One of the typical tactics of sly, sneaky, stealthy, manipulative bullies is to work in the dark; to not be seen to be bullies.  Then, when a light is shined on their abusive behavior, they claim that they were just having fun; that they were just kidding around; that they didn’t know their target was offended, hurt or minded their attacks. This tactic is used at home by bullying, toxic spouses, parents or children, and by bullies and their cliques in schools and at work.

In order to stop these bullies you must protest; you must say “No!”

Often, people decide to ignore the bullying.  These targets (on their way to becoming victims):

Ignoring bullies can be a good first response, but only if we use it as a test.  If we ignore the bully and he stops, fine.  We’re okay.  But if the bully moves on to bully someone else, the question then becomes, “Are we willing to be good witnesses?”

But what if the bullying doesn’t stop?  Usually, determined, relentless bullies are only encouraged by lack of resistance.  They see a non-resisting target as holding up a “victim” sign and they escalate.  They can’t understand the moral impetus behind such kindness.  They’re bullies. They interpret our lack of push-back as fear and weakness, no matter how we interpret it.  They’re encouraged to organize cliques to demean, mock, attack and hurt us more.

Other people assume that if we’re not protesting, we must know we’re in the wrong; we must deserve the treatment we’re getting.  Our society saw that phenomenon when women didn’t cry “rape!”

At school, if we and our children don’t protest loudly, clearly and in writing to teachers, principals and district administrators, bullies can excuse and justify their behavior by claiming they didn’t know we thought of their actions as bullying.  So, of course, they felt free to continue bullying.  And we’ll have no defense.  This goes for physical, mental, emotional and cyber-bullying.

At work, many bullies use the same tactic.  Even if our company has rules against bullying, if we didn’t protest loudly, firmly and in writing, we’ll have no legal grounds to stand on later.  Our supervisors need written documentation in order to act.  And we need it in order to hold cowardly, conflict-avoidant supervisors accountable later.

Of course, we must also protest against abuse by overt bullies, even if that makes them feel proud.  But that will get the ball rolling for our resistance.

But, if we protest, won’t the bullying get worse? Maybe or maybe not.  Remember, what happened we tried the test of not protesting?  When we didn’t protest, the harassment, abuse and bullying got worse.  So we might as well learn to protest effectively; the first step of which is creating records and documentation.

And we don’t want to live our lives as cowards, do we?  Remember the old and very true sayings about cowards dying a thousand deaths.  That’s an underestimate.  If we don’t protest, our negative self-talk, blame, shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, stress and depression will pervade our lives.  Our lives will shrivel like prunes.

For some techniques to overcome worry, fear and hesitation, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” available fastest from this web site.

If we protest, will the bullies stop? Although there’s a guarantee that relentless bullies will escalate if we don’t protest, there’s no guarantee that simply protesting will stop them.  Protesting is only the first step in responding effectively.  We may need to go up to higher steps to stop a particular bully.

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.

When we follow experts’ checklists, and we recognize and label our spouses’ behavior as “bullying” and our demanding, controlling, narcissistic, abusive spouses as “bullies,” we generate our own power.  We may use that power to re-enter the fight with renewed vigor and a new sense that we’re right. But many bullies, especially demanding, controlling, narcissistic, sneaky, manipulative, abusive spouses, will not be convinced to change by our experts or our internal power.

There’s a better way.

Bullying spouses will often get their own experts or friends or mothers to say that our experts are wrong.  Their experts will say, “Our spouses are in the normal range and it’s our fault that they’re acting the way they do.  We made them do it.”

Also, many bullies like to debate, argue and fight foreverThey never concede a point or give ground.  No matter how many experts we get to prove that they’re bullies, they won’t changeThey expect to wear us down.  We can see how that argument can go around and around forever.

The fundamental problem with that approach is our willingness to debate and argue because outside experts tell us that we’re right or that we’ve been wronged, and, therefore, our spouses should change.

The better course, the winning way is to ask our inner expert. We ask ourselves, not if they’re bullying us, but simply whether we like or don’t like what they do.  We know what we like and don’t like; we know how much we like or hate it; we know what we’re willing to compromise about or put up with and what we’re not.

