Some bullying spouses, abusive extended-family members, people you call friends, bullies in school and bullies at work will try to pressure you to do what they want; to do what they think is right. And they’ll have their “good” reasons in order to justify why you should do what they want. And if you don’t do things their way, they’ll be angry, try to get other people to pressure you or try to force you by threatening to shun you or to hold that grudge forever.
So how can you think of the situation so you’re free to do what you want? And what can you do?
You decide who gets to vote on your choices.
You might allow some decisions be decided by majority vote but there are others in which you want only yourself and your spouse to vote. Common examples in which not everyone should vote are in the planning of events – who gets invited to weddings or graduation or holiday parties. Other examples might be what you do on vacation or what you do for work and where or who you date after your beloved, long-term spouse dies or what you do with your retirement.
There are moments of truth for each of us when we test other people: do they try to beat us into submission to do things their way or do they encourage us to follow our soul’s direction even after they’ve offered advice to go in a different direction?
How do you know you’re being given advice or facing arm-twisting?
If you don’t take advice, the relationship goes on as before. If you don’t take arm-twisting, you’ll son face a head-lock.
Don’t let anyone beat you into submission; not parents or children or friends.
Don’t allow your life to be a debate to figure out the “Right” way to do things, with the rule being majority rules. Don’t give people power over your choices.
If you argue on a bully’s grounds, you’ve already lost. Once you’ve started arguing with someone expressing their opinion, you’ve already agreed that they get to vote and you can’t do what you want unless they give you permission to. But you’ll never convince some people to allow you go your own way when it’s not their way.
If you want to listen to someone’s ideas but not allow them to vote, you can say, “You can share what you would do or how things seem to you, but I won’t discuss, debate or argue what’s ‘right’ or ‘best.’ I’ll make my own decisions.” That will clarify what you’re going to do.
However, be prepared for them to harass and pressure you, and try to beat you into submission anyway. If you allow them to control your life, why should they stop arguing? That’s when you can say, “If you want to try to beat me into submission, I’ll stop talking with you. My life is not a democratic vote.”
But what if they threaten to vent their anger forever or never to see you again?
This is a wonderful opportunity to clarify who you’ll allow on your “isle of song.” This is a wonderful opportunity for you to decide what counts more, good behavior or bullying blood.
This is a moment of truth for you: you get to decide, as an adult, what values, attitudes and beliefs to you want to have in your life. Even more, you get to decide which values are more important when some of those values conflict or are even mutually exclusive.
The worst part of having a curmudgeon on your staff is that you may have to put up with him, at least temporarily, if he’s valuable to your organization. But he has to be very valuable. And “temporarily” is the key word.
Imagine, for example, a senior manager who criticizes every idea and decision openly at meetings and also behind his boss’ back. Sometimes, he simply rolls his eyes, snorts, drums his fingers or overtly uses his smart phone. The major expression of his negativity is “harrumph.”
To read the rest of this article from the Memphis Business Journal, see:
When should you keep a curmudgeon?
He’s worse than impersonal. He’s an active curmudgeon. He makes clear he won’t go to birthday parties and other celebrations because they’re a waste of time and he’s too busy. Or he goes and grumbles audibly the whole time. You can almost hear him saying, “Bah. Humbug.”
He always knows the “right” answer and thinks “discussions” are him expressing his opinion, followed by everyone else acting instantly on his plan. He’s an expert at harassment, bullying and abuse of power. If he’s entrenched in the organization, he’ll even criticize his boss publicly.
This curmudgeon’s actually pleased he has a reputation as a no-nonsense guy. When employees leave his department, he’s sure they couldn’t stand his high standards, weren’t willing to work hard enough or didn’t have the brains to keep up with him.
The most devastating effect of allowing such bullies to stay is that your actual culture – not the politically correct statements you’ve posted on wall plaques – is exposed. Around these cranky, negative, toxic people, performance decreases and behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated. Also, creativity is destroyed, morale plummets and turnover increases around him. That may convince you to make a thoughtful decision about removing him.
Many experts tell you to get rid of the curmudgeon right away; it’s the people-oriented, moral thing to do.
Dealing with “special cases”
I have a somewhat different view. In some fields and with some tasks, you may decide to accept the behavior because he’s unique and successful. Typically, those are the fields in which genius counts. Some examples are: the arts and theatre, surgeons, researchers, inventors, programmers, architects and athletes. Or a special case may be the owner’s mother or children.
If you want to retain other valuable managers and maintain a respectful culture for the rest of the organization, make clear to everyone, including the curmudgeon, your reasons for keeping him, the behavioral lines he can’t cross and your plans to minimize brain damage to the rest of the staff. Otherwise you’ll simply allow him to victimize everyone.
