t want to violate her most cherished beliefs.  She didn’t want to treat people as if they were evil; she wanted to see the good in them.  She didn’t want to turn into a self-centered, narcissistic, uncaring, vicious, manipulative control-freak in order to protect herself.

So what could she do?

Let go of prejudices and abstract principles. Clara saw that as much as she wanted to see the best in every member of her extended family, she often was treated by their worst.  Their spirits might be pure but their personalities ruled their behavior.  After decades of contact, the alcoholics and rage-aholics still lashed out at her if she was in their line of sight, the jealous, manipulative, negative relatives still whacked her with their poisoned tongues; the weak and insecure relatives still put her down in order to puff themselves up.

No amount of sweetness, no amount of holding back and biting her tongue, no amount of defending herself and her family, no amount of asking politely, no amount of offering to compromise had changed their behavior.

After one particularly brutal family occasion, she saw things as they really were: she had held back because she hadn’t wanted to give up on them, she hadn’t wanted to see them as evil, she hadn’t wanted to hurt them in retaliation.  Her values and principles were leading her to put her head in the dragon’s mouth – her need to treat all people the same way no matter how they’d treated her; her hope that if she was nice enough, they’d be nice in return.

So what could she do?

Test the world – nature and people. Clara finally broke through to a new way of being in the world.  Instead of having universal principles determine how she’d act, she’d test the world and let nature and people tell her the way they were.

Of course, she’d already done that with nature.  She’d already figured out how to live in a world where things fell downward, where if she turned her steering wheel she’d go in a certain direction, where if she didn’t put gas in her car or charge her cell phone they wouldn’t work.

Now she’d test other people, not herself.  She’d assume that when people were nasty or blamed on her, that didn’t tell her anything about her.  Because they weren’t happy didn’t mean she was a failure or bad person.  She didn’t need to wallow in blame, shame or guilt.  She didn’t have to do everything to please them, it wasn’t necessarily her fault.  What they said and did told her about them – their habits, standards and ways they related to people; what they wanted and how they tried to manipulate, coerce or verbally abuse other people in order to get their way.

Create an environment that’s rich, gracious, inspiring and thrilling. Clara finally realized that her most important value or goal was to create and maintain the wonderful environment she had with her immediate family.  She’d do her best to create as much of that as she could in other areas of life – with her extended family and in the workplace.

But did she have to let everyone in or could she be judgmental?

Let people show us how they’re likely to act and what it will take to protect ourselves. Every person had shown Clara what treatment to expect from them.  They’d also shown her what to do to get them to stop hurting her.

Some people showed her they’d reciprocate kindness with kindness.  Others told her that to get them to stop hurting her, she might have to smack their noses (figuratively, verbally or literally) just like when she was training her dog.  Sometimes she might have to maintain a distance of 2,000 miles and no phone or internet contact.  She’d simply have to pay careful attention to how they acted, not what they said, and adjust her tactics accordingly.

Clara would not have to judge their identity or try to decide whether they were good or evil.  She would not get involved with their reasons, excuses or justifications.  She’d simply be discerning and accurate about their behavior.  She’d also assume that they’d continue behaving the way they had until she got long-term evidence of change.  Then she could decide whether to trust that change – tiny bit, by tiny bit.

Use different tactics to succeed in different situations. Clara had a lot of control within her extended family as long as she was willing to invite people into her environment if they behaved in a way that supported it and to exclude people who might pollute or destroy it.  Acting that decisively would probably result in huge rifts in the extended family, but Clara had to decide what was more important for her.  Then she could adjust her approach depending on the situation and people involved.

At work, Clara had less control.  But, if she had the strength, courage and determination, she still could adjust her tactics.  She could see the few people at work who had taken advantage of her and she knew, in her heart of hearts, that because she’d tolerated their hostility and attacks, they’d simply become bolder.  The more she had allowed them to push her boundaries, the more they’d push.

She knew she’d have to assert herself and learn to push back.  She needed to free herself to push back and learn to use her tongue and political savvy to get them to focus on someone else.

But did protecting herself make her a bad person? She decided that it didn’t.  Those bullies, like many pets, had showed her what it would take to get them house-trained.  And now she was willing to do the training!

When she adjusted her tactics to fit the different people, she was able to stop their bullying.

Many comments are similar on the articles:

Abused, bullied and battered women often end their comments with some version of:

  • But I still love him.
  • Sometimes he’s nice to me and I still think I can change him, if only I was good enough.
  • He still says that he loves me.
  • I’m afraid to leave because I’m worthless and won’t be able to make it without him.
  • I’m afraid to leave because he’ll kill me.

Today, let’s focus on the idea that woman can’t dump him because they love him.  Of course the same reasons are true for men facing negative, critical, harassing, manipulative, abusive, bullying, battering women.

For a moment, forget what we were taught about love, especially the importance and moral value of unconditional love, when we were young – what it is, what it feels like, how we know we’re really in love and what we’re supposed to do when we feel that way.

Now that we’re adults, we can decide for ourselves what we want to call “love” and how we’ll act when we “love.”  Is love merely lust, or feeling complete or whole, or feeling that we can’t live without the other person?  Do those feelings mean that we’ll be happy because we’re mad for the other person or that we can work out how to live together?  If we feel those feelings, must we move in together and maybe get married?  When we love, must we believe what he says or accept whatever he does, must we be submissive and obey him, must we accept his reasons, excuses, justifications and promises, must we forgive or appease him endlessly, must we debate until he accepts our point of view..

