The second edition of “Bullies Below the Radar: Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” documents the personal journey to courage, strength, determination and skill of Grace, a wife and mother, who finally accepted that she was being controlled and bullied by a stealthy, sneaky manipulative husband.
Grace finally accepted that for years:
She’d lived in a frustrating, hostile marriage, full of drudgery and pain.
Even though she hadn’t been physically abused or beaten, she’d been worn down and controlled by serving her husband and by arguing that hadn’t improved the relationship.
She’d suffered watching herself and her children get harassed, manipulated, controlled and bullied.
Her love, understanding, sweetness and kindness had not changed him.
His numerous apologies simply kept her coming back, but he won’t change.
Grace discovered that she couldn’t make things better by being a peacemaker. Tactics like begging, bribery, understanding, endless praise, appeasement, politeness, ‘second chances,’ forgiveness, sympathy and unconditional love, and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse. We won’t get the results we want; we won’t stop emotional bullies or physical bullying unless we’re clear about which values are most important to us.
She stopped wallowing in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt, which had led her to get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated. She’d lost her confidence and self-esteem.
On her journey to taking power, effectively setting boundaries and voting her narcissistic husband off her “Isle of Song,” she learned:
To recognize the seven warning signs of bullies below the radar, including sneaky patterns of bullying behavior, and the mental, emotional and spiritual costs accepting bullying.
To stop using the nine common strategies that fail to stop bullies.
What to do if at first she didn’t succeed.
The seven success strategies that will be effective in any bullying situation.
A seven-step process to plan tactics that will be effective in any particular situation.
How to protect her personal ecology and create a bully-free future.
Applying these real-world techniques, she got strong, courageous, determined, persevering and flexible in order to stop bullies of all types – controllers, critics, exploders, pushy perfectionists, prying questioners, emotional intimidators, smiling manipulators, relentless arguers and more
Grace learned that, “History is not destiny.” Using the step-by-step instructions presented here, Grace changed her mind-set and built her courage, character and skill.
My advice: Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change. Don’t accept bullies’ reasons, justifications and excuses. Don’t suffer in silence. Use your own power. Say “That’s enough!” Say “No!”
One of the typical tactics of sly, sneaky, stealthy, manipulative bullies is to work in the dark; to not be seen to be bullies. Then, when a light is shined on their abusive behavior, they claim that they were just having fun; that they were just kidding around; that they didn’t know their target was offended, hurt or minded their attacks.
This tactic is used at home by bullying, toxic spouses, parents or children, and by bullies and their cliques in schools and at work.
In order to stop these bullies you must protest; you must say “No!”
Often, people decide to ignore the bullying. These targets (on their way to becoming victims):
But what if the bullying doesn’t stop? Usually, determined, relentless bullies are only encouraged by lack of resistance. They see a non-resisting target as holding up a “victim” sign and they escalate. They can’t understand the moral impetus behind such kindness. They’re bullies. They interpret our lack of push-back as fear and weakness, no matter how we interpret it. They’re encouraged to organize cliques to demean, mock, attack and hurt us more.
Other people assume that if we’re not protesting, we must know we’re in the wrong; we must deserve the treatment we’re getting. Our society saw that phenomenon when women didn’t cry “rape!”
But, if we protest, won’t the bullying get worse?
Maybe or maybe not. Remember, what happened we tried the test of not protesting? When we didn’t protest, the harassment, abuse and bullying got worse. So we might as well learn to protest effectively; the first step of which is creating records and documentation.
For some techniques to overcome worry, fear and hesitation, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” available fastest from this web site.
If we protest, will the bullies stop?
Although there’s a guarantee that relentless bullies will escalate if we don’t protest, there’s no guarantee that simply protesting will stop them. Protesting is only the first step in responding effectively. We may need to go up to higher steps to stop a particular bully.
Almost every one of the women who’ve interviewed me on radio or TV admitted that they were raised to be “nice girls.” Their mothers had taught them that the most important value was to be nice, polite and sweet at all times. They should ignore or rise above bullies; feel sorry for how empty and insecure bullies must feel; how horrible bullies’ family lives must be. Nice girls should try to understand those mean girls, to forgive them and to tolerate their nasty, insulting, abusive behavior.
Nice girls should be sweet and kindly in all situations; not be disagreeable, not make scenes, not lower themselves to the level of the mean girls by pushing back verbally or physically. Nice girls were raised to believe that the virtues of loving compassion and sympathy were their own rewards and would also, eventually, stop bullying. Nice girls were to live by the Golden Rule. Being a virtuous martyr was preferable to acting “not-nice.”