We begin with our judgment and act on that judgment. The fundamental and true justifications for what we do are “I want to” and “I don’t want to.”  Not necessarily as a snap judgment, but as a source of energy and power.  Later, we supply a thin coating of logical reasons to make people think we’re rational.

We’re acting on our own standards and for the benefit of our heart and soul – and probably for our kids also.  That’s real power.  Since we know what we want, we don’t need to change our spouse or get our spouse to agree or give permission.  Gone are doubt, hesitation, self-questioning, negative, self-bullying self-talk, insecurity, lack of confidence and low self-esteem.

A declaration of what we want or don’t want is unassailable by outside experts.  We know right away that any who tries to talk us out of what we want by saying, “That’s dumb.  That’s crazy.  That’s silly.  That’s unreasonable.  That’s selfish.  That’s arrogant.  That’s too demanding.  That’s not loving,” is not a person we want to keep as a lover, friend or relative.

Acting because we want to is more than enough justification. Acting as our own expert, on our own best judgment, because we want to is how we take charge of our present and future.

Instead of thinking we need to prove or justify something according to our spouse’s logic, we’re now testing our spouse.

  • We say what we will never tolerate and what we must have.
  • We say what we want and don’t want strongly, and how many chances we’re giving.
  • We say what we’re willing to negotiate or to give, and what we must have in return – and how many chances.

 

This technique is detailed in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” available fastest from this web site.

Don’t pay attention to objectors or inner objections:

We can’t let our feelings ruin our future.  We’ll fall in love again with someone even better.

Given our standards, is our spouse willing to act in a way that we’ll allow them to stay on our island or will we vote them off?  It’s our island and we’re the only one who votes.

It’s that clear and simple even though the specific action plan will have to be adjusted depending on the situation – money, kids, relatives, culture, etc.

But what if we’re wrong or too picky? On the one hand we do know that experts are wrong.  For example, expert advice for the best way to parent has changed every few years during my lifetime.  There are no guarantees.

On the other hand, we might make a mistake.  So what?  We are learners.  The more we listen to our inner expert, the more expert it will become and the more it will help us.  We’re not children any more.  It’s better to follow our own path than be ruled by parents, spouses or experts.

This choice is wonderfully illustrated in the Daniel Day-Lewis movie version of “The Last of The Mohicans”.

British Major Duncan wants Cora to marry him.  Her father wants her to marry him.  But Cora hesitates.  Cora is thinking about breaking away from the cage of her upbringing.   She tells him of her hesitation.

Duncan says, “Why not let those whom you trust, like your father, help settle what is best for you.  In view of your indecision, you should rely on their judgment and mine.  Will you consider that?”

At first she’s not sure, but later she sees a side of Major Duncan she would never let herself live with.  She tells Duncan, “I have considered your offer.  The decision I have come to is that I would rather make the gravest of mistakes than surrender my own judgment.  My answer to you must be, ‘No.’”

She will follow her own judgment, not theirs.  She will not let those “experts” rule her life.

Be brave.  We can get help to access the expert within us and learn to trust our inner expert.  We can act because we want to and be the hero of our lives.

In a series of articles in the New York Times, “Poisoned Web,” Jan Hoffman details a sexting case gone viral in Lacey, Washington.  What can you do for your son or daughter so they don’t get sucked into the black hole of a sexting catastrophe that could ruin their whole lives?

In this particular case, a middle-school girl sent a full-frontal nude photo of herself, including her face, to her new middle-school boyfriend.  He forwarded the picture to a second middle-school girl he thought was a friend of the first one.  The second girl, an ex-friend with a grudge, forwarded the picture to the long list of contacts on her phone with the caption, “Ho Alert!  If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.”  The photo rapidly went viral.

