Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Colleagues Who Can Make You Fat,” focuses on people at work who try to sabotage coworkers’ diets.  People reported that colleagues and bosses made them uncomfortable admitting they were on a diet 23% of the time. In contrast, dieters said they were uncomfortable admitting that they were dieting to people in personal life – friends, relatives and spouses – 63% of the time.  That is, there are almost three times as many diet saboteurs among those who are closest to us.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Diet saboteurs use many techniques.  They:

  • Tease, taunt and mock.
  • Criticize, pressure and manipulate.
  • Gleefully predict failure.
  • Get upset because we’re spurning their offerings of fatty, starchy, sugary, calorie-loaded food.
  • Lecture that we’re harming our body by dieting.

The article says that these saboteurs usually mean well.  I disagree. When diet saboteurs continue harassing and abusing us relentlessly, they don’t mean well.  They’re narcissistic bullies who have their own agenda that they think is more important than ours.  They’re righteous. They know better and they’re out to change us – usually by beating us into submission.

Typically, they try to sabotage our diets because:

  • They may feel abandoned because we no longer eat the same food with them.
  • They may be striking back because they take our change as a put down of their old habits.
  • They may feel jealous that they’re not losing weight.
  • They may see our being thinner as a threat.
  • They may simply not like us and are finding another reason, excuse or justification to mock, ridicule, or put us down.

Who cares what their reasons are?  Understanding their reasons won’t help us stop them.  After the first time we’ve asked them to stop, their reasons for continuing now become excuses and justifications for continued harassment, abuse and bullying.  Bullies always find excuses to continue inflicting pain.

What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. People who are closest to us – toxic spouses, family, friends – are the most relentless saboteurs.  Things are not as we would wish. Notice that I didn’t say, “Things are not as they should be.”  Things are as they are.  That’s not what’s wrong with this picture.
  2. What’s wrong with this picture is that people feel uncomfortable and that feeling keeps them from doing what they need toTheir discomfort is their excuse to become victims.

As William Boast said, “It’s important that people know what you stand for.  It’s equally important that they know what you won’t stand for.”

Don’t debate or argue with their justifications.  Don’t accept apologies unless their behavior changes.  They won’t change their behavior; they won’t give up their desire for domination and control.  Instead, stop bullies or get them off our Isle of Song.

These bullying spouses, family members and friends are telling us to examine what kind of behavior we will and won’t allow around us and our families.

To have the wonderful lives we want, we must stop bullying behavior in our personal spaces.  We wouldn’t allow family members to push an alcoholic to have “just one drink” and we wouldn’t allow family abusers or perverts access to our children.  The need to stop diet saboteurs is no different.

Of course, we can start resisting gently by asking them, one-to-one in private, to stop. Or we could ignore it or laugh it off in public.  Those approaches become tests of them.  Do they stop or do they identify themselves as bullies?

We know what doesn’t stop bullies: ignoring, minimizing, conflict-avoidance, begging, bribery, defeatism, forgiveness, appeasement, understanding, unconditional love, the Golden Rule.  Relentless bullies misunderstand our kindness. They take our “rising above” as weakness and, like sharks or hyenas, they’re encouraged to attack us more.

Their relentless attacks force us to confront the central issue: which is more important; good behavior or bad blood?  And when they continue their abuse, bullies force us into an all-or-none choice.  Are we willing to defend the behavior we need to have, even if it breaks the old family dynamic, the code of silence that enables the nastiest spouse or relatives to continue getting away with their abuse for the sake of, “family?”

That choice thrusts us into the second stage of maturitywe’re called upon to decide, as independent adults, what behavior we will or won’t allow into our lives, no matter what the relationship is called.  We’re called upon to have more confidence and self-esteem.

For some examples, see the case studies in “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.

Should we confront our toxic parents or not?  Well, it all depends on us, them and the situation?  But here are some guidelines we can use to decide what we want to do. And what’s the “right time, place and way?”

Should we confront toxic parents?  It depends on what we hope to gain from the interaction.

