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

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

They say that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I strongly recommend three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you effective at saying “no” to colleagues who waste your time?  If you answered “no,” you’re not alone. To read the rest of this article from the Dallas Business Journal, see: Don’t let time-wasters impose on you http://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/stories/2005/07/18/smallb3.html

We’ve all experienced time-wasters – people who regularly interrupt, gossip, tell bad jokes, share intimate details about their marriages or aches and pains, or go on endlessly about religion, politics or people they’re angry with.

Sometimes, they’re friendly, likeable people and we’re drawn in by their personalities and stories.  Sometimes they’re needy, malicious, annoying people who leave us feeling like we’re buried in dirty laundry, or limp, like our blood has been drained, or so frustrated we could scream.

Whether they waste our time because they’re friendly, bored, lazy, enjoy gossiping, need to tell their sad story, want to be liked or have hidden agendas, they’re oblivious to our need to get back to work.

There are two distinct steps we need to take in order to break free from time-wasters:

  • Give ourselves permission to say "No."
  • Then make our “no” effective.

The first step is harder than it seems for many people.  These people hold themselves captive to this bullying and abuse because they think the most important value is being nice, kind and not asking directly for what they want.  They let themselves get bullied because they’re too polite to resist.

Other feelings and reasons that typically keep people from setting boundaries effectively are: see whole article.

Time-wasters who ignore standard, indirect cues are rude.  We have to decide what’s more important; old rules about pleasing people or our need to succeed.

We’re not their therapists.  We’ve already tried to solve their problems and failed.  They’ve said, “Yes, but” to every suggestion.  We’ve also tried to like them enough so they won’t feel needy, but they’re always back the next day looking for more.

The second step to saying no effectively is to follow up with effective action.  Asking is not enough because, by definition, relentless time-wasters don’t respond to common, subtle cues.

Imagine a staircase of responses, moving up from the most indirect to more direct, firm ones.  Most people begin by giving indirect cues like ignoring time-wasters when they first come in, looking at their watches, turning away and continuing a task while they’re being talked at.

Since that hasn’t worked, we have to look and sound firmer as time-wasters force us to up the level of our response in order to get them to leave.  Start with a smile, control our side of the interaction and act as consistently as we can.  For more suggestions: see whole article.

A coaching client had been afraid that Mike would tell everyone that she was callous and hostile if she tried to stop allowing him to waste her time.  But when she used the methods we developed, people heard that she was able to get Mike out of her office.  They came to learn her methods.  Soon everyone in their corridor succeeded and Mike had to go to other floors to find listeners.

The exact words don’t matter.  The key is the power of “you” behind the words – our determination and firmness.  Don’t wait until we have a perfect response; simply remove time-wasters.  Actions speak louder than words.

How we cope with time-wasting bullies depends on whether we’re a peer, a supervisee or a supervisor.  There are no formulas, but there are guidelines.

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

O, the basic trap of enmeshment and co-dependency; when we think we’re responsible for someone’s happiness, for doing what they want.  Both men and women willingly give up their lives to serve others. Of course, overt and covert (sneaky, manipulative, narcissistic, critical, controlling) bullies try any way they can to get us to shoulder that burden.  Sometimes they just want to be catered to but often they actually believe that they’re entitled to our serving them.  Both men and women can be demanding.

Tom’s ex had jerked him around for years before Tom finally couldn’t take any more and divorced her.  Even though he got custody of their son, his ex continued to try to make Tom do what she wanted.  She called him when she needed home chores and repairs, car repairs and computer fixes.  She wanted him to change the visitation times to suit her whims or convenience.  She wanted him not to find anyone else to be interested in.  Of course, she wanted money from him.

Why do we take on the responsibility to serve others? Tom had all the usual reasons:

  • He had made marriage vows. It was important to honor his pledges, to never go back on his word.
  • He was raised to adjust and accommodate to what other people wanted.  Some of his old rules, values and beliefs were that he shouldn’t push what he wanted, that nice people tried to make others happy before they made themselves happy and that he shouldn’t be selfish.
  • One way she’d previously controlled him was by vindictive retaliation; she’d harass and abuse them relentlessly.  He was afraid that if he disagreed or upset her, she’d blow up like she’d always done and attack him and his son verbally, physically or legally.  He didn’t want to make it harder on his son, even though he was now 16.
  • The other way she controlled him was through blame, shame and guilt.  If he didn’t do what she wanted, her feelings would be hurt and it’d be his fault.  He couldn’t stand to make her cry by asserting himself over matters he thought “trivial”.  He convinced himself that it was easier to give in; then he’d waste less time defending himself from her emotional outbursts.
  • He didn’t think he should ever say anything bad about her to his son.  He thought that boys need to love their mothers.  Even though his son was a teenager and didn’t want to see his mother, Tom felt he should force them together.
  • He looked for the path of least resistance.  He still hoped that if he was nice and forgave her, if he appeased or gave in to her, she’d reciprocate and give in to him graciously next time.  Why fight when he could simply do what she wanted?  He’d learned that she’d never give up, never forgive or forget.

Intellectually, Tom realized that none of his approaches had ever worked with her.  She’d never relent or reciprocate in return for his appeasement, begging, bribery or reasonableness.  He knew she was a negative, critical, controlling boundary pusher who kept trying for more once she got something she wanted.

But emotionally, he still looked for the easy way.  It was as if the fight over the divorce had used all his strength, courage and determination.

