The second edition of “Bullies Below the Radar: Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” documents the personal journey to courage, strength, determination and skill of Grace, a wife and mother, who finally accepted that she was being controlled and bullied by a stealthy, sneaky manipulative husband.
Grace finally accepted that for years:
She’d lived in a frustrating, hostile marriage, full of drudgery and pain.
Even though she hadn’t been physically abused or beaten, she’d been worn down and controlled by serving her husband and by arguing that hadn’t improved the relationship.
She’d suffered watching herself and her children get harassed, manipulated, controlled and bullied.
Her love, understanding, sweetness and kindness had not changed him.
His numerous apologies simply kept her coming back, but he won’t change.
Grace discovered that she couldn’t make things better by being a peacemaker. Tactics like begging, bribery, understanding, endless praise, appeasement, politeness, ‘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 most important to us.
She stopped wallowing in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt, which had led her to get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated. She’d lost her confidence and self-esteem.
On her journey to taking power, effectively setting boundaries and voting her narcissistic husband off her “Isle of Song,” she learned:
To recognize the seven warning signs of bullies below the radar, including sneaky patterns of bullying behavior, and the mental, emotional and spiritual costs accepting bullying.
To stop using the nine common strategies that fail to stop bullies.
What to do if at first she didn’t succeed.
The seven success strategies that will be effective in any bullying situation.
A seven-step process to plan tactics that will be effective in any particular situation.
How to protect her personal ecology and create a bully-free future.
Applying these real-world techniques, she got strong, courageous, determined, persevering and flexible in order to stop bullies of all types – controllers, critics, exploders, pushy perfectionists, prying questioners, emotional intimidators, smiling manipulators, relentless arguers and more
Grace learned that, “History is not destiny.” Using the step-by-step instructions presented here, Grace changed her mind-set and built her courage, character and skill.
My advice: Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change. Don’t accept bullies’ reasons, justifications and excuses. Don’t suffer in silence. Use your own power. Say “That’s enough!” Say “No!”
Although each situation is different, bullies exhibit common styles, techniques and patterns. These commonalities enable us see what responses are ineffective and also to develop responses that are effective to stop bullying.
Whether in relationships, by our own children’s temper tantrums or nastiness, by false friends, at school or in the workplace, there is one rule of thumb that’s critical in order to stop bullies: Don’t suffer in silence.
For some relationship examples, see the comments to the articles:
Kids’ silence prevents effective action from the principals and teachers who would protect them.
As parents, we must learn to recognize the signs that our children might be subjected to bullying and abuse. Sometimes, we must pry the truth out of our reluctant kids. Sometimes, we must check their phones, computers and social websites. Sometimes, we must investigate with parents of their friends or with teachers. Sometimes, we must learn to force reluctant principals to act, even though that might violate our old beliefs or values.
I’m not going into the many reasons that targets suffer in silence. We don’t need a scientific study to analyze all the reasons. If we and ten friends make a list, we’ll cover more than 90% of the reasons. So what?
Everyone has moments that matter: moments when our life can go in either direction; moments when we can choose the strength to soar to heaven or the weakness to fall into hell. You know, those moments in which everything gets absolutely quiet and the air seems to pulse and throb with the power and weight of a choice that will change our life. What will we do? Which path will we choose? What will our life become?
All bullies, all targets and all witnesses have those moments when the rest of their lives hang in the balance. Will they stop bullying? Will they stop being victims of bullies or of their own self-bullying? Will they give up in defeat and despair or will they forge ahead, no matter the consequences?
These are the moments when, if we have the “Will,” we can will ourselves into wonderful futures.
Charles M. Blow reminded me of the moments of truth that I’ve seen in the lives of all the bullies and also all the targets I’ve known. He wrote a wonderful, deep, heart-felt column in the New York Times, “The Bleakness of the Bullied.”
He describes his own experience when he was eight, the subject of “relentless teasing and bullying from all directions – classmates as well as extended family.” In a pit of despair, he contemplated suicide, only to be heartened when a song, often sung by his mother, leapt to his mind, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
He knew he had “to be brave and patient, that this was not to be my last night.”
Every target of bullying I’ve ever coached had a similar moment in their childhood or in our work together: A moment when they faced the bleakness of a future of continuing to be a victim or, alternatively, the brightness of standing up and fighting back in some way. In that moment, they each responded to that choice with a great surge of Will, power and energy. They fanned the spark in their heart into a fierce flame that warmed, strengthened and sustained them.
Once their Will took over their actions, despite a little anxiety, the rest was straightforward.
They would keep that flame alive by daring to protect and defend themselves; by taking the risk of creating a brilliant and wonderful future for themselves, no matter the opinions of their oppressors or the cost to the old, destructive patterns they had been mired in or the people they were related to.
Their action plans were different depending on their circumstances but they had the same Will and they learned the same skills.
I’ve seen the same moment of truth with bullies.
