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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead of testing ourselves, we can test the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
24 CommentsPost a comment

In his New York Times Op-Ed column, Charles M. Blow reported on the experience of his three children and the results of a study conducted by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, which interviewed more than 43,000 high school students.  He reports that the study showed:

  • “Boys who went to private religious schools were most likely to say that they had used racial slurs and insults in the past year as well as mistreated someone because he or she belonged to a different group.
  • Boys at religious private schools were the most likely to say that they had bullied, teased or taunted someone in the past year.
  • While boys at public schools were the most likely to say that it was O.K. to hit or threaten a person who makes them very angry, boys at private religious schools were just as likely to say that they had actually done it.”

In addition, he says that, “While some public schools have issues with academic attainment, it appears that some private schools have issues with tolerance.  No person is truly better when they lack this basic bit of civility.”

Most of the discussion and argument will focus on whether or not his general conclusions are correct about most private versus public schools.  And many people will base their conclusions on their personal experience in each type of school.

But the important point is not about the generalizations.  Don’t get distracted by academic speculation about the generalizations.  The important point is about the schools your children are going to.

If your children are going to a school that tolerates or encourages other children to think that they’re special and, therefore, that they can tease, taunt, mistreat, bully or abuse people who are different, that’s the situation you need to focus on.

Children need to feel that they’re special and that high standards of behavior are expected of them.  The problem is caused by the idea that, therefore, they can scorn or torment other people who aren’t in their group or who are different.

Bullies will target any difference they can find.  It’s not the difference that causes bullying; it’s the bullies who find the difference.  Of course bullies will focus on race, religion, color, gender, sexual preference, etc.  But we all also know examples of mean girls and mean boys who bully people they decide are too tall or short, too skinny or fat, or who have different hair color or hair style, or different clothes, or who aren’t as fashionable or faddish.

Their bullying can range from verbal, emotional and cyber-bullying to physical violence.  They form cliques or gangs to harass, cut-out, put-down, torment and abuse their targets.  If responsible adults don’t intervene and stop the behavior, bullies will be emboldened to push every boundary and to take power.  Unfortunately, mean parents often encourage their kids; sharing their prejudices and hatreds or thinking that popularity is worth any price.  Also, bullying parents will protect and defend their bullying kids, like Lucius Malfoy protecting his rotten son, Draco, in the Harry Potter series.

I’ve consulted with principals, teachers and staff of both public and private schools, who won’t ignore, tolerate or support bullying.  And we have developed effective programs to stop bullying.  In addition, I’ve seen both public and private schools in which principals, teachers and staff look the other way or condone or even applaud harassment, bullying and abuse.  Some even think that building school spirit this way is worth sacrificing a few weaklings or sinners.

I’ve also coached families of children in both public and private schools to help them learn how to stop bullies and how to be skillful when dealing with reluctant, do-nothing principals.  The “reasons” for the bullying usually vary from situation to situation, but the tactics used by bullies are the similar across the board.

More than generalization to be discussed and disputed intellectually at a party, we’re hit home emotionally by what happens to our children.  If one school, whether public or private, doesn’t stop bullies and it’s your children’s school, that’s the one that counts in your life.

But there is one generalization that cuts across all lines; we can stop bullies before we’ve analyzed in detail the reasons why a particular kid or group of kids selects its target(s) and long before we can teach them to have increased empathy and tolerance.  The first step is always having clear, firm and immediate consequences for the perpetrators.

If we don’t stop bullying and abuse, we’ll continue the downward spiral of stress, anxiety, negativity and depression; of loss of self-confidence and self-esteem; and of increased suicides among targets who become victims because the responsible adults didn’t protect and defend them.

In her article in the New York Times, “The Playground Gets Even Tougher,” Pamela Paul points out that Mean Girls begin their nasty, vicious harassment, bullying and abuse on the playground and in pre-school.  They don’t wait until fifth grade or junior high school. In my experience, mean girls put down targeted kids for whatever reasons they can find – from poor, discounted, unfashionable clothes or the lack of the latest cell phones and bling, to race, religion, physical differences and hair color.  Mean girls also form cliques that ostracize, exclude and cut-out their targets or scapegoats.  Mean girl behavior cuts across all socio-economic categories – inner-city, rural, suburban and expensive, private schools.  The movies, “Mean Girls” and “Camp Rock,” give some graphic examples.