As his boss, you’ll have to micromanage him. The words “communicate better” don’t have any meaning to him. He thinks he’s communicating just fine and doesn’t know or value any other way. Use behaviorally specific cue cards, “Say this. Do that.”
Peers will often put up with a curmudgeon because they can minimize contact and laugh behind his back.
But if he’s your boss, decide whether to put up with his behavior cheerfully, try to get upper management to change the behavior, transfer or retire. Don’t endure behavior you can’t live with cheerfully. Life is too short.
Should we confront our toxic parents or not? Well, it all depends on us, them and the situation? But here are some guidelines we can use to decide what we want to do.
And what’s the “right time, place and way?”
Don’t use the word “confront” on ourselves. It’s a dirty word that bullies use to get us not to protect ourselves and not to set our boundaries. Bullies demand infinite forgiveness and unconditional love – but from us only; not from themselves. We must “protect ourselves” and we must “set our boundaries.” That’s a much better way of saying it. Notice how “protecting ourselves” and “setting our boundaries” are good and necessary actions. And if toxic, bullying, abusive parents keep trampling our boundaries, we have to ask ourselves, “Why are we with such jerks and control-freaks? Why are we presenting our throats to vampires? Why are we still letting hyenas feast on us? Why do we let sick people vomit on our feet? Why do we allow them in our space? Why are we in theirs?” Protecting ourselves is a more important value than not hurting the feelings of toxic people or not getting them upset or not making a scene or not upsetting the family.
Do we hope that “protecting ourselves” will change relentless bullies? Maybe when we’re young and they’ve just started, we might hope that standing firm and saying, “No! Stop! Sit! Stay!” will change them. Or maybe we might have succeeded by hitting them with a rolled up newspaper or biting them on the lip to show them who’s the alpha dog. But toxic parents have been mean, nasty, vicious predators for as long as we’ve been alive. A little kid really can’t resist them or change them. So by the time we’re middle-aged and they’ve been hurting and bullying us for over 40 years, we can release the hope that we’ll change them. I’ve seen toxic parents remain bullies even after near death experiences or being cut off from their grandchildren, although those two circumstances are the only ones I’ve seen effective in the rare cases of toxic parents who have changed. Standing up for ourselves probably won’t change them. But we can give it one more shot if we want to.
Do we hope that we’ll feel better or more powerful after we stand up for ourselves? We may and those are great reasons for defending ourselves and enforcing consequences. Words are not consequences; words without consequences is begging. Only actions are consequences. Take power. Don’t wait for jackals to empower you.
Will we speak up in private or public? We usually think of saying things in private the first time someone bullies us. But after a private talk, relentless bullies will think they can ignore us since we’re defending ourselves in private and they’re attacking us in public. Therefore, we have to speak out in public. Don’t let a lie or an attack or a put-down or sarcastic criticism pass unchallenged. We can protect ourselves in the moment, in public by saying, “That’s not true. That’s a lie. You’re still a bully and I won’t put up with bullying any more.” Don’t debate or argue whose perception is correct. We stick with our opinion; we’re the expert on us. Make them leave or don’t stay with they if they don’t change.
Might protecting ourselves change the family dynamics? Too many families hide the truth and live on lies. Too many families protect bullies and perpetrators because “That’s just the way they are” or “We have to put up with abuse because it’s family.” No. We don’t repay a debt to toxic parents by being their scapegoats or whipping posts because they once gave us food along with abuse. Don’t collude with these crimes. Speaking out can change the dynamics. Test everyone else. We’ll find out who wants to be friends with us and who wants to repress us – for whatever reasons. We’ll find out who we enjoy being with and who we won’t waste precious time with.
Will protecting ourselves set a good example for our children? Yes. And it’s crucial for us to set great examples. Be a model! Don’t sacrifice our children on some altar of “family.” Protecting children is more important than any benefit they might get from being with toxic grandparents.
What’s the “right time” to speak up? If we hope to change toxic parents, the “right time” and the “right way” can be considerations. But for any other reason, the time to speak up is always “NOW” and the place is always “HERE.”
Should we talk to our parents in a safe environment with our therapists present?The first step in stopping bullies is connecting with our inner strength, courage and determination. We are the safe place in any situation! We’re adults now. So what if they attack us one more time. Don’t be defeated. Look at them as predators or jerks and score them “failed.” We’ll feel much stronger if we say what we have to say firmly and then be strong and apply our consequences when they attack us. If people aren’t nice, don’t waste time on them.
Notice that all these considerations are about us and our judgment, not about the right way to convert toxic parents. It is about us and the personal space we want to create and what behaviors and people we’ll let in.
