When Benni Cinkle was 13, she appeared in a YouTube music video that went viral, receiving over 200 million views. At first, Benni was ridiculed by millions around the world for her awkward dancing, often referred to as “That girl in pink that can’t dance.” They called her names and told her she should kill herself.
A few of the printable names she was called were “lame, terrible, awkward, horrible, stupid, freak, loser, awful, worthless, annoying, fat and ugly, dumb.” Other comments included, “She should probably look into suicide,” “Please just die” and “I’ll bet she wants to kill herself now.”
Did she let the jerks drag her down? Did she lose her self-esteem and get depressed? Did she commit suicide?
Instead of reacting defensively, Benni didn’t take it personally. She kept her spirits up. She met their criticism with humor, honesty and understanding. She was open and didn’t hide. Soon, anonymous cyber bullies became fans and Benni's online reputation as an approachable, down-to-earth teen began to grow. In the months following her unexpected popularity, Benni received tens of thousands of requests for advice from teens around the world.
Realizing she had been gifted with a platform that offered international reach, Benni decided to use her 15 minutes of fame for something positive. So she:
Started “That Girl in Pink Foundation” as a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of teen suicide. TGIP focuses on any issue that may directly or indirectly lead to teen suicide, including: Teen Depression, Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, Teen Self-Mutilation, Teen Gay/Lesbian Support, Child Violence, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Violence, Eating Disorders and Teen Pregnancy.
Authored “That Girl in Pink’s Internet Survival Guide,” offering teens strategies for handling life online.
Organized a flashmob dance to raise donations for American Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief.
Organized a walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation that included hundreds of kids from 14 countries walking with her, virtually.
Recorded her single, “Can You See Me Now,” and donated profits to TWLOHA and GLSEN.
Visited schools across the U.S. delivering her “Don’t Just Stand There” anti-bullying presentation.
Nobody wants their children to be bullied. We all want responsible school officials to stop bullying at their schools. We all want other parents to teach their children not to be bullies. We all want other kids to be witnesses and defenders when necessary.
We all want the road smoothed for our children.
Of course we must do what we can to prepare the road with good enough laws and with clear requirements to hold school principals and district administrators accountable.
But since no amount of effort or number of laws against bullying in any of its forms – verbal, mental, emotional, physical, cyberbullying – will ever stop mean kids or their protective parents from bullying their targets, what can we do for our children?
Good parenting also requires us to prepare our children for the roads they’ll encounter.
Report to school officials but that’s only the second task.
For example, Tom came home complaining that some other kids called him names, mocked his clothes, belittled his taste in music and even put down the way his parents looked and dressed. His parents blew up and went to school the next day to have it out with the principal. Since they ranted and raved and wanted the kids beaten in public or at least thrown out of school, they got no where.
Then they focused all their energy on the road – they wrote angry letters to the media, organized other parents and tried to get the principal fired.
There will be jerks who target you, but that doesn’t make you a victim. Victims give in and give up. Victims feel isolated and helpless. Victims get depressed and commit suicide.
You’re okay; don’t take it personally. There’s nothing wrong with you. They don’t know you. Test them – are they nice or are they jerks? If they’re jerks, their opinion doesn’t tell you about you; it tells you about them. Don’t ever let jerks control your feelings or emotions.
Stand up; speak up. Use your talent and learn new skills. Come back at them verbally. Use humor; especially sarcastic humor. Speak your piece. Fight back if necessary.
Get your allies to act. Tell your parents; tell your favorite, trustworthy teachers. Get help. Test your friends. Are they real friends or are they just acquaintances or “friendlies” who hang out? If they don’t care enough to get involved, they’re not friends.
Parents, be smart in how you prepare and fix the road.
I’m all for fixing the road. Just be smart about it. The summer is the best time to prepare the road. Work with principals, teachers and parents to develop clear and strong policies and programs. Hit the ground running when school stats in fall. Get the kids involved so they become witnesses and defenders. Make it a whole community effort.
Prepare yourself so that when there’s an incident, like happened with Tom, you know what to do and can do it without being overwhelmed by your emotions. Have a checklist. Is it a one-time argument or on-going harassment, bullying and abuse? What are the power dynamics? What evidence can you get? Does it happen to other kids? Can you get witnesses?