Consequences for the targets can include stomach aches, throwing up and pulling hair out before school, as well as anxiety, nightmares, sleep walking and excessive crying.  Even worse are self doubt, negative self-talk, self-hatred and loathing, loss of confidence and destruction of self-esteem.  Too often, suicide and its effects on families and communities follow. Childhood bullies and mean girls who aren’t stopped usually grow up to become bullying adult as spouses, parents, friends, and at work as co-workers and bosses.  Similarly, targets who become victims unable to stop bullies usually grow to become adult victims as spouses, parents, friends, and at work as co-workers and bosses.

Of course, mean boys are just as bad as mean girls and mean dads are just as bad as mean moms.

In my experience, mean behavior is a natural tactic for many girls to try – children naturally try to take all the toys and to feel powerful and superior by putting down other girls.  Even when they’re very young, some shift into forming mean girl cliques. Let’s point the finger at the source: With children this young, the problem is their parents Mean girls have parents who fail their responsibility to channel their daughters into better ways of acting.  The four-fold problem is:

  • Mean moms who ignore mean girl behavior at home, on the playground and in preschool.  These moms have many opportunities to step in and teach their daughters how to do better in age-appropriate ways, but they don’t.  I think of these as absentee moms, whatever their reasons – whether they’re simply uncaring or not paying attention or don’t want to deal with it or not physically present.  Nannies can be even less responsible, especially if their employers don’t want to hear about it.
  • Mean moms who set a bad example by acting mean to their extended families, to their children and to helpless servers in all forms – waiters, checkout clerks, nannies, maids, etc.  Mean girls imitate what they see and hear from their mean moms, not pious platitudes or empty commands thrown at them.
  • Mean moms who encourage mean girl behavior.  They enjoy watching their daughters be popular, superior and controlling.  They may think it’s cute and a sign of leadership potential, but whatever they think, they train their daughters to be mean.
  • Mean moms who protect and defend their mean daughters when they get feedback about mean behavior.  Of course, one-in-a-million children will be sneaky enough to be mean only when their parents aren’t looking.  Sneaky, mean girls can bully targets by acting as if the target did something to hurt their feelings and get their protective moms to get the target in trouble.  Or mean girls will simply threaten a target by saying they’ll get their moms to get the target in trouble.  Mean moms collude and often encourage this behavior.  Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series is an example of a mean boy protected by his mean father.

Suppose you’re the parent of a child who’s bullied by a mean girl, what can you do?  If you’re convinced that your daughter was not a provocateur who tried to get the other girl to react and get in trouble, should you talk to the mean girls, their moms, teachers and principals?

  • Know your daughter; will she assert and defend herself?  Since she might not talk about the meanness, you have to watch carefully on the playground and look for signs after school.  Mean girls are bullies who try to assert themselves over less assertive and less aggressive children.  Don’t ask your daughter to suffer or “rise above” because a mean girl and mean mom don’t know any better or have difficulties in their lives.
  • You might encourage your pre-school or kindergarten daughter to stand up for herself, but you should give plenty of encouragement and specific direction.  Even though your daughter is young, champion her inner strength, courage and perseverance.  She might be a target but she doesn’t have to become a victim.  Never believe mean girls’ opinions and don’t give in to their demands.
  • Intervene rapidly when your daughter seems unable to defend herself.  Don’t let the behavior continue.  Say something strongly and firmly to the mean girl.  Girls who were merely experimenting with a mean behavioral tactic will stop and not repeat it.  That’s a test of the girl – nice girls stop when you set a behavioral standard but mean girls don’t.  Mean girls think they’re smarter than you and that they have their own mothers’ protection.
  • If the mean girl doesn’t stop, test the mean girl’s mom one time.  Calmly detail the behavior and listen carefully for the response.  Is the mom appalled at her daughter’s behavior or does the mom blow it off or explain it away?  Just as in sports and childhood, your daughter might have been provocateur and then looked innocent when another girl retaliated.  So it’s natural for the other girl’s mother to try to discover the whole context and behavior before the incident.  But does the other mom immediately get defensive and angry, and twist the facts in order to blame your daughter?  Does she insist that her daughter is never wrong?  Is the mean girl’s mom too busy with her own life to educate her daughter or has she turned her child over to a nanny who won’t correct the child?
  • If these attempts change the girl’s behavior, you weren’t dealing with a hard-core mean girl and a mean mom.  But mean girls and mean moms aren’t stopped by the easy tactics.  Now you have to cut off after school activities including parties, despite the ramifications.  Also, get the pre-school teachers and principals involved.  Some will be helpful; they’ll keep it confidential, they’ll monitor to get their own evidence and then they’ll intervene.  They’ll get the mean girl out of your daughter’s class, they’ll break-up the clique, they’ll stop the behavior at school and they’ll have proactive programs to talk about mean girl behavior.  Depending on the age of the girls, they’ll teach witnesses what to do.  Unfortunately, unhelpful, uncaring, lazy, cowardly teachers and principals will look the other way or condone or even encourage mean girl behavior.  They’ll put you off with excuses.  Don’t let this happen.  Remember, principals fear publicity and law suits.