Underneath all the psychoanalysis, he still felt responsible for making her happy.  She’d once been his wife.  She was the mother of his son.  He was an enmeshed, co-dependent caretaker.

Children are often the reason people finally act. Eventually, Tom realized that if he gave in to her desires he and his son would never be able to live lives of their own.  Also, he’d be giving into his cowardice and a false sense of responsibility.  If he gave in to her narcissism and self-indulgence, he’d be exposing is son to a lousy mom.  He’d be setting a terrible example for his son.  His son came first.

Finally, he realized that she was not the center of his world or his son’s.  We’re all responsible for anything a court requires, like alimony, child support and insurance.  But she was responsible for her own happiness.  He and his son were responsible for theirs.

People divorce to go their separate ways as much or as little as they want, but they are no longer responsible for and intimate with each other.  Tom can wish her well but it has to be from a distance and he has to be not responsible for her.  He has to protect himself and his son from her clutches.

He realized that he’d trained her to think that she would eventually get her way if she forced him angrily or manipulated him through blame, shame and guilt.  Now he’d have to train her differently – and legally.

Some common variants of this care-taking pattern are:

  1. Elderly parents – even though they were bullying, abusive, demanding, harassing and crazy; even though they brutalized you sexually, verbally and physically all your life, now they say you owe them or they plead poverty or helplessness.
  2. Adult children – they may be incompetent or crazy; they may be lazy, greedy or narcissistic, but now they want to be dependent and they want you to support and cater to them in any way they want.
  3. Extended family – they know better than you do about what’s right and they’re totally demanding and/or totally needy.  They say, “You wouldn’t want to disrupt family unity and cohesion by being difficult and uncaring, would you?”
  4. Toxic friends and co-workers – they need you to help or rescue them, to make their lives work for them.
  5. Clients – many mental health professionals, body workers and healers feel responsible for curing their clients.

Nora Ephron (“Silkwood,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail”) said that as she got older she decided she needed a list of people and things she simply was not going to think about any more.  In many ways it’s the opposite of a bucket list and just as important.  She started by putting a lot of celebrities in her “Ignore Bucket.”

In order to have the physical, mental and emotional space we need to make the life we want, in order to stop bullies and our self-bullying, we also need an “I’m not responsible for” list.  As a start, Tom put his wife on his list.

Who and what are on your list?

We want to be people of our words; we want to be ethical and honest, and have trustworthy character; we want to do our duty.  But sometimes our loyalty to our vows – especially our marriage vows and vows to take care of parents or children – makes our lives a living hell and also sets a terrible example for our children. Deep in our hearts we know we must stop being loyal to those vows or our lives and spirits will be destroyed. But how can we stop honoring our vows?

Some examples:

Some examples:

  • In public we pledge many things in our marriage vows. But suppose our spouse turns out to have deceived us and reneges on their side of the vows?  Suppose that husband turns out to be physically, mentally and emotionally abusive?  Suppose he harasses, controls, bullies or abuses his wife?  Supposes he justifies his actions by saying that he’s the head of the house and she must do what he says?  Or suppose he blames his lack of self-control on her and uses threats, guilt and shame – his rage and violence are her fault and if she did what she should, he’d treat her better?  Or suppose that wife turns out to be manipulative and controlling?  Or supposes she’s lying, crazy and always verbally, emotionally and physically abusive in order to beat the husband into submission?
  • In private we may pledge many things to our parents, especially as they get older. But suppose they’re narcissistic, demanding, bullying and toxic.  Suppose they squander all their money against our advice and then they insist we spend all our money on them – either taking care of them or sending them to an expensive, assisted living facility?  Suppose they are relentlessly critical, scolding, chastising, whining, complaining and demeaning, and nothing we do is ever good enough?  Suppose they are vicious in private but sweet as sugar in public, so every thinks they’re saints while they act like devils in private?  Suppose they’re lying, manipulative and back stabbing – they praise their favorite child, put us down and leave everything to the favorite while we’re the ones taking care of them?  Suppose we think we’re responsible because they raised us, we think we owe them and we still want their approval?  Suppose we feel guilty if we think of acting like ungrateful children and abandoning them in their hour of need?
  • In our hearts we pledge to take care of our children until they can take care of themselves very well. But suppose they’re 40 and still living with us because they never took our advice and never got good careers or married the right person or held a job?  Suppose our toxic children are rotten to us until they need something?  Or they threaten to deprive us of our grandchildren unless we give them everything they want, even to divorcing our spouse, whom they hate?  Suppose they still act like spoiled, vicious, toxic teenagers, blaming us for all their failures, feeling entitled to everything they want, full of sneering sarcasm, back-talk, temper tantrums and demanding that we slave for them?  Suppose we still think that if we love them enough, if we’re nice enough to them they’ll finally grow up and become successful?  Suppose we’re afraid they’ll fail completely and end up homeless if we don’t give them everything they want?

Those are horrible scenarios but all too common.

Probably, we’ve discovered the hard way that we can’t make things better by being peacemakers.  Tactics like begging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, ‘second chances,’ forgiveness, sympathy and unconditional love, and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  We won’t get the results we want; we won’t stop emotional bullies or physical bullying unless we’re clear about which values are more or less important to us.

So we wallow in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt.  We get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated.  We lose our confidence and self-esteem.

Often, we stay stuck in those versions of hell because we gave our word and we’re people of integrity – even though they broke their side of the bargain, we understand how hard it has been for them.  We think we must honor our pledge or we’d be just as bad as they are.

