Sometimes, bullies come to us and apologize in private for their behavior and promise that they won’t do it again. Does that mean that the harassment, abuse and bullying will stop?
When we receive a private confession and apology, it’s natural for us to heave a sigh of relief and relax; to give up our fear and anger. And then share our secrets, fears and hopes, which is often what bullies want. Real-world bullies will simply use this new information to embarrass us or stab us in the back.
A public apology counts for much more, especially from covert, sneaky manipulative bullies.
But the bottom line is behavior. So when we receive a private apology, I’d recommend saying “Thank you.” And not thinking we have a new friend, but also asking, “What will you do to make amends in public?” Or even, “Thank you. I’ll see how you act in the future to know if you’ve really changed.”
Or we might be more gracious in saying nothing but we’ll still keep watching and keeping score. We shouldn’t give them our wallet or car keys. We should test bullies by small steps to see if they’re trustworthy. Be determined and persevering.
For example, see the case study of dieter Tammy being attacked by her false friend Helen in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site. Or the case studies of Brandi and Lucy with their boyfriends.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
In his New York Times Op-Ed column, Charles M. Blow reported on the experience of his three children and the results of a study conducted by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, which interviewed more than 43,000 high school students. He reports that the study showed:
“Boys who went to private religious schools were most likely to say that they had used racial slurs and insults in the past year as well as mistreated someone because he or she belonged to a different group.
Boys at religious private schools were the most likely to say that they had bullied, teased or taunted someone in the past year.
While boys at public schools were the most likely to say that it was O.K. to hit or threaten a person who makes them very angry, boys at private religious schools were just as likely to say that they had actually done it.”
In addition, he says that, “While some public schools have issues with academic attainment, it appears that some private schools have issues with tolerance. No person is truly better when they lack this basic bit of civility.”
Most of the discussion and argument will focus on whether or not his general conclusions are correct about most private versus public schools. And many people will base their conclusions on their personal experience in each type of school.
But the important point is not about the generalizations. Don’t get distracted by academic speculation about the generalizations. The important point is about the schools your children are going to.
If your children are going to a school that tolerates or encourages other children to think that they’re special and, therefore, that they can tease, taunt, mistreat, bully or abuse people who are different, that’s the situation you need to focus on.
Children need to feel that they’re special and that high standards of behavior are expected of them. The problem is caused by the idea that, therefore, they can scorn or torment other people who aren’t in their group or who are different.
Bullies will target any difference they can find. It’s not the difference that causes bullying; it’s the bullies who find the difference. Of course bullies will focus on race, religion, color, gender, sexual preference, etc. But we all also know examples of mean girls and mean boys who bully people they decide are too tall or short, too skinny or fat, or who have different hair color or hair style, or different clothes, or who aren’t as fashionable or faddish.
I’ve consulted with principals, teachers and staff of both public and private schools, who won’t ignore, tolerate or support bullying. And we have developed effective programs to stop bullying. In addition, I’ve seen both public and private schools in which principals, teachers and staff look the other way or condone or even applaud harassment, bullying and abuse. Some even think that building school spirit this way is worth sacrificing a few weaklings or sinners.
More than generalization to be discussed and disputed intellectually at a party, we’re hit home emotionally by what happens to our children. If one school, whether public or private, doesn’t stop bullies and it’s your children’s school, that’s the one that counts in your life.
But there is one generalization that cuts across all lines; we can stop bullies before we’ve analyzed in detail the reasons why a particular kid or group of kids selects its target(s) and long before we can teach them to have increased empathy and tolerance. The first step is always having clear, firm and immediate consequences for the perpetrators.
Many types of family bullying are obvious, whether it’s physical or verbal harassment, nastiness or abuse, and targets or witnesses usually jump in to stop it. The typical perpetrators are mothers and fathers bullying each other or the kids, sibling bullies, bullying step-parents or kids sneakily bullying a step-parent in order to drive a wedge between a biological parent and their new partner.
But many people allow extended family members to abuse their children or their spouses, especially at the holidays, because they’re afraid that protest will split the family into warring factions that will never be healed. They’re afraid they’ll be blamed for destroying family unity or they accept a social code that proclaims some image of “family” as the most important value.
