Many parents, especially single parents weighed down by guilt, allow themselves to be harassed, bullied and abused overtly and covertly by their teenagers who have finished high school and are physically and mentally fine.  They allow those big, toxic teens to hang out at home for free, doing nothing, while they wait on them and let the teens abuse them.  Unless the parents change, they’ll allow this behavior to last into their children’s twenties. No wonder these lazy, sullen, angry, sneering, sarcastic teenagers feel entitled.  Nothing bad ever happens to them when they trash the house, demand to be catered to and abuse their parents.

Tolerating bad behavior only enables it and encourages these teenagers to act worse.  No wonder these big brats don’t respect parents who don’t demand respect by having consequences when respect isn’t given.

These parents usually hope that if they’re nice enough to their abusive teenagers, someday the brats will like them and will wake up transformed.  The spoiled brats will then be as nice and polite as when they were little.  They’ll become self-supporting, hard workers.

This wishful thinking is wrong!

I’m not saying that the spoiled brats are bad people.  I am saying that permissive parents encourage kids to act out of the worst characteristics of their egos and personalities.  It’s always easier for these teens to sink down to the most lazy, selfish, self-centered, narcissistic parts of them.

These permissive parents are not setting high standards of polite and civil behavior.  Their expectations are too low.

Many of these permissive parents are secretly afraid that their big brats are too fragile to succeed, even though they’re mentally and physically capable.  They’re afraid that if they demanded good behavior and self-sufficiency, the teens will give up and fail.  Maybe, if they coddle them longer, they’ll change.  So they continue coddling and praying.

The same is true for brats who are juniors and seniors in high school.

Instead of giving in, assert yourself and protect your personal space, even against your precious flesh and blood.

  1. Set standards of polite, civil behavior that are not up for debate.  Detail the standards and say that the list will be growing as you think of new ones.  Your bullying teen’s agreement or disagreement with the standards is irrelevant.  Stop negotiating endlessly over everything. Don’t let them wear you down in endless debates.  Your standards are requirements.
  2. When they complain, keep saying, “That’s a real problem.  I hope you can solve it before you’re on the streets.”  You may make a suggestion one time, but after that, don’t accept responsibility for solving their problems.  Their difficulties don’t affect your applying consequences.
  3. Have real and immediate consequences if your brat doesn’t live up to your standards.  Only have consequences you’ll actually apply. Your explosions, rage and threats are not consequences.  Most young adults think they’ve won when you’ve lost it.  They know you’ll feel guilty and relent.  Usually, effective, immediate consequences are that the big brat has to move out – no negotiation, no promises accepted. Performance counts; not promises.
  4. See the grown kid as a “guest” in your home.  They have to behave like good guests or they can’t stay.  They have a choice: Behave and stay, or resist and leave.  It’s clear, straightforward and simple; just not easy for you.
  5. Don’t give them a second chance; do the consequences you said.  Typically, since they’ve gotten away with being jerks for so, long they won’t believe you’ll really do anything.  So, they’ll push the boundaries to test you – maybe doing something minor to see if you’ll really act. And they’ll have their reasons, excuses, justifications and promises.  Or they’ll attack you verbally or physically.
  6. Be crystal clear: If they threaten or assault you or your possessions, you’ll call the police like you would on any vandal you didn’t know Document evidence and report them.

If they treat you mean, don’t let them stay with you simply by paying rent.  Let them try treating a landlord mean.

The more you’re smiling, even-handed and matter of fact as you throw them out, the better.  You have good reason to be happy; you’re getting back your peace, quiet and space.  The moment they leave, get rid of their stuff; convert their room into something you can use.

It will do them a world of good to try living with a friend’s family or even with a bunch of friends.

What if they say you’re a bad mom? You have to know who is wiser – you or a selfish, petulant, narcissistic 19 year-old.

What if their friend’s parents think you’re a bad mom? You know what you know.  Those parents just told you they can be conned by your kid and that he needed kicked out.  He’s still trying to manipulate people to give him things, instead of working for them.  Also, they just told you that you don’t want them as friends.

What if your baby has to live on the streets or fails at life? We can never know what might be.  But we do know that teens who don’t exert themselves, need to be kicked out of the nest.  It’s the only way they have a chance to learn how to fly

After you throw them out, define the new relationship you want. You get together with people who are fun, interesting and treat you nice.  If they’re willing to do that, you’d be glad to meet them at restaurants or movies, and even treat them sometimes.  Your needs and wants are at least as important as theirs.

Is this emotional and financial blackmail? Definitely; you bet.  What’s the problem?  This is real adult life.

Stop trying to teach them life’s lessons but do continue to plant seeds. They’ve already decided not to learn the lessons of life from you.  They’ll have to learn them the hard way – from the world.  Stop trying to teach those lessons.

Continue to plant seeds about what it takes to be with you:

  1. “If you fail, it’s your fault; I won’t be accepting guilt for your failures anymore.  Your task is to create a wonderful future no matter how much you think everyone, especially, me, has wronged you.”
  2. “You’ll get more from me by being nice than by trying to beat me into submission.  If you use anger or rage, I’ll automatically say ‘No.’”
  3. “If you make things fun for me, if you bribe me, I’ll consider doing some of the things you want.”
  4. “Now that you’re older than three, any authority and control over your life has to be earned by your being nice (or sucking up to me) or by your supporting yourself and living independently.  You’d better have a skill so you can get a job to pay for a car, insurance, an apartment and food.  Earn them and you’ll earn the right to be in charge of your life.”

Sixteen to twenty five year-olds need to stop trying to get what they want by beating their parents and start getting it from the world by their own efforts.

How do you feel when you see them living on your couch when they’re 42?

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.

It had been a wonderful 9 months for Jane and her husband.  Their youngest child went off to college and they had the house and their lives to themselves.  No more picking up after the kids, waiting on them, cleaning up the bathrooms after them, helping them through their emergencies.  They got over the initial shock of having an empty nest.  They felt free and spontaneous again.  Their chores were light. Then their son moved back in for the summer.  And it was like having a 200-pound-baby thrashing about in their nest.  He was a good kid, had done well his freshman year and they did love him.  But it was a royal pain taking care of him again.

What could they do?

They tried the usual ways of asking, lecturing, berating and arguing, but he continued acting the way he had before he’d left.  He seemed to think he was an entitled prince.  This was his vacation and he wanted to do only what he wanted to do.  When they wanted him to do more, he tried to beat them into submission with angry temper tantrums or to manipulate them to back off by using blame and guilt.

Jane and her husband realized they were making no progress.  They had training him to expect to do nothing and get away with being surly.  Asking without consequences was just begging.  Appeasing him didn’t buy them the civil, polite behavior they wanted.

They didn’t want to throw him out; how could he support himself?  Or would he start hanging out with bad company?

They finally told him that since he was no longer a little baby and since he wanted all the rights and privileges of a responsible adult, he was now a guest in their home.

