Many people believe that forgiveness – complete, unconditional and true – is necessary for spiritual development and for stopping bullies. These people struggle so they can see all people as completely spiritual and good, they strive to love them unconditionally, and they aspire to rise above earthly concerns and values.  That makes them feel very spiritual and virtuous.

However, much more often, I see the trap that “ineffective forgiveness” leads people into.

There’s a better way – “effective forgiveness.”

What I see are the many women and men who I’ve coached or who have written comments about their years of trying to love and forgive bullies who haven’t changed and who continue to harass and abuse them and their children.  Ineffective forgiveness becomes a trap when:

  • We don’t stop thinking about the incidents and we generate the same repeating cycle of strong emotions.
  • We don’t take precautions so the bully repeatedly attacks us.
  • We don’t learn how to avoid the same traps or how to stop bullying by toxic, selfish, narcissistic bullies’ sneaky manipulations, control, back-stabbing, or overt violence or threats of violence.

Ineffective forgiveness means that we hope the other person won’t be mean or nasty next time.  We hope that our believing this bit of wishful thinking helps bullies become better.  And to show that we’ve forgiven, we must put ourselves back into the same position in hopes bullies won’t take advantage of our good nature and kindness.

Ineffective forgiveness means people have put the value of forgiveness and the value of self-protection at the same level.  This trap leads to despair, defeat, depression and, maybe, suicide.

Almost all of the women who have interviewed me on radio and television were raised to be “nice girls.”  Their mothers taught them to forgive the mean girls who tormented and terrorized them, because those girls must have had terrible home lives.  They were taught that it was wrong to fight back and to protect themselves.

This kind of ineffective forgiveness doesn’t stop relentless bullying at home, at school or at work.

What do we try to gain by replaying incidents of bullying and abuse? Replaying is a motivational strategy.  We’re trying to develop enough fear or pain, suffering or sorrow, isolation or depression, anger or rage so that we’ll finally take steps to protect ourselves.  We’re trying to develop enough energy to act effectively.

Therefore, once we know that we’ll protect ourselves, we can stop the rehashing the incidents, stop regenerating the strong emotion in order to keep us suspicious and alert.  Then we can forgive effectively.

What are the goals of effective forgiveness and what do we usually require to get there?

  • The goal of effective forgiveness is simply to stop thinking about the other person so they occupy no space in our mental or emotional worlds.
  • In order to relax our vigilance, either we have to know that the perpetrator won’t try bullying us again or that we’ll protect ourselves, naturally, automatically and easily, if they ever try again.  Because we’ll stop them automatically, we don’t need to replay and re-analyze all the terrible incidents to keep us on guard and full of energy.
  • Sometimes we’ll get bullies out of our environment, off our isle of song, but sometimes we’ll allow them to stay, although we’ll protect our personal space next time.  Effective forgiveness does not mean that we must still relate to them in the way they want.  Whoever tries to require continued interaction as evidence of “forgiveness,” is still trying to control us.
  • Usually, we test a bully’s sincerity by requiring public apologies and amends.  If they won’t do these, we correctly don’t trust them.  Even if they do these, we still can choose to get them out of our space.

What if no apologies or amends are possible? I saw a program about the Amish in America, in which a portion was devoted to a young man who invaded an Amish school, sent all the boys out and started shooting all the girls. He killed five and seriously wounded more.  Then he killed himself.

What can we say?  There are no apologies or amends that would make that okay.

I’m saying that in such cases, the task of the Amish families is not to forget, but somehow to move on with the children who are alive and with each other.  Whatever they can think and do to reduce this horror to a size that makes it only a part of life, to a size that still allows them to find joy, for the children to grow up and love and have their own children, whatever allows them to do that is effective.  If they use the work “forgiveness,” that’s fine.

How can we forgive ourselves? Follow the same approach.  Beating ourselves relentlessly; negative self-talk, self-bullying, self-doubt, self-questioning, perfectionism, blame, shame, guilt and self-flagellation are simply ways of continuing to remind ourselves to do better.  But that’s a hard way to keep the reminder in mind.  The price is pretty high – loss of confidence and self-esteem, loss of will and determination.  When we change our way of being in the world, so we know we won’t act that way again, we won’t need the self-bullying.  Or when we make ourselves into people who are so filled with the best of us that we won’t act that way next time, we won’t need the self-bullying to motivate us to stay on track.

