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

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

They say that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I strongly recommend three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we stop bullying in our lives by our toxic adult children? These adult bullies blame you for everything in their past and for all their problems now.  You were not really a bad parent; you didn’t do anything particularly wrong.

But when you’re with them for a while, a seemingly good visit turns ugly because they blow up and verbally or physically attack you.  No matter what you do, you’re wrong.  You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Sometimes, your child has married a controlling bully who hates you or wants you to bribe them with money with sucking up to them in order to get what you want – like seeing your child or grandchildren.  And your child goes along with their arrogant spouse’s harassment and abuse.  I’m sorry – that’s the worst kind of pain and emotional blackmail.

Sometimes they’re nice in public and only attack you in private, so you look bad if you say anything critical about them.

Even when you do what they want, later they change their mind and they attack you for having done the wrong thing.

They trigger your guilt for every little parenting mistake and your wishful thinking that if only you said the right thing or gave them enough, they’d finally forgive you and straighten their miserable lives out.

You’ve tried to do everything they want.  You’ve accepted all the blame.  You’ve given them all you have.  But they still blow up and abuse you.  They’re always right and you’re always wrong.

Now you have to face the bitter truth.  You’ll never say the right thing that they’ll accept; you’ll never do enough; they’ll never forgive you and act nice.  They’re still trying to get what they want by beating you into submission.

You keep trying to prove that your intent and behavior was caring, but you can’t prove it to them.  They always twist everything.

You’ll never stop their attacks by begging, bribery, appeasement or the Golden Rule.

You have to protect and defend your personal space from pollution by toxic predators and bullies who dump their toxic waste on you.  Think of your personal space – including your car and home – as an isle of song; your own precious island.  You have to keep narcissistic, righteous, nasty, hateful bullies off your island.

Even if the toxic polluters are your own flesh and blood, you can’t allow them to trash your environment by abusing you – in public or in private.

I know it’s painful and scary.  If you protect yourself, they’ll withhold your grandchildren, while they tell them how rotten you are.

It’s also very hard if you’re the second spouse and the grown kids are from first marriage.  Even if you were great to them before, now they abuse your spouse and maybe you also.  But the spouse you want to protect, insists that you stand by and watch them being abused.  How painful is that?

If you continue to accept abuse, even just to see the grandchildren, your child or their spouse will still never forgive or like you.  But as your grandchildren grow, they’ll learn by the example you set in taking the abuse.  They’ll learn from their parents that the best way to get what they want is to beat someone into submission, to blackmail them emotionally or to withhold what they want most.

Don’t teach your grandchildren that lesson.

What you let be poured into your life, you must deal with.  Be careful.  Guard your personal ecology.  Don't allow anyone to poison your life – even your children.

Demand quality from yourself and others.  You'll get what you put up with, so put up only with quality.

What’s the price of tolerating bullies, even for a good cause; slow erosion of your soul.

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

What do you do when someone you depend on must be gone and you have to pick up the slack?  Typical scenarios when this happens include termination, vacation, downsizing or personal crisis. To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Columbus, see: Surviving crises while that crucial someone is gone http://columbus.bizjournals.com/columbus/stories/2005/07/11/smallb4.html

For example, Brad and Harry had been partners for years and depended on each other daily.  When Brad’s father had a stroke and went into a coma, Brad’s work life stopped but Harry’s didn’t.  Harry had to do both their tasks.  But how could he complain when Brad rushed to be at his father’s side?  Brad knew Harry would understand.

As days stretched into weeks, Harry became overwhelmed.  But he certainly didn’t want his weaknesses to burden Brad, who had “more important” things on his mind.

What could Brad and Harry do to repair the torn relationship and keep the company going?  What can you do if you find yourself with a similar situation?

Here are six basic guidelines for dealing with a crisis that requires a team member to be absent from work – for details, see the original article:

  1. Always begin with the relationship.
  2. Accept that you can’t accomplish everything.
  3. Take care of yourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually.
  4. Increase communication appropriately.
  5. Avoid unilateral decisions whenever possible.
  6. No guilt; no recriminations.

Brad and Harry used a seven-question process for daily triage of their tasks. It can work for you, too – for details, see the original article.

  1. What must we do today and this week?
  2. What are we capable of doing; given the energy and help we have at this moment?
  3. What do I need your help with – physically and emotionally?
  4. What can’t I do and what won’t I do?
  5. What will I do?
  6. What must we let go of?
  7. What temporary help do we need?

By disciplining themselves to follow the process, the partnership and business withstood the crisis.

A note to senior managers: Which lower level managers will struggle unless you to provide them with this process?

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

Suppose your toxic parents want you to forgive them for the way they treated you years ago.  They sound sincere and they say that they need you to nurse them now that their health is failing.  They don’t have enough money to live well so you should support them like they once supported you.  Also, they need your help to deal with a health-care bureaucracy they don’t understand. Can you forgive them and do what they want?

Forgiveness is a loaded word. To most people, especially toxic ones, forgiveness means not only you opening your heart to them, but also you giving them what they want.  At the very least it means increased relationship and, usually, endless arguing and debating, endless servitude.

But, suppose also that, trying to help them, you’ve bounced between anger and feeling guilty.  Suppose that the last ten times you’ve forgiven them and tried to be a dutiful child, you’ve gotten entangled in painful interactions.  Every time you get close, they try to control you and you feel angry again.  They don’t listen to your needs; they think their need to have you help them is more important than your values of independence and freedom.