  1. As a guest he had certain responsibilities, like treating their stuff the way they wanted (not the way he felt like), picking up after himself and asking permission to use their things.  They knew that he would act like a good guest if he was staying at a friend's or even an aunt or uncle’s house.  They loved him and he was doing well at school and seemed to be on his way to making an independent life for himself and they expected him to act like a good guest.
  2. They said they wouldn’t accept being treated like victims, servants or slaves, cleaning up after their master.  They wanted an adult relationship with an adult they might like being with.  If he wanted something from them like room and board, loan of a car or college tuition, he had to pay for what he got by being fun, polite and civil.  He also had to get a job so he wouldn’t be hanging around all day.  That’s what adults do.
  3. They said that in his absence, they had created an “Isle of Song” for themselves.  No toxic polluters allowed.  Anyone who wanted to get on that isle had to add to the music and dance.  Was he willing?  They knew he could because he acted great around everyone else.

Of course be blew up and tried anger (how could they treat him that way) and guilt (didn’t they love him any more?) to continue to get his lazy, selfish, narcissistic, self-indulgent way.

Even though they suddenly saw him as a bully, they laughed good-naturedly and applauded his efforts to get what he wanted from them.  Literally applauded.  And then they graded his tantrums: was that a 9.2 or a 6.5?

They told him that he had ‘til Friday to find a place with a friend.  They were converting his room into the exercise room they’d always wanted.  They told him they were going to buy boxes to pack up all his stuff stored in the garage.  And then they went out for coffee and left him alone.

When they returned, their son apologized.  He could see they were serious and he’d be a great guest.  They had previously agreed to act sad if he said this, and to pretend hat they’d really wanted the exercise room.

They’d also agreed with each other previously to take him back provisionally on a weekly basis.  They’d provide a list of chores and met weekly to review performance.  But cheerful, gracious and polite behavior was graded at every interaction.  Harassment, bullying or verbal abuse were not tolerated.

Summer with him became fun; except when his older sister came home for two weeks.  But that’s a different story.

Some variants:

  1. A grown child who is independent but has to move back suddenly because he lost his job or just got divorced.  It’s only for a short time while he gets back on his feet and moves out again.
  2. A grown child who’s life is a mess and needs to move home because she can’t make it on her own.  She hates you and blames all her problems on you.  And you’re afraid she’ll move in permanently.

Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Colleagues Who Can Make You Fat,” focuses on people at work who try to sabotage coworkers’ diets.  People reported that colleagues and bosses made them uncomfortable admitting they were on a diet 23% of the time. In contrast, dieters said they were uncomfortable admitting that they were dieting to people in personal life – friends, relatives and spouses – 63% of the time.  That is, there are almost three times as many diet saboteurs among those who are closest to us.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Diet saboteurs use many techniques.  They:

  • Tease, taunt and mock.
  • Criticize, pressure and manipulate.
  • Gleefully predict failure.
  • Get upset because we’re spurning their offerings of fatty, starchy, sugary, calorie-loaded food.
  • Lecture that we’re harming our body by dieting.

The article says that these saboteurs usually mean well.  I disagree. When diet saboteurs continue harassing and abusing us relentlessly, they don’t mean well.  They’re narcissistic bullies who have their own agenda that they think is more important than ours.  They’re righteous. They know better and they’re out to change us – usually by beating us into submission.

Typically, they try to sabotage our diets because:

  • They may feel abandoned because we no longer eat the same food with them.
  • They may be striking back because they take our change as a put down of their old habits.
  • They may feel jealous that they’re not losing weight.
  • They may see our being thinner as a threat.
  • They may simply not like us and are finding another reason, excuse or justification to mock, ridicule, or put us down.

Who cares what their reasons are?  Understanding their reasons won’t help us stop them.  After the first time we’ve asked them to stop, their reasons for continuing now become excuses and justifications for continued harassment, abuse and bullying.  Bullies always find excuses to continue inflicting pain.

What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. People who are closest to us – toxic spouses, family, friends – are the most relentless saboteurs.  Things are not as we would wish. Notice that I didn’t say, “Things are not as they should be.”  Things are as they are.  That’s not what’s wrong with this picture.
  2. What’s wrong with this picture is that people feel uncomfortable and that feeling keeps them from doing what they need toTheir discomfort is their excuse to become victims.

As William Boast said, “It’s important that people know what you stand for.  It’s equally important that they know what you won’t stand for.”

Don’t debate or argue with their justifications.  Don’t accept apologies unless their behavior changes.  They won’t change their behavior; they won’t give up their desire for domination and control.  Instead, stop bullies or get them off our Isle of Song.

These bullying spouses, family members and friends are telling us to examine what kind of behavior we will and won’t allow around us and our families.

To have the wonderful lives we want, we must stop bullying behavior in our personal spaces.  We wouldn’t allow family members to push an alcoholic to have “just one drink” and we wouldn’t allow family abusers or perverts access to our children.  The need to stop diet saboteurs is no different.

Of course, we can start resisting gently by asking them, one-to-one in private, to stop. Or we could ignore it or laugh it off in public.  Those approaches become tests of them.  Do they stop or do they identify themselves as bullies?

We know what doesn’t stop bullies: ignoring, minimizing, conflict-avoidance, begging, bribery, defeatism, forgiveness, appeasement, understanding, unconditional love, the Golden Rule.  Relentless bullies misunderstand our kindness. They take our “rising above” as weakness and, like sharks or hyenas, they’re encouraged to attack us more.

Their relentless attacks force us to confront the central issue: which is more important; good behavior or bad blood?  And when they continue their abuse, bullies force us into an all-or-none choice.  Are we willing to defend the behavior we need to have, even if it breaks the old family dynamic, the code of silence that enables the nastiest spouse or relatives to continue getting away with their abuse for the sake of, “family?”

That choice thrusts us into the second stage of maturitywe’re called upon to decide, as independent adults, what behavior we will or won’t allow into our lives, no matter what the relationship is called.  We’re called upon to have more confidence and self-esteem.

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

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

During the typical arguing and fighting leading up to deciding to divorce and during the divorce process itself, what should and shouldn’t you tell the kids?  When you think there’s still a chance to salvage the marriage, should you tell them nothing is wrong so they don’t worry?  Should you re-assure them that you and your spouse will be together forever?  In a nasty divorce, should you tell them what a rat your soon-to-be ex-spouse really is?  How can you protect the kids from being scarred and totally messed up later? Whatever you decide, you must deal with each child and situation as unique and design your answer to deal with each child’s questions in an age appropriate way.  And keep adjusting as they grow older.

Think of the process as your needing to peel layers off the children’s concerns.  One concern will lead to another or maybe you’ll return to a previous one.  Saying something one time will not be enough.  You’ll have to return to some issues, depending on the individual, many times.  But don’t make a problem where the child isn’t.

You’ll think very differently if the divorce is amicable or if it’s a nasty, vicious, vindictive power-struggle to the death.  In one case, you’ll probably say “We” a lot while in the other you’ll probably say “I” a lot,.

If it’s an ugly situation, don’t pretend that your ex is perfect.  Be truthful and distinguish between what behavior the kids can count on and what’s just your opinion.  Always ask them to check things out for themselves; like little scientists.  Help them think of reasonable tests; who keeps promises, who’s on time, who are they afraid of, who can they rely on, who blames, shames and guilt-trips?