Except in a few, rare situations, that’s a big mistake.
A rare exception might be an aged, senile and demented, or a dying family member whose behavior is tolerated temporarily while the children are protected from the abuse.
But a more typical example of what shouldn’t be tolerated was a grandpa who had a vicious tongue, especially when he drank. He angrily told the grandchildren they were weak, selfish and dumb. He ripped them down for every fault – too smart, too stupid; too fat, too skinny; too short, too tall; too pretty, too ugly; too demanding, too shy. He also focused on fatal character flaws; born lazy, born failure, born evil, born unwanted.
For good measure, he verbally assaulted his own children and their spouses – except for the favorite ones. He even did this around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables when the parents and their spouses were present. He was always righteous and right.
I assume you’ve asked him to stop or given him dirty looks, but that only seemed to encourage him to attack you and your children more. Or he apologized, but didn’t stop for even minute. When you arrived late and tried to leave early, he attacked your family even more. He blamed you for disrupting the family. The rest of the adults also said that it’s your fault you aren’t kind and family oriented enough to put up with him.
What else can you do?
I think you have to step back and look at the big picture – a view of culture, society and what’s important in life. Only then can you decide what fights are important enough to fight and only then will you have the strength, courage and perseverance to act effectively.
Compare two views: one in which blood family is all important.
We are supposed to do anything for family and put up with anything from family because we need family in order to survive or because family is the greatest good. This view says that if you put anything above family, especially your individual conscience or needs, you’ll destroy the foundations of civilized life and expose yourself in times of need. In this view, we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves and our children to our biological family – by blood or by marriage.
We can see the benefits of this view. When you’re old and sick, who else will take care of you but kith and kin? In this view, the moral basis of civilization is the bond of blood and marriage. Violate that relationship, bring disunity into the family by standing up for your individual views and you jeopardize everything important and traditional.
In my experience, this view is usually linked to the view that men and inherited traditions should rule. Boys are supposed to torment girls because that teaches them how to become men. Girls are supposed to submit because that’s their appointed role – sanctioned by religion and culture. If men are vicious to women and children, if old people are vicious to the young, that’s tolerated.
Contrast this view with an alternative in which behavior is more important than blood.
Your individual conscience and rules of acceptable behavior are more important than traditions that enable brutality and pain generation after generation. What’s most important in this view is that you strive to create an environment with people who fill your heart with joy – a family of your heart and spirit.
If you choose the first view, you’ll never be able to stop bullying and abuse. Your children will see who has the power and who bears the pain. They’ll model the family dynamics they saw during the holidays. You’ve abdicated the very individual conscience and power that you need to protect yourself and your children. You’ll wallow in ineffective whining and complaining, hoping that someone else will solve your problem.
The best you can hope for outside the family, when your children face bullies who have practiced being bullies or being bullied at home, is that school authorities will do what’s right and protect your children from bullies. But how can you expect more courage from them than you have? Or why shouldn’t they accept the culture which tolerates bullying and abuse, just like you have?
Are you the biological child in the family or merely a spouse?
Is your spouse willing to be as strong as you?
Who’s the perpetrator – a grandparent, another adult or spouse, a cousin, a more distant relative?
Do you see the perpetrator every year or once a decade?
Do other adults acknowledge the abuse also?
Expert coaching and good books and CDs like “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up” and “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” will help you make the necessary inner shifts and also develop a stepwise action plan that fits your family situation and newly developed comfort zone. For example, see the case studies of Kathy, Jake and Ralph.
Keep in mind that while you hope the perpetrator will change his or her behavior, your goal is really to have an island with people who make every occasion joyous. You must be prepared to go all the way to withdrawing from family events or to starting a fight that will split the family into two camps. But at least you’ll be in a camp in which you feel comfortable spending the holidays.
Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes when one person speaks up, many others join in and the combined weight of opinion forces an acceptable change. Sometimes if you say you’ll withdraw, you’ll be seen as the most difficult person in the room and the rest of the family will make the abuser change or ostracize him or her.