Forgive them and move far away – physically, mentally and emotionally. What I mean by that is:

  1. Forgive them, have compassion for their struggles, and also stop thinking about them – about 2 minutes a week might be okay.  Forgiveness means that you don’t replay all the old incidents; you don’t get angry; you don’t try to justify yourself in your eyes or theirs; they occupy very little of your mental and emotional space.
  2. Get far away physically so there are no more incidents that will trigger you again.  End contact by telephone, email, social networks.
  3. Test the relatives and acquaintances.  Who begs you to relieve them of the burden of taking care of your needy parents?  Who tries to twist your arm so that you take care of those toxic parents?  Who tries to convince you that you still owe those toxic bullies loyalty and duty?
  4. You don’t have to confront your toxic parents.  You can simply tell them the way it is for you – calmly, firmly; no debates, no arguments, no justifications, no asking for their approval or permission.  Don’t waste your time in further confrontations.
  5. When they pursue you, keep your distance.  Don’t engage.  Of course they won’t respect your desires and boundaries.  They’ve always known what’s right.  Disappear again.

Think of your personal space as a target with a bull’s eye and many concentric circles going out from the center.  The more toxic people are, the further away from the center of your life you move them.  Every time someone pollutes your environment, for whatever reason, move them at least one circle further away from you; or more if they did something you particularly don’t like.

If someone apologizes, do not move them closer.  Watch their behavior.  How long before they revert to the old harassment, bullying or abuse?  Keep moving them further away.

What if they don’t want you to forgive them?  They just want you to forget what happened and do what they want and need now.

What if they’re angry at you for what they claim you did?  What if they want you to apologize to them before they’ll forgive you?

In what circle do you want to put your toxic parents? You’re in charge of your personal space.  “Because I want to” is more than sufficient reason for placing them in any particular circle and moving them closer or further away.  At what circle do you drop them off your map?

I’d also take the same approach with toxic friends, extended family and adult children.

It’s your life; take charge of it.  Be the hero of your life.

Many situations are examined in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some common variants of this care-taking pattern are:

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

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

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

Who and what are on your list?

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 go beyond magical thinking to overcome the six most common objections to standing up to bullies.
  • 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!”

For some examples of different tactics, also see, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

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

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

Some examples:

Some examples:

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

Those are horrible scenarios but all too common.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve heard it a hundred times, “A great manager can motivate anyone.” Hogwash.

The fact is some slackers simply don’t care and are beyond motivation.  And it’s a waste of your limited time and energy to keep trying.  If you’re sick and tired and stressed out because you’ve accepted responsibility for motivating slackers, prepare for the inevitable effects of continued frustration and emotional pain.  You’ll be exhausted, burn out and get physically ill.

Unfortunately, managers often find themselves pressured to motivate everyone.  And both they and their bosses may see these managers as failures when they can’t pull it off.  It’s time to give them a break.

To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Louisville, see: Don’t stress out trying to motivate slackers http://www.bizjournals.com/louisville/stories/2007/05/28/editorial3.html

Many slackers are like teenagers who don’t want to take out the trash or clean their rooms.  They pretend they’re not responsible or don’t know how.  They act as if there’s a debate going on between them and their managers, and they don’t have to do the work unless they like the bribe.  Slackers are sneaky, manipulative bullies.

Motivating your employees is an important part of being a good manger.  It’s also important to recognize the ones who can’t be motivated, so you don’t waste time trying to do the undoable.

If they’re not performing, let them know immediately and link consequences and rewards to performanceYou can’t make them happy enough to work hardIf they don’t respond to praise or fear with increased productivity, let them look for a job where they’ll be appreciated for slacking.  Or, maybe, a termination will change their slacker attitude.

You’re not looking for people who require constant motivation and micromanagement.  You’re looking for people who come to you inspired and eager to face challenges, who take responsibility and who succeed.

Keeping a slacker forces good performers to pick up that slack.  You’re simply spreading the stress around so you don’t have to bear the whole burden.  That’s a poor reward for a good performer.  It’s as if you’re saying, “I can count on you so I’m going to give you a bonus of extra work.  We’re going to continue paying that underperforming slacker while you carry their slack in addition to the two jobs you already do.”

The most dismal cases are in organizations that promote slackers to management or allow slacking managers to stay.  That spreads slacking over a wider territory.

In the real world it’s everyone’s job, including a president or CEO, to motivate his supervisors that he’s worth keeping.  Why should it be up to your managers to motivate the slackers on your payroll?  Slackers should be working hard to motivate you to keep them.

Slackers create the same symptoms.  Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

Don’t waste your valuable people time on slackers.  You won’t make things better being a peacemakerBegging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, endless ‘second chances,’ unconditional love and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  Stop emotional bullies and stop bullying.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

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

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:

Too many women see the early warning signs of bullying and abuse, but ignore them.  They feel the jealousy, the control, the verbal and physical abuse, and the isolation.  They’re criticized, chastised, belittled and demeaned endlessly. Their money is taken away.  Their children are brutalized.  Often, the sons imitate their father’s behavior.  Often, the girls grow up to think that such harassment, bullying and abuse are normal, and they should be prepared to accept it when their turn comes.  And yet, these women stay and suffer in silence.  Often, they say they love the bullyThey don’t make the critical step of saying, “That’s enough.  I’m gone or you’re gone.”

Of course, women can inflict the same punishment and pain on their spouses.

At school, too many kids suffer in silence also. Often, kids are physically intimidated into silence. Often, kids are too ashamed to reveal their guilty secret or they don’t think their parents can or will help.  Often, they accurately see that principals, teachers, counselors and psychologists won’t help them.  Often, they think it’s their fault; they must be doing something wrong or they must be bad people in order to attract so much taunting, teasing, harassment and brutality.  Often, other kids pile on physically, verbally and by cyberbullying.