Some guidelines, not rigid rules:

  1. Don’t allow the “Big Lie.” When the children sense that there’s frustration and tension that sometimes boils over into anger, bullying, abuse or violence don’t deny their kid-radar.  Don’t tell them everything’s fine and that they’re wrong.  The most important verification they need is that they’re sensing and seeing reality.  They must know that there is trouble and that they can sense it.  For example, “Yes, you’re very smart, you can sense what’s going on and your radar is accurate.  That skill will help you the rest of your life.  Sometimes, I don’t tell you what’s happening or why, because I want to keep it private or maybe you’re too young to understand yet or I don’t want to upset you unduly.  But I want you to ask me if you worry about anything.”
  2. The most important assurance they need is that they can be fine. For example, “I know this can be scary and hard and you’ll have lots of questions.  Over time, I’ll answer them as best I can as we work out our new living arrangements.  But the most important thing is that you dedicate yourselves to having great lives.  Never let anything get in the way of that.  No matter how scared or upset you might get, overcome it.  Make sure that you’ll look back on this tough time as just a speed bump in your lives.  Make sure that you’re not bothered much by it.  Your parents’ fights have nothing to do with you.  You’re not the cause of them.  You’re fine.  We just don’t get along.  Your job is to grow up and get independent and find someone you will get along with.  And that this tough time isn’t a big deal in your life.”
  3. Help them overcome uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety, fear and panic. Assure them that you’ll always care for them and take care of them, in whatever way you can.  For example, “We’ll figure out how to be together and be safe and have good times.  I’ll always see that you have the things and the opportunities you really need.  It’s always hard when we’re in a transition or in limbo waiting to see what will happen and you don’t have control.  Your job is to focus on what’s most important for you right now and that’s not the emotional turmoil you’re living in.  The turmoil isn’t your doing.  Your job is to take charge of what you have control over; your moods and attitudes and efforts, which means school.  Make this turmoil as small and colorless in your life as you can.  Don’t step into it; stay outside of it.  This is good training for you in mental and emotional-control.  These are the number one skills you need to learn in order to be successful later in life.”
  4. Help them deal with mean, nasty kids who taunt, harass or cut them out. For example, begin with developing their inner strength, “Not having as much money as we did or having some other kids act mean because your parents are divorcing is not really important.  You can be invulnerable.  You may feel like you need to be liked or be friends with those kids now, but when you’re out of school, with 70 years of life ahead of you, you won’t care what those kids think.  You won’t want to be friends with those kids.  More important, you’ll see that they’re acting like jerks and you’ll decide never to care what jerks think.  You’ll have the freedom to go anywhere and be with anyone so, of course, you’ll choose to be with people who love and like you, appreciate and respect you, and who treat you better.”  Follow up by making sure the school principal stops this bullying.
  5. Some other questions they might have are: Are all marriages doomed, will I choose the wrong person just like you did, will we kids be split up, can I stay at the same school, will my other parent move far away so I never see them again, whose fault is it, do I have to take sides, will I still have grandparents, will I still get birthday and Christmas presents, can I use guilt or my temper tantrums to manipulate you, will I still have to brush my teeth?  Don’t give into them or give them everything they want because you feel guilty, want them to like you more or think their lives are too hard.
  6. Don’t use your kids as your best friends, confidants or therapists. Don’t use them to comfort yourself or as pawns in a vicious struggle.  They’re your kids; they’re not adults or lovers.  Take your emotional pain and baggage somewhere else.  You have to be a responsible adult, no matter how difficult that is.  If you can’t, you should consider making safer arrangements for them.  For example, “This is too painful for me to talk about.  Sometimes I get tired and stressed out, and I blow up or lose it.  I don’t mean to.  When I’m like that, don’t take anything I say seriously.  Suggest that I need a time out.   Your job, children, is to look away and focus on your own tasks so you can have great lives as you grow up.  No matter how hard it is, you have to focus on school and getting skills so you can take care of yourselves when you’re adults.  That’s what’s important.  Your future is what’s most important to me.”

The big message is about the wonderful future they can have.  The big message is that they can/should/must decide to let this roll off their backs.  Even though it’s happening to them, they can be resilient. They can move beyond it and create wonderful lives for themselves.

We adults make a mistake if we worry that when bad things happen, the children are automatically guaranteed to have huge problems later in life.  Looking at them as too fragile and helpless to resist the effects of a difficulty, divorce or trauma is like giving them a terrible thought virus.  It’s easy for them to catch that virus.

Actually, our responsibility is to protect them from that too common virus.  For example, they might tend to worry that since a classmate is so traumatized because their parents are divorcing they’ll be messed up also.  You might say, “No.  You’re strong and wise and brave and you have me to keep reminding you that you’ll be fine.  Stop bullying yourselfTake power over yourself.  So choose to be fine; dedicate and discipline yourself.  Choose to be successful, no matter what.  That’s my wish for you.”

Tell them stories about ancestors or great people who overcame the same or even worse situations in childhood.  For example, “Don’t be victims of what happens to you.  Be one of the ‘Invulnerables.’  Did you know that a study of 400 great people born in the 19th and early 20th centuries found that most of these people had absolutely horrible childhoods?  Yet they were not destroyed by what had happened; they were invulnerable.  They became much stronger.  They had great lives – including wonderful marriages.  You too, my beloved children, can choose that path for yourselves.  Please do.”

Since all tactics are situational, you’ll need expert coaching rather than just guidelines.  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” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” have many examples of kids growing up under very difficult situations and learning to take command of themselves.  For personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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

Common examples of this tactic are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then you have to make the consequences count.

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

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

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

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family.  They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us.  They count on our self-bullying and guilt.  They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval...  They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad.  And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune. Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.”  They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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George Will reported in his Newsweek column, “More Stimulating that the Stimulus,” that “In Ottawa, the sensitivity police in a children’s soccer league announced that any team attaining a five-goal lead would be declared to have lost, thereby sparing the feelings of those who were, if you will pardon the expression, losing.” This was confirmed by many other articles including, “Win a soccer game by more than five pints and you lose, Ottawa league says.”  Although the title says enough, here are some quotes from the article, “In yet another nod to the protection of fledgling self-esteem, an Ottawa children’s soccer league has introduced a rule that says any team that wins a game by more than five points will lose by default… Club director Sean Cale… said the league’s 12-person board of directors is not trying to take the fun out of the game, they are simply trying to make it fair. The new rule, suggested by ‘involved parents,’ is a temporary measure that will be replaced by a pre-season skill assessment to make fair teams.”

The Club fields teams between the ages of 4 and 17.

It’s hard to keep calm when we hear this kind of idiocy.  I suppose next they’ll want the Ottawa Senators to stop shooting if the ever get a two goal lead.

The bullies here are not good soccer players who score many goals, although they might be if they go overboard into vicious fouling and nasty taunting against overmatched opponents.  The bullies here are the members of the Club Board who act like self-appointed “Self-Esteem Police.”

Bullying by “Professional Victims” One of the 5 types of bullying that we deal with regularly is the “Profession Victims” who use their hyper-sensitivity and hurt feelings to manipulate and control their environment.  They win when you accept that your job is not to hurt their sensitive feelings.  Professional Victims and their supporters say your job is to do everything they want in order to please them…and they’re never satisfied. They win when everyone else is walking on eggshells to avoid hurting their feelings and causing them to blow up or withdraw into a pouting silence.

The rules of soccer, when followed, already make the game fair.