As long as the answers don’t affect our lives, we might have fun speculating about those questions.  But even though love is usually accompanied by real feelings, it’s still an abstract concept that really isn’t a tangible noun, like a physical object is.

A more useful path is to choose how we want to be loved.  That is; what kind of behavior will we allow in our personal space, whether the actions are called “love” or “bullying” or “abuse.”

Also more useful is to choose which of our thoughts and feelings we want to follow in our lives.  Or, which feelings, if any, do we want to let blow us over or sweep us away.

Now that we’re adults with more experience, we can see that when we let some feelings sweep us away, we’re like a sail boat without a rudder or keel.  We’re blown whichever way the wind and current takes us.  We’ve lost control and we’ll never get where we want to sail to.  We’re at the mercy of external forces – his whims and actions at the moment.  Do we want to continue letting ourselves get blown away?

It’s even worse after kids come.  So many women make mistakes about which values are most important.  For example, they think that it’s most important that their kids have a father even if that father abuses and bullies them or only their mother.  Or they think that they most important value is never to say anything bad about their children’s father, even though their observations are accurate and especially necessary to reinforce what their children see and think.  People are being beaten and that’s being called “love.” Children must learn that they are seeing reality and they can trust their perceptions.  Covering up the truth or lying creates self-doubt and undermines their confidence and self-esteem.

I think that it comes down to knowing, in our heart-of-hearts, that we can’t let whatever feeling we call “love” take over our lives when that feeling keeps putting us and our children in harm’s way.  There are higher standards of behavior than that feeling we call “love.”  And that the word “love” doesn’t remove all the pain caused when narcissistic, righteous predators attack their targets.

If “love” means that we’ll never stop the perpetrator and never leave him, he’ll never stop bullying.  Why should he; he’s in control and gets what he wants.  If “love” means that the victim must follow the Golden Rule, never confront or upset the bully and only beg him to change, but never have serious consequences, we’ll never stop bullies.

On the other hand, if we love our spirits, our children and our high standards of behavior that are required in our personal space, then we can stop bullies or get away from their bullying.  The number one factor in changing the behavior of relentless bullies is serious consequences.

We know we must live up to our best aspirations and standards, we must demand only the best for ourselves and our children.  Don’t suffer in silenceWe must say, “No. That’s enough.  I won’t let our lives be ruined for that kind of love.”

Of course, it may be scary, dangerous and difficult to get away.  Of course, we may be poor and suffer at first.  But it’s the only chance we have to clear our personal space so that someone wonderful can come into it; someone who treats us good.  We must not be defeated by defeats.

Three steps are necessary:

  1. Taking power for ourselves, and counting on the strength and determination that will come to us when we keep making good decisions by dumping the jerk.
  2. Getting help to create a plan and carry it out with determination, perseverance, strength, courage and resilience.
  3. Having a wiser and more mature sense of love and which feelings to pay attention to.  That means straightening ourselves out so we’ll love better people who treat us well.

Feelings and thoughts are like the bubbles of carbonation on a soda.  They’re always, always, endlessly bubbling up to the surface and then drifting away.  Some of those bubbles can smell pretty bad.  Pardon the crudity, but we’ve all had brain farts.  And like the other kind, we know that if we wait a minute, the stinky, scary, self-bullying fears, put-downs and “shoulds” will drift off on their own.  We can decide not to act on them and simply let them go.  We can throw ourselves into other thoughts or activities to speed the process.

I’ve focused on bullying spouses, but the same can be said about demanding, bullying, toxic family members, like parents, siblings and extended family.  They bully and say that we should accept the bad treatment because we’re “family.”  But requiring good behavior is a better standard than tolerating bad blood.

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Many people wrote and called for coaching after last week’s post, “Stop Bullies Who Demand their Way.”  Although their circumstances varied, their fundamental hesitation was the same: “How can I defend the behavioral standards I want if that means angry confrontations with my blood relationships?” Some common situations were:

All the callers recognized that continued, long-term exposure to those bullies would destroy their own and their children’s self-confidence and self-esteem.  They could see how the bullying was causing sleepless nights, anxiety, nail-biting, discouragement, negative self-talk and even depression.  Their children’s school work suffered.  They could see their children either being beaten into submission or adopting bullying as their own strategy for success.  So why didn’t the adults act?

Some were afraid of the economic consequences of resisting spouses, parents or grandparents with money.  Some were afraid the bullying would increase.

However, most were afraid that if they objected to such treatment of themselves or of their children, they would split the family into warring groups or have the whole family turn against them.  Most were embedded in cultures that reinforced the idea that “family is family” and “blood is the most important thing.”  Most thought it was morally wrong to say “No” to elders or relatives.

They had tried everything they could think of: understanding, reasoning, sweet-talk, begging, bribery, appeasement, the Golden Rule and threats but nothing had been effective in changing the bullying behavior.

So they were stuck, knowing they were tolerating bullies and behavior that was harming them and their children.

Their hope was that I could provide a magic technique to convert those adult bullies into nice, sweet, kindly relatives; the loving, caring, concerned relatives they thought they’d have.

But they had already tried all the “magic wand” techniques and discovered that those family bullies wouldn’t change.  After all, from the bullies’ perspective, why should they change?  They’d gotten away with being abusive, demanding bullies for years; they got their way so why change?  They were beyond appeals to conscience or to considering the feelings they were hurting.

I’ve seen bullies like that have near-death experiences due to cancer or accidents, and still resist changing.  They’ve mastered brutality as a strategy to get what they want from life.  By now, it’s all they know.