As a result, when these nice girls became adults, they had trouble protecting themselves from bullies.
And, in addition to the emotional scars and the feelings of helplessness and impotence in the face of the real world, they bore a measure of anger toward their mothers for not teaching them how to be effective as grown ups.
The start of their change was to openly admit that, in this area, their mothers were wrong.
At first they thought that they needed at least two hierarchies of priorities; one for their home life and one for the outside world. This was abhorrent to many because it sounded like situational ethics. But it wasn’t. They would have the same ethical framework and merely different tactics that fit their different situations.
Determination, will and perseverance were more important qualities than being nice. These qualities gave them the power to take charge of their lives. They didn’t have to be mean, but they did have to be strong, courageous and sometimes firm. They were the ones who decided what they wanted and needed; what was right for them; what their standards were. These decisions were not consensus votes affected by the desires and standards of other people.
Sometimes things are very clear and straightforward even though carrying them out may be difficult. But that’s a lot better than not being clear.
Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize winning poet, said, “Create an isle of song in a sea of shouts.” This vision provides clarity about the direction we want our lives – situation after situation. But the process varies with the specifics of our individual situations.
But what can we do about bad blood if we still feel the need to see those people sometimes?
One couple I coached created a wonderful image. They needed to protect both the physical and the emotional ecology of their Isle from a very toxic adult daughter. In non-technical terms, the daughter was “crazy.”
She could be sweet one moment, but the next, for no apparent reason, she’d blow up and throw an explosive, attacking, vicious temper tantrum. She’d loudly curse and blame her parents for how bad she felt or what had happened to her. It was all their fault, she’d yell, because they wouldn’t do exactly what she wanted them to do, every moment, even if her feelings or what she wanted changed in an instant. In her rage, she’d even try to hit them.
The parents couldn’t trust their daughter. Actually, they could trust that almost every time they saw her, the daughter would repeat a life-long pattern without warning or provocation.
The parents felt that they had to protect themselves and their much younger children from the older daughter, but they still felt bound to see the “crazy” daughter sometimes.
The image that worked for them was to imagine a long boardwalk from their Isle of Song leading out to a McDonald’s surrounded by a huge barbed-wire fence. They could tolerate meeting her out there to have a burger once every three-four months. But at the first signs of a blow up, they’d leave the McDonald’s, close the gate and their crazy daughter was stuck out there. She could never get to their Isle and trash it with her emotional garbage. And they’d never allow her to move back home.
That way, the parents could satisfy both values of seeing their daughter and of protecting the rest of the family. They removed the interaction from their Isle both physically and emotionally. That solution fit them.
There are also many situations in which we feel stuck by circumstances and choose to use the long boardwalk method to protect our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. We decide to interact with the bullies physically once in a while but we’ll protect ourselves. We’ll always have a way home that we control.
Also, we’ll maintain an emotional distance. We won’t take what they say or do personally. We may be unable to stop them from trashing the ocean far away or trashing their own Isle, but we won’t let them trash our emotional Isle.
Again, it’s our choice depending on the circumstance and what we want to do.
The key step in these situations is internal: to keep a spark alive in our hearts. We know that we’re choosing to endure the pollution and noise for a finite time, but that in the end, we’ll get free and vote those people off our Isles of Song.
We can’t allow the worst of ourselves to trash our own Isle.
That image can make clear the next steps in our personal development.
We live up to the standards required for anyone to be allowed to stay on our Isle. We develop strength, courage, determination, perseverance – grit. We vote the selfish, narcissistic, insensitive parts of us off our Isle until those parts develop better ways of getting the wonderful things and feelings we want in our lives. We become worthy of our own Isle.
Often that requires expert coaching to replace old, out-dated beliefs, attitudes, feelings and habits with new ones appropriate to our Isle. With expert coaching and consulting, we can learn to command ourselves. We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.
We’ve talked about the first two important steps to stop bullying, abusive spouses:
The first step toward freedom is to use experts’ checklists to recognize and label our spouses’ behavior as “bullying” and our demanding, controlling, narcissistic, abusive spouses as “bullies,” in order to generate our own power. We may use that power to re-enter fights with renewed vigor and a new sense that we’re right.
The second step toward our bright future is to ask our inner expert. We ask ourselves, not if they’re bullying, but if we don’t like what they do. We know what we like and don’t like; we know how much we like or hate it; we know what we’re willing to compromise about or put up with and what we’re not. Begin with our judgment and act on that judgment. Since we know what we want, we don’t have to change bullies or get them to agree or get their permission. We simply test them to see if they’ll act the way we want.