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.

Do-nothing principals promote, collude and enable bullies to flourish in the dark.  Do-nothing principals and teachers are a major factor in student suicides

In all cases, we must not be passive; instead we must respond. Suffering in silence inevitable leads people to feel like victims; helpless and hopeless.

We already know that minimizing or ignoring relentless bullies doesn’t stop them.  We know that trying to understand, forgive, appease, beg, bribe, be nice or reason with real-world bullies doesn’t stop them. The Golden rule doesn’t stop these ignorant, insensitive or narcissistic predators.

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?

What’s important is that whatever our reasons are, we already know we must overcome them.  We must act despite our feelings of reluctance.  Just like we wouldn’t be swayed by bullies’ excuses and justifications, we can’t give in to our self-bullying ones.

We must develop the will to stop bullying. I think of the will as the engine that gives us the power to go where we want to go.  The engine is the will to do whatever it takes to stop bullies – determination, courage, mental and emotional strength, perseverance, resilience, endurance, being relentless.  The old word, still perfectly good, was grit.

Of course, we need skills – learning how to steer.  But without an engine, all our skills, all our ability to steer, won’t matter.  Without an engine we won’t get anywhere.

Don’t suffer in silenceDon’t whine or complain; speak up.  Give yourself a chance.  Test the world: Who’ll help you and who won’t.  That tells you about them and whether you want to vote them off your island.

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

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

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.

It’s also natural for us to think that bullies are so ashamed they wouldn’t confess and apologize in public.  There are a very small percentage of bullies who will stop after a private apology, but don’t be fooled.  Most will continue manipulating and abusing us after a private apology.  If they give reasons, excuses and justifications, or blame us for their bad behavior, that’s a bad sign.

Don’t be like all those battered women (and men) – beaten verbally, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically – whose abusers come with an apology and want to be taken back in as if nothing happened.  The apology – and maybe candy the next time and flowers the time after – counts for nothing.

Forgiveness, unconditional love, appeasement, understanding and the Golden Rule don’t change real-life bullies. Don’t give into begging or bribery.

Keep those perpetrators at a great distance.  Or give them another chance if you want, but from a great distance.  Make them behave wonderfully for at least five years.  If they can’t court you for five years, vote them off your island.

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.”

We might even suggest acts that we’ll count to mean that the bully has really changed.  That’s how we find out if someone is actually a friend or is a false friend, or if we’ll only be hearing words but not seeing deeds.

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.

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

I attended a wonderful presentation on cyberbullying and sexting by an officer from a local police department.  The question came up about spying on our teenagers’ phones and computers: “Do our teenagers have a right to privacy?”  That was followed by the question: “If we spy on our teens, how can they consider us friends?  They’ll never open up to us.  Won’t that thwart our efforts?” Let’s distinguish between two types of threats to our teenagers:

  1. Adult predators who lure them and groom them – whether to exploit them or to gain personal, family information to use against their parents.
  2. Other teens who will slam them, cyberbully them and share sexted pictures.

Although most parents worry about the first situation, most kids worry about the second or will blow it off as “Drama.”  But the answer is the same in either case.

My answers to the big questions about privacy are essentially the same as that officer’s:

  • Teenagers have no privacy.  I want us to know what our kids are doing so we can help them.  We’ve been there and done that and have more wisdom, even though they don’t think so.  If we don’t have wisdom, we should make learning a first priority.
  • As long as they’re dependent on us and we’re responsible for them, we must know.  They may be more technically savvy but we can learn enough.  That’s what our friends are for.
  • There are values more important than that they like us.  Some of these are that we protect them (even from themselves) as best we can and that they know there are limitations and boundaries they must obey.  Of course, I hope they understand.  But even if they don’t understand – especially when they think it’s not fair or they can take care of themselves – those are the “house rules.”

We hope that much of this can be preventative.  Wouldn’t we like to stop our daughter before she sends a nude photo to a boyfriend?  We can say, “How many of your friends’ parents are still with the boyfriends they loved forever way back in middle and high school?”  How many of your friends’ parents were viciously attacked by their ex’s when they broke up?  How many of your friends’ parents were harassed, taunted, bullied, abused and mobbed by people they used to be friends with?

Wouldn’t we like to know if our kids are being pressured to be bystanders instead of witnesses? Or if they know there’s mobbing and they’re being tempted or pressured to pile on?

In addition, of course, we can be alert to the first signs of cyberbullying.  Have they withdrawn or stopped eating, being with friends, or wanting to go to school?  Have they become emotionally labile (mood swings, happy, crying, excited, depressed, angry, hysterical all in 10 seconds)?  Do they engage in negative self-talk and put-downs?  Do they lack self-confidence and self-esteem?  Are they changing everything in order to get friends or please boy or girlfriends?  Are they anxious, stressed, not sleeping?

When they accuse us of not trusting them, we already know the answers:

  • It’s not about trust; it’s about experience, wisdom and safety.
  • They’ve hidden, lied and deceived us before and will do so again.  Of course we don’t trust them, just like our parents shouldn’t have trusted us.
  • It’s about which risks we’ll allow them to take and which we won’t.

When they insist that they’re old enough to make their own decisions, we also know the answer to that: “When you’re capable of supporting yourself and living independently, then you’re old enough to be responsible for yourself.

As for their opening up because we’re their friends; how many of us opened up to our parents – or would have if they tried to be our friends?  We thought we could or had to solve things on our own or we knew better than to open up.

