What do you do when someone you depend on must be gone and you have to pick up the slack? Typical scenarios when this happens include termination, vacation, downsizing or personal crisis.
To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Columbus, see:
Surviving crises while that crucial someone is gone
For example, Brad and Harry had been partners for years and depended on each other daily. When Brad’s father had a stroke and went into a coma, Brad’s work life stopped but Harry’s didn’t. Harry had to do both their tasks. But how could he complain when Brad rushed to be at his father’s side? Brad knew Harry would understand.
As days stretched into weeks, Harry became overwhelmed. But he certainly didn’t want his weaknesses to burden Brad, who had “more important” things on his mind.
Sometimes, bullies come to us and apologize in private for their behavior and promise that they won’t do it again. Does that mean that the harassment, abuse and bullying will stop?
When we receive a private confession and apology, it’s natural for us to heave a sigh of relief and relax; to give up our fear and anger. And then share our secrets, fears and hopes, which is often what bullies want. Real-world bullies will simply use this new information to embarrass us or stab us in the back.
A public apology counts for much more, especially from covert, sneaky manipulative bullies.
But the bottom line is behavior. So when we receive a private apology, I’d recommend saying “Thank you.” And not thinking we have a new friend, but also asking, “What will you do to make amends in public?” Or even, “Thank you. I’ll see how you act in the future to know if you’ve really changed.”
Or we might be more gracious in saying nothing but we’ll still keep watching and keeping score. We shouldn’t give them our wallet or car keys. We should test bullies by small steps to see if they’re trustworthy. Be determined and persevering.
For example, see the case study of dieter Tammy being attacked by her false friend Helen in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site. Or the case studies of Brandi and Lucy with their boyfriends.
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.
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.
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 major downsides to the Emotional Motivation Cycle method of self-motivation are that:
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.
Two responses, often championed in self-help literature, do not work:
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?
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:
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.
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.
Joan’s father had bullied and abused her all her life. He’d yelled, scolded, chastised, taunted and emotionally terrorized her. He’d been manipulative, sneaky and lying. He never admitted anything was his fault. He’d always blamed on her; everything was her fault. He still treats her the same way. He’s a narcissistic, control freak.
Joan could never understand why he treated her that way. She hadn’t deserved it. She knew he’d had a terrible childhood, but she didn’t deserve to be the one he took it out on.
Now, he’s in his late 80s and Joan could see that he was sinking rapidly.
How can she resolve things with him before he dies?
Sporadically, through the years after she’d left home and made her own life, she’d tried talking with him about how he treats her but he’d always rejected her attempts, calling her weak and bad. He never admitted he’d done any of the things she said. That led to the usual angry rant about her failings and what she owed him. And a demand that he’ll never talk about that again.
Of course, she’s going to try once more. And maybe a miracle will happen. But my experience is that any change would be extremely rare. I’ve see most people recover from near-death experience and be unchanged. They immediately cover themselves with their old costume of abuse and bullying.
I’ve seen a sexually manipulative perpetrator on his death bed try to grope his daughter, just like he did when he molested her for years when she was young.
She means that they’ll have a heart-felt talk, and she’ll say her say again but this time he’ll admit to all he did and apologize and ask for her forgiveness, she’s probably going to be disappointed. No matter how much she begs, bribes or tries to appease him, likely he won’t change. He’ll still insist he never did anything bad to her and it’s all her fault. Also, he’ll never tell everyone to whom he bad-mouthed her, that she was actually a good daughter and he was simply mean and nasty. So the task for her is to accept that she can’t change him and to find a mental place in which to keep him that doesn’t stimulate any self-bullying by blame, shame or guilt – just like he’d do to her again if he had the opportunity.
She means that she can come to like him and they’ll part friends, she’ll be disappointed again. They’re not friends. We can’t be friends with someone who has beaten us, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, no matter how hard we try. A survival part of us doesn’t want us to get close enough so they can abuse us once more. The task for her is to let the anger and hatred motivate her to get distance, no matter what he thinks of her or accuses her of.