Each step in the sequence gives us more inner power, strength and courage to do what we need to do; to stand firm on the standards of behavior we’ll allow on our island.
There’s a third step in which we take charge of our personal space and our future.
You know how you can bend a paper clip back and forth many times and you can still make it hold paper. But one bend too many and it snaps, and you can’t ever glue it back together again. It’s broken irreversibly. That’s what happened. They snapped. The need to keep trying had snapped. That’s enough! They were done.
Jean said, “I’ve gotten divorce papers. If you behave in that rotten way, I’ll file them. But if you behave in the nice way I want, I’ll hold off until the kids grow up and leave home. Then we’ll see what we’ll see. If you’re nice for a while but fall back into the old patterns, I’ll immediately file; no more chances.” Her study is included in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.
Both of their husbands tried to continue debating and arguing, citing experts and friends and family, who asked if the wives had done enough, if maybe they’d tried more or if maybe they fixed what was wrong with them, the men would finally change.
Both Maria and Jean had the same answer from their guts. “Those thoughts, ideas and possibilities don’t matter anymore. I’m done. I’ve had enough. I’m not wasting my time in talk anymore. I love him but I’m done with him. It’s over. Maybe I’ll find love somewhere else.”
They both felt a surge of power, confidence and esteem at having acted based on their opinions, gut feelings and desires. Both had taken charge of their personal spaces and their futures. Both worked hard to make their choice as good as possible for their children. Both were successful.
The hardest part for Maria was to deal with friends and family who, for their own personal reasons, tried to convince her of what they wanted her to do. They wanted to judge and debate in order to convince her that what they thought was, indeed, right. She finally had to tell them that the subject was off limits. They’d already expressed their opinions. Now, if they wanted to be with her, they had to stop.
A typical tactic of sneaky, manipulative bullies is to convince their well-meaning targets to try to make the bullies happy. Although covert bullies and control-freaks aren’t usually so clear, straightforward and blunt about it, what they say is, “You’ve made me unhappy. It’s your fault that I’m upset, angry, violent and abusive. If you only acted the way I want, I’d be happy and nice. It’s your responsibility to make me happy.”
Common examples of this tactic are:
A covert bully in the workplace will get hysterical and claim to have low morale until you give her everything she wants in order to calm her down and raise her morale. You’ll have to keep the goodies coming because she’ll never trust you; every day you’ll have to convince her anew by doing what she wants. An overt bully at work will use the same approach as an abusive spouse for outrageous acts of bullying, abuse and violence.
Facing the temper tantrums of two year-olds, you’re teaching them how to get what they want from you; by being nice or by being nasty. You’re also training them how to feel when they don’t get what they want. They learn whether it’s okay to fight you as if not getting what they want is the end of the world or if they have to develop more self-discipline and control. Once you’re defeated by a two year-olds’ temper tantrums, you’ll have to do what they want forever, or else. The best way to create a spoiled brat is to accept the task of providing for their happiness. The worst consequence of your giving in is that they’ll grow up convinced that they can’t be happy unless they’re catered to.
Using surly, grumpy, demanding, entitled behavior, teenagers can manipulate or browbeat their parents. Teens will claim that if they fail in life, it’ll be your fault because you didn’t give them enough. Or they’ll threaten to hurt themselves or damage the house if you upset them. However, your job is to turn the responsibility around. You might give them things if they make you like it, not if they try to beat you into giving them what they want. See the case study of Paula in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”
In all these situations, sneaky, manipulative, covert, stealthy bullies try to get what they want by using emotional blackmail and name-calling. For example, if you don’t give them what they want, “You’re insensitive, selfish and uncaring” or “You’re not a nice person” or “You don’t understand how I feel, what I’ve lived through or how hard it is for me” or “You wouldn’t want me to repress what I feel. I don’t have any control over what I feel.”
Their hidden assumption is that other people (you) are responsible for their attitudes, moods and happiness. They have no control over how they feel about getting or not getting what they want. Also, they have no control over how they act when they’re upset. And, therefore, your job is to make them happy.
Their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate. If you accept the responsibility to please them in order to get them to treat you decently, you’ll give them what they want and all they have to do to keep you giving is never to be satisfied. Since you’re responsible for their feelings and actions, there will always be more things you have to do to please them.
