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.

Of course, it’s easy to sympathize with most people.  If someone has been abused, bullied or worse as a child, our hearts go out to them in sorrow for their suffering.  Or we can see someone’s beautiful spirit, the spirit of God, in them and our hearts will go out to them with compassion and empathy. But if a friend, neighbor or co-worker comes to you full of hurt, anger and outrage, does that mean that someone else actually did something wrong to them?

Maybe or maybe not.

For example, Linda recently moved next-door to Carrie in their friendly, family-focused block. It was a cul-de-sac and all the families had kids approximately the same age.  They’d organized many activities, birthday parties and car pools in order to create a community feeling.

Carrie and Linda started becoming close friends.  One day, Linda came to Carrie crying and angry.  As Linda struggled to stop her tears, Carrie felt herself becoming angry on Linda’s behalf.  Who’d caused this much pain and suffering to her friend?

Linda explained that one of the other women had made cutting remarks about Linda’s husband not being as successful as many of the other husbands and that Linda’s children weren’t as athletic or smart as the others.  Carrie was furious.  How could that woman say such things and hurt Linda so much?  What kind of neighborly welcome was that?

In an act of sympathetic friendship, Carrie said she’d never liked the other woman, who was always pompous and inflating her husband and children.  Linda shouldn’t pay attention to what the other woman had said.  Linda should know all the other women liked her much more than the other woman.

None of that was true.  Carrie actually liked and admired the other woman.  She’d never been negative, insensitive, righteous or arrogant before.  She’d always gone out of her way to help everyone.  Actually, Carrie couldn’t imagine the other woman saying those things to Linda.  But, obviously Linda’s pain meant that she had, indeed, said those things.  And Carrie thought it was her responsibility to comfort Linda and make her feel better.

The tactic worked.  After Carrie’s statement, Linda seemed to feel much better.  She thanked Carrie and left.

Two days later, Carrie noticed that the other woman had snubbed her in public and was whispering with Linda and a few of the others behind Carrie’s back.  Linda seemed to be accepted as part of the group and Carrie was glad for her.  But she still felt the cold shoulder.  Over the next week, it got worse.  She felt defeated, being cut out by the other women.

Episodes like this were repeated, sometimes with Carrie as the target and sometimes with other women as targets.  Carrie realized that it was like being back in junior high or high school again.  There was the clique of “in girls,” now led by Linda, and a shifting group of “targets-of-the-day.”

Carrie later discovered that after she’d sympathized with Linda, Linda had gone to the other woman and told her what Carrie had said behind her back.  Of course, the woman had reacted and had started snubbing Carrie.

In this article, I won’t go into how Carrie learned what Linda had been doing to each of the women or how Carrie managed to combat it.  Carrie might have been Linda’s first target, but she was not a victim.

Linda’s narcissistic, sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing behavior was her tactic for breaking in to a new group and taking control of it.  Linda was a Queen Bee.  She wanted to control the turf.  She wanted everyone to be either so worshipful or so afraid that they sucked up to her and did what she demanded.

If Carrie had let herself be ruled by her sympathy for a friend trying to break in to a new group, she’d have never been able to protect herself.  Instead, she did not accept defeat.  She took power over her actions.  She was able to bring the women together in friendship and to return the block to a friendly, activity-filled community.

Carrie and the other women found that acts of friendship did not change Linda’s behavior.  She could not be won over to acting nicely.  All their sympathy and compassion didn’t stop Linda from harassing or bullying.  She would not be a true friend.  She remained a “mean girl.

As Carrie discovered the hard way, sometimes sympathy can be a trap.  Her sympathy only aided and enabled a bully to spread her poison.

Just because someone is hurt and angry does not mean that someone else really did anything wrong to them

Carrie should have been more careful of what she did to make Linda feel better.  And she should have trusted her knowledge of the other woman’s good character.  She should not have believed Linda’s report, no matter how convincing.  She should have spoken face-to-face to the other woman in the beginning.

If a person who’s hurt, angry and complaining is a snake or go-between, who likes to pour gasoline on fires and stir up trouble between other people – who plays the game of “Uproar” – they’ll use any sympathy, opinions or information to enmesh you in a fight with someone else.

I haven’t mentioned the “Linda’s” in our extended families because we already know who those manipulative tricksters are.  We’ve already been sucked in to their manipulations so many times that we’ve learned to protect ourselves and to maintain good relations with the other people who act nice in return

A big learning for Carrie was that we may see someone’s shining, Godly spirit, but we’ll probably get to deal with their personality and the consequences they cause us.

It’s not the sympathy that’s a problem.  It’s how we express that sympathy or the dumb ways our sympathy can lead us to act in order to make someone feel better.

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” 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.

Cindy was up again at 2 AM, infuriated at her mother and her older sister.  They were so mean and cruel.  What they’d said and done hurt so much.  It was like she was a child again, subjected to their verbal beatings.  The more she thought of what they had done, the angrier she became.  She couldn’t stop her racing mind from obsessing on what they’d said. She linked the episode yesterday afternoon to the thousands of times she’d felt the same pain and frustration.  She wanted to beat them, even kill them, or never see them again.  But they were her family and she thought she couldn’t talk back or leave them.  She felt frustrated and stuck.

As the rage took her over, guilt and shame started growing.  How could she feel that hateful about her family?  Maybe they really were trying to help her?  The more she tried to get back to sleep, the more she jumped back and forth between rage and guilt.  She hadn’t seemed to make any progress in becoming a better, more spiritual person.

Cindy is stuck in “The Emotional Motivation Cycle.” The episode yesterday was like the key that started her emotional motivational engine.  And the more she thought about it, the faster ands hotter the engine went.

This cycle can be triggered by external events like Cindy’s mother and sister attacking her, or by thoughts and memories of previous episodes of harassment, blame or put-downs.  Once triggered the cycle repeats and builds in intensity and speed until we are taken over by it.  At 2 AM, in a half-sleep state we are most vulnerable to simply watching it run, as if on its own, and take over our minds and bodies.

Stages of typical cycles are:

  1. Hurt, Pain --> Frustration --> Anger --> Self-Bullying (Blame, shame guilt) --> Frustration -->
  2. Fear --> Run, Freeze --> Self-Bullying (Blame, shame guilt) --> Frustration --> Anger, Fear -->

Of course, the crucial question for each of us is, “What are the repeating stages in our cycle?”  We probably know exactly which thoughts, memories and words will follow in which sequence because we’ve done it to ourselves so many times.

Notice the stage in which we indulge in self-bullying: negative self-talk, blame, shame and guilt; loss of confidence and self-esteem; even suicidal thoughts.