In my long experience, each successful client had to face a difficult choice and make a different one then they had before.

They had to support good behavior instead of bad blood.

They had to change their inner questions from, “How can I fit in?” or “How can I do what I’m supposed to?” to a question of “What behavior will I allow toward my children or in my space, no matter who the perpetrator is?”

They had to insist on good behavior toward themselves and their children, even if that meant challenging the previously rotten family dynamic.  They had to become models of the actions they were preaching to their children.

The first step in creating a bully-free personal space is always for us to rally our spirits; to become strong, brave, determined and persevering.  Endurance endures.  Then we can make effective plans, take skillful steps and get the help we need.

We can begin a little soft, but bullies inevitably force us to become firm.  Sometimes that meant denying the perpetrators access to their children.  Sometimes that means leaving when the bullying starts.  Sometimes that means standing alone and being a scapegoat.  But often, when we insist on good behavior, many members of the family will also step up to the higher standards; they’ve simply been waiting for someone to take the lead.

In all cases, we have to fight the culture we’re embedded in.  Plans have to be developed that fit the specific situations we’re in: are spouses on the same page, how bad is the economic dependence, how far away do we live?

But in all cases, we must hold out to ourselves and our children a better culture, in which people behave with caring, kindness and respect to each other.

We have to overcome our fears that we’ll be alone; fears that in the end, the only people who stand by us are family, so we have to pay the high price it costs to maintain relationships.  However, we’ll discover that by clearing brutality out of our space, we’ll open up space for people we want to be with.

Review the case studies of Carrie, Jean, Doug, Kathy, Jake and Ralph facing different family bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.  Many times, when faced by our firmness, family bullies will give in.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Many bullies succeed in getting what they want by being angry.  Even if they don’t hit physically, they beat their targets verbally, mentally and emotionally.  And the threat of physical violence makes other people give in.  These bullies have enough control that they haven’t been arrested and sent to prison.  That’s why I think of their anger as a tactic. I’ve coached many of these bullies through the stage of anger management to finally ending anger and creating a different way of Being in the world.

But let’s focus here on what the spouses of these bullies can do in order to have bully-free lives.

For many of these bullies anger is a whole way of life.  Their rage is a tactic operating 24/7.  No matter what’s going on, no matter what we do to try to please them, they always find something to be angry about.  Any moment of peace is just the calm before the storm.

However these bullies got that way – and there are only a small number of typical scenarios – they mastered the use of anger years ago so it feels natural, like that’s who they are, like it’s their identity. They love “revving their engines.” They feel strong and powerful when they’re angry.  They always find good reasons and excuses to be angry, they always find people who are wrong and dumb in the news of the world or in their personal lives.  And they always focus on what’s wrong or dumb, and respond to it by getting angry and enraged.

If something in the moment isn’t worth getting angry about, they think of bad things that happened or that might happen so they can get angry.  Then they “kick the dog” – whoever happens to be around and does or says something wrong, or does or says nothing and that’s what’s wrong.  You or the kids think you’re having an innocent conversation when suddenly you’re attacked for being dumb, stupid, ignorant, wrong, insulting – or simply breathing.

The attack escalates into a listing of all your faults – which loser in the family you’re just like, you’ll always be a loser, you’re lucky to be alive and with them because you’d fail without them.  Their anger is never their fault; you’re always to blame.  Even if they don’t brutally beat you and the kids, the verbal and emotional abuse takes its toll.

Victims feel blame, shame and guilt.  Victims suffer anxiety, fear, frustration, panic and terror.  They lose self-confidence and self-esteem. They feel like they have to be perfect in order to deserve good treatment.  They feel isolated and helpless.  Targeted children often grow up with negative self-talk and self-doubt; they often move on to self-mutilation or rage and revenge of their own.  They often grow up playing out the roles of bully or victim in their marriages.

Seven tips to keep anger out of your personal space:

  1. Don’t be an understanding therapist. Your understanding, forgiveness, unconditional love and the Golden Rule won’t change or cure them.  And you’re not being paid as a therapist.  Those approaches simply prolong the behavior and the typical cycle of anger and rage, followed by guilt and remorse, followed by promises and good behavior temporarily, followed by the next episode of angry and rage.  Or the typical escalating spiral of anger, rage and self-righteous justification.  The reason the bullying continues is not that those bullies haven’t been loved enough; it’s that the behavior is a success strategy.  It’s never been stopped with strong enough consequences that the bully has enough reason to learn a new way of Being in the world.
  2. Don’t minimize, excuse or accept justifications. See anger as a choice.  If you accept that anger is a normal or appropriate response to what they’re angry at, if you accept that anger or any emotion is too big to manage (e.g., that they’re in the grips of something bigger than themselves) them you’re right back to “the devil made me do it.”  That’s the same excuse, even though the modern words for “the devil” are heredity, brain chemistry, what their parents did to them, how they never learned better.
  3. The best thing you can do to help both of you is to have consequences that matter. That’s the only way to stimulate change.
  4. Face your fears. Don’t be defeated by defeat.  Protect yourself.  Be a good parent and model for yourself and your children.  Emotional control – control of moods, attitudes and actions – and focus of attention are the first things we all must learn.  These bullies haven’t learned.  Lack of success in this area gets big, painful consequences.
  5. Make your space anger-free. You and the children are targets, not victims.  Their anger is not your fault.  Dedicate yourself to protecting yourself and the children.  Decide that only behavior counts, not psychoanalysis.  Clear your space.  Don’t give an infinite number of second chances.  Either they leave or you and the kids leave, depending on the circumstances.
  6. Promises no longer count. The lesson for your children is that when we’re very young, we get by on a lot of promises and potential, but when we become older than about 10, only performance counts.  Let these bullies learn to practice changing on other people’s bodies.  How much time do you need before you become convinced that they’ve faced a lot of potential triggers and mastered a different way of dealing with them?  A year?  Two?  Three?  Forever?  Do this because you want and need to in order to have a chance at the happiness you want, in order to have a chance to find people who treat you the way you want.
  7. Be smart and tactical. Of course, the longer you’ve known them, the harder it will be.  Dump angry jerks on the first date; don’t hook up with them.  Get legal advice.  Get help and support.  Get witnesses.  Don’t listen to people who want you to be a more understanding therapist.  File for divorce.  Get custody of the children.  Get the police on your side.