The goal of effective forgiveness is always about behavior:

No specific process is required or is the best, as long as we get to the goal.  Whatever our explanations, psychological rationalizations, excuses or justifications are for bullies’ behavior or whatever make us feel good about forgiving them, the only criterion that really matters is that we get to the goals of effective forgiveness – we don’t waste our time and energy obsessing on the bullies and we protect ourselves.

Notice that I haven’t gone into abstract discussions about the existence of evil, or whether bullies are sinners or whether this world of pain and suffering, of joy and beauty is real or whether it’s a delusion to see through.  Those considerations might be important to some people, but they’re irrelevant to learning how to stop bullies and to protect ourselves from their attacks.

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.

The Harry Potter series has given us many vivid and compelling images.  One of my favorites is the “Dementors.” Bullies can act like Dementors.  They can torment us and suck the joy out of any wonderful moment or out of our plans for a wonderful future.

Some people also have personal, inner Dementors that suck the joy and commitment out of their lives.

In addition to the pain caused by their harassment, abuse and bullying, external Dementors are like energy vampires who can suck our will and determination.  They can make us see the world as a hateful place.  At home, at school, in friendships or at work, people afflicted by these bullies seem to trudge through life, waiting for the next attack even though they never know when it will come.

Usually overlooked are our personal Dementors that can whisper loudly in our ears or mind at any moment.  But they’re most often active around 2 AM.  Since they’re part of us, inner Dementors know our every hesitation, weakness, sin, anxiety, fear and self-judgment.  They know exactly how to put us down for maximum effect.  They know how to best undercut us when we feel good or to cut us down by self-bullying, negative, self-talk.

Using blame, shame, guilt, and remorse or recrimination, inner Dementors rub our nose in every imperfection.  Sometimes wordlessly or sometimes in a parent’s voice they can destroy our confidence and self esteem.  They can blacken our future and make us give up.

Even though we can hear those Dementors at 2 AM in our parent’s voices, we eventually discover that it’s we who are holding ourselves back and destroying our lives.  It’s like that scene from “Star Wars,” in which Luke Skywalker is being trained by Yoda and he must go into a cave to fight Darth Vader.  He wins the fight and rips off Darth’s helmet only to discover his own face behind the mask.

What can we do at 2 AM? Our personal Dementors tend to come when we’re at our weakest, in that state between sleep and waking.  In that fog, we’re less able to gather ourselves and resist.  So a good response, when we can’t fall right back to sleep is to wake up completely.  Get out of bed, take a shower; wake up.

Our “Monkey Minds” need something to pay attention to all the time so give them something useful to do.  When we’re fully awake we can resist more effectively.  We can see the lies in all the put-downs.  We’re not really that bad.  We’re only that bad when viewed through eyes that don’t love us, that hate us, including the hostile eyes many people grew up with.  We can talk back to those hostile voices, send them back to the people they really belong to and let our own versions rise up and pop like bubbles in soda.

When we can look at ourselves through eyes of love and understanding, we can connect once again with our strength, courage and determination to do better.  Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we can leap out of bed each morning and grab another chance to do better.  No matter how many times we’ve failed, if we have another day, we can do better.  We can use our caring for ourselves as a springboard to be at our best.

We can say, “That’s enough!”  We won’t be defeated by defeat!

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.

Newspaper videos show a suburban Dallas teacher watch one of his high school students get beaten by another student.  This was not an isolated incident.  That student was targeted for months.  Since Dallas doesn’t have a policy, teachers are on their own in deciding what to do.  In that environment, do you think that this is an isolated incident?  Not likely.  Is this only a problem for Dallas schools?  Not likely. I have a lot of sympathy for the teacher (even though he was a relatively large man) and even more for the target, who’d been turned into a victim by school-system adults who were irresponsible.  Don’t focus only on the teacher; focus on all the adults in the Dallas school system who abandoned that kid – from board members to principals and teachers and the teachers’ union.

Everyone involved in schools knows there’s a problem.  Everyone points fingers at everyone else but no one takes the obvious actions.  Why wait until there’s another killing or another suicide before they act?

Sometimes I get mad enough to want to see the bullies and the adults’ people’s pictures in the post office among the most wanted, or on television, so we can recognize the slackers when we see them at the supermarket.  Who do I fault?