Professional Victims assume that their children’s psyches and self-esteem are weak and fragile The slightest problem will damage them forever.  As if kids can’t maintain their self-esteem when they’re beaten badly by a better team. I assume, on the contrary, that children begin strong and have to be taught to see themselves as weak and fragile Children are not damaged by failing or learning their present location in the hierarchy of inborn gifts and hard work.  I assume that when children fail it’s because they haven’t worked hard enough.  The solution to not succeeding is to work harder to fulfill your potential.  Children survive intense pressure, challenge and struggle.  When they improve, their self-confidence and sense of competence increases. Also, we all have much more choice about how we feel You have to be taught to have low self-esteem after you lose at something you know you’re not very good at.  You have to be taught to have stress, anxiety and depression after you lose.  You have to be taught to wallow in negative self-talk and self-bullying.  You have to be taught to give up. People who succeed in life respond by directing their energy into a vow to do better and a determination to work harder, get better and win at life We’ve all been beaten down at times.  We’ve all found out where we stand in the hierarchy of who’s faster, stronger, smarter, prettier.  And our position in that hierarchy has nothing to do with happiness or self-esteem.  Ask any great athlete how they motivate themselves after having been beaten.  Ask any great mother or father how they motivate themselves to do better after they’re done something really dumb in their family.

The general rule is never to give the Self-Esteem Police or the Professional Victims credence or power.  Treat them as bullies and learn to stop them.  Tell them to suck it up; stop creating and wallowing in hurt feelings.  The lesson for these kids is to have more inner strength, courage and perseverance and to get more skillful so you can succeed in the real-world.

We need to learn how to win.  Winning is critical for our survival as individuals and societies.

The general rule in winning big is to not be a jerk about it.  Grownups are supposed to learn not to thrash their kids when they’re young,  The big kids in any extended family are supposed to learn how to make it fun for the little kids to play ball with them.  We’re supposed to learn how to be gracious winners when someone isn’t in our league in any game. The general rule in dealing with defeat is to gather yourself, get more skillful and do better next time.  And if you’re not good enough to be a champion, decide to be happy enjoying playing at any game in life, whether it’s sport, dance, music, art or any other area of endeavor where there are only a few “work class” players.

Expert coaching can help you design a plan for each individual child; from those who tend to be aggressive and nasty to those who tend to withdraw and need lots of encouragement.

By the way, so much scorn was heaped on the Ottawa soccer club that they did get rid of that rule.  They now have a new mercy rule “under which a game will be called once one team has a lead of eight goals. Whichever team is ahead at that time will be credited with the win,”

‘Tis the holiday season and kids’ expectations are high.  They want what they want and they want it now! We may want to draw new lines, cutting back because of the economy or because we’re just tired of their whining and complaining or because we think they’re on the path to become spoiled brats.  But if we don’t please them, many kids will throw temper tantrums in public, as well as at home.  They’ll scream that you’re unfair, that all the other kids get what they want, that their lives will be ruined if they don’t get what they want right now, that they won’t have a social life, that they’ll be picked on because they’re poor and that they hate you.  Or if they’re very young, they’ll just scream.

They’ve made a list and they’ve checked it twice.  They’ve kept score and know you’re embarrassed by the fuss and more likely to give in when they meltdown or get out of control or go ballistic in public.

They’re just like we were, if our parents let us be. If we’re distracted now, embarrassed or lack confidence, we’ll make exceptions when other people are around and we’ll give in.  Of course, the kids will smell blood and up the ante.

So what can you do?

  1. The key is not to be embarrassed, distracted or self-judgmental.  Be clear; if they don’t get what they want it really is not the end of the world.  Don’t let their self-confidence and self-esteem depend on external stuff or other people’s opinions of them.  Don’t take personally what they say.  Do not care about or look at other people (including your parents) to see if they’re disturbed or disapproving.  If you care what other people think, your children will know that they’ll eventually win.  If you lose it; kids know that they will win eventually.
  2. The rules don’t change in public, although your actions will be different in each different situation.  Explain in private beforehand what you can afford and can’t afford, and what you think is appropriate and not appropriate.  Be clear about the areas in which they have no choice and where their vote counts and where they have total control.
  3. Normal children are supposed to learn how to manipulate you to get what they want; their job is to see if bullying works on you – where and when.  Their job is to test you by pushing your boundaries to find out where they can get their way.  Your task is to look at them lovingly when they’re throwing a stubborn fit because you can see how that determination, strength and perseverance will help them when they grow up.  That doesn’t mean you give in to them.  Your job is to stay calm and to assert your will to educate and socialize them whether they agree or not.  You can give them your reasons in a way that makes it a statement of fact, not a matter for debate, not a matter they get to vote on.
  4. Children just want to know the rules and boundaries.  You help them feel secure when you’re consistent, calm, smiling, loving and firm.
  5. Have a get-away plan before you go anywhere.  You and your partner-spouse will have to agree beforehand.  That may mean taking the kid for a walk or leaving early.  If they lose it, you will have to get them away and do your best to calm them down.  Don’t put them in situations where they get too hungry, tired or “wired” by too much input, sugar or caffeine.  For some kids, a big lesson is that they’ll be removed while everyone else is having a fabulous time.  Show them that their upset is definitely not contagious.
  6. When the children are very young (pre-schoolers), long before you think they can understand language, you can calmly and firmly state, “If you behave like that, I won’t take you any more.”  And then remove them.  You’d be surprised: they understand your calm firmness long before you think they can.  Often, you can distract them with whatever is around and interesting in the environment.  If you train them now, you might be able to enjoy their polite and civil company when they’re teenagers.
  7. Sometimes, with older kids, you can break them out of a fit by grading their performance.  Just like you see in the Olympics, line everyone else up and give grades for the performance – a 6.9, an 8.7, a 9.2.  With a loving smile and laugh, encourage them to do better, to shoot for a hissy-fit that’s worth a 9.9.  Give them a big round of applause or a wave.  Then go about your previous business.  The more you’re enjoying yourself, the less they’ll push the tactic of throwing hissy-fits; the less they’ll think that negativity, anger, rage and explosions will get them what they want.  By the way, boys will often stop any behavior you call a “hissy-fit.”
  8. If you lose it once in a while, there will be no permanent damage.  Of course there are a small percent of children who make the fight with you a matter of life-or-death for them.  Calmly convince them that’s not a good use of their energy and they won’t win that fight until they’re 18 and leave home.  If they continue that fight, they’re telling you they need serious help.

If you give in when they’re young, you’re training your children to be abusive, bullies, a.k.a. spoiled brats who think they can get what they want through harassment, abuse and bad behavior.  It’s hard enough for them to make their way through life with good behavior; it’s much harder if they’re badly behaved, grown-up brats.

For a great example, see how single-parent Paula stopped being bullied by her teenage daughter in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”  Of course, every situation is different so you’ll need expert coaching to design a plan that fits you and your children.

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.

Stopping bullying by toxic parents and grandparents is only one side of the coin.  The other side is to stop bullying of parents by adult children who are toxic users and abusers. I’ll focus on the adult children who:

  • Make poor decisions and try bully their parents to bail them out time after time.
  • Still yell at or even hit their middle-aged parents just like they did when they were teenagers.
  • Extort money from their parents in return for allowing them to see the grandchildren.

I won’t go into the abuse of elderly or senile parents, nor into situations in which the child is disabled or retarded and will need parental care for life.

