Let’s begin talking about how not to raise spoiled brats by listing the top seven methods that do create lazy, selfish, narcissistic, arrogant, entitled, bullying tyrants. The underlying attitude that creates demanding, abusive bullies is the false idea that if children are never thwarted or forced to do what they don’t want to, they’ll be more creative and happy, and their self-esteem will be higher.  This attitude is very prevalent among the helping professions; especially therapists and teachers.

What I say may anger people who think in black-while, all-none terms.  Those people think that the only choices are total freedom and praise, or beatings and total repression.  How silly to think that way.

My top seven attitudes, approaches, techniques, methods to create willful, domineering brats and teenagers are:

  1. Always give them everything they want and give them control of every decision.  Teach them that if they don’t get what they desperately want at the moment, they’ll never be happy.  Never force them to do what you want.  Always try to get them to understand that you’re right, so they’ll willingly do what you want them to.  Don’t act until they give you permission.
  2. Never correct them or say, “No.”  Help them think they’re sensitive, weak and fragile.  Be afraid that if their feelings are hurt, they’ll never get over it.
  3. Never show displeasure or tell them that they failed to meet your expectations.  Always tell them that their efforts are good enough; no matter how pathetic the results.
  4. Always tell them that they should succeed instantly or that what they can’t do easily isn’t important.  Tell them that hard work and struggle aren’t important.  Blame everything that they don’t like on other people (bad friends, bad teachers, bad schools, bad society), not on their insufficient or mediocre effort.  Always tell them that the world is supposed to be fair and to make them happy.
  5. Be afraid that if they’re unhappy or angry, they won’t love you.  Always try to be their confidant and best friend.  Give in to their fits and temper tantrums in order to get them to stop.   Train them that you’ll give them whatever they want if they throw fits in public.
  6. Always excuse their bad behavior because they’re “cute” or “creative.”  Always excuse them from chores because it’s no fun for them.
  7. Instead of calmly applying consequences whether they like it or not, always let them misbehave without correction or consequences.  Hold your tongue or repeatedly tell them not to do something, but don’t actually do anything effective until you can’t stand it anymore and you throw a fit.  Never smack their bottoms or grab them to make your point or to let them know that sometimes they will do what you want, no matter what – even though that’s the only thing that will get them to do what you want.

If you start these approaches when they’re infants, you can create manipulative, demanding teenage bullies who think they’re entitled to everything they want and you’re supposed to provide it.  They’re the kind of children who may be living at home when they’re 40.  Will you wonder why, deep down, you don’t like them any more than they like you?

Of course, don’t go to the other extreme and beat them into submission.

Don’t give in to guilt when you thwart them with your, hopefully, high expectations.  Don’t give in to coddling and wishful thinking when they try to wear you down.

Think of the qualities you want them to develop and give them many opportunities to practice.  Here are nine, for example:

  1. Will, self-mastery, courage and discipline.
  2. Emphasis on action and seeking solutions instead of blame.
  3. Grit – determination, dedication, drive, commitment and focus.
  4. Persistence, perseverance, patience, endurance and tenacity.
  5. Resilience, flexibility and humor.
  6. Comfort in change, ambiguity and the unknown.
  7. Heroism in the face of discouragement, so you’ll treat obstacles like speed bumps.
  8. Taking calculated risks and making the most of opportunities and luck.
  9. Learning from great models, heroes, mentors and coaches.

Without your guidance and discipline, they won’t magically develop those qualities when they’re 25.

Stand up and say that you do know better.  Don’t give in to bullies; especially when you love them.

See:  How Not to Raise Spoiled Brats http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8g8wbgKKcs

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.

Following reviews of Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character,” Holly Finn brings in Cowboy Ethics and the Cowboy Code in her review in the Wall Street Journal, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”  She contrasts the Cowboy Code with many examples of poor character shown by students and their parents – lying, cheating, stealing and doing anything to get ahead at many of our most prestigious schools. Of course she’s right about character versus greed and success at any price.

Whether the Code comes from Jim Owen’s book, "Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West" or from Ernest Morris’ “El Vaquero: The Cowboy Code,” the message is the same.  Character counts.  Character counts first and most.  Or, as said elsewhere, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Some of the crucial traits of Cowboy Ethics and different Cowboy Codes are:

  1. Live each day with courage.
  2. Take pride in your work.
  3. Always finish what you start.
  4. Do what has to be done.
  5. Be tough, but fair.
  6. When you make a promise, keep it.
  7. Ride for the brand.
  8. Talk less and say more.
  9. Remember that some things aren't for sale.
  10. Know where to draw the line.
  11. A cowboy never takes unfair advantage - even of an enemy.
  12. A cowboy never betrays a trust.  He never goes back on his word.
  13. A cowboy always tells the truth.
  14. A cowboy is kind and gentle to small children, old folks, and animals.
  15. A cowboy is free from racial and religious intolerances.
  16. A cowboy is always a good worker.
  17. A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents and his nation's laws.
  18. A cowboy is clean about his person in thought, word, and deed.
  19. A cowboy is a Patriot.
  20. The highest badge of honor a person can wear is honesty.  Be truthful at all times.
  21. Your parents are the best friends you have.  Listen to them and obey their instructions.
  22. If you want to be respected, you must respect others.  Show good manners in every way.
  23. Only through hard work and study can you succeed.  Don't be lazy.
  24. Your good deeds always come to light.  So don't boast or be a show-off.
  25. If you waste time or money today, you will regret it tomorrow.  Practice thrift in all ways.
  26. Many animals are good and loyal companions.  Be friendly and kind to them.
  27. A strong, healthy body is a precious gift.  Be neat and clean.
  28. Our country's laws are made for your protection.  Observe them carefully.
  29. Children in many foreign lands are less fortunate than you.  Be glad and proud you are an American.
  30. I will be brave, but never careless.
  31. I will obey my parents. They DO know best.
  32. I will be neat and clean at all times.
  33. I will be polite and courteous.

But the Cowboy Code is not true; few cowboys really followed it. Yes, that’s right.  Many of the exemplars are fictional or fictionalized characters like Hopalong Cassidy and Wild Bill Hickok.  We can quibble with many of the sentiments and find situations in which, for example, parents are not always good, right and deserving of respect.

So what?  The factual nature doesn’t matter.  What matters is what spirit gets stimulated in our children’s hearts and even in us as adults.  The history of the greatness of the human spirit and human endeavor is passed on generation after generation through stories that inspire each new individual to be great and to do good.  It’s passed on in myth, legend and fiction, as well as through the lives and deeds of great men and women – great humans.

That’s the way human education works.  What counts is what gets inspired in the heart of each child and each adult.

Won’t honesty and good character mean that our children will be beaten out by the cheaters? That’s what many parents are afraid of: the cheaters will get better grades, get into better schools and eventually get better jobs and careers; lying cheating and stealing are necessary for survival or success.  But those predictions come from fear and aren’t necessarily true.

Step back from fear and think.  Would we want our children to become or to marry people who are selfish, lying, cheaters?  Don’t we want our children to have “Cowboy” character and to their live lives based on that?

If our children become witnesses or defenders, won’t they get into trouble? Maybe.  Children or adults who speak out against harassment, bullying and abuse can get trouble focused on them.  Children or adults who speak out against domestic violence, racism, religious persecution, genocide and terrorism can get trouble focused on them.  We each decide what to do in specific situations.

What’s crucial is to know the difference between right and wrong.  If we don’t know the difference, if we think that all values are the equal because there are so many different ones across the globe, we are making a grave mistake.  Different values lead to different places and we choose the direction we will try to go.

The engine and the steering wheel. Traits and skills like grit, determination, perseverance, fortitude, endurance and resilience are our engine.  We need the power of these abilities to get anywhere on the long road of life.

The values, beliefs and attitudes that are embodied in the humans who exemplify the Cowboy Code or Cowboy Ethics, whether as real as Lincoln, as fictionalized as Wild Bill Hickok or as fictional as Hopalong Cassidy, are our steering wheel.

We need both an engine and a steering wheel to get where we want to go.