Should she stay at his bedside while he passes? If she wants to be with him at the end in order to assuage any guilt she may have for missing a last possible chance for resolution, then she should be there as long as she won’t let him hurt her feelings any more; as long as she doesn’t expect anything more than he’s always been.
Should she have her children visit him at the end? Again that depends on what she wants from the interactions. If he’s been manipulative and rotten to her children, or bad-mouthed her to them, then I wouldn’t let them be subjected to that again. In age and stage appropriate ways, she can talk to them now and as they grow.
My personal and professional experience is that forgiveness doesn’t stop real-world bullies.
Most people think forgiveness consists of two things:
Some surge of feelings that makes us more kindly disposed toward a person who has injured us, whether intentionally or not. Words in dictionaries include:
A thawing or understanding, caring, sympathy, empathy, compassion, pity, pardoning, clemency, mercy, kindness and benevolence and
A letting go of anger, resentment, the desire to punish, vindictiveness and revenge.
Putting ourselves back into the same situation with that bully to show that we trust him not to take advantage of us or harm us.
Many people are addicted to those wonderful feelings of forgiveness. They feel morally superior and spiritually advanced.
Indeed, when our hearts open up, a bridge of good will and good behavior can be created. The other person may be genuinely sorry for their behavior and won’t do it again. If possible, amends can be made with a reciprocal flow of open-heartedness. Subsequent interactions can be founded on charity and caring.
There have even been documented cases in which parents have forgiven the murderer of their child, and the murderer was transformed and spent the rest of his life making amends and teaching others about the bond of caring that can exist between all humans.
We also want to see them make amends that require effort and sacrifice. It’s not enough that they apologize or promise they’ll never do it again. Talk is cheap; it’s too easy to say, “Sorry” one time. We want to see acts that make amends over time.
Also, our confidence is not about whether or not the bully has transformed and won’t hurt us again. We’re simply confident in our own abilities. Then we can stop obsessing on the incidents of abuse and bullying, and focus on what we want to do in our lives.
Our previous obsession with the pain of bullying was simply motivation, a strong reminder that we don’t want to experience that ever again. Once we’re sure ourselves, we no longer need to revisit the painful incident to remind us to be prepared.
But how about the idea of putting ourselves back into the same situation again to show forgiveness? Nonsense. Although we can see the spirit of goodness within each person, that’s not what we get to deal with in the physical world. We get to deal with their personality and ego.
Before we trust someone and allow them in our lives, we should observe them in many situations, time after time. We should observe their behavior, not the reasons, excuses and justifications for their actions. We should permit them to move closer by small steps.
Personally, if the pain caused by the bully was great, I don’t want them in my life again, no matter how much they want to continue and promise they’ve changed. We can go our separate ways. I can observe from a distance and after 20-30 years I might change my mind about interacting.
There are many processes we can use to reach that level of determination and skill.
Because I’ve seen so many sneaky, manipulative, toxic parents who, after a lifetime of battering and spurning their children, get old and want those children to serve them. The parents now admit they were wrong and insist that the children take them back and cater to their wishes. The emotional blackmail is, “If you were a truly forgiving person, you’d be understanding and kind, and care for us now.” But these toxic parents don’t stop bullying their children. They’re merely narcissistic, control-freaks demanding or blackmailing or using guilt to get what they want.
Why put yourself in harm’s way? Let these bullies practice being transformed on other people’s bodies. Watch them from a distance for 20-30 years to see if they’re sincere and can keep their promises.
But let’s go back and ask, “What if you’ve forgiven the murderer of your child, but the murderer wasn’t transformed by your forgiveness?” You’ve lost nothing. The murderer is still behind bars, I hope forever or awaiting the death penalty, and you’re still on the outside. Nothing will bring your child back so you might as well think only rarely of the murderer and think often of your child and how you want to live now.
Self-forgiveness is akin to this, but it’ll be the subject of another article.
