Company rules and employees who follow them are essential for the success of your business. But antagonistic “rule-people” can reduce team effort and sabotage your operations.
To read the rest of this article from the Denver Business Journal, see:
How to deal with antagonistic ‘rule people’ in the workplace
See everything in black and white, need all procedures and boundaries clearly defined and labeled, with rewards and consequences spelled out exactly – no gray areas and no choices. They need uniformity and repeatability, can’t handle ambiguity, uncertainty and what they perceive as mixed messages.
Insist on clear titles and privileges. They want to know everyone’s exact job description, authority, responsibility and accountability. They can’t handle matrix management – multiple reporting and task relationships.
Use authority and experts to back up their opinions.
Don’t like change unless they can see immediate and obvious advantages.
Need closure, want decisions made and set in stone, even if nothing has to be begun for years.
Compare themselves with everybody on every criterion.
Relate only through power dynamics – command, control and obeying orders. They’re bullies. They don’t get things done through relationships or by simply pitching in. They need to know where everyone stands. They’re more comfortable knowing they’re on the bottom, than wondering where they are.
We all follow the rules sometimes, but “Edna” is a good example of an antagonistic rule-person. She uses the rules to intimidate people and advance herself at the expense of your supervisory authority and departmental productivity. For example:
Other typical examples of rule-people in crucial roles are human resource and financial managers, and administrative assistants.
To work with an antagonistic, rule-person, you’ll have to:
Be exacting and clear about rules, and demand what you need specifically in writing.
Be prepared to be challenged if you treat the rule-person differently from anyone else.
Include “professional, team behavior” rules – specific, detailed behaviors, not abstractions or attitudes – as important components in performance evaluations.
Clearly label your actions; indirect cues, kindly suggestions, informal messages or casual conversations will not be counted as important. You must say, “This is a verbal warning” or “This is a disciplinary action.” Antagonistic, rule-people take any softening to mean that your feedback doesn’t have to be acted on.
When they excuse their bad behavior with innocuous labels like, “It was a misunderstanding,” or “I’m just an honest person,” you must re-label it clearly as unprofessional. For example: “Yelling or name calling is not a misunderstanding or honesty. Neither is acceptable behavior at this organization, no matter how you feel.”
Generally, rule-people who want to help can become good managers and administrators, but they won’t be outstanding leaders. They can oversee repeatable operations, but they won’t be able to act creatively and appropriately in the face of uncertainty, novel problems and risk.
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.
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.
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.
Everyone has moments that matter: moments when our life can go in either direction; moments when we can choose the strength to soar to heaven or the weakness to fall into hell. You know, those moments in which everything gets absolutely quiet and the air seems to pulse and throb with the power and weight of a choice that will change our life. What will we do? Which path will we choose? What will our life become?
All bullies, all targets and all witnesses have those moments when the rest of their lives hang in the balance. Will they stop bullying? Will they stop being victims of bullies or of their own self-bullying? Will they give up in defeat and despair or will they forge ahead, no matter the consequences?
These are the moments when, if we have the “Will,” we can will ourselves into wonderful futures.
Charles M. Blow reminded me of the moments of truth that I’ve seen in the lives of all the bullies and also all the targets I’ve known. He wrote a wonderful, deep, heart-felt column in the New York Times, “The Bleakness of the Bullied.”
He describes his own experience when he was eight, the subject of “relentless teasing and bullying from all directions – classmates as well as extended family.” In a pit of despair, he contemplated suicide, only to be heartened when a song, often sung by his mother, leapt to his mind, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
He knew he had “to be brave and patient, that this was not to be my last night.”
Every target of bullying I’ve ever coached had a similar moment in their childhood or in our work together: A moment when they faced the bleakness of a future of continuing to be a victim or, alternatively, the brightness of standing up and fighting back in some way. In that moment, they each responded to that choice with a great surge of Will, power and energy. They fanned the spark in their heart into a fierce flame that warmed, strengthened and sustained them.