For example, you can say, “I’m not responsible for how you feel and act. You are. I don’t have to make you happy. You can choose how you feel and what you do, no matter what’s happening. I’m going to focus only on behavior and decide whether to keep you around based only on your actions. Your reasons, excuses and justifications won’t count.”
And then you have to make the consequences count.
If a stealthy, manipulative bully says, “You’re being selfish,” you can respond with, “Thanks for noticing.” And you keep doing what you were doing.
The tactics they use tell you how close you want people to be; how close you want to let them come to your wonderful, peaceful, joyous island.
In his article in the New York Times, Erik Eckholm, points out that, “Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance.”
The article continues, “Rick DeMato, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, [who] opposes the curriculum changes in the school district in Helena, Mont. [has led] angry parents and religious critics…[to] charge that liberals and gay rights groups are using the antibullying banner to pursue a hidden ‘homosexual agenda,’ implicitly endorsing, for example, same sex marriage.”
Stealth bullies win when they can change the subject to fit their agendas; when they can distract you from your subject and make the focus of discussion be something they want to discuss and over which they think they can win.
For example, suppose you complain about your date or spouse’s public or private sarcasm, put-downs and nasty, mocking humor. If he’s a stealthy, manipulative bully, he might change the subject by saying that you’re hypersensitive and you over-react, or that you hurt his feelings by complaining. If he can get you to focus on whether you’re hypersensitive or have no sense of humor or on making him feel better, then he wins and you lose. You’ll never get him to stop making those remarks.
Or suppose you’re angry that he hit you. If he’s a stealthy predator, he might complain that you didn’t communicate that in a supportive way or that you over-reacted or that you started it and you provoked him or that he felt put-down by your anger, which reminded him of his childhood. And that’s the only thing he wants to talk about. If he can get you to focus on your poor communication or his hurt feelings and past trauma, he wins and you lose. He’ll never have to talk about your pain when he hit you and, since he has a good excuse for hitting you (his past trauma), he doesn’t have to change.
Therefore, you must take charge of the agenda. Make him focus first on his sarcastic put-downs or on his hitting you. And you have to be satisfied by the result before you’ll discuss his agenda. If he doesn’t satisfy you, don’t go on to his agenda. Go as far away as you can.
What does this have to do with the anti-bullying policies and programs we started with?
The initial agenda in those schools is stopping harassment, bullying and abuse of kids or adults. The reason given by the bullies to justify their verbal, emotional and physical attacks was that their targets were gay or lesbian. I pay more attention to the actions than to the excuses and justifications. The agenda is stopping the bullying and violence. The agenda is stopping the negativity, pain, anxiety and depression bullying causes. The agenda is stopping the targets’ loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, and the increasing number of bullying-caused suicides.
Some people want to make the agenda be a torturous and emotionally-charged discussion of whether schools can be allowed to promote a pro-gay and pro-lesbian agenda. And whether parents or educators control what’s taught in schools.
If those stealthy bullies can get you into those discussions, you’ll never stop school bullying. They won’t have to stop their children from bullying and abusing other kids. They feel that bullying and violence should be condoned or at least tolerated because the bullies have good reasons to torment their targets. Since, they think, being gay or lesbian is a sin, if one of the targets becomes a victim and commits suicide, the world is a better place.
So keep the focus where it should be: anti-bullying programs that stop bullies. When I’m called in to help schools develop effective programs, I always challenge dissenters to come up with a better program to stop bullies before we talk about areas that would distract us from the main agenda.
There’s a world of difference between being an active witness to bullying and abuse, and being merely a bystander.
A bystander has already decided to be an uninvolved spectator, to look the other way, to pretend ignorance if called upon.
A witness can make a tactical decision based on the circumstances – intervene now in some tactical way or speak up later.
At work, co-workers or bosses are bullies; at home, abusive parents will harass and bully one young child while lavishing goodies on the other; in addition, toxic parents will favor one adult child over another with love and inheritance on the line.
I’ll focus here on kids, but the larger implications should be obvious when you think about slavery or the Nazis or a hundred other public examples.
Often, at school and at home, mean kids will try to turn siblings or friends against each other.
For example, Charles’ friend, Brad, was relentlessly nasty to Charles’ sister Sarah. He made fun of her, called her stupid, dumb and ugly, and, even though Sarah was tall and skilled enough to play with the older boys, he’d cut her out of their games or he’d intentionally knock her down.
Charles looked on in dismay but never interfered. That was puzzling to Charles’ parents because, in one-to-one situations, Charles played well with Sarah and liked her. Yet Charles had become a bystander; he wouldn’t step up to what he knew was right.