For parents, this is one of the most heart-wrenching situations; to see that your adult children are:

  • Still incompetent and failing.
  • Still trying to manipulate or coerce you, long after they should have become independent and work to get what they want from the world.
  • Characterless, nasty, abusive adults – entitled, blaming, narcissistic, weak and desperate.

Of course we parents think we’re at fault.  We can self-bully until we feel guilt and shame.  “Where did we go wrong?”  And of course those selfish, manipulative children try to increase those feelings so that we’ll continue giving them what they want.

Although it’s now too late to begin when your children were young, getting an idea about what we could have done then might help us now. Parenting experts for the last generation have falsely assumed and wrongly encouraged people to think that if they kept protecting their immature, irresponsible children from consequences and kept giving them infinite second changes, the children would eventually mature and develop confidence, self-respect and self-esteem.  They would become competent and independent adults.

Of course, a few children do change and become responsible when they’re coddled.  But this strategy encourages most children to remain weak and needy, expecting to be supported for life if they’re in trouble.  The best way to produce spoiled brats (at any age) is to give them what they want.

Instead, you must not let your heart guide your actions.  You must let them fail and bear the consequences, no matter how hard.  You must keep reminding them that they will need to take care of themselves; they will be dependent on their own judgment and effort.  This is not an all-or-none shift.  There should be a gradual shift as they pass from elementary school to middle or junior high school.

In a loving and firm way, encourage them to learn how the world works and to do their best, but stop protecting them.  I think of that in the same way I think of helping plants get hardy enough to survive in temperate zones – we leave them out longer and longer in chilly nights.

Although there are too many brutal, abusive, uncaring, selfish, demanding parents, the biggest mistake I see parents make is to coddle their children way too long.

Don’t use the word, “supportive;” it’s too non-specific.  Be specific; give them encouragement to work hard and live poor if they can’t do better.  But don’t be a friend, don’t be a bank, don’t be a 7-11.

As for the shame and guilt you might feel because the children didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped; give it up.  They have free will.  By the time they’re adults they make their own choices.  Truthfully, how much success did any of us have giving advice to teenagers?  They listen to their own drumbeat; just like we did, whether our parents liked it or not. So what can we do now?  The same thing we should have done back then: cut them off economically.  Ignore promises; behavior counts.  Give your treats to the independent, self-supporting children who don’t need them.  Don’t give them to the irresponsible children who depend on and demand them.

Don’t let them yell, shove or hit you; don’t let them harass or abuse you.  Hang up or throw them out immediately.  Remember, we’re adults; we must demand civilized behavior on our islands.  If they can’t be polite, they can’t be on our islands.

Make a family rule: we get together to have a good time, not to straighten each other out, or review our bank balances, or complain, whine or blame.  Keep offering fun when you get together.  Stop offering advice or money.

Don’t debate or argue about what’s right or fair.  We suffered enough of those when they were teenagers.  It’s your money, you get to do what you want with it; they’re not entitled to anything.

Of course, your heart will bleed, but keep that to yourself.  Worry, cry and pray in private.  Remind them that it’s their lives and they have to succeed on their own.

With the grandchildren, we have two paths.  The first is to remain firm and suffer the consequences when they withhold the grandchildren.  We all know the truth about blackmail and extortion: bullies raise the price and there will be no end to it.  If they deny you access to the grandchildren; write, call, send presents and keep records.  You’ll make your case when the grandchildren turn 18.

The second path is to purchase time with your beloved grandchildren in hopes that you can have an effect on them so they won’t turn out like your children did.  Expect the price in money and abuse of you to increase with time.  Unfortunately, the grandchildren usually learn to hold you up for what they want.

There is no instant and easy cure.  Your children have free will.  They have chosen and can continue to choose to be weak and irresponsible.  You didn’t cause it, although you might have enabled it by giving them too much.  They can try to drag you under when they flail around because they think they’re drowning.  Don’t let them drag you under.

For a clear example, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the study of how Paula slowly succeeded with her teenage daughter, Stacy,

Some bullies use their strong emotions to become the center of attention, take control and coerce or manipulate other people to give in and do what the emotional bully wants. Children throwing fits are practicing and learning if that tactic works.  Adult masters of emotional bullying are effective with spouses, partners, friends, extended families and at work.  Some bullies are especially effective in places where other people’s politeness keeps them from stopping the bullying – like at parent groups, reading clubs and parent-teacher meetings.

These “Drama Queens” and their male counterparts have strong emotions and over-the-top reactions.  They come in many forms.

For example:

  • No matter how trivial the problem at school, Claire’s daughter was never at fault.  If Claire’s child didn’t get the special treatment she wanted, or if her child was marked down for not completing an assignment or for misbehaving, or if her child wasn’t the first or the most successful, Claire threw a fit.  In public, she yelled at other children or at teachers and the principal.  She threatened law suits.  Pretty soon, teachers allowed her spoiled, bratty child to bully other children.
  • James had three young children, but he was always the center of attention.  If he didn’t get waited on instantly or was asked to do something that interfered with his personal plans or comfort, his constant irritation blew up into outrage and anger.  He yelled at his wife and the kids.  He blamed them for disturbing him and punished them in nasty ways for days.  Usually he was allowed to do anything he wanted and was rarely asked to help.  His wife said, behind his back, that it was like having a giant kid in the house.
  • In the workplace, Tracy ranted in her office, but never followed through with her threats or promises.  She moved on to turn the next problem she saw into a catastrophe.  But once she’d blown up at you, no amount of good performance would get you out off her “bad” list.  She’d sabotage you without telling you why.  Pretty soon, everyone did exactly what she wanted.  They didn’t want scenes and they didn’t want Tracy to stab them in the back.
  • Charlie was a lousy friend, but everyone was afraid to tell him.  He was always late, took up the whole time talking about himself and needed everyone to help him do what he said he “needed” to do.  He borrowed but never returned, he never had money to cover his share of activities and all the fun had to wait until he arrived.  If anyone wouldn’t wait or tried to stop his narcissistic speeches or wouldn’t give him what he wanted, his feelings were hurt.  He was crushed, incensed and ranted for hours; he never let go of a perceived slight.  Of course, it was just easier to give and go along rather than to offend him.

Although they come in many forms, Drama Queens share some common traits.  They:

  • Are hypersensitive, highly emotional and easily hurt.  They’re super-intense, angry, hostile and emotional. They over-react as if everything is a matter of life and death.
  • They misunderstand, jump to conclusions and blow up and demand apologies.
  • Are perfectionistic, nit-picking, control freaks.  They’re vindictive blamers. They take everything personally and remember forever.
  • Take over every situation or group.  They act as if their drama is more important than anything else in the world.  Nothing and nobody else matters; not even getting results.
  • Think that spewing of emotions reveals the “real” person.  They’re uncomfortable with people they see as expressionless.  To Drama Queens, loud emotions show strength; calm people are wimps.

Unless we stop them, we end up walking on egg shells and deferring to them.  Their likes and dislikes rule.  Pretty soon they’re in charge.

Drama Queens increase everyone’s anxiety, stress and depression.  Most people mistakenly accept the blame for triggering the Drama Queen.  They also create chaos.  Their hyperactive, panicky, adrenaline-rush is addictive and contagious.  Soon, everyone is on edge and ready to blow up at the slightest provocation.

