Should kids ever fight physically in order to stop relentless school bullies? I’ve been interviewed a lot on radio and TV.  But when I ask those interviewers how they stopped bullying when they were kids, all the men say that bullies were stopped when someone beat them up.  More important, beating up a bully changed the target’s life.  The targets now felt that they could succeed in the world – they developed courage, confidence and high self-esteem.

Nevertheless, many well-meaning parents tell their kids never to fight.

They say that:

  • Bullies have a hard life so we should have sympathy for what they’re going through and how low their self-esteem must be.
  • Don’t sink to the bully’s level by fighting back.  We have it easy so we should rise above the bullies.
  • If we’re nice enough, kind enough and loving enough, the bullies will respond by being nice in return.
  • We should never push back – verbally or physically.  If we push back, it means we don’t care.
  • Violence is morally wrong and violence never solves anything.  Mahatma Gandhi stopped the British without pushing back and by preaching tolerance and love.

Let’s not even argue with those false statements.  If you watch the video about how being nice and caring doesn’t stop bullies, you’ll hear arguments disproving these statements.

Instead, let’s look at what bullies show us about what it takes to stop them.

Imagine a staircase going up.  The harder the bully pushes on us, the higher up the staircase we have to go in order to stop them.

At the lowest steps we do nice, peaceful things to try to get bullies to stop.  We ignore the bullying, we try to laugh it off, we make jokes to try to be friends with the bullies, we say how much it hurts, we ask them to stop or we try to rise above the hurt – that kind of thing.

If the bullying stops, that’s wonderful.  We’ve learned two things:

  1. Some peaceful techniques that might work with some people who are bullying.
  2. The bully was not a relentless bully.  The bully was a nice kid having a bad day.

But if the bullying does not stop, the bully is showing us that we have to be more firm in order to get that kid to stop.

So we go up to the next steps and push back verbally, and we learn how to do that skillfully.  Sometimes that works.  Bullies often respect other kids who show they’re not afraid and who have clever tongues.

If the bullying stops, that’s wonderful.  And, again, we’ve learned that the other kid was not a relentless bully.

Relentless bullies and determined boundary pushers are not stopped by these peaceful methods.  If we suffer in silence, if we whine, or if we advertise that we’re afraid, bullies think we’re victims waiting to be bullied.  If we’re kind, bullies think we are weak.  They’ll continue harassing and abusing us.

Now we have to go further up the staircase.  At this point targets might talk to school officials they trust to protect and defend them.  And they might get their parents involved.  And they need to remind their parents to get experienced, expert coaching.

If principals, teachers and parents still don’t stop the bullying, the relentless bullies are telling their targets that they’re going to have to fight back.  We’re close to the top of the staircase now.  Basically, we have to beat up the bully really badly – the quicker, nastier and harder the better.

Parents, you should have made sure your kid knows how to fight.  This goes for girls as well as boys.

A lot depends on the situation.  Is it one against one between kids who are the same size?  Is it one against a gang?  Fighting in elementary school can be just fists, but as the kids get older it will probably involve weapons.  There are many situations in which discretion is the better part of valor and the thing to do is to endure until we can get out of a rotten school or neighborhood, or away from a sociopath.

I strongly recommend three things:

  1. Don’t be a victim.  You may be a target but you’re in charge of your response as you judge the situation.  Keep a fire of courage and strength burning in your heart.
  2. Be willing to fight to protect and defend yourself.  Decide whether warning the bully might end the bullying or whether a surprise attack is your best option.
  3. Learn how to fight effectively.  Notice, I did not say, “cleanly.”

What if you get suspended for fighting?  It’s worth getting suspended if you’ve stopped the bullying.  You may be a target; don’t be a victim!

You must be determined, courageous and strong in defending and protecting yourself – not because you deserve it, but because you want to, you have to.  “I want to” is more than enough reason to protect yourself.

I speak this way because I was a short, skinny, four-eyed kid who grew up in a tough, inner city ghetto.  I learned by observation and experience, not by philosophy or wishful thinking.

What’s the price of tolerating bullies; slow erosion of your soul.

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.

I’ll start right off with the bottom line: being “nice” and “caring” won’t help kids stop relentless school bullies. Why not?

I’ve been interviewed a lot on radio and TV.  But when I ask those interviewers how they stopped bullying when they were kids, almost all the women say they were never taught how to stop bullies.  Instead, their well-meaning moms told them:

  • Bullies have a hard life so we should have sympathy for what they’re going through and how low their self-esteem must be.
  • Don’t sink to the bully’s level by fighting back.  You have it easy so you should rise above the bullies.
  • If you’re nice enough, kind enough and loving enough, bullies will respond by being nice in return.
  • You should never push back – verbally or physically.  If you push back, it means you don’t care.
  • Violence is morally wrong and violence never solves anything.  They cite Mahatma Gandhi as someone who stopped the British without pushing back and by preaching tolerance and love.