Whether we physically check phone and computer logs or we also use spyware, we must take the initiative.  If they don’t like it, they don’t need a phone.  Also, we should take steps to find out about their friends and what their friends’ parents allow or encourage.

Unfortunately, too many examples can be found in the headlines of what happen when parents don’t know what their teens are doing.

I’m not suggesting we become the thought-police or “Big Brother.”  There’s no need to go overboard.

How many cyberbullying-caused suicides does it take before we start acting like responsible parents and ferret out what’s going on?  We can’t force reluctant principals to act unless we know what’s going on.  We can’t get law enforcement to act unless we know what’s going on.

You might also check the Verizon cyberbullying site for more information: Verizon Expert Panel, #1, “Understanding and Preventing Cyberbullying:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeXCT8I4uFU&feature=relmfu

Verizon Expert Panel, #2, “When does rude cross the line, online:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzuguaf-hlU&feature=channel_video_title

Verizon Expert Panel, #3, “Is your child being cyberbullied?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZKNgh3_ZjA&feature=relmfu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their tactics had to be situational.

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

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

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

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.

The real mistake is when we allow ourselves to be bullied, scolded and chastised.

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.

This is about the “so what” if we made a mistake.

There’s a big different between reviewing behavior to see what could have been done better and being scolded or chastised.  There’s a big difference between recognizing our mistakes and determining to do better versus being beaten into submission, verbally or physically, in order to make a point.

You know how it feels when a predator gleefully pounces on you with, “I gotcha.  Now I can beat you.”

Some common examples:

So the first action message is not to allow yourself to be talked to that way.  Period.  Not even “when you deserve it.”  If you catch it early it’s easy to end the relationship.

That method of negative self-talk stimulates self-bullying perfectionism as if, “If I’m not perfect, I’m worthless and deserve to fail and get beaten.”  Allowing yourself to be scolded and chastised increases anxiety, stress and depression, and leads to self-doubt and low self-confidence and self-esteem.  If you allow those nasty, hostile, personal attacks in your space you increase your helplessness and hopelessness.

People who bully this way simply from ignorance and habit can understand rapidly, even though breaking the old habit will take longer.  Allow as many chances as your spirit can take easily, but no more.

People who enjoy the feeling of righteous power rarely change.  You can’t reason, appease or forgive them or love them enough to change them.  The Golden Rule won’t help youVote them off your island before they destroy you.

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.

Get expert coaching to change these patterns for yourself and others.  Otherwise you create and reinforce an Island in which bullying must occur in order for change to occur.

Many bullies succeed in getting what they want by being angry.  Even if they don’t hit physically, they beat their targets verbally, mentally and emotionally.  And the threat of physical violence makes other people give in.  These bullies have enough control that they haven’t been arrested and sent to prison.  That’s why I think of their anger as a tactic. I’ve coached many of these bullies through the stage of anger management to finally ending anger and creating a different way of Being in the world.

But let’s focus here on what the spouses of these bullies can do in order to have bully-free lives.

For many of these bullies anger is a whole way of life.  Their rage is a tactic operating 24/7.  No matter what’s going on, no matter what we do to try to please them, they always find something to be angry about.  Any moment of peace is just the calm before the storm.

However these bullies got that way – and there are only a small number of typical scenarios – they mastered the use of anger years ago so it feels natural, like that’s who they are, like it’s their identity. They love “revving their engines.” They feel strong and powerful when they’re angry.  They always find good reasons and excuses to be angry, they always find people who are wrong and dumb in the news of the world or in their personal lives.  And they always focus on what’s wrong or dumb, and respond to it by getting angry and enraged.

If something in the moment isn’t worth getting angry about, they think of bad things that happened or that might happen so they can get angry.  Then they “kick the dog” – whoever happens to be around and does or says something wrong, or does or says nothing and that’s what’s wrong.  You or the kids think you’re having an innocent conversation when suddenly you’re attacked for being dumb, stupid, ignorant, wrong, insulting – or simply breathing.

The attack escalates into a listing of all your faults – which loser in the family you’re just like, you’ll always be a loser, you’re lucky to be alive and with them because you’d fail without them.  Their anger is never their fault; you’re always to blame.  Even if they don’t brutally beat you and the kids, the verbal and emotional abuse takes its toll.

Victims feel blame, shame and guilt.  Victims suffer anxiety, fear, frustration, panic and terror.  They lose self-confidence and self-esteem. They feel like they have to be perfect in order to deserve good treatment.  They feel isolated and helpless.  Targeted children often grow up with negative self-talk and self-doubt; they often move on to self-mutilation or rage and revenge of their own.  They often grow up playing out the roles of bully or victim in their marriages.

Seven tips to keep anger out of your personal space:

  1. Don’t be an understanding therapist. Your understanding, forgiveness, unconditional love and the Golden Rule won’t change or cure them.  And you’re not being paid as a therapist.  Those approaches simply prolong the behavior and the typical cycle of anger and rage, followed by guilt and remorse, followed by promises and good behavior temporarily, followed by the next episode of angry and rage.  Or the typical escalating spiral of anger, rage and self-righteous justification.  The reason the bullying continues is not that those bullies haven’t been loved enough; it’s that the behavior is a success strategy.  It’s never been stopped with strong enough consequences that the bully has enough reason to learn a new way of Being in the world.
  2. Don’t minimize, excuse or accept justifications. See anger as a choice.  If you accept that anger is a normal or appropriate response to what they’re angry at, if you accept that anger or any emotion is too big to manage (e.g., that they’re in the grips of something bigger than themselves) them you’re right back to “the devil made me do it.”  That’s the same excuse, even though the modern words for “the devil” are heredity, brain chemistry, what their parents did to them, how they never learned better.
  3. The best thing you can do to help both of you is to have consequences that matter. That’s the only way to stimulate change.
  4. Face your fears. Don’t be defeated by defeat.  Protect yourself.  Be a good parent and model for yourself and your children.  Emotional control – control of moods, attitudes and actions – and focus of attention are the first things we all must learn.  These bullies haven’t learned.  Lack of success in this area gets big, painful consequences.
  5. Make your space anger-free. You and the children are targets, not victims.  Their anger is not your fault.  Dedicate yourself to protecting yourself and the children.  Decide that only behavior counts, not psychoanalysis.  Clear your space.  Don’t give an infinite number of second chances.  Either they leave or you and the kids leave, depending on the circumstances.
  6. Promises no longer count. The lesson for your children is that when we’re very young, we get by on a lot of promises and potential, but when we become older than about 10, only performance counts.  Let these bullies learn to practice changing on other people’s bodies.  How much time do you need before you become convinced that they’ve faced a lot of potential triggers and mastered a different way of dealing with them?  A year?  Two?  Three?  Forever?  Do this because you want and need to in order to have a chance at the happiness you want, in order to have a chance to find people who treat you the way you want.
  7. Be smart and tactical. Of course, the longer you’ve known them, the harder it will be.  Dump angry jerks on the first date; don’t hook up with them.  Get legal advice.  Get help and support.  Get witnesses.  Don’t listen to people who want you to be a more understanding therapist.  File for divorce.  Get custody of the children.  Get the police on your side.

Post #176 – How to Know if You’re Bullied and Abused

Men aren’t the only angry bullies.  We all know about angry, vicious women on dates or in marriage.  There are clichés about venomous wives and mothers-in-law because there are so many.  Everything I’ve said applies to them also.

Many people still have friends that use anger to control interactions.

At work, angry, bullying bosses and co-workers are also clichés because there are so many.  Anger often succeeds at work.  Both the feeling of power and the success at making people do what bullies want function as aphrodisiacs.  And the addiction must be fed.

Be strong nside.  Ask for what you want.  You’ll get what you’re willing to put up with.  So only put up with good behavior.

All tactics are situational so expert coaching is required.  We’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

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

Many coaching clients call me saying, “Since he didn’t beat me physically, I didn’t realize I was being bullied and abused.  At least, not until I read your articles.  Is it too late for me?  Can you help me?”  Of course, since you’ve made it this far, it’s not too late, although it may take a lot of effort. But let’s look at what’s behind the idea that we don’t know if we’re being bullied and abused unless we’re being physically beaten.

Using some typical early warning signs, we might recognize controlling husbands or wives even if they don’t hit:

  1. He changed from charming to controlling, sometimes step by step.
  2. They make the rules; they control everything.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  3. Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”
  4. They isolate you.
  5. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips.
  6. They don’t take your kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop.  They take your passivity as an invitation to bully you more.

It’s the same at work, at school and in romance.

Or we might recognize the seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists:

  1. They think they know best about everything.
  2. Their excitement is contagious and sweeps you along.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.
  4. They’re more important than you are.
  5. They think their rules should rule.
  6. Everyone is a pawn in their game.
  7. They think their excuses should excuse them.

Indeed, many women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”

The underlying problem for people who don’t know if they’re being bullied or abused is that when we use a definition or standard that’s on the outside of us the definition doesn’t include all situations or the standards aren’t relevant to us or we’re never certain if our judgment is accurate.  Using an arbitrary, external standard is like using a quick quiz of twenty questions in a magazine to see if we’re bullied, abused, in love, truly compatible, a good person, likely to succeed…or anything else.  External standards aren’t the right place to look.

The hidden assumptions behind that way of thinking are that:

  1. Outside standards and definitions are crucial.  We depend on other people, maybe so-called experts, to tell us what’s right and normal and true.
  2. We can’t act until we’re sure that we or they are in some category as defined by those external standards.  That is, unless we’re sure the other person is a bully we’re not allowed to act.  Or we can’t act until we’ve tried everything to help them change.  Or until we’re sure it’s not our fault, we don’t deserve the treatment, it’s his fault and we’re victims we shouldn’t act.

Both of those assumptions are wrong.  Yet both of those assumptions are why people allow themselves to stay in very painful situations year after year, even as their self-confidence and self-esteem diminish.

A better test To decide whether we should act or not, instead of the external standards and definitions, use an internal test.  We can simply ask ourselves, “Am I in pain?  Do I want to be treated this way?”

Notice that these questions are about us; about how much things hurt, about our desire to get away from the pain, about what we’ll allow in our personal space.  We don’t need some external standards of right or wrong, normal or abnormal.  We don’t need the self-doubt, self-questioning and negative self-talk that come from asking questions like, “Is it my fault?  What have I done wrong?  Do I deserve this?  Is this the way it’s supposed to be?”

Simply start by saying, “Ouch.  Cut it out.  Act better or you’re gone.  I don’t care what your reasons, justifications or excuses are; act nicer or I’m gone.”

Then, we become the standard.  If we’re being taunted, teased, harassed, bullied and abused verbally, mentally and emotionally, and we don’t like it, that’s more than enough reason to get away.  It’s that simple.  We create distance, not because of some external standards, but because we want to.  That’s more than enough reason.

Every one of the people who wrote or called for coaching was immediately able to answer the questions about how the treatment felt.  When they recognized and accepted their pain as important and sufficient, they wanted to resist.  They immediately were angry and determined to get away.  Their spirits rose.  They felt strong and courageous.  Good for them.