I say that’s a big mistake. I say, “Choose life, not a slow spiritual and emotional death.”  I say, “Examine your hierarchy of values and get clear about which values are more important to you.  Then honor the most important ones gracefully and cheerfully.”  And make yourself cheerful living a great life with your choice.

Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change or die.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Use your own power.  Say “That’s enough!”  Say “No!”

Often, we avoid examining that hierarchy of values and discarding those early vows until we are forced to.  We may not be willing to protect ourselves but we will act resolutely to defend others.

For example, our crazy or bullying spouse abuses the children and only then does our spirit rise up with fierce determination to protect our children.  We discard that marriage vow for the sake of something much more important than loyalty to a toxic spouse – loyalty to our children

Or the toxic parents are so abusive to our spouse and children that we take the power we need to protect what’s more precious than our toxic parents – our marriage and our children.

Or our toxic children are so vicious, nasty and abusive that our spirits will stand no more – we’ll protect our marriages, our health and our retirement funds from the energy vampires who want to suck us dry, even if they’re our own children

For some examples of different tactics, see, “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.

A nine-year-old, third grade student from Colorado Springs was recently suspended for fighting back against another student who had bullied him repeatedly  The target had complained to school authorities, but they had not protected him. Both boys were suspended for fighting.  The school defended its actions: "If a student is involved in a physical altercation on school property, they are automatically suspended. District 11 schools employ many anti-bullying teaching techniques … and none of these methods include violence or retaliation," the school said in a statement to KDVR.

What should you tell your child:

  • If he's in elementary school and is being bullied and the responsible teachers and principal do not stop bullying?
  • How should he stop school bullies?
  • Is the punishment fair?

The school officials are saying that even though they can't stop school bullying, even though they don’t stop negativity, harassment, abuse or physical, mental or emotional violence, even though there’s a pattern of bullying, the targets are not allowed to defend themselves by fighting back.  According to the school officials, not using violence, even if it makes you helpless, is a more important value than protecting yourself.  Being a victim is not as bad to them as fighting back.  Process counts more than results.

Maybe the school principal should be suspended for not doing his job.

The school officials are saying that process and techniques are a more important value than getting results, even if they create victims because their techniques don't protect the targets.

I disagree.

Protecting targets is more important than clinging to their ineffective techniques.  In desperation, and unlike parents who sabotage their children by preaching non-violence, the target's parents had told their son that since the school officials weren't protecting him, he should fight back.

I go further.  I've told our elementary school-aged grandchildren - in secret so their parents don't know:

  • Try everything peaceful you can think of to stop bullying – be nice and friendly, ignore it, ask the bully to stop, tell the bully he'd better stop.
  • If those techniques don't work, learn to use verbal come-backs and put-downs.
  • If those techniques don't stop the bully, tell your favorite teacher and the principalGet your parents involved.  They'll talk with the principal and teachers.
  • If they don’t stop the bullying, use your own power, beat up the bully.  And I want them to learn how to really hurt the other kid, swiftly and effectively.
  • Of course, they'll suspend you because teachers and principals who don't protect kids are do-nothing jerks and jerks do jerky things and they don’t wan to risk making a wise judgment about who the bully is. When you get suspended, act contrite.  Say you're sorry, promise you won't fight again.  When no one is looking, wink at the bully to let him know that you'll beat him up again, if necessary.

If you follow this plan, you'll get at least four wonderful things:

  1. The bully will leave you alone.
  2. You'll respect yourself and feel like you can succeed in the world.
  3. Other kids will respect you.
  4. While you're on suspension, I'll take you to Disney World for a big celebration.  After all, winners of  Super Bowls get to go; why not winners on the playground?

I also tell them that there are some caveats to my advice:

  • If the bully is much bigger than you or if there is a gang of kids, we'll devise a different plan
  • When you're old enough (maybe high school) that kids are carrying weapons, we'll devise a different plan.

But the take-home message is always to give the responsible authorities a chance, but if they don't do their jobs, solve the problem yourself.  Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to protect you.  Use your own power.  Say “That’s enough!”  Say “No!”  Stopping bullies is more important than never using violence.

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

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

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

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

What should Sarah do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of us have been targets of harassment and bullying, but that doesn’t mean we must be the victims of bullies.  If fact, when we’re not victims, we can more effectively stop bullying and abuse. For example, imagine a child who’s subjected to teasing, taunting, harassment and bullying at school.

It could be a boy targeted by one bully or a group or gang.  The bullying could be physical or verbal – name-calling, ridiculing or demeaning.

Or consider a girl who’s targeted by the mean girls at school.  She’s abused, harassed, cut-out and cut-down because she’s not as pretty or rich, doesn’t have the newest fashions or is liked by a boy who is wanted by one of the mean girls.  All the girls pile on to attack the target, verbally, physically and by cyberbullying.

To make it worse, teachers and principals often do nothing to protect targets.  Sometimes, they don’t know what to do or they’re afraid to confront bullies and their bullying parents or they blame the target.  Sometimes, they even enable, encourage or collude with the bullying.  Sometimes the mean girls are encouraged by their parents, who are happy their daughters are in the in-crowd and couldn’t care less about the target.

Often, principals and teachers focus on changing the targets.  These irresponsible authorities seem to think that if only the targets would change and please their attackers, the nasty kids would stop targeting them.  Or they think bullying is natural selection, survival of the fittest, so anyone who can’t blend in should suffer the consequences of being different.  Or they think it’s merely kids being kids and the persecutors will eventually outgrow their youthful indiscretions.