All these women now bear a grudge against their well-meaning mothers.  Those messages are all wrong.  These women learned the hard way that the way you identify relentless bullies is that “nice” and “caring” don’t convert them from predators to friends.

First, the statement about Gandhi is a complete misunderstanding of his tactics.  Applying ahimsa to relentless bullies is not a good comparison.  If Gandhi had tried his tactics against Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao or the founder of Pakistan, he wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes.

Second, violence was required to stop slavery, Nazism, Fascism and communism, to name just a few.

Third, you have to love yourself first.  Sometimes, the most caring thing you can do for someone who’s a jerk and a bully is to show them that their tactics don’t work.  They’d better learn new tactics.

Fourth, you can’t love relentless bullies enough to change how they treat you.  Ignoring, minimizing and “rising above” do not stop relentless bullies.  Appeasement, begging and bribery do not stop relentless bullies.

Fifth, you’re not the bully’s therapist; it’s not your job to rehabilitate them.  The adults have that responsibility, but only after they protect and defend the targets of bullying.

Appeasement is never effective with determined boundary pushers who always want more.  If you suffer in silence, if you whine, or if you advertise that you’re afraid bullies think you’re a victim waiting to be bullied.  If you are kind, bullies think you are weak.  They’ll continue to harass and abuse you.

Don’t waste time complaining about your society, the media, your parents, your friends, your school officials, or how hard it is.

It’s your job to protect and defend your personal space from predators.  It’s your job to make bullies a small part of your mental and emotional world so you can get on with your education and your life

You must be determined, courageous and strong in defending and protecting yourself – not because you deserve it, but because you want to, you have to.  “I want to” is more than enough reason to protect yourself.

You must learn how to push back verbally, to get help from school officials, your parents and the police, and to fight back when you have to and you can.

You have to succeed even though conditions haven’t been prepared perfectly for you.  Don’t starve while you’re waiting for someone else to set the table.  You have to overcome obstacles; it’s a sign of good character.

You may be a target; don’t be a victim!

What’s the price of tolerating bullies; slow erosion of your soul.

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.

Sarah has been best friends with Heather for years, but she’s finally realized how much Heather has taken over her life and poisoned it. Sarah feels like Heather has been a toxic polluter in her environment, but she’s afraid that if:

  • She didn’t have Heather, she’d be all alone.
  • She said goodbye to Heather, Heather would get angry and retaliate with their friends and to Sarah’s family.

What should Sarah do?

Heather has been a sounding board for all Sarah’s decisions.  Heather always knows what Sarah should do to straighten her life out.  Sarah never married because Heather found faults with every guy that Sarah was interested in. Sarah stopped dieting because Heather told her she’d look bad if she was thin.

Sarah doesn’t have much time for herself since she has to be on-call in case Heather needs her.  Heather often has urgent requests for Sarah to do her chores or to meet her.  Sarah’s afraid to disappoint Heather because Heather gets so hurt and makes Sarah pay.

Heather criticizes Sarah relentlessly, spreads lies, rumors and malicious gossip, and gets other people angry at herHeather is angry and demanding, and nothing Sarah does is ever right or good enough.  Sarah is always to blame.

Within their circle of friends, Heather always takes center stage and even steals Sarah’s ideas.  Heather doesn’t allow Sarah to be with the others unless Heather is there.  Heather says it wouldn’t be kind, respectful or loving for Sarah to do things behind her back.

Sarah feels like she’s spent her life trying to please Heather and apologize to her and take the blame for everything.  But no matter how nice, kind and loving Sarah’s been, Heather hasn’t given her credit or changed her opinion or behavior.

How do you know your friend is toxic? I’d rephrase that into, “How do you know your friend is not really a friend?”  There are two types of warning signs:

  • Your inner warning signs – you feel criticized, used, abused, harassed, unsafe, taken advantage of.  Your kindness, consideration, compromise, appeasement, apologies and efforts to please them are not rewarded by them doing the same for you.  They’re always right; you’re never good enough.  You’re afraid of what they’ll do if you displease them.
  • Their external behavior – Their timing, agenda, feelings, desires, needs and wants matter much more than yours do.  If you start talking about your interests or feelings, they’ll rapidly shift the subject to theirs.  They can change the plans or be late but you can’t.  They say nasty things behind your back and justify what they did because they’re sure they’re right.  They make the rules.  If they’re angry over the slightest thing, they can retaliate in what ever outrageous, over-the-top way they want.  Their reasons are right.  It’s your fault and you deserve what you get.  They’re nice to you when they want something, but as soon as they get it, they’re mean and nasty or they put you down because you didn’t do it good enough.  You apologize but they never do.  You have 100% of the responsibility to heal any misunderstandings.