Of course, every action plan must be designed for your specific situation; depending on the children, the parents, the school and the relationships.  That’s where expert coaching will help.

Teach your children what’s right and also how to defend themselves.  Don’t convert your daughter into a victim.  Don’t sacrifice your child on the altar of your ignorance, fear or sympathetic heart.  Protect and defend your child even though there may be a high cost socially.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
Tagsabsentee, abuse, activities, adult, aggressive, angry, anxiety, article, assert, Behavior, blame, bling, bosses, Bullied, bullies, Bullies at Home, bullying, Camp Rock, children, cliques, clothes, co-workers, communities, condone, confidence, confidential, consequences, controlling, correct, courage, cowardly, crying, cut-out, cute, dads, daughters, defend, defensive, demands, difficulties, economic, educate, employers, encourage, esteem, evidence, examples, exclude, expensive, families, fear, feelings, friends, girls, Harry Potter, hatred, ignorance, Ignore, inner-city, innocent, intervene, kids, kindergarten, law suits, lazy, leadership, loathing, mean, mean boys, mean dads, mean girls, mean moms, moms, monitor, movies, Nannies, nanny, nasty, negative, negative self-talk, New York Times, nightmares, opinions, ostracize, Pamela Paul, parents, parties, Paul, perseverance, physical, playground, popular, powerful, pre-school, preschool, principals, private, proactive, programs, protect, protective, provocateur, publicity, race, reasons, Relationships, religion, responsibility, retaliated, rural, sacrifice, scapegoats, schools, self-doubt, self-esteem, self-hatred, self-talk, sleep walking, sneaky, socio-economic, spouses, stomach aches, Stop Bullies, suburban, suffer, suicide, superior, sympathetic, tactic, targeted, targets, teachers, The Playground Gets Even Tougher, threaten, throwing up, Times, Tougher, uncaring, unfashionable, unhelpful, vicious harassment, victim, victims, witnesses, work
9 CommentsPost a comment

My advice was asked on this situation on condition that the author remains anonymous.  What would you do if you faced a two-faced coworker or teammate who treated you civilly in public but attacked you when you were alone?  And no one else in the office knew or would believe you. In public, Bart (fictitious name) smiled and seemed helpful to Fran (fictitious name).  Even though he didn’t know her specialty, he started offering polite, detailed suggestions in an authoritative and convincing way about how she could improve her performance.  Fran felt like she was being micro-managed in a way she couldn’t resist or argue back.  It would take too long to show why his suggestions wouldn’t work and she didn’t think everyone else was really interested.  Other members of the team started to think she was pretty incompetent since Bart knew so much more.

In private, Fran asked Bart to stop being so controlling and making her look bad.  He agreed to, but then he continued to subtly demean her in public.  In addition, he started ignoring her, leaving her out of the information loop, and putting her down subtly in front of others.  Fran again asked him to stop.  Bart said he wanted them to have a good working relationship and suggested a meeting to clear the air.  Fran was initially wary, but he persisted and she agreed.