Post #176 – How to Know if You’re Bullied and Abused

Men aren’t the only angry bullies.  We all know about angry, vicious women on dates or in marriage.  There are clichés about venomous wives and mothers-in-law because there are so many.  Everything I’ve said applies to them also.

Many people still have friends that use anger to control interactions.

At work, angry, bullying bosses and co-workers are also clichés because there are so many.  Anger often succeeds at work.  Both the feeling of power and the success at making people do what bullies want function as aphrodisiacs.  And the addiction must be fed.

Be strong nside.  Ask for what you want.  You’ll get what you’re willing to put up with.  So only put up with good behavior.

All tactics are situational so expert coaching is required.  We’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of people commanding themselves, stopping bullying and getting free.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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).

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 important question is what can we find that will be so attractive to each individual child that they’ll drive themselves to learn and master themselves and the subject.  That is; they’ll be so excited, they’ll become relentless in their pursuit of mastery in that subject.  They’ll develop determination and self-discipline.  And maybe they’ll continue with that subject all their lives or maybe they’ll move on to a different one.

In a sense, the pressure will come from the inside.  Except that since there’s such joy in being possessed by our own drive and desire we don’t feel pressure; we feel relentless resolve and determination to struggle and struggle until we succeed.

We know the truth when we look at our employees and co-workers.  We recognize the go-getters who are inspired from the inside.  They don’t require intensive motivation to want to excel, although recognition and rewards are nice.  That drive for excellence, that zest and passion for accomplishment is catching.

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?

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.

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

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.

What 3-4 year-old kids can survive without trying everything in order to get what they want?

Look at each one of your 3-4 year-olds as an individual.  Each is unique.  Each comes from a different place.  I’ve seen fraternal twins coming from these two opposite sides.  So what?  All it means is that we encourage each child to move in a different direction to augment the tendencies and approaches they seem born with.  It’s no big deal.  It’s simply the direction we’ll encourage them over and over, maybe with increasing firmness as they grow older.

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.

They don’t have to choose between fearlessness and empathy.  You don’t have to react as if they have an all-or-none choice.  Or as if, if you don’t stamp out their natural tendencies immediately or at least by the time they’re 5, they’ll grow up to be little sociopaths.  What nonsense.

Stay calm and carry on.  Teach them to make the most of both fearlessness and empathy.  Oh, yes; there’s also a downside to too much empathy.

With expert coaching and consulting we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can calmly look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and our children.

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.

Bullies always have many reasons, excuses and justifications for their actions.  The important thing is to look past all the reasons and not focus on one type of bullying.  Instead, the important thing is to stop every type of bullying.

If left unchecked people will repeat a pattern of successful bullying all of their lives.  Bullies who succeeded because they weren’t stopped when they’re young, simply keep bullying their way up the adult ladder of popularity, power and success in the workplace and in personal life.  Why would a bully or predator tinker with a strategy that’s been successful?

Similarly, kids who have been victimized will often feel helpless, unprotected, unskilled and inept all their lives.  The self-bullying negativity, perfectionism, shame, blame and guilt lasts forever.  The loss of confidence and self-esteem remain.  They’ll have increased depression and suicides.  They’ll tend to be victimized at work and at home.

Of course, we need laws to set good standards; we need strong programs that involve all students in being witnesses who speak up for high standards; we need teachers, principals, counselors and district administrators who will act courageously.

It isn’t easy but it is clear.

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.

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane’s steps were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to give in to or argue with bullies’ excuses, reasons and justifications.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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.

Relentless, real-world bullies aren’t stopped when we show them love and kindness.

In fact, they take our love and kindness as signs of weakness and an invitation to increase their bullying.  Here are two ancient examples:

  1. In “The Analects,” 14-34, Confucius says: “Requite injury with uprightness.  Requite kindness with kindness.”
  2. 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:

  1. Those who responded to your kindness and love with kind and loving behavior.
  2. Those who responded with suspicion blame and further attacks.

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?

  1. Don’t be anxious, afraid, discouraged, depressed or suicidal.  Don’t be angry at the way the world is.
  2. Simply requite injury with uprightness.  Be strong, courageous, persevering and resilient.  Stop bullies in their tracks.  Of course, your tactics will vary with the situation.   But your inner qualities and your will and determination will be the same.

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.