What engine and steering wheel do we try to teach our children?  What engine and steering wheel are we models of for our children?  Which values are more important when some of ours conflict or are even mutually exclusive?

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.

Two articles have been stimulated by the publishing of Paul Tough’s new book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.”  One is in the Wall Street Journal by Mr. Tough, “Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race'” and the other is by Joe Nocera in the New York Times, “Reading, Math and Grit.” Both ask, “Which is more important to student success, character or cognitive skills, and what kind of interventions might help children succeed?

The whole idea behind this way of thinking is flawed.  Parents who follow it will jump on a new fad and, once again, be overwhelmed by anxiety.

I challenge some of the ideas behind both the old and the new ways of thinking such as that:

  1. One set of characteristics – either cognitive skills in math, language, science, etc. or personality/character traits like grit, persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, resilience, integrity, resourcefulness, professionalism and ambition – are much more important than the other.
  2. We can figure out what all the factors are and assign percentages to each based on its contribution toward success.  These factors will be reliable determinants of success.
  3. We can improve the success rate of individuals by thinking and discussing ‘why” some children succeed while others don’t in terms of abstractions and generalizations such as “American parenting,” “affluent parents,” “parental anxiety,” “over-protective parents,” “permissive parents,” “character,” cognitive skills.”
  4. We must actively intervene to ensure that our children learn the most important attributes.  Based on the latest research, we can develop methods to teach these to all children so they’ll be successful.

When I think of what’s necessary for success, I think not of a list of factors with percentages of importance attached to each factor, but of a target with a bull’s eye in the center containing of all the abilities we want our children and ourselves to have.  Did anyone really think that mastering cognitive skills without developing grit would lead to success?  Or does anyone think the opposite now?  Both areas are necessary and the appropriate mixture of characteristics depends on the individual.

In general, grit matters no matter what you do, but what it takes to succeed as a lawyer can be very different from what it takes to succeed as a genius programmer or a fashion designer.  What it takes to succeed as a factory worker, a small business owner or a bus driver may be very different mixes.  What it takes to participate in team activities and in individual activities can be different.  What it takes to face harassment, bullying and abuse can be different depending on who’s doing it.

All these discussions are in the abstract and general.  What we can do something about is in the moment-to-moment reality of us and our families.

How many of us really tried to keep our kids from experiencing any failure and disappointment?  How many of us really covered up each of their mistakes and failures so that blame was never on the actions of our children?  Most of us try to teach the lessons of life to our children.

Each child is different.  Each child learns some particular lessons the hard way, while other kids get those same lessons immediately, but learn other lessons the hard way.  And some just never seem to learn, no matter how hard we try.  Most kids learn the universal lessons despite the times we mess up the opportunities to teach.

My conclusion about these ruminations is to stop thinking in abstractions and generalizations, stop trying to figure out the correct way that will guarantee success for an average person or a middle class person or an affluent person or a disadvantaged person.  Instead, focus on our individual kids and ourselves.

We know the obvious – both grit/character/personality and cognitive skills matter.  Which ones do we need to develop more?  Which ones does each individual kid need to develop more?  Which kids need to develop more grit?  Which kids need to learn when to stop beating their heads against which brick walls?

We also know that if we protect our children from hurt, pain, mistakes, failures and realistic estimations of their talents, we’ll promote arrogance, weakness, hesitation and defeatism.  Facing challenges is the only way we learn to face challenges and to overcome them and our weaknesses.

I’ve focused on middle and upper class parents and kids instead of disadvantaged kids because I think most of the people who read this blog fall into those categories.  But I’d say the same to everyone.

If you’re still protecting your children or if they think they know best or they’re entitled to do what they want, change your approach immediately.

Paul Tough ends his article with “Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.”  I agree whole-heartedly.

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.

Paul Tough ends his article with “Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even 

more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.”  I agree whole-heartedly.

Many comments are similar on the articles:

Abused, bullied and battered women often end their comments with some version of:

  • But I still love him.
  • Sometimes he’s nice to me and I still think I can change him, if only I was good enough.
  • He still says that he loves me.
  • I’m afraid to leave because I’m worthless and won’t be able to make it without him.
  • I’m afraid to leave because he’ll kill me.

Today, let’s focus on the idea that woman can’t dump him because they love him.  Of course the same reasons are true for men facing negative, critical, harassing, manipulative, abusive, bullying, battering women.

For a moment, forget what we were taught about love, especially the importance and moral value of unconditional love, when we were young – what it is, what it feels like, how we know we’re really in love and what we’re supposed to do when we feel that way.

Now that we’re adults, we can decide for ourselves what we want to call “love” and how we’ll act when we “love.”  Is love merely lust, or feeling complete or whole, or feeling that we can’t live without the other person?  Do those feelings mean that we’ll be happy because we’re mad for the other person or that we can work out how to live together?  If we feel those feelings, must we move in together and maybe get married?  When we love, must we believe what he says or accept whatever he does, must we be submissive and obey him, must we accept his reasons, excuses, justifications and promises, must we forgive or appease him endlessly, must we debate until he accepts our point of view..

As long as the answers don’t affect our lives, we might have fun speculating about those questions.  But even though love is usually accompanied by real feelings, it’s still an abstract concept that really isn’t a tangible noun, like a physical object is.

A more useful path is to choose how we want to be loved.  That is; what kind of behavior will we allow in our personal space, whether the actions are called “love” or “bullying” or “abuse.”

Also more useful is to choose which of our thoughts and feelings we want to follow in our lives.  Or, which feelings, if any, do we want to let blow us over or sweep us away.

Now that we’re adults with more experience, we can see that when we let some feelings sweep us away, we’re like a sail boat without a rudder or keel.  We’re blown whichever way the wind and current takes us.  We’ve lost control and we’ll never get where we want to sail to.  We’re at the mercy of external forces – his whims and actions at the moment.  Do we want to continue letting ourselves get blown away?

It’s even worse after kids come.  So many women make mistakes about which values are most important.  For example, they think that it’s most important that their kids have a father even if that father abuses and bullies them or only their mother.  Or they think that they most important value is never to say anything bad about their children’s father, even though their observations are accurate and especially necessary to reinforce what their children see and think.  People are being beaten and that’s being called “love.” Children must learn that they are seeing reality and they can trust their perceptions.  Covering up the truth or lying creates self-doubt and undermines their confidence and self-esteem.

I think that it comes down to knowing, in our heart-of-hearts, that we can’t let whatever feeling we call “love” take over our lives when that feeling keeps putting us and our children in harm’s way.  There are higher standards of behavior than that feeling we call “love.”  And that the word “love” doesn’t remove all the pain caused when narcissistic, righteous predators attack their targets.

If “love” means that we’ll never stop the perpetrator and never leave him, he’ll never stop bullying.  Why should he; he’s in control and gets what he wants.  If “love” means that the victim must follow the Golden Rule, never confront or upset the bully and only beg him to change, but never have serious consequences, we’ll never stop bullies.

On the other hand, if we love our spirits, our children and our high standards of behavior that are required in our personal space, then we can stop bullies or get away from their bullying.  The number one factor in changing the behavior of relentless bullies is serious consequences.

We know we must live up to our best aspirations and standards, we must demand only the best for ourselves and our children.  Don’t suffer in silenceWe must say, “No. That’s enough.  I won’t let our lives be ruined for that kind of love.”

Of course, it may be scary, dangerous and difficult to get away.  Of course, we may be poor and suffer at first.  But it’s the only chance we have to clear our personal space so that someone wonderful can come into it; someone who treats us good.  We must not be defeated by defeats.

Three steps are necessary:

  1. Taking power for ourselves, and counting on the strength and determination that will come to us when we keep making good decisions by dumping the jerk.
  2. Getting help to create a plan and carry it out with determination, perseverance, strength, courage and resilience.
  3. Having a wiser and more mature sense of love and which feelings to pay attention to.  That means straightening ourselves out so we’ll love better people who treat us well.

