People often wonder if they’re being bullied, controlled or abused by their spouses.  They want experts to help them recognize the signs and give them an educated, experienced opinion so they’ll have a new weapon in the next round of the endless battle.  That’s a useful tactic but the major benefits are not what most people think. In addition to overt threats and violence, some criteria that we’re facing bullying, controlling or abusive husbands or wives are:

  1. After marriage or kids, they changed from charming to controlling, sometimes step by step.
  2. They make the rules; they control everything.  We feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  3. Their standards rule – our “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”  Their sense of humor is the right one.
  4. They isolate us.
  5. They control us with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips.  They use the opinions other people who agree with them – their friends, their parents – to justify what they do.
  6. They don’t take our kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop.  They take our self-control as an invitation to bully us more.
  7. They’re willing to argue forever and never admit that they have to change.  Whenever we make a good point, they attack on a different subject.

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 us along.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.
  4. They’re more important than we are.
  5. They think their rules should rule.
  6. Everyone is a pawn in their game.
  7. They think their excuses should excuse them.

Both lists are phrased as “They,” but really – we give in; we let them win.  We’re the ones who think good reasons or arguments, more understanding, begging, bribery, appeasement, forgiveness, unconditional love or the Golden Rule will work if we try hard enough.  We’re the ones who think we’re wrong if we give up on someone.

The major, but usually overlooked, benefit in recognizing and labeling the patterns of behavior as “bullying” and the person as a “bully” is that it’s a powerful label.

  1. Indeed, many men women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”
  2. But when we label what’s happening as “bullying,” the unknown terror no longer seems so overwhelming; it’s reduced in size as the light of a strong label shines on their behavior.  Our shame, guilt, doubt and hesitation decreaseOur self-bullying, negative self-talk decreases.
  3. Our spirit rises up; we feel energized and empowered to fight back.  Our will, determination and dedication are strengthened.  Our courage, perseverance, endurance and resolution are engaged.  We won’t quit any more and temporary defeats don’t defeat us for long.
  4. We take charge of our attitudes and feelings, and increase our self-confidence and self esteem.  In so doing, we take charge of our actions and our future.  We gain clarity about our goals and seek personalized coaching to develop a plan and carry it out.
  5. Once we know what we’re up against, we look for information, skills and help.  We feel more powerful when we re-enter the fight.

 

In the next article, we’ll talk about an even better tactic than taking the strength we gain from using the words “bullies” and “bullying” into battle as our shield and sword.

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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Just as many girls as boys are bullies but girls more often target other girls. Girls do bully other girls physically.  One publicized example is the Florida girls who beat up a classmate and then posted the video on YouTube.

However, most girl-girl bullying is verbal and emotional.  Seven of the nine bullies were girls in the publicized case that led to the recent suicide of Phoebe Prince.  Their attacks on Phoebe were choreographed, strategically planned and relentlessly executed.  The abuse was verbal, physical and through cyber space.

“Mean girls” are masters of catty remarks, put-downs, scorn, mockery, criticism, sarcasm, cyber bullying and forming cliques led by a Queen Bee.  Mean girls are also masters of covert, “stealth bullying;” backstabbing, rumor-mongering, telling secrets, cutting out and spreading gossip and innuendo while pretending to be friends.

Girl bullies often are control-freaks and emotional blackmailers.  Common bullying statements are, “If you don’t do what I want, you’re not my best friend, “ or “My best friend wouldn’t talk to that other girl,” or “You hurt my feelings, you’re a false friend.”  They often set up boys to attack their targets.

Boys tend to use overt physical tactics more than girls.

Girls: it’s easy to tell if you’re being overtly bullied; it’s harder to tell if the bullying is stealthy.  You’re probably being bullied if you’re feeling controlled, forced to do things you don’t want to do, scared of what another girl might do to you, afraid of getting ostracized or ganged up on, or not wanting to go to school at all.  Trust your gut and talk to your parents no matter how reluctant you are.

Parents: the major signs that your daughter is being bullied are unexplained, 180 degree changes in behavior.  For example, no longer talking about school or friends, not wanting to be with classmates, spending all her time in her room, avoiding checking text messages, social web sites or answering the phone, no longer doing homework, not eating lunch at school, stopping after-school activities, wanting to change or quit school, loss of weight, chewing fingernails, not caring about appearance, can’t sleep, nightmares, loss of confidence and self-esteem, emotionally labile (crying suddenly alternating with explosive anger and temper tantrums alternating with despondency and depression – “I’m helpless, it’s hopeless”).  Be careful; teenagers typically go through periods of these behaviors.  Parents must check out the causes.  Be persistent.  Don’t be stopped by initial resistance. If your daughter is being bullied, parents must proceed down two paths simultaneously:

  • Teach your daughter how to protect herself.
  • Make teachers, principals and school district administrators protect targets.