When they learned effective skills and techniques, they could resist successfully.  Since all tactics are situational and the abuse has usually gone on for a long time, you’ll probably need expert coaching.  We’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults in very difficult situations taking command of themselves and succeeding.  For personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

I’ve often seen principals, guidance counselors, teachers and district administrators recommend mediation even for relentless school bullies and their targets, even after the bully has taunted, teased, harassed and abused the target for months and the school officials haven’t changed the bully’s behavior by asking, encouraging, begging and bribing the bully. In these situations, the principals finally give up and throw the burden back on the defenseless targets by saying that the kids have to work things out on their own.  In these circumstances, this recommendation is a cowardly abdication of adult responsibility and authority, and it’s totally wrong.

Of course mediation and the weight of peer opinion and condemnation can be effective in some cases.  For example, in situations in which two kids got into it with one time, it’s possible to bring them together and build a bridge of civility and even respect.

But in recommending one-to-one mediation when the school officials have already failed, the officials have taken the third step in converting your targeted child into a victim:

  1. The first step was in not protecting the target, in not removing the bully, in not having consequences for the bully and his family the next time the bullying occurred, in not kicking the bully out of school.
  2. The second step in converting targets into victims is usually taken in cases where the principal, teachers, counselors and school district administrators have been unable to rehabilitate the bully through asking, teaching, begging and bribing the bully.  They make the target pay the price by removing him from the classroom or by simply looking the other way when the bully acts and then stonewalling and lying to the target’s parents.  They hope the target will be less stubborn than the bully and will agree to suffer in silence.  However, when the bully realizes that he has power, he usually increases his violence because no adult is making him stop bullying and other kids are afraid of him because he can get away with doing what he wants.
  3. The third step that uncaring, lazy, weak, inept or cowardly principals take is when they blame the target.  They say, “You must be doing something wrong because the bully’s still picking on you.  Therefore, if you get together and apologize and promise to do whatever the bully wants, he won’t have a good reason to abuse you.  If you can’t make him change, it’s your fault.”  They call that “Mediation.”  That kind of mediation assumes that the target did something wrong, that the bully has good reason to be angry and abusive, and that the bully will stop when the target grovels.  That form of mediation completely ignores the truth that relentless bullies are predators. For whatever reasons – their own pain, their drive for power and position – they will keep bullying until they’re actually stopped.

This approach makes the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  They’ll be victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide. Parents, when principals have gone on weeks and months making excuses why they allow the bullying to continue, they’re telling you that you’re on your own.

  • They won’t stop the bully; they’ll look the other way.  They’ll let your child sink or swim on his own in the shark-infested waters of the playground, cafeteria, lockers, hallways, bathroom or bus.
  • They don’t care about your child’s feelings or problems.  They either care about the bully’s feelings more or they simply don’t want to deal with a difficult problem.  Don’t let your child entertain self-doubt or negativity.  Don’t give in to stress, anxiety, hopelessness or depression.  Don’t go down that path to helplessness and suicideKeep your child’s confidence and self-esteem high.  You and your child can stay strong and courageous; you can stop the bully.
  • Encourage your child to maintain his inner strength and move up a staircase of increasing firmness to try to get the bully to look for easier prey.  All tactics depend on the situation, but there are some general guidelines.
    • At the bottom of the staircase we try peaceful, friendly methods.  We ignore it, we say ouch, we ask the bully to stop, we try to deflect it with jokes, we avoid contact.  If that stops the bully, your child wasn’t really dealing with a relentless bully.  If the bully doesn’t stop, if the violence continues, we need to teach our children to push back verbally.
    • If verbal methods don’t stop the bully and the school officials won’t stop the bullying, especially with younger kids, when it’s one-to-one and the kids are the same size, your child must be prepared to beat up the bully, if possible.  Prepare your child with martial arts training.  Of course you must be aware that the older a bully is, the more likely he is to be carrying a weapon.  I’m going to this level because you’ve already failed using every peaceful means you can.
    • I’m assuming that the principal and district administrators have not stopped the bullying while you’ve been talking to them and your child has slowly gone up the staircase.  Of course, when your child hits back those cowardly principals will attack your child because, they’ll say, “We don’t condone violence,” even though they permitted the bully to be violent for months.  And usually, they permitted his friends to pile on by attacking your child verbally and physically or through cyberbullying.  They’ll suspend your child for fighting back.  Arrange for your child to be prepared and happy.  Go to Disney World as if you won the Super Bowl.  If the bullying stops because your child is ready to fight again, it’s worth the trip.
  • Since you won’t have legal redress – principals can’t be fired if they don’t stop bullies – your only alternative is plenty of bad publicity.  You’ll need a lawyer and the ear of sympathetic reporters.  Get your documentation together and make it public; minutes of all the meetings with the principal, emails and letters received by the principal expressing your concerns for your child’s safety and containing the minutes of the meetings.  Look for a reporter or station manager who was bullied and not protected when he or she was a child.  They might champion your cause.
  • The most important consideration is your child.  Eventually, you want your child to get a good education.  You must increase his strength, courage, character and will.  You want him grow up to look back at the bully and the authorities who didn’t protect him as insignificant.  They were speed bumps in his life that he’s overcome and doesn’t even think about now because his life is so wonderful.  That may mean that you remove your child from the care of school officials who don’t care about his physical, mental and emotional well-being and safety.