A lot of the analysis about the situation is nothing new:

  • Why do girls send nude photos of themselves to boyfriends they have or hope to have?  The same reasons girls always have.
  • Why do guys prize and show these pictures as evidence of what studs they are?  The same reasons guys always have.
  • Why do friends of the guys or mean girls forward the pictures?  The same reasons that names used to get written on bathroom or phone booth walls.  The same reasons that girls have always cut down their competition and enemies.  Bullies, bullying, harassment and abusive behavior have always been with us.
  • Who or what is to blame?  The same culprits get vilified: thoughtless, foolish boys and girls, teenagers, school officials, society, double-standards and technology.

Does technology make sexting worse?  Yes, of course.  Technology makes it seductively easy to forward pictures and comments.  Also, technology makes the information global and permanent.  Kids can’t move to another school or even another city in order to get away from the consequences of what they and others did.

In the past, many reputations and lives were ruined by foolish moments.  Kids and adults have always been able to exercise righteous or mean or vicious inclinations, but it’s so much easier now.

What are the consequences to those caught up in sexting?  The girl who sends her picture may be the subject of vicious attacks all her life.  Her inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience will be tested.  She may feel helpless and that her situation is hopeless.  She may go down the path to being a victim for life.  Her self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed.  Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated.  She can move toward isolation, depression and suicide.

The boy, the second girl and everyone else who forwards the picture have to face their own stupidity or meanness.  And they may have to face their role in a suicide.  An act of a moment can destroy a life.  Also, they may have to face prison.  We hope this will help them do better the rest of their lives.  Humans have always learned some lessons the hard way.

Do today’s kids face overwhelming pressure?  Many people make excuses for the foolish or nasty kids; as if the external pressures are overwhelming.  For example, the article quotes, “'You can’t expect teenagers not to do something they see happening all around them,’ said Susannah Stern, an associate professor at the University of San Diego who writes about adolescence and technology.”  This line of thought focuses on reducing all pressure and temptation.

But pressure was just as great throughout history as it is now – depending on the particular time in each society.

What’s the solution?

These steps will decrease the number of kids involved in sexting.  But we’ll never stop 100 percent of kids’ foolish or mean or vicious actions.  But that can’t be our intention.  Our goal is to educate kids whose awareness of the potential consequences of their actions will awaken in them the ability to do better.

Our goal can’t be to educate or convert psychopaths or people who want to make a living off child pornography.  Educational approaches aren’t effective with these people.

I do expect most kids to be able to learn to be stronger, to develop better character and to be able to resist the temptations of our popular culture.  There’s nothing new in the temptations and pressure the kids face.  The only new thing is the ease and permanence that technology offers.  I focus not on making society easy and safe, but on developing individual values, character, heart and spirit.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must design plans that are appropriate to preventing our individual children from sending pictures or forwarding them, and to minimizing the disaster if they act foolishly.

If your children are the targets of cyberbullies or sexting, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome the effects of seeming to have your child’s life ruined by a foolish act in middle-school.

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).

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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Many types of family bullying are obvious, whether it’s physical or verbal harassment, nastiness or abuse, and targets or witnesses usually jump in to stop it.  The typical perpetrators are mothers and fathers bullying each other or the kids, sibling bullies, bullying step-parents or kids sneakily bullying a step-parent in order to drive a wedge between a biological parent and their new partner. But many people allow extended family members to abuse their children or their spouses, especially at the holidays, because they’re afraid that protest will split the family into warring factions that will never be healed.  They’re afraid they’ll be blamed for destroying family unity or they accept a social code that proclaims some image of “family” as the most important value.

Except in a few, rare situations, that’s a big mistake.

A rare exception might be an aged, senile and demented, or a dying family member whose behavior is tolerated temporarily while the children are protected from the abuse.

But a more typical example of what shouldn’t be tolerated was a grandpa who had a vicious tongue, especially when he drank.  He angrily told the grandchildren they were weak, selfish and dumb.  He ripped them down for every fault – too smart, too stupid; too fat, too skinny; too short, too tall; too pretty, too ugly; too demanding, too shy.  He also focused on fatal character flaws; born lazy, born failure, born evil, born unwanted.