Prepare the friends and their families.
None of Tom’s friends defended him. They wouldn’t even be witnesses until we talked with them and their parents. Then they saw the power of choice and of standing together.
Parenting: Prepare the road or the child?
Don’t make it an either-or choice. Prepare both. Prepare your children to teach your grandchildren. Do you doubt they’ll also have to learn to stop bullies?
Friendly, upbeat, helpful co-workers can ease the burden of difficult, stressful projects. But what can you do about chronically cranky co-workers who make you wish for a snow day or a hurricane?
Joe is one of these toxic bullies. He’s the scourge of his office. It’s hard to tell if he’s unaware of his co-workers’ dismay when they see him or if he enjoys inflicting pain and abuse, and getting his way because they’re afraid of him. He’s always negative, always angry, always complaining. He rants about “stupid” co-workers who’ve offended him. He vents about the “idiots” who run the company and the country. In any season, the weather’s always rotten. He “bah, humbugs” any warmth offered him. He’ll never be satisfied.
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.
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.
A bullying husband or wife who always points out every mistake with exasperated sarcasm and scolding – accompanied by attacks on their spouse’s personality and character. Even if they don’t say the words, you can hear the silent, “You’re so stupid. You always fail. You’d be nothing if I didn’t straighten you out. Now I have an excuse for being as lazy, dumb, selfish or narcissistic as I want.”
Parents who pick on their children for every mistake, even if the children are too young to have learned the desired behavior. You can hear the justifications, “I’m only trying to teach them right from wrong. I want to make sure they remember the lesson.”
In the workplace, bosses or co-worker know-it-alls gleefully and loudly pointing out every mistake. Or sneakily stabbing some one in the back by revealing mistakes in confidence.
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.
To read the rest of this article from The Charlotte Business Journal, see:
Be wary of these business animals
Mean girls, like mean guys, can make middle and high school a wounding, scarring misery for many kids.
We’d expect elementary school friendships to change as girls develop different interests in boys, studies, athletics, music, art and science at different rates – especially interests in boys. We’d expect old friends to drift apart.
But the verbal, mental and emotional consequences of put-downs, teasing, taunting, cutting-out, ganging up, harassment, hazing, bullying and abuse can be devastating. Scars can last a lifetime.
Alicia and Cory were best friends for years but in middle school, Cory changed. She became boy-crazy and Tammy became her best friend. Alicia wasn’t interested in boys at that time so she and Cory started drifting apart. Nothing unusual or wrong with that.
But Tammy made it a problem. She and few friends targeted Alicia and insisted that if Cory wanted to be Tammy’s “best friend,” Cory had to join in the attacks on Alicia. Cory didn’t resist. As soon as Cory gave in, Tammy upped the stakes and kept making Cory be more and more vicious in order to join the gang.
Alicia had never done anything bad to Tammy or to Cory. Neither would talk with Alicia about why Tammy had singled her out. Tammy was simply a bully; each year in school she aligned herself against a scapegoat who she used to rally a clique around her as a leader in devising more and more cruel attacks. This year was simply Alicia’s turn. Since nothing bad happened to Tammy during her years at school, she didn’t see any reason to stop.
When Alicia talked with Cory, Cory cried, but didn’t stop her attacks.
What can Alicia and her parents do?
Alicia didn’t talk about the bullying but her parents could tell there was something very wrong. They dragged it out of Alicia. They could understand Alicia and Cory’s different interests and growing distance, but they were appalled that an old friend was so vicious toward Alicia.
Alicia’s parents knew Cory’s parents very well so they decided to talk with them. They didn’t know Tammy’s parents so they did not approach them. Cory’s parents were upset at their daughter, but after lengthy discussions they decided to minimize the bullying. They said that Alicia would have to deal and they were happy that Cory had gotten in to a popular crowd.