What’s the Purpose of the Cycle? The purpose of the cycle is not really to make us feel angry and bad, even though it inevitably does.  The purpose is to motivate ourselves to make effective action.  Feeling is a tool; make us feel bad enough and we’ll finally break out of the iceberg that traps us and do something so they can’t hurt us again.

The purpose might seem to be to change the behavior of the bullies, but I think a better way of thinking about it is that its purpose is to goad us so that we simply won’t have bullies and their harassment, abuse, nastiness and bullying on our “Isle of Song.”

We may or may not be able to change their behavior.  We must accept that they have free will and they may not stop their toxic behavior.  All we can do is have effective consequences for their behavior and not put ourselves in harm’s way.  If they won’t change, we can’t allow them on our Isle of Song.  We won’t accept their control of us even or especially when they’re righteousWe won’t be slaves, scapegoats or whipping boys/girls.

The major downsides to the Emotional Motivation Cycle method of self-motivation are that:

  1. It can make us too depressed to act.  We make ourselves feel like we did when we were children; all our strength, energy, adult wisdom, determination and skill are sucked out of us, and we feel helpless and hopeless again, like we did when we were children.
  2. If we wait until we’re enraged, we’ll explode and do something ineffective that we’ll regret.  We’ll go too far and then repeat the cycle with emphasis on the self-flagellation.  Or our oppressors will change the subject and use our over-reaction to attack us on a different front.

Two responses, often championed in self-help literature, do not work:

  1. Stop thinking about it.  However, ignoring the insistent call of our spirit is not effective, and who would want it to be?  Our spirit wants us to do something effective; to stop bullying on our Isle of Song.  Nothing less will satisfy our spirit.  Why should we settle for less?
  2. Become more spiritual, understanding, forgiving – act like the Golden Rule requires.  The assumption here is that our unconditional love and perfection will convert bullies and they’ll stop abusing us.  Or we’ll get into heaven faster. That’s simply not true for real-world bullies.  Our spirit knows that also; that’s why it won’t stop bringing us back to the problem.

Instead, I recommend:

  1. At 2 AM, wake up so we can be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong, not weak.  Get out of bed, eat a little chocolate, shower if you need and plan what to do to act effectively.
  2. Connect with our spirit’s call and pledge to answer it.
  3. Connect with our spirit’s strength, courage and determination.
  4. Then we can coach that inner voice to help us by giving us the necessary strength, courage and determination, and by helping create an effective plan.

But what if the bullies won’t like us or will think badly of us? Who cares what jerks and sociopaths think – just stop them from abusing and harming us?  We don’t owe toxic parents or relatives anything, even if they fed us when we were children.  Good behavior is the price for admission to our Isle; blood, especially bad blood, doesn’t get them on our Isle.  Maybe we can even measure our success by how unhappy they are?

Often, the desire to protect our children from obvious, blatant rotten behavior motivates us to break the cycle and stop the abuse.

We can train ourselves to respond to our spirit when the situation is merely an irritation or frustration.  We can develop good habits that function naturally, automatically, easily.  The more we start listening to our inner voice, the more we’ll respond effectively in the moment of an assault or at the first self-hating thought.

You’ll find many examples of these responses in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” 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.

 

 

What do you do if you end up with the boss from hell? Someone like Char – critical and nasty to everyone, an equal opportunity bully.  She shot down whoever got in her sights.  But she never went after people face-to-face.  So, no one had the opportunity to question her or to present their side to her as she was making her attacks.

Anyone who missed a meeting, no matter the reason, could count on being raked over the coals.  She’d point out all their mistakes and lack of effort, and suggest that the “offending” party probably won’t last until the next meeting.  The public humiliation in absentia was crushing.

Nothing anyone did was ever good enough for Char.  She could make everyone feel small and incompetent; much like when they were bludgeoned by their parents’ sarcasm and abuse.

To read the rest of this article from the Denver Business Journal, see: What to do if you’re stuck with bully for boss http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2010/09/13/smallb1.html

In general, my advice to people who find themselves with controlling, bullying bosses and no way of changing miserable situations is: “Get a life away from work hell!”  The continued abuse will destroy you.  The longer you endure bullying, the more your confidence and self-esteem will be beaten down.  Eventually your spirit will shrivel up and you’ll feel too damaged to leave.

The better your performance results are, the easier it will be for you to find a different company to work for.  But don’t act too hastily. Being without a job is its own form of hell.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Most people think that if they made a mistake, broke the rules, weren’t good at something or did something wrong they deserve what they get.  So they accept being scolded, chastised and browbeaten. This attitude is so common that we have many words and expressions for these put-downs and abuse. For example, admonished, assailed, assaulted, attacked, bashed, bawled out, beaten, berated, blamed, castigated, chewed out, condemned, denigrated, disapproved, disparaged, dressed down, flayed, punished, rebuked, rejected, reprimanded, ridiculed, slammed, straightened out, taken to task, thrashed, told off, tongue-lashing, torn to pieces, upbraided, vilified, whacked.

I used my handy Thesaurus because I want to ask: “Which feels most familiar to you?”  That tells you who you’ve been living with.

Most people allow bullies to bring up incidents forever, whenever the bully feels like attacking them.  After all, victims and oppressors reason, they did wrong; facts are facts.

The real mistake is when we allow ourselves to be bullied, scolded and chastised.

This isn’t about pretending that a mistake wasn’t a mistake or that we were ignorant when we actually could have known better.  Sometimes a fact is a fact.  Sometimes we easily might have known better or done better.  Maybe we weren’t careful enough.  Often there were consequences.

This is about the “so what” if we made a mistake.

There’s a big different between reviewing behavior to see what could have been done better and being scolded or chastised.  There’s a big difference between recognizing our mistakes and determining to do better versus being beaten into submission, verbally or physically, in order to make a point.

You know how it feels when a predator gleefully pounces on you with, “I gotcha.  Now I can beat you.”

Some common examples:

So the first action message is not to allow yourself to be talked to that way.  Period.  Not even “when you deserve it.”  If you catch it early it’s easy to end the relationship.

That method of negative self-talk stimulates self-bullying perfectionism as if, “If I’m not perfect, I’m worthless and deserve to fail and get beaten.”  Allowing yourself to be scolded and chastised increases anxiety, stress and depression, and leads to self-doubt and low self-confidence and self-esteem.  If you allow those nasty, hostile, personal attacks in your space you increase your helplessness and hopelessness.

People who bully this way simply from ignorance and habit can understand rapidly, even though breaking the old habit will take longer.  Allow as many chances as your spirit can take easily, but no more.

People who enjoy the feeling of righteous power rarely change.  You can’t reason, appease or forgive them or love them enough to change them.  The Golden Rule won’t help youVote them off your island before they destroy you.

The second action message is don’t say things that way.