Once their Will took over their actions, despite a little anxiety, the rest was straightforward.
They would keep that flame alive by daring to protect and defend themselves; by taking the risk of creating a brilliant and wonderful future for themselves, no matter the opinions of their oppressors or the cost to the old, destructive patterns they had been mired in or the people they were related to.
Their action plans were different depending on their circumstances but they had the same Will and they learned the same skills.
I’ve seen the same moment of truth with bullies.
One former bully told me of a moment when he was about nine and was the biggest, toughest angriest kid in his class. He had thought he was simply doing what he had to do to make his place in the world. Then, a principal hauled him into his office, sat him down and told him, in so many words, that he was a bully and he had to stop or he’d be thrown out of school. He was too vicious, nasty and brutal to be allowed to continue harassing and tormenting the kids he was victimizing.
The boy was stunned. He’d never thought of himself as a bully, as vicious and nasty. And he certainly didn’t want to be thrown out of school. In that moment his heart broke open and he vowed never to be a bully again, even if he was the biggest kid in the room.
Why was that bully seeing me? He wanted to learn skills to negotiate his adult life without reverting to bullying in order to get his way. He didn’t want to be a bullying spouse, co-worker or boss. He didn’t want to be a bullying parent.
We don’t need more research and statistics to know that domestic violence is a travesty and must be stopped. For example, watch the graphic five minute video about the effects of that brutality and the work of one safe house helping women and children. Domestic violence is obvious – you can see the results of physical battering.
On the other hand, even though domestic bullying and mental and emotional abuse are more wide spread than overt beating they’re often hidden from view. Since harassment, bullying and abuse often fly below the bullying-radar of the targets and the public, I want to focus on it here. Targets who accept the bullies’ promises or threats or on-going torture often don’t recognize how bad it is; how demoralizing and defeating it is; how their souls are being eroded over time.
Of course, some men are bullied by women, but notice the patterns of the bullied women who have written these (edited) comments:
“Out of the blue, he started taking control over me (commanding me), which I am not liking. He is not letting me meet my friends or go out with them on weekends. He doesn’t let me wear dresses, saying his parents don’t like it. I am not allowed to do anything; no friends, no meeting people, no phones, nothing. These things were never an issue previously. I tried to work out things during last five months by listening to him and not meeting or talking to my friends. He just keep saying ‘Listen to me and things will work out; otherwise pack your bags and leave.’ He doesn’t let me go out anywhere without him. He doesn’t want to sort it out by talking. Whenever I try, he says, ‘I am not here to listen to you. You have to do whatever I say. I don’t want to hear a ‘No’. Now, I am always depressed and sad and smoke a lot more. I lost my smile. I lost myself in this relation. Shall I give up or keep compromising without any expectations in this relationship?”
“I have been in a four year relationship, and have a two year-old daughter with him. I have been feeling depressed lately and having second thoughts about us being together. He controls me. I can’t go any where without asking him first. Sometimes I feel like a little kid asking for permission, even if it’s to go to the store. My friends ask me to go out for a girls’ night and he gets mad if I mention it, so I stopped asking and him and just tell my friends I’m doing something that night so I can’t go. Now, they don’t even ask me anymore. When his friends are here he acts like he’s so cool and even yells at me in front of them. It’s extremely embarrassing. I feel alone. I tried leaving in the past and he won’t let me take the baby. So I stay because I don’t want to fight and I’m not leaving my child. What do I do? How do I make it an easy break up? How do we get out?”