You choose which way of looking at forgiveness you want; which criteria you’ll follow before you forgive. Which way gives us the kind of life we want: to feel spiritually advanced and get taken advantage of repeatedly or to keep bullies out of our internal and external worlds?
Let’s analyze a worst-case scenario for loving, caring parents.
You were pretty good parents but one of your children has turned out toxic – not a psychopath but someone who acts like she (or he) hates you.
It’s not your fault, but she blames you for not giving her everything she wanted or wants now, she’ll be sweet one moment and then abusive, vicious and hateful the next, she harasses and bullies you relentlessly when she wants something; she tries to involve the rest of the family in her schemes and feuds. Or her boyfriend or husband hates you and she goes along with it and it gets worse every year. And they’re narcissistic losers; they barely have enough money and you know that they’ll leech off you forever if you let them.
But that’s not the worst-case. The worst-case is when that toxic child has children. Your daughter has let you play with your grandchild, let you grow to love him and vice versa. Of course he loves you; you’re the sane rock in his life. He’s safe around you – no craziness, no yelling and screaming, no lies and broken promises, and no anxiety, brutality or manipulation of his affections like in his interactions with his mother and father. You treat him with loving kindness and he can trust what you say. When he’s with you he’s not stressed out; not blamed, guilty and abused for everything he does wrong.
The worst-case is when your daughter starts blackmailing you emotionally. She won’t let you see your grandchild unless you play her games and give her everything she wants. She raises the ante every day. You know she lies to your grandchild about you and why he doesn’t see you. It’s worse if she’s divorced because then you get jerked around and thrust in the middle by her ex-spouse and his family.
You love your grandson. He’s important to you, you’re important to him and you hope you can be a lifeline to help him make a better life than the chaos he’s growing up in. But no matter what you do, it’ll be wrong and your daughter will blame and abuse you. There will be days when you want to run away, leave no forwarding address, change your names and fingerprints, get new social security numbers and telephones. But you won’t because of the hope you can help your grandson.
What can you do to stop the bullying and extricate yourself from a horrible situation?
Usually there’s little you can do legally. It’s hard to exercise “grandparents rights” if your daughter or her spouse won’t let you. You can consult a lawyer and learn to document enough evidence to show delinquency and neglect so you can get custody, but that’s a faint hope.
You have to make one of the hardest decisions for anyone; how much will you sacrifice in order to get any time with your grandson? Realize that no matter what you decide, your heart will be broken thousands of times until he’s independent and maybe even for your whole life. Recognize also that nothing you do will change your daughter – this pain and violence to your spirit will go on as long as she has any control over your grandson. Understand that she will trample any boundaries you think you’ve set.
There is no magic bullet that will cure her. You won’t bring her to her senses, help her to act reasonably and consistently, make her to keep her promises, convert her to see that the child is better off with you or get her away from a controlling husband. Even if you act reasonably, she won’t. You’ll never understand why she does what she does; she’s selfish, nasty and changeable from moment to moment. You’ll be embroiled in her painful games and anger as long as she controls your grandson. Each episode will rip you apart.
Suppose you choose to get as much time with your grandson as you can; what are the best things you can do to help him? Most people choose this path. After all, how can we give up, turn our backs and live with our broken hearts?
In a loving couple, most grandparents differ over how much time and money they’re willing pay and how much pain they can stand for the privilege of seeing their grandchild. Love each other and keep working with that difference, knowing that both your hearts are broken anew every day. Don’t let this drive a wedge between you.
Plant seeds in your grandchild. He sees the truth but he’s told by his parents that his vision is wrong. He needs to learn to trust his vision. He needs you to tell him that what he sees about his home and parents is true. He’s not crazy – he didn’t do anything to deserve it; it’s not his fault; it’s just the way it is. That won’t confuse him; that’ll reinforce his confidence and self-esteem. He needs to know who’s jerking all of you around and the price you all have to pay as long as he’s in their clutches.
