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:
- A bullying husband or wife who always points out every mistake with exasperated sarcasm and scolding – accompanied by attacks on their spouse’s personality and character. Even if they don’t say the words, you can hear the silent, “You’re so stupid. You always fail. You’d be nothing if I didn’t straighten you out. Now I have an excuse for being as lazy, dumb, selfish or narcissistic as I want.”
- Older siblings who correct or tell on the younger ones relentlessly. And demand fearsome punishment.
- Parents who pick on their children for every mistake, even if the children are too young to have learned the desired behavior. You can hear the justifications, “I’m only trying to teach them right from wrong. I want to make sure they remember the lesson.”
- In the workplace, bosses or co-worker know-it-alls gleefully and loudly pointing out every mistake. Or sneakily stabbing some one in the back by revealing mistakes in confidence.
- Sarcastic, nasty, arrogant false friends who always know better and are better than you.
- Boyfriends or girlfriends who have to be right.
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 you. Vote 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.