  • Legislators and school board members: How can they not have laws and policies?  I know there are lots of problems writing good laws and crafting effective policies, but if they’re not up to the task, resign and let us get some adults who can.  We all know that if their kids were targeted, they’d spring into action.
  • The teachers’ union: I’m appalled that the union isn’t leading the fight (read, “spending their lobbying dollars”) to make legislators pass laws and school boards implement strong policies to empower and protect teachers when they intervene.  They have all the evidence they need to act.
  • According to the article in the Dallas News, “Rena Honea, president of Dallas teachers association Alliance-AFT, says, ‘Teachers have intervened in the past.  They have been injured.  They have not been able to return to work.  They have been reprimanded for intervening.  So there is a huge question mark as to what's truly appropriate.  Teachers who have intervened in the past have found themselves on the ground, suffering from sometimes serious injuries, a 2008 story by Tawnell Hobbs found.  She found that assaults by students on Dallas ISD employees and volunteers had more than doubled over a 5-year span from 147 incidents in 2002-03 to 312 in 2006-07, according to district statistics.
  • Of course, bullies don’t respect adults who don’t maintain lines of civil behavior.  Of course, bullies will attack people, even adults, they think can’t protect and defend themselves.
  • Principals and teachers: They’re stuck, hanging out to dry on their own, unprotected by their employers (school boards) and by their union.  That teacher in Seagoville, Texas was risking his career and his personal life if he intervened.  The attacker could have beaten him.  The attacker and his parents could have sued him.  No one is protecting him.  He’s in a no-win situation.  How come the school district doesn’t have a clear, strong program that requires principals and teachers to act?
  • The bully and his parents: Have his parents done anything to teach their child?  Has the kid never learned any better?  How come the parents haven’t come forward to apologize or ask the police to prosecute their child?  Are the adults in the school system so afraid of being sued that they’ve abandoned our children?

Harassing, bullying, abusing and beating kids are terrible acts.  Irresponsible adults who have good reasons, rationalizations, excuses and justifications for not intervening are even worse.  They convert targets into victims.

Targets can resist and get help from responsible adults.

Victims are unprotected, helpless and isolated.  When victims grow up:

The next articles will deal with what we, as parents, can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to our children; especially what we can do during the summer.

But the general take-home for parents is that all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials 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.

 

“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).

Being judgmental has gotten a bad name and for good reasons. Our whole world has experienced the horror wrought by people who felt superior and righteous in destroying other people they thought were inferior or even non-human.  Also, in our personal lives, we’ve experienced the damage done by arrogant, righteous spouses, parents, relatives and others who always knew best and felt entitled to taunt, tease, harass, bully and abuse us or to cast us out.

However, it’s a mistake to use these examples of righteous people with poor judgment as proof that:

  1. The process of making judgments is bad.  It’s not.  It’s necessary.
  2. We should accept all perspectives and ways of living in the world as equal or as equally valid.  They’re not.

But that’s all abstract.  The real questions are whether we need to be more or less judgmental and which of our judgments are worth keeping and how.  Take the quick quiz.

Before you take the quick quiz, see “Being Judgmental” as having four parts:

  1. Discerning; making judgments, estimating what the consequences of some action will be, deciding what we like and what we don’t like.
  2. Deciding which ways of behaving are acceptable in our personal space.
  3. Making these boundaries in our personal lives stick.
  4. Getting righteous, indignant or angry when people do what we think is wrong or dumb, or when they don’t do what we think is right or good or best.

Understanding this process, we can now take the quick quiz to help us decide whether you’re being bullied and whether to be more or less judgmental and in which areas of our lives:

  1. Do you ignore early warning signs and get stuck in situations that are painful?  Do you distrust your own judgment?
  2. Do other people often tell you what’s right or what you should do?  Do you need to act more on your own judgment and listen less to other people?
  3. Do you feel like other people or one other person runs your life or decides what you can or cannot do?  Do you accept harassment and bullying?
  4. Does someone else have more control over your time, money, friends or activities?  Do you try to understand, compromise or give in but they don’t?  Are you anxious, stressed or afraid of what they might do?
  5. Do you need to get angry before you act?  Do you often feel guilty or ashamed afterward?
  6. Do people ignore, laugh, argue or avoid what you want when you insist that they act in certain ways in your personal space?  ?
  7. Do people trample over your boundaries?  Do they get away with not changing?  Do you let them stay in your life?  Do they wear you down?  Is life an endless struggle?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions – if you feel bossed and controlled, if you get taken advantage of, if you’re the one who almost always gives in or tries to make peace, if you rarely get your way, if you have to justify everything you do or ask permission before you can do anything – then you’re not protecting yourself enough, you’re not being judgmental enough and you’re not acting based on what you know in your heart-of-hearts to be true.