How come he didn’t protect Sarah from Brad? Was Charles afraid that if he interfered he’d lose a friend or that Brad would beat him up? Did Charles secretly want his sister out of the way?
Without knowing the real answers to the “why” questions, the pain, shame, anxiety and stress of watching his sister tormented and the guilty laceration of his conscience finally drove Charles to choose which side he was on. He stood up for his sister and for high standards of conduct, but then he had to solve another problem; Brad was a head taller and 30 pounds heavier than he was.
In front of Sarah, Charles got in Brad’s face and told him to cut it out. If Brad wanted to be his friend and play with him, he had to be nice to Sarah…or else
Most of the Brad’s in the world would back down but this one didn’t. Angry words led to shoving and Brad grabbed Charles and threw him down. At this point Charles and Sarah’s advanced planning gave them a tactical advantage. Sarah, as tall and heavy as Charles, jumped on Brad’s back and the brother and sister piled on Brad and punched and kicked him.
As with most kid fights it was over fast. Brad got the message; he was facing a team. If he wanted to play with them he’d have to play with both of them. If he wanted to fight he’d have to fight both of them. No parents were involved and Brad chose to play with them and be nice to Sarah.
As much as the incident helped Sarah, Charles was the major beneficiary of his choice. His self-esteem soared. He had been courageous and mentally strong. And he learned that he and his sister could plan and stand firm together.
In a different situation, Ellen was popular and Allison, who was outgoing but had no friends, wanted Ellen all to herself. At school, Allison put-down and cut out anyone Ellen wanted to play with. If Ellen refused to follow Allison, Allison would get hysterical, cry and wail that Ellen was hurting her feelings. Ellen didn’t want to hurt Allison but she wanted to play with whoever she wanted to play with.
The situation came to a head during the summer. Allison wanted to play with Ellen every day. And on every play date, Allison would be nasty to Ellen’ younger sister. She’d mock Jill, order her to leave them alone and demand that Ellen get rid of her younger sister. They were best friends and there was no room for a little kid.
Ellen faced the same choice that Charles had; hurt her sister in order to collude with her friend or lose a friend and classmate.
Ellen didn’t agonize like Charles had. Ellen was very clear; colluding is not how a good person would act. However, her requests that Allison stop only brought on more hysterical anger and tantrums.
Ellen didn’t want to play with Allison any more but didn’t know how to accomplish this. When she told Allison, Allison threw another fit – hurt feelings and crying.
This situation required different tactics from Charles’ because Ellen was younger and arrangements for them to play during the summer and after school had to be made by their parents.
Ellen’ parents could have gone to Allison’s parents and told them what Allison was doing. However, they’d observed that Allison’s parents had never tried to stop her hysterics, blaming and finger-pointing at school. They’d always believed Allison’s accusations about other kids and added their blame. They demanded that teachers do what Allison wanted.
Ellen’ parents thought that raising the issue with Allison’s parents would only lead to negativity, accusations and an ugly confrontation, which would carry over to school.
They decided to use an indirect approach; they were simply always too busy for Ellen to play with Allison. The rest of the summer they made excuses to ensure there would be no play dates. When school started, they made sure there were no play dates after school, even if Jill wasn’t there. They didn’t want their daughter to be friends with such a stealthy, manipulative, nasty, control-freak like Allison.
In addition, they told Ellen’s teacher what Allison was doing and asked them to watch if Allison tried to control Ellen and cut out other kids.
Most important, Charles stopped being spectator and became an effective witness-participant. Ellen also would not remain a bystander. She made her feelings clear and her parents helped intervene. Both children learned important lessons in developing outstanding character and values.
Tactics are always dependent on the specifics of the situation. As parents wanting to help and guide your children and grandchildren, remember that there’s no one-right-way to act. The people involved get to choose where they want to start the process of standing up as witnesses and participants. You can get ideas and guidelines from books and CDs but on-going coaching, to prepare you for your “moments of truth,” is essential. You will need to adjust your plan in response to what happens at each step along the way.
Just as many girls as boys are bullies but girls more often target other girls.
Girls do bully other girls physically. One publicized example is the Florida girls who beat up a classmate and then posted the video on YouTube.
“Mean girls” are masters of catty remarks, put-downs, scorn, mockery, criticism, sarcasm, cyber bullying and forming cliques led by a Queen Bee. Mean girls are also masters of covert, “stealth bullying;” backstabbing, rumor-mongering, telling secrets, cutting out and spreading gossip and innuendo while pretending to be friends.