Collude with him to lie to his parents. Strong children – survivors – sense what they need to do in order to stay safe in a chaotic and hostile world. For example; he can’t say he’s having too much fun with you; that he loves you too much; that he’d rather be with you. He already knows what he has to hide.
Make a safe place for his heart and his favorite stuff. With you, he can dream big and not get his dreams crushed or used against him. Keep your promises consistently. Let him express his frustration and anger. Anger is better than apathy or depression. You can express your helplessness. At your home, don’t let him use the tactics he sees at your daughter’s home. Appeal to his better nature. Be very gentle with correction and discipline; he gets yelled at enough at home.
Prepare him emotionally and spiritually for the future. The more he can ignore his crazy parents, the better. Keep a spark alive in him that by biding his time, one day he’ll get free. He has to stop the bully in his head. When he’s 18 (to pick a number) he can leave and make his own way. Remind him of all the great and wonderful people who escaped from cages and prisons. He owes your toxic daughter, his mother, absolutely nothing.
Prepare him economically for the future. For him to live free he must plan to become monetarily independent. Depending on his brains and talents, he has to develop a marketable skill, even if his parents don’t like it and he has to do it in secret. Help him do that now and when he leaves home.
Many children are too weak to overcome their toxic parenting. But there are always some who are invulnerable to horrible circumstances, some who keep that spark alive and get free from the cage or prison they’ve been trapped in.
Your heart insists that you try to help your grandchildren. For clear examples, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the studies of how Kathy, Doug, Jake and Carrie got away from manipulative or toxic parents. Also, see the example of teenage Stacy bullying her mother.
In almost all cases where the child flies free, they never look back and neither do their grandparents. If they or you look back, you’ll be turned into pillars of salt.
My last post was about adults who carry to their graves the wounding and scars they got from their parents. These adults never grow up mentally, emotionally and spiritually. They never leave their parents’ mental and emotional homes, even if they leave physically.
While watching the John Adams mini-series, I saw a classic example.
Whether the program was factual or not, the picture it showed of John and Abigail’s youngest son, Charles, was so typical and true that I’ll comment as if it was factual.
Because John was gone during the Revolutionary years for long periods of time in Philadelphia and Europe, and Abigail also went to Paris, Charles did not get as much of his parents’ love and affection as he wanted. Charles especially wanted his father’s approval. But John would never approve of Charles’ lack of serious, studious devotion to a stable career dedicated to building his country and supporting his family.
Forget about what John and Abigail should have done. We can feel sorry for Charles, but the obvious reality is that Charles was never going to get what he wanted from his parents. And the more Charles wasted his life in whining, drinking, frivolous daydreams and squandering his talent and money, the less likely that he would get what he wanted from them.
Here’s the key: Charles is faced with an emotional reality that is as real as rain or snow or hail or drought or flood or grasshoppers eating your crops. What is Charles’ task? No matter what, Charles has the same task we all have.
We each and all must suck it up and succeed. We must take responsibility for creating futures that are wonderful, no matter what our givens are. In my forthcoming e-book on how to stop school bullies in their tracks, you’ll find a case study of a teenager facing this decision. But you know it’s true. You had to face it. Everyone has to face it. Charles’ brother, John Quincy, had to face it. And John Quincy sucked it up successfully, despite not liking it.
As Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt to you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.”
Charles ran from the difficult responsibility of being in charge of creating a wonderful future. He blamed his failures on his parents’ lack of giving him what he wanted. As if he was the first person not to get enough from his parents. Do you really think that if John had come home from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and said that he thought Charles was a delightful, sweet, charming and lovable fellow, with good stuff buried inside, Charles would have become strong, responsible and successful?
Charles shouldn’t have let his parents’ deficiencies be more important in his life than his future. His parents – our parents – are not excuses for failing. Why let people ruin your future if they didn’t give you what you need when you were young and still don’t? Move beyond them. Find other parents (older people) who will love and appreciate you. Find models to inspire you. Succeed, despite the harsh weather.
What else is worth doing with the energy and days given you?