One former bully told me of a moment when he was about nine and was the biggest, toughest angriest kid in his class. He had thought he was simply doing what he had to do to make his place in the world. Then, a principal hauled him into his office, sat him down and told him, in so many words, that he was a bully and he had to stop or he’d be thrown out of school. He was too vicious, nasty and brutal to be allowed to continue harassing and tormenting the kids he was victimizing.
The boy was stunned. He’d never thought of himself as a bully, as vicious and nasty. And he certainly didn’t want to be thrown out of school. In that moment his heart broke open and he vowed never to be a bully again, even if he was the biggest kid in the room.
Why was that bully seeing me? He wanted to learn skills to negotiate his adult life without reverting to bullying in order to get his way. He didn’t want to be a bullying spouse, co-worker or boss. He didn’t want to be a bullying parent.
Most people think that if they made a mistake, broke the rules, weren’t good at something or did something wrong they deserve what they get. So they accept being scolded, chastised and browbeaten.
This attitude is so common that we have many words and expressions for these put-downs and abuse. For example, admonished, assailed, assaulted, attacked, bashed, bawled out, beaten, berated, blamed, castigated, chewed out, condemned, denigrated, disapproved, disparaged, dressed down, flayed, punished, rebuked, rejected, reprimanded, ridiculed, slammed, straightened out, taken to task, thrashed, told off, tongue-lashing, torn to pieces, upbraided, vilified, whacked.
I used my handy Thesaurus because I want to ask: “Which feels most familiar to you?” That tells you who you’ve been living with.
Most people allow bullies to bring up incidents forever, whenever the bully feels like attacking them. After all, victims and oppressors reason, they did wrong; facts are facts.
This isn’t about pretending that a mistake wasn’t a mistake or that we were ignorant when we actually could have known better. Sometimes a fact is a fact. Sometimes we easily might have known better or done better. Maybe we weren’t careful enough. Often there were consequences.
A bullying husband or wife who always points out every mistake with exasperated sarcasm and scolding – accompanied by attacks on their spouse’s personality and character. Even if they don’t say the words, you can hear the silent, “You’re so stupid. You always fail. You’d be nothing if I didn’t straighten you out. Now I have an excuse for being as lazy, dumb, selfish or narcissistic as I want.”
Parents who pick on their children for every mistake, even if the children are too young to have learned the desired behavior. You can hear the justifications, “I’m only trying to teach them right from wrong. I want to make sure they remember the lesson.”
In the workplace, bosses or co-worker know-it-alls gleefully and loudly pointing out every mistake. Or sneakily stabbing some one in the back by revealing mistakes in confidence.
The second action message is don’t say things that way.
These messages train people to accept bullying and to become bullies. Don’t train people to respond to messages phrased that way. Don’t train your children or spouse that they have to be beaten before it’s serious enough for them to change or do better. Don’t train yourself that you have to be beaten before you’re willing to listen. Don’t train them that they have to beat you.
We’ve talked about the first two important steps to stop bullying, abusive spouses:
The first step toward freedom is to use experts’ checklists to recognize and label our spouses’ behavior as “bullying” and our demanding, controlling, narcissistic, abusive spouses as “bullies,” in order to generate our own power. We may use that power to re-enter fights with renewed vigor and a new sense that we’re right.
The second step toward our bright future is to ask our inner expert. We ask ourselves, not if they’re bullying, but if we don’t like what they do. We know what we like and don’t like; we know how much we like or hate it; we know what we’re willing to compromise about or put up with and what we’re not. Begin with our judgment and act on that judgment. Since we know what we want, we don’t have to change bullies or get them to agree or get their permission. We simply test them to see if they’ll act the way we want.
Each step in the sequence gives us more inner power, strength and courage to do what we need to do; to stand firm on the standards of behavior we’ll allow on our island.
There’s a third step in which we take charge of our personal space and our future.
You know how you can bend a paper clip back and forth many times and you can still make it hold paper. But one bend too many and it snaps, and you can’t ever glue it back together again. It’s broken irreversibly. That’s what happened. They snapped. The need to keep trying had snapped. That’s enough! They were done.
Jean said, “I’ve gotten divorce papers. If you behave in that rotten way, I’ll file them. But if you behave in the nice way I want, I’ll hold off until the kids grow up and leave home. Then we’ll see what we’ll see. If you’re nice for a while but fall back into the old patterns, I’ll immediately file; no more chances.” Her study is included in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.
Both of their husbands tried to continue debating and arguing, citing experts and friends and family, who asked if the wives had done enough, if maybe they’d tried more or if maybe they fixed what was wrong with them, the men would finally change.
Both Maria and Jean had the same answer from their guts. “Those thoughts, ideas and possibilities don’t matter anymore. I’m done. I’ve had enough. I’m not wasting my time in talk anymore. I love him but I’m done with him. It’s over. Maybe I’ll find love somewhere else.”
They both felt a surge of power, confidence and esteem at having acted based on their opinions, gut feelings and desires. Both had taken charge of their personal spaces and their futures. Both worked hard to make their choice as good as possible for their children. Both were successful.