Girl bullies often are control-freaks and emotional blackmailers. Common bullying statements are, “If you don’t do what I want, you’re not my best friend, “ or “My best friend wouldn’t talk to that other girl,” or “You hurt my feelings, you’re a false friend.” They often set up boys to attack their targets.
Boys tend to use overt physical tactics more than girls.
Girls: it’s easy to tell if you’re being overtly bullied; it’s harder to tell if the bullying is stealthy. You’re probably being bullied if you’re feeling controlled, forced to do things you don’t want to do, scared of what another girl might do to you, afraid of getting ostracized or ganged up on, or not wanting to go to school at all. Trust your gut and talk to your parents no matter how reluctant you are.
Parents: the major signs that your daughter is being bullied are unexplained, 180 degree changes in behavior. For example, no longer talking about school or friends, not wanting to be with classmates, spending all her time in her room, avoiding checking text messages, social web sites or answering the phone, no longer doing homework, not eating lunch at school, stopping after-school activities, wanting to change or quit school, loss of weight, chewing fingernails, not caring about appearance, can’t sleep, nightmares, loss of confidence and self-esteem, emotionally labile (crying suddenly alternating with explosive anger and temper tantrums alternating with despondency and depression – “I’m helpless, it’s hopeless”). Be careful; teenagers typically go through periods of these behaviors. Parents must check out the causes. Be persistent. Don’t be stopped by initial resistance.
If your daughter is being bullied, parents must proceed down two paths simultaneously:
Teach your daughter how to protect herself.
Make teachers, principals and school district administrators protect targets.
Bullying at school is rarely an isolated event. Usually there is a pervasive pattern of overlooking, minimizing, denying, tolerating or even encouraging bullying. Strategies for how parents can proceed depend on the situations they’re dealing with; especially the people. The bottom line is that most, but not all, principals want to avoid the subject, do nothing, cover-up with platitudes, avoid law suits and won’t confront bullying parents who protect their darling little bullies.
Beware of principals who think that their primary task is to understand, rehabilitate or therapeutize bullies. You will have to get other parents involved and be very tactical in order to get principals to act firmly and effectively.
There is one absolute “Don’t.” Every female client and every woman who has interviewed me said that they were verbally bullied when they were young. Unfortunately, their mothers told them, “Rise above the bully. That bully is hurting so much inside that they’re taking their pain and inferiority out on you. Understand and forgive them. You’re better than they are. If you act nice enough, people will return your kindness with kindness.”
Every one of these bullied women bears deep wounds including stress, anxiety, negative self-talk, lack of confidence and self-esteem problems. They also bear an underlying hatred of their mothers for those messages. Those messages are absolutely wrong. Mothers must teach their daughters how to protect themselves, not how to act like willing victims.
“Even in his young and footloose days, when Mr. Sanford worked in commercial real estate and Jenny Sullivan was the rare female analyst working at Lazard Frères in New York, he showed signs of being unusually demanding…He drew up a facetious prenuptial agreement that laughingly stated the husband’s right to control the family finances and be the final arbiter in all matters.”
And, “After their wedding there were warning bells…When Ms. Sanford’s beloved grandfather died, Mark saw no reason to attend the funeral. When she was pregnant with their first son, he got bored after a single Lamaze class and insisted that he needed no instruction. As the book colorfully recalls, he said, ‘I’ve spent many long nights helping cows give birth and I know what to do when the baby gets stuck.’
Everyone is a pawn in their plans. They use you and justify it logically.
“Mark Sanford had relied on his wife of 20 years for professional and moral support, even if his reasons for recruiting her services were not always the most noble. ‘But you’re free,’ he once pointed out, explaining why she should run his first Congressional campaign. He wasn’t referring to her uncluttered schedule.”
By the way, their reasons and justifications tell you what their most important priories are. And that your expected role in life is to help them satisfy those priorities.
It’s all about them. They think they know best about everything. Their rules should rule. They should control everything.
Governor Sanford’s first move after the teary news conference last June, in which he expressed his sincere love for his Argentine girlfriend, was to get on the phone to his wife as soon as the cameras were off, and ask her: “How’d I do?”
“He even sought her permission to continue his affair, and expected her to empathize with his loneliness, she says. ‘What he does not see is how morally offensive it is to me even to listen to this.’”
Their excuses should excuse. They lie and when they’re caught they’ll justify and argue relentlessly, including splitting hairs like a lawyer and changing the subject.