These messages train people to accept bullying and to become bullies.  Don’t train people to respond to messages phrased that way.  Don’t train your children or spouse that they have to be beaten before it’s serious enough for them to change or do better.  Don’t train yourself that you have to be beaten before you’re willing to listen.  Don’t train them that they have to beat you.

Get expert coaching to change these patterns for yourself and others.  Otherwise you create and reinforce an Island in which bullying must occur in order for change to occur.

Many people still feel like children when their parents boss, belittle, criticize, demean, blame, shame, bully, abuse and guilt-trip them.  The now-adult children still feel afraid, just like they did years ago. Angry, hostile, harassing, taunting parents still elicit the most primitive responses from their adult children – fight, flight or freeze.

How can these adult children free themselves from uncivil, impolite, nasty, manipulative or toxic parents who trample their boundaries?

The first step is always inner change.

Grown children need to mature into adults; to free ourselves from our childhood rules expectations and roles, from our fears and guilts.  In many ways it’s like shedding our old skin and growing one that fits better, or going into a cocoon and emerging as a butterfly.  It’s also just as natural.

We must make up our adult minds and hearts about what we will allow in our personal space.  Will we allow anyone to treat us like a child or simply treat us badly, or will be allow only our parents?  If our answer is “yes,” then we’ll probably be bullied, abused and terrorized by toxic parents for the rest of our lives.

That is a life choice many people make.  If we make it as an adult, not only as a beaten and submissive child, then it’s our choice and we get to live with it.

Many cultures consider that duty, obligation, respect and catering to parents – even vicious, abusive, bullies – as the most important duty of a good child.  It’s often called “filial piety.”  The principle is that we owe them our lives and must pay that debt as long as we live.  If we’re lucky, our children will pay their debt to us in the same way.  Some cultures have been organized around filial piety for thousands of years; it works and is self perpetuating.

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

In many ways, the Enlightenment in the West broke with that old tradition of filial piety championed a new way of being in the world.

As adults, we have the freedom and responsibility to make a different choice.  We have the moral right, permission and strength to stand against our parents and other people’s commandments.  We may and can and must choose for ourselves.

We can choose not to look over our shoulders and bow to our ancestors in fear and obedience.  Instead we can look ahead to our descendents with hope.  We can focus on taking care of our physical and spiritual children more than our parents.

The old way was to ask authorities, ask “What’s right?”  Now, we say, “That’s for us to decide.  We will follow the call of our Spirit, not the roles, beliefs and ideas we accepted when we were children.”  Of course, the Enlightenment’s way has its own downsides, but I’d rather have its upsides.

Maturing requires us to stand our Spirit’s ground, especially with our parents and extended family.  The longer we endure what we think of as mistreatment, the more our Spirits will shrivel and die, day-by-day. We must say some form of, “I love you but I’ll allow you in my space only if you treat me like I want to be treated, like you’d treat a person whose affections you’re trying to win.  I’m an adult; treat me nicely, kindly, respectfully and with fear that you might anger me.”

Often, we hold back because of our fears – fear of offending a moral code, fear of the condemnation of the “elders,” fear that we must think they’re evil, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of going too far, fear of our bullying parent’s power and retaliation, fear of being on our own emotionally even if we’re already married and have our own children.  We hold back because of the Golden Rule.  We hold back because we accept their excuses and justifications.

If we hold back, their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate.  If we still try to beg, bribe, please and appease them in order to get them to treat us decently, they’ll keep thinking they’re right and safe in continuing to beat us into submission.  We’ll get what we’re willing to tolerate.

Instead, break the game.  We don’t have to be perfect before they have to change how they act.  We’re not mature until we simply tell them what we want and have rewards if they’re nice and consequences if they continue abusing us.

Many people think that before they act they should do psychoanalysis until their fear is gone.  That’s a seductive trap, especially because it means they don’t have to act.  That way makes us think we’re weak and cowardly – it fills us with anxiety, stress and self-recrimination; we lose confidence and self-esteem; we’re more easily subject to physical ailments; we isolate ourselves and become depressed.

Speaking up and acting to make our words real is the way of courage; it builds strength, confidence and power.  Those fine qualities are developed only by overcoming fear and strong challenges.  Don’t wait until we’re “ready” to act in a way that’s perfect.  Act now; act next time.  We don’t have to be perfect the first time. If we go too far or not far enough, accept no blame, shame or guilt.  Simply adjust so we get closer to the way we want next time…and the time after…and the time after.  There will be more “time after’s.”

Some parents will finally see the consequences of losing contact with us; they’ll change their behavior.  Some won’t.  They also have free will and choice.

We’re not mature until we make an adult decision about what we’ll allow in our personal space and then back up that decision with rewards and consequences.

Of course the predicament is the same for parents with abusive children, or even worse since the children can deny their parents contact with the grandchildren

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  We must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome our fears and hesitations, and parents who won’t treat us right.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” contains the case studies of Carrie, Kathy, Doug, Jake and Ralph taking charge of themselves and stopping bullying parents and extended family members.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
11 CommentsPost a comment

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).

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).

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
24 CommentsPost a comment

You can’t convince bullying spouses to change; you’ll never prove that you’re right or should have what you need; you’ll never deserve the rewards they withhold from you.  They’re not interested in the truth or in your reasons or your wonderful logic.  They’re not interested in loving you the way you want to be loved.  They know best and they’re only interested in getting their way; in controlling everything – money, sex, cars, computers, phones, friends, family. So many blog comments are from women wanting to be told that they’re right in their arguments with their husbands; that they should be allowed to do a few things like see their parents or girl friends or have a few dollars for groceries.  They seem to think they need to get permission from their controlling husbands to even spend a few dollars of the money they earn.  They’re always surprised that their good arguments don’t convince these control-freaks and bullies to change their behavior.

Many coaching clients come or call when they’re stuck in the same endless dynamic.  Some husbands say the same things about the controlling wives.

I have to say: Give it up. You’ll never prove anything to someone who doesn’t want to be convinced; to someone who thinks their best interests are served by always being right and always being in charge.

One of the favorite tactics of bullies is to attack.  These verbal and emotional bullies are always finding fault and picking on flaws.  The natural response at first is for the wives to defend themselves.  But that only perpetuates the cycle of attack and defense.  There’s never an end to the constant harassment and negativity.

Eventually the women get worn down.  They’re too tired to fight about everything, especially the silly little stuff so they give up and accept the bully’s rule.  Then they become victims.  They accept that it is their fault; there must be something wrong with them.

The bully will destroy their confidence and self-esteem.  The stress, anxiety and negative self-talk will lead to depression.  They think that if only they were perfect enough, he’d be nice and encouraging and loving.