Sometimes we need to replay the horrible things that people did to us – whether it was once or repeatedly, whether they were the perpetrators or they stood by or even colluded and ignored the abuse and our pain. Sometime we need to get angry and vent and imagine all the ways we could retaliate and extract vengeance and justice. Sometimes we blame ourselves, wishing we could finally win their love and undo the hurt. During those times we typically say, “It’s not fair. Why me? Why don’t they understand and appreciate me? What did I do wrong?”
But in the end, whatever the specifics of our situations, we all know where we have to get to if we’re going to make the rest of our lives worth living.
By whatever process we use successfully, through whatever pain we have to endure, after we stop the harassment, bullying, abuse and torment inflicted upon us, we have two choices – to let our lives be destroyed by the rotten people who abused us or to move on somehow, to create families and lives worth living.
I’m not minimizing the damage and the pain or the time it may take, but throughout history, we see the same pattern in response to individual and cultural or societal horrors. Some people’s spirits are destroyed by what was done to them. Other people stay alive and vital.
Examples are all around of famous individuals who turned their backs on the perpetrators and moved on – Maya Angelou and Winston Churchill easily come to mind. There are also inspiring examples known only to our families. We must keep our eyes focused on the light at the end of the tunnel of pain – the light that reminds us to keep moving ahead despite the temporary discouragement, depression and despair.
What keeps most people stuck in the abyss of pain for years; long after they’re physically and fiscally capable of separating? Mostly, it’s a combination of:
Wanting the perpetrators to acknowledge what they did and to apologize or beg for our forgiveness. Or wanting vindication and revenge.
Championing their pain as different and greater than anyone else’s or saying that their hurt and pain was so bad that they’ve been damaged for the rest of their lives.
Wallowing in negative self-talk and self-abuse.
The results of this self-bullying victim talk are clear – stress, anxiety, self-doubt, guilt, shame, panic, low self-confidence and self-esteem; huge overreactions as if everything is a matter of life or death; a life ruled by the past, time wasted circling around the carcass of the past, chewing over the gristle of every past and present episode of abuse.
The light at the end of the tunnel is when our spirits rise and make us indomitable and invulnerable, determined and indefatigable; when:
We won’t be weighed down by the baggage of the past. We don’t have to please the perpetrators or excuse or justify our behavior to our abusers and we also don’t have to rebel any more just to prove that we’re independent. We stop sacrificing ourselves for further flagellation and spurning.
The voices of the past become irrelevant; we now make decisions directed by our own spirits.
We won’t be at the mercy of external events, especially the past. Instead we’ll create our own futures, no matter what.
This is the goal of all the talk, catharsis, coaching. We become our original, fiery selves – strong, brave and determined – and now skilled adults.
In this new state, the fear of failure or success is gone. We no longer view the world through the lens of “deserve, justify, punish or forgive.” The emotional motivation cycle – endless self-criticism and self analysis, and then criticism of the criticism, and then criticism of the criticism of the criticism – of the old victim side of us is gone.
We no longer have overwhelming emotional reactions to whatever happens. Mistakes are no longer life threatening. Failing at something is no longer a portent of a bleak future. Doing something wrong no longer consigns us to hell forever.
We ride through these ups and downs, buoyed by certain knowledge that we’ll keep plugging along, doing what we can, following our Heart’s Desire.
From here we can easily recognize other people who are still in the old place – underneath their franticness and self-flagellation, they look and sound like victims, not willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves; attracting old and new predators. Predators also recognize easy targets.
From here we can see how boring the victim personality is. It’s all about their pain and problems, as if that’s really who they are. They’re still trying to squeeze love or justification from a stone. They still want to interact with scavengers.
In our new space, we’re interested and interesting, excited and exciting. We focus on what feeds our spirits; not on endless cud-chewing and psychoanalysis. We leave the predators behind and seek the families of our hearts and spirits.
The process of leaving the old, victim place usually includes many instantaneous epiphanies, as well as the time necessary to develop new habits through many ups and downs. But that’s merely a process to leave the old and to be completely comfortable in the new.
When we live in a state of inner freedom, we don’t forget the pain. We remember that abuse all our lives. We hold that memory sacred – but we don’t use the pain to motivate ourselves, we convert it to a source of strength and courage to create a new life, a life that’s built on the ashes of childhood dreams destroyed.