While Alicia’s parents were exploring other avenues, like talking to the district administrator, they knew that their immediate task was to help Alicia develop an attitude that would diminish the emotional hurt. They knew that kids who took the put-downs to heart usually suffered all their lives. More than the crying, loss of appetite, falling grades, sleepless nights, negative self-talk, anxiety, blame, shame and guilt, low self-confidence and self-esteem, and depression and maybe even suicidal tendencies often followed such relentless attacks. Indeed, Alicia had begun to take the viciousness personally. She wasn’t ugly but she wasn’t beautiful; she was skinny and she hadn’t started developing breasts yet; she was good-natured and social but not in the clique of the most popular girls. She began to think that there must be something wrong with her because she was picked on and didn’t know how to fight back – being nice, appeasement and following the Golden Rule hadn’t helped. Since the adults didn’t protect her, she thought that maybe there really was something wrong with her and she’d be a loser and alone all her life. Her parents and family loved her but maybe, she thought, in the outside world, she’d be victimized for life.
Alicia was not one to fight back with fists, arguments or even sarcasm. The tactic that fit her personality and comfort zone was simply to mutter “jerks,” laugh with scorn and walk away with her head held high. And she remained laughing and happy because she knew who the losers were. While that infuriated Tammy, Cory and the others, there were a number of other girls who responded to Alicia’s attitude of confidence and self-esteem, and to her smile and good cheer. She slowly collected her own clique of friends.
Alicia also built a mental movie of a future in which she was loved and had a loving family. She could see that she looked like her mother, who’d married her handsome father and that they loved each other. She had hope that she could also do as well. Therefore, she also judged the boys who circled around Tammy and Cory as jerks. She knew they weren’t good enough for her. Her self-esteem and confidence grew. Other kids noticed that she seemed more secure and sure of herself. Since she was nice and friendly, many wanted to be friends with her.
Alicia also realized that she would not want to be friends later in life with most of those middle school kids. As much as they had seemed important to her before, she decided that she’d make her own life, following her own interests so any middle school friends were probably temporary. That took much of the sting out of Tammy and Cory’s continuing scorn and harassment.
Many bullies succeed in getting what they want by being angry. Even if they don’t hit physically, they beat their targets verbally, mentally and emotionally. And the threat of physical violence makes other people give in. These bullies have enough control that they haven’t been arrested and sent to prison. That’s why I think of their anger as a tactic.
I’ve coached many of these bullies through the stage of anger management to finally ending anger and creating a different way of Being in the world.
But let’s focus here on what the spouses of these bullies can do in order to have bully-free lives.
For many of these bullies anger is a whole way of life. Their rage is a tactic operating 24/7. No matter what’s going on, no matter what we do to try to please them, they always find something to be angry about. Any moment of peace is just the calm before the storm.
However these bullies got that way – and there are only a small number of typical scenarios – they mastered the use of anger years ago so it feels natural, like that’s who they are, like it’s their identity.
They love “revving their engines.” They feel strong and powerful when they’re angry. They always find good reasons and excuses to be angry, they always find people who are wrong and dumb in the news of the world or in their personal lives. And they always focus on what’s wrong or dumb, and respond to it by getting angry and enraged.
If something in the moment isn’t worth getting angry about, they think of bad things that happened or that might happen so they can get angry. Then they “kick the dog” – whoever happens to be around and does or says something wrong, or does or says nothing and that’s what’s wrong. You or the kids think you’re having an innocent conversation when suddenly you’re attacked for being dumb, stupid, ignorant, wrong, insulting – or simply breathing.
The attack escalates into a listing of all your faults – which loser in the family you’re just like, you’ll always be a loser, you’re lucky to be alive and with them because you’d fail without them. Their anger is never their fault; you’re always to blame. Even if they don’t brutally beat you and the kids, the verbal and emotional abuse takes its toll.
Victims feel blame, shame and guilt. Victims suffer anxiety, fear, frustration, panic and terror. They lose self-confidence and self-esteem. They feel like they have to be perfect in order to deserve good treatment. They feel isolated and helpless. Targeted children often grow up with negative self-talk and self-doubt; they often move on to self-mutilation or rage and revenge of their own. They often grow up playing out the roles of bully or victim in their marriages.
Seven tips to keep anger out of your personal space:
Don’t be an understanding therapist. Your understanding, forgiveness, unconditional love and the Golden Rule won’t change or cure them. And you’re not being paid as a therapist. Those approaches simply prolong the behavior and the typical cycle of anger and rage, followed by guilt and remorse, followed by promises and good behavior temporarily, followed by the next episode of angry and rage. Or the typical escalating spiral of anger, rage and self-righteous justification. The reason the bullying continues is not that those bullies haven’t been loved enough; it’s that the behavior is a success strategy. It’s never been stopped with strong enough consequences that the bully has enough reason to learn a new way of Being in the world.