Feelings and thoughts are like the bubbles of carbonation on a soda.  They’re always, always, endlessly bubbling up to the surface and then drifting away.  Some of those bubbles can smell pretty bad.  Pardon the crudity, but we’ve all had brain farts.  And like the other kind, we know that if we wait a minute, the stinky, scary, self-bullying fears, put-downs and “shoulds” will drift off on their own.  We can decide not to act on them and simply let them go.  We can throw ourselves into other thoughts or activities to speed the process.

I’ve focused on bullying spouses, but the same can be said about demanding, bullying, toxic family members, like parents, siblings and extended family.  They bully and say that we should accept the bad treatment because we’re “family.”  But requiring good behavior is a better standard than tolerating bad blood.

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

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

Most of us have been targets of harassment and bullying, but that doesn’t mean we must be the victims of bullies.  If fact, when we’re not victims, we can more effectively stop bullying and abuse. For example, imagine a child who’s subjected to teasing, taunting, harassment and bullying at school.

It could be a boy targeted by one bully or a group or gang.  The bullying could be physical or verbal – name-calling, ridiculing or demeaning.

Or consider a girl who’s targeted by the mean girls at school.  She’s abused, harassed, cut-out and cut-down because she’s not as pretty or rich, doesn’t have the newest fashions or is liked by a boy who is wanted by one of the mean girls.  All the girls pile on to attack the target, verbally, physically and by cyberbullying.

To make it worse, teachers and principals often do nothing to protect targets.  Sometimes, they don’t know what to do or they’re afraid to confront bullies and their bullying parents or they blame the target.  Sometimes, they even enable, encourage or collude with the bullying.  Sometimes the mean girls are encouraged by their parents, who are happy their daughters are in the in-crowd and couldn’t care less about the target.

Often, principals and teachers focus on changing the targets.  These irresponsible authorities seem to think that if only the targets would change and please their attackers, the nasty kids would stop targeting them.  Or they think bullying is natural selection, survival of the fittest, so anyone who can’t blend in should suffer the consequences of being different.  Or they think it’s merely kids being kids and the persecutors will eventually outgrow their youthful indiscretions.

I hope I’ve made you mad about the injustice of these situations.  These are not far-fetched situations.  I get many coaching calls from frustrated parents who have tried, without success for more than six months, to stop the bullies and make the teachers, principals and district administrators protect their children.

Victims think they’re to blame. Victims minimize, ignore, forgive, appease, beg, bribe, are nice, accept excuses and justifications, sympathize with and try to understand and use reason with relentless, real-world bullies.  Victims use the Golden Rule to stop these ignorant, insensitive predators.  Victims suffer in silence.  Eventually, victims accept the abuse and bullying.  Victims give in to fear, despair and defeat; they give up; they feel helpless and hopeless. They’re overwhelmed by anxiety, stress, negative self-talk and self-doubtThey lose confidence and self-esteem.  Often, they suffer from depression and an increased risk of suicide.  Do-nothing principals are always involved in school bullying-caused suicides of victims.

Targets keep a fire burning inside them.  They don’t take it personally; they know they’re okay and the fault lies with the bullies, their narcissistic parents and the failures who are running their schools.  They fight and learn how to fight betterThey maintain their courage, strength, determination, endurance, perseverance and resilience; they're not defeated by defeat.  Targets seek allies who are willing to act together – not merely whine, complain and feel sorry together.

Targets may be angry at the injustice, but they’re not overwhelmed and beaten down.  Since we can’t win every battle, even if justice is on our side, targets may simply move on and create a wonderful life somewhere else.  And hope that someday, they can get their oppressors.

We can see the same distinction between targets and victims in wives or husbands who are criticized, corrected, scolded, chastised, controlled, isolated, subjected to hostility, jealousy and negativity, manipulated and blamed, shamed and guilt-tripped, and beaten by their controlling spouses.  The task of these adult targets is the same as that of the kids.  Don’t be a victim.  Don’t take it personally; learn how to resist, say, “That’s enough,” say “No.”  Get help, take your own power, fight back, get away, start poor if you have to but start again.

The same distinction applies to harassment, hostility, bullying, manipulation, toxic coworkers, abuse and even violence in the workplace.

You may be a target, but don’t be a victim.  Learn to be skillful in fighting back.  And fight to win.  That’s our best chance of stopping bullies.

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

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

Although each situation is different, bullies exhibit common styles, techniques and patterns.  These commonalities enable us see what responses are ineffective and also to develop responses that are effective to stop bullying. Whether in relationships, by our own children’s temper tantrums or nastiness, by false friends, at school or in the workplace, there is one rule of thumb that’s critical in order to stop bullies: Don’t suffer in silence.

For some relationship examples, see the comments to the articles:

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

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

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

Kids’ silence prevents effective action from the principals and teachers who would protect them.

As parents, we must learn to recognize the signs that our children might be subjected to bullying and abuse.  Sometimes, we must pry the truth out of our reluctant kids.  Sometimes, we must check their phones, computers and social websites.  Sometimes, we must investigate with parents of their friends or with teachers.  Sometimes, we must learn to force reluctant principals to act, even though that might violate our old beliefs or values.

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

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

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

I’m not going into the many reasons that targets suffer in silence.  We don’t need a scientific study to analyze all the reasons.  If we and ten friends make a list, we’ll cover more than 90% of the reasons. So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venting, like catharsis, seems so natural: we all blow off steam sometimes.  And when we finish, we usually heave a great sigh of relief. But to me, the real questions are, “What’s the point of venting?” and “Can it help stop bullies?

I think of venting as a process, or part of a process, not as a result in and of itself.

Tens of thousands of years ago, we might have vented our fear and anger through physical action.  Get rid of the adrenaline, calm down and decide what to do.  But we still had to be careful and keep ourselves in check enough while we’re venting to see the signs of saber-toothed tigers or giant bears or we wouldn’t be around to vent again.

Or we might have used a big club to whack an opponent and then face the consequences of that rash act.

Nowadays, we can still use some techniques like physical effort to release steam and calm us down.  For example, working off adrenaline by banging a ball or running or boxing.  In addition, a wise woman once said that whenever she got angry, she vacuumed her house.  That way, when she finished being angry, she’d have a clean house and she could focus on what to do next.

Some people use anger and venting to give themselves enough energy to stop harassment and bullying.  In that case, it does help us stop bullies.  A classic example might be Ralphie Parker in the movie, “The Christmas Story.”  In that case, he channeled his anger effectively and vented while he was beating up the bully.  But usually, when we act from anger we’re not strategic; we do dumb things that make the situation worse.

But the point of venting is always:

Therefore we must challenge ourselves to stop repeated replaying and re-venting over the same incidents and injustices.  Repeated venting without effective action becomes narcissistic whining and complaining, which becomes boring and self-destructive.

Such repetition drives our good friends away.  I think it was Annie Liebovitz who said, “Spilling your guts is about as attractive as it sounds.”

Such repetition also puts us on one of the paths to self-destruction – through violence turned outward or through hatred turned inward into negative self-talk, self-abuse, self-bullying, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and increased chances of depression and suicide.  And after they’ve ranted, many people use perfectionistic standards to make themselves feel ashamed and guilty, which only makes them weaker.

We most also be wary of hanging out with people who vent repeatedly.  Yes, injustice might have been done, but we still have to move on effectively in life – either fight the injustice effectively or go in a different direction successfully.

I’ve met too many people who have filled their lives and many hours of psychoanalysis in endless probing and catharsis.  They seem to assume that if only they vent enough, finally they’ll come to rest in peace on the other side.  Too often they end up knowing everything about some sides of themselves, but never having changed their behavior, fixed the situation or created wonderful lives.  A life of verbal and righteous indignation is not a very fruitful life.

I’m more focused on overtly using techniques for moving to the other side and rapidly taking effective action.