The hardest part for Maria was to deal with friends and family who, for their own personal reasons, tried to convince her of what they wanted her to do. They wanted to judge and debate in order to convince her that what they thought was, indeed, right. She finally had to tell them that the subject was off limits. They’d already expressed their opinions. Now, if they wanted to be with her, they had to stop.
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.
Mean girls, like mean guys, can make middle and high school a wounding, scarring misery for many kids.
We’d expect elementary school friendships to change as girls develop different interests in boys, studies, athletics, music, art and science at different rates – especially interests in boys. We’d expect old friends to drift apart.
But the verbal, mental and emotional consequences of put-downs, teasing, taunting, cutting-out, ganging up, harassment, hazing, bullying and abuse can be devastating. Scars can last a lifetime.
Alicia and Cory were best friends for years but in middle school, Cory changed. She became boy-crazy and Tammy became her best friend. Alicia wasn’t interested in boys at that time so she and Cory started drifting apart. Nothing unusual or wrong with that.
But Tammy made it a problem. She and few friends targeted Alicia and insisted that if Cory wanted to be Tammy’s “best friend,” Cory had to join in the attacks on Alicia. Cory didn’t resist. As soon as Cory gave in, Tammy upped the stakes and kept making Cory be more and more vicious in order to join the gang.
Alicia had never done anything bad to Tammy or to Cory. Neither would talk with Alicia about why Tammy had singled her out. Tammy was simply a bully; each year in school she aligned herself against a scapegoat who she used to rally a clique around her as a leader in devising more and more cruel attacks. This year was simply Alicia’s turn. Since nothing bad happened to Tammy during her years at school, she didn’t see any reason to stop.
When Alicia talked with Cory, Cory cried, but didn’t stop her attacks.
What can Alicia and her parents do?
Alicia didn’t talk about the bullying but her parents could tell there was something very wrong. They dragged it out of Alicia. They could understand Alicia and Cory’s different interests and growing distance, but they were appalled that an old friend was so vicious toward Alicia.
Alicia’s parents knew Cory’s parents very well so they decided to talk with them. They didn’t know Tammy’s parents so they did not approach them. Cory’s parents were upset at their daughter, but after lengthy discussions they decided to minimize the bullying. They said that Alicia would have to deal and they were happy that Cory had gotten in to a popular crowd.
While Alicia’s parents were exploring other avenues, like talking to the district administrator, they knew that their immediate task was to help Alicia develop an attitude that would diminish the emotional hurt. They knew that kids who took the put-downs to heart usually suffered all their lives. More than the crying, loss of appetite, falling grades, sleepless nights, negative self-talk, anxiety, blame, shame and guilt, low self-confidence and self-esteem, and depression and maybe even suicidal tendencies often followed such relentless attacks. Indeed, Alicia had begun to take the viciousness personally. She wasn’t ugly but she wasn’t beautiful; she was skinny and she hadn’t started developing breasts yet; she was good-natured and social but not in the clique of the most popular girls. She began to think that there must be something wrong with her because she was picked on and didn’t know how to fight back – being nice, appeasement and following the Golden Rule hadn’t helped. Since the adults didn’t protect her, she thought that maybe there really was something wrong with her and she’d be a loser and alone all her life. Her parents and family loved her but maybe, she thought, in the outside world, she’d be victimized for life.
Alicia was not one to fight back with fists, arguments or even sarcasm. The tactic that fit her personality and comfort zone was simply to mutter “jerks,” laugh with scorn and walk away with her head held high. And she remained laughing and happy because she knew who the losers were. While that infuriated Tammy, Cory and the others, there were a number of other girls who responded to Alicia’s attitude of confidence and self-esteem, and to her smile and good cheer. She slowly collected her own clique of friends.
Alicia also built a mental movie of a future in which she was loved and had a loving family. She could see that she looked like her mother, who’d married her handsome father and that they loved each other. She had hope that she could also do as well. Therefore, she also judged the boys who circled around Tammy and Cory as jerks. She knew they weren’t good enough for her. Her self-esteem and confidence grew. Other kids noticed that she seemed more secure and sure of herself. Since she was nice and friendly, many wanted to be friends with her.
Alicia also realized that she would not want to be friends later in life with most of those middle school kids. As much as they had seemed important to her before, she decided that she’d make her own life, following her own interests so any middle school friends were probably temporary. That took much of the sting out of Tammy and Cory’s continuing scorn and harassment.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
We all remember: Colorado was home to the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. But as Jessica Fender reports in the Denver Post, “More Consistent Anti-Bullying Program Urged for Colorado,” after 11 years “good intentions have devolved into an uncoordinated approach that ignores best practices in some instances and leaves state authorities with no clear picture of how well the myriad policies work.”
As, “Susan Payne, [who] directs the state's Safe2Tell effort, [says,] ‘One of our issues is there is no consistency. While each school has to have a bullying policy, their policy is unique to their school.’”