Make a list of behaviors that friends do. When Sarah made the list, she saw that Heather didn’t do these actions.  Since Heather didn’t, then whatever she calls herself or however Sarah thought about her, she’s not really a true friend.  In order to summon the strength, dedication and courage needed to stop bullies, we must see clearly how things really are and also name them accurately.

Can you get them to see they’re toxic and what if they don’t get it? Whenever Sarah asked or begged Heather to stop, Heather’s response for saying and doing such hurtful things was, “’I’m right.  You’re not trying to repress me, are you?”  Heather never thought she was wrong.  She always felt justified and righteousSarah has tried to forgive Heather and to love her unconditionally, but that hasn’t changed Heather’s behavior.  Sarah didn’t think she could ever get Heather to admit how toxic she was.  She knew how quick Heather was to defend herself.  Nevertheless, Sarah tried to explain once more, just to give Heather a chance.  When Sarah brought up the subject, Heather got enraged and attacked Sarah for being a false friend.

Can you say goodbye just because you want to or do you need to be able to prove to them that they’re toxic? You don’t need an outside expert or a survey in order to decide how toxic your friend is (say, on a scale of 1 to 10) in order to give yourself permission to say goodbye to a toxic friend. You don’t need them to agree that they’re toxic.  If your toxic friend doesn’t get it and change their behavior, you can act on your own – just because you want to.  It’s important for you to use your own power to keep your personal environment free from toxic polluters.  Just because you want to is more than enough reason to do what you want.  In order to stop bullying and abuse by toxic people you’ve known for a long time, simply say, “No, that’s enough.”

What can you do if your toxic friend threatens to ruin you? They might tell your secrets or cut you down to everyone you know, including your family.  Of course it can be difficult.  But if you don’t say goodbye now, you’ll just prolong your pain indefinitely, maybe for the rest of your life.

If you don’t resist, you’re training that toxic person to do worse to you whenever they want.  Narcissistic control freaks and boundary pushers are relentless predators.  The only way they’ll stop is when they’re stopped or removed from the environment.

A better question is, “What behavior do you want to allow on your Isle of Song?” Ignore toxic bullies’ reasons, excuses and justifications.  Actions count; not apologies.  It’s your Isle; protect your personal ecology.  Say “goodbye,” no matter who the perpetrator is.

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.

Almost every one of the women who’ve interviewed me on radio or TV admitted that they were raised to be “nice girls.”  Their mothers had taught them that the most important value was to be nice, polite and sweet at all times.  They should ignore or rise above bullies; feel sorry for how empty and insecure bullies must feel; how horrible bullies’ family lives must be.  Nice girls should try to understand those mean girls, to forgive them and to tolerate their nasty, insulting, abusive behavior. Nice girls should be sweet and kindly in all situations; not be disagreeable, not make scenes, not lower themselves to the level of the mean girls by pushing back verbally or physically.  Nice girls were raised to believe that the virtues of loving compassion and sympathy were their own rewards and would also, eventually, stop bullying.  Nice girls were to live by the Golden Rule.  Being a virtuous martyr was preferable to acting “not-nice.”

As a result, when these nice girls became adults, they had trouble protecting themselves from bullies.

Many had married nice guys so they didn’t have to worry about bullying at home.  But they didn’t know how to stop bullies at work, especially stealthy, covert, sneaky female bullies.  They didn’t know how to teach their children to stop bullies at school.  They didn’t know how to protect themselves from manipulative, abusive, controlling, narcissistic, nit-picking, negative, self-centered relatives, friends or neighbors.

And, in addition to the emotional scars and the feelings of helplessness and impotence in the face of the real world, they bore a measure of anger toward their mothers for not teaching them how to be effective as grown ups.

The start of their change was to openly admit that, in this area, their mothers were wrong.

Their experience had taught them that they needed to feel stronger in the face of bullies, to learn to act more effectively now and to teach better skills to their children.

They had to decide which values were more important than being nice. They had to adopt a new hierarchy of values to reflect what they’d learned.  They had to discard their childhood rules and roles, and adopt new ones as adults.  Once they made the decision to determine their own values, they felt a surge of power, confidence and self-esteem.

At first they thought that they needed at least two hierarchies of priorities; one for their home life and one for the outside world.  This was abhorrent to many because it sounded like situational ethics.  But it wasn’t.  They would have the same ethical framework and merely different tactics that fit their different situations.