State laws and school policies are necessary, but they’re not enough to stop school bullies. The third necessary ingredient is the responsible people who are paid to make schools safe. If teachers, psychologists and counselors, assistant principals, principals, district administrators and school board members don’t create effective school programs and don’t enforce the laws and policies, perpetrators will be freed and their targets will be victimized.
According to the ABC News and investigative reporter Theresa Marchetta, Caitlin Smith was sexually assaulted in the final days of a summer program for incoming freshman at Englewood High School in a Denver, Colorado suburb. The evidence seemed clear-cut and, indeed, a court recently found the boy guilty of unlawful sexual contact with no consent.
The school had suspended him for the last three days of the summer program but what happened when school started in the fall?
The story is titled, “District Policies Fail Teen Victim: Guilty Attacker Remains in School.”
In order for Caitlin to be allowed to enter school, the vice principal had the Smiths sign a “No-Contact Notice” which reads, "You have been involved in an incident that may be criminal in nature," and suspects can not "harass, threaten, annoy, disturb, follow or have verbal/physical contact with any victim or witness in this incident.”
The perpetrator was immediately allowed back in school with Caitlin in the fall. He did not sign a No-Contact Notice and was still allowed back in school. This is despite a statement by Englewood Superintendent Sean McDaniel that, "I think that [the No-Contact Notice] would be a piece on the perpetrators side not on the victim’s side."
On Caitlin’s first day back in school, she was taken right back to the scene of the attack. "They guaranteed they wouldn’t take me down that hallway. I was freaking out, crying, upset. I didn’t want to go through, was closing my eyes,” she said. School authorities asked Caitlin’s mother to keep her daughter out of school. She reports that, "They're asking me to hold my daughter out of school and giving an education to a child [the bully] who shouldn't even be there."
To deal with such incidents, the Englewood School District has policies “which clearly states, multiple times, what happened to Caitlin was a ‘level one’ offense, ‘those which will result automatically in a request for expulsion to the superintendent.’”
When Marchetta asked Superintendent McDaniel, “Should a student be expelled or consider being expelled for having unwanted sexual contact with a student?" he replied, "Absolutely, no question. Sexual contact? I would expect an administrator to suspend with a recommendation for expulsion. Then, that would land in my office.” But he then admitted that the perpetrator was allowed to remain in school without even signing the No-Contact Notice and that now, over six months after the incident, he didn’t know what the principal was doing about the situation.
When Superintendent McDaniel was asked, “theoretically speaking, if it would ever be acceptable for a student accused of committing such an offense to remain in the population during the proceedings, he answered, ‘That’s a great question. No,’ [he added], ‘In that scenario to just to turn the kid loose back in to the student population with no requirements, parameters? No, I can not foresee a situation like that.’" But he then admitted that the perpetrator was allowed to remain in school without even signing the No-Contact Notice.
Parents and students need to know what to do after such an incident:
Don’t hide; make a fuss. Immediately go to the appropriate school authorities and the police. That’s like we encourage victims to report rape immediately.
Find and rally other students and parentswho have been harassed, bullied or abused – emotionally, sexually or physically. If any other kids excuse the perpetrator’s behavior and tell you that you’re being too harsh or if any other kids hassle, threaten or bully you, report them. Record evidence; that’s what cell phones are for. Travel with your friends.
If the authorities won’t act, immediately get a lawyer skilled in both the pertinent laws and in how to bring media pressure to bear. Plan an overall strategy and tactics.
Get an expert coach or therapist to keep your spirits up and to rally your strength and determination.
Don’t accept bullying; don’t take the blame. In most cases the girl is not a “slut” or “whore” that others will call you. It’s usually not your fault. You should know that if the school authorities won’t act, they’re the problem, not you. You don’t have to be perfect according to their standards in order for them to actively help you. Don’t indulge in self-bullying. Negative self-talk, blame, shame and guilt never help. They only increase anxiety, stress and depression, and destroy confidence and self-esteem. Don’t believe negative predictions; your life isn’t ruined and in 10 years you won’t want to be friends with your high school classmates – certainly not the hyenas who pile on.