Instead of thinking about which component is the most important, let’s look at what’s necessary in a different way. Think of what we need to stop school bullying as if you were imagining a target with a bull’s eye in the center. Everything in the bull’s eye is necessary. If you leave out one of the elements in the bull’s eye, you won’t be successful.
Effective, well-written laws to specify what’s illegal; that is, what’s bullying. Without these laws, people like Lori Drew, the mother who set-up the Facebook page and led the attack that caused teenager Megan Meier to commit suicide, can get away with that behavior. Or the kids who tormented Phoebe Prince, Asher Brown, Jon Carmichael, Ty Smalley, Jaheem Herrera, Brandon Bitner, Samantha Kelly, Billy Lucas, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and so many others in 2010 until they committed suicide, will also get away with it. Don’t limit the laws to include only protected categories of victims based on race, sex, religion, sexual preference, etc. Be inclusive about the abuse, no matter who it’s directed against. Maybe the phrase about protected categories should be, “…including but not limited to…” Laws should contain provisions against verbal bullying and cyberbullying, as well as physical violence and abuse.
Require all schools to have programs designed to stop bullies. These programs should contain a sequence of swift and firm steps to remove bullies from schools and school activities like sports. The steps should focus on protecting targets first, and rehabilitating bullies only after they’re removed. Effective anti-bullying programs also educate bystanders to become witnesses. That requires spelling out what witnesses should say and do, who they should report to and how principals and teachers will keep them anonymous and protect them. Effective programs also include close contact with police, especially in cases of cyberbullying and physical abuse.
Require training for everyone involved with school children, including bus drivers and cafeteria monitors. Increase recognition of the more subtle but very pernicious forms of verbal and emotional bullying. Increase awareness of the difference between episodic arguments and even fights between kids versus destructive patterns of taunting, harassment and physical bullying. Give all staff specific steps to follow in documenting and reporting bullying.
Colorado’s Safe2Tell program is a wonderful effort to help kids come forward anonymously and to bring legal pressure to bear on bullies, their parents and school officials who need to act.
Of course, laws, policies, programs and training are merely the necessary guidelines on paper. What makes them effective are dedicated people who are concerned and courageous enough to stop bullying.
Consulting and coaching within individual districts and schools does produce effective programs, stimulates the leadership of strong principals and energizes the support of good teachers and staff. In addition, there is a natural weeding out of people who choose not to act effectively and shouldn’t be put in positions of responsibility for children’s welfare and education. Effective programs develop and highlight models of great adults acting on behalf of children.
We don’t need to wait until there are more studies about why bullies bully. We don’t need to wait until we have more studies to define all the consequences of bullying that turns targets into victims. We don’t need to wait until we can write perfect laws, policies and programs.
We know enough about the stress, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, negativity, and loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, to know that the effects of being a victim can be life-long. Just as successful school bullies tend to become bullies as spouses and parents, and bullies at work, so victims of school bullies tend to become victims as spouses and parents, and at work.
We know enough to act now to stop bullies. We do need to act before more lives are ruined while we analyze, debate and vacillate. I’d rather err on the side of protecting targets at the risk of being to harsh on a kid that wasn’t really a relentless bully, than the present situation that errs on the side of protecting bullies and leaves targeted children isolated, unprotected, helpless and thinking that suicide is the only way to end the abuse and pain.
If used well, blame and guilt don’t lead to self-bullying. They’re useful ways of motivating us to do better, even though they can cause a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, minds and hearts.
If we analyze our actions objectively we might take on the blame for some of what we did or failed to do. We can decide how to make amends. We can decide what actions would be better and we can strive to do better next time.
We can also use guilt and feeling ashamed of an action to motivate us to act better next time. That’s a hard way of motivating ourselves but it’s often effective.
Unrelenting and deep shame, on the other hand, leads to destructive self-bullying – negative self-talk, self-doubt and self-harassment, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and increased anxiety and depression.
By shame, I mean the idea that “There’s something wrong with me; I’m bad, evil or defective; I’ll never be free from sin; I’ll never succeed; I’m cursed.”
This kind of deep shame, as opposed to the way I’m using blame, guilt and feeling ashamed, is not focused on an action. This kind of deep shame points us at supposed defects deep within us, at defects that we can’t change, at defects in our identity. There’s no escape from the flaws we imagine are inherent and permanent. The self-laceration of this kind of shame is endless and self-defeating.
Where does this deep shame come from? We’re not born with this kind of shame. We’re born demanding that we be fed, clothed and have our diapers changed. Little babies don’t question whether they deserve to get what they need for survival; they demand it. That demanding approach is necessary for our survival.
Deep shame can only be taught to us through continued and brutal repetition – physical, verbal, emotional. Eventually, most children internalize constant harassment, criticism, put-downs and denigration – assaults on our identity.
Imagine how you’d feel if someone shouted or scolded you, 24/7, “You’re bad. You’re defective. You’re wrong. You shouldn’t have been born. You’ll never do better. I wish you were dead.”
However those harsh and shaming messages were thrown at us, whoever the bullies were, our task as adults is to leave them behind. The two critical steps in leaving home are to leave physically and to leave mentally-emotionally.