  1. Don’t use the word “confront” on ourselves. It’s a dirty word that bullies use to get us not to protect ourselves and not to set our boundaries.  Bullies demand infinite forgiveness and unconditional love – but from us only; not from themselves.  We must “protect ourselves” and we must “set our boundaries.”  That’s a much better way of saying it.  Notice how “protecting ourselves” and “setting our boundaries” are good and necessary actions.  And if toxic, bullying, abusive parents keep trampling our boundaries, we have to ask ourselves, “Why are we with such jerks and control-freaks?  Why are we presenting our throats to vampires?  Why are we still letting hyenas feast on us?  Why do we let sick people vomit on our feet?  Why do we allow them in our space?  Why are we in theirs?”  Protecting ourselves is a more important value than not hurting the feelings of toxic people or not getting them upset or not making a scene or not upsetting the family.
  2. Do we hope that “protecting ourselves” will change relentless bullies? Maybe when we’re young and they’ve just started, we might hope that standing firm and saying, “No!  Stop!  Sit!  Stay!” will change them.  Or maybe we might have succeeded by hitting them with a rolled up newspaper or biting them on the lip to show them who’s the alpha dog.  But toxic parents have been mean, nasty, vicious predators for as long as we’ve been alive.  A little kid really can’t resist them or change them.  So by the time we’re middle-aged and they’ve been hurting and bullying us for over 40 years, we can release the hope that we’ll change them.  I’ve seen toxic parents remain bullies even after near death experiences or being cut off from their grandchildren, although those two circumstances are the only ones I’ve seen effective in the rare cases of toxic parents who have changed.  Standing up for ourselves probably won’t change them.  But we can give it one more shot if we want to.
  3. Do we hope that we’ll feel better or more powerful after we stand up for ourselves? We may and those are great reasons for defending ourselves and enforcing consequences.  Words are not consequences; words without consequences is begging.  Only actions are consequences.  Take power. Don’t wait for jackals to empower you.
  4. Will we speak up in private or public? We usually think of saying things in private the first time someone bullies us.  But after a private talk, relentless bullies will think they can ignore us since we’re defending ourselves in private and they’re attacking us in public.  Therefore, we have to speak out in public. Don’t let a lie or an attack or a put-down or sarcastic criticism pass unchallenged.  We can protect ourselves in the moment, in public by saying, “That’s not true.  That’s a lie.  You’re still a bully and I won’t put up with bullying any more.”  Don’t debate or argue whose perception is correct.  We stick with our opinion; we’re the expert on us.  Make them leave or don’t stay with they if they don’t change.
  5. Might protecting ourselves change the family dynamics? Too many families hide the truth and live on lies.  Too many families protect bullies and perpetrators because “That’s just the way they are” or “We have to put up with abuse because it’s family.”  No.  We don’t repay a debt to toxic parents by being their scapegoats or whipping posts because they once gave us food along with abuse.  Don’t collude with these crimes.  Speaking out can change the dynamics.  Test everyone elseWe’ll find out who wants to be friends with us and who wants to repress us – for whatever reasons.  We’ll find out who we enjoy being with and who we won’t waste precious time with.
  6. Should we say something if we’re witnesses? Definitely.  Be a witness to these crimes, not a bystander.  We can protect other people we see abused.
  7. Will protecting ourselves set a good example for our children? Yes.  And it’s crucial for us to set great examples.  Be a model!  Don’t sacrifice our children on some altar of “family.” Protecting children is more important than any benefit they might get from being with toxic grandparents.
  8. What’s the “right time” to speak up? If we hope to change toxic parents, the “right time” and the “right way” can be considerations.  But for any other reason, the time to speak up is always “NOW” and the place is always “HERE.”
  9. Should we talk to our parents in a safe environment with our therapists present? The first step in stopping bullies is connecting with our inner strength, courage and determination.  We are the safe place in any situation!  We’re adults now.  So what if they attack us one more time.  Don’t be defeated.  Look at them as predators or jerks and score them “failed.”  We’ll feel much stronger if we say what we have to say firmly and then be strong and apply our consequences when they attack us.  If people aren’t nice, don’t waste time on them.

Notice that all these considerations are about us and our judgment, not about the right way to convert toxic parents.  It is about us and the personal space we want to create and what behaviors and people we’ll let in.