“At first my husband was the sweetest man I ever met. He complimented me and had such great manners. Then slowly but surely he began changing into the worst thing I could ever imagine. The sick thing is I know I don't deserve it, but I can't leave. It's like he has some strange control over me. He constantly puts me down about my intelligence, appearance and my mothering abilities, which hurts the most. It’s such an everyday obstacle that I find myself questioning why I stay. It's gotten so bad I'm beginning to believe the things he says to me about how I'm useless and no one will ever want me but him. Every bad thing that happens, he takes out on me. Every single thing is my fault. I want to leave but I still find myself staying, feeling bad for him and his feelings. He can't even compliment at all without letting me know that I'm ugly and lucky he even loves me. I'm just so sad anymore. I don't even recognize myself. I'm not allowed to speak to my family or friends. I just don't know what to do anymore. I'm so lost.”
“My husband and I have been together for eleven years with four children. We go through the cycle of an abusive relationship. Every time we argue, I get called a ‘bitch,’ which I have asked him many times to not do. We kiss and make up. Then everything's fine and dandy again. He doesn't like to talk about our fights and says he will not name-call me again. But every opportunity he gets, he's right at it again. I guess I keep hoping he'll change, but I know he never will. I don't feel any love from this guy. He has fooled around on me and even went as far as marrying someone else while we were married. Just recently he took my wedding ring away and threatened to pawn it. He also promised my kids that he'll take them on a vacation. He doesn’t even work, so I ended up having to get funds just to take the kids on the vacation. Today, we fought again and he said sorry and he'll start today on not calling me a bitch. Then ten minutes later it happened again. I feel so stuck. I feel as my only way out is suicide. But I don't want to give him that satisfaction. All I did today was cry. And I don't even have anyone to talk to because everyone is sick of hearing me cry over him.”
He commands, bosses and embarrasses her in public. She submits because she wants to avoid bigger fights. She hopes that since she gave in this time, he’ll be nicer next time. But he’s relentless in arguing, bullying and abusing; he never stops. If he doesn’t beat her, the threat is there.
When she’s nice and logical – discussing, asking, compromising, begging, arguing, appeasing – she may get peace because he’s gotten his way, but it’s only momentary. Her good behavior doesn’t buy his in return. He never reciprocates by letting her have her way next time. Eventually, she submits completely and asks permission to do anything. He’s in complete control. When he’s mean, angry or out of control, it’s her fault because she isn’t perfect. It’s as if, “Since he’s angry, you must have done something wrong.”
Step by step, she’s isolated – cut off from friends, family and sources of her own income. She loses her old self; she loses her confidence and self-esteem; she becomes depressed, heart-broken and ready to give up.
It’s even worse if there are children she thinks she’ll have to support if she leaves. Eventually, she begins to think like a victim – she can’t see how to get safe house help, legal help or the police on her side.
These targets keep hoping they’ll find some magic wand to change him; he’ll become a loving, caring, nice and reasonable person. But that’s not going to happen.
Or they think that the most important value is making a marriage last even though it’s a marriage of torture. Or that what matters is whether he loves her or not, when what really matters is how he loves her.
Those abusive, bullying control-freaks always interpret their target’s kindness, reasonableness and compromise as weakness and an invitation to take more from them, to control more of their lives, to eat them alive.
Ultimately, these women get the worst that they’re willing to put up with. And eventually, the price they pay is slow erosion of their souls.
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 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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
In their New York Times column, “From Dangerous Home to Safe House,” Amelia Duchon-Voyles, with Liz Welch, describes how Amilia helped a woman and child escape from a bullying and domestic violence situation. They also described the mother’s progress toward standing up to her batterer and to establishing a steady life for her and her son.
Good for all of them. Their individual efforts, in emergencies, under duress, save lives.
Some ideas for the targets of domestic violence are:
Don’t remain a victim. Whatever your second thoughts, stop the harassment, bullying, abuse and domestic violence by getting away safely. If you’re threatened, beaten, terrorized or abused, get away. Don’t live in fear. Don’t allow your children to grow up in fear. In your heart of hearts you know that if you stay, you’re dooming your babies to a life of pain, stress and anxiety; negativity and depression; low self-confidence and self-esteem; increased chance of addiction, alcoholism and suicide.