The first leaving is obvious to most of us; we get financially independent in order to stay physically independent. We test ourselves against the world, not our parent’s opinions. Can we earn a leaving? Can we meet people and make friends? Can we love and be loved?
The second leaving is mental, emotional and spiritual. We put aside all their beliefs, ideas, attitudes, values, opinions, rules, roles and moods – all the ways they thought mattered in how to face the world, how to earn a living, what equaled a good life, how to be a good person.
We put aside all the false ways they thought about us – whether we were good or bad, strong or weak, stupid or smart, pretty or ugly, hard-working or lazy, the prized child or the scapegoated child, probably going to be successful or guaranteed to fail, blessed to be happy or doomed to be miserable.
We put aside all we were handed when we were children and all we accepted because they were the big, right and righteous people and we were the little and learning people, and because we knew what would happen to us if we disagreed.
To become independent adults we must cast aside all of their opinions and, as independent no-longer children, we must choose and adopt our own beliefs. Some may be the same as theirs; some may be exactly the opposite.
The two important aspects of that mental, emotional and spiritual leaving: One is that our ideas are now adopted by us as adults, with our adult understandings, meanings and limitations. The second is that they are not carved in stone as childhood ideas are. We change them as we get feedback from the world – does this idea actually fit the reality I can now see clearly with adult eyes; does this way of facing the world get me closer to what I want; does it help me be and do good as I now think of that?
In this destroying and creating anew our inner world and our ideas of the ways of the outer world, we can choose whether to keep blame or guilt. But, in order to be free and independent, we must discard deep shame as a way of thinking about ourselves and of facing the world. We can excise the stain we once accepted, we can heal the great empty space we once had, and we can fill us with ourselves at our best. We can develop strength, courage and skill.
Then we can look back at the bullies in our family and decide whether to be with them at all or when and how to be with them. If they continue to bully us, if their bullying continues to trigger our self-bullying patterns we are better served by disconnecting, by making distance – electronically and physically.
If they treat us as newly made adults they’ve just met and want to be friends with, instead of forcing us back into their old images, instead of continuing to try to beat us into the shape they want we will probably want to be with them sometimes.
My recommendations: Don’t stay where you’re continually blamed, guilted or shamed. Be where you’re respected, appreciated, honored. Also, don’t accept the one of you that continually blames, guilts or shames you. Train and discipline yourself so that you have better internal self-talk. Live with the good inner coach you create, not with the internal bully who sounds like your parents, still ripping you down.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Will – determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance, grit.
Skill – overall strategy, tactics and the ability to maintain your poise and carry out your plan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Imagine that you have a new boyfriend who seems wonderful and you’re looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day. But in your past relationships you were harassed, bullied, controlled and abused. You finally realize you have a tendency to pick the wrong guys. What should you look for with this new one and what should you do if you see any warning signs?
Step back and take a look at how he treats people now. Don’t listen to any of his reasons, explanations or excuses. Look only at his actions. Everyone can blow up once a year under extreme pressure, so count how often he behaves that way. Look for patterns.
Does he push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what he wants?
Does he make the rules and control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on? Does he think that his sense of timing and rules of proper conduct are the right ones?
Do his standards rule? Is your “no” not accepted as “no?” Is he always right and you’re always wrong? Is sex always when and what he wants and for his pleasure? Is his sense of humor always right? Does he say that he’s not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive? Do your issues get dealt with or are his more important so he can ignore your concerns or wishes?
Does he control you with negativity, disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt? For example, no matter what you do, are you wrong or not good enough? Does he cut you down in subtle ways and claim that he’s just kidding? Or does he control you with his hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide?
Are you afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage? For example, do you walk on eggshells? Does he intimidate you with words and weapons? Does he threaten you, your children, your pets or your favorite things?
Are you told that you’re to blame if he’s angry? Do you feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained? In this relationship, has your self-doubt increased, while your self-confidence and self-esteem decreased?
Does he isolate you? Are you allowed to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work? Does he force you to work because he needs your money? Are you told that you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them him?
Does he need your money to make his business schemes work? Does he have a pattern of not keeping jobs, even though he blames his lack of success on other people or bad luck? Is he looking for someone to support him like he thinks he deserves?
If you answered yes to most (or even any of these questions), pull out a piece of paper and write, in big capital letters, “Bully” and “Control-Freak” and “Abuser.” Now you know what you’re dealing with. Post these signs on your mirror, car, computer and work space. Put them in your purse.
While bullies are courting you, until he gets you, he’ll treat you the best he’ll ever treat you. For bullies, it’s all downhill after he thinks he’s got you.
How does he treat other people like:
Servers – waiters and waitresses, clerks at the movies and retail stores, people who work for airlines. Does he harass, bully and abuse them? Does he try to get something for free?
Supervisees, coworkers and vendors. Does he think they’re stupid, incompetent and lazy? Does he jerk them around? Does he retaliate viciously if he feels offended?