How can we still relate to the nice people in the family? I think that we can only relate to those who want to have a wonderful relationship totally separate from the toxic parents.  That is, we’ll talk to the nice and fun ones, text them and see them on our own without our toxic parents being part of that.  Is that sneaky?  No.  That’s just cleaning up our homes and sweeping out the crud.  And not allowing it back in.  Tell the good relatives what’s going on and see if they want to have fun with us.

What if we don’t act dignified in protecting ourselves? We have to stop expecting ourselves to be perfect and stop bullying ourselves.  Of course we won’t be skillful at first.  But the more we practice standing up for ourselves, the more skilled we’ll become.  Which is more important: protecting ourselves or looking dignified?

We each make our own decisions and choices. Now we can make them with a better idea of what’s motivating us and what’s likely to happen.  If we try to talk with them one more time and they attack us again, maybe that will be our last attempt to carry the burden of making a good relationship possible.  Maybe now it’s their turn.

We must ask ourselves, “Are we doing all the work of self-analysis, apologizing, appeasing, communicating and being perfect?  Are we wasting our time trying to turn hyenas into vegetarians?” If we don’t defend ourselves in public when hyenas attack, we’ll only encourage them to go after us more.

We must listen to our pain and trust our judgment.  We must trust our accurate opinion of what predators will do – they will attack us when they want.

Some toxic parents simply attack us relentlessly.  Others lure us close with overtures of friendship or claims that they need us to help them now that they’re old only to attack us when we come near.  These tactics are like those of a pervert trying to lure a little girl intro his car.  Don’t get into a pervert’s car!

“Create an Isle of Song in a Sea of Shouts.”  And don’t let anyone dump toxic waste on your Isle.  Create a better life with better people in your space.

For some examples of stopping toxic parents, see the case studies of Carrie, Doug, Kathy, Jake and Ralph in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

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.

It’s your life.  Be the hero of your life.

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 people wrote and called for coaching after last week’s post, “Stop Bullies Who Demand their Way.”  Although their circumstances varied, their fundamental hesitation was the same: “How can I defend the behavioral standards I want if that means angry confrontations with my blood relationships?” Some common situations were:

All the callers recognized that continued, long-term exposure to those bullies would destroy their own and their children’s self-confidence and self-esteem.  They could see how the bullying was causing sleepless nights, anxiety, nail-biting, discouragement, negative self-talk and even depression.  Their children’s school work suffered.  They could see their children either being beaten into submission or adopting bullying as their own strategy for success.  So why didn’t the adults act?

Some were afraid of the economic consequences of resisting spouses, parents or grandparents with money.  Some were afraid the bullying would increase.

However, most were afraid that if they objected to such treatment of themselves or of their children, they would split the family into warring groups or have the whole family turn against them.  Most were embedded in cultures that reinforced the idea that “family is family” and “blood is the most important thing.”  Most thought it was morally wrong to say “No” to elders or relatives.

They had tried everything they could think of: understanding, reasoning, sweet-talk, begging, bribery, appeasement, the Golden Rule and threats but nothing had been effective in changing the bullying behavior.

So they were stuck, knowing they were tolerating bullies and behavior that was harming them and their children.

Their hope was that I could provide a magic technique to convert those adult bullies into nice, sweet, kindly relatives; the loving, caring, concerned relatives they thought they’d have.

But they had already tried all the “magic wand” techniques and discovered that those family bullies wouldn’t change.  After all, from the bullies’ perspective, why should they change?  They’d gotten away with being abusive, demanding bullies for years; they got their way so why change?  They were beyond appeals to conscience or to considering the feelings they were hurting.

I’ve seen bullies like that have near-death experiences due to cancer or accidents, and still resist changing.  They’ve mastered brutality as a strategy to get what they want from life.  By now, it’s all they know.

In my long experience, each successful client had to face a difficult choice and make a different one then they had before.

They had to support good behavior instead of bad blood.

They had to change their inner questions from, “How can I fit in?” or “How can I do what I’m supposed to?” to a question of “What behavior will I allow toward my children or in my space, no matter who the perpetrator is?”