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

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

If you worry that your child will be bullied in school next school year, but you don’t know what to do until bullying happens again in September, you’re missing a golden opportunity this summer.  Summer is the best time to organize in order to protect your children on day-one. Seven tips for what you can do this summer:

  1. Don’t wait until there’s an incident or a history of incidents.
  2. Organize parents to pressure legislators, district administrators and principals. This step is a crucial one.  A small group of parents supporting an anti-bullying program and pressuring district officials and principals can make a huge difference.  You don’t need all parents; you only need a small, core group to start with.
  3. Make sure your district administrators and school principals have clear and strongly worded policies and programs to stop school bullies. Make sure they have emergencies procedures to institute swift and effective investigation and action.  Does the program start on day one?  What initial assemblies will be held with students? How will they be involved in on-going programs?  What training will teachers and all staff get to help them recognize and stop sneaky bullies?  How will hot-spots be monitored – buses, bathrooms, lockers, hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds?  What support will teachers and staff get to protect them from angry, bullying parents?  How will they deal with the first boundary pushers so that the message of zero-tolerance gets out?
  4. Get police involved. Do they have a special unit to stop bullying, especially cyberbullying?  Do they speak at school assemblies?  Are they fearless in dealing with bullying parents of school bullies?
  5. Stimulate media to publicize stories about the effects of bullying. Find reporters and producers who were bullied or have kids in school now; especially kids who have been targeted.  Help them find experts to interview.
  6. Learn what constitutes evidence and how to document it. Learn how to support proactive principals.  Learn what you will need to do to motivate lazy, uncaring, colluding or cowardly principals.  Do you know what media and legal pressure will stimulate your principal to act?  Talk to a lawyer now so you’re prepared.
  7. Publicize the policy and program before school starts. Organize parent-principal-teacher assemblies to gain buy-in to the school’s program and processes.  Encourage parents to educate their children about not bullying and about what to do when they witness bullying.

Don’t waste your time with nit-picky detractors and critics who have nothing better to offer.

Look at the price to all kids at a school where bullying is tolerated or condoned, or the friends of bullies are allowed to pile on to victims by threatening and abusing them or by cyberbullying.  We all know the consequences of not stopping bullies and of allowing them continued contact with their targets, the bullying and violence will increase.

At schools that have a do-nothing principal or in which principals blame the victim and avoid the bully, kids’ inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance, resilience are threatened.  You have to be the one to demand that principals keep your children safe while officials try to ignore you or thwart your attempts.

Principals who avoid the issue make the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  It starts them down the path to being victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Organize this summer so your children will be protected from school bullies on day-one.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics appropriate to us and to the situation.

Rather than buy a packaged anti-bullying program that ends up buried in a storeroom, stimulate school and district officials to create their own, based on what will be effective for your specific school situation.  Expert consulting and coaching are necessary to implement an effective program.

A typical tactic of sneaky, manipulative bullies is to convince their well-meaning targets to try to make the bullies happy.  Although covert bullies and control-freaks aren’t usually so clear, straightforward and blunt about it, what they say is, “You’ve made me unhappy.  It’s your fault that I’m upset, angry, violent and abusive.  If you only acted the way I want, I’d be happy and nice.  It’s your responsibility to make me happy.” Common examples of this tactic are:

Common examples of this tactic are:

  • An abusive spouse yells, controls and beats his partner. Then he blames his loss of self-control and self-discipline on the target.  “If you did what I wanted, I’d be nice.  You brought it on yourself.  It’s your fault I treat you so badly.”  See the case study of Grace in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up.”
  • A covert bully in the workplace will get hysterical and claim to have low morale until you give her everything she wants in order to calm her down and raise her morale. You’ll have to keep the goodies coming because she’ll never trust you; every day you’ll have to convince her anew by doing what she wants. An overt bully at work will use the same approach as an abusive spouse for outrageous acts of bullying, abuse and violence.
  • Facing the temper tantrums of two year-olds, you’re teaching them how to get what they want from you; by being nice or by being nasty.  You’re also training them how to feel when they don’t get what they want.  They learn whether it’s okay to fight you as if not getting what they want is the end of the world or if they have to develop more self-discipline and control.  Once you’re defeated by a two year-olds’ temper tantrums, you’ll have to do what they want forever, or else.  The best way to create a spoiled brat is to accept the task of providing for their happiness.  The worst consequence of your giving in is that they’ll grow up convinced that they can’t be happy unless they’re catered to.
  • Using surly, grumpy, demanding, entitled behavior, teenagers can manipulate or browbeat their parents. Teens will claim that if they fail in life, it’ll be your fault because you didn’t give them enough.  Or they’ll threaten to hurt themselves or damage the house if you upset them.  However, your job is to turn the responsibility around.  You might give them things if they make you like it, not if they try to beat you into giving them what they want.  See the case study of Paula in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

In all these situations, sneaky, manipulative, covert, stealthy bullies try to get what they want by using emotional blackmail and name-calling.  For example, if you don’t give them what they want, “You’re insensitive, selfish and uncaring” or “You’re not a nice person” or “You don’t understand how I feel, what I’ve lived through or how hard it is for me” or “You wouldn’t want me to repress what I feel.  I don’t have any control over what I feel.”

Their hidden assumption is that other people (you) are responsible for their attitudes, moods and happiness.  They have no control over how they feel about getting or not getting what they want.  Also, they have no control over how they act when they’re upset.  And, therefore, your job is to make them happy.

I disagree with all those assumptions.  Also, if you accept the guilt, blame and responsibility, you’ll be a victim for life.

The negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage.  Looking at yourself with their hostile eyes and talking to yourself with their critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voice can be demoralizing and debilitating.  Constant repetition of all your imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead you down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Don’t go there.

Their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate.  If you accept the responsibility to please them in order to get them to treat you decently, you’ll give them what they want and all they have to do to keep you giving is never to be satisfied.  Since you’re responsible for their feelings and actions, there will always be more things you have to do to please them.

Don’t let them destroy your inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience.  Don’t go down the path to being a victim for life.  Don’t let them destroy your self-confidence and self-esteem.  Don’t let them stimulate your anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  Don’t let them push you toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Instead, break the game.  Don’t accept the responsibility for their feelings and actions.  You don’t have to be perfect before they have to change how they act.  Give the responsibility back to them.

For example, you can say, “I’m not responsible for how you feel and act.  You are.  I don’t have to make you happy.  You can choose how you feel and what you do, no matter what’s happening.  I’m going to focus only on behavior and decide whether to keep you around based only on your actions.  Your reasons, excuses and justifications won’t count.”

And then you have to make the consequences count.

If a stealthy, manipulative bully says, “You’re being selfish,” you can respond with, “Thanks for noticing.” And you keep doing what you were doing.

The tactics they use tell you how close you want people to be; how close you want to let them come to your wonderful, peaceful, joyous island.

All tactics are situational so we’ll have to go into the details of your specific situation in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

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

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage.  Looking at yourself with hostile eyes and talking to yourself with that old critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voice can be demoralizing and debilitating.  Constant repetition of all your imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead you down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Don’t believe it? Think of some examples of relentless self-bullying:

  • The abused wife who accepts her husband’s excuses and justifications that his verbal or physical beatings are her fault. She’s to blame for his failures; she’s never good enough.  If only she were adequate, he wouldn’t be so nasty, vicious and violent.  If she talks to herself with his voice, she’ll never leave.  If she accepts the guilt and shame she’ll keep trying to please him, but she’ll never succeed.  She convinces herself she’ll never make it on her own so she stays and endures more brutality.
  • The kids bullied at school who tell themselves that they’ll never be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough or loved. They think it’s their fault they get harassed, teased, taunted and emotionally and physically bullied.  They give in to bullies.  If their nagging, hostile, abusive voices convince them that there’s no hope for a better future, they become the next Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi or other young suicides.
  • The people harassed at work who’re told they’re dumb, ugly, the wrong color, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. They’re made the butt of jokes and threats; their work ideas are stolen; they’re belittled, ostracized, shamed and passed over for promotions.  If their self-critical voices convince them to give up, their spirits will die.  They won’t be able to summon the will, determination or perseverance to fight back.  They’ll feel overwhelmed and unable to learn the skills they need to protect and defend themselves.
  • The kids who think the deck is stacked against them. Their parents have treated them badly or one or both have blamed or abandoned them.  If they convince themselves they’re stupid and not loveable, they’ll give up.  They’ll accept bullying; their own and from other kids.  They shuffle through life, putting themselves down, defeating their efforts before they’ve really begun.  They lose their fighting spirits; the spirit that will struggle against the conditions and vicissitudes of life in order to make great lives for themselves.