For good measure, he verbally assaulted his own children and their spouses – except for the favorite ones.  He even did this around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables when the parents and their spouses were present.  He was always righteous and right.

Imagine that you see the fear, stress, anxiety and pain on your children’s faces and on your spouse’s face; you feel the pain and anger in your own heart.  You hate being there; you hate exposing your family to the negativity and abuse.  The rest of the adults try to shrug it off saying, “It’s only dad.  He really does love us.  His life has been hard.”  Or they insist, “Don’t upset the family, don’t force us to choose sides, family comes first.”

What can you do?

I assume you’ve asked him to stop or given him dirty looks, but that only seemed to encourage him to attack you and your children more.  Or he apologized, but didn’t stop for even minute.  When you arrived late and tried to leave early, he attacked your family even more.  He blamed you for disrupting the family.  The rest of the adults also said that it’s your fault you aren’t kind and family oriented enough to put up with him.

What else can you do?

I think you have to step back and look at the big picture – a view of culture, society and what’s important in life.  Only then can you decide what fights are important enough to fight and only then will you have the strength, courage and perseverance to act effectively.

Compare two views: one in which blood family is all important. We are supposed to do anything for family and put up with anything from family because we need family in order to survive or because family is the greatest good.  This view says that if you put anything above family, especially your individual conscience or needs, you’ll destroy the foundations of civilized life and expose yourself in times of need.  In this view, we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves and our children to our biological family – by blood or by marriage.

We can see the benefits of this view.  When you’re old and sick, who else will take care of you but kith and kin?  In this view, the moral basis of civilization is the bond of blood and marriage.  Violate that relationship, bring disunity into the family by standing up for your individual views and you jeopardize everything important and traditional.

In my experience, this view is usually linked to the view that men and inherited traditions should rule.  Boys are supposed to torment girls because that teaches them how to become men.  Girls are supposed to submit because that’s their appointed role – sanctioned by religion and culture.  If men are vicious to women and children, if old people are vicious to the young, that’s tolerated.

Contrast this view with an alternative in which behavior is more important than blood. Your individual conscience and rules of acceptable behavior are more important than traditions that enable brutality and pain generation after generation.  What’s most important in this view is that you strive to create an environment with people who fill your heart with joy – a family of your heart and spirit.

If you choose the first view, you’ll never be able to stop bullying and abuse.  Your children will see who has the power and who bears the pain.  They’ll model the family dynamics they saw during the holidays.   You’ve abdicated the very individual conscience and power that you need to protect yourself and your children.  You’ll wallow in ineffective whining and complaining, hoping that someone else will solve your problem.

The best you can hope for outside the family, when your children face bullies who have practiced being bullies or being bullied at home, is that school authorities will do what’s right and protect your children from bullies.  But how can you expect more courage from them than you have?  Or why shouldn’t they accept the culture which tolerates bullying and abuse, just like you have?

Once you’ve decided that you will stop accepting intolerable behavior, your action plan will have to be adjusted to the circumstances, for example:

  • Are you the biological child in the family or merely a spouse?
  • Is your spouse willing to be as strong as you?
  • Who’s the perpetrator – a grandparent, another adult or spouse, a cousin, a more distant relative?
  • Do you see the perpetrator every year or once a decade?
  • Do other adults acknowledge the abuse also?

Expert coaching and good books and CDs like “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up” and “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” will help you make the necessary inner shifts and also develop a stepwise action plan that fits your family situation and newly developed comfort zone.  For example, see the case studies of Kathy, Jake and Ralph.

Keep in mind that while you hope the perpetrator will change his or her behavior, your goal is really to have an island with people who make every occasion joyous.  You must be prepared to go all the way to withdrawing from family events or to starting a fight that will split the family into two camps.  But at least you’ll be in a camp in which you feel comfortable spending the holidays.

Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.  Sometimes when one person speaks up, many others join in and the combined weight of opinion forces an acceptable change.  Sometimes if you say you’ll withdraw, you’ll be seen as the most difficult person in the room and the rest of the family will make the abuser change or ostracize him or her.

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

I disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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