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

You can’t convince bullying spouses to change; you’ll never prove that you’re right or should have what you need; you’ll never deserve the rewards they withhold from you.  They’re not interested in the truth or in your reasons or your wonderful logic.  They’re not interested in loving you the way you want to be loved.  They know best and they’re only interested in getting their way; in controlling everything – money, sex, cars, computers, phones, friends, family. So many blog comments are from women wanting to be told that they’re right in their arguments with their husbands; that they should be allowed to do a few things like see their parents or girl friends or have a few dollars for groceries.  They seem to think they need to get permission from their controlling husbands to even spend a few dollars of the money they earn.  They’re always surprised that their good arguments don’t convince these control-freaks and bullies to change their behavior.

Many coaching clients come or call when they’re stuck in the same endless dynamic.  Some husbands say the same things about the controlling wives.

I have to say: Give it up. You’ll never prove anything to someone who doesn’t want to be convinced; to someone who thinks their best interests are served by always being right and always being in charge.

One of the favorite tactics of bullies is to attack.  These verbal and emotional bullies are always finding fault and picking on flaws.  The natural response at first is for the wives to defend themselves.  But that only perpetuates the cycle of attack and defense.  There’s never an end to the constant harassment and negativity.

Eventually the women get worn down.  They’re too tired to fight about everything, especially the silly little stuff so they give up and accept the bully’s rule.  Then they become victims.  They accept that it is their fault; there must be something wrong with them.

The bully will destroy their confidence and self-esteem.  The stress, anxiety and negative self-talk will lead to depression.  They think that if only they were perfect enough, he’d be nice and encouraging and loving.

The solution begins with a difficult realization: When it gets to that point, you’ll never win the argument.  You’re being poisoned slowly, there’s no convincing a toxic predator to change and your only hope is getting away.

No matter what the cost, if you don’t get away, the poison will take its effect; your soul will be destroyed.  Even if you have to begin from square-one again, you must begin.  You’ll need all the strength and courage you can muster.  You’ll develop the endurance and skill as you proceed.

Of course it’s hard.  When you’re living in the ninth circle of hell, it takes a lot to get out.  But that’s what you’re being called to do.  Your spirit is calling you to make the effort.  Your bright future is calling you to make the journey.

If you have children, don’t see them as an impediment.  Let them stimulate you to break out of prison and start a new life as far away as you need.

Of course, if we can catch it earlier, it’s easier to declare and maintain your boundaries.  Then it’s easier to demand loving behavior and to get away if the abuse continues.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching can help you make a plan that fits you and your situation.  Expert coaching can help you overcome the voices of your fears and self-bullying.  Expert coaching can help you honor the commitments and responsibilities you still want to honor.

You’ll find many examples of children and adults stopping bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.  Or call me for coaching at 877-8BULLIES (877-828-5543).

Of course also, everything I’ve described here is true about harassing, bullying, abusive bosses, co-workers, friends, parents, family, children.  How easy is it to convince a teenager who wants something desperately?  How easy is it to prove yourself to a rage-aholic parent who thinks you’re bad or will be a loser?  How easy is it to convert a know-it-all boss?  How easy is it to prove yourself to a parent who loves one of your sisters or brothers more?  How easy is it to change a righteous Church Elder?

Some control freaks at work are complete narcissists, others cover up major insecurities.  We can make lists of possible reasons that led someone to be a controlling adult – for example, genetics, they grew up with control freaks, they had no control when they were kids, their control when they were kids saved them, control assuages their terror of the unknown, control helps them succeed, they really are smarter and more competent than the rest of us, they want to feel like they’re smarter and more competent than the rest of us, or the feeling of righteousness is intoxicating. Of course even more reasons can be listed, but especially at work where our influence is small and temporary, our psychoanalysis of these abusive bullies rarely helps us change their behavior.  In the workplace, we suffer from the symptoms of their behavior, not the causes.

The real question at work is not why they act the way they do, but how to stop them.

The obvious controllers harass us overtly; their arrogant, narcissistic, nit-picking personalities oppress us continually.  Even if they don’t have power over us, they’ll be relentless.  But at least we can recognize the source of our pain and we can focus on creating tactics that get them off our backs.

The most difficult control freaks to stop are the sneaky, manipulative, covert bullies.  They use a style in which:

  • They make what seem to be innocuous suggestions for our best interests.
  • Their understated certainty is overwhelming.
  • They always know better ways to do everything even if they suggest them quietly.
  • They’re so enthusiastic that our hesitations are swept away.
  • Their feelings are the center of attention and who can resist helping them.
  • They subtly increase our self-doubt and decrease our confidence and self-esteem so we’ll take their direction.
  • Their reasons, excuses and rules are quietly but firmly presented with better logic and more certainty than we can articulate.  Our resistance seems petty, ludicrous and selfish.

In order to succeed at work, we need to take charge some of the time.  Control freaks need to be in charge all the time over everything.  They’d rather dominate than have relationships that bring out the greatest in everyone.

The reason I focus on the symptoms you need to deal with, instead of the psychological causes is that no presentation to the control-freak of why they use their controlling style/personality and no attempts to beg, bribe or assuage their fears ever changes their behavior.  The beginning of all change for control freaks is when their controlling strategy no longer works.

No one strategy stops control freaks.  The creation of a successful tactical plan depends on the people, the style of the controller, the situation and the power dynamics.  But there are a few guidelines.

  • Since control freaks want to take over everything, don’t ever give ground.  You’re trying to convince them never to try to control you, but instead to go control other people.
  • Don’t argue or debate what’s best.  If you use their suggestions don’t ever acknowledge their guidance.  If they know that you accepted their input, even if they made it in a suggestive way, that opening will encourage them to push your boundaries consistently and relentlessly.  Go your own way and live with the consequences.
  • Shine a light on their bullying tactics and the damage it causes to productivity and teamwork.  Never focus on your feelings.
  • Don’t get sucked into becoming their confident or therapist.  Your narcissism in thinking that you can help them will be your downfall.
  • Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that the control-freak might be right.  If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.