Logic and kindness won’t change them.  And you won’t cure them.  Their tactics have made them successful since childhood.  Only a devastating comeuppance or years of intensive therapy or coaching have a chance of changing that style.

When possible, vote Drama Queens off your island.  You’ll need carefully planned tactics if they’re in your extended family or live on your block and their kids are friends with yours.  At work, try to document activities that destroy teamwork or are clearly illegal.  You won’t get anywhere if you want the big bosses to act because the Drama Queen hurt your feelings.

If the Drama Queen or King is your spouse, I’m sorry.  You’ll have to demand behavioral change while you prepare to move on.  Usually, they won’t grow up and learn a new style unless they have to.  They’d even rather get a divorce and blame you than change their style.  Drama Queens are addicted to their habit – knowing that they’re the center of the universe – and need repeated fixes.

There are toxic people in every environment – toxic family, toxic friends, toxic lovers and toxic coworkers.  If you don’t recognize and respond effectively to toxic, bullying coworkers they can make your life miserable, harass you, turn the rest of your team against you, scapegoat you and even get you fired. For example,

Jane is known to be difficult, obnoxious and an out of control retaliator.  But she’s very bright and hard working so management tends to minimize the problems she causes, overlook the tension, hostility and chaos she creates, and explain away her behavior by saying, “That’s just Jane.  She must have a good heart.”  She specializes in vendettas.  Most people are afraid of her; they usually walk on egg shells around her and try to avoid setting off one of her tirades.

The bosses make you the leader of an important project that requires tact and people skills because they don’t trust Jane.  Jane is enraged.  Sometimes she blames and threatens you – you stole her job, she’ll report everything you do wrong, she’ll ruin your reputation and she’ll get you fired.  Sometimes she acts sweet – as if she wants to be your best friend.  Sometimes she tries to make you feel guilty so you’ll refuse to lead the project she thinks should be hers – that’s the only way you can prove to her that you’re a good person and her friend.

Is Jane right?  Are you sneaky and manipulative and have you wronged her?  Or is this a misunderstanding you can overcome so she’ll still be your friend?

How can you distinguish a friendly coworker who’s justifiably upset from one of these toxic bullies?  Simple.  You look for patterns in how Jane acts and how you and others feel when you’re around her.

Typically, toxic coworkers have patterns in which they:

  • Are selfish and narcissistic – it’s always about them; only their interpretations and feelings matter.  Only their interpretations are true.
  • Are sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing stealth bullies.
  • Are over-reactive, control freaks – their interpretations give them permission to search and destroy, no matter how slight or unintentional the insult.  They throw fits and attack or embarrass people they’re upset at.
  • Act sweet one time only pry out people’s secrets and look for the opportunity to strike back even more.  Remember, they’re acting polite doesn’t mean they’re nice.
  • Will openly lie and deny it.  They’re always 100% convinced and convincing.
  • Relentlessly disparage, demean, spy on and report “bad” conduct (often made up) about their targets.

Typically, teammates of these bullies should ask themselves:

  • Are you afraid of what Jane might do or that Jane won’t be friends with you?
  • Does she threaten you?
  • Have you seen Jane attack, manipulate or lie about other targets before you?
  • Does Jane apologize but not change or even strike back later?
  • Does Jane tell you that you’re special and she’d never go after you?
  • Does Jane make efforts to be reasonable and to overcome misunderstandings, to say that the problem is partly her fault and then does she make amends and change?

Of course, you want to be careful that you’re not overreacting.  You want to know if you’re seeing their actions clearly.  But if you answer the first five questions with “yes,” and the last one with “no,” you should beware.

When you identify Jane as someone who is relentless, implacable and has no conscience in pursuing her targets, you know what you’re dealing with.  She’s out to destroy you just like she went after other coworkers in the past.

Your first thought may be, “How can I win her friendship?” or it may be, “She’s suffered so much in her own life, how can I not forgive her?”  If you follow these thoughts with feelings of kindness, compassion and compromise, if you don’t mobilize to protect you life, limb and job you will be sacrificing yourself on an altar of silly sentimentality.

I take a strong approach: Recognize evil and recognize crazy or out of control people who won’t negotiate or compromise.  The Jane’s and John’s of this world are bullies, abusers and predators that do tremendous damage.  They’re why well-meaning people have to consult with experts.  Remember, you would have already resolved situations with coworkers who are reasonable, willing to examine their own actions honestly, and to negotiate and compromise.  You need help with the terminators that you face.

So what can you do?

Divide your response into two areas:

  1. Will – determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance, grit.
  2. Skill – overall strategy, tactics and the ability to maintain your poise and carry out your plan.

Will

  1. Convert doubt and hesitation into permission to act and then into an inner command to act effectively.  Until you have the will, no tactics will help – you’ll give in, back off, bounce from one strategy to another and you'll fail, even with the best plan.
  2. Don’t let your good heart blind you to the damage she’ll do to you.  You’ve already given her second and third chances.  That’s enough.  She’s not merely misunderstanding you in any way you can clear up; logic, reason and common sense aren’t effective with the Jane’s of this world.
  3. See Jane as a terminator – she’s relentless, implacable and has no conscience.  Under her human-looking skin she’s out to destroy you.  Your good heart and attempts to reason politely won’t stop her.
  4. Assume that you can’t rehabilitate or convert Jane in your life time.  That’s not what they pay you for at work anyway.  You’re merely Jane’s coworker with an important personal life, a personal island that needs protecting.  Let Jane’s therapist change her in professional space and on professional time that she pays for.
  5. You don’t owe her anything because she got you the job or rescued you from drowning.  She’s out to get you and you must protect yourself.  Let Jane struggle to change on someone else’s professional time.  Don’t put your reputation, your job or your family’s livelihood in harm’s way.  Don’t minimize or excuse.  Deal only with Jane’s behavior.

Skill

  1. All plans must be adjusted to your specific situation – you, Jane, the company, your personal life.  Added complications would be if Jane is your boss or the manager of your team likes her or is afraid of her and will collude with her against you.
  2. Don’t believe Jane’s promises; don’t be fooled if she acts nice and sweet one time.  Pay attention to the pattern of actions.  If she’s sweet, she’s probably seeking to get information that she can use against you.
  3. Don’t expect her to tell the truth.  She’ll say one thing to you and report exactly the opposite to everyone else.  She’ll lie when she reports bad things you have supposedly done.  She knows that repetition is convincing; eventually some of her dirt might stick to you.  Have witnesses who’ll stand up for you in public.
  4. Don’t argue the details of an interaction to try to convince her of your side.  State your side in a way that will convince bystanders.  Always remind bystanders of your honesty, integrity and good character, which they should know.
  5. Document everything; use a small digital recorder.  Find allies as high up in the company as you can.  When you report Jane, be professional; concentrate on her behavior, not your hurt feelings.  Make a business case to encourage company leaders to act.  It’s about the money, coworkers and clients that the company will save when they terminate Jane.
  6. When you listen to voice mails from Jane or talk with her in person, tighten the muscles of your stomach just below your belly button, while you keep breathing.  That’ll remind you to prepare for a verbal gut-punch.
  7. Get your own employment lawyer and a good coach to strengthen your will, develop your courage and plan effective tactics.