Acquaintances and friends? Does he keep them only if he’s the boss or center of attention? Does he have friends who have lasted? Are the relationships brutal or are they like those you’d like between equals?
His former girlfriends or ex-wives. What would they say about those relationships? Does he claim all those women were bad or rotten? Did he retaliate in the end?
His parents and siblings? Does he abuse them because they deserve it, or has he simply walked away because they’re impossible to have a good relationship with?
Don’t think you’re unique, different and safe; don’t think that he’ll never treat you that way. That’s magical thinking. A person who has mastered harassment, bullying, controlling and abusing these people, especially the helpless servers, supervisees and vendors will eventually get around to you.
What does he wish he could do to those other people?
Does he wish he could have had the strength, courage and opportunity to retaliate without bad consequences to himself?
Is he itching to take his anger or rage out on someone else (like, maybe you)?
Ignore your overwhelming feelings of true love. Don’t waste your life trying to fix him. Get rid of him now before it’s too late; before you live together, or he slowly gets you to give him control. He’s only a boyfriend. Find a better one to have all those feelings of true love with.
Current statistics show that bullying is prevalent – over 50% of kids report being bullied or observing bullying. Bullying by girls is just as prevalent as by boys (although they often use different tactics) and bullying in “good” neighborhoods is just as prevalent as in “bad” ones.
Most parents want to understand why bullies bully, “Is it because bullies have low esteem, or they lust for power or that’s the only way they know how to get control and admiration?” Those parents usually tell their children never to use violence to stop bullies. “Violence never solved anything. Don’t stoop to the bullies’ level.”
Those parents hope that understanding bullies will help them create programs that will rehabilitate bullies. Then their kids will be safe when they’re away from home or when they’re online.
Parents who say those things are the number one risk factor in making their children targets of repeated bullying.
Their strategy is based on the false idea that if children love and forgive bullies enough, they’ll melt bullies’ hearts and bullies will stop bullying and become their friends. That strategy rarely stops bullies.
Similarly, bullied kids grow up with low self-esteem and low confidence; they expect to be beaten down – mentally, emotionally and physically – to be taken advantage of, to lose. They become repeat victims.
The number one risk factor in our children’s becoming targets of repeated bullying is not bullies or schools – the number one risk factor is us, the parents of the targets. Bullies have always existed and will always exist, most schools never protected kids and many still won’t.
Take your focus away from psychotherapy of bullies. Focus instead on stopping bullying right now. After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies. As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time. I want to protect target children right now.
In the real world, bullies are predators, like hyenas, looking for the weak and isolated people who don’t know how to protect themselves. Real bullies have a language all their own – they take our children’s kindness, reasonableness or holding back as weakness and a sign of easy prey. Our kids’ weakness brings out the worst in bullies.
A real-world perspective is that it’s more important to stop bullies first; that counseling, therapy and rehabilitation efforts come second. In fact, stopping bullying behavior and having stiff consequences for kids who bully repeatedly is one of the best steps in changing their behavior.
More important than distracting questions and considerations about how much they do it, why they do it or do they do it more or differently than men, are:
Do you recognize the early warning signs of bullies?
Do you know how to stop them skillfully?
Women often say that other women aren’t as overt about bullying; they’re more likely to be stealth bullies. Some use tactics that are sneaky, manipulative, backstabbing; some form cliques and start rumors or demeaning put-downs; some pretend to be friends and bad mouth you behind your back; some are negative, whining, complaining “professional victims;” some are passive-aggressive. And some can be nit-picking, control-freaks just as much as men.
How about Meryl Streep and other unsavory characters in “The Devil Wears Prada?”
Some are splinters, rotten apples and cancers – at all levels in your organization. Just like men who bully.
If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they face – men or women.
Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies. I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.
In his article for MSNBC, “Rules to curb online bullying raise concerns,” Alex Johnson discusses the need for laws to prevent cyberbullying and also details situations in which schools can overreact in the enforcement of those rules. The case of teenager Avery Doninger is particularly glaring.
The underlying thrust of the article is the need to create exactly the right laws that will give the right result in every situation. Situations like the cyberbullying suicide case last year make good laws critical.
The real problem is not necessarily the law; it’s the hidden assumption that cyberbullying laws can ever be made “just right” for all situations – never too lax, never too harsh. That assumption overlooks history and human nature. The letter of the law can never cover all situations with “just right” justice. We always depend on human wisdom in the law’s application to specific situations. That’s just the way it is – for better or for worse.
Our society is in the stage of figuring out where we want to draw the lines about a new method, cyberbullying, that bullies and perpetrators use to harass, abuse and attack adults and children. That’s our normal trial and error process. There’s no easy answer for protecting kids online.
Actually, we make laws in hopes that they’ll yield justice in, say, 95% of the cases that come up. No matter what laws we make in any area of life, there will be specific situations in which a literal or dumb interpretation leads to an under or over-reaction. That’s where we hope the individuals involved use good sense and good judgment.