Bullying at school is rarely an isolated event.  Usually there is a pervasive pattern of overlooking, minimizing, denying, tolerating or even encouraging bullying.  Strategies for how parents can proceed depend on the situations they’re dealing with; especially the people.  The bottom line is that most, but not all, principals want to avoid the subject, do nothing, cover-up with platitudes, avoid law suits and won’t confront bullying parents who protect their darling little bullies.

Beware of principals who think that their primary task is to understand, rehabilitate or therapeutize bullies.  You will have to get other parents involved and be very tactical in order to get principals to act firmly and effectively. There is one absolute “Don’t.”  Every female client and every woman who has interviewed me said that they were verbally bullied when they were young.  Unfortunately, their mothers told them, “Rise above the bully.  That bully is hurting so much inside that they’re taking their pain and inferiority out on you.  Understand and forgive them.  You’re better than they are.  If you act nice enough, people will return your kindness with kindness.”

Every one of these bullied women bears deep wounds including stress, anxiety, negative self-talk, lack of confidence and self-esteem problems.  They also bear an underlying hatred of their mothers for those messages.  Those messages are absolutely wrong.  Mothers must teach their daughters how to protect themselves, not how to act like willing victims.

Remember, the Golden Rule doesn’t stop real-world bullies.  Prepare your daughters for the real-world they’ll face in school, at work, in intimate relationships and with friends.

Are you dieting?  Have you noticed that everyone has advice about the best ways to stop?  The advice-givers also think they know best for people who are trying to quit smoking or stop drinking. For example, Tammy is dieting again.  She’s tried losing weight before, even succeeded, but has always gained it back.  This time she’s more determined.  Her friend Helen says she knows best.  She tells Tammy that she must eat big meals to celebrate every small success, like when she loses a few pounds.  If Tammy follows her advice, Helen will know that Tammy is really her good friend.

You’ve seen the same pattern when smokers push cigarettes on a friend who’s trying to quit.  Or when a drinker gets upset and pushes drinks on a friend who’s trying to stop drinking.

Is Helen really Tammy’s friend?  Does Helen have Tammy’s best interests at heart?  Should Tammy listen to Helen’s advice?

Of course there are many more difficulties to losing weight, quitting smoking or stopping drinking, but I want to focus on this one part of the total effort.

We could easily say that people who want to lose weight shouldn’t listen to the Helens in the world, people quitting smoking shouldn’t listen to supposed friends who tempt them with cigarettes, and people trying to stop drinking shouldn’t accept free drinks from pushers.

But I’d like to show you how to use the Nine Circles of Trust technique in this situation.  Instead of trying to answer questions about whether Helen is a true friend, Tammy simply started listing what anyone would have to do to move from the distant ninth circle, into the eighth circle closer to her, or closer still into the seventh circle, and even into closer circles.  The closer Tammy allows them to come, the more likely she is to listen to their opinions or advice.

During this listing, Tammy realized that she didn’t want to allow into her personal space, anyone who pushes food on her, whatever their reasons, excuses or justifications.  Even if they threaten Tammy with the loss of a so-called friendship, her commitment to her diet comes first.  If Helen continues to push food down Tammy’s throat, Tammy must get Helen’s opinion out of her face.  That may mean getting Helen out of her space.

Tammy says she’s open to people expressing an opinion on which diet worked best for them.  But she’s not willing to listen to people trying to tempt, seduce or coerce her into doing what they may think best if it violates Tammy’s goals or standards.  She won’t accept relentless arm-twisting from Helen.  You can read more about what Tammy does in my book, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

Of course, most of us can be politely non-committal when someone offers a little friendly advice … one time.  We can easily ignore the suggestion if we want, and they don’t push their opinions or standards repeatedly.  But relentless bullying by people who think they know best and try to force us or emotionally blackmail us is different.

One key to the success of the Nine Circles process is that it shifts the focus from abstract discussions of friendship and trust, and converts them into your taking charge of the specific actions (and opinions) that you’ll allow in your personal space.

Imagine how the Nine Circles method would work for someone trying to quit smoking or stop drinking.  Since many dieters, smokers and drinkers have internal, self-bullies that try to prevent them from taking charge of their space, personalized coaching and consulting is usually necessary.

Read 20 different case studies demonstrating how to stop overt and stealth bullies in my book, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”  You’ll also see how a woman resists a verbally abusive, coercive and intimidating husband in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up.”

A general question to ponder: should you blindly follow relationship advice from your massage therapist who has been in an endless series of one night stands after four failed marriages?  Or should you blindly follow spending directions from your orthopedic surgeon who thinks the only worthwhile activity in life is Scuba diving in New Zealand?  How being assaulted by parenting advice from people whose children are selfish, arrogant, obnoxious and don’t respect them?