Assume that you can’t therapeutize or rehabilitate them.  You’re never going to change them.  They’re bullying, control freaks.  Get the coaching you need to get them away from you as fast as you can.  You don’t need their direction.  You’re simply trying to keep them from taking over team meetings and stifling input from other people.

Control freaks at home rarely change for any length of time.  After their bullying is confronted, they may promise to do better, but their good behavior will last only for a while.  They’ll revert or get sneakier about exerting their control.  While you can bring continual pressure to bear on your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, parents or children, or friends, real change is in the bully’s hands.  Change typically requires bullies to face the loss of what they value most.  Do they value you and the children more, or will they cling to their personal style as their identity forever?

There are toxic people in every environment – toxic lovers, husbands, wives, parents, children, relatives, bosses and coworkers.  Many people let bullying friends continue abusing them because they want to maintain the friendship.  They won’t disagree with or hurt the feelings of the false-friend even if he or she’s a righteous, narcissistic control-freak. However, if you don’t stop these bossy, self-centered bullies, they’ll increase your anxiety and stress, harass you and make your life miserable, take over your life and eventually turn other friends against you.

Joan had a problem with her friend Shelly.  Shelly was sure that she knew what’s right about everything and was intent on straightening out Jane.  She told Jane that Jane was a failure because of numerous character flaws; that’s why Jane’s children were not as successful as Shelly’s.  She said that if Jane didn’t do things the way Shelly told her, Jane’s part-time business would fail and Jane would be a failure her whole life.

Shelly corrected Jane about every detail; how Jane dressed, what she ate, who she talked to, what she read and where she went to church.  She also knew how Jane should behave to prove she was a true friend to Shelly.  If Jane didn’t change, Shelly either cried or got very indignant and angry.

Shelly was always convinced she was absolutely right and perceptive enough to recognize Jane’s hidden fears.  Faced with Shelly’s certainty and a few accurate remarks by her, Jane was thrown into self-questioning and self-doubt.  She agonized that maybe Shelly was right.  It was hard to argue against Shelly’s righteousness and total conviction.  As soon as Jane started, Shelly got angry and rebutted every one of Jane’s objections with reasonable sounding answers.  Or Shelly changed the subject and verbally attacked Jane.  Jane could never convince Shelly that she was wrong or that she was a self-righteous bully.

Also, selfish Shelly was the center of attention.  Most of their conversation was about Shelly’s emotional melodrama.  Only at the very end did Shelly pause to tell Jane where she was wrong.

The few times Jane has brought up a problem of Shelly’s, Shelly attacked Jane, claiming that Jane was jealous of Shelly or that Jane once did what she didn’t want Shelly to do.

After every conversation with Shelly, Jane felt discouraged, depressed and defeated.  She was afraid that if she told Shelly what she really felt, she’d lose her best friend.

Every situation is different; every situation has complications that limit possible solutions.  Solutions to each situation will have to be designed specifically for the people involved.  For example, in Jane’s case, she was afraid that if she argued or disagreed with Shelly, Shelly would sabotage Jane to all their friends. However, there is a general rule: The longer you accept the righteous put-downs and control by a bullying, abusive false-friend, the more your confidence and self-esteem will be battered.  You must gather the will and determination to act.  You must learn skills of planning and successfully executing effective tactics.

The key to Jane’s breaking free was to see that Shelly was an abusive bully, not a true friend.  Jane realized that true friends don’t act the way Shelly did.  That realization gave Jane the will – the determination, perseverance and grit – to be honest with Shelly.  Jane realized that the friendship she might lose was one that hurt, even though Shelly called it “best friends.”  Jane also prepared herself and her other friends for what Shelly was likely to do in retaliation.

Jane didn’t argue, debate or try to prove to Shelly that she was a bully.  Jane simply stated how people had to act in order to be her friend and to be in her personal space.  Shelly was shocked that Jane finally found the backbone.  Of course, Shelly was convinced that Jane was wrong.  Shelly tried to turn their friends against Jane, but Jane’s preparation paid off.  The friends had had similar experiences with Shelly.

For another example, in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” see how Tammy stopped a false-friend who tried to force food down Tammy’s throat even though Tammy was trying to diet.

Toxic, righteous, controlling, bullying, abusive false-friends usually don’t change.  The relief and freedom you feel when you clear them out of your environment tells you that it was worth the effort.  You’ve reclaimed your spirit and your life.

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.

One of the questions I’m most often asked is, “Why Do Bullies Keep Abusing Us?” I hear that from:

  • Kids who want to stop bullies and cvber bullies at school.
  • Adults who want to stop bullying in their love lives or in relationships with their siblings, parents and friends.
  • Adults who don’t understand why their teenagers are so demanding, nasty and surly.
  • Adults who want to stop bullying at work by managers and co-workers.

That question is usually asked in the context of, “I’m a nice person; I don’t deserve to be treated that way.  Why is that person so nasty to me?”

The apparent perplexity behind the question comes from the idea that we’re supposed to get what we put out, not only in interactions with those we love, who also love us, but also in interactions with everyone in the world.  As if, if we’re nice we’re supposed to be treated nicely in return.  These people forget that bullies have different agendas and methods.

