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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George Will reported in his Newsweek column, “More Stimulating that the Stimulus,” that “In Ottawa, the sensitivity police in a children’s soccer league announced that any team attaining a five-goal lead would be declared to have lost, thereby sparing the feelings of those who were, if you will pardon the expression, losing.” This was confirmed by many other articles including, “Win a soccer game by more than five pints and you lose, Ottawa league says.”  Although the title says enough, here are some quotes from the article, “In yet another nod to the protection of fledgling self-esteem, an Ottawa children’s soccer league has introduced a rule that says any team that wins a game by more than five points will lose by default… Club director Sean Cale… said the league’s 12-person board of directors is not trying to take the fun out of the game, they are simply trying to make it fair. The new rule, suggested by ‘involved parents,’ is a temporary measure that will be replaced by a pre-season skill assessment to make fair teams.”

The Club fields teams between the ages of 4 and 17.

It’s hard to keep calm when we hear this kind of idiocy.  I suppose next they’ll want the Ottawa Senators to stop shooting if the ever get a two goal lead.

The bullies here are not good soccer players who score many goals, although they might be if they go overboard into vicious fouling and nasty taunting against overmatched opponents.  The bullies here are the members of the Club Board who act like self-appointed “Self-Esteem Police.”

Bullying by “Professional Victims” One of the 5 types of bullying that we deal with regularly is the “Profession Victims” who use their hyper-sensitivity and hurt feelings to manipulate and control their environment.  They win when you accept that your job is not to hurt their sensitive feelings.  Professional Victims and their supporters say your job is to do everything they want in order to please them…and they’re never satisfied. They win when everyone else is walking on eggshells to avoid hurting their feelings and causing them to blow up or withdraw into a pouting silence.

The rules of soccer, when followed, already make the game fair.

Professional Victims assume that their children’s psyches and self-esteem are weak and fragile The slightest problem will damage them forever.  As if kids can’t maintain their self-esteem when they’re beaten badly by a better team. I assume, on the contrary, that children begin strong and have to be taught to see themselves as weak and fragile Children are not damaged by failing or learning their present location in the hierarchy of inborn gifts and hard work.  I assume that when children fail it’s because they haven’t worked hard enough.  The solution to not succeeding is to work harder to fulfill your potential.  Children survive intense pressure, challenge and struggle.  When they improve, their self-confidence and sense of competence increases. Also, we all have much more choice about how we feel You have to be taught to have low self-esteem after you lose at something you know you’re not very good at.  You have to be taught to have stress, anxiety and depression after you lose.  You have to be taught to wallow in negative self-talk and self-bullying.  You have to be taught to give up. People who succeed in life respond by directing their energy into a vow to do better and a determination to work harder, get better and win at life We’ve all been beaten down at times.  We’ve all found out where we stand in the hierarchy of who’s faster, stronger, smarter, prettier.  And our position in that hierarchy has nothing to do with happiness or self-esteem.  Ask any great athlete how they motivate themselves after having been beaten.  Ask any great mother or father how they motivate themselves to do better after they’re done something really dumb in their family.

The general rule is never to give the Self-Esteem Police or the Professional Victims credence or power.  Treat them as bullies and learn to stop them.  Tell them to suck it up; stop creating and wallowing in hurt feelings.  The lesson for these kids is to have more inner strength, courage and perseverance and to get more skillful so you can succeed in the real-world.

We need to learn how to win.  Winning is critical for our survival as individuals and societies.

The general rule in winning big is to not be a jerk about it.  Grownups are supposed to learn not to thrash their kids when they’re young,  The big kids in any extended family are supposed to learn how to make it fun for the little kids to play ball with them.  We’re supposed to learn how to be gracious winners when someone isn’t in our league in any game. The general rule in dealing with defeat is to gather yourself, get more skillful and do better next time.  And if you’re not good enough to be a champion, decide to be happy enjoying playing at any game in life, whether it’s sport, dance, music, art or any other area of endeavor where there are only a few “work class” players.

Expert coaching can help you design a plan for each individual child; from those who tend to be aggressive and nasty to those who tend to withdraw and need lots of encouragement.