I hope I’ve made you mad about the injustice of these situations.  These are not far-fetched situations.  I get many coaching calls from frustrated parents who have tried, without success for more than six months, to stop the bullies and make the teachers, principals and district administrators protect their children.

Victims think they’re to blame. Victims minimize, ignore, forgive, appease, beg, bribe, are nice, accept excuses and justifications, sympathize with and try to understand and use reason with relentless, real-world bullies.  Victims use the Golden Rule to stop these ignorant, insensitive predators.  Victims suffer in silence.  Eventually, victims accept the abuse and bullying.  Victims give in to fear, despair and defeat; they give up; they feel helpless and hopeless. They’re overwhelmed by anxiety, stress, negative self-talk and self-doubtThey lose confidence and self-esteem.  Often, they suffer from depression and an increased risk of suicide.  Do-nothing principals are always involved in school bullying-caused suicides of victims.

Targets keep a fire burning inside them.  They don’t take it personally; they know they’re okay and the fault lies with the bullies, their narcissistic parents and the failures who are running their schools.  They fight and learn how to fight betterThey maintain their courage, strength, determination, endurance, perseverance and resilience; they're not defeated by defeat.  Targets seek allies who are willing to act together – not merely whine, complain and feel sorry together.

Targets may be angry at the injustice, but they’re not overwhelmed and beaten down.  Since we can’t win every battle, even if justice is on our side, targets may simply move on and create a wonderful life somewhere else.  And hope that someday, they can get their oppressors.

We can see the same distinction between targets and victims in wives or husbands who are criticized, corrected, scolded, chastised, controlled, isolated, subjected to hostility, jealousy and negativity, manipulated and blamed, shamed and guilt-tripped, and beaten by their controlling spouses.  The task of these adult targets is the same as that of the kids.  Don’t be a victim.  Don’t take it personally; learn how to resist, say, “That’s enough,” say “No.”  Get help, take your own power, fight back, get away, start poor if you have to but start again.

The same distinction applies to harassment, hostility, bullying, manipulation, toxic coworkers, abuse and even violence in the workplace.

You may be a target, but don’t be a victim.  Learn to be skillful in fighting back.  And fight to win.  That’s our best chance of stopping bullies.

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

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

Friendly, upbeat, helpful co-workers can ease the burden of difficult, stressful projects.  But what can you do about chronically cranky co-workers who make you wish for a snow day or a hurricane? Joe is one of these toxic bullies. He’s the scourge of his office.  It’s hard to tell if he’s unaware of his co-workers’ dismay when they see him or if he enjoys inflicting pain and abuse, and getting his way because they’re afraid of him.  He’s always negative, always angry, always complaining.  He rants about “stupid” co-workers who’ve offended him.  He vents about the “idiots” who run the company and the country.  In any season, the weather’s always rotten.  He “bah, humbugs” any warmth offered him.  He’ll never be satisfied.

To read the rest of this article from the Orlando Business Journal, see: Don’t let continually cranky co-workers ruin your day

Faced with a chronically cranky co-worker, most people try to minimize the pain by:

Unfortunately, these tactics rarely work.  However, there are many tactics you can use to eliminate the high cost of his bullying and low attitudes.

I avoid in-depth psychoanalysis of continually cranky co-workers.  I assume they know the carnage they cause around them.  For them, education is rarely the answerThe answer is simply stopping them.

Of course, it’s much harder to deal with a cranky boss.  Or to look in the mirror and realize that people run for cover when you come over to vent.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Amy was raised to be a nice girl.  She had learned not to act if she felt angry or if she sensed any resentful or vindictive feelings within her.  When she held back because her motives weren’t pure enough, she became easy prey for her bullying brother. When they were middle-aged, her brother moved back to their small town after having been gone for 20 years.  He began spreading vicious lies and rumors about Amy.  He blackened her reputation around town and even manipulated their mother into believing that Amy had always been jealous of him and that’s why she would claim he was nasty to her.

It was all lies.  Actually, Amy had done a lot to help him and had ignored his attacks; she’d never been nasty.  He was a sneaky, narcissistic, abusive, covert bully.

But the more his poisonous words went unchallenged, the more people believed them.

Amy obsessed on what he was saying and what was happening.  She couldn’t sleep, she wallowed in negative self-talk, shame and guilt, and became grumpy and angry at her family and at work.  She got anxious and depressed.  She even contemplated suicide as a solution to her dilemma.

Amy had helped her brother so much and she couldn’t understand why he’d do these things.  She tried reasoning with him and in return he attacked her verbally, venting a lifetime’s hatred and jealousy on her.  He blamed her for all the problems in his life; all his troubles had been her fault.  He told her that she had only succeeded and had a wonderful family because she’d fooled them all and he was going to bring her down.  He wouldn’t listen to reason or any compromise she offered.

He accused her of being evil.  Her anger and desire to retaliate proved how bad she was.  Since she did feel angry, resentful and vindictive, maybe he was right and she was deluding herself by thinking she was a good person.

Finally, Amy was forced to reevaluate some beliefs she’d accepted when she was a child:

  • Truth will out; good people will be justified.
  • Turn the other cheek; follow the Golden Rule.
  • Never act if your motives are impure; if you feel the slightest amount of anger, resentment or vindictiveness.