Each situation is different – you, the toxic coworker and the rest of the company.  The need to protect yourself and your career remains the same, while the tactics vary with the situation.  All tactics are situational tactics.

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

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

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

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

The hidden fears behind the question are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wall Street Journal had a story on “The rich rolling in armored splendor in Brazil.”  The part I want to emphasize was about a 19 year-old girl who insisted that she have a pink VW Beetle armored.  She wouldn’t settle for another color or another car, like an Audi.  Her father said, that safety wasn't his only concern; "My greatest fear is to see disappointment on my daughter's face."  Now there’s a kid who has abused and trained her father to give her what she wants. Parents are the number one risk factor in raising kids to be bullies.  There are many ways of raising a teenage bully, but one of the sure-fire methods is to give in to temper tantrums; especially if you begin when they’re young.

We’ve all seen parents who give their young children whatever they want when the kids act disappointed or throw tantrums in stores and restaurants.  Those parents are preparing themselves to live with sneering, selfish, demanding teenagers.  They are training their children to be abusive, teenage bullies.

So what should you do instead?  Begin by realizing that your attitudes and perseverance are critical.  Dedicate yourself to doing whatever it takes to give your children a better start in life.

The following approach works for all but the most troubled kids.

  • Temper tantrums are normal.  All children are supposed to try every type of behavior to make their parents give them everything they want -- immediately.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with infants trying temper tantrums.  That’s normal.  When your children become old enough to begin learning other methods to get what they want, your first task as a parent is to show them, lovingly and firmly, that that approach won’t work.  Your second is to teach them patiently what behavior will be more likely to get you to do what they want.
  • Teach them civility – patience and politeness.  They’ll get a lot from you – after all, you are a loving parent.  But they’ll get more, although not everything, when they ask nicely.  Of course, some children resist longer than others.  So what?  Be more persistent than they are.
  • Don’t get angry; don’t throw a fit in response.  If you lose control, they’ll persist in throwing tantrums because they’ll know they’ll eventually win.  Laugh and be calm and persistent.  Have determination and strength.
  • Persevere: Over time, you will train them.  The earlier you start; the better.  Of course, when they’re infants you’ll cater to their demands more.  But as they learn to speak and you can reason and explain more, you’ll shift to teaching them, “That’s not the way you can get me to do what you want.”  Find appropriate and immediate consequences when they throw tantrums in public.
  • Your child’s unhappiness is not the most important thing in the world.  Your greatest fear should not be to see disappointment on your child’s face.  You should be much more afraid of sending a spoiled brat out into the world – armored or not.
  • If you give in to temper tantrums when the children are young, you’re training them to become bullies.  You’ll soon have teenagers who use tantrums to manipulate, abuse and control you.  You can still use the approach I’ve presented here to stop the tantrums, when your kids are teenagers.  But you’ll be in for a fierce fight because you will already have taught them that they bullying will wear you down – eventually you’ll give in.  That kind of conditioning is difficult, but not impossible, to break.

Remember, your children will show you what it takes to stop them from using their disappointment, hurt feelings and temper tantrums as weapons to get what they want.

Some children will give up temper tantrums easily when they’re young.  They’ll try other methods to get what they want, like reasoning with you or bribing you by giving you what you want in return for your giving them what they want. Other children will fight as if their lives depend on getting everything they want immediately.  Don’t give in while you’re convincing them to try a different strategy – and that not getting everything immediately isn’t the end of the world.

Socializing your children will not only make your life much easier, it’ll help them be successful.  It’s difficult enough to be successful when we act civilized with other people.  It’s much harder to be successful when you’re throwing temper tantrums against teachers, bosses or the police.

Teach your children when they’re young so you can enjoy them when they’re teenagers.  If you let them bully you, they’ll usually become bullies at work and bullying husbands, wives and parents.

Holidays bring out many bullies at home.  You know; the control-freaks who have to have things their way; the manipulative, guilt-tripping, back-stabbing, super-critical, put-down stealth bullies.  For example, Jane has a mother, brother and two sisters who are masters at these techniques.  She used to dread the holidays with the whole family, until she stopped their behavior. It’s funny how often the family of our hearts and spirits is not the family we grew up in.

What goes on in your family?  Do you have examples for the next posts on the holidays at work and bullying children during the holidays? Jane’s mother had guilt-tripped her all of her life.  Her mother’s voice dripped with hurt and pain when she whined, “You never loved me as much as your sisters did” and “You’re so selfish and uncaring, you won’t do the simple things I want for me, after all I did for you.”

Sister #1 always preened and pointed out how her children, husband and house were better than Jane’s.  At the same time, the sister’s husband hated Christmas.  He sounded just like Scrooge, “Christmas is humbug and fake.  I don’t want to waste my time, I won’t give presents and I won’t have fun.”  He was nasty the whole time.

Jane’s brother insisted that Christmas must be done his way; his way was the RIGHT way.  Jane was supposed to make a big spread for him at her house early in the morning, prepare the food he wanted and make her children do the activities he wanted.

Sister #2 bragged about how much more she gave her children than Jane did, and how much better she took care of their mother than Jane did.  She was the best child and she and her children were mom’s favorites.  Also without telling Jane, she invited extra people to come to Jane’s house.  Her husband was okay until he started drinking.  Then he criticized everything Jane did or had.  And he was relentless.

At least, Jane thought, I don’t have elatives that come to stay when I don’t want them or friends who bully me.  And this year, for the first time, Jane is looking forward to an afternoon with the extended family.  That’s because she won’t allow those old behaviors of theirs in her space.

With coaching and the techniques from the book and CD set, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks,” especially the staircase technique and the guideline of being as firm as she needed, Jane got over her own guilt and self-bullying, and set boundaries and behavioral rules for her family in her house.  She started two years ago by not getting hurt feelings, by calling it like it is and even being a little sarcastic.

She said to her mom, “Stop trying to guilt trip me.”  When he mother complained, “I was not.  I was simply telling you how I felt,” Jane didn’t argue.  Instead she firmly responded, “I never thought I’d have a mother who tries to manipulate me using guilt.  You’re just like grandma and what she used to do with you.”

We know that everyone talks about how wonderful their children are, and Jane was glad to listen to Sister #1 for a while.  But when her sister kept going on, and brought every conversation around to the inevitable comparisons, Jane finally said, with a smile, “Yes, you’ve convinced me again.  Your children are much better than mine.”  When her sister indignantly protested that wasn’t her intention, Jane didn’t argue about intentions.  Each time her sister repeated her nasty comparisons, Jane simply repeated what she had said.

Jane also laid down some rules without asking their opinions.  For example, she wants Christmas Eve and morning with her children, and their protests didn’t sway her.  She’s willing to give them the afternoon.  Also she no longer allows liquor on Christmas day.

Over the past two years, Jane has been steady about her challenges to her family.  She rarely debated or helped them do amateur psychoanalysis on why they behaved the way they did.  Their better behavior was her test.

She decided which values were more important to her and then made clear that her family had to change or she wouldn’t have them for Christmas.  More important than a family gathering with nasty people, was a wonderful time with her children.  And she didn’t argue with their protests and justifications.