The hidden fears behind the question are:

  1. “Maybe I have done something to deserve being harassed and abused; maybe it really is my fault.”  Of course, people thinking this way are usually riddled by self-doubt and negative self-talk.  Their hidden hope is, “If I knew what I’d done wrong, I could apologize, do what the bully wants, and then they’d treat me nicely.”  Their hidden anger comes from deep knowledge, “I didn’t do anything wrong; how dare that bully treat me that way!”
  2. “If the world is so unfair, it’s out of my control.”  Of course, people thinking this way are afraid that they’re not strong enough to thrive in a world that’s dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable.  Their hidden hope is that they could control the world if only they learned the magic secrets.  Their hidden anger comes from the sense that, “I didn’t ask for this kind of world; I’m entitled to something better and more rational.”

Before I answer “Why do bullies keep abusing us,” let’s understand what bullying is about in a way that helps us stop bullies in their tracks.  Distinguish between two questions:

  1. Why do children try bullying tactics?
  2. Why do they keep bullying as they grow up?

The way I look at it, babies and children naturally take or demand what they want; they naturally try bullying tactics.  That’s necessary for their survival – babies must make us feed and change them whether we want to or not.  Children’s survival-level job is to figure out how to get us to give them what they want.

Impulses to bully come up all the time, in all of us.  It feels good to be a strong and powerful and simply take what we want.  Unless kids are taught how to feel good or how to get what they want by other methods, they’ll continue bullying.

Parents train children how to get what they want; which means how to bully, manipulate, harass or abuse people, or how to negotiate with us to give them what they want.  We train them to keep using bullying tactics or to try other methods.

There are three general reasons why children grow up and continue using bullying techniques.

  1. Bullying is what they see – they see one or both parents bullying successfully or it’s the only tactic they know.  Their parents and family don’t teach them not to bully and also don’t teach them better ways to get what they want.
  2. They keep bullying because bullying succeeds – well-meaning parents, principals and teachers don’t say “No” and they don’t stop the bullying.  Sometimes, we may let bullies succeed while we’re negotiating with them or because we’re too tired and worn down to be strong.  You’ve seen parents teach children to get cookies, candy or toys by yelling loud enough, throwing hysterical fits or simply taking it from a younger or smaller kid.
  3. There’s a small group of sociopaths and psychopaths who won’t be teachable in any reasonable length of time, if ever.

Many people say that “Children become bullies because they have low self-esteem.  To make themselves feel better, they bully people who are weaker.”  This is usually followed by the hope that, “If I understand why bullies bully, I’ll be able to teach bullies why bullying is wrong, and then they’ll stop bullying.”  These people typically allow bullies to continue abusing their targets, while they educate, beg, bribe, appease or therapeutize bullies.

Instead, take the focus away from psychotherapy of bullies and focus on stopping bullying first.  Teach your kids to protect themselves from kids who haven’t learned impulse control or to use other means to navigate in the world.  After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies.  As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time; let’s protect target children and adults right now. Educating bullies begins with stopping them.  Their main motivation for learning new tactics is when the old methods no longer succeed.

So why do bullies keep abusing us: Because they’re not stopped by the responsible adults.  Also, the responsible adults don’t train the targets and bystanders how to stop the bullies.  In addition, principals, teachers and parents often punish the targets for taking matters into their own hands, tongues or fists.

The secret to stopping bullies is to stop them.  Be as firm as you need – bullies will show you what you must do to stop them.

During economic ice ages or recessions, when times get hard, hardness tends to run rampant.  Most people are justifiably afraid they’ll lose their jobs and the lives they planned.  Will they get laid off or downsized through no fault of their own?  What will happen to their savings, insurance, college and retirement funds?  Will they be able to keep their homes or even eat next month? How do people react in the face of their recession-stimulated fears?  What type of bullying, harassment and abuse will increase at work?  How can we decrease negative self-talk that increases stress and destroys self-esteem and self-confidence?

Harassment by Leaders and Managers Managers and leaders will squeeze more from themselves and staff in order to reduce costs and stay afloat.  But some managers and leaders will abuse employees and subordinates just because they know they can.  Many people will tolerate bullying and abuse because they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they don’t give in.  But don’t give in to bullying, harassment or obnoxious treatment.  You are still protected from those abuses.  Don’t be pugnacious in return, but do insist on politeness and decent treatment.  Know the law, get allies and advisors, and document on your home computer.

Bullying by Coworkers Expect a huge increase in stealth bullying by coworkers and managerial peers.  Many will think that their survival requires them to get rid of you.  Some will become masters of backstabbing, criticism, sarcasm, snide put-downs, blaming, spreading rumors and gossip, smear tactics, taking credit from you, and forming cliques.  They’ll smile when they do it.  Keep your opinions to yourself and watch out for people who produce nothing, suck up and cover their backs.  Form your own clique of productive people you trust.  Also, ally with someone productive who has great people skills and a sense of what’s happening throughout the whole office.

Negative Self Talk The worst problem will be a dramatic increase in this type of “self-bullying.”  Your inner voices will make dire predictions of the future, tell you that you’re helpless in the grip of huge forces beyond your control and predict that, no matter how hard you try, you’ll inevitable fail.  Your supercritical inner voices will try to stress, depress and discourage you, and make you give up.  Your inner voices, full of self-questioning and self-doubt, can erode your self-esteem and self-confidence, destroy your hope and immobilize you.