Find a safe house and helpers to get you away and to start a new and better life. Seize any window of opportunity; you don’t need a plan with all the details worked out. From a safe house you can make and carry out a better plan than you can when you’re terrified.
Don’t worry about the stuff you leave behind. It’s got his cooties on them. You’ll get new. More important than any attachment you or your children might have to the stuff, is the value of being free to breathe deeply again, to laugh and sing and dance with abandon, and to plan for a great future.
Your children need your good example more than they need his bullying, abusive presence and any benefits you imagine of growing up with a bully for a father. They need to be away from the fear. The boys need to learn that bullying and violence won’t be tolerated or get them what they want. The girls need to learn that they don’t have to tolerate abuse and battering.
Get stable over time. You can get education, skills and a job or career to make a life in which you can get your own place. Start stable routines for the kids. Convince them that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Tell them hero/heroine stories. Even though it takes time and hard work, they can be fine as adults – successful people and good parents.
Parents who bully children, and parents who bully and abuse each other are all too common, but an often unrecognized bullying situation is teenagers who bully their parents, especially their single parents.
Of course, teenage girls can be manipulative bullies, but for a typical example, let’s focus on a 19 year-old boy who is mentally and physically capable of being independent but who’d rather sponge off his mother and lead an easy life at home. He’s not working enough to support himself, he’s not succeeding in full-time school and he’s not struggling sixteen hours a day to become an Olympic champion. He’s merely hanging out trying to have a good time every moment.
They’re good at arguing. They want to convince you that “love” and “support” mean that you give them money. You have to love and give to them, but they don’t have to give anything in return. Their hidden assumption is that if you can’t make them agree with any changes, they don’t have to change. They’re masters of whining, complaining and blaming others, especially you, for their problems.
They’re great emotional blackmailers: “A good, loving mother would take care of me while I’m getting it together. A caring mom would help me.” They’re also master manipulators of your fear that, if you don’t cater to them, they’ll fail in life and it’ll be your fault, not theirs: “I need your love to keep me away from bad company. If you kick me out, I’ll be emotionally damaged.” They’ll subtly hint that they’ll commit suicide if you don’t coddle them. They always have a friend who has a “good mother” taking care of him.
Your caring and fear make their arguments seductive. No matter how much you had to struggle on your own to be successful, it’s easy to think that if you only give them one more chance, they’ll finally wake up and get it. So you give him one more chance – over and over and over.
In my experience, one path in dealing with healthy, intelligent teenage boys almost guarantees failure. That’s the path of giving them what they want. The more you let them leech off your energy, wallet and good will, the softer they’ll become, the harder it will be for them to become strong and independent, the greater the chances that they’ll fall in with other lazy losers. The more you give them, the more lazy, entitled and spoiled they’ll become.
In my experience, the path that has the greatest probability of success is to kick those little birds out of the nest before they grow too big for their fledgling wings. They’ve already grown too big for the nest. In order to fly, they need to strengthen their wings by use under pressure and stress.
Of course there’s a risk. They might fail and turn to drugs, booze or burglary to support themselves. They might give in to depression. But, in my experience, staying home wouldn’t prevent that. Leeching off you will only make them weaker.
Confidence and self-esteem are developed by succeeding at real and difficult challenges in which there’s a chance of failing. Staying at home avoids important, meaningful challenges.
Some of the things to say to them when you tell them they’re moving out, depending on the circumstances, are:
“I know that inside you, you have this great one of you struggling to take charge of your life. Now’s your chance for that ‘you’ to take over. Struggle and succeed. I’d rather you struggle and prove me wrong while hating me, than that you love me and stay here as a whining, complaining loser.” Use the word “loser” a lot. Challenge them to prove you wrong.