The solution begins with a difficult realization: When it gets to that point, you’ll never win the argument.  You’re being poisoned slowly, there’s no convincing a toxic predator to change and your only hope is getting away.

No matter what the cost, if you don’t get away, the poison will take its effect; your soul will be destroyed.  Even if you have to begin from square-one again, you must begin.  You’ll need all the strength and courage you can muster.  You’ll develop the endurance and skill as you proceed.

Of course it’s hard.  When you’re living in the ninth circle of hell, it takes a lot to get out.  But that’s what you’re being called to do.  Your spirit is calling you to make the effort.  Your bright future is calling you to make the journey.

If you have children, don’t see them as an impediment.  Let them stimulate you to break out of prison and start a new life as far away as you need.

Of course, if we can catch it earlier, it’s easier to declare and maintain your boundaries.  Then it’s easier to demand loving behavior and to get away if the abuse continues.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching can help you make a plan that fits you and your situation.  Expert coaching can help you overcome the voices of your fears and self-bullying.  Expert coaching can help you honor the commitments and responsibilities you still want to honor.

You’ll find many examples of children and adults stopping bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.  Or call me for coaching at 877-8BULLIES (877-828-5543).

Of course also, everything I’ve described here is true about harassing, bullying, abusive bosses, co-workers, friends, parents, family, children.  How easy is it to convince a teenager who wants something desperately?  How easy is it to prove yourself to a rage-aholic parent who thinks you’re bad or will be a loser?  How easy is it to convert a know-it-all boss?  How easy is it to prove yourself to a parent who loves one of your sisters or brothers more?  How easy is it to change a righteous Church Elder?

In “The Last Samurai,” with Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe, the Samurai asks Tom Cruise what he has devoted his life to.  Up to that point, nothing.  He has had and still has nothing worthwhile to devote himself to.  So he is empty; a shriveled heart moving from one whiskey bottle to the next.  And the rest of the movie the question falls from the air like a warm spring mist, “To what will you devote the rest of your life?” What might be worthwhile?

The great literature shows what is not worthwhile – money, power, position, fame, celebrity, ego, videogames.  You know the list – the 7 deadly sins and all the rest.

Of course, we want to master skills and we want enough money and stuff and a job that doesn’t crush us.  But if making our living costs so much that it ruins our lives, it’s not worth it.  You know, “What profiteth a man if he gain the world but lose his soul?”

There are some people who do devote their lives to their careers or their missions, but not many.  You know how wonderful you feel when you master a skill you love.  And how the world opens up when you master yourself or when you devote yourself to that which inspires your spirit.

So…To what will you devote the rest of your life?

Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller.  She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures. If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame.  Amy Chua is an abusive bully.

She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.

They also won’t suffer from anxiety, nightmares, negative self-talk and depression because they’ll be successful in her real world.  The bullying and beatings will make them as tough as nails.  They’ll wipe out your kids; you lazy, slacking, guilt-ridden, ambivalent, permissive American parents.

Some of her ideas and claims are:

  • “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
  • “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.”  Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
  • “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches.  Chinese parents aren't.  They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
  • “Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them.  If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough.  That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences.”

Therefore, she proudly states that never allowed her daughters to:

  • “attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.”

Why will some people take her seriously? People who think that American culture produces only losers – selfish, lazy, narcissistic, weak, slacker teenagers and adults who will never succeed – will be tempted to improve their children’s test scores acting like Ms. Chua did.  People who enjoy beating their children into submission will be tempted to use her ideas as a justification for dominating and abusing their children.  People who think that China is the next rising super-power and that today’s Chinese children will rule the world and our children won’t be strong and determined enough to stop them will be tempted to channel their children down Ms. Chua’s narrow track.

There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.

What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?

  • She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
  • She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
  • She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet.  I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
  • She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”).  If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
  • She assumes that there’s only one way to get children to work and succeed.  Because no children want to work at the right subjects, you must beat them into submission physically, verbally and emotionally.
  • She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
  • There’s almost no joy in their lives.  Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise.  But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning.  There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.

Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost. This is a great and necessary value.  It has made our society the first world.  But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.

No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks.  She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection.  That’s why people take it so personally.  Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons.  These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.

Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx.  She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon.  When she grew up she sued him.

A better approach:

  • Have you observed your children individually and carefully?  One approach does not fit them all.
  • Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own?  Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out?  This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
  • What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own?  Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you?  How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
  • Character is critical.  All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs.  What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn?  Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
  • Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it.  You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.

By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.”  In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices.  In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her.  That’s not the answer either.

All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.

Instead, find the fire in your children and feed that fire.  Help them become skillful and competent in areas that matter most to them.  Help them create a life that’s uniquely theirs, not one you think is proper or best for them.

Why do I say that Ms. Chua is abusive and a bully?  Let’s review – what do “Chinese Mothers” and bullies have in common.

  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” don’t care what you think or how much pain you feel.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” can do what they want to you and you’d better like it.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are right and righteous.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are the best because they’re the winners in life.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” beat you into submission for your own good.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” isolate you and make you dependent on them.

My conclusion is that if it looks like a bully, if it acts like a bully and if it feels like bullying then it’s a bully, even if it calls itself “Mommie Dearest.”

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
Tagsabusing, abusive, accomplish, activities, adults, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, allowed, ambivalent, American, Amy Chua, anxiety, anxious, article, attacking, attacks, Aung San Suu Kyi, barbarian, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, beating, beatings, beats, beauty, book, brutality, brute, bullies, Bullies at School, bully, bullying, bureaucrats, character, Charles Dickens, children, China, Chinese, Chinese Mothers, choose, Chua, claims, Communist, compassion, compete, competitive, complain, computer, computer games, connection, control, control-freak, creative, culture, cultures, Darwin, dedicated, defeat; win, demand, depression, desires, desperate, determination, determined, discourage, dominating, emotionally, encourage, encouraged, energetic, entrepreneurs, esteem, excoriate, failures, Fascist, fragility, fundamental, games, Gates, grades, guilt, happy, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hildegard of Bingen, honor, In Defense of the Guilty, inconvenience, independent, individuality, individually, inhumanity, Isolate, Joan of Arc, joy, jungle, justification, lawyer, lazy, liberty, literature, losers, love, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Marx, material, mothers, narcissistic, narrow, Nazi, negative, negative self-talk, nightmares, nurture, pain, parenting, parents, passionate, perfect, performance, permissive, physically, piano, playdate, power, preferences, Preoccupied Western Mom, professor, psyches, publicity, punish, right, righteous, rigid, rule, scores, self-determination, self-esteem, self-talk, selfish, shame, skill, Slacker, slacking, slaves, sleepover, social climbers, solution, soul, spirit, spirituality, sport, Steve Jobs, strength, strong, structure, submission, substandard, Succeed, successful, suffer, super-power, superior, teenagers, test, test scores, torturer, traditions, TV, uncaring, uniquely, values, verbally, victim, victory, violin, Waldman, Wall Street Journal, weak, western parents, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, wimpy, winners, work, wrong
14 CommentsPost a comment

Many types of family bullying are obvious, whether it’s physical or verbal harassment, nastiness or abuse, and targets or witnesses usually jump in to stop it.  The typical perpetrators are mothers and fathers bullying each other or the kids, sibling bullies, bullying step-parents or kids sneakily bullying a step-parent in order to drive a wedge between a biological parent and their new partner. But many people allow extended family members to abuse their children or their spouses, especially at the holidays, because they’re afraid that protest will split the family into warring factions that will never be healed.  They’re afraid they’ll be blamed for destroying family unity or they accept a social code that proclaims some image of “family” as the most important value.