As you can see, state laws and school policies are necessary to give principals and administrators the leverage to act safely without fear of law suits by bullying parents of school bullies. But the responsible authorities must be willing to act courageously, energetically, skillfully and effectively. When they don’t, laws and policies become scraps of paper, blowing in the wind of their excuses.
Since the principal and district administrator didn’t protect a target of such bullying and abuse, I predict that there have already been other incidents at Englewood High School and there will be in the future. Bullies are predators. They look for easy prey and they push the boundaries. Once one hyena gets away with boundary pushing – darting in, ripping off some flesh and darting back safely – the rest of the pack will pile on.
In addition to the perpetrator and his family, the principal and district administrator have a lot to answer for. I hope a public outcry focuses on them.
Toxic step-fathers and step-mothers are clichés because they’re all too common. But the ubiquity of harassment, bullying and verbal, sexual and physical abuse doesn’t diminish the pain and long-term damage inflicted on defenseless kids.
Of course, kids can also treat their step-parents cruelly, and step-mothers and biological parents can also be relentlessly cruel, but let’s focus here on step-fathers who abuse their size, control and power.
These step-fathers sexually abuse one or all of their step-daughters while the moms ignore the evil. The perpetrators are to blame and the daughters’ anger is rightly focused on these men.
But let’s also look at the moms who won’t see or hear anything bad about their new husbands even though the complaints and evidence are clear, and the damage to their children is striking.
Later, when the complaints and evidence are brought forth by the now-adult and articulate children, these mothers will usually still defend and excuse the predators they invited into their homes. Typically, the mothers whine and demand that their children should perpetuate the lies and secrets. “After all,” they complain, “they deserve a little happiness after all they’ve suffered. Their daughters should understand how hard it was for them.”
The daughters, who held the pain and trauma when they were young, are still left holding the emotional bag. There’s no way they can release their anger by simply beating the bullies to death or making them burn slowly, even though he deserves even worse.
Stop abusing yourself with negative self-talk and predictions of failure that increase self-doubt, stress and depression, and destroy self-confidence and self-esteem. Convert those inner, self-bullying voices into helpful coaches.
Don’t let your children near them. More important than their knowing their toxic grandparents is your protecting them from emotional and physical perpetrators. Be a model for them to keep a flame of strength, courage and determination burning in their hearts no matter what happens to them.
Forget about understanding and forgiveness; let these come in their own time, if they ever do. Understanding why that old man, who may or may not be truly sorry now, could torture you like he did does not excuse or justify the behavior. Understanding how your mother could allow you to be tortured does not excuse or justify the behavior. Understanding why they maintained a conspiracy of silence then and now does not excuse or justify the behavior.
Become internally invulnerable. Use the past pain to inspire your present life. I know that’s easy to say and hard to do. Find people to remind you of your fighting spirit when your energy flags. Get an expert coach to help you put the wounds behind you. Fill the mental space in front of you with your vision of the present and future you want.
On July 2, a federal judge overturned guilty verdicts rendered by the jury against Lori Drew, 50, who was accused of participating in a cyber bullying scheme against 13-year-old Megan Meier, who later committed suicide.
This case demonstrates why we need federal laws to stop cyber bullying, harassment and abuse.
The facts in the case were agreed upon even by Drew. She set-up a MySpace account under an assumed name, “Josh Evans,” that was used by her daughter and an employee to harass, bully and abuse 13-year-old Megan Meier. It is not clear what other actions Drew took to use or promote the use of the site. After many attacks on Megan, the fake identity eventually encouraged her to commit suicide. The three perpetrators would not admit who sent that message.
While that sounds straightforward and obviously wrong, and most people react with outrage, there are no Federal laws to prevent such attacks. Since there are no laws making the cyber bullying, harassment and abusive actions of Lori Drew, her daughter and her employee a felony, prosecutors had to bring weak charges based on unauthorized computer access under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Despite difficulties in stretching the application of these laws to cover the cyber bullying, a jury found Lori Drew guilty of three misdemeanor counts in the case. However, the judge overturned the jury and acquitted Drew of the charges. Some of the arguments for the defense were:
* The three bullies didn’t know the terms of agreement for setting up their MySpace account because they hadn’t read the MySpace contract they agreed to.
* Stretching the laws to cover their actions could set dangerous legal precedents.