Kids who’ve turned off their engines look and act dull and listless; as if they’ve given up already.  You can almost hear their constant inner, self-dialogue.  They’re so distracted by the destructive IMAX Theater in their minds that they can’t pay attention to what’s happening around them.  Their attention is captured by all the putdowns and listing of all their failures, the magnifying of the problems they face, the making of insurmountable mountains out of molehills, the diminishing of each skill or success, the magnifying of each imperfection.  They’re not resilient; the smallest adversity defeats them.  Happiness is fleeting; bitterness and depression is their lot.  Anything good they get is never enough, never satisfying, never brings joy.

Alternatively, they use their engines, often ferociously, to blame their parents and try to beat them into submission, to extract material possessions and guilt, to vent their hatred of themselves and the world onto their parents or onto the one parent who stays and tries to help them.  They bite every hand that’s offered to them.  They fight against teachers and against learning a skill that might make them financially and physically independent.  They explode with sarcasm and rage in response to the slightest nudging.  What a waste.

All the help offered them seems to bounce off.  They won’t accept what’s offered because that hyper-critical, judgmental voice knows better.

They have no inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience.  They feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  They may go down the path to being victims for life.  Their self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed.  Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated.  They move easily toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Nothing will help them until they turn their engines on again.

Compare them to the kids with great engines; always active and alert, always wanting to learn, willing to face and overcome challenges, seeking risk and reward, capable of overcoming adversity.  They have tremendous drive to live and to succeed.

These spirited kids with great engines can tax your patience almost beyond its limits, but the reward is so apparent.  They’ll make something wonderful of their lives.  They won’t give up.  They won’t be defeated by defeats.

Our job as parents with these spirited kids is clear: help them develop great steering wheels so they can direct themselves to fulfill the promise of their great engines in worthy endeavors.  Whatever direction they travel, they’ll go with passion, intensity and joy.  They’ll overcome setbacks by continuing on with renewed effort.  As Coach John Wooden said, “Hustle can make up for a lot of mistakes.”

There is no formula to save kids who turn off their engines.  Even when you know every detail of their history, there is no formula.  There’s only the continued presenting to them of encouragement and opportunity.  Sometimes a mentor or coach is crucial, sometimes a small success that’s a surprise, sometimes an example of someone else’s life will catch their attention.

We know that attempts to improve their steering wheel won’t help.  No lectures about being better, kinder, gentler people will help.  The beginning of a new life for them is the miracle of starting their engines.  Then they grab opportunities for themselves.  Then we can help them with their steering wheels.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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In a series of articles in the New York Times, “Poisoned Web,” Jan Hoffman details a sexting case gone viral in Lacey, Washington.  What can you do for your son or daughter so they don’t get sucked into the black hole of a sexting catastrophe that could ruin their whole lives?

In this particular case, a middle-school girl sent a full-frontal nude photo of herself, including her face, to her new middle-school boyfriend.  He forwarded the picture to a second middle-school girl he thought was a friend of the first one.  The second girl, an ex-friend with a grudge, forwarded the picture to the long list of contacts on her phone with the caption, “Ho Alert!  If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.”  The photo rapidly went viral.

A lot of the analysis about the situation is nothing new:

  • Why do girls send nude photos of themselves to boyfriends they have or hope to have?  The same reasons girls always have.
  • Why do guys prize and show these pictures as evidence of what studs they are?  The same reasons guys always have.
  • Why do friends of the guys or mean girls forward the pictures?  The same reasons that names used to get written on bathroom or phone booth walls.  The same reasons that girls have always cut down their competition and enemies.  Bullies, bullying, harassment and abusive behavior have always been with us.
  • Who or what is to blame?  The same culprits get vilified: thoughtless, foolish boys and girls, teenagers, school officials, society, double-standards and technology.

Does technology make sexting worse?  Yes, of course.  Technology makes it seductively easy to forward pictures and comments.  Also, technology makes the information global and permanent.  Kids can’t move to another school or even another city in order to get away from the consequences of what they and others did.

In the past, many reputations and lives were ruined by foolish moments.  Kids and adults have always been able to exercise righteous or mean or vicious inclinations, but it’s so much easier now.

What are the consequences to those caught up in sexting?  The girl who sends her picture may be the subject of vicious attacks all her life.  Her inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience will be tested.  She may feel helpless and that her situation is hopeless.  She may go down the path to being a victim for life.  Her self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed.  Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated.  She can move toward isolation, depression and suicide.

The boy, the second girl and everyone else who forwards the picture have to face their own stupidity or meanness.  And they may have to face their role in a suicide.  An act of a moment can destroy a life.  Also, they may have to face prison.  We hope this will help them do better the rest of their lives.  Humans have always learned some lessons the hard way.

Do today’s kids face overwhelming pressure?  Many people make excuses for the foolish or nasty kids; as if the external pressures are overwhelming.  For example, the article quotes, “'You can’t expect teenagers not to do something they see happening all around them,’ said Susannah Stern, an associate professor at the University of San Diego who writes about adolescence and technology.”  This line of thought focuses on reducing all pressure and temptation.

But pressure was just as great throughout history as it is now – depending on the particular time in each society.

What’s the solution?

These steps will decrease the number of kids involved in sexting.  But we’ll never stop 100 percent of kids’ foolish or mean or vicious actions.  But that can’t be our intention.  Our goal is to educate kids whose awareness of the potential consequences of their actions will awaken in them the ability to do better.

Our goal can’t be to educate or convert psychopaths or people who want to make a living off child pornography.  Educational approaches aren’t effective with these people.

I do expect most kids to be able to learn to be stronger, to develop better character and to be able to resist the temptations of our popular culture.  There’s nothing new in the temptations and pressure the kids face.  The only new thing is the ease and permanence that technology offers.  I focus not on making society easy and safe, but on developing individual values, character, heart and spirit.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must design plans that are appropriate to preventing our individual children from sending pictures or forwarding them, and to minimizing the disaster if they act foolishly.

If your children are the targets of cyberbullies or sexting, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome the effects of seeming to have your child’s life ruined by a foolish act in middle-school.

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

Jenny Castor, Denver ABC-TV station KMGH-TV, video journalist reports on a program to stop school bullies that is actually effective, “Students Learn Anti-Bullying Skills Starting In Kindergarten.”  The accompanying video shows training to help “Young Students Exercise Ways To Defuse Mean Encounter With Potential Bully.” The driving forces behind the program at Most Precious Blood Catholic School are the principal, Colleen McManamon and assistant principal, Roxie Mountain-Weed.  While the program is based on standard offerings, they and their teachers and staff are the difference that makes the difference.

Notice these features in what they do:

The training and participation side of the program decreases bullying by a huge amount.  A critical factor, usually not mentioned, is that both Colleen and Roxie and their staff stop bullies in their tracks immediately and get their parents involved.  I’ve met Colleen and Roxie; they’re wonderful, joyous and formidable.  Unlike what happens at others schools mentioned in the Channel 7 “Stop Bullying” series, in this successful program, targets are not made into victims while the bullies are ignored and enabled.

Don’t waste your time with nit-picky detractors and critics who have nothing better to offer.  Some people will say that they can only do this because Most Precious Blood is a private school or that the program takes too much money or that other school principals and staff don’t have the time.  Nonsense.

Look at the price to all kids at a school where bullying is tolerated or condoned, or the friends of bullies are allowed to pile on to victims by threatening and abusing them or by cyberbullying.  We all know the consequences of not stopping bullies and of allowing them continued contact with their targets, the bullying and violence will increase.

At schools that have a do-nothing principal or in which principals blame the victim; avoid the bully,” kids’ inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance, resilience are threatened.  You have to be the one to demand that principals keep your children safe while officials try to ignore you or thwart your attempts.