Except in a few, rare situations, that’s a big mistake.

A rare exception might be an aged, senile and demented, or a dying family member whose behavior is tolerated temporarily while the children are protected from the abuse.

But a more typical example of what shouldn’t be tolerated was a grandpa who had a vicious tongue, especially when he drank.  He angrily told the grandchildren they were weak, selfish and dumb.  He ripped them down for every fault – too smart, too stupid; too fat, too skinny; too short, too tall; too pretty, too ugly; too demanding, too shy.  He also focused on fatal character flaws; born lazy, born failure, born evil, born unwanted.

For good measure, he verbally assaulted his own children and their spouses – except for the favorite ones.  He even did this around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables when the parents and their spouses were present.  He was always righteous and right.

Imagine that you see the fear, stress, anxiety and pain on your children’s faces and on your spouse’s face; you feel the pain and anger in your own heart.  You hate being there; you hate exposing your family to the negativity and abuse.  The rest of the adults try to shrug it off saying, “It’s only dad.  He really does love us.  His life has been hard.”  Or they insist, “Don’t upset the family, don’t force us to choose sides, family comes first.”

What can you do?

I assume you’ve asked him to stop or given him dirty looks, but that only seemed to encourage him to attack you and your children more.  Or he apologized, but didn’t stop for even minute.  When you arrived late and tried to leave early, he attacked your family even more.  He blamed you for disrupting the family.  The rest of the adults also said that it’s your fault you aren’t kind and family oriented enough to put up with him.

What else can you do?

I think you have to step back and look at the big picture – a view of culture, society and what’s important in life.  Only then can you decide what fights are important enough to fight and only then will you have the strength, courage and perseverance to act effectively.

Compare two views: one in which blood family is all important. We are supposed to do anything for family and put up with anything from family because we need family in order to survive or because family is the greatest good.  This view says that if you put anything above family, especially your individual conscience or needs, you’ll destroy the foundations of civilized life and expose yourself in times of need.  In this view, we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves and our children to our biological family – by blood or by marriage.

We can see the benefits of this view.  When you’re old and sick, who else will take care of you but kith and kin?  In this view, the moral basis of civilization is the bond of blood and marriage.  Violate that relationship, bring disunity into the family by standing up for your individual views and you jeopardize everything important and traditional.

In my experience, this view is usually linked to the view that men and inherited traditions should rule.  Boys are supposed to torment girls because that teaches them how to become men.  Girls are supposed to submit because that’s their appointed role – sanctioned by religion and culture.  If men are vicious to women and children, if old people are vicious to the young, that’s tolerated.

Contrast this view with an alternative in which behavior is more important than blood. Your individual conscience and rules of acceptable behavior are more important than traditions that enable brutality and pain generation after generation.  What’s most important in this view is that you strive to create an environment with people who fill your heart with joy – a family of your heart and spirit.

If you choose the first view, you’ll never be able to stop bullying and abuse.  Your children will see who has the power and who bears the pain.  They’ll model the family dynamics they saw during the holidays.   You’ve abdicated the very individual conscience and power that you need to protect yourself and your children.  You’ll wallow in ineffective whining and complaining, hoping that someone else will solve your problem.

The best you can hope for outside the family, when your children face bullies who have practiced being bullies or being bullied at home, is that school authorities will do what’s right and protect your children from bullies.  But how can you expect more courage from them than you have?  Or why shouldn’t they accept the culture which tolerates bullying and abuse, just like you have?

Once you’ve decided that you will stop accepting intolerable behavior, your action plan will have to be adjusted to the circumstances, for example:

  • Are you the biological child in the family or merely a spouse?
  • Is your spouse willing to be as strong as you?
  • Who’s the perpetrator – a grandparent, another adult or spouse, a cousin, a more distant relative?
  • Do you see the perpetrator every year or once a decade?
  • Do other adults acknowledge the abuse also?

Expert coaching and good books and CDs like “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up” and “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” will help you make the necessary inner shifts and also develop a stepwise action plan that fits your family situation and newly developed comfort zone.  For example, see the case studies of Kathy, Jake and Ralph.

Keep in mind that while you hope the perpetrator will change his or her behavior, your goal is really to have an island with people who make every occasion joyous.  You must be prepared to go all the way to withdrawing from family events or to starting a fight that will split the family into two camps.  But at least you’ll be in a camp in which you feel comfortable spending the holidays.

Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.  Sometimes when one person speaks up, many others join in and the combined weight of opinion forces an acceptable change.  Sometimes if you say you’ll withdraw, you’ll be seen as the most difficult person in the room and the rest of the family will make the abuser change or ostracize him or her.

There are toxic people in every environment – toxic lovers, husbands, wives, parents, children, relatives, bosses and coworkers.  Many people let bullying friends continue abusing them because they want to maintain the friendship.  They won’t disagree with or hurt the feelings of the false-friend even if he or she’s a righteous, narcissistic control-freak. However, if you don’t stop these bossy, self-centered bullies, they’ll increase your anxiety and stress, harass you and make your life miserable, take over your life and eventually turn other friends against you.

Joan had a problem with her friend Shelly.  Shelly was sure that she knew what’s right about everything and was intent on straightening out Jane.  She told Jane that Jane was a failure because of numerous character flaws; that’s why Jane’s children were not as successful as Shelly’s.  She said that if Jane didn’t do things the way Shelly told her, Jane’s part-time business would fail and Jane would be a failure her whole life.

Shelly corrected Jane about every detail; how Jane dressed, what she ate, who she talked to, what she read and where she went to church.  She also knew how Jane should behave to prove she was a true friend to Shelly.  If Jane didn’t change, Shelly either cried or got very indignant and angry.