Even though we can follow the legal arguments, the sense of outrage still remains.
Of course these laws would infringe on free speech and some people’s desires to create secret identities online. Which is more important, protecting adults and children against anonymous attacks or free speech?
In the case of the suicide of Megan Meier, had Lori Drew’s daughter accosted Megan in person, laying forth whatever complaints she had, saying whatever vindictive and nasty things she wanted to say, the situation would have been very different. Megan would have been able to face her accuser. She would have known her accuser’s personal agenda. She could have argued or ignored the attacks. But online attacks through a false identity are a very different matter.
Of course lawyers debate legal precedents. But we all know the protection we’d want against anonymous people who put signs or graffiti on our homes or burn crosses on our lawns. We clearly see the need to regulate these actions, even if they aren’t direct attacks with a deadly weapon. Cyber bullying, harassment and abuse require the same regulation.
Lori Drew and her attorney are trying to drum up sympathy for her. They say that she’s had to pay legal fees and move from Missouri due to the publicity and anger her family has faced. They may not have envisioned the final consequences of their hoax, but once we go down the pathway of harassment, bullying and abuse, we can’t control the results.
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.
A recent article in the New York Times illustrates attempts of one middle school of privileged kids in Scarsdale, New York, to teach empathy for those less privileged. The less privileged included examples from great literature, of old, disabled and autistic people, and even of those students who didn’t get invited to last weekend’s social activities by the “in-crowd.” Similar efforts are being considered by many other middle and high schools.
Can such programs succeed? Should schools engage in social engineering?
Education, in the root of our word and from its earliest time, was based on “cultivation” in the sense of cultivating a crop of good and virtuous citizens capable of leading a society that does good and supports the virtue of all citizens. Leading was usually the vocation of only the privileged. Education of the less privileged also emphasized creating good and virtuous citizens, but was focused more on what we might call vocational training for productive labor.
We can’t convert all schools – elementary, middle or high schools – into strictly vocational training and expect to produce good and virtuous citizens, capable of self-government. In our democratic society, we treat all kids as privileged in the sense that they get training in virtue and being a good citizen. They all also have the potential of serving at the highest levels of government, instead of such service being the privilege of only those born to privilege.
Empathy is a necessary element of being a good citizen, as well as a necessary component of great leadership and management. For example, it’s one of the leadership and management training sets promoted by all business schools. And the current economic recession or depression has a large component of greed and unethical and un-empathetic behavior at its core.
Parents should be teaching empathy to their children even before they’re developmentally capable of it, instead of thinking that a course as part of an M.B.A. training will ever do any good. Since many parents don’t teach empathy, and also in support of those who do, I’m glad that elementary and middle schools are intentionally making that a part of the curriculum, in addition to academic subjects. The key to teaching empathy and virtue is the character of the teacher, not the syllabus or lesson plan.
But teaching at home and in programs at school can’t be expected to solve the problem for every one, even though results in schools in the south Bronx are also encouraging. Many children and teenagers will get it; others won’t. One of the most famous examples of the impossibility of teaching everyone is Alcibiades, a brilliant, rich boy taught by Pericles at home and Socrates at school, who grew up to be unethical, unscrupulous and un-empathetic.
Humans do have free will, but that doesn’t man we stop trying to teach them. We simply try with our eyes wide open. Even in Scarsdale, as the article says, “mean girls are no less mean, and the boys will still be boys.” Also, there’s still “name-calling, gossip and other forms of social humiliation.” Bullies and bullying will always exist.
But now the schools make clear that such behavior is frowned upon. Punishing it can be very difficult because it’s such a tricky area to find appropriate responses. However, the clarity with which we label uncaring and unacceptable behavior gives every student a clear chance to judge the perpetrators and decide whether to try to join the in-crowd, ignore them or stand up for the students who are targeted..
You have a pattern of being bullied all your life?
You’re a target?
You have a chance to join such a pack of jackals and are afraid to refuse because you might get attacked?
You’re a bystander and your heart goes out to a victim?
Bullying, cutting-out and creating and attacking scapegoats comes from a deep place within us and is found in almost all cultures, places and times.