Principals who avoid the issue make the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  It starts them down the path to being victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Of course, even when principals are cowards or are reluctant to protect your children, you can still protect them yourself.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

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

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

In a new interview and article, Theresa Marchetta, Investigative Reporter for Denver ABC-TV station, KMGH-TV reports on the steps you need to take to protect your children from becoming victims of bullies and of principals and district administrators who won’t stop taunting, teasing, harassment, bullying and abuse. Of course, if your wonderful principal protects your children, your two tasks are still to:

But if you’re faced with a “blame the victim; avoid the bully” or a do-nothing principal, you’ll have to become strong and skilled in your children’s defense.

Some key steps mentioned in the article are:

  • Think of “Relentless bullies as predators.  They are not going to stop and will do it over and over again.  I have to let my child know I am going to help protect you.  I don't want my kid to be a suicide, so I’m willing to fight.”
  • “My first action is with my children.  I want to let them know they are being targeted, but I won't let them be victims.  I want to build their strength, their character and their willingness to do something to protect themselves.”
  • “Second, I'm going to bring it to the school.”
    • “Request a meeting with the school principal…I expect that principal to meet with you the next day, the day after -- that fast.”
    • “To prepare for that meeting, parents must bring any evidence of the bullying including hate notes, e-mails, texts, pictures and any details of the child’s story.”
    • If you cannot stay calm, bring someone who can.  “If you're not calm you'll be targeted as the angry parent throwing a fit.”
  • Does the bullying stop?  I'll give them a week or a day depending on how bad it is…My tests are, is the bully separated to another part of the room or is the bully allowed access to my child?  Is my child the one who is kicked out of class or is my child protected?...If your child, the victim, is the one having to make changes, that is a red flag.”
  • If the situation is not resolved quickly, take the case directly to the district superintendent and the school board.”
  • If the responsible adults don’t resolve the situation, “Your next step is that you have to up-level.  You have to get a lawyer.  You have to think publicity…You've got to be willing to go right to that level.   When the people who should be protecting our children are fired and sued successfully, it will change.”

We all know the consequences of not stopping bullies and of allowing them continued contact with their targets, the bullying and violence will increase.

Principals who avoid the issue make the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  It starts them down the path to being victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

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

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

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

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What do you do after you’ve been hit hard and knocked down by life?  What do you do after your dreams have been shattered?  What do you do after you’ve been rejected or lost everything?  What do you do when you’ve been defeated?  What do you do when you realize you chose an abusive bully and you don’t know how to protect your kids?  The wisdom of the ages, from all traditions and cultures, gives the same answer, even if the reasons are very different. In “The Ghost and the Darkness,” Val Kilmer plays a British engineer trying to build a bridge across a river in Africa.  Two lions, accurately named “The Ghost” and “The Darkness” begin stalking and killing the men building the bridge.  The lions outsmart every attempt to trap and kill them.

Finally, Val Kilmer develops a brilliant plan to trap one of the lions in a railroad car.  They do trap the lion but he escapes, burning down the car.  Kilmer is devastated and defeated.

The killings mount until the workers start leaving.  They hire a skilled hunter, Michael Douglas, who is also caustic and sarcastic.  At the climax to the first half of the movie, when the hunter sees Kilmer’s dejection and hears of Kilmer’s failed plan, he says, “There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit and knocked down.  Then the plan goes out the window.  What matters is what you do after you’ve been hit and knocked down.  Do you stay down or do you get up and fight again?’”

There it is.  Kilmer faces his plans in ashes and his life as a failure because the men will leave, the bridge will be abandoned and he’ll never get another job.

The tension comes to a head when Douglas has a plan but the lions outsmart him and kill all the wounded men in the hospital.  Douglas, the great hunter, is devastated and defeated.  In total, the lions killed over a hundred men.

Kilmer says to him, “There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit and knocked down.  Then the plan goes out the window.  What matters is what you do after you’ve been hit and knocked down.  Do you stay down or do you get up and fight again?’”

There it is; the point of the movie; the point for all of us in the real world.  Will we be defeated by defeat, will we give up when we’re back to square-one, will we give up when life is unfair or too destructive for us or will we get up and fight again, build again?

We, who don’t face killer lions everyday, still do face risk and disaster everyday by:

  • Human agency – we get fired, we put our savings down on the wrong stock, we give our retirement money to the wrong Ponzi scheme, some maniac or drunk driver kills people we love, some crazy person kills us and 10 others at work, we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time when a riot, revolution or war breaks out, our parents are toxic, our grown children won’t let us see our grandchildren or our spouse is negative, harassing, bullying and destroying our kids’ self-esteem and confidence, and running away means being broke.
  • Natural forces – tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, prolonged drought or flood.

Even the smaller failures growing up can seem like disaster – we fail a test or a course, we’re rejected or dumped by someone gorgeous or handsome, our secrets are spread over school or the internet, we don’t make a team we’d hoped for or counted on, we don’t get into the school of our choice, our parents don’t or can’t give us the latest stuff, the cool kids scorn us, we do something really embarrassing. Our children face the same questions repeatedly: Will we be defeated by defeat; will we give up when we’re back to square-one; will we give up when life is unfair or too destructive for us or will we get up and fight again, build again?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt.

As adults, our job is to:

Notice, I ignored whether Douglas and Kilmer finally kill the lions.  Yes that’s important to building the bridge and to the material parts of their lives.  But that’s not important to the human spirits of Kilmer and Douglas being great because they’re undefeated by defeat; to them having the indomitable will to continue, no matter the obstacles and not knowing whether they’ll succeed.  Okay; the factual resolution is that the Ghost and the Darkness are now preserved in the Field Museum in Chicago – and they did kill that many people.

“Strength comes not from physical capacity.   It comes from indomitable will,” Gandhi.

Notice, I also ignored the historical implications of colonialism.  Of course, that’s there, but that’s not the main point for my life.

The point is to use the movie to stimulate in me the greatest that I can be.  There are thousands of heroes and heroines, real and fictional, who can remind us to get up off the floor when life has knocked us down.  The point is to use everything I see and hear to inspire me to choose whether to live a selfish, shabby, sordid story or a great and worthy story; to chose to be the hero of my life.

“Glory is not in never having been knocked down.  Glory is in rising up again, each time you are knocked down,” Vince Lombardi.

Self-bullies wallow in perfectionism, self-doubt, self-questioning, blame, shame, guilt and negative self-talk.  Real self-bullies run themselves down and beat themselves up in almost every area of life.  But even people who don’t use self-bullying tactics normally will condemn themselves if one of their children turns out incompetent or toxic. A hundred fifty years ago, the fad was to think that if children turned out bad – weak, lazy, apathetic, unkind or uncaring – they had made bad choices; it was the child’s fault.  But as Richard Friedman points out in his article in the New York Times, “Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds,” the recent fad has been to blame the parents.

We’ve grown up thinking, “there are no bad children, only bad parents.”  Therefore, when one child turns out bad, parents will vent their frustration and pain on themselves by continually asking, “What did we do wrong?  What did we do to deserve this?

After all, if we know who’s to blame and what they did wrong, we’ll be able to figure out how to fix it.  That’s not true, but what else can we do?

Even though you didn’t do anything particularly heinous to that child – no physical, sexual or emotional abuse, brutality or torture – therapists usually reinforce your responsibility and guilt by blaming some mistakes you made; you weren’t 100% consistent, one or both of you weren’t around enough; you didn’t give the nasty, needy child enough love, toys or enough discipline.

Of course, surly, rotten, loser children also reinforce this attitude; it’s easy for them to blame parents in order to take themselves off the hook.  You’ll hear these now-adults complain, “It’s your fault, if only you gave me more stuff or love when I was younger; if only you give me the stuff I want now, I’d be fine.”