Shelly was always convinced she was absolutely right and perceptive enough to recognize Jane’s hidden fears.  Faced with Shelly’s certainty and a few accurate remarks by her, Jane was thrown into self-questioning and self-doubt.  She agonized that maybe Shelly was right.  It was hard to argue against Shelly’s righteousness and total conviction.  As soon as Jane started, Shelly got angry and rebutted every one of Jane’s objections with reasonable sounding answers.  Or Shelly changed the subject and verbally attacked Jane.  Jane could never convince Shelly that she was wrong or that she was a self-righteous bully.

Also, selfish Shelly was the center of attention.  Most of their conversation was about Shelly’s emotional melodrama.  Only at the very end did Shelly pause to tell Jane where she was wrong.

The few times Jane has brought up a problem of Shelly’s, Shelly attacked Jane, claiming that Jane was jealous of Shelly or that Jane once did what she didn’t want Shelly to do.

After every conversation with Shelly, Jane felt discouraged, depressed and defeated.  She was afraid that if she told Shelly what she really felt, she’d lose her best friend.

Every situation is different; every situation has complications that limit possible solutions.  Solutions to each situation will have to be designed specifically for the people involved.  For example, in Jane’s case, she was afraid that if she argued or disagreed with Shelly, Shelly would sabotage Jane to all their friends. However, there is a general rule: The longer you accept the righteous put-downs and control by a bullying, abusive false-friend, the more your confidence and self-esteem will be battered.  You must gather the will and determination to act.  You must learn skills of planning and successfully executing effective tactics.

The key to Jane’s breaking free was to see that Shelly was an abusive bully, not a true friend.  Jane realized that true friends don’t act the way Shelly did.  That realization gave Jane the will – the determination, perseverance and grit – to be honest with Shelly.  Jane realized that the friendship she might lose was one that hurt, even though Shelly called it “best friends.”  Jane also prepared herself and her other friends for what Shelly was likely to do in retaliation.

Jane didn’t argue, debate or try to prove to Shelly that she was a bully.  Jane simply stated how people had to act in order to be her friend and to be in her personal space.  Shelly was shocked that Jane finally found the backbone.  Of course, Shelly was convinced that Jane was wrong.  Shelly tried to turn their friends against Jane, but Jane’s preparation paid off.  The friends had had similar experiences with Shelly.

For another example, in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” see how Tammy stopped a false-friend who tried to force food down Tammy’s throat even though Tammy was trying to diet.

Toxic, righteous, controlling, bullying, abusive false-friends usually don’t change.  The relief and freedom you feel when you clear them out of your environment tells you that it was worth the effort.  You’ve reclaimed your spirit and your life.

Self-bullying perfectionism can suck the joy out of success and ruin our lives.  It’s one of the worst forms of negative self-talk. We know that harassing, abusive, inner voice that focuses only on what we didn’t do perfectly according to some old standard that was shoved down our throats when we were children.  It has the most horrible, bullying tone when it picks on our emotions, spirit and flesh.  It’s all-or-none when it reminds us of the 1% we didn’t do perfectly according to our parents’ standards for us.  It’s full of should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.

It makes us 100% responsible for every problem; it points out how we never do enough, give enough, say enough.  It’s demeaning, smug and sarcastic.  It stacks up every mistake we ever made or failure we ever had.  Of course it knows every hot button and self-hatred trigger we have.  It can generate blame, shame and guilt in an instant.

The effects of perfectionistic self-flagellation are obvious – increased anxiety, stress and depression; a sense of failure even in the midst of success and happiness; a foreboding about the future that leads to desperation and panic; insecurity, self-doubt, lack of confidence and low self-esteem.  Especially debilitating is the internal argument with the side that puts us down relentlessly and the side that tries to defend us – usually weaker and defensive, especially when we’re tired or getting sick or alone and lonely.

Perfectionism guarantees inner emptiness, pain and self-loathing.  No matter how much we succeed, no matter how much we’re praised, it’s never enough to heal our inner wounds.  That inner voice always reminds us that we’re imposters, failures who’ll be unmasked eventually.  We’re like hamsters spinning our wheels; afraid that if we slow down, disaster awaits losers like us.

Nit-picking perfectionism turned outward can help us succeed by harassment, bullying and abuse of others.  But turned inward, it’s an incapacitating method of judging our self-worth.

Whether people in our childhoods were simply mean, nasty and rotten; whether they thought they had to protect us from the character flaws they saw in us; whether that was the only way they knew how to express love and caring, or how to motivate us doesn’t matter much now that we’re adults.

Once we’ve overcome the internal war over perfectionism and how to motivate ourselves, we can decide what we think about them and how we want to interact with them now, if at all.  We set the standards of acceptable behavior and how people talk with each other – about what and when.  We’re in charge of our adult personal spaces.

The real work is not about forgiveness; it’s about taking charge of our lives according to our own standards.

Those relentless, childhood put-downs and bullying by our parents, siblings, classmates or other people led us to split into two warring sides.  One side took on the perfectionistic, self-bully voice; we continue beating ourselves down long after we’ve left those people or even after they’re dead.  The other side argued and defended us against the attacks.  It champions our success and tries to affirm our strength and a wonderful future that’s possible.  It often asserted itself by making us mutiny against what those tormentors told us to do; whether that’s really good for us or not.

In my experience, there are many paths to overcome self-bullying perfectionism, but they all lead to a similar goal.  The goal is to heal the wound of the original split, end the war and create one centered, adult part that coaches us to choose the future we want to create and to pursue it with determination, courage, perseverance and grit.

When we accomplish this, our paths open up.  Our internal self-talk stops being negative and becomes encouraging and strengthening.  We develop realistic goals and expectations.  We motivate ourselves by desire for the future we want instead of by avoiding the pain of old wounds lacerated.  We decide what’s good enough.  We and can enjoy our success and happiness.

Just as the predatory stepfather has become a cliché, the wicked, greedy stepmother and the colluding father have also become an archetype because so many times the characterization is accurate.  So what can you do when your father marries a grasping, bullying, uncaring woman when you’re young?  How can you stop such a bully when your father marries one late in life and she wants to get her hands on the family fortune and your most cherished sentimental items? Of course there are many situations in which a stepmother has loved and enriched the life of her stepdaughter.  See “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,” by Georgina Howell for one famous example.

But when you’re young and an evil stepmom moves in, with our without her own children, and treats you like Cinderella, you have only one court of appeal, your father.  If he won’t see the truth and rectify his mistake, you have only a few options:

  • Keep resisting, fighting and rebelling; keep trying to make him see the light.
  • Fly low; be devious, learn to dissemble, lie and hide in order to minimize the damage.