If you answered “yes,” to most of these questions, you need to act firmly, courageously, strongly and skillfully on your own judgments.  You need to build your confidence and self-esteem.  You need to take power over your own actions, whether the other person likes it or not.

Many people ask, “But how do I know if I’m right or fair or normal in what I want?  How can I demand what I want when I’m not sure I deserve it or if I might be selfish?”

That way of thinking leads us no where.  That way of thinking puts us under the control of someone else who thinks they know better than we do.  There’s no chance for happiness down that path – only submission.

The path that has a chance of yielding happiness and joy and fulfillment is the path of being discerning, of having more and better judgments, and of making our judgments stick in our lives.

Getting angry, righteous and indignant are motivation strategies.  We typically generate those feelings to get ourselves angry enough to act.  The problem with that method of motivation is contained in “The Emotional Motivation Cycle” (See “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up).  This method usually isn’t effective long-term.

Instead, a better method is shown in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”  Trust the signals from our guts when they’re just at the level of irritation or frustration, and use the effective five-step process.  When we act based on that level of emotion, we’ll make better plans and carry them out more effectively.

That doesn’t tell us how to accomplish what we need; that doesn’t tell us how to get free from oppression we’ve previously accepted, but that tells us that we must.  All plans and tactics must be designed to fit us and our specific situation.  That’s why we need expert coaching and, maybe, legal advice.  But now we know the direction we must set in our lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
11 CommentsPost a comment

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).

I’ve often seen principals, guidance counselors, teachers and district administrators recommend mediation even for relentless school bullies and their targets, even after the bully has taunted, teased, harassed and abused the target for months and the school officials haven’t changed the bully’s behavior by asking, encouraging, begging and bribing the bully. In these situations, the principals finally give up and throw the burden back on the defenseless targets by saying that the kids have to work things out on their own.  In these circumstances, this recommendation is a cowardly abdication of adult responsibility and authority, and it’s totally wrong.

Of course mediation and the weight of peer opinion and condemnation can be effective in some cases.  For example, in situations in which two kids got into it with one time, it’s possible to bring them together and build a bridge of civility and even respect.

But in recommending one-to-one mediation when the school officials have already failed, the officials have taken the third step in converting your targeted child into a victim:

  1. The first step was in not protecting the target, in not removing the bully, in not having consequences for the bully and his family the next time the bullying occurred, in not kicking the bully out of school.
  2. The second step in converting targets into victims is usually taken in cases where the principal, teachers, counselors and school district administrators have been unable to rehabilitate the bully through asking, teaching, begging and bribing the bully.  They make the target pay the price by removing him from the classroom or by simply looking the other way when the bully acts and then stonewalling and lying to the target’s parents.  They hope the target will be less stubborn than the bully and will agree to suffer in silence.  However, when the bully realizes that he has power, he usually increases his violence because no adult is making him stop bullying and other kids are afraid of him because he can get away with doing what he wants.
  3. The third step that uncaring, lazy, weak, inept or cowardly principals take is when they blame the target.  They say, “You must be doing something wrong because the bully’s still picking on you.  Therefore, if you get together and apologize and promise to do whatever the bully wants, he won’t have a good reason to abuse you.  If you can’t make him change, it’s your fault.”  They call that “Mediation.”  That kind of mediation assumes that the target did something wrong, that the bully has good reason to be angry and abusive, and that the bully will stop when the target grovels.  That form of mediation completely ignores the truth that relentless bullies are predators. For whatever reasons – their own pain, their drive for power and position – they will keep bullying until they’re actually stopped.

This approach makes the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  They’ll be victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide. Parents, when principals have gone on weeks and months making excuses why they allow the bullying to continue, they’re telling you that you’re on your own.