A general example of the new hierarchy they all adopted was that although being nice, sweet and agreeing with people might still be important, protecting themselves and their personal space was more important.  Being treated well was more important than keeping silent and not making a scene or not creating a confrontation.  Speaking up and keeping themselves and their families safe was more important.  They would not allow toxic waste on their “Isles of Song.”

Determination, will and perseverance were more important qualities than being nice.  These qualities gave them the power to take charge of their lives.  They didn’t have to be mean, but they did have to be strong, courageous and sometimes firm.  They were the ones who decided what they wanted and needed; what was right for them; what their standards were.  These decisions were not consensus votes affected by the desires and standards of other people.

Their tactics had to be situational.

In their personal family lives, where niceness was usually reciprocated, they could usually interact by kindly suggestion and often be very forgiving of some behaviors.  But with some relatives in their extended families, they had to be more direct and enforce more boundaries; no matter what other people thought was right or thought they should put up with because the bullies were “family.”

In most other situations – work, friends, their children’s schools – they had to overcome the idea that being open and firm automatically meant confrontation, which they’d been taught to avoid at all costs.  They had to learn how to speak clearly, disagree in a nice and firm way, and make things happen even if it made people uncomfortable; especially people who were abusive or slacking in their responsibility to protect their children.

The hardest skill for many of them to learn was how to isolate some bullies or to work behind the scenes to thwart covert attacks from sneaky, manipulative bullies.  But once they’d stopped thinking that being nice was the most important value, they were able to learn these skills. 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.

The best ways to destroy a child’s confidence and self-esteem, and to create an adult riddled with self-doubt, insecurity and negative self-talk are:

  1. Relentless beatings. These instill fear and terror.  Children can become convinced they’re always wrong and the price for mistakes is high; maybe even maiming or death.  The result can be adults who’re afraid to make decisions, assert or defend themselves, think they’re worthy of respect or good treatment.  The result can be adults who expect to be bullied, punished, abused or even tortured.
  2. Relentless and personal criticism, hostility and questioning. The results can be the same as relentless beatings.  Kids grow up thinking that no one will help or protect them.  Emotional beating can leave even deeper scars.  Adults often have mental and emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, self-mutilation and suicide.
  3. The “Big Lie:” “You don’t know what’s really happening.”

The first two seem fairly obvious and much has been written on them.  Let’s focus on the Big Lie.

Kids have emotional radar.  They’re born with the ability to sense what’s going on.  Their survival depends on knowing who’s friendly or hostile, who’s calm or angry, who’s reliable and trustworthy, and who’s liable to explode without obvious provocation.  They know who’s nice and who hurts them.  They sense when their parents or family are happy or angry.

The effects of being consistently told that they’ve gotten it wrong can be just as devastating as physical or emotional brutality.  For example:

  • When kids sense that their parents are angry at each other, but they’re told that the family is loving and caring they learn to distrust their kid-radar.
  • When they’re yelled at, teased, taunted or brutalized, when they’re subjected to bullying, they know it hurts.  But when they’re told that the parent cares about them or loves them, or that they’re too sensitive, they start to distrust their own opinions.
  • When they can never predict what’s right or wrong, they can grow up thinking they’re evil, stupid or crazy.
  • When they’re constantly challenged with, “Prove it.  You don’t know what’s really happening.  How could you think that; there’s something wrong with you.  If you were loving, grateful, caring, you wouldn’t think that way about your parent or family.”

Kids raised this way often grow up riddled with insecurity, self-doubt and self-questioning.  As adults, instead of trusting how they feel, they wonder if they’re being lied to, mistreated or bullied.

They become easy prey for bullies; especially stealthy, covert, manipulative control-freaks who demand, criticize, question or argue about everything.  The more convincing and righteous the bully is, the more the target is thrown into insecurity and panic; the more they become indecisive and frozen.

How do you know if you’re a victim of that early treatment?  In addition to your history, the tests are your thoughts, feelings and actions now:

  1. Do you consistently doubt yourself?  Do you even doubt that you see reality? Do you think that other people know better about you than you know about yourself?
  2. Are you indecisive and insecure?  Do you worry, obsess or ruminate forever?  Do you solicit all your friends’ opinions about what you should do or just one friend who seems to be sure they know what’s best?  Do you consistently look for external standards or experts to tell you what’s right or proper?  Do you complete quick tests of ten or twenty questions that will tell you the truth about yourself?
  3. Do you feel bullied but you’re not sure that you are?  Do you let other people tell you about what’s too sensitive or what’s reasonable or “normal?”
  4. Do you think you have to deserve or be worthy of good treatment, or that you have to be perfect according to someone else before they should treat you the way you want to be treated?  Are you filled with blame, shame and guilt?  Do you think that if you were only kinder, nicer, more understanding and more caring, if you asked just right or compromised every time you’d finally get treated the way you want?
  5. Do you struggle to get the respect and appreciation you want?