The first strategy usually has disastrous consequences for children.  Typically, fathers never get it.  Sometimes relatives might defend you, but they can rarely open your blinded father’s eyes.  For many reasons, none important for your later life, your father typically won’t accept or value that you’re being mistreated and he won’t get rid of the witch.

Kids who use this strategy usually end up ruining their lives because they’ve only prepared themselves to resist, fight and rebel.  All their energy goes into trying to get justice from a stone.  They don’t prepare themselves to have wonderful careers and lives.

Kids who use the second strategy often succeed in later life.  Don’t waste your youth fighting an unwinnable battle.  Use your time and effort to develop skills that prepare you for a good career and a great life.

Of course, a bullying stepmom will harass and abuse you whenever she can.  She’ll also try to align your father against you.  And if she brings her own children into the marriage, she’ll try to shove you out so hers can inherit the love and money.  So what?  History is full of kids who succeeded despite the unfairness and injustice of such situations.

Since your father is besotted and blinded, there’s little you can do to obtain justice.  When you’re young, you can’t understand how a person can do what he’s doing.  When you become older and can see the reasons, there’s still little comfort in that understanding.

In this situation, the key to success is an inner one: keep your spirit alive and burning fiercely until you can get away and make your own life.  Of course you won’t have the head start you would have if your father had done better for you.  So what?  That’s not the end of the world.

Of course you’ll get blamed for everything.  Your wicked stepmom will heap shame and guilt on you.  Don’t accept it.  It’s not your fault.  Of course, you did some things wrong, but even if you’d been perfect, it wouldn’t have been good enough for her.  You were in her way or she needed a scapegoat or she simply liked to inflict pain.  The way she treated you was her fault, not yours.

Don’t let anxiety and stress lead to depression.  Don’t let negative self-talk and self-bullying destroy your self-confidence and self-esteem.

Stay invulnerable to outrageous fortune; verbal, emotional and physical.  You aren’t at the mercy of events.  Don’t let them crush your spirit.  Your spirit can endure and soar.  You can create a great life for yourself.

The other typical situation occurs when your father marries late in life and forces a selfish, greedy, narcissistic new wife into your family.  Encourage your father to make a prenuptial agreement to protect the family fortune he had before he met her and specify in his will who gets each sentimental treasure from your childhood.

If there’s no written assignment, after your father dies she’ll keep your biological mother’s things and even your most cherished toys.  She’ll make you grovel to get any of your father’s items.

Of course she’ll blame you for why she’s mean and keeps things from you.  She’ll say that you didn’t communicate lovingly enough with her, you hurt her feelings or she needs and deserves what ever she wants.  And she’ll say that she has a right to it all.  She needs it to comfort her for her great loss.

She’ll try to divide your siblings into warring camps; if you’re not on her side you’re her enemy for life.  She’ll make you crawl in order to get anything, and then she’ll jerk it away just as you think you’re about to get it.  It’s as if she enjoys raising your hopes and causing you pain.

Recognize as bullies these manipulative, hypercritical, distorting, demanding, lying toxic people who use their hurt feelings and anger to control everyone else.  Notice who has all the responsibility for making her be just or generous; she never accepts any blame, never has to please you, never has to apologize.  You always have to please her, accept all the blame for any problem and do all the apologizing.

Your crawling will never be enough to get you anything important.  She’ll always raise the bar on what you have to do.

If you try to negotiate with these bullies, you’ll always give up something in hopes that she’ll reciprocate.  But you’ll be disappointed.  After you give something up, the negotiations will immediately become about what you must give up next.

Accept that you’re in a war with a bitter, relentless and ruthless enemy who won’t compromise or negotiate in good faith.  Fight to get what’s yours.  Then turn your back and walk away.  She wants to trap your energy for the rest of your life; either pleasing her or fighting her; it doesn’t matter which.

Of course some moms harass, bully and abuse their biological children in the same way.  Their children need to use the same tactics in order to survive and thrive.  You can read the examples of Carrie, Doug and Jake in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

Take your energy and make a wonderful life, no matter the injustice of what happens.  The best revenge is a great life.

 

Toxic step-fathers and step-mothers are clichés because they’re all too common.  But the ubiquity of harassment, bullying and verbal, sexual and physical abuse doesn’t diminish the pain and long-term damage inflicted on defenseless kids. Of course, kids can also treat their step-parents cruelly, and step-mothers and biological parents can also be relentlessly cruel, but let’s focus here on step-fathers who abuse their size, control and power.

These step-fathers sexually abuse one or all of their step-daughters while the moms ignore the evil.  The perpetrators are to blame and the daughters’ anger is rightly focused on these men.

But let’s also look at the moms who won’t see or hear anything bad about their new husbands even though the complaints and evidence are clear, and the damage to their children is striking.

Later, when the complaints and evidence are brought forth by the now-adult and articulate children, these mothers will usually still defend and excuse the predators they invited into their homes.  Typically, the mothers whine and demand that their children should perpetuate the lies and secrets.  “After all,” they complain, “they deserve a little happiness after all they’ve suffered.  Their daughters should understand how hard it was for them.”

Nonsense.  These narcissistic mothers deserve nothing; certainly not the allegiance of their abused daughters.  Most daughters make repeated overtures of friendship to their uncaring and unsympathetic mothers.  The daughters hope that by understanding why their mothers didn’t protect and defend them they’ll be able to forgive their mothers and maintain a loving connection.

I hope that the emotional blackmail and manipulation contained in the word “forgiveness” will be the last straw.  How can the mothers heal the wounds they ignored and let fester during years of abuse?  In addition, these mothers rarely start making amends by getting rid of the perpetrators.

The daughters, who held the pain and trauma when they were young, are still left holding the emotional bag.  There’s no way they can release their anger by simply beating the bullies to death or making them burn slowly, even though he deserves even worse.

Separate from what social services and the police might have been able to do, what can the adult children do now?

  • Don’t debate or argue.  Don’t try to get your mother and step-father to admit what they did.  They can keep you hung up, focusing on them for years.  Take your time and energy away from them and focus on a new life.
  • Stop abusing yourself with negative self-talk and predictions of failure that increase self-doubt, stress and depression, and destroy self-confidence and self-esteem.  Convert those inner, self-bullying voices into helpful coaches.
  • Get away from both your mother and step-father; physically and emotionally.  Get away from triggers that are guaranteed to keep you in emotional turmoil.  Don’t let abusers keep hitting a very black-and-blue area of your body, emotions and spirit.  Distance and no contact will help you focus on your present and future instead of on your past.
  • Don’t let your children near them.  More important than their knowing their toxic grandparents is your protecting them from emotional and physical perpetrators.  Be a model for them to keep a flame of strength, courage and determination burning in their hearts no matter what happens to them.
  • Forget about understanding and forgiveness; let these come in their own time, if they ever do.  Understanding why that old man, who may or may not be truly sorry now, could torture you like he did does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding how your mother could allow you to be tortured does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding why they maintained a conspiracy of silence then and now does not excuse or justify the behavior.
  • Become internally invulnerable.  Use the past pain to inspire your present life.  I know that’s easy to say and hard to do.  Find people to remind you of your fighting spirit when your energy flags.  Get an expert coach to help you put the wounds behind you.  Fill the mental space in front of you with your vision of the present and future you want.