By the time the principal suggests mediation, you know you’ve given them too much time and trust.  You’ve been in an adversarial relationship and you didn’t recognize it.  Now you know.  Act wisely and tactically.

If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials who aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right.  We can plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

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

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

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Jane’s sister, Betty, seemed to have been born with a vicious tongue.  She attacked everyone relentlessly.  Holidays with the extended family were a misery for Jane and her family.  Nobody, not even their mother, stopped Betty.  Everyone was afraid to complain directly to Betty.  If they did, Betty would turn on them even more spitefully before. According to Betty, nobody’s children were good enough – they were all ugly, stupid, ignorant, mean or bad.  They were too fat or too skinny; they ate too much or too little; they ate too fast or too slow.  They dreamed too big for their non-existent talents.

Betty laughed joyfully when she pounced on someone’s mistakes, no matter how trivial or irrelevant.  Their choices were always wrong, their clothes and manners were wrong.  Betty always knew better and rubbed everyone’s nose in it.

Some of Betty’s reasons excuses and justifications for why she was so hostile were:

  • “I’m right.”
  • “Those are my feelings.  It’s my honest opinion.  You wouldn’t want me to repress how I feel, would you?”
  • “You're too sensitive.”
  • “I’m doing it for their own good.  You’re too soft on them.  They’ll never get better if you don’t correct them.”
  • “I had to take it when I was a kid.  It’ll make them stronger and tougher.”
  • “They have to learn to take it.  They’ll get it like that in the real-world.”

Of course, everyone can have a bad day and be grumpy.  But with Betty, it was everyday and it was relentless, hostile and mean-spirited.

The family had many reasons, excuses and justifications for why they allowed her to behave the way she did: “That was just the way Betty was and had always been.  She’d probably been hurt a lot when she was little.  She was probably jealous and couldn’t hold it in.  If we say anything, it’ll only get worse and it’ll split the family into warring camps.”

I’ve seen many Betty’s of the world use the same reasons and excuses as justification on one side and, on the other side, many families use the same words to forgive bullies when they harass, taunt, abuse and verbally, emotionally and physically batter family members or people at work.  Bullying spouses and teenagers, and toxic parents and adult children are masters at giving excuses and arguing forever.

Bullies want us to try to argue with their reasons, excuses and justifications.  The more we argue, the more we’re engaged without their ever changing.  If we make a good point, they’ll change the subject and give another excuse or cite a different time when they were right.  They’ll never admit that they need to change; that’s how we know they’re bullies.

Or, if we challenge them, they’ll explode and make our lives miserable.  And it’ll go on forever until we give up and simply accept the abuse.  That’s how we know they’re bullies.

Or, if we challenge them, their feelings will be so hurt that they’ll withdraw into a very loud silent treatment.  And it’ll go on forever until we give up, admit we were cruel, promise never to attack them again and simply accept the abuse.  That’s how we know they’re bullies. What can Jane do?  Remember, all tactics have to be designed to fit our specific situations, what we want to accomplish and the limits of our comfort zones.

Jane once asked Betty not to say anything to Jane’s children; Betty was hurting them and Jane had told them take it because Betty was their aunt.  But Betty hadn’t changed.  Finally, Jane decided that she wasn’t going to expose herself and her family to any more of Betty’s abuse.  She’d end the unrelenting negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame and guilt-trips.

She decided to use a stepwise approach that had been successful with a friend who’d acted like Betty.  At each step Jane would get more firm.  About half way along the path, Jane’s friend had changed rather than lose Jane’s friendship.  If Betty didn’t change, Jane would simply avoid any occasion to be together.

Jane’s steps were:

  1. Once again, she asked Betty to stop talking the way she did and to find nice things to say.  She asked Betty to be nicer, kinder and more polite to family than she would be to strangers.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  2. She didn’t debate or argue with any of Betty’s reasons, excuses or justifications.  She simply said that she was asking Betty to change what she said.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  3. She told Betty she wanted her to feel differently but if she couldn’t, she still wanted her to take charge of her tongue and to repress herself; being an abusive bully is worse than repressing herself.  But Betty didn’t stop.
  4. She told Betty that if the brutality continued, she wouldn’t come if Betty was present. That would cause a rift in the family and it would be Betty’s fault.  Betty didn’t stop.
  5. Jane told the family she’d decided that she’d never let bullies treat her and her family the way Betty did.  She had to take charge of keeping them safe from people who polluted their emotional environment.  She asked them to choose the behavior they’d support even if that meant they all told Betty to change or they’d stop inviting her.  Jane reminded them of what Mr. Spock said, “Never sacrifice the many for the sake of the one.”  But Betty didn’t stop.

At each step, Jane felt that she was being more and more firm, and more and more clear about the consequences.  Jane was not making emotional, but idle threats; she did what she’d promised.

Jane decided that behavior was more important than blood.  More important than victimizing her children by subjecting them to their Aunt Betty’s viciousness, was setting a good example by protecting them from abuse.  She didn’t want them to experience the anxiety, stress and discouragement that had accompanied visits with Betty.  That meant they didn’t see Betty any more.  That also meant they saw the rest of the family only on one-to-one occasions when Betty was not present.

Over the years, Jane saw that the rest of the family still made excuses for Betty’s behavior.  Sometimes someone would argue with a specific statement or reason or excuse, but Betty would argue forever and not take back what she said or how she said it.  They still looked for psychological reasons for why she acted that way, as if, if they knew why, they could say some magic words and Betty would be cured and become civil.

Over the years, the same conversations were replayed after extended family gathering except in Jane’s house.  There, Jane and her family had a wonderful time; free from criticism, bullying and abuse; free from the endless re-hashing of Betty’s latest attacks.