When she could see that the wonderful life she’d created and her teenage children’s happiness were threatened, she broke free from her old rules and roles.  She evaluated those old rules-roles as an adult with much more experience than she had when she was a child.

She could see where and when the old rules might apply, and where and when she needed new rules because she was now a responsible adult.  She realized that her most important jobs were to protect her children, her marriage and her reputation.  She felt like her old skin had been ripped open and a new sense of clarity, urgency and power filled her new skin.

She told her teenage children what she’d realized.  She’d told them secrets about her brother that she’d hidden because she didn’t want them to know how rotten he’d always been.  But she had to protect her family from someone who’d destroy it, even though he was her brother.

She told their mother the truth, even though that hurt mom.  Her mother had always tried to ignore how bad her son had been.  Now she had a choice, face the truth and side with her daughter, who’d always been good to her, or continue siding with a son who was weak and manipulative.

Amy told the truth to her friends and many of the important people in town. The hardest part for her was to overcome her reluctance and produce evidence for many of the rotten things her brother had done while he’d been gone.  There were newspaper clippings to back up what she said.

Also, she reminded people to judge by character and history.  How had she behaved to them over the years: had she lied, deceived or harmed them?  Or had she always been kindly, considerate and truthful?

Her brother had to leave town.  Amy felt sorry for him, but she knew that her responsibilities were more important that her sympathy for her brother, who was now reaping the painful harvest of the seeds he’d sown.

Most important, she had a much better sense of what she had to do to fulfill her responsibilities and that she wouldn’t allow her feelings to put her in harm’s way.  Also, she saw that she had not let herself be overwhelmed by anger or resentment.  She hadn’t blown up and lost her character or the respect of the people in town.  Instead, she had stayed calm and thoughtful, and developed a plan that succeeded.

Now, she’s much stronger, courageous and determined.

Expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their tactics had to be situational.

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

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

The hardest skill for many of them to learn was how to isolate some bullies or to work behind the scenes to thwart covert attacks from sneaky, manipulative bullies.  But once they’d stopped thinking that being nice was the most important value, they were able to learn these skills. Expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Many children are raised with a set of rules such as: “Don’t make anyone uncomfortable.  Don’t hurt people’s feelings.  Don’t upset anyone.  Don’t be disagreeable.  Don’t argue.  Be polite.  Be nice.  Follow the Golden Rule.  Make everyone like you.”  But those are not effective rules for adults in the real-world. Of course, we know why we teach children those values.  Who wants to raise hostile, nasty, argumentative, vicious, abusive bullies?

I’m not encouraging bullies to be nastier.  I’m talking with nice, decent adults who are being harassed, tormented, controlled, abused and bullied, and yet who hesitate to speak up or to protect and defend themselves effectively because they don’t want to break those childhood rules.

Mary is a typical example.  She held her tongue in public when her toxic mother abused her.  She held her tongue when relatives criticized, mocked and demeaned her.  She held her tongue when friends told her what she should do to be the good friend they wanted.

She held her tongue but she built up huge resentment that eventually exploded.

With friends and a few relatives, either she’d get in a fight so she could be righteously angry, blame them and never talk to them again or she’d nurse a cold fury until she felt justified in simply cutting them off completely without explanation.

With her parents, she’d explode and tell them off.  Then she’d feel guilty for being so mean and she’d come back groveling and apologizing.  Nevertheless, she still felt she was the one who’d been wronged and she resented the price her toxic parents made her pay for forgiving her outburst.

With strangers, she sat quietly and never shared what she thought or what she was interested in.  She didn’t want to make them uncomfortable and she was afraid of hurting their feelings or raising a subject that would be contentious.  Most people thought she wasn’t very bright.

Mary was also a master of self-bullying. She’d flagellate herself with self-doubt and self-questioning.  She’d obsess on every slight taken or given and always end up blaming herself.  And she’d judge herself as guilty, no matter what they’d done to her.  She was never perfect.  Her anxiety, stress and negative self-talk led to sleeplessness, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and to depression.

Mary had two underlying and interlocking problems:

  1. The set of rules that made “not upsetting people” her most important value, no matter what.
  2. Having only all-or-none responses of holding back totally or exploding.  In a sense, she could remain at zero mph or she could go 100 mph, but she didn’t know how to go 30-60 mph.

The solution to the first problem required that Mary examine, as an adult, the rules she’d accepted all-or-none when she was a child.  Children do think in black-or-white but adults have more experience and wisdom.  Mary could see the kernel of value in her old rules, even though her parents had used them to control her all her life.

But as an adult, she could see where those rules were insufficient and what changes were necessary:

  • She felt the pain of all the times she’d made those rules the most important ones instead of protecting herself.  She could now see situations in which speaking up or pushing back verbally in order to defend herself were more important values.
  • She could see the difference between people sharing their tastes and opinions, versus having an angry exchange with someone trying to convert her to their “absolutely right” way of seeing things.
  • She could also see which subjects she simply didn’t want to discuss with which people.
  • One of the most compelling moments was when she saw which people she did want to disagree with, whether or not they were uncomfortable or had hurt feelings, because to be “nice” to them would have violated her most important values.  In fact, she reached a point where making a few people, like her toxic mother, uncomfortable or angry was a sign that Mary was on the right track.