How can we still relate to the nice people in the family?
I think that we can only relate to those who want to have a wonderful relationship totally separate from the toxic parents. That is, we’ll talk to the nice and fun ones, text them and see them on our own without our toxic parents being part of that. Is that sneaky? No. That’s just cleaning up our homes and sweeping out the crud. And not allowing it back in. Tell the good relatives what’s going on and see if they want to have fun with us.
We must ask ourselves, “Are we doing all the work of self-analysis, apologizing, appeasing, communicating and being perfect? Are we wasting our time trying to turn hyenas into vegetarians?” If we don’t defend ourselves in public when hyenas attack, we’ll only encourage them to go after us more.
Their standards rule – our “no” isn’t accepted as “no.” Their sense of humor is the right one.
They isolate us.
They control us with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips. They use the opinions other people who agree with them – their friends, their parents – to justify what they do.
I’ve often seen principals, guidance counselors, teachers and district administrators recommend mediation even for relentless school bullies and their targets, even after the bully has taunted, teased, harassed and abused the target for months and the school officials haven’t changed the bully’s behavior by asking, encouraging, begging and bribing the bully.
In these situations, the principals finally give up and throw the burden back on the defenseless targets by saying that the kids have to work things out on their own. In these circumstances, this recommendation is a cowardly abdication of adult responsibility and authority, and it’s totally wrong.
Of course mediation and the weight of peer opinion and condemnation can be effective in some cases. For example, in situations in which two kids got into it with one time, it’s possible to bring them together and build a bridge of civility and even respect.
The first step was in not protecting the target, in not removing the bully, in not having consequences for the bully and his family the next time the bullying occurred, in not kicking the bully out of school.
The second step in converting targets into victims is usually taken in cases where the principal, teachers, counselors and school district administrators have been unable to rehabilitate the bully through asking, teaching, begging and bribing the bully. They make the target pay the price by removing him from the classroom or by simply looking the other way when the bully acts and then stonewalling and lying to the target’s parents. They hope the target will be less stubborn than the bully and will agree to suffer in silence. However, when the bully realizes that he has power, he usually increases his violence because no adult is making him stop bullying and other kids are afraid of him because he can get away with doing what he wants.
The third step that uncaring, lazy, weak, inept or cowardly principals take is when they blame the target. They say, “You must be doing something wrong because the bully’s still picking on you. Therefore, if you get together and apologize and promise to do whatever the bully wants, he won’t have a good reason to abuse you. If you can’t make him change, it’s your fault.” They call that “Mediation.” That kind of mediation assumes that the target did something wrong, that the bully has good reason to be angry and abusive, and that the bully will stop when the target grovels. That form of mediation completely ignores the truth that relentless bullies are predators. For whatever reasons – their own pain, their drive for power and position – they will keep bullying until they’re actually stopped.
This approach makes the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless. They’ll be victims for life. It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem. It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation. It starts children down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide.
Parents, when principals have gone on weeks and months making excuses why they allow the bullying to continue, they’re telling you that you’re on your own.
Encourage your child to maintain his inner strength and move up a staircase of increasing firmness to try to get the bully to look for easier prey. All tactics depend on the situation, but there are some general guidelines.
At the bottom of the staircase we try peaceful, friendly methods. We ignore it, we say ouch, we ask the bully to stop, we try to deflect it with jokes, we avoid contact. If that stops the bully, your child wasn’t really dealing with a relentless bully. If the bully doesn’t stop, if the violence continues, we need to teach our children to push back verbally.
If verbal methods don’t stop the bully and the school officials won’t stop the bullying, especially with younger kids, when it’s one-to-one and the kids are the same size, your child must be prepared to beat up the bully, if possible. Prepare your child with martial arts training. Of course you must be aware that the older a bully is, the more likely he is to be carrying a weapon. I’m going to this level because you’ve already failed using every peaceful means you can.
I’m assuming that the principal and district administrators have not stopped the bullying while you’ve been talking to them and your child has slowly gone up the staircase. Of course, when your child hits back those cowardly principals will attack your child because, they’ll say, “We don’t condone violence,” even though they permitted the bully to be violent for months. And usually, they permitted his friends to pile on by attacking your child verbally and physically or through cyberbullying. They’ll suspend your child for fighting back. Arrange for your child to be prepared and happy. Go to Disney World as if you won the Super Bowl. If the bullying stops because your child is ready to fight again, it’s worth the trip.
Since you won’t have legal redress – principals can’t be fired if they don’t stop bullies – your only alternative is plenty of bad publicity. You’ll need a lawyer and the ear of sympathetic reporters. Get your documentation together and make it public; minutes of all the meetings with the principal, emails and letters received by the principal expressing your concerns for your child’s safety and containing the minutes of the meetings. Look for a reporter or station manager who was bullied and not protected when he or she was a child. They might champion your cause.