“Amazed by the ego stroking that came with a political career, Ms. Sanford writes, she watched her husband morph into a restless, distant character. He stopped bothering to be strict with their four children. He worried about his bald spot. And he spent more and more time away from home, telling what turned out to be flagrant lies about his reasons for travel. A trip to New York to talk with publishers about his book on conservative values turned out to be a surreptitious tryst with the Argentine woman.”
“Once Ms. Sanford figured out what was going on and fought vehemently with her husband, he sided adamantly with his lover. (‘She is not a whore!’)”
Jenny Sanford is bright and perceptive; she saw the signs of harassment, bullying and abuse. She tolerated his behavior. She ignored or hoped that he wouldn’t take the path he did. That’s a choice common to people who end up in Jenny’s situation, whether experienced under the microscope of national television or in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
Of course, bullying women also show these same warning signs and men go along for the ride.
Great people, people on great and consuming missions show these behaviors. What you do in response to these signs is your business. You may be willing to tolerate bullying in service to the person you love and to the mission.
They control everything; they make the rules – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on.
They push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what they want.
Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no;” they’re always right and you’re always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they’re not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive.
They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt. Their negativity is depressing. Or they control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide.
You’re afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage – you walk on eggshells; they intimidate you with words and weapons; they threaten you, the pets, your favorite things. You’re told that you’re to blame if they’re angry. You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
They insist that their values are right and yours are “silly” or “wrong” or “illogical.”
They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see your friends or family, go to school or even work.
They use their ruthless logic to prove that they’re right and that you should do things their way. To defy them means a war that would ruin the holidays.
More important than distracting questions and considerations about how much they do it, why they do it or do they do it more or differently than men, are:
Do you recognize the early warning signs of bullies?
Do you know how to stop them skillfully?
Women often say that other women aren’t as overt about bullying; they’re more likely to be stealth bullies. Some use tactics that are sneaky, manipulative, backstabbing; some form cliques and start rumors or demeaning put-downs; some pretend to be friends and bad mouth you behind your back; some are negative, whining, complaining “professional victims;” some are passive-aggressive. And some can be nit-picking, control-freaks just as much as men.
How about Meryl Streep and other unsavory characters in “The Devil Wears Prada?”
Some are splinters, rotten apples and cancers – at all levels in your organization. Just like men who bully.
If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they face – men or women.
Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies. I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.
Julie (late 30’s) had been living with Harry (also late 30’s) for 6 months when she discovered that he often snuck off to his computer room in the middle of the night to look at internet porn. They both have good jobs and Julie says the sex is good, so what’s with Harry?
Harry says that there’s no problem; it’s perfectly normal and it’s no big deal. It doesn’t affect how he feels about her; it’s on his own time and there’s no reason for him to stop. She shouldn’t be so judgmental.
Julie can’t find a good reason to justify her dislike of it, but she’s concerned about where it might lead.
What would you do?
Julie shouldn’t debate about what’s normal or try to convince Harry that her feelings should matter.
She should see clearly what’s ahead and get out of there. She has already gotten her gut response to the question, “Do I want to be with someone who leaves our bed and sneaks off to look at porn?” She should trust her gut response of “No.” Her feelings are sufficient for her to act; she doesn’t have to convince him she’s reasonable or right.
She may be getting along well with Harry now, but in addition to dealing with a person who leaves their bed to look at internet porn, she’s also dealing with a narcissistic, covert, stealthy bullying boyfriend.
When there are problems or pressure in the relationship, he’ll choose porn over her. He’ll withdraw from the difficulties of face-to-face intimacy and turn to virtual, not real, reality. Later, as a stealth bully, he’ll get blaming, manipulative and demanding. He’ll try to make her feelings sound wrong, old fashioned and uncaring. He’ll claim that his porn habit is her fault. He’ll say that she should stop nagging and trying to guilt-trip him. If she only gave him what he needed, he’d stop. But no matter what she does, it’ll never be exactly right or it’ll never be enough for him.
Why do I predict that? Experience as a coach and therapist. I’ve seen it over and over. And it also happened in this example.
Julie should focus on behavior she wants or doesn’t want in her environment; not on philosophical arguments. She’s never going to change him. Later responsibilities as a husband and father won’t change him. He’s a bullying, narcissistic control-freak who’s addicted to porn. She doesn’t need to convince him that he needs therapy to end his addiction. She should get the coaching she needs to get away as fast as she can.
Julie needs coaching to decrease self-doubt and self-bullying (Case Studies # 8 and 9 in “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks”). She also needs counseling to get past her fear that Harry is right; if he leaves, she’ll never find anyone else. She should ignore her self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like her, that tells her that Harry might be right.