Don’t minimize, excuse or accept justifications. See anger as a choice. If you accept that anger is a normal or appropriate response to what they’re angry at, if you accept that anger or any emotion is too big to manage (e.g., that they’re in the grips of something bigger than themselves) them you’re right back to “the devil made me do it.” That’s the same excuse, even though the modern words for “the devil” are heredity, brain chemistry, what their parents did to them, how they never learned better.
The best thing you can do to help both of you is to have consequences that matter. That’s the only way to stimulate change.
Face your fears.Don’t be defeated by defeat. Protect yourself. Be a good parent and model for yourself and your children. Emotional control – control of moods, attitudes and actions – and focus of attention are the first things we all must learn. These bullies haven’t learned. Lack of success in this area gets big, painful consequences.
Make your space anger-free. You and the children are targets, not victims. Their anger is not your fault. Dedicate yourself to protecting yourself and the children. Decide that only behavior counts, not psychoanalysis. Clear your space. Don’t give an infinite number of second chances. Either they leave or you and the kids leave, depending on the circumstances.
Promises no longer count. The lesson for your children is that when we’re very young, we get by on a lot of promises and potential, but when we become older than about 10, only performance counts. Let these bullies learn to practice changing on other people’s bodies. How much time do you need before you become convinced that they’ve faced a lot of potential triggers and mastered a different way of dealing with them? A year? Two? Three? Forever? Do this because you want and need to in order to have a chance at the happiness you want, in order to have a chance to find people who treat you the way you want.
Be smart and tactical. Of course, the longer you’ve known them, the harder it will be. Dump angry jerks on the first date; don’t hook up with them. Get legal advice. Get help and support. Get witnesses. Don’t listen to people who want you to be a more understanding therapist. File for divorce. Get custody of the children. Get the police on your side.
Post #176 – How to Know if You’re Bullied and Abused
Men aren’t the only angry bullies. We all know about angry, vicious women on dates or in marriage. There are clichés about venomous wives and mothers-in-law because there are so many. Everything I’ve said applies to them also.
At work, angry, bullying bosses and co-workers are also clichés because there are so many. Anger often succeeds at work. Both the feeling of power and the success at making people do what bullies want function as aphrodisiacs. And the addiction must be fed.
Be strong nside. Ask for what you want. You’ll get what you’re willing to put up with. So only put up with good behavior.
Relentless beatings. These instill fear and terror. Children can become convinced they’re always wrong and the price for mistakes is high; maybe even maiming or death. The result can be adults who’re afraid to make decisions, assert or defend themselves, think they’re worthy of respect or good treatment. The result can be adults who expect to be bullied, punished, abused or even tortured.
Relentless and personal criticism, hostility and questioning. The results can be the same as relentless beatings. Kids grow up thinking that no one will help or protect them. Emotional beating can leave even deeper scars. Adults often have mental and emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, self-mutilation and suicide.
The “Big Lie:” “You don’t know what’s really happening.”
The first two seem fairly obvious and much has been written on them. Let’s focus on the Big Lie.
Kids have emotional radar. They’re born with the ability to sense what’s going on. Their survival depends on knowing who’s friendly or hostile, who’s calm or angry, who’s reliable and trustworthy, and who’s liable to explode without obvious provocation. They know who’s nice and who hurts them. They sense when their parents or family are happy or angry.
The effects of being consistently told that they’ve gotten it wrong can be just as devastating as physical or emotional brutality. For example:
When kids sense that their parents are angry at each other, but they’re told that the family is loving and caring they learn to distrust their kid-radar.
When they’re yelled at, teased, taunted or brutalized, when they’re subjected to bullying, they know it hurts. But when they’re told that the parent cares about them or loves them, or that they’re too sensitive, they start to distrust their own opinions.
When they can never predict what’s right or wrong, they can grow up thinking they’re evil, stupid or crazy.