The most important consideration is your child. Eventually, you want your child to get a good education. You must increase his strength, courage, character and will. You want him grow up to look back at the bully and the authorities who didn’t protect him as insignificant. They were speed bumps in his life that he’s overcome and doesn’t even think about now because his life is so wonderful. That may mean that you remove your child from the care of school officials who don’t care about his physical, mental and emotional well-being and safety.
By the time the principal suggests mediation, you know you’ve given them too much time and trust. You’ve been in an adversarial relationship and you didn’t recognize it. Now you know. Act wisely and tactically.
If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials who aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge. With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right. We can plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.
Jane’s sister, Betty, seemed to have been born with a vicious tongue. She attacked everyone relentlessly. Holidays with the extended family were a misery for Jane and her family. Nobody, not even their mother, stopped Betty. Everyone was afraid to complain directly to Betty. If they did, Betty would turn on them even more spitefully before.
According to Betty, nobody’s children were good enough – they were all ugly, stupid, ignorant, mean or bad. They were too fat or too skinny; they ate too much or too little; they ate too fast or too slow. They dreamed too big for their non-existent talents.
Betty laughed joyfully when she pounced on someone’s mistakes, no matter how trivial or irrelevant. Their choices were always wrong, their clothes and manners were wrong. Betty always knew better and rubbed everyone’s nose in it.
Some of Betty’s reasons excuses and justifications for why she was so hostile were:
“Those are my feelings. It’s my honest opinion. You wouldn’t want me to repress how I feel, would you?”
“You're too sensitive.”
“I’m doing it for their own good. You’re too soft on them. They’ll never get better if you don’t correct them.”
“I had to take it when I was a kid. It’ll make them stronger and tougher.”
“They have to learn to take it. They’ll get it like that in the real-world.”
Of course, everyone can have a bad day and be grumpy. But with Betty, it was everyday and it was relentless, hostile and mean-spirited.
Bullies want us to try to argue with their reasons, excuses and justifications. The more we argue, the more we’re engaged without their ever changing. If we make a good point, they’ll change the subject and give another excuse or cite a different time when they were right. They’ll never admit that they need to change; that’s how we know they’re bullies.
Or, if we challenge them, their feelings will be so hurt that they’ll withdraw into a very loud silent treatment. And it’ll go on forever until we give up, admit we were cruel, promise never to attack them again and simply accept the abuse. That’s how we know they’re bullies.
What can Jane do? Remember, all tactics have to be designed to fit our specific situations, what we want to accomplish and the limits of our comfort zones.
Jane once asked Betty not to say anything to Jane’s children; Betty was hurting them and Jane had told them take it because Betty was their aunt. But Betty hadn’t changed. Finally, Jane decided that she wasn’t going to expose herself and her family to any more of Betty’s abuse. She’d end the unrelenting negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame and guilt-trips.
Once again, she asked Betty to stop talking the way she did and to find nice things to say. She asked Betty to be nicer, kinder and more polite to family than she would be to strangers. But Betty didn’t stop.
She told Betty she wanted her to feel differently but if she couldn’t, she still wanted her to take charge of her tongue and to repress herself; being an abusive bully is worse than repressing herself. But Betty didn’t stop.
She told Betty that if the brutality continued, she wouldn’t come if Betty was present. That would cause a rift in the family and it would be Betty’s fault. Betty didn’t stop.
Jane told the family she’d decided that she’d never let bullies treat her and her family the way Betty did. She had to take charge of keeping them safe from people who polluted their emotional environment. She asked them to choose the behavior they’d support even if that meant they all told Betty to change or they’d stop inviting her. Jane reminded them of what Mr. Spock said, “Never sacrifice the many for the sake of the one.” But Betty didn’t stop.
Jane decided that behavior was more important than blood. More important than victimizing her children by subjecting them to their Aunt Betty’s viciousness, was setting a good example by protecting them from abuse. She didn’t want them to experience the anxiety, stress and discouragement that had accompanied visits with Betty. That meant they didn’t see Betty any more. That also meant they saw the rest of the family only on one-to-one occasions when Betty was not present.
Over the years, the same conversations were replayed after extended family gathering except in Jane’s house. There, Jane and her family had a wonderful time; free from criticism, bullying and abuse; free from the endless re-hashing of Betty’s latest attacks.
Once Jane had cleared the abuse out of her family’s life, they were able to find friends they loved being with.
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 give in to or argue with bullies’ excuses, reasons and justifications. 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 adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).