Of course, we all have moments when we’re unsure, but if you’re consistently insecure or insecure consistently with one or two people then you may have a deep-seated problem.

If you answered “yes” to many of these questions, you may need expert coaching.  All tactics are situational, so we’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parents who bully children, and parents who bully and abuse each other are all too common, but an often unrecognized bullying situation is teenagers who bully their parents, especially their single parents. Of course, teenage girls can be manipulative bullies, but for a typical example, let’s focus on a 19 year-old boy who is mentally and physically capable of being independent but who’d rather sponge off his mother and lead an easy life at home.  He’s not working enough to support himself, he’s not succeeding in full-time school and he’s not struggling sixteen hours a day to become an Olympic champion.  He’s merely hanging out trying to have a good time every moment.

These adults can become physically as well as verbally abusive.  Their simmering rage when they’re thwarted can be frightening.  Usually they’re selfish, narcissistic control-freaks, lazy, demanding and surly, and feel entitled to whatever makes their life work most easily.

They’re good at arguing.  They want to convince you that “love” and “support” mean that you give them money.  You have to love and give to them, but they don’t have to give anything in return.  Their hidden assumption is that if you can’t make them agree with any changes, they don’t have to change.  They’re masters of whining, complaining and blaming others, especially you, for their problems.

They’re great emotional blackmailers: “A good, loving mother would take care of me while I’m getting it together.  A caring mom would help me.”  They’re also master manipulators of your fear that, if you don’t cater to them, they’ll fail in life and it’ll be your fault, not theirs: “I need your love to keep me away from bad company.  If you kick me out, I’ll be emotionally damaged.”  They’ll subtly hint that they’ll commit suicide if you don’t coddle them.  They always have a friend who has a “good mother” taking care of him.

Your caring and fear make their arguments seductive.  No matter how much you had to struggle on your own to be successful, it’s easy to think that if you only give them one more chance, they’ll finally wake up and get it.  So you give him one more chance – over and over and over.

Popular culture also makes their arguments seductive.  Most people have been raised to think that loving your child (“mother’s love”) means giving them what they want.

In my experience, one path in dealing with healthy, intelligent teenage boys almost guarantees failure.  That’s the path of giving them what they want.  The more you let them leech off your energy, wallet and good will, the softer they’ll become, the harder it will be for them to become strong and independent, the greater the chances that they’ll fall in with other lazy losers.  The more you give them, the more lazy, entitled and spoiled they’ll become.

In my experience, the path that has the greatest probability of success is to kick those little birds out of the nest before they grow too big for their fledgling wings.  They’ve already grown too big for the nest.  In order to fly, they need to strengthen their wings by use under pressure and stress.

Of course there’s a risk.  They might fail and turn to drugs, booze or burglary to support themselves.  They might give in to depression.  But, in my experience, staying home wouldn’t prevent that.  Leeching off you will only make them weaker.

Confidence and self-esteem are developed by succeeding at real and difficult challenges in which there’s a chance of failing.  Staying at home avoids important, meaningful challenges.

Some of the things to say to them when you tell them they’re moving out, depending on the circumstances, are:

  • “I know that inside you, you have this great one of you struggling to take charge of your life.  Now’s your chance for that ‘you’ to take over.  Struggle and succeed.  I’d rather you struggle and prove me wrong while hating me, than that you love me and stay here as a whining, complaining loser.”  Use the word “loser” a lot.  Challenge them to prove you wrong.
  • “This is not a discussion or a debate; you don’t get to vote.  This is definitely not fair according to you.  I know you think I don’t understand your side of it or how hard it is in today’s economy, but that’s the way it is.  I’m protecting myself from my own flesh and blood, who’d suck me dry if I let him.  You can try to argue but it won’t change anything.  It’ll just waste your time.  If you threaten me or damage the house, I’ll call the police and there’ll be no going back.”  Don’t engage in debate.  Walk away.
  • “I love you and this is scary for me, but that fear won’t stop me.  If you become a loser, just like (fill in the blank), I’ll be sad and cry that you wasted your life, but I won’t feel guilty.  I won’t regret what I’m doing.”  Then walk away.
  • “I’m going to have a joyous, good time in my life.  After you move out, if you make it fun for me, I’ll take you out to a restaurant sometimes or have you over for a good meal.  But if you nag at me and make it a rotten time, I won’t want to waste my time with you.  Your job is to make it fun for me to be with you.  Yes, that’s blackmail.  You pay for my attention, kindness and money.  Be the nicest to people who are closest.  Be nicer and sweeter to me than you would be to a stranger.  Suck up to me as if you want something from me.  You do.  Even if you can prove to me logically that it’s not fair, that’s the way it is.”
  • “You, my beloved son, are now facing the choice we all face in life at this age.  Will you settle for being a loser with a good excuse – your mother didn’t love or suckle you enough – or will you be a winner despite your mother?  Every one of your ancestors faced this.  Your ancestors lived through plague, famine, flood, war and slavery.  They lived through worse than you.  I know you have the stuff of a hero in you.  Your choice is whether you bring that out and succeed, or to be a whining, petulant, blaming loser.”
  • You have the body and mind of an adult.  You want to make adult choices in living the life you want.  Now you’re being tested.  Being an adult means taking care of yourself financially and physically.  You probably didn’t prepare yourself.  That’s your problem.  I could never teach you anything because you never listened to me when I gave you good advice.  We both know that.  You think you know everything.  You think you know what’s best for you.  Now prove it.  The less you learned useful skills, the more you’ll have to struggle now.  So what?  That’s just struggle.  I hope you’ll grow strong by struggling.”
  • Mom, make a specific plan.  For example, “You must be out by (date).  If not, I’ll throw your stuff out the window and call the police if I have to.  No negotiation.  No promises.  We allow little children to get by on promises and potential.  When they’re 13 or so, we start demanding performance.  Now that you’re 19, I demand performance.  Your performance earns what you get.”  Mom, don’t give in to satisfy one more promise.  Think through what you’ll give, if anything, and under what conditions.  My bottom line is, “Make me enjoy it and I’ll consider it.  Beat me up, physically or verbally, and you get nothing.”  The more calm you are, the better.  If he can get you upset, he’ll think he can win again…as usual.

Your teenager will be sneaky and manipulative in pushing your buttons and boundaries.  He’s mastered manipulating you for years.

Single parents are often easier to bully than couples.  For example, see the case study of Paula bullied by her daughter, Stacy, in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

Stepchildren can jerk your chain more.  A couple that disagrees strongly (one stern and one permissive) can be the worst case scenario.

This is a start.  Because all solutions depend on the specifics of the situation, you will need coaching.  Some circumstances that might alter your plans are if your teenager is not physically or mentally competent or needs extensive mental health counseling or is 13-16 or is a girl or there are drugs or alcohol involved or there are younger children at home?

Stay strong and firm.  Don’t let him move back in even for a just week or month.  It’ll reinforce the laziest in them and it’ll become permanent.

Toxic step-fathers and step-mothers are clichés because they’re all too common.  But the ubiquity of harassment, bullying and verbal, sexual and physical abuse doesn’t diminish the pain and long-term damage inflicted on defenseless kids. Of course, kids can also treat their step-parents cruelly, and step-mothers and biological parents can also be relentlessly cruel, but let’s focus here on step-fathers who abuse their size, control and power.

These step-fathers sexually abuse one or all of their step-daughters while the moms ignore the evil.  The perpetrators are to blame and the daughters’ anger is rightly focused on these men.

But let’s also look at the moms who won’t see or hear anything bad about their new husbands even though the complaints and evidence are clear, and the damage to their children is striking.

Later, when the complaints and evidence are brought forth by the now-adult and articulate children, these mothers will usually still defend and excuse the predators they invited into their homes.  Typically, the mothers whine and demand that their children should perpetuate the lies and secrets.  “After all,” they complain, “they deserve a little happiness after all they’ve suffered.  Their daughters should understand how hard it was for them.”

Nonsense.  These narcissistic mothers deserve nothing; certainly not the allegiance of their abused daughters.  Most daughters make repeated overtures of friendship to their uncaring and unsympathetic mothers.  The daughters hope that by understanding why their mothers didn’t protect and defend them they’ll be able to forgive their mothers and maintain a loving connection.

I hope that the emotional blackmail and manipulation contained in the word “forgiveness” will be the last straw.  How can the mothers heal the wounds they ignored and let fester during years of abuse?  In addition, these mothers rarely start making amends by getting rid of the perpetrators.

The daughters, who held the pain and trauma when they were young, are still left holding the emotional bag.  There’s no way they can release their anger by simply beating the bullies to death or making them burn slowly, even though he deserves even worse.

Separate from what social services and the police might have been able to do, what can the adult children do now?