Don’t let toxic step-fathers and colluding mothers ruin any more of your life than they did when they had physical control of you.  You’re now an adult.  You have control of your physical, emotional and spiritual island.  Vote them off it.

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.

The holidays may be over for a while but family harassment, bullying and abuse because of a favorite child still needs to be stopped.  Typical situations are where the parents:

  • Praise, defend and give the best presents or position in the Will to their favorite child.
  • Put down the rest of the children or designate one as the scapegoat.
  • Ignore the faults of one child while continually criticizing the other children.
  • Cater to the whims of the favorite child and blame other children who resist.

Of course, I’m not talking about the situation where one child has an illness or disability that requires lifetime care, although even in this case, parents can use the rest of the children to serve the needs of the most needy.  Some parents even decide to have a second child as an organ donor.  I’m talking about the situations in which the children are basically okay, but one is selected as the favorite.

In some cultures the favored child is the son who will inherit everything while the daughters are raised to serve the ruling male.  You can hear them say, “If only you did what your brother wants, we’d have peace and be a loving family.”

Other families label one sister as the “good child” who is held up as a paragon of virtue or success impossible for the other daughters to reach.  You know who the “bad” or “failures” daughters are.  You can hear the parents say, “Ah, if only you were as loving, kind and good as your sisters.”

Sometimes, one child is favored because mom and/or dad think that child is the sensitive one.  His feelings count more than everyone else’s.  Therefore, they say, we must organize our schedules and plans around the wishes of that child.  “After all,” they say, “We wouldn’t want to disappoint your brother or hurt his feelings.”

The situation is even worse when the favorite children know they can get away with anything and use the power to bully and torment the other children.  You recognize all those sarcastic remarks that have hidden meanings and can drive you crazy.

But no matter how hard you’ve tried, no matter what good deeds you’ve performed or sacrifices you’ve made, eventually you realize that nothing you do will ever be good enough.  The favorite daughter’s wish that they could do more or slightest effort will be counted and praised more than yours.

So what can you do?

These situations are tough because they’re based on hidden feelings and attitudes, and because they’ve been going on for decades.  It feels natural by now; “It’s just the way we do it.”

Some typical steps people use to get free from the domination of the family by one sibling are:

  1. Inner commitment to break the pattern even if that means going your own way.  Stop your negative self-talk; it’ll create self-doubt and destroy your confidence and self-esteem.  It’s not your fault.  It’s about them and their decision to favor one child over the others.  Your goal can’t be to change their behavior; that’s often impossible.  Your goal is to stand your ground so you can create your own island of good cheer if you have to.
  2. Give people a chance by telling them, in private, what you plan to do.  Line up allies if there are any to be had.  Plan specific actions so you can support each other effectively.
  3. Plan tactics carefully.  Pick your fights selectively; don’t fight about everything.  You know what’s likely to happen.  What will you say or do in response?
  4. Stay calm.  Ignore the little snide comments and put downs that used to drive you crazy.  Don’t argue about the details or the old family history.  Don’t debate who is more worthy or who has suffered the most.  Simply state your needs, standards and decisions.
  5. Expect the bullies to spin the story their way, lie and go behind your back to create alliances and pressure groups.  Prepared to be blamed, labeled and shunned.  Prepare to be cut out of the Will.
  6. Be persistent.  Have real consequences, like not attending or like leaving early.  Words, arguments and logic don’t count; only actions count.  Stand your ground.
  7. Prepare to be surprised.  Often, families will accommodate the most stubborn and difficult person, whether they’re right and fair or not.  You may have to be more stubborn than anyone else.

Get a good coach to help you rally your spirit and plan effective tactics.

Your task is to create a family that honors, respects and appreciates you, a family in which your great efforts are worthy of being honored, a family of your heart and spirit.  That may or may not be the family you were born into.

Rolling Stone reports how “Twilight: New Moon” star Taylor Lautner stopped school bullies.  Taylor told Rolling Stone, “I was never extremely confident.  Because I was an actor, when I was in school there was a little bullying going on.  Not physical bullying but people making fun of what I do.  But Taylor says the bullies didn’t stop him from taking on the role of Jacob in Twilight: New Moon, which transformed him into a Hollywood heartthrob.” How did Taylor stop the bullies and do what he wanted to do?

There are two critical steps to keep bullies from wounding or scarring you, or from stopping your dreams in life:

  1. Developing a mind-set that’s strong enough to help you thrive.  You don’t accept what bullies say as true or meaningful or predictive of your future.  You don’t let bullies get to you.  You develop mental and emotional toughness and grit.  You don’t let their views or words decrease your self-esteem or self-confidence.  You’re not harassed or abused inwardly by their negativity.  You don’t become an emotional victim.  You see them for the jerks they are.  You set your mind and heart on the future you want to create.  You keep a spark of hope and resolution alive.  You know you’ll get away from jerks like that when you grow up.  You find heroes that inspire your emotional strength, courage and endurance.
  2. Developing real-world tactics that are effective for you.  You have complete choice depending on the situation and the styles you want to try.  You don’t use the nine tactics that fail to stop relentless bullies.  Instead, you might respond with snappy come-backs of your own.  You might form your own clique of people who think you’re fine and worth being friends with.  Depending on the type of bullying, you might get your parents and the principal and teachers involved.  You might beat them up.  I know that lots of people will cringe at that.  But it works.  Ask people who were successful against bullying.

Taylor commented only the first step.  He said: “I just had to tell myself I can't let this get to me. This is what love to do. And I'm going to continue to do it.”  That was good enough.

Notice the difference between his mental and emotional strength, and his resilience, and the kids who are wounded and scarred all their lives by taunting, or who commit suicide.

Sometimes a mentor, model or coach is crucial.  It could be a wise parent, an athletic coach or a practical, life coach who keeps your spirits strong.

Think of the wonderful interaction that helped Michael Oher, as described in “The Blind Side.”  Even though the movie downplays his knowledge of football (he had studied the game since he was 10), notice the support of Michael by people who believed in him and were skilled enough to nurture his will and fighting spirit.

We may not be as handsome as Taylor, but that’s irrelevant.  We can be as mentally and emotionally strong in resisting the stupid opinions, harassment and abuse by vicious bullies.