Jane’s progress was not as fast and smooth as I’m telling in this short post, but it was steady.  She’s seen her family change over the last two years and she thinks that this Christmas will be a test for them.  She’s pretty sure that if she stands firm, they accept her rules for behavior she allows in her life.  Mostly she’s eager for the challenge.

We all have bullies in our family.  The holidays seem to bring out the best in some people, while they bring out the worst in others.

Of course, we need to design different tactics to fit everyone’s unique circumstances and the bullying patterns in individual families.  That’s what coaching and consulting are for.  Some people will be sweeter and softer than Jane, while others will be even more frank and straightforward.

This post is based on the following comment: WOW!!!  I was amazed to find your post, "How do you know if someone is your friend?" right when I needed it most.  I now know what category my daughter's best friend falls under.  My daughter has gone through MOST of the examples that were used in this post with her friend for over 3 years and because there is no hitting involved...it was hard to really label what was going on.  But terming her a "Stealth Bully" is perfect!! I actually can't believe how on target your examples were; they’re so close to what my daughter has been experiencing with a person who was supposed to be her friend.  Just recently, she finally told her supposed friend that she is going to take a break from their relationship because the friend won't stop her negative behavior.  The supposed friend had a fit at school (uncontrollable crying) and got sympathy from other students.  She told everyone my daughter was bullying her and she didn't know why my daughter won't be her friend anymore.  Her supposed friend also manipulated the teacher by breaking out into tears in the classroom and telling the teacher that she has no idea why she is being ignored.

The teacher yelled at my daughter and told her that she will not tolerate any bullying in her class.  My daughter had no chance to explain her side and is devastated at how this has blown up in her face when she is not the bully.

Tears are a very strong weapon when used by manipulative, professional victim children.  I am coaching my daughter now what to say to the teacher because I want her to learn how to stand up for her rights in a respectful way.  I am going to show her your post so that she can understand more what is going on here.  Hopefully this will make her feel better, although right now she feels everyone is on her friend’s side.  Thanks for the post!

**********

Hi,

I’m glad you found the post and that it helped.

Taking what you said as accurate and true, you and your daughter have run into a common manipulative, stealthy bullying tactic.

When someone (your daughter’s supposed friend) cries, most people assume that someone else (your daughter) must have done something bad and should be stopped.  Most people react to their assumptions and attack the designated perpetrator (your daughter).  Your daughter got labeled unfairly and without being allowed to present her side.  Also, the teacher didn’t judge by character, because bullies like your daughter’s supposed friend usually manipulate the same way repeatedly.  They can be recognized by their repeating pattern of behavior – that’s how the get what they want.  And I’d suspect that your daughter doesn’t have a pattern of bullying or abusing her friends.  Shame on that teacher for jumping to conclusions, supporting the bully and blaming the true victim.

A person who uses the crying, victim tactic repeatedly is a special type of manipulative, stealth bully that I call “Professional Victims.”  Your daughter has been victimized by a person using their hurt feelings to gain power and control; a sneaky professional victim.  We often see this between brothers and sisters who want to manipulate their parents.

You’re on the right track coaching your daughter how to stand up for herself.  However, since I suspect that she’s younger than high school age, and since adults sometimes won’t admit error in front of children, you also may need to talk with the teacher and the principal to make your daughter’s case.  Gather evidence, if you can, of other times when the supposed friend has used the same sort of tactics that depend on her feelings being hurt.

Maybe they also need a copy of the original blog post and my book, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks.”  My next book, “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and a 10 disc CD set containing both books should be out right after Thanksgiving.

Of course, the professional victim is not really a friend of your daughter’s.  Professional victims are selfish, vicious, ruthless control-freaks.  They try to manipulate authorities to defend them and to punish people they’re trying to beat into line.

Your daughter is now testing everyone at school.  She should make her case and then see who is foolish enough to believe the false friend.  Your daughter doesn’t really want to be friends with people who don’t recognize her good character, as opposed to the professional victim’s.  Your daughter may find out that no one at school sees clearly.  Well, now she knows about them.  Be resilient.  Move on and get better friends when she moves up to the next school.  She simply won’t be going to reunions with those people.  No great loss.

I know that may sound difficult if she wants to gain acceptance by a peer group.  But part of her job in life is to test the whole world and keep on her island only the people who see her worth and whom she likes.

Good luck and best wishes.

Dana is a seven-year old with a good heart.  In order to help a new girl, Amanda, break into her school, Dana befriends her.  She talks to the girl, hangs out with her on the playground and even has her mother arrange play-dates.  Dana is cheerful and popular, and her efforts are successful.  Other children also become friends with Amanda. But, even in the beginning of their friendship Amanda often manipulates, controls and bullies Dana.  Dana wonders, “Is Amanda really my friend and what should I do?”  Here’s what Amanda does.

Actually, Amanda is a manipulative, controlling stealth bully.  Stealth bullies are:

  • Selfish – When Dana won’t do what Amanda wants, Amanda gets angry.  She yells that Dana is bad.  Amanda insists that her opinions matter more than Dana’s.
  • Critical – She criticizes Dana’s clothes and what Dana likes to do.  She’s gleeful when she points out Dana’s mistakes.  She’s always putting Dana down, topping her, countering her and staying one-up.  She’s always right and righteous about it.
  • Hyper-sensitive – When Dana plays with other girls, Amanda says that her feelings are hurt.  According to Amanda, Dana is her best friend and she’s supposed to play only with Amanda.  Amanda says that the only way Dana can make her feel good is for Dana to do what she wants.
  • Deceitful – Amanda doesn’t apply that rule to herself.  She feels perfectly free to play with whoever she wants to.  She even snubs Dana when she wants to become “best friends” for a while with the other person.
  • Righteous finger-pointers – Amanda is always right and when her feelings are hurt, it’s 100 percent Dana’s fault. She always blames Dana.

Dana is mystified.  Amanda says that she’s Dana’s best friend but Dana often feels verbally abused and emotionally intimidated.  Amanda stimulates Dana’s self-doubt and insecurity.  Dana doesn’t know what she’s done wrong when Amanda is hurt and angry.

Since Dana doesn’t identify Amanda as a stealth bully, she doesn’t resist Amanda’s attempts to manipulate and control her.

My coaching with Dana’s parents awakens them to the problem.  Their daughter is being manipulated and controlled.  I teach them how to help Dana recognize the patterns of Amanda’s manipulating.

So, how can Dana decide if Amanda is really her friend?  Dana and her parents make a list based on her interactions with Amanda – what would a true friend do in each of those situations?  Using this simple method, Dana can see that Amanda hasn’t done any of those things.  Dana recognizes that Amanda is a stealth bully.

Actions speak louder than words.  Actions show you who’s a true friend.  Reasons, justifications and excuses don’t.  Just like the expression, “Follow the money,” I use the expression, “Follow the actions.”

Dana’s parents help her accept that she’s done nothing wrong.  Amanda is the one with the problem.  Amanda doesn’t know how to be a good friend. 

But the important question for Dana is not, “Is Amanda my friend?”  The important question is, “Do I want to be with a person who acts like that, whether or not she calls herself my friend?”  Whatever Amanda’s upbringing and family problems are, she will have to act better if she wants to be with Dana.

Dana is now well on her way to breaking the pattern and creating a bully-free personal space.  She’s learned a valuable lesson she’ll need in junior high school.