“This is not a discussion or a debate; you don’t get to vote. This is definitely not fair according to you. I know you think I don’t understand your side of it or how hard it is in today’s economy, but that’s the way it is. I’m protecting myself from my own flesh and blood, who’d suck me dry if I let him. You can try to argue but it won’t change anything. It’ll just waste your time. If you threaten me or damage the house, I’ll call the police and there’ll be no going back.” Don’t engage in debate. Walk away.
“I love you and this is scary for me, but that fear won’t stop me. If you become a loser, just like (fill in the blank), I’ll be sad and cry that you wasted your life, but I won’t feel guilty. I won’t regret what I’m doing.” Then walk away.
“I’m going to have a joyous, good time in my life. After you move out, if you make it fun for me, I’ll take you out to a restaurant sometimes or have you over for a good meal. But if you nag at me and make it a rotten time, I won’t want to waste my time with you. Your job is to make it fun for me to be with you. Yes, that’s blackmail. You pay for my attention, kindness and money. Be the nicest to people who are closest. Be nicer and sweeter to me than you would be to a stranger. Suck up to me as if you want something from me. You do. Even if you can prove to me logically that it’s not fair, that’s the way it is.”
“You, my beloved son, are now facing the choice we all face in life at this age. Will you settle for being a loser with a good excuse – your mother didn’t love or suckle you enough – or will you be a winner despite your mother? Every one of your ancestors faced this. Your ancestors lived through plague, famine, flood, war and slavery. They lived through worse than you. I know you have the stuff of a hero in you. Your choice is whether you bring that out and succeed, or to be a whining, petulant, blaming loser.”
You have the body and mind of an adult. You want to make adult choices in living the life you want. Now you’re being tested. Being an adult means taking care of yourself financially and physically. You probably didn’t prepare yourself. That’s your problem. I could never teach you anything because you never listened to me when I gave you good advice. We both know that. You think you know everything. You think you know what’s best for you. Now prove it. The less you learned useful skills, the more you’ll have to struggle now. So what? That’s just struggle. I hope you’ll grow strong by struggling.”
Mom, make a specific plan. For example, “You must be out by (date). If not, I’ll throw your stuff out the window and call the police if I have to. No negotiation. No promises. We allow little children to get by on promises and potential. When they’re 13 or so, we start demanding performance. Now that you’re 19, I demand performance. Your performance earns what you get.” Mom, don’t give in to satisfy one more promise. Think through what you’ll give, if anything, and under what conditions. My bottom line is, “Make me enjoy it and I’ll consider it. Beat me up, physically or verbally, and you get nothing.” The more calm you are, the better. If he can get you upset, he’ll think he can win again…as usual.
Stepchildren can jerk your chain more. A couple that disagrees strongly (one stern and one permissive) can be the worst case scenario.
This is a start. Because all solutions depend on the specifics of the situation, you will need coaching. Some circumstances that might alter your plans are if your teenager is not physically or mentally competent or needs extensive mental health counseling or is 13-16 or is a girl or there are drugs or alcohol involved or there are younger children at home?
Stay strong and firm. Don’t let him move back in even for a just week or month. It’ll reinforce the laziest in them and it’ll become permanent.
“Fighting for Girls: New Perspectives on Gender and Violence,” edited by Meda Chesney-Lind and Nikki Jones, cites recent studies to show that violence by girls has decreased. In a New York Times article, “The Myth of Mean Girls,” Mike Males and Meda Chesney-Lind also state that our common perception that there are mean girls and that girls can be violent, “is a hoax.”
Well, that just gives new research studies a bad name, or at least those conclusions. As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
In the real world, not the world inhabited by academics and researchers, mean girls thrive and their violence toward other girls is no only verbal and physical, it’s now also done in cyberspace. If you track only physical violence on police blotters, you miss the other damage done by stealth bullying mean girls.