She changed her old, out-dated and ineffective beliefs to new, effective ones, encapsulated in the phrase, “Not hurting people’s feelings is a much lower priority than protecting myself or being myself.  I’ll speak what I think and say what I want in the nicest, firmest way and if they don’t like it, it’s their problem.  That way I’ll test whether I want to allow them to be on my Isle of Song.

That simple change gave her a rush of peace, freedom and energyShe felt powerful enough to create the life she wanted, which was more important that not making anyone uncomfortable.  She now had the will and determination to learn how to be skillful in protecting herself.

How she learned to respond clearly, simply, kindly and firmly from 30-60 mph will be the subject of another article.

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.

We grow up testing ourselves; “Are we good enough?  If not it’s our fault.  Did we succeed; we still could have done more.  Did we fail; it’s our fault.”  Testing ourselves is a motivation strategy, “Figure out what’s wrong with us and improve it.”  And behind it is the hidden message, “We’re defective and we’d better work at improving and perfecting ourselves every minute or no one will want us and we’ll fail.” The strategy may work for us when we’re children, but it’s self-defeating when we’re adults.

We do grow up; we do get free of our families; we do get jobs, lovers, our own children.  That seems to prove that the self-testing strategy works.  Since we’re obviously still a long way from being good enough, so we’d better keep questioning ourselves in order to improve.

However, when we become adults, the strategy of always testing ourselves, always finding fault with ourselves guarantees failure.  It stimulates guilt, shame, anxiety, sleepless nights and negative self-talk.  And it destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It’s self-destructive, self-bullying.

For evidence, we can look back at our failed relationships.

Think of the times we went with someone when we knew it wasn’t going to work because we had to give up what we wanted, we had to change in order to make another person happy.  We kept asking, “Are we good enough to be liked, to be wanted, to be loved?”  But that didn’t last.

The message of the self-testing strategy is that if only we’d tried hard enough, we could have changed enough to make the relationship work the way the other person wanted.  Then we feel more guilty, more unworthy and we think we have to work harder to change our bad characteristics or personality.

And if we can’t change a pattern, that means we have a great and permanent defect, an evil place inside of us, maybe too much ego, and we’re doomed to fail forever.  And that feeds a vicious cycle:

  • Low self-confidence and low self-esteem --> so we give up ourselves even more --> we pick the wrong people and try to please them by doing what they want --> we fail once again and feel even worse --> our self-confidence and low self-esteem plummets -->…

In addition to failed loves, the same pattern exists for many failed friendships we tried to maintain with the wrong people.

So what can we do to find love and relationships that fit?

Instead of testing ourselves, we can test the world.

  1. Act like we are and set high standards for behavior we want. We’re reasonably good, nice, decent people.  Therefore, in addition to participating in the other person’s activities, ask the other person to participate in ours.  Don’t justify our standardsBe behaviorally specific.  Ask for more than vague words like “kindness, respect, appreciation, love.”  Simply say, “No yelling, no hitting, no threatening, no relentless sarcastic blaming, no controlling, no public humiliating, no demanding perfectionism.  Instead, speak softly, negotiate about what we do, give in and do what I want sometimes for no reason, keep disagreements private and my sense of humor counts.”  We can fill in the rest of our lists from what we got or didn’t get in previous relationships.
  2. To increase confidence and self-esteem, test the other person. If they act the way we want, they can come a step closer.  If they don’t, we move them a step further away.  If they’re relentless boundary pushers or they violate one of the big boundary lines, “one strike and they’re out.”  Notice who has control of the distance; we do.
  3. “Create an isle of song in a sea of shouts.” Rabindranath Tagore said that decades ago.  I agree.  We were told that if we insist on our high standards and what we want, we’ll end up alone.  “The only way to get someone is to lower your standards.”  Nonsense.  Of course, in all relationships we make agreements and we don’t always get our way, but we must not lower our important standards.

Now that we’re adults, now that we’ve been in and out of relationships in which we gave up our true selves, we’ve learned that we’ll never get the love we want if we fill our space with inappropriate, abusive bullies.  We’ll never get what we need if we give up on ourselves.  We’ll only get what we need, we’ll only find someone who loves us for ourselves if we act like ourselves and test the other person to see if they like that.

Of course the other person has free will also.  They can stay or leave if they want.  But if they leave because they don’t want to live up to our standards or they think we’re incompatible, we have to get over the emotional pain and be thankful that our isle is clear for someone else who wants to be with us as we are.

Only one of many examples: A homely, awkward girl with a wonderful personality and spirit.  Of course, during high school and college she was rejected by all the boys who were looking for cheerleaders.  As much as she wanted to be wanted, she knew in her heart that she didn’t want jerks like that and she wasn’t going to abandon herself in order to please one. Then she met someone who was worthy of what she wanted.  And wonder of wonders, he was hot for her, body and soul.  They’re still enthralled with each others’ unique greatness and with their fit with each other.

How can we improve if we’re not always testing ourselves?  It’s simple, although not necessarily easy.  We know when we haven’t lived up to our standards, when we’ve done or not done something we should have.  We don’t have to beat ourselves up in order to apologize, make amends and do better next time.  We simply dedicate ourselves to that task.

So we mustn’t give up on ourselves.  Test other people; some will stay and some will leave of their own accord. The real power is in our making our choice; who do we want to send away and who do we want to keep on our isle of song?  Only then will it truly be our isle and our song.