She needs to start living the life she wants to lead. Just like Lucy in case study # 14 of my book, if she doesn’t trust her own guts, she’ll get sucked in. The longer she goes on Harry’s roller coaster ride, the harder it will be to get off. Does she want to settle for Harry as the best she’ll ever get? Does she want the pain?
Narcissistic control-freaks rule! They think.
Some narcissistic personalities are so over the top that it’s easy to detect them. You’ll follow your gut reaction and get away as fast as you can.
But watch out. If you’re not careful, stealthy narcissists will take over your life – at home, in relationships, at work. Are you sure you can detect the stealthy ones?
Seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists are:
They think they know best about everything. They know what’s best for you; just ask them. They give you advice and make your life miserable if you don’t do what they say. They point out all your mistakes and failings. They’re spouses, relatives or friends who could direct your life better than you can. They’re yelling, threatening, demeaning bosses. Their absolute certainty seduces you into self-doubt and self-bullying. You become unsure of your own judgment and wisdom so you might as well follow theirs.
Their excitement is contagious and sweeps you along. Whether it’s for a new product, career, love interest or activity, it’s the best and greatest – even if it’s the opposite of what they thought 10 minutes ago. You should jump on board if you know what’s good for you.
They think they don’t have anything to learn. They’re new employees or interns who know everything and don’t need to learn from people who are already doing their jobs well. They’re nit-picking, micro-managers. They’re children or teenagers who won’t practice or learn, who won’t do anything the way other people say is best. They insist on doing it their way, even though they fail repeatedly. They won’t listen; especially when they’re failing.
They’re more important than you are. Actually, they’re more important than the rest of the world. Their feelings are so intense that you’re too polite or afraid to upset them by trying to make your feelings or opinions matter. Their feelings get hurt easily and are powerful justifications for anger, retaliation and revenge. Their jealousies, issues and concerns (not yours) become the focus of all interactions. Their desires – for promotions, toys they want, relationships they want, enemies they want to get – are the most important things and they’re entitled to get what they want. They’re controlling, stealth-bullying husbands. Your time – actually, your whole life – should be devoted to their needs (wants, whims).
Everyone is a pawn in their game. You have value only as long as you can help them or worship them. They’re selfish, arrogant, demanding teenagers, spouses or dates who think they should be catered to or waited on. Anyone who doesn’t help or who gets in the way becomes the enemy. You’re afraid that if you disagree or distance yourself, they’ll strike back at you.
Their excuses, excuse. Their reasons are always correct and are enough to justify what they do. If you don’t agree, you simply don’t understand or you’re evil. Their jealousies, anger and hatred are not bad characteristics – like other people’s jealousy, anger and hatred. Self-deluded narcissists (aren’t they all, by definition) think they’re merely feeling, thinking and doing what any normal person would feel, think and do. They’re saints in their own minds. You’d better agree or else.
Their rules, rule. They know how the world should be and how people should act. They’re allowed to do anything they want – to take, attack or strike back in any way they want – but everyone else should be bound by their rules. If your feelings are hurt by what they’ve said or done, it’s your fault and your problem. They are virtuous and righteous. They’re great debaters or they simply talk so loud and long that you give in.
In order to thrive, we all need some of these characteristics some of the time. Narcissists have them all and they won’t give them up. They’d rather dominate than succeed or have relationships that bring out the greatest in everyone.
Take a look at yourself: What attracts you to someone who is sure they’re important, they’re right and your life would be better if you do what they say or if you serve them?
Kind-hearted therapy-junkies in families or in the workplace think they can convert these selfish, self-absorbed bullies by loving them enough, by appeasing them or by educating them. Forget it.
You’re never going to change them. They’re bullying, control-freaks. Get the coaching you need to get away as fast as you can. You don’t need their direction. Don’t ask for or even allow them to give their opinions. Make your own mistakes and create your own successes.
Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that narcissists might be right. If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.
As I show in my books and CDs of case studies, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks,” “Bullies Below the Radar” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” bullies, including narcissistic personalities, are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same. That’s why we can find methods to stop most of them. If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
In her article in the Wall Street Journal, “When women derail other women in the office,” Rachel Emma Silverman comments on Peggy Klaus’ article in the New York Times, “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting.”
Both discuss an estimate that female office bullies who commit verbal abuse, sabotage performance or hurt relationships, aim at other women more than 70% of the time. Both discuss the psychological reasons why women hurt other women and why they don’t protect them.
If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies we face – men or women.
Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies. I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.