  • Don’t debate or argue.  Don’t try to get your mother and step-father to admit what they did.  They can keep you hung up, focusing on them for years.  Take your time and energy away from them and focus on a new life.
  • Stop abusing yourself with negative self-talk and predictions of failure that increase self-doubt, stress and depression, and destroy self-confidence and self-esteem.  Convert those inner, self-bullying voices into helpful coaches.
  • Get away from both your mother and step-father; physically and emotionally.  Get away from triggers that are guaranteed to keep you in emotional turmoil.  Don’t let abusers keep hitting a very black-and-blue area of your body, emotions and spirit.  Distance and no contact will help you focus on your present and future instead of on your past.
  • Don’t let your children near them.  More important than their knowing their toxic grandparents is your protecting them from emotional and physical perpetrators.  Be a model for them to keep a flame of strength, courage and determination burning in their hearts no matter what happens to them.
  • Forget about understanding and forgiveness; let these come in their own time, if they ever do.  Understanding why that old man, who may or may not be truly sorry now, could torture you like he did does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding how your mother could allow you to be tortured does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding why they maintained a conspiracy of silence then and now does not excuse or justify the behavior.
  • Become internally invulnerable.  Use the past pain to inspire your present life.  I know that’s easy to say and hard to do.  Find people to remind you of your fighting spirit when your energy flags.  Get an expert coach to help you put the wounds behind you.  Fill the mental space in front of you with your vision of the present and future you want.

Don’t let toxic step-fathers and colluding mothers ruin any more of your life than they did when they had physical control of you.  You’re now an adult.  You have control of your physical, emotional and spiritual island.  Vote them off it.

Imagine that you have a new boyfriend who seems wonderful and you’re looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day.  But in your past relationships you were harassed, bullied, controlled and abused.  You finally realize you have a tendency to pick the wrong guys.  What should you look for with this new one and what should you do if you see any warning signs? Step back and take a look at how he treats people now.  Don’t listen to any of his reasons, explanations or excuses.  Look only at his actions.  Everyone can blow up once a year under extreme pressure, so count how often he behaves that way.  Look for patterns.

Test him now … before it’s too late.

Does he harass, bully, abuse or control you?

  1. Does he push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what he wants?
  2. Does he make the rules and control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on?  Does he think that his sense of timing and rules of proper conduct are the right ones?
  3. Do his standards rule?  Is your “no” not accepted as “no?”  Is he always right and you’re always wrong?  Is sex always when and what he wants and for his pleasure?  Is his sense of humor always right?  Does he say that he’s not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive?  Do your issues get dealt with or are his more important so he can ignore your concerns or wishes?
  4. Does he control you with negativity, disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt?  For example, no matter what you do, are you wrong or not good enough?  Does he cut you down in subtle ways and claim that he’s just kidding?  Or does he control you with his hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide?
  5. Are you afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage?  For example, do you walk on eggshells?  Does he intimidate you with words and weapons?  Does he threaten you, your children, your pets or your favorite things?
  6. Are you told that you’re to blame if he’s angry?  Do you feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained?  In this relationship, has your self-doubt increased, while your self-confidence and self-esteem decreased?
  7. Does he isolate you?  Are you allowed to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work?  Does he force you to work because he needs your money?  Are you told that you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them him?
  8. Does he need your money to make his business schemes work?  Does he have a pattern of not keeping jobs, even though he blames his lack of success on other people or bad luck?  Is he looking for someone to support him like he thinks he deserves?

If you answered yes to most (or even any of these questions), pull out a piece of paper and write, in big capital letters, “Bully” and “Control-Freak” and “Abuser.”  Now you know what you’re dealing with.  Post these signs on your mirror, car, computer and work space.  Put them in your purse.

When you protest, does he promise to stop?

  1. Whatever his reasons, if he isn’t convincing when he says he’s sorry, run away real fast.
  2. After he promises to stop, does treat you nice for a while before the next incident?

Remember, apologies, excuses, reasons and justifications count only one time.  After that, only actions count.

While bullies are courting you, until he gets you, he’ll treat you the best he’ll ever treat you.  For bullies, it’s all downhill after he thinks he’s got you. How does he treat other people like: 

  1. Servers – waiters and waitresses, clerks at the movies and retail stores, people who work for airlines.  Does he harass, bully and abuse them?  Does he try to get something for free?
  2. Supervisees, coworkers and vendors.  Does he think they’re stupid, incompetent and lazy?   Does he jerk them around?  Does he retaliate viciously if he feels offended?
  3. Acquaintances and friends?  Does he keep them only if he’s the boss or center of attention?  Does he have friends who have lasted?   Are the relationships brutal or are they like those you’d like between equals?
  4. His former girlfriends or ex-wives.  What would they say about those relationships?  Does he claim all those women were bad or rotten?  Did he retaliate in the end?
  5. His parents and siblings?  Does he abuse them because they deserve it, or has he simply walked away because they’re impossible to have a good relationship with?