Self-bullying is the most destructive form of bullying because it saps your will to overcome your circumstances.  Self-bullying can rob you of your determination, courage, strength and skill.  With those voices shouting or whispering in your ear, it’s impossible to gather yourself and make consistent, focused effort.  If you let fear and self-bullying destroy your strength and will, you won’t have the right stuff, you won’t do the right thing and the economic tide will pull you under.

You know which people spoke to you in those voices.  You know who really didn’t like or respect or appreciate you.  And which people thought they’d motivate you better by beating you down.  In either case, whether they ridicule your efforts or are simply certain of the bleak future they predict, their old style is no good for you now.  You need encouraging self-coaching now, not self-bullying.

In addition to finding a great coach or therapist to guide you in the inner work necessary to convert those voices into effective coaches, there’s a lot you can do to help yourself.

Turn off the parts of the outer world that feed fear, despair and depression.  Turn off the television and radio; don’t read newspapers or magazines; stop checking the snippets of fear on your smart phone.  Don’t waste your life being discouraged by endless analysis of what’s wrong and the latest expert’s predictions of impending and long lasting doom.  Walk away politely from people who wallow in fear and panic.  You don’t need those moment-to-moment, panic-making obsessions to know what you need to do to stay strong and do your best.

Look around.  Who doesn’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead, handles things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible?  Who has an inner light that gives them joy even when they don’t have all the comfort and toys they want?  Ask them how they look at the world.

Make new friends and acquaintances who stimulate your strength, courage and joy.  Find other great people to stand with.  In one swift and mighty sweep, end the self-doubt, the need to analyze and question, the self-bullying and brainwashing.  You have great sources of inner strength and power, if you would but let yourself feel them.  You have the guts and grit to thrive in this little ice age.  Your ancestors did and you have their strong genes.

Don’t give in to self-bullying or harassment or abuse by other people.  Overcome your fears.  Be a courageous leader, wherever you are in your company.

Emerson was right when he said, “What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”

Recently, I’ve seen articles and heard parents saying that since words can hurt, we shouldn’t deny our children what they want or ever say, "No" to them.  They think that if we deny them or say "No", we’ll damage their confidence and self esteem.  But if we give them continual praise and approval, we’ll help them develop high self-esteem and a willingness to take risks.  Some studies are even quoted about the harmful effects of the words parents use. I disagree with that advice and parenting style.

Of course words matter; and even more important is how they’re delivered – frequency, voice tone, body language and with beating or caressing.

Of course, unrelenting yelling, insults, criticism, humiliation, shame, guilt, dismissing, ridicule and rejection are harmful.  Personal insults hurt little children.  Hostility and personal attacks tell children that they are bad people for wanting what they want or for doing something wrong or for not doing something right.  It’s easy for children to think their identity is damaged, defective or blemished in ways that cannot be rectified.

A few days ago, I saw a chilling video made at a car wash.  A mother was holding the arm of an approximately 3-4-year-old child while torturing her with the power washing hose.  The child was screaming in pain and writhing to break free.  The mother was screaming that the child had better respect her.  Of course, we don’t need research to tell us that’s lousy parenting and abuse.

Such unrelenting viciousness isn’t confined to parents; it’s also dished out at work.  It’s as if some people really believe the motto attributed to Captain Bligh of the “Bounty:” The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Don’t live a life fueled by such anger and viciousness.  Weigh your life heavily toward approval, encouragement and praise.  After all, children naturally want to learn, explore and imitate their loving parents.  Maintain control of yourself during moments when your frustration might break out into emotional abuse and intimidation, or verbal and physical violence.

Create a background of loving physical and verbal caresses for all your interactions with your children.  Against that background, it’s critically important that you correct, deny and say "No" sometimes.  Don’t give children everything they want.  Set age-appropriate limits on their behavior.  Teach them how to get along socially.

Most important: Teach them that they can be denied and be told "No", and the world doesn’t end.  Their lives go on just fine without getting everything.  Maybe they’ll get what they want another day.  Or maybe, they’ll have to grow up and earn the money to get what they want for themselves.  Or maybe, as they grow older, they’ll become more aware of the consequences of what they want and they’ll learn to not want it.  That’s called self-discipline, character and integrity.

If you never say "No", you end up with spoiled, selfish children like Veruka Salt from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Teach them to be resilient so a "No" doesn’t crush their spirits.  Then, denial doesn’t stop them from ever wanting or asking again and a "No" isn’t emotional abuse and doesn’t cause emotional damage.

Teach your children what’s safe and unsafe, what’s right and wrong, what’s worthy and not good enough, what’s honorable and dishonorable.  Without your guidance, TV will teach them.

Some people still have scars because of what their parents said and did repeatedly.  And, of course, some have more and deeper scars.  But let’s be clear.  All of us ultimately have the same task: to get over our childhoods and create better lives for ourselves and our children.  Whether the scars were caused by parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors, teachers, school bullies or rotten strangers, the task is the same. How can we do that?  I always look to the people who had it worst: The ones who survived genocidal wars, prison camps, slavery.  How do they look at themselves and the world that they can still laugh and sing and dance and love?  And it’s our job to become like them also.

In addition, we can now resist the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual attacks by spouses, co-workers and bosses.  We can now resist putdowns and bullies; we can now reject their opinions or fight back. We must now train our own memories and fears: The future does not have to be as bad as the past was.  Otherwise we become adult victims to what they did to us when we were children.

Don’t let those ruin the rest of your life.  Grow up.  They might have been in charge of the past, but you’re in charge of the future.

History is not destiny.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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