By the way, so much scorn was heaped on the Ottawa soccer club that they did get rid of that rule.  They now have a new mercy rule “under which a game will be called once one team has a lead of eight goals. Whichever team is ahead at that time will be credited with the win,”

"Energy Vampires" are bullies at work.  They’ll suck your motivation and drive, and destroy morale and productivity.  But because they’re usually not recognized and labeled as bullies, they’re allowed to flourish. Rather than give a wordy description, let’s identify and label some common examples of their bullying:

Rather than give a wordy description, let’s identify and label some common examples of their bullying:

  • The Know-It-All.  He’s right about everything – what the president should do to solve everything, why our sports teams lose, why kids are worse today, what’s wrong with our education, health, and legal system, why the ocean is blue.  Arguing with him is a waste of time and most people have stopped trying.  But just hearing his voice gets you too frustrated and angry to get back to work.
  • The Angry Victim.  Her life stinks because everyone picks on her or “the system” is a mess and doesn’t adjust itself to her needs.  She’s indignant if you dare to disagree or if you’re not sympathetic or helpful enough.  If you don’t give her all the credit she wants, you’ll pay.  Since she goes on and on about co-workers and bosses who are jerks, you know she’ll run you down to everyone if you don’t please her.  There’s no reasoning with her; she’s too angry to see anyone else’s side of things.  So you try to be invisible or walk on eggshells.  Of course, you’re too scared to be productive or creative.
  • The Blackmailer.  He won’t give you the reports or data he’s supposed to unless you listen to him babble for an hour.  You’d better listen or he’ll bad-mouth you publically as unfriendly and not-a-team-player.  He won’t send things electronically; he insists on lengthy personal contact.  By the time you’ve told four friends his latest antics, you’ve wasted half a day.
  • The Mousy Victim.  She’s hurt and weepy, but tries to put on a brave face.  Everything anyone says or does hurts her feelings; she’s a genius at taking things the wrong way.  Her hyper-sensitivity has rallied everyone to come to her defense and cater to her every whim.  She creates a continual soap opera revolving around her hurt feelings.  Everyone must take their precious time and energy to salve her feelings and bring her identified persecutor into line.  The result is another day focused on melodrama instead of work.
  • The Loud-Mouthed Bigot.  He frequently makes sexist, racist and other intolerant and vicious remarks about co-workers and anyone else who attracts his attention.  He’s more interested in broadcasting his opinions and winning arguments than in getting work done.  If you engage him, you’ll come away too drained and angry to get back to work.
  • The Bore who’s Fascinated With Her Life.  She’s so wonderful and important that you must listen to all the excruciating details of her life – especially the very personal ones about her bodily functions or love-life.  You want to close your door and hide.  In order to appear caring, you almost feel compelled to tell her similar details of your life.  She counts on your politeness not to throw her out.  In this case you feel more slimed than drained, but you’re still too upset to get back to work.
  • The Whining Slacker.  He’s lazy and won’t lift a finger to meet deadlines; he’s a no-show at crunch time.  He whines, complains and wants sympathy and help.  Everyone has to pitch in and do his job or the team looks bad.  He’s never grateful and doesn’t return the effort to help others.  Since they keep paying him for slacking, you grit your teeth and feel like slacking also.  Slacking is a communicable disease.

These energy vampires control the turf and productivity plummets.  They leave a wake of frustration and anger; co-workers and managers feel drained by every interaction, like someone took a quart of blood.  And then we go home and drain our families, either by repeating the details of what happened or by taking out our frustration and stress on our loved ones.

These vampires go from team to team, leaving a wake of corpses, but hiding their harassment and abuse behind good-sounding excuses and justifications.  It’s always someone else’s fault and everyone’s against them.

You can’t change a vampire by begging, bribery or appeasement.  The first step in stopping these workplace bullies is to recognize and label them.  You must maintain your individual boundaries, protect yourself from getting emotionally drained or enraged, and get back to work.

Energy vampires can be purged by a concerted effort of managers and their teams.  If you aren’t willing to do that difficult work, you must start looking to work in another department of your company or for a new company.  But wait; there’ll be vampires there too!