They had to insist on good behavior toward themselves and their children, even if that meant challenging the previously rotten family dynamic.  They had to become models of the actions they were preaching to their children.

The first step in creating a bully-free personal space is always for us to rally our spirits; to become strong, brave, determined and persevering.  Endurance endures.  Then we can make effective plans, take skillful steps and get the help we need.

We can begin a little soft, but bullies inevitably force us to become firm.  Sometimes that meant denying the perpetrators access to their children.  Sometimes that means leaving when the bullying starts.  Sometimes that means standing alone and being a scapegoat.  But often, when we insist on good behavior, many members of the family will also step up to the higher standards; they’ve simply been waiting for someone to take the lead.

In all cases, we have to fight the culture we’re embedded in.  Plans have to be developed that fit the specific situations we’re in: are spouses on the same page, how bad is the economic dependence, how far away do we live?

But in all cases, we must hold out to ourselves and our children a better culture, in which people behave with caring, kindness and respect to each other.

We have to overcome our fears that we’ll be alone; fears that in the end, the only people who stand by us are family, so we have to pay the high price it costs to maintain relationships.  However, we’ll discover that by clearing brutality out of our space, we’ll open up space for people we want to be with.

Review the case studies of Carrie, Jean, Doug, Kathy, Jake and Ralph facing different family bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.  Many times, when faced by our firmness, family bullies will give in.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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).

Let’s analyze a worst-case scenario for loving, caring parents. You were pretty good parents but one of your children has turned out toxic – not a psychopath but someone who acts like she (or he) hates you.

It’s not your fault, but she blames you for not giving her everything she wanted or wants now, she’ll be sweet one moment and then abusive, vicious and hateful the next, she harasses and bullies you relentlessly when she wants something; she tries to involve the rest of the family in her schemes and feuds.  Or her boyfriend or husband hates you and she goes along with it and it gets worse every year.  And they’re narcissistic losers; they barely have enough money and you know that they’ll leech off you forever if you let them.

It breaks your heart, but finally you realize that you can’t help by giving them what they can’t earn themselves.  They’ll bleed you dry and still blame their problems on you.  They’ll bully and abuse you forever if you let them.  So you expect to live your whole life with the emotional pain of knowing that, despite your best efforts, you planted a bad seed.  But at least you can distance yourself physically and monetarily.

But that’s not the worst-case.  The worst-case is when that toxic child has children.  Your daughter has let you play with your grandchild, let you grow to love him and vice versa.  Of course he loves you; you’re the sane rock in his life.  He’s safe around you – no craziness, no yelling and screaming, no lies and broken promises, and no anxiety, brutality or manipulation of his affections like in his interactions with his mother and father.  You treat him with loving kindness and he can trust what you say.  When he’s with you he’s not stressed out; not blamed, guilty and abused for everything he does wrong.

The worst-case is when your daughter starts blackmailing you emotionally.  She won’t let you see your grandchild unless you play her games and give her everything she wants.  She raises the ante every day.  You know she lies to your grandchild about you and why he doesn’t see you.  It’s worse if she’s divorced because then you get jerked around and thrust in the middle by her ex-spouse and his family.

You love your grandson.  He’s important to you, you’re important to him and you hope you can be a lifeline to help him make a better life than the chaos he’s growing up in.  But no matter what you do, it’ll be wrong and your daughter will blame and abuse you.  There will be days when you want to run away, leave no forwarding address, change your names and fingerprints, get new social security numbers and telephones.  But you won’t because of the hope you can help your grandson.

What can you do to stop the bullying and extricate yourself from a horrible situation?