Sometimes you can see that the person on the receiving end has done many things to offend almost everyone else. But let’s put that situation aside for this post and focus on all the rest of the times when the person being cut out or attacked has been okay and the problem is the group that attacks their scapegoat.
If you’ve been bullied all your life, you have a problem that you’ll have to solve before you can deal effectively with a bullying clique. Even if you haven’t done anything wrong to the pack of predators, you’re wearing a neon sign: "Kick me." Lions, wild dogs and sharks can see who the weak and vulnerable ones are. Bullies can too. You’ll have to change your attitudes and beliefs so you’ll have a different sign: "Don’t mess with me!" Let’s also leave this situation for another post.
Many people hope to stop cliques of bullies by analyzing why they do it and then using their understanding to design solutions. Don’t waste your time. You know why some people find others to pick on. That catalogue of reasons is enough.
Management training rarely works. Textbook and educational approaches – we’ll talk and I’ll show them why it’s wrong and they’ll see the error of their ways and become caring – rarely work. They won’t stop bad behavior that’s driven by underlying emotions.
Predatory behavior by packs isn’t driven by intellectual reasons, it’s driven by emotions. Of course the perpetrators can find reasons to justify their behavior, but they don’t do the behavior because of the reasons. They do the behavior because of their own emotional needs and then they try to cover up the ugliness with a pretty picture of justifications.
Make efforts to be friendly in practical ways, in order to give them a chance to change – without doing anything immoral, illegal or odious. Bring pizza and donuts. Cover for them when they need help. Socialize with coworkers.
If they continue targeting you (which they usually will), get help to develop tactics to isolate the ringleaders or get them fired. The key goals are: separation and isolation. Terminated is better than transferred, because transferred means that you’ve helped them create another bully-scapegoat situation. How nice is that?
Get firmer and firmer. Don’t threaten or share your tactics with them. Get an attorney to advise you about local laws. Get allies – HR and managers rarely want to be involved, but give them one chance. Document, document, document.
If you have a chance to join such a pack of jackals and are afraid to refuse because you might get attacked, you have an integrity choice to make. Do you want to live in fear or do you want to win a workplace war?
If you’re a bystander and your heart goes out to a victim, you have another integrity choice to make. Often, if you help a victim, the victim won’t help in return. Be prepared to act alone, if necessary.
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.
What would you do if you were the principal of a school in which a boy’s brother records on his cell phone camera the boy getting out of the car, walking up to an unsuspecting Billy Wolfe waiting at a bus stop, punching him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead and then showing the video around the school?
What would you do when Billy gets beaten up in the bathroom or on the school bus or in shop class or in Spanish class or has a harassing facebook page directed at him? What would you do if that violence and brutality went on for three years?
What would you do if you were the parents of the bullies?
In his column in the New York Times, “A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly,” Dan Barry documents what really was done. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, the authorities did nothing at all or nothing effective. Mostly, they said it was Billy’s fault. They blamed the victim. The school bus incident was on tape but the Principal suspended Billy and only days later watched the tape and showed Billy’s parents that their son was innocent.
Because the authorities and administrators didn’t stop the bullies, it went on three years and it’s still going on now.
Of course, the school district mouths platitudes about a program to promote tolerance and respect, and protecting the identity of the perpetrators. They try to convert bullies, but they don’t stop bullies first. The district doesn’t want to get sued. That seems more important than doing anything effective. Maybe they’ll do something if Billy’s parents sue the district.
The kids at school all know what’s going on. They know that the legitimate authorities have turned their backs and given the bullies a free hand. When the responsible authorities allow bullies to control the turf, they allow violence and scape-goating, harassment and brutality.
Billy may have tried to fight back, but that doesn’t make him the problem. That just makes him one child against a gang. And with the size disparity that often happens in middle school and high school, he can’t win without adult help. When his parents went to the schools, way back at the beginning when it was only threats, the district wouldn’t act.
I’m sensitive to principals that don’t protect the victims because I’m from Denver. Remember Columbine High School. Have those ignorant, cowardly principals in Fayetteville not learned anything. There are many schools in the country in which bullying isn’t tolerated because the principals won’t tolerate it and, therefore, their teachers and staff won’t either. And they’re bound by the same laws as in Fayetteville.
Shame on those adults. They have shamed their community.