At the private meeting, Bart told Fran she was the worst person he'd ever worked with.  She wasn’t completely bad professionally, but she had the worst personality he’d ever seen.  He wanted her to treat him with as much friendliness as she treated other people in public.  Fran was mystified because he didn't say who these other people were and she thought she already treated everyone politely and professionally.

He said Fran was bullying him, he couldn't sleep at night because of her, she was just as hostile and nasty as another girl he used to work with and his girlfriend agreed that Fran was bullying him, even though Fran had never met her.  He said he’d been verbally cruel to people in the past, but he didn't want to be with her.  He said Fran was the worst person he'd ever worked with and the worst thing about his otherwise perfect job.

Fran felt scared because nothing like this had ever happened to her before and because Bart said everything very quietly and calmly with a twisted look of pure hate on his face.  He seemed to be enjoying it.  Fran had never seen him look or act this particular way before, so she thought others wouldn't believe her.

He carried on this way for an hour and Fran felt like she was in the presence of a psycho.  She apologized profusely.  He kept twisting the knife.  She said she was sorry for “bullying” him.  He kept twisting the knife.  She asked how she could make things better between them.  He kept twisting the knife.

Since she had to work with him closely, Fran pretended to be his friend from that day on.  She followed up two weeks later to see if he was happier.  He said he no longer thought of her at night, but added that he hated her because of the way she treated him.  He didn’t stop correcting her in public and he continued to sabotage her work.

Don’t waste time psychoanalyzing Bart and Fran or thinking that some trust building exercises, communication techniques or skillful conflict resolution will bring them together.  Fran should realize that she and Bart live on different planets.  She thinks she’s okay and he’s a scary psycho.  He hates her guts, thinks she bullies him and that professional behavior allows him to vent his feelings and hatred.

In her world, she’s faced with a relentless, crazy person who blames everything on her and is out to get her.  In that office, she’ll always feel his hatred shooting into her back.  She’s also afraid he might blow and physically harm her.  She must be willing to skillfully fight a work war against a fanatic or have her credibility and reputation destroyed.  Or leave.  For example; see my article in the Denver Business Journal on winning a work-war.

Notice that every time she tried to please him by taking the blame or being nice, he only twisted the knife more.  Fran’s comment that she never met his girlfriend probably shows that she thinks she can prove her case with reasoning, logic and good will because everyone will listen and be objective.

There are many other variants of the two-faced, bullying colleague.  Some stealth bullies spread rumors and lies behind your back.  Some cut you down behind your back.  Some drive a wedge between you and other people by telling them that you said bad things about them.  These back-stabbers always work in the dark and can’t be pinned down

My books, CDs and coaching can help.

What did Fran do?  Fran secretly hated Bart for what he had put her through.  She didn’t want to become buddies with him.  Also, she didn’t want to waste her time proving to everyone how mean and crazy he was.  Three month's later, she secured another job and left.  Since then, she’s been happy at the new job.

That’s one effective solution to deal with people like Bart, but what will Fran do if she encounters another one.  For example, if she’s highly skilled and competent, she’ll make someone else jealous, scared and angry.  If she’s beautiful, she’ll arouse these same feelings in some other women.

What would you do if you were Fran?

Bullies at work can ruin a culture, destroy productivity and make your life miserable.  Many people focus only on bullying bosses, but I’ve seen just as many coworkers and employees use these bullying methods as I have managers and supervisors.  Before you read the top ten I’ve seen, please think for a moment.  What bullying methods used by whom, have you seen most? Have you seen these techniques ruining your workplace?