Once Jane had cleared the abuse out of her family’s life, they were able to find friends they loved being with.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to give in to or argue with bullies’ excuses, reasons and justifications.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

You may be the target of a bully, but you don’t have to be a victim. Bullies can go after you in many ways; physically harming you or threatening to hurt you; inflicting emotional pain through harassment, relentless criticism, taunting, put-downs, cutting out, manipulation, controlling, back-stabbing, spreading rumors, telling secrets, embarrassing you or generally mean behavior; cyberbullying.

In all these situations, the first step in defending yourself and in stopping bullies is the same and always has been.  This is the first step, even before you use any programs that are designed to stop bullies in schools or at work.

For instance, we can go back to Homer’s “Odyssey.”  At the end, after Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, have killed all the abusive suitors, they flee with two faithful servants to the mountain home of Odysseus’ father, Laertes.  They know they will pursued by all the older men of the city, the fathers and uncles of the dead suitors.

In the final confrontation, hopelessly outnumbered, Laertes kills the father of the most evil suitor.  Odysseus loses control of himself and goes berserk.  He advances in a murderous rage to kill all the fathers and uncles.

Athena suddenly appears and speaks the words that that exemplify a central belief of the Greeks about how to face whatever the world throws at you – whether overwhelming odds, verbal and physical abuse, unfairness, your fear and hesitation, your loss of self-control, bullies.

Take Athena’s command out of context – it’s not about the trigger; it’s about your necessary first step in response to any situation.

Athena says, “Odysseus!  Command yourself!”  And when Athena commands, we best listen.

There it is; the key to all success; the start of everything we must do – “Command yourself.”

Begin by commanding yourself.  In Odysseus’ case, commanding himself meant not starting a bloodbath, which would lead to generations of vendettas that would ruin the country.

In the case of facing a bully, we must take charge of ourselves, gather ourselves and command ourselves.  Even when we don’t know how things will turn out, we do know that we want to act bravely, resolutely and greatly.  Therefore, command yourself and go for it; 110%.

If we give in to fear, anxiety, perfectionism and self-doubt, we’ll do nothing to protect ourselves – we’ll become victims of our own panic and terror.  If we give in to anger and rage, we’ll explode, act unskillfully and do things we’ll regret.  If we don’t command ourselves, we’ll lose confidence and self-esteem; we’ll get depressed and become easy victims of the predators.

If we don’t command ourselves, nothing we do will have the power and energy needed to succeed.  We’ll be weak, hesitant, vacillating.  We’ll become victims.  We’ll take our first steps down the path to suicide.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can learn to command ourselves.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.

We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being targeted by bullies and to stop bullies in their tracks.  We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

When we command ourselves, we can overcome whatever confronts us.  We will let nothing crush us; our spirits will remain strong.  We can plan and take charge of our actions.  We can act with strength, courage and skill.  We can act with perseverance and resilience.  We can get the help we need.  We can succeed.

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

 

Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller.  She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures. If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame.  Amy Chua is an abusive bully.

She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.

They also won’t suffer from anxiety, nightmares, negative self-talk and depression because they’ll be successful in her real world.  The bullying and beatings will make them as tough as nails.  They’ll wipe out your kids; you lazy, slacking, guilt-ridden, ambivalent, permissive American parents.

Some of her ideas and claims are:

  • “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
  • “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.”  Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
  • “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches.  Chinese parents aren't.  They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
  • “Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them.  If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough.  That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences.”

Therefore, she proudly states that never allowed her daughters to:

  • “attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.”

Why will some people take her seriously? People who think that American culture produces only losers – selfish, lazy, narcissistic, weak, slacker teenagers and adults who will never succeed – will be tempted to improve their children’s test scores acting like Ms. Chua did.  People who enjoy beating their children into submission will be tempted to use her ideas as a justification for dominating and abusing their children.  People who think that China is the next rising super-power and that today’s Chinese children will rule the world and our children won’t be strong and determined enough to stop them will be tempted to channel their children down Ms. Chua’s narrow track.

There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.

What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?

  • She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
  • She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
  • She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet.  I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
  • She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”).  If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
  • She assumes that there’s only one way to get children to work and succeed.  Because no children want to work at the right subjects, you must beat them into submission physically, verbally and emotionally.
  • She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
  • There’s almost no joy in their lives.  Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise.  But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning.  There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.

Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost. This is a great and necessary value.  It has made our society the first world.  But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.

No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks.  She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection.  That’s why people take it so personally.  Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons.  These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.

Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx.  She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon.  When she grew up she sued him.

A better approach:

  • Have you observed your children individually and carefully?  One approach does not fit them all.
  • Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own?  Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out?  This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
  • What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own?  Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you?  How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
  • Character is critical.  All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs.  What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn?  Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
  • Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it.  You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.

By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.”  In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices.  In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her.  That’s not the answer either.

All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.

Instead, find the fire in your children and feed that fire.  Help them become skillful and competent in areas that matter most to them.  Help them create a life that’s uniquely theirs, not one you think is proper or best for them.

Why do I say that Ms. Chua is abusive and a bully?  Let’s review – what do “Chinese Mothers” and bullies have in common.

  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” don’t care what you think or how much pain you feel.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” can do what they want to you and you’d better like it.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are right and righteous.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are the best because they’re the winners in life.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” beat you into submission for your own good.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” isolate you and make you dependent on them.

My conclusion is that if it looks like a bully, if it acts like a bully and if it feels like bullying then it’s a bully, even if it calls itself “Mommie Dearest.”

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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