When they’re constantly challenged with, “Prove it. You don’t know what’s really happening. How could you think that; there’s something wrong with you. If you were loving, grateful, caring, you wouldn’t think that way about your parent or family.”
Do you consistently doubt yourself? Do you even doubt that you see reality? Do you think that other people know better about you than you know about yourself?
Are you indecisive and insecure? Do you worry, obsess or ruminate forever? Do you solicit all your friends’ opinions about what you should do or just one friend who seems to be sure they know what’s best? Do you consistently look for external standards or experts to tell you what’s right or proper? Do you complete quick tests of ten or twenty questions that will tell you the truth about yourself?
Do you feel bullied but you’re not sure that you are? Do you let other people tell you about what’s too sensitive or what’s reasonable or “normal?”
Jane’s sister, Betty, seemed to have been born with a vicious tongue. She attacked everyone relentlessly. Holidays with the extended family were a misery for Jane and her family. Nobody, not even their mother, stopped Betty. Everyone was afraid to complain directly to Betty. If they did, Betty would turn on them even more spitefully before.
According to Betty, nobody’s children were good enough – they were all ugly, stupid, ignorant, mean or bad. They were too fat or too skinny; they ate too much or too little; they ate too fast or too slow. They dreamed too big for their non-existent talents.
Betty laughed joyfully when she pounced on someone’s mistakes, no matter how trivial or irrelevant. Their choices were always wrong, their clothes and manners were wrong. Betty always knew better and rubbed everyone’s nose in it.
Some of Betty’s reasons excuses and justifications for why she was so hostile were:
“Those are my feelings. It’s my honest opinion. You wouldn’t want me to repress how I feel, would you?”
“You're too sensitive.”
“I’m doing it for their own good. You’re too soft on them. They’ll never get better if you don’t correct them.”
“I had to take it when I was a kid. It’ll make them stronger and tougher.”
“They have to learn to take it. They’ll get it like that in the real-world.”
Of course, everyone can have a bad day and be grumpy. But with Betty, it was everyday and it was relentless, hostile and mean-spirited.
Bullies want us to try to argue with their reasons, excuses and justifications. The more we argue, the more we’re engaged without their ever changing. If we make a good point, they’ll change the subject and give another excuse or cite a different time when they were right. They’ll never admit that they need to change; that’s how we know they’re bullies.
Or, if we challenge them, their feelings will be so hurt that they’ll withdraw into a very loud silent treatment. And it’ll go on forever until we give up, admit we were cruel, promise never to attack them again and simply accept the abuse. That’s how we know they’re bullies.
What can Jane do? Remember, all tactics have to be designed to fit our specific situations, what we want to accomplish and the limits of our comfort zones.
Jane once asked Betty not to say anything to Jane’s children; Betty was hurting them and Jane had told them take it because Betty was their aunt. But Betty hadn’t changed. Finally, Jane decided that she wasn’t going to expose herself and her family to any more of Betty’s abuse. She’d end the unrelenting negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame and guilt-trips.
Once again, she asked Betty to stop talking the way she did and to find nice things to say. She asked Betty to be nicer, kinder and more polite to family than she would be to strangers. But Betty didn’t stop.
She told Betty she wanted her to feel differently but if she couldn’t, she still wanted her to take charge of her tongue and to repress herself; being an abusive bully is worse than repressing herself. But Betty didn’t stop.
She told Betty that if the brutality continued, she wouldn’t come if Betty was present. That would cause a rift in the family and it would be Betty’s fault. Betty didn’t stop.
Jane told the family she’d decided that she’d never let bullies treat her and her family the way Betty did. She had to take charge of keeping them safe from people who polluted their emotional environment. She asked them to choose the behavior they’d support even if that meant they all told Betty to change or they’d stop inviting her. Jane reminded them of what Mr. Spock said, “Never sacrifice the many for the sake of the one.” But Betty didn’t stop.
Jane decided that behavior was more important than blood. More important than victimizing her children by subjecting them to their Aunt Betty’s viciousness, was setting a good example by protecting them from abuse. She didn’t want them to experience the anxiety, stress and discouragement that had accompanied visits with Betty. That meant they didn’t see Betty any more. That also meant they saw the rest of the family only on one-to-one occasions when Betty was