  • They won’t stop the bully; they’ll look the other way.  They’ll let your child sink or swim on his own in the shark-infested waters of the playground, cafeteria, lockers, hallways, bathroom or bus.
  • They don’t care about your child’s feelings or problems.  They either care about the bully’s feelings more or they simply don’t want to deal with a difficult problem.  Don’t let your child entertain self-doubt or negativity.  Don’t give in to stress, anxiety, hopelessness or depression.  Don’t go down that path to helplessness and suicideKeep your child’s confidence and self-esteem high.  You and your child can stay strong and courageous; you can stop the bully.
  • Encourage your child to maintain his inner strength and move up a staircase of increasing firmness to try to get the bully to look for easier prey.  All tactics depend on the situation, but there are some general guidelines.
    • At the bottom of the staircase we try peaceful, friendly methods.  We ignore it, we say ouch, we ask the bully to stop, we try to deflect it with jokes, we avoid contact.  If that stops the bully, your child wasn’t really dealing with a relentless bully.  If the bully doesn’t stop, if the violence continues, we need to teach our children to push back verbally.
    • If verbal methods don’t stop the bully and the school officials won’t stop the bullying, especially with younger kids, when it’s one-to-one and the kids are the same size, your child must be prepared to beat up the bully, if possible.  Prepare your child with martial arts training.  Of course you must be aware that the older a bully is, the more likely he is to be carrying a weapon.  I’m going to this level because you’ve already failed using every peaceful means you can.
    • I’m assuming that the principal and district administrators have not stopped the bullying while you’ve been talking to them and your child has slowly gone up the staircase.  Of course, when your child hits back those cowardly principals will attack your child because, they’ll say, “We don’t condone violence,” even though they permitted the bully to be violent for months.  And usually, they permitted his friends to pile on by attacking your child verbally and physically or through cyberbullying.  They’ll suspend your child for fighting back.  Arrange for your child to be prepared and happy.  Go to Disney World as if you won the Super Bowl.  If the bullying stops because your child is ready to fight again, it’s worth the trip.
  • Since you won’t have legal redress – principals can’t be fired if they don’t stop bullies – your only alternative is plenty of bad publicity.  You’ll need a lawyer and the ear of sympathetic reporters.  Get your documentation together and make it public; minutes of all the meetings with the principal, emails and letters received by the principal expressing your concerns for your child’s safety and containing the minutes of the meetings.  Look for a reporter or station manager who was bullied and not protected when he or she was a child.  They might champion your cause.
  • The most important consideration is your child.  Eventually, you want your child to get a good education.  You must increase his strength, courage, character and will.  You want him grow up to look back at the bully and the authorities who didn’t protect him as insignificant.  They were speed bumps in his life that he’s overcome and doesn’t even think about now because his life is so wonderful.  That may mean that you remove your child from the care of school officials who don’t care about his physical, mental and emotional well-being and safety.

By the time the principal suggests mediation, you know you’ve given them too much time and trust.  You’ve been in an adversarial relationship and you didn’t recognize it.  Now you know.  Act wisely and tactically.

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).

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).

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
24 CommentsPost a comment

Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller.  She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures. If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame.  Amy Chua is an abusive bully.

She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.

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

Some of her ideas and claims are:

  • “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
  • “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.”  Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
  • “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches.  Chinese parents aren't.  They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
  • “Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them.  If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough.  That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences.”

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

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

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

There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.

What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?

  • She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
  • She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
  • She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet.  I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
  • She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”).  If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
  • She assumes that there’s only one way to get children to work and succeed.  Because no children want to work at the right subjects, you must beat them into submission physically, verbally and emotionally.
  • She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
  • There’s almost no joy in their lives.  Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise.  But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning.  There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.

Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost. This is a great and necessary value.  It has made our society the first world.  But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.

No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks.  She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection.  That’s why people take it so personally.  Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons.  These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.

Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx.  She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon.  When she grew up she sued him.

A better approach:

  • Have you observed your children individually and carefully?  One approach does not fit them all.
  • Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own?  Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out?  This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
  • What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own?  Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you?  How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
  • Character is critical.  All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs.  What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn?  Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
  • Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it.  You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.

By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.”  In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices.  In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her.  That’s not the answer either.

All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.