In the case of Avery Doninger, the real question is: Is the law bad or did the school principal get defensive and over-react by not giving a second chance to a good and contrite student who learned an important lesson or is there more we don’t know about Avery?
We’re stuck with the fact that laws, by themselves, will never cover every situation, no matter where we draw the lines; whether it’s about cyberbullies, verbal bullies or physical bullies.
I look carefully at the application of any law in a specific situation before rushing in to change the law. Often the problem is in the application, not in the law itself. That’s why we have Appeals Courts.
Separate from the general laws are the specific situations involving my kids and your kids (and adults). My job is to monitor my children:
Do they look like they’re having a hard time and may be being attacked by a cyberbully? Are they having difficulty dealing with it? How can I help them deal with it by themselves or do I need to intervene?
Are they witnessing cyberbullying and are they struggling to know whether or how to intervene?
Are they creating a hard time for someone else (are they cyberbullies)? How do I stop them and help them develop the character to make amends and do better next time?
Should they even be using MySpace or FaceBook or any social networking sites? What else would be a better use of their time and energy?
In her article in the Wall Street Journal, “When women derail other women in the office,” Rachel Emma Silverman comments on Peggy Klaus’ article in the New York Times, “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting.”
Both discuss an estimate that female office bullies who commit verbal abuse, sabotage performance or hurt relationships, aim at other women more than 70% of the time. Both discuss the psychological reasons why women hurt other women and why they don’t protect them.
If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies we face – men or women.
Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies. I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.
Sometimes, even experienced people don’t recognize control-freaks until they’re in a relationship so far that they have to fight fiercely to get free.
Madge was divorced, without children and had established a good career. She’d purchased a house she loved and had a wide circle of professional and personal friends who admired and respected her intelligence, competence, good sense and friendship.
When she met Frank, also middle-aged, she thought she’d found the missing piece she wanted in her life. He seemed to think so also. He quickly gave her a friendship ring and moved into her home. He knew what he wanted, had lots of plans for his success and seemed to know the right people in town.
When they were courting, Frank had given his reasons for wanting to go to the places and meet the people he wanted to. Madge usually agreed and it seemed like no big deal to acquiesce since she wasn’t as determined as Frank. But after he moved in, she began to realize that they always did what he wanted and he got very angry if she put up more than a token resistance. He stopped giving reasons and merely gave orders.
He began to re-organize her home the way he liked and simply ignored what she wanted. Or he could always win debates with her.
Frank never hit her, but she began to realize that she was afraid of disagreeing with him. He got so angry and he was so sure he was right that he wouldn’t back down. She slowly accepted his claim that she wouldn’t be invited out without him. And she was afraid that he might even dump her. Then she’d look like what he told her she was; past her prime and on the down side.
None of his work projects seemed to pay off, but he always had new and bigger plans. He kept pointing out that her friends were jealous of his ideas and plans. They didn’t appreciate his talents and potential, and they sabotaged his projects. He said, “We won’t with your old friends any more, but with your contacts, I can cultivate important people who appreciate me.
At a party one night, Madge was having a wonderful time when he suddenly came to her and said, “We’re leaving now.” She asked if anything had happened and he replied, “No. I’m just bored so we’re leaving.” She said, “I’m having a great time so if nobody got you angry, I’d like to stay a little longer. Surely you can find someone interesting to talk with for a while.” Frank spat back, “I said we’re leaving. That means right now!”
Madge now says that she still doesn’t know what shifted in her, but she said, as sweetly as she could, “No. If you want to leave, you can take the car, but I’m staying. I’ll get a ride or a take cab home. I won’t be long.”
Frank stormed off. When she arrived home a few hours later, he was furious. He yelled, “I’m in charge. If you don’t do what I want, you can get out of my house.”
Madge felt like a chastised little girl. She thought, “I wasn’t considerate of him. I could have left with him as he wanted. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world, even though I was having a wonderful time.” She begged him to forgive her; “I won’t argue with you any more.” When she said that, Frank finally smiled and said, “That’s my girl. Don’t talk back any more and I won’t have to punish you.”
At 2 a.m. Madge woke up with a start. Her fists were clenched and she was shaking with rage. “Wait a minute,” she thought. “It’s my house, not his.” At that moment her head and heart turned around. She saw Frank clearly for the bully he was. Even though he hadn’t hit her, he was a sneaky controlling, stealth bully.
Here are seven of the early warning signs of a stealth bully:
They make the rules; they control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on.
They push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what they want.
Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no;” they’re always right and you’re always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they’re not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive. Your issues generally don’t get dealt with – theirs are more important so they can ignore your wishes.
They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt – no matter what you do; you’re wrong or not good enough. Or they control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide.
You’re afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage – you walk on eggshells; they intimidate you with words and weapons; they threaten you, the children, the pets, your favorite things. You’re told that you’re to blame if they’re angry. You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
You’re told you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them.
They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see you friends or your family, go to school or even work.