  • Usually there’s little you can do legally.  It’s hard to exercise “grandparents rights” if your daughter or her spouse won’t let you.  You can consult a lawyer and learn to document enough evidence to show delinquency and neglect so you can get custody, but that’s a faint hope.
  • You have to make one of the hardest decisions for anyone; how much will you sacrifice in order to get any time with your grandson?  Realize that no matter what you decide, your heart will be broken thousands of times until he’s independent and maybe even for your whole life.  Recognize also that nothing you do will change your daughter – this pain and violence to your spirit will go on as long as she has any control over your grandson.  Understand that she will trample any boundaries you think you’ve set.
  • There is no magic bullet that will cure her.  You won’t bring her to her senses, help her to act reasonably and consistently, make her to keep her promises, convert her to see that the child is better off with you or get her away from a controlling husband.  Even if you act reasonably, she won’t.  You’ll never understand why she does what she does; she’s selfish, nasty and changeable from moment to moment.  You’ll be embroiled in her painful games and anger as long as she controls your grandson.  Each episode will rip you apart.
  • Suppose you choose to get as much time with your grandson as you can; what are the best things you can do to help him?  Most people choose this path.  After all, how can we give up, turn our backs and live with our broken hearts?
  • In a loving couple, most grandparents differ over how much time and money they’re willing pay and how much pain they can stand for the privilege of seeing their grandchild.  Love each other and keep working with that difference, knowing that both your hearts are broken anew every day.  Don’t let this drive a wedge between you.
  • Plant seeds in your grandchild He sees the truth but he’s told by his parents that his vision is wrong.  He needs to learn to trust his vision.  He needs you to tell him that what he sees about his home and parents is true.  He’s not crazy – he didn’t do anything to deserve it; it’s not his fault; it’s just the way it is.  That won’t confuse him; that’ll reinforce his confidence and self-esteem.  He needs to know who’s jerking all of you around and the price you all have to pay as long as he’s in their clutches.
  • Collude with him to lie to his parents.  Strong children – survivors – sense what they need to do in order to stay safe in a chaotic and hostile world.  For example; he can’t say he’s having too much fun with you; that he loves you too much; that he’d rather be with you.  He already knows what he has to hide.
  • Make a safe place for his heart and his favorite stuff.  With you, he can dream big and not get his dreams crushed or used against him.  Keep your promises consistently.  Let him express his frustration and anger.  Anger is better than apathy or depression.  You can express your helplessness.  At your home, don’t let him use the tactics he sees at your daughter’s home.  Appeal to his better nature.  Be very gentle with correction and discipline; he gets yelled at enough at home.
  • Prepare him emotionally and spiritually for the future.  The more he can ignore his crazy parents, the better.  Keep a spark alive in him that by biding his time, one day he’ll get free.  He has to stop the bully in his head.  When he’s 18 (to pick a number) he can leave and make his own way.  Remind him of all the great and wonderful people who escaped from cages and prisons.  He owes your toxic daughter, his mother, absolutely nothing.
  • Prepare him economically for the future.  For him to live free he must plan to become monetarily independent.  Depending on his brains and talents, he has to develop a marketable skill, even if his parents don’t like it and he has to do it in secret.  Help him do that now and when he leaves home.
  • You’re unique – make up your tactics as you go along.  Get support to vent and help to plan.

Many children are too weak to overcome their toxic parenting.  But there are always some who are invulnerable to horrible circumstances, some who keep that spark alive and get free from the cage or prison they’ve been trapped in.

Your heart insists that you try to help your grandchildren.  For clear examples, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the studies of how Kathy, Doug, Jake and Carrie got away from manipulative or toxic parents.  Also, see the example of teenage Stacy bullying her mother.

In almost all cases where the child flies free, they never look back and neither do their grandparents.  If they or you look back, you’ll be turned into pillars of salt.

Endure the pain because of the hope.  Good luck.

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.

Verbal harassment, bullying and abuse; put-downs, lack of respect and cutting out can destroy confidence and self-esteem.  Disparaging and demeaning remarks; ostracism, backed by righteous, sneering, superior judgments can be devastating to children.  But they’re no less severe when done by adults to adults. A Mother’s Day article in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Henry, “What Cards Never Say on Mother’s Day,” complained about the lack of respect that dedicated, full-time mothers often get from other women, “even after four decades of feminism.”  The article had some suggestions for dedicated mothers who still struggle to get respect from working women.

While the article was accurate in pointing out the problem, I think it totally missed the solution. Bullies have used the put-down tactic forever.  Remember all that cutting out with nasty, sarcastic comments, especially through junior and senior high school?  Girls master this technique and boys wield it effectively also.  If you’re not in the “right” group you’re scorned and shunned relentlessly.  Even current celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Taylor Lautner talk about being the targets of this type of bullying in their school days.