Every woman who’s interviewed me on radio and television describes the mean girls they encountered when they were young … and also some they see in their adult personal lives as well as at work. A lot of my coaching is to teach women how to defend themselves against mean girls who now masquerade as adult friends or who are still mean in parent groups at schools, boards of housing associations, book clubs, neighborhood associations, church groups and as mothers protecting their mean daughters.
Get active as a citizen. Organize a core group of active parents to pressure legislators to pass laws requiring schools to have policies and programs to stop bullying. Media pressure will help.
Get active in your school and school district. Form a core group of active parents to make sure your district administrators and school principal actively enforce policies and a school-wide program to stop bullies. Involve all teachers, staff and students in recognizing and stopping the first signs of bullying. Immediate and firm action is necessary. If principals and teachers turn a blind eye, saying “that’s just the way some girls are,” they’re colluding by creating a safe space for mean girls and boundary pushers. The end of school and summer are great times to get these programs started so you’re ready at the start of school in September.
Prepare your daughters. Well-meaning parents are the number one risk factor for creating helpless girls whose confidence and self-esteem will be destroyed by mean girls. Don’t tell your daughters to feel sorry for their abusers and to “rise above” whatever these vicious predators say or do. Don’t expect pious sentiments to prevent stress, anxiety, negative self-talk or depression. Don’t let your daughters be whipping girls or scapegoats. Teach your daughters how to stop the mean girls. If you don’t know how, you need coaching.
Prepare your sons. Tell them about the real-world. Remind them that 10 years from now they probably won’t see any of the kids from high school. Teach them not to take the mean, nasty, vicious comments personally or as a prediction of the future. Their job is to grow up and find a woman who values and appreciates them. Mean girls don’t represent everyone.
Don’t believe studies that supposedly prove that mean girls are an insignificant factor. Don’t believe that if your daughter ignores their meanness or treats them with caring and friendship, they’ll stop being abusive. Real bullies, mean girls and mean women, take offerings of sweetness and friendship as weakness and an invitation to prey on you more.
As Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” and “Things I’ve Been Silent About” said, “My parents did not bring me happiness. They armed me for the battle of life.”
Current statistics show that bullying is prevalent – over 50% of kids report being bullied or observing bullying. Bullying by girls is just as prevalent as by boys (although they often use different tactics) and bullying in “good” neighborhoods is just as prevalent as in “bad” ones.
Most parents want to understand why bullies bully, “Is it because bullies have low esteem, or they lust for power or that’s the only way they know how to get control and admiration?” Those parents usually tell their children never to use violence to stop bullies. “Violence never solved anything. Don’t stoop to the bullies’ level.”
Those parents hope that understanding bullies will help them create programs that will rehabilitate bullies. Then their kids will be safe when they’re away from home or when they’re online.
Parents who say those things are the number one risk factor in making their children targets of repeated bullying.
Their strategy is based on the false idea that if children love and forgive bullies enough, they’ll melt bullies’ hearts and bullies will stop bullying and become their friends. That strategy rarely stops bullies.
Similarly, bullied kids grow up with low self-esteem and low confidence; they expect to be beaten down – mentally, emotionally and physically – to be taken advantage of, to lose. They become repeat victims.
The number one risk factor in our children’s becoming targets of repeated bullying is not bullies or schools – the number one risk factor is us, the parents of the targets. Bullies have always existed and will always exist, most schools never protected kids and many still won’t.
Take your focus away from psychotherapy of bullies. Focus instead on stopping bullying right now. After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies. As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time. I want to protect target children right now.
In the real world, bullies are predators, like hyenas, looking for the weak and isolated people who don’t know how to protect themselves. Real bullies have a language all their own – they take our children’s kindness, reasonableness or holding back as weakness and a sign of easy prey. Our kids’ weakness brings out the worst in bullies.
A real-world perspective is that it’s more important to stop bullies first; that counseling, therapy and rehabilitation efforts come second. In fact, stopping bullying behavior and having stiff consequences for kids who bully repeatedly is one of the best steps in changing their behavior.