  1. Yelling, physical threats (overt or subtle) and personal attacks.
  2. Verbal abuse, emotional intimidation, personal insults and attacks (in private and in public).  Put-downs and humiliating, demeaning, rude, cruel, insulting, mocking and embarrassing comments.  False accusations (especially outrageous), character assassination.
  3. Harassing based on race, religion, gender and physical attributes.  Sexual contact, lewd suggestions, name-calling, teasing and personal jokes (sometimes overtly nasty, or threatening or sometimes given with laughter as in, “I was just kidding” in order to make it hard for you to fight back.
  4. Backstabbing, spreading rumors and gossip, manipulating, lying, distorting, evading, hypocrisy and exposing your problems and mistakes.
  5. Taking the credit; spreading the blame.  Withholding information and then cutting you down for not knowing or for failing.
  6. Anonymous attacks and cyber-bullying – flaming e-mails and porn.  Invading your personal space and privacy – rummaging through your desk, listening to phone calls, asking extremely personal questions, eating your food.
  7. Hypersensitive, over-reactions, throwing tantrums (drama queens) – so you walk on egg shells, back off in order to avoid a scene, or beg forgiveness as if you really did something wrong.
  8. Dishonest evaluations – praising and promoting favorites, giving slackers good evaluations and destroying careers of people the bully doesn’t like.
  9. Demeaning at meetings – interrupting, ignoring, laughing, non-verbal comments behind your back (rude noises, body language, facial gestures, answering phone, working on computer).
  10. Forming cliques and ganging up.  Turf wars about budgets, hiring, copiers and coffee machines.

Most bullies use combinations of these methods.

We’ve all seen the effects of bullies and the hostile workplace they create.  There’s increased hostility, tension, selfishness, turf wars, sick leave, stress related disabilities, turn over and legal actions.  People become isolated, do busy work with no important results and waste huge chunks of time talking about the latest episodes.  Effort is diffused instead of aligned.  Promotions are based on sucking up to the most difficult and nasty people, not on merit.

Teamwork, productivity, responsibility, efficiency, creativity and taking reasonable risks are decreased.  The best people leave as soon as they can.

The wrong people or the wrong culture can always find ways to destroy the best operational systems. Your pipeline will leak money and your profits will plummet.

I’ll go into solutions in future posts, but I want to mention one frequently used tactic that does not work to stop dedicated bullies.  It’s based on the false assumption that if we – educate, explain, understand, reason, show the consequences, accept, forgive or make enough attempts to satisfy bullies – then they will become reasonable, civil, professional, friendly and good to work with.  That approach only stops people who are not really bullies, but have forgotten themselves one time and behaved badly.

Determined bullies don’t take your acquiescence as kindness.  They take your giving in as weakness and an invitation to grab for more.  Bullies bully repeatedly and without real remorse.  You won’t get a sincere apology from them.  A sincere apology doesn’t mean anything about how they look.  It means that they change and stop bullying.

I’d like to hear your horror or success stories.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
Tagsabuse, accept, accusations, aligned, anonymous, answering phone, apology, assumption, attacks, blame, body language, bosses, budgets, bullies, bullies at work, bully, bullying, bullying bosses, character assassination, civil, cliques, comments, comments rude, computer, consequences, contact, coworkers, creativity, credit, cruel, culture, cyber-bullying, demeaning, determined bullies, difficult, disabilities, dishonest evaluations, distorting, drama queens, e-mails, educate, efficiency, embarrassing, emotional, emotional intimidation, employees, evading, evaluations, explain, exposing, facial, facial gestures, forgive, forgiveness, friendly, ganging up, gender, gestures, gossip, harassing, hiring, hostile workplace, hostility, humiliating, hypersensitive, hypocrisy, ignoring, insulting, insults, interrupting, intimidation, isolated, jokes, laughing, legal, legal actions, lewd, lewd suggestions, lying, managers, manipulating, meetings, merit, methods, mistakes backstabbing, mocking, name-calling, nasty, non-verbal, non-verbal comments, operational systems, over-reactions, personal, personal attacks, personal insults, personal space, phone, physical, physical threats, privacy, private, problems, productivity, professional, profits, promotions, public, put-downs, race, reason, reasonable, reasonable risks, religion, remorse, responsibility, risks, rude, rude noises, rumors, satisfy bullies, selfishness, sexual, sexual contact, sick leave, slackers, solutions, stress, stress related disabilities, success, success stories, supervisors, systems, tantrums, teamwork, teasing, techniques, tension, threatening, threats, throwing tantrums, turf wars, turn over, understand, verbal, verbal abuse, weakness, work, working on computer, yelling
42 CommentsPost a comment