Of course putting-down and cutting out rotten.  But it’s not only kids who do it.  As Amy Harris points out, working mothers often give no respect to women who stay home to be full-time mothers of their children.

Don’t waste time analyzing why people put-down others.  That path won’t get you anywhere.  Don’t waste time wanting laws to prevent people from putting down others.  A legal solution also won’t get you anywhere except in the case of public statements about people in certain protected categories.

The real solution lies in you.  When other people don’t respect you, look at the source and the possible consequences.  Don’t take it personally, but also don’t let it go by without saying or doing something in return.

So, what can you do?  First, you have to be strong in your own judgment of the path you’ve chosen.  Being a full-time mother is a wonderful path.  Work is necessary, but for most of us raising children is our most important and fulfilling task.  I hope your children will grow up wise enough to appreciate your dedicated mothering when they’re adults.  Not because you made a great “sacrifice” but because you made a wonderful, life-affirming choice and the children you love could reap the benefits.

Instead of taking other people’s judgments personally, go through the world testing other people to see if they rise enough in your estimation for you to keep them on your island.  I hope you find wanting anyone who puts you down for choosing to be a full-time mother.  Their choice to put-down mothers shows their lack of good sense.  Don’t allow the judgment of people without good sense to be important to your confidence or self-esteem.  Don’t let their judgment cause you self-doubt or negative self-talk.  And don’t let them stay in your life.  Instead, surround yourself with people who champion mothers.

I also said that you shouldn’t let their put-downs pass.  Stopping bullies begins when you understand that real-world bullies don’t take your politeness or minimizing or ignoring them as a sign that you’re morally superior or inviting their friendship.  Relentless bullies aren’t stopped by minimizing, ignoring, begging, bribing or appeasement.  Dedicated bullies take the Golden Rule as a sign that you’re weak and also as an invitation to prey on you more.  Doing nothing when you’re the target of relentless bullies is like holding up a sign saying that you’re a victim.

Almost every woman I’ve ever talked to who was taught by a well-meaning mother that she should feel sorry for the inner emptiness, low self-esteem and inner pain of the nasty girls who hurt them that she should ignore and rise above the catty remarks and hatred, now regrets their passivity.  They feel keenly their lack of empowerment and bear the scars of their supposedly virtuous martyrdom.  They wish that their mothers had trained them to fight back skillfully; verbally or physically.

There are many tactics you might try in response to put-downs; depending on you, them and the situation.  Some mothers form their own cliques of supportive mothers.  Others write responses on cue-cards and memorize them for delivery at the right moment.  Some responses are sarcastic put-downs directed toward the women who don’t appreciate mothers or who aren’t satisfied and even joyous with the opportunity to raise children.  Others merely comment on lives wasted at work.  Others use pity: “I’m so sorry that you’re the kind of person who’s not fulfilled and doesn’t set a better example for your daughter (or son).”

I want to recognize an important truth that we often overlook.  We know that we’re doing the right thing successfully when some people (“jerks) don’t like us and scorn our work and its value.  People who put-down full-time mothers fall into that category.  Don’t care what they think; don’t desire their respect.  Instead, get them off your island and let them know it.

Some control freaks at work are complete narcissists, others cover up major insecurities.  We can make lists of possible reasons that led someone to be a controlling adult – for example, genetics, they grew up with control freaks, they had no control when they were kids, their control when they were kids saved them, control assuages their terror of the unknown, control helps them succeed, they really are smarter and more competent than the rest of us, they want to feel like they’re smarter and more competent than the rest of us, or the feeling of righteousness is intoxicating. Of course even more reasons can be listed, but especially at work where our influence is small and temporary, our psychoanalysis of these abusive bullies rarely helps us change their behavior.  In the workplace, we suffer from the symptoms of their behavior, not the causes.

The real question at work is not why they act the way they do, but how to stop them.

The obvious controllers harass us overtly; their arrogant, narcissistic, nit-picking personalities oppress us continually.  Even if they don’t have power over us, they’ll be relentless.  But at least we can recognize the source of our pain and we can focus on creating tactics that get them off our backs.