Madge could now see that Frank was merely a domineering fast talker, who brought in no money. He had been sponging off her all the time he had taken control of her life. And she had allowed him to.
I won’t detail the difficulties Madge had in getting Frank out of her house and life. That’s when she discovered that he’d done this before to many other women and knew how to intimidate her and make her look bad. But she got courageous and strong, and she got free.
Controlling boyfriends, husbands, teenagers, parents, bosses, co-workers and friends use the same methods. That’s why we can find ways to stop most of them. If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
A new pseudo-scientific and misleading study has been reported on by the Wall Street Journal, “No Easy Answer for Protecting Kids Online” and the New York Times, “Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown.”
I’m sorry the headlines on this article allow people to draw the wrong conclusions, like “Threats exaggerated.” It’s a mistake to base decisions on comparisons stating that cyberbullying isn’t much worse than other bullying. A study that concludes that there’s no easy solution is a waste of time and money.
Of course there’s no easy solution. No one is really dumb enough to think there’s an easy solution. No amount of software will make the internet any safer than giving your money to Bernard Madoff or crossing the street.
Ignore the pseudo-science of the report. Instead, pay attention to our individual kids and teach them that “friends” on social networking sites aren’t really friends, they’re merely virtual contacts; no matter how sympathetic they sound or how friendly they claim to be. Obviously, dealing with malicious and vindictive virtual people (kids or adults) is much more difficult than dealing with people face-to-face. And we all know how difficult that can be.
There are no safe environments. That was the message I always got from reading the great hero stories when I was growing up. And each tale challenged me to prepare myself for similar dangers.
Schools and the real-world have never been safe. I remember a biography of Harpo Marx (remember the Marx Brothers). He went to school for one day. The kids threw him out the window (first floor). He came back in. They threw him out again. After the third time he didn't go back in. And never did again.
Schools and social networks are testing grounds for the real world. And the real world is not and should not be safe. Facing risks and danger helps us develop good sense, good character and the qualities necessary to survive.
Imagine growing up on a farm, in the wilderness or in the middle ages. Not safe. I grew up in New York City. Not safe. Millennia ago we had to learn what a saber-toothed tiger’s foot prints looked like and how long ago they were left. The world still requires survival skills, even if different ones.
We must teach children how to face the real world in which they’ll meet bullies all their lives, even if our children are small and outnumbered. That’s independent of the type of bullying – cyberbullies, physical bullying or verbal harassment or abuse.
The New Year has been welcomed by a number of articles and blog posts describing legal weapons to help school administrators, principals, teachers and parents take action against all types of bullies.
Some recent examples:
These are only a drop in the bucket, but I’m glad some states and individual school districts are making laws to protect children from bullies and bullying. We need new laws because so many administrators are cowards. They’re afraid they’ll be sued by parents who want to protect their little terrorists. Therefore, we need to require administrators to act and also to protect them from legal suits when they do act.
On an individual basis, parents must teach children how to face the real world in which they’ll meet bullies all their lives, even if the children are small and outnumbered. That’s independent of the type of bullying – cyberbullies, physical bullying or verbal harassment or abuse.
Sometimes, a child can handle a bully by himself, beginning with peaceful, non-violent tactics and moving step-wise toward being more firm and eventually fighting to win. Or, depending on the situation, just get the fight over with the first time. Other times, adult help is needed.
True bullies will take empathy, kindness and tolerance as weakness. They’ll think we’re easy prey. It will encourage them, like sharks, to attack us more. Bullies will show you how far you need to go to stop them. Get out of your comfort zone and stop them.
In his post on the Wall Street Journal Blog, “Should Parents Crack Down on Teasing?”, John J. Edwards III asks if parents are cracking down too much on teasing. Comments ranged from the need for children to learn to fight back to the need for children to learn empathy and tolerance. Also, there was no clarity about what criteria to use to judge whether teasing was beneficial or bad or wrong.
When two people agree to tease and they stay within the limits and boundaries, teasing can be a lot of fun. And even allow things to be said in a friendly way that might be hard to say or hear in other ways.
But when only the “teaser” wants to tease, and the “teasee” doesn’t want it, then it’s bullying. Whether the teasing is racist, sexist, focused on disabilities, or because someone is small or smart or different, or the teasers simply enjoy having a scapegoat, or it’s done through cyberbullying – it’s still bullying!
The effects on the “teasee” can be very damaging if the “teasee” doesn’t rise up and stop it. When the “teasee” stops it, he or she grows much stronger in character, courage and skill.
Within our family, we helped the kids see the limits beyond which teasing became hurtful. When teasing was outside our family, we helped the kids see a continuum from fun teasing, through teasing you might ignore or tolerate, to learning to stop bullying and bullies. Sometimes you have to move up the scale to fighting back. If you do, make sure you’re effective. I wrote about my experiences in my book, “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” and there are other examples in the book and CDs, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”
True bullies will interpret our empathy, kindness and tolerance as weakness. They’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, it’ll encourage them to attack us more. The bully will show you how far you need to go to stop them. Get out of your comfort zone and stop them.