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

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

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

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

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
Tagsabusing, abusive, accomplish, activities, adults, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, allowed, ambivalent, American, Amy Chua, anxiety, anxious, article, attacking, attacks, Aung San Suu Kyi, barbarian, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, beating, beatings, beats, beauty, book, brutality, brute, bullies, Bullies at School, bully, bullying, bureaucrats, character, Charles Dickens, children, China, Chinese, Chinese Mothers, choose, Chua, claims, Communist, compassion, compete, competitive, complain, computer, computer games, connection, control, control-freak, creative, culture, cultures, Darwin, dedicated, defeat; win, demand, depression, desires, desperate, determination, determined, discourage, dominating, emotionally, encourage, encouraged, energetic, entrepreneurs, esteem, excoriate, failures, Fascist, fragility, fundamental, games, Gates, grades, guilt, happy, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hildegard of Bingen, honor, In Defense of the Guilty, inconvenience, independent, individuality, individually, inhumanity, Isolate, Joan of Arc, joy, jungle, justification, lawyer, lazy, liberty, literature, losers, love, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Marx, material, mothers, narcissistic, narrow, Nazi, negative, negative self-talk, nightmares, nurture, pain, parenting, parents, passionate, perfect, performance, permissive, physically, piano, playdate, power, preferences, Preoccupied Western Mom, professor, psyches, publicity, punish, right, righteous, rigid, rule, scores, self-determination, self-esteem, self-talk, selfish, shame, skill, Slacker, slacking, slaves, sleepover, social climbers, solution, soul, spirit, spirituality, sport, Steve Jobs, strength, strong, structure, submission, substandard, Succeed, successful, suffer, super-power, superior, teenagers, test, test scores, torturer, traditions, TV, uncaring, uniquely, values, verbally, victim, victory, violin, Waldman, Wall Street Journal, weak, western parents, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, wimpy, winners, work, wrong
14 CommentsPost a comment

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.

Self-bullying perfectionism can suck the joy out of success and ruin our lives.  It’s one of the worst forms of negative self-talk. We know that harassing, abusive, inner voice that focuses only on what we didn’t do perfectly according to some old standard that was shoved down our throats when we were children.  It has the most horrible, bullying tone when it picks on our emotions, spirit and flesh.  It’s all-or-none when it reminds us of the 1% we didn’t do perfectly according to our parents’ standards for us.  It’s full of should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.

It makes us 100% responsible for every problem; it points out how we never do enough, give enough, say enough.  It’s demeaning, smug and sarcastic.  It stacks up every mistake we ever made or failure we ever had.  Of course it knows every hot button and self-hatred trigger we have.  It can generate blame, shame and guilt in an instant.

The effects of perfectionistic self-flagellation are obvious – increased anxiety, stress and depression; a sense of failure even in the midst of success and happiness; a foreboding about the future that leads to desperation and panic; insecurity, self-doubt, lack of confidence and low self-esteem.  Especially debilitating is the internal argument with the side that puts us down relentlessly and the side that tries to defend us – usually weaker and defensive, especially when we’re tired or getting sick or alone and lonely.

Perfectionism guarantees inner emptiness, pain and self-loathing.  No matter how much we succeed, no matter how much we’re praised, it’s never enough to heal our inner wounds.  That inner voice always reminds us that we’re imposters, failures who’ll be unmasked eventually.  We’re like hamsters spinning our wheels; afraid that if we slow down, disaster awaits losers like us.

Nit-picking perfectionism turned outward can help us succeed by harassment, bullying and abuse of others.  But turned inward, it’s an incapacitating method of judging our self-worth.

Whether people in our childhoods were simply mean, nasty and rotten; whether they thought they had to protect us from the character flaws they saw in us; whether that was the only way they knew how to express love and caring, or how to motivate us doesn’t matter much now that we’re adults.

Once we’ve overcome the internal war over perfectionism and how to motivate ourselves, we can decide what we think about them and how we want to interact with them now, if at all.  We set the standards of acceptable behavior and how people talk with each other – about what and when.  We’re in charge of our adult personal spaces.

The real work is not about forgiveness; it’s about taking charge of our lives according to our own standards.

Those relentless, childhood put-downs and bullying by our parents, siblings, classmates or other people led us to split into two warring sides.  One side took on the perfectionistic, self-bully voice; we continue beating ourselves down long after we’ve left those people or even after they’re dead.  The other side argued and defended us against the attacks.  It champions our success and tries to affirm our strength and a wonderful future that’s possible.  It often asserted itself by making us mutiny against what those tormentors told us to do; whether that’s really good for us or not.

In my experience, there are many paths to overcome self-bullying perfectionism, but they all lead to a similar goal.  The goal is to heal the wound of the original split, end the war and create one centered, adult part that coaches us to choose the future we want to create and to pursue it with determination, courage, perseverance and grit.

When we accomplish this, our paths open up.  Our internal self-talk stops being negative and becomes encouraging and strengthening.  We develop realistic goals and expectations.  We motivate ourselves by desire for the future we want instead of by avoiding the pain of old wounds lacerated.  We decide what’s good enough.  We and can enjoy our success and happiness.