But after giving time after time, at some points parents have to look in the mirror and say, “It’s not our fault.  We didn’t do everything that child wanted, but we didn’t do anything particularly bad.  He or she still acts like he’s entitled to everything he wants.  That child is simply angry and maybe hates us.  Maybe he or she is just a weak or bad seed.  If we continue giving, he’ll suck every drop of blood from us and drag us down, all the while complaining that it’s our fault.”

So when do parents decide, “that’s enough!  We have to protect ourselves from this toxic person, our beloved child, who will poison us if we allow him to.”

I am saying that there are children who grow up nasty, surly, rotten and toxic, and it wasn’t your fault; you didn’t do anything to deserve it.  Whichever bandwagon of explanations you jump on – they have a defective gene combination (they were born sick mentally or defective emotionally) or they choose to be the way they are – the effect is the same.

No matter how much you love them or give them, no matter how much you beat yourself up, no matter how much you feel guilty because you don’t like them, you won’t be able to rehabilitate them.

People do not have an unlimited potential to change and develop by any methods we know or will know.  Instead, while you’re trying to reason with them or rehabilitate them, these toxic predators will take everything you have and eat you alive.

So stop beating yourselves up; stop wallowing in self-doubt and self-flagellation.  Give up shame and guilt; they’ll only prevent you from doing what you need to do.  Of course, we’re less sure that it wasn’t our fault if an only child is the bad seed.  If other children turned out well, we can see more easily how that toxic child turned out the way he did on his own.

Once we start questioning ourselves, our imperfections, negative self-talk, self-hatred and self-loathing will keep us stuck; weak and easy prey.  We won’t have the strength, courage and perseverance to stop toxic children.

Face the problem thoughtfully and carefully, just like you’d face any other situation in which someone is trying to take everything you have and harass, abuse and torture you in the process.  Of course this is different because your heart will be broken endlessly, anxiety and depression will become constant companions and the selfish, hate-filled and hateful child will continue blaming on you.

Plan tactics that fit you and your situation; know your limits and what you’re capable of doing.  Take your emotional tie and the unending pain into account when you plan tactics.  Get help to keep you strong, courageous and persevering.

I know that’s not a specific list of “the seven steps that are guaranteed to make everything fine.”  There are no guarantees of success.

But there is the wisdom that has been clear since the beginning of recorded history.  The first and necessary step is to see clearly.  Then become the one of you who has the grit, resilience and skill to stop a predator; even a predator you love.  Only then will you be able to carry out an effective plan successfully.  Anything less and that beloved predator will ravage you.

For a clear example, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the study of how Paula slowly succeeded with her teenage daughter, Stacy,

Should you tell your children about your toxic parents, their toxic grandparents?  What should you tell them and how? Imagine that your parents no longer abuse you physically or sexually, but they still demean you, scapegoat you, ignore or scorn you, make nasty, hostile, sarcastic remarks and put-downs, and let you know that you’re not good enough.  No matter what you do or don’t do, you’re wrong.  They take charge of your life when you see them and break appointments whenever they feel like it.  Their wants and feelings are the center of the world and you don’t count.

Imagine also that you used to think that if you told them, in just the right way and at the right time, how hurtful their treatment was and is, they’d stop.  Or that you used to think your job was to rise above that treatment because they’re your parents, they’re getting old, they’re suffering, they deserve a little peace and happiness, and you owe them.

When can you stop trying to build bridges?  When can you cut off communication?  When can you tell your children why?

Harassment, bullying and verbal, physical and sexual abuse is usually multi-generational.  Families help perpetuate the abusive behavior by keeping secrets and telling lies.  If you give them a chance, your parents will likely do to your children what they did to you.  The old wounds still throb even if your parents are nice sometimes.  They still bleed when your parents repeat the same old treatment even now.

When you grow up, you may vow to break the cycle and treat your children better, but how can you protect them from the example they see of their grandparents still bullying you or them now?  And how can you stop obsessing on your childhood trauma or yesterday’s verbal battering?

Once you’ve tried everything you can think of, every approach, every sweet way of suggesting or speaking truthfully (say, a thousand times) and your parents (or step-parents) still protect each other, perpetuate the lies and tell you that you’re nasty and crazy, I think that’s enough.

Protect yourself and your children, turn your back to them, and create a safe and wonderful island of life for your family.  That means that your parents don’t get on it.

See the case studies of Carrie, Jake and Doug in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” for some tactics that were successful.

Some suggestions:

  • Always remember the effects on your life and how they tried to crush your spirit.  Don’t let a running, internal debate about them suck all your energy down a black hole.  Stop negative self-talk; it’ll only discourage and depress you, increase self-doubt, destroy self-confidence and self-esteem, keep you fixated and stuck, and take your eyes off the great future you want for yourself and your family.
  • You don’t need more understanding of them.  You don’t need to save them from themselves or each other.  Don’t be their therapist.  Let them fix themselves on their own time and their own bodies; not yours.
  • Spirit counts more than biology.  Start calling them by their first names.  Don’t give them titles they don’t deserve, like “Grandma” or “Grandpa.”
  • Don’t argue or debate with your parents.  You’ll never convince them that you’re doing the right thing.  Bullies always want what they want – to feast on your feelings and flesh.  Simply tell them that they’re off your island.  Take steps to cut off communication.  Change your phone numbers and e-mails.  Move if you have to.
  • Tell your children what’s age appropriate.  They don’t need the gory details when they’re six, but they do when they’re sixteen.  Gather them together and make it a serious occasion.  The framework is that they need to know how to protect themselves and to set standards for their own behavior.  Don’t go into psychoanalytical reasons why your parents did it or why they, and maybe the rest of the family, collude to protect them.  That’s obvious.  You’ll probably have to re-visit the conversation.
  • Be invulnerable.  That’s the term coined by Victor and Mildred Goertzel in their study of the lives of more than 300 famous 20th-century men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962).  Instead of finding that these highly successful people had wonderful parents, they found that many had agonizing childhoods spent in bleak, troubled homes, including domineering, alcoholic, rage-aholic or neglectful parents. They described the children who succeeded, despite a psychologically damaging childhood, as resilient or invulnerable.
  • Be a model for your children.  Show them that abusive behavior drives people away.  Show them how to stand up to abuse, which sometimes means creating distance instead of being sucked into a battle that ties up your life.
  • Create a new family including new elders; a family of your heart and spirit.  Have so much fun, bring so much joy that there’s not a hole anymore that would be filled with thoughts of biological grandparents.
  • Get an expert coach to increase your determination, perseverance, courage and resilience, and to create tactics for your individual situation.

Your task is to create a fabulous life.  Don’t let toxic parents or grandparents – or siblings or friends – ruin it.  Shine a light on bullies.  Your children need you to show them how to thrive in the face of abuse, cover-ups and lies.

There are toxic people in every environment – toxic family, toxic friends, toxic lovers and toxic coworkers.  If you don’t recognize and respond effectively to toxic, bullying coworkers they can make your life miserable, harass you, turn the rest of your team against you, scapegoat you and even get you fired. For example,

Jane is known to be difficult, obnoxious and an out of control retaliator.  But she’s very bright and hard working so management tends to minimize the problems she causes, overlook the tension, hostility and chaos she creates, and explain away her behavior by saying, “That’s just Jane.  She must have a good heart.”  She specializes in vendettas.  Most people are afraid of her; they usually walk on egg shells around her and try to avoid setting off one of her tirades.

The bosses make you the leader of an important project that requires tact and people skills because they don’t trust Jane.  Jane is enraged.  Sometimes she blames and threatens you – you stole her job, she’ll report everything you do wrong, she’ll ruin your reputation and she’ll get you fired.  Sometimes she acts sweet – as if she wants to be your best friend.  Sometimes she tries to make you feel guilty so you’ll refuse to lead the project she thinks should be hers – that’s the only way you can prove to her that you’re a good person and her friend.

Is Jane right?  Are you sneaky and manipulative and have you wronged her?  Or is this a misunderstanding you can overcome so she’ll still be your friend?

How can you distinguish a friendly coworker who’s justifiably upset from one of these toxic bullies?  Simple.  You look for patterns in how Jane acts and how you and others feel when you’re around her.