If you need personalized coaching to maintain your strength and courage, your determination and dedication, call me at 303-458-6616.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They had to support good behavior instead of bad blood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was at a wedding and a funeral last week.  Really; not a movie.  And the people were fine. But I was reminded of all the times I’ve been at big family events when some selfish, narcissistic, abusive, controlling, bullying family member demanded that they get their way or they’d make a scene, make everyone miserable and ruin either the celebration festivities or the solemnity.  They knew what was best and we’d better do it.

Think of the relatives at all the special occasions – weddings, funerals, births, vacations and holidays.  The relatives who get drunk and insist they be allowed to ruin the event; the arrogant jerks who think they own all the attention and air in the place; the nasty, greedy; jealous, vicious-tongued vindictive; the narcissistic, smug, righteous know-it-alls.

Think of the people who take over all the events because they want to.  Whatever supposedly logical reasons, excuses and justifications they offer each time, I notice the pattern.

Even though they’re not the important person at the event, they always have to get their way or else.  They’re not the bride or groom, they’re not giving birth, they’re not graduating, they’re not getting baptized, confirmed or bar mitzvah-ed; they’re not the host or planner; they’re not the person dying.  They’re not even the turkey on the table, although I sometimes entertain fantasies of having a sharp carving knife in my hand.

Did I cover all the bases of your experience also or do you have a few other ones?

These bullies always think they’re right.  And they’re willing to argue and fight longer, harder and louder to get their way, than anyone else, especially over what we think is trivial and a waste of time.  And they let you know that they’ll retaliate and make us regret resisting them for the rest of our lives.  They’ll bad-mouth, criticize and put us down in front of everyone forever.  And the scene is our fault, not theirs.  They want us the walk on egg shells around them.

So what can we do?

  1. Typically, we find reasons to turn the other cheek. We try to rise above, ignore, look away, appease, understand, excuse because that’s just the way they are or tolerate them for the duration of the event.  Typically we give them what they want because we don’t want to be judgmental or we’re too polite to make a scene or we think that if we follow the Golden Rule, they’ll be nice in return.  I think that tactic is good to try but only once.  Anyone can have one bad day and try to feel better by taking control.  But real bullies and boundary pushers simply take our giving them their way as permission to act more demanding.  As if they think they’re powerful and everyone is too weak to resist them.  Like sharks to bloody prey, they go for more.  And it’s always the people who can’t or won’t protect themselves – the weaker, younger, more polite, more bereft ones – who suffer the most when we leave them unprotected.
  2. Instead, be a witness, not a bystander. Recognize that we’re being bullied and abused.  Be willing to get out of our comfort zones to take care of the important people.  The first time the person bullies, we can take them aside and tell them privately, in very polite and firm words, to “shut up.”  But these control-freaks have demanded their ways for years so we know what’s going to happen.  Ignore their specific reasons, excuses and justifications.  Typically, we give them power because we fell sorry for them, we’re too polite to make a scene and, after all, they’re family.  We give them power because they’re more willing to make a scene and act hurt and angry, and walk away.  We give them power because they’re willing to destroy the family if they don’t get their way, but we’re not.  Take back our power.  Be willing to make a scene; to disagree, threaten or throw someone out.  Find allies beforehand and stand shoulder to shoulder.  We may not change their behavior, but that’s the only way we have a chance of enjoying the events.

For some success stories, see the studies of Carrie and Kathy in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.

Although I usually think of the older generation of “demanders,” but let’s not forget the spoiled brats encouraged by their indulgent or defeated parents to demand all the toys, bully the other kids and violate all the rules.  Or the surly teenagers, the toxic adult children, the bullying spouses or self-centered friends.  Or the oafs and abusers of power at work.

Don’t be bullied.  We need an expert coach to help us design plans that fit our specific situations. Be brave.  Step up and be the hero of your life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t need more research and statistics to know that domestic violence is a travesty and must be stopped.  For example, watch the graphic five minute video about the effects of that brutality and the work of one safe house helping women and children.  Domestic violence is obvious – you can see the results of physical battering. On the other hand, even though domestic bullying and mental and emotional abuse are more wide spread than overt beating they’re often hidden from view.  Since harassment, bullying and abuse often fly below the bullying-radar of the targets and the public, I want to focus on it here.  Targets who accept the bullies’ promises or threats or on-going torture often don’t recognize how bad it is; how demoralizing and defeating it is; how their souls are being eroded over time.

Of course, some men are bullied by women, but notice the patterns of the bullied women who have written these (edited) comments:

  • “Out of the blue, he started taking control over me (commanding me), which I am not liking.  He is not letting me meet my friends or go out with them on weekends.  He doesn’t let me wear dresses, saying his parents don’t like it.  I am not allowed to do anything; no friends, no meeting people, no phones, nothing.  These things were never an issue previously.  I tried to work out things during last five months by listening to him and not meeting or talking to my friends.  He just keep saying ‘Listen to me and things will work out; otherwise pack your bags and leave.’  He doesn’t let me go out anywhere without him.  He doesn’t want to sort it out by talking.  Whenever I try, he says, ‘I am not here to listen to you.  You have to do whatever I say.   I don’t want to hear a ‘No’.  Now, I am always depressed and sad and smoke a lot more.  I lost my smile.  I lost myself in this relation.  Shall I give up or keep compromising without any expectations in this relationship?”
  • “I have been in a four year relationship, and have a two year-old daughter with him.  I have been feeling depressed lately and having second thoughts about us being together.  He controls me.  I can’t go any where without asking him first.  Sometimes I feel like a little kid asking for permission, even if it’s to go to the store.  My friends ask me to go out for a girls’ night and he gets mad if I mention it, so I stopped asking and him and just tell my friends I’m doing something that night so I can’t go.  Now, they don’t even ask me anymore.  When his friends are here he acts like he’s so cool and even yells at me in front of them.  It’s extremely embarrassing.  I feel alone.  I tried leaving in the past and he won’t let me take the baby.  So I stay because I don’t want to fight and I’m not leaving my child.  What do I do?  How do I make it an easy break up?  How do we get out?”
  • “At first my husband was the sweetest man I ever met.  He complimented me and had such great manners.  Then slowly but surely he began changing into the worst thing I could ever imagine.  The sick thing is I know I don't deserve it, but I can't leave.  It's like he has some strange control over me.  He constantly puts me down about my intelligence, appearance and my mothering abilities, which hurts the most.  It’s such an everyday obstacle that I find myself questioning why I stay.  It's gotten so bad I'm beginning to believe the things he says to me about how I'm useless and no one will ever want me but him.  Every bad thing that happens, he takes out on me.  Every single thing is my fault.  I want to leave but I still find myself staying, feeling bad for him and his feelings.  He can't even compliment at all without letting me know that I'm ugly and lucky he even loves me.  I'm just so sad anymore.  I don't even recognize myself.  I'm not allowed to speak to my family or friends.  I just don't know what to do anymore.  I'm so lost.”
  • “My husband and I have been together for eleven years with four children.  We go through the cycle of an abusive relationship.  Every time we argue, I get called a ‘bitch,’ which I have asked him many times to not do.  We kiss and make up.  Then everything's fine and dandy again.  He doesn't like to talk about our fights and says he will not name-call me again.  But every opportunity he gets, he's right at it again.  I guess I keep hoping he'll change, but I know he never will.   I don't feel any love from this guy.  He has fooled around on me and even went as far as marrying someone else while we were married.  Just recently he took my wedding ring away and threatened to pawn it.  He also promised my kids that he'll take them on a vacation.  He doesn’t even work, so I ended up having to get funds just to take the kids on the vacation.  Today, we fought again and he said sorry and he'll start today on not calling me a bitch.  Then ten minutes later it happened again.  I feel so stuck.  I feel as my only way out is suicide.  But I don't want to give him that satisfaction.  All I did today was cry.  And I don't even have anyone to talk to because everyone is sick of hearing me cry over him.”

Some patterns I see are:

  • He commands, bosses and embarrasses her in public.  She submits because she wants to avoid bigger fights.  She hopes that since she gave in this time, he’ll be nicer next time.  But he’s relentless in arguing, bullying and abusing; he never stops.  If he doesn’t beat her, the threat is there.
  • When she’s nice and logical – discussing, asking, compromising, begging, arguing, appeasing – she may get peace because he’s gotten his way, but it’s only momentary.  Her good behavior doesn’t buy his in return.  He never reciprocates by letting her have her way next time.  Eventually, she submits completely and asks permission to do anything.  He’s in complete control.  When he’s mean, angry or out of control, it’s her fault because she isn’t perfect.  It’s as if, “Since he’s angry, you must have done something wrong.”
  • She’s mocked, criticized, demeaned and humiliated until she doesn’t know what to believe.  She thinks she’s helpless and wouldn’t be loved or succeed on her own.  He’s so convinced and convincing that she begins to question herself, increasing her self-doubt, stress, anxiety and insecurity.  Eventually, the results of emotional and spiritual defeat are physical defeat and sickness.  Even though she knows she doesn’t deserve such treatment, she usually has some self-doubt and guiltShe makes many attempts to be perfect according to his standards.  She forgets that it’s her standards that should matter to her.
  • Step by step, she’s isolated – cut off from friends, family and sources of her own income.  She loses her old self; she loses her confidence and self-esteem; she becomes depressed, heart-broken and ready to give up.
  • It’s even worse if there are children she thinks she’ll have to support if she leaves.  Eventually, she begins to think like a victim – she can’t see how to get safe house help, legal help or the police on her side.

These targets keep hoping they’ll find some magic wand to change him; he’ll become a loving, caring, nice and reasonable person.  But that’s not going to happen.

Or they think that the most important value is making a marriage last even though it’s a marriage of torture.  Or that what matters is whether he loves her or not, when what really matters is how he loves her.

The question they must answer is whether it’s more important to keep a marriage at any cost, while giving in to fear and despair, or whether it’s more important to risk demanding the behavior they want in their personal space.  And if someone won’t behave decently, either they’re voted off our island or we leave theirs.

Maybe if these targets thought that they’re dealing with relentless bullies or predators, they might summon the strength to take steps to get away.  They might accept that the Golden Rule won’t stop narcissistic control-freaks; that appeasement won’t change predators; that unconditional love won’t convert carnivores; that unconditional forgiveness won’t heal the wounds they think drive him to be so abusive.  Maybe they’d realize that asking, threatening, yelling, demanding or an endless number of second chances without consequences are merely begging.

Those abusive, bullying control-freaks always interpret their target’s kindness, reasonableness and compromise as weakness and an invitation to take more from them, to control more of their lives, to eat them alive.

Ultimately, these women get the worst that they’re willing to put up with.  And eventually, the price they pay is slow erosion of their souls.

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

No matter how difficult it seems, getting away is the only way to have a chance for a wonderful future.

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

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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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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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.