Jane was stuck in an internal war.  Every time she made some progress toward goals she’d been pursuing for years – cleaned her house, did things on her to-do list, met people she’d wanted to, signed up for classes toward a better job, courageously risked being honest – she’d start beating herself up in ways she was familiar with since childhood. A part of her would say, in an old, familiar voice, “Who do you think you are, you’ll never succeed, you’ll fall back into being a failure, you’re fat and ugly, you’re not good enough to stay on track, you’re weak at your core, you’ll never do the right thing, you’ll fail like you always do, no one likes you, no one will love you, you’ll be alone all your life.”

Then she’d isolate herself and start picking on herself physically.  That’d only make things worse.  She’d feel ashamed and guilty.  “Maybe they’re right,” she’d think.  “I’m not good enough.  I’ll always be a mess.  I’ll never change.  I’ll never succeed.”

She’d become angry at her parents and all the people who’d taken advantage of her, at all the people who weren’t supportive now and finally at herself.  And the cycle would continue; a little success leading to self-loathing and predictions of failure, followed by anger at everyone in her past and present, followed by more anger and self-loathing.  After several wasted days, she’d get herself together to try once more, but the emotional and spiritual cost of each cycle was huge. Self-bullying – negative self-talk, an internal war between the side of you that fights to do better and the side that seems to despise you, that’s full of self-loathing and self-abuse – can go on a whole lifetime.  Of course, the effects can be devastating – anxiety and stress, discouragement and depression, loss of confidence and self-esteem, huge emotional swings that drive good people away and attract bullies and predators.

Perhaps the worst effect is a sense of desperation and panic, isolation and loneliness – it feels like this has been going on forever and doesn’t look like it will ever end; every failure feels like the end of the world; like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  You feel helpless and are sure that it’s hopeless.

Or maybe the worst effect is marrying someone who bullies you and stimulates your most negative self-talk.

This is not a war between the left and right sides of our brains.  This is usually not our being taken over by an evil spirit that needs exorcised psychologically.

This is usually a battle between two sides of us that split apart because of terrible, overwhelming pressure when we were kids.  Back then, we didn’t know how to cope with the horror so we split into two strategies that have been battling with childlike intensity and devotion ever since.

On the one hand, we fight to feel inspired and centered and to do our best; to be courageous and bold and fierce; to try hard, be joyous and hope for success.  On the other hand, we fight to make us docile and not try to rise above our meager lot in life, to accept what they tell us and give up struggling against them so they’ll let us survive, to motivate ourselves by whipping ourselves so we’ll make enough effort and do the right things, and maybe then they’ll give us something in return and we’ll have those feelings of peace and joy.

Both voices want us to survive and to feel centered, peaceful and filled with joy.  Each takes an opposite path to get there.  Instead of a psychological exorcism, we need an internal reconciliation and a release from old battles with our external oppressors and between our internal, battling voices.

The inner goal is clear: We’ll be whole and unified, both sides will be working together toward the same end (http://www.bulliesbegoneblog.com/2008/04/25/getting-over-parents-who-wound-their-children-the-2nd-stage-of-growing-up-and-leaving-home/#more-35): the different possibilities for action will be presented to us in the encouraging voices of coaches; we’ll be inspired and motivated by encouragement, not whipping: we’ll have an adult sense of our strength and capability; we’ll feel like we can cope successfully without tight control over everything and we’ll act in a timely manner; situations won’t put us into a panic; mistakes won’t be a portent of doom.

The path or process toward that goal varies with each individual.  It’s not easy; it’s not instantaneous.  There are steps forward and steps back.  Sometimes it will seem like we’re back at square one.  It requires great helpers and guides.  But, as we are able to step back more and more easily and look with adult eyes at the big picture, we’ll recover our poise and press on more easily. Have I ever seen these wars overcome?  Many times.

For example, Jane finally made internal peace.  Her warring sides accepted that they had the same outcome – making a good life for her, filling her with the joy she’d always wanted to feel.  They realized that neither side could defeat the other; their only hope was to work together using adult strategies of motivating her to take actions that would help her succeed.  They saw that her situation now, in middle age, was very different from when she was a helpless child and had to depend on parents who seemed to despise her character, personality and style.

In order to end the external war, she moved far away from her birth family and cut off contact.  She started a new life.  She knew she’d have to bear unbearable loneliness until she made friends and loves worth having.  It wasn’t easy but she did it.  You can too.

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.”

Mostpeople are afraid of the economic forecast.  Some have lost jobs; more will.  Some have lost retirement funds; more will.  Some have lost hope; more will.  Fear and stress stimulate mostpeople to huddle around the campfire, worrying, whining and complaining about their uncertain future.  They convince themselves that they’re too weak and helpless to succeed.  They’re victims together. A long, cold recession or depression is the consensus prediction.  But that’s not the prediction for my life and it doesn’t have to be for yours either.  And that’s not because I have guaranteed money flowing in or I’m sure my business will be immune to the next little ice age.  There’s a different reason.

We each have self bullies.

The little, self-bullying voices:

  • Know our every fear and weakness, our every mistake and sin.
  • Demean and ridicule us, discourage and depress us.
  • Predict failure, as if they want to make us lose hope and give up.
  • Don’t like us even though they pretend to be trying to help us.
  • That are so persuasive.

We know where we heard those voices that told us they knew better – our parents, relatives, siblings, teachers, ministers, schoolmates, peers.  We know how we made their voices into our self-bullying voices.

I refuse to listen to self bullying.  I refuse to be a victim of my times and circumstances.  You also can rise above mostpeople.

Don’t be a victim of your past.  History is not destiny.  Command yourself.  Ignore self-bullies.  Our self-bullying voices do not know what’s best for us, do not know the future and can’t accurately predict that we’ll fail.

Of course, the economy is lousy and times will be hard.  Most of us won’t be able to maintain our previous standard of living.  Mostpeople are angry because they thought they were guaranteed increasing wealth and security if they did things right.

We haven’t been trained to survive a depression.  So what?  We can survive and even thrive.

Think about what our ancestors survived.  There has always been rotten weather like recessions and depressions, poverty and war.  They’re part of the natural weather cycles – hurricanes, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, avalanches, droughts or floods, earthquakes and tsunamis.  There have also been plagues, famine, pestilence and war.

If we let recession-induced fear and self bullying sap our strength and will, we won’t have the right stuff, we won’t act skillfully and the economic tide will pull us under.  We have within us the inheritance of an unbroken line of people who thrived.  We have within us the seeds of strength, courage and joy.

These economic ice ages have happened in America before.  For example, economic crashes occurred in about 1787, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1897, 1907 and the great depression from 1929-1941.  The rest of the world had similar experiences.

What can we do when we get down on ourselves?  We need WILL and SKILL.

  • In order to succeed, we must choose to ignore self bullying, choose to command ourselves, choose to create the futures we want, no matter what the circumstances.  As individuals, we must have the WILL to persevere, with grit, determination and resilience.

Call that hyper-critical, fear-mongering side of us a “self-bully” so we’ll react with passion and power against it.  So we’ll rally ourselves against its words.  We wouldn’t lie down in front of those old bullies and we wouldn’t let ourselves be abused by bullies now.

  • We need SKILL to ignore our self-bullying voices – turn off the discouraging TV; stop listening to people moaning, whining and complaining; stop listening to victim stories.  Walk away politely from mostpeople who wallow in the dumps of fear and panic.  If you’ve kept your job, don’t wallow in survivor’s guilt.  Get off the emotional roller coaster.

Find friends who don’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead handle things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible.  Find friends with inner lights that give them joy even when they don’t have all the comforts and toys they once did.  Become such a friend.

When the self bullying voices start again, tell them we’ve heard all that before and if they want to help us, they can use a different voice and become encouraging coaches that strengthen our spirits.  Fill the IMAX screen of our minds with the future we hope we’ll have and the friends we want in our lives.  Throw ourselves into activities like physical exercise.  Don’t feed our addictions; eat well.  Feed our spirits with movies, music and books that lift up our spirits and renew our energy.

  • We need SKILL to make plans to keep our jobs or find others, to spend less while still treating our spirits better.  We need skill to get over our feelings, plans and expectations.  Loss of riches, comforts and dreams is not really the end of the world.  Get going again.

Find a coach to keep your spirits up and organize your efforts.  Read the self-bullying section in "How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks."

While the growing recession is the world in which I function, it’s not the world in which I live.  I invite you wonderful people to enter the world that is waiting for you, if you but have the courage to take the first steps.

"What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."    Ralph Waldo Emerson