Typically, toxic coworkers have patterns in which they:

  • Are selfish and narcissistic – it’s always about them; only their interpretations and feelings matter.  Only their interpretations are true.
  • Are sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing stealth bullies.
  • Are over-reactive, control freaks – their interpretations give them permission to search and destroy, no matter how slight or unintentional the insult.  They throw fits and attack or embarrass people they’re upset at.
  • Act sweet one time only pry out people’s secrets and look for the opportunity to strike back even more.  Remember, they’re acting polite doesn’t mean they’re nice.
  • Will openly lie and deny it.  They’re always 100% convinced and convincing.
  • Relentlessly disparage, demean, spy on and report “bad” conduct (often made up) about their targets.

Typically, teammates of these bullies should ask themselves:

  • Are you afraid of what Jane might do or that Jane won’t be friends with you?
  • Does she threaten you?
  • Have you seen Jane attack, manipulate or lie about other targets before you?
  • Does Jane apologize but not change or even strike back later?
  • Does Jane tell you that you’re special and she’d never go after you?
  • Does Jane make efforts to be reasonable and to overcome misunderstandings, to say that the problem is partly her fault and then does she make amends and change?

Of course, you want to be careful that you’re not overreacting.  You want to know if you’re seeing their actions clearly.  But if you answer the first five questions with “yes,” and the last one with “no,” you should beware.

When you identify Jane as someone who is relentless, implacable and has no conscience in pursuing her targets, you know what you’re dealing with.  She’s out to destroy you just like she went after other coworkers in the past.

Your first thought may be, “How can I win her friendship?” or it may be, “She’s suffered so much in her own life, how can I not forgive her?”  If you follow these thoughts with feelings of kindness, compassion and compromise, if you don’t mobilize to protect you life, limb and job you will be sacrificing yourself on an altar of silly sentimentality.

I take a strong approach: Recognize evil and recognize crazy or out of control people who won’t negotiate or compromise.  The Jane’s and John’s of this world are bullies, abusers and predators that do tremendous damage.  They’re why well-meaning people have to consult with experts.  Remember, you would have already resolved situations with coworkers who are reasonable, willing to examine their own actions honestly, and to negotiate and compromise.  You need help with the terminators that you face.

So what can you do?

Divide your response into two areas:

  1. Will – determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance, grit.
  2. Skill – overall strategy, tactics and the ability to maintain your poise and carry out your plan.

Will

  1. Convert doubt and hesitation into permission to act and then into an inner command to act effectively.  Until you have the will, no tactics will help – you’ll give in, back off, bounce from one strategy to another and you'll fail, even with the best plan.
  2. Don’t let your good heart blind you to the damage she’ll do to you.  You’ve already given her second and third chances.  That’s enough.  She’s not merely misunderstanding you in any way you can clear up; logic, reason and common sense aren’t effective with the Jane’s of this world.
  3. See Jane as a terminator – she’s relentless, implacable and has no conscience.  Under her human-looking skin she’s out to destroy you.  Your good heart and attempts to reason politely won’t stop her.
  4. Assume that you can’t rehabilitate or convert Jane in your life time.  That’s not what they pay you for at work anyway.  You’re merely Jane’s coworker with an important personal life, a personal island that needs protecting.  Let Jane’s therapist change her in professional space and on professional time that she pays for.
  5. You don’t owe her anything because she got you the job or rescued you from drowning.  She’s out to get you and you must protect yourself.  Let Jane struggle to change on someone else’s professional time.  Don’t put your reputation, your job or your family’s livelihood in harm’s way.  Don’t minimize or excuse.  Deal only with Jane’s behavior.

Skill

  1. All plans must be adjusted to your specific situation – you, Jane, the company, your personal life.  Added complications would be if Jane is your boss or the manager of your team likes her or is afraid of her and will collude with her against you.
  2. Don’t believe Jane’s promises; don’t be fooled if she acts nice and sweet one time.  Pay attention to the pattern of actions.  If she’s sweet, she’s probably seeking to get information that she can use against you.
  3. Don’t expect her to tell the truth.  She’ll say one thing to you and report exactly the opposite to everyone else.  She’ll lie when she reports bad things you have supposedly done.  She knows that repetition is convincing; eventually some of her dirt might stick to you.  Have witnesses who’ll stand up for you in public.
  4. Don’t argue the details of an interaction to try to convince her of your side.  State your side in a way that will convince bystanders.  Always remind bystanders of your honesty, integrity and good character, which they should know.
  5. Document everything; use a small digital recorder.  Find allies as high up in the company as you can.  When you report Jane, be professional; concentrate on her behavior, not your hurt feelings.  Make a business case to encourage company leaders to act.  It’s about the money, coworkers and clients that the company will save when they terminate Jane.
  6. When you listen to voice mails from Jane or talk with her in person, tighten the muscles of your stomach just below your belly button, while you keep breathing.  That’ll remind you to prepare for a verbal gut-punch.
  7. Get your own employment lawyer and a good coach to strengthen your will, develop your courage and plan effective tactics.

Each situation is different – you, the toxic coworker and the rest of the company.  The need to protect yourself and your career remains the same, while the tactics vary with the situation.  All tactics are situational tactics.

Andrew Meacham in the Tampa Bay Times article, “Sexting-related bullying cited in Hillsborough teen’s suicide,” reports on the suicide of Hope Witsell.  Witsell’s death follows the sexting-triggered suicide of Jessica Logan who was taunted, harassed, bullied and abused for similar reasons. Of course, ultimately the choice was Hope Witsell’s, but the principals and district administrators at Beth Shields Middle School and at Lennard High School took the wrong approach.

According to the article, 13 year-old Hope sent a photo of her breasts to a boy she liked.  Bad choice.  A rival girl saw the photo on the boy’s phone and forwarded it to other students.  The photo went viral.  Like piranhas, mean girls and vicious boys at the schools joined the general feeding frenzy.  Hope was accosted as a “whore” and harassed for more nude photos at her school and also at a Future Farmers of America Conference.

Let’s focus on only three aspects of this terrible situation:

  1. The school principals and teachers who didn’t stop the frenzy.
  2. The mean girl who first forwarded the photo, the other vicious kids who passed it on and the predators and bullies who attacked a wounded target.
  3. Hope’s self-bullying.

The middle school has a policy against sexting and disciplined Hope: Suspension and loss of honors and privileges.  But, even though the principal and teachers were aware of the taunting, harassment and bullying, there is no report that they did anything to the predators – No all-school meetings about how wrong the behavior is; no follow-up with the police to see who was illegally forwarding the nude photos; no action in the cafeteria when Hope was being harassed by other students.  Even though they knew what was happening, there was no extra vigilance to protect Hope from the attacks.

They did follow up with Hope’s parents to explain their punishment of her, but they took no action to stop the mean girls and vicious boys.  Also, they never called Hope’s parents when they found out that she was cutting herself.

There’s no much you can do once a feeding frenzy has started, but the legitimate authorities at school and the police can be talking to the kids and their parents.  You must make an attempt to rally parents and students to stop the attacks, even though you think Hope was a dope.

Hope’s diary and conversations with her friends were full of self-bullying.  This negative, critical self talk destroys self-esteem and self-confidence.  Self-bullying makes any kind of setback or embarrassment into a humiliating catastrophe that seems to destroy the child’s life forever.  Looked at through self-bullying eyes, the future will seem hopeless, the person helpless to redeem herself.  As Hope wrote, “Secretly TONS of people hate me.”  That’s the wrong conclusion to draw.

Obviously, there are many places Hope’s parents could have intervened had they known how serious the situation was.  But I think the first one is here: Parenting bully-proof kids begins with helping them stop self-bullying, with helping them build strength, courage, resilience and determination in the face of humiliation, disaster or abuse.

Laws are good, but they aren’t enough to stop foolish girls from sexting.  Laws against forwarding pornographic pictures are good, but aren’t enough to stop people from distributing them.  It takes a concerted effort by adults to set the tone; to create an atmosphere in which all students and parents are aware of the stupidity involved and the harm that can be caused.