The most difficult control freaks to stop are the sneaky, manipulative, covert bullies.  They use a style in which:

  • They make what seem to be innocuous suggestions for our best interests.
  • Their understated certainty is overwhelming.
  • They always know better ways to do everything even if they suggest them quietly.
  • They’re so enthusiastic that our hesitations are swept away.
  • Their feelings are the center of attention and who can resist helping them.
  • They subtly increase our self-doubt and decrease our confidence and self-esteem so we’ll take their direction.
  • Their reasons, excuses and rules are quietly but firmly presented with better logic and more certainty than we can articulate.  Our resistance seems petty, ludicrous and selfish.

In order to succeed at work, we need to take charge some of the time.  Control freaks need to be in charge all the time over everything.  They’d rather dominate than have relationships that bring out the greatest in everyone.

The reason I focus on the symptoms you need to deal with, instead of the psychological causes is that no presentation to the control-freak of why they use their controlling style/personality and no attempts to beg, bribe or assuage their fears ever changes their behavior.  The beginning of all change for control freaks is when their controlling strategy no longer works.

No one strategy stops control freaks.  The creation of a successful tactical plan depends on the people, the style of the controller, the situation and the power dynamics.  But there are a few guidelines.

  • Since control freaks want to take over everything, don’t ever give ground.  You’re trying to convince them never to try to control you, but instead to go control other people.
  • Don’t argue or debate what’s best.  If you use their suggestions don’t ever acknowledge their guidance.  If they know that you accepted their input, even if they made it in a suggestive way, that opening will encourage them to push your boundaries consistently and relentlessly.  Go your own way and live with the consequences.
  • Shine a light on their bullying tactics and the damage it causes to productivity and teamwork.  Never focus on your feelings.
  • Don’t get sucked into becoming their confident or therapist.  Your narcissism in thinking that you can help them will be your downfall.
  • Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that the control-freak might be right.  If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.

Assume that you can’t therapeutize or rehabilitate them.  You’re never going to change them.  They’re bullying, control freaks.  Get the coaching you need to get them away from you as fast as you can.  You don’t need their direction.  You’re simply trying to keep them from taking over team meetings and stifling input from other people.

Control freaks at home rarely change for any length of time.  After their bullying is confronted, they may promise to do better, but their good behavior will last only for a while.  They’ll revert or get sneakier about exerting their control.  While you can bring continual pressure to bear on your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, parents or children, or friends, real change is in the bully’s hands.  Change typically requires bullies to face the loss of what they value most.  Do they value you and the children more, or will they cling to their personal style as their identity forever?

In her New York Times book review, “Facing Scandal, Keeping Faith,” Janet Maslin describes Jenny Sanford’s new book, “Staying True.” Jenny, wife of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, notes many typical warning signs of stealthy, manipulative, controlling bullies when she describes her husband’s behavior in their early marriage arrangements, and during the public unraveling of his attempted cover up of lies to her and the people of the State he’s supposed to represent. Some of Governor Sanford’s typical behavioral warning signs of bullies:

“Even in his young and footloose days, when Mr. Sanford worked in commercial real estate and Jenny Sullivan was the rare female analyst working at Lazard Frères in New York, he showed signs of being unusually demanding…He drew up a facetious prenuptial agreement that laughingly stated the husband’s right to control the family finances and be the final arbiter in all matters.”

And, “After their wedding there were warning bells…When Ms. Sanford’s beloved grandfather died, Mark saw no reason to attend the funeral.  When she was pregnant with their first son, he got bored after a single Lamaze class and insisted that he needed no instruction.  As the book colorfully recalls, he said, ‘I’ve spent many long nights helping cows give birth and I know what to do when the baby gets stuck.’

  • Everyone is a pawn in their plans.  They use you and justify it logically.

“Mark Sanford had relied on his wife of 20 years for professional and moral support, even if his reasons for recruiting her services were not always the most noble.  ‘But you’re free,’ he once pointed out, explaining why she should run his first Congressional campaign.  He wasn’t referring to her uncluttered schedule.”

By the way, their reasons and justifications tell you what their most important priories are.  And that your expected role in life is to help them satisfy those priorities.

  • It’s all about them.  They think they know best about everything.  Their rules should rule. They should control everything.

Governor Sanford’s first move after the teary news conference last June, in which he expressed his sincere love for his Argentine girlfriend, was to get on the phone to his wife as soon as the cameras were off, and ask her: “How’d I do?”

“He even sought her permission to continue his affair, and expected her to empathize with his loneliness, she says. ‘What he does not see is how morally offensive it is to me even to listen to this.’”

  • Their excuses should excuse.  They lie and when they’re caught they’ll justify and argue relentlessly, including splitting hairs like a lawyer and changing the subject.

“Amazed by the ego stroking that came with a political career, Ms. Sanford writes, she watched her husband morph into a restless, distant character.  He stopped bothering to be strict with their four children. He worried about his bald spot. And he spent more and more time away from home, telling what turned out to be flagrant lies about his reasons for travel.  A trip to New York to talk with publishers about his book on conservative values turned out to be a surreptitious tryst with the Argentine woman.”

“Once Ms. Sanford figured out what was going on and fought vehemently with her husband, he sided adamantly with his lover. (‘She is not a whore!’)”

See “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and the “Top 12 Warning Signs of controlling Husbands” for more details.

Jenny Sanford is bright and perceptive; she saw the signs of harassment, bullying and abuse.  She tolerated his behavior.  She ignored or hoped that he wouldn’t take the path he did.  That’s a choice common to people who end up in Jenny’s situation, whether experienced under the microscope of national television or in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

Of course, bullying women also show these same warning signs and men go along for the ride.

Great people, people on great and consuming missions show these behaviors.  What you do in response to these signs is your business.  You may be willing to tolerate bullying in service to the person you love and to the mission.

It’s really about where you draw the line in the gray area.  For example, suppose the fame and adulation didn’t go to Governor Sanford’s head?  Suppose he stayed in love with Jenny, didn’t get a huge crush for this mistress (or others we don’t know about) and cared more for his children?

Many great people have.  In that case, Jenny wouldn’t have written that book and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

But hubris and infatuation have long been recognized as leading to great falls in life.

For years I’ve watched bullies disrupt professional meetings and create hostile workplaces.  It’s bad enough when team members dominate meetings, but it’s always worse if it’s the boss who’s a control freak. Here are the top 10 tactics I’ve seen them use.  What situations and actions irritate and frustrate you most?

These methods are even worse when they’re repeatedly used.  But of course, that’s a sign of bullying behavior; bullies don’t change.  My top 10 are:

  1. Unprepared and latecomers – especially when they make a loud entrance.
  2. Interrupters – they may be show-offs or clowns; they may interrupt vocally or by eating and drinking loudly or they may use their cell phones, Blackberrys or computers.  They have the attention span of two year-olds.
  3. Boring ramblers with their lengthy personal conversations or digressions.
  4. Dominators and know-it-all authorities – their loudness, certainty and fast talk tend to shut other people down.
  5. Naysayers – they are relentlessly negative and can put down and block every proposal; “There are problems, we tried that, nothing ever works except my ideas.”
  6. Angry people who indulge in personal attacks and put-downs, belittling and bringing up old errors.  They’re often defensive but, after a while, who cares about their psychotherapy?
  7. Nit-pickers, distracters and side trackers who are full of irrelevant facts.  They prevent progress by correcting or arguing over irrelevant details.  They may want to re-think every previous decision; they never take action.
  8. Side conversation experts – their ideas, whims or self-important witticisms seem to them more important than the agenda.
  9. Editorial comments – they may be verbal or non-verbal, including snorting, rolling eyes, drumming fingers, turning their chairs around, laughing sarcastically and barely audible disparaging or ridiculing remarks.
  10. Passive-aggressive backstabbers – they keep quiet or even agree during meetings, but then disagree, complain or put down people after meetings.

We usually know how to resolve these problem behaviors, but most people don’t have the courage or the organization’s culture won’t allow you to act.

Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies.  I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that make meetings worthwhile and promote productivity.

The techniques are covered in the CD set, “Eliminate the High Cost of Low Attitudes,” and also in the book, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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