These people may have expertise in one area of life, but they don’t know best about other areas – especially for you.  If you continue to allow their opinions into your space, it’s like allowing them to continue to stick pins in your body.  Eventually, the insult and pain will wear you down.

Instead, use the 9 Circles of Trust exercise to decide what standards are yours and what opinions to let into your space.

Where else could you benefit from the 9 Circles of Trust process?

Carl loved the title of “Mr. Negative.”  He was proud of being smarter than anyone else and thought his put-downs were funny.  No matter what you said, he would disagree, counter it or top it.  His personal attacks, sarcasm and cutting remarks could bring most people to tears.  He could create a tense, hostile workplace in minutes. He could bring a brainstorming or planning meeting to a halt by finding fault with every suggestion or plan, and proving that nothing would work.  He was convinced that his predictions were accurate and more valuable to the team than the frustration and anger he created.  On his team, sick-leave and turnover were high, while morale, camaraderie and teamwork were low.  Productivity was also low because most people wasted a huge percent of their time talking about Carl’s latest exploits.

What can you do?

In this case, his manager had heard me present “How to Eliminate the High Cost of Low Attitudes” at a conference, and had brought me in as a consultant.  She wanted me to help her create a culture that would be professional, retain high quality staff and be much more productive.

Why did his manager, Jane, bring me in, instead of simply evaluating Carl honestly and having consequences leading to demotion and eventual termination if he didn’t change?  Jane thought that:

  • Carl was bright and expert enough in his specialty that she was afraid of losing him.
  • If she was a good enough manager and learned to say the magic words, Carl would straighten out.
  • Her hands were tied because Carl was a long-term employee in a government organization.

Coaching helped Jane see that she was victimizing the rest of the team by giving in to her fears and helplessness.  Carl was verbally abusive and emotionally intimidating.  And he was subtly manipulative because he had a soft voice and a smile on his face while he sarcastically cut his co-workers to ribbons.  She saw that if she continued to give in to her fear of losing Carl, she’d lose her reputation and position because her team would mutiny or quit.

Despite these insights, Jane remained a conflict-avoidant manager.  She would allow the team to act, but she wouldn’t lead the way.  Therefore we worked around her.

I helped the team create a set of behavioral expectations for individual professional interactions and for team meetings.  It was no surprise that the list did not included any of Carl’s behaviors, that his behaviors were specifically prohibited and that the list of appropriate behaviors contained the opposite ones Carl had been bullying coworkers with.

The rest of the team voted to accept the code of professional behavior.  Carl said he’d sign but he wouldn’t change his behavior.  He’d been Mr. Negativity as long as he could remember and didn’t think he could change.

That seemed like an impasse.  No one wanted to waste a lifetime waiting for Carl to go through therapy, especially since he didn’t want to change anyway.  I helped the team realize that Carl had no reason to change.  There were no adverse consequences to him if he kept doing what he was doing.  The team needed some leverage.

Since the manager wouldn’t act on her own, the rest of the team took a bold step.  They told Carl that they wouldn’t tolerate his hostility and the tension it caused.  They said that they’d remove him immediately from any meeting in which he started his negative putdowns.  He laughed nervously, thinking they’d never really do that.  He still wouldn’t accept that his behavior was so hurtful and despised.

At the next meeting, of course, Carl was negative as usual.  He was shocked when the rest of the team immediately stood up and told him to leave.  He sheepishly did, with a parting shot that they’d never come up with a good plan without him.

He was wrong.  They did develop a good plan to deal with the problem they’d been working on. They also gave him his assignment within it.  They told him that people who weren’t at meetings must be happy with the tasks assigned to them.  Carl was outraged and protested.  He looked for support from anyone on the team, but everyone was against him.  That also stunned him.  They told him that they were following the team’s behavior code.  He could play according to the rules and take what he got or leave.  They also told him that he could be very likeable when he wanted to and they’d be glad to be on a team with the “likeable Carl.”

It took two more meetings at which Carl was asked to leave, before he began to change.  It was amazing to all of them, including Carl, that what he thought was a life-long pattern, changed when enough leverage was applied.  He really did like what he did and he also had wanted to be liked.

This example is over the top in many ways.  But I have a question for you: Did the rest of the team bully Carl or were they right in voting him off their island when he was an abusive bully?

One general lesson here is: “When the legitimate authority won’t act and, therefore, leaves a power vacuum, the most hostile and power-hungry people usually fill it.  Your task is to fill it with the best behavior instead.”

There are many other ways to solve the problems that the Carl’s of the world cause at work and at home.  A stronger manager would have done it by herself.  Jane obviously had problems as a manager and wouldn't step outside her comfort zone to solve them.  Her boss soon took appropriate action.

It’s also a different matter if the negative person is the manager or boss.  There are many other problem behaviors that can be resolved with the Behavioral Code approach.  In other blog posts I’ll cover those bullying situations at work.

Please tell me your story so I can be sure to respond to it.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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