Don’t think you’re unique, different and safe; don’t think that he’ll never treat you that way.  That’s magical thinking.  A person who has mastered harassment, bullying, controlling and abusing these people, especially the helpless servers, supervisees and vendors will eventually get around to you.

What does he wish he could do to those other people?

  1. Does he wish he could have had the strength, courage and opportunity to retaliate without bad consequences to himself?
  2. Is he itching to take his anger or rage out on someone else (like, maybe you)?

He probably will do those things to you once he thinks you’re under his thumb – after you’re married, have children, or become dependent on his approval, permission or money.

Ignore your overwhelming feelings of true love.  Don’t waste your life trying to fix him.  Get rid of him now before it’s too late; before you live together, or he slowly gets you to give him control.  He’s only a boyfriend.  Find a better one to have all those feelings of true love with.

See the case studies of Brandi and Lucy in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

You’ll need an expert coach to develop specific tactics to get away while keeping your money, car, home, family, friends and job.

Spend this Valentine’s Day alone and work with your therapist or coach to prepare for a loving Valentine’s Day next year.

Of course, women harass, bully, control and abuse men just as much in their own ways, but that will be the subject of a different article.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling

The holidays may be over for a while but family harassment, bullying and abuse because of a favorite child still needs to be stopped.  Typical situations are where the parents:

  • Praise, defend and give the best presents or position in the Will to their favorite child.
  • Put down the rest of the children or designate one as the scapegoat.
  • Ignore the faults of one child while continually criticizing the other children.
  • Cater to the whims of the favorite child and blame other children who resist.

Of course, I’m not talking about the situation where one child has an illness or disability that requires lifetime care, although even in this case, parents can use the rest of the children to serve the needs of the most needy.  Some parents even decide to have a second child as an organ donor.  I’m talking about the situations in which the children are basically okay, but one is selected as the favorite.

In some cultures the favored child is the son who will inherit everything while the daughters are raised to serve the ruling male.  You can hear them say, “If only you did what your brother wants, we’d have peace and be a loving family.”

Other families label one sister as the “good child” who is held up as a paragon of virtue or success impossible for the other daughters to reach.  You know who the “bad” or “failures” daughters are.  You can hear the parents say, “Ah, if only you were as loving, kind and good as your sisters.”

Sometimes, one child is favored because mom and/or dad think that child is the sensitive one.  His feelings count more than everyone else’s.  Therefore, they say, we must organize our schedules and plans around the wishes of that child.  “After all,” they say, “We wouldn’t want to disappoint your brother or hurt his feelings.”

The situation is even worse when the favorite children know they can get away with anything and use the power to bully and torment the other children.  You recognize all those sarcastic remarks that have hidden meanings and can drive you crazy.

But no matter how hard you’ve tried, no matter what good deeds you’ve performed or sacrifices you’ve made, eventually you realize that nothing you do will ever be good enough.  The favorite daughter’s wish that they could do more or slightest effort will be counted and praised more than yours.

So what can you do?

These situations are tough because they’re based on hidden feelings and attitudes, and because they’ve been going on for decades.  It feels natural by now; “It’s just the way we do it.”

Some typical steps people use to get free from the domination of the family by one sibling are:

  1. Inner commitment to break the pattern even if that means going your own way.  Stop your negative self-talk; it’ll create self-doubt and destroy your confidence and self-esteem.  It’s not your fault.  It’s about them and their decision to favor one child over the others.  Your goal can’t be to change their behavior; that’s often impossible.  Your goal is to stand your ground so you can create your own island of good cheer if you have to.
  2. Give people a chance by telling them, in private, what you plan to do.  Line up allies if there are any to be had.  Plan specific actions so you can support each other effectively.
  3. Plan tactics carefully.  Pick your fights selectively; don’t fight about everything.  You know what’s likely to happen.  What will you say or do in response?
  4. Stay calm.  Ignore the little snide comments and put downs that used to drive you crazy.  Don’t argue about the details or the old family history.  Don’t debate who is more worthy or who has suffered the most.  Simply state your needs, standards and decisions.
  5. Expect the bullies to spin the story their way, lie and go behind your back to create alliances and pressure groups.  Prepared to be blamed, labeled and shunned.  Prepare to be cut out of the Will.
  6. Be persistent.  Have real consequences, like not attending or like leaving early.  Words, arguments and logic don’t count; only actions count.  Stand your ground.
  7. Prepare to be surprised.  Often, families will accommodate the most stubborn and difficult person, whether they’re right and fair or not.  You may have to be more stubborn than anyone else.

Get a good coach to help you rally your spirit and plan effective tactics.

Your task is to create a family that honors, respects and appreciates you, a family in which your great efforts are worthy of being honored, a family of your heart and spirit.  That may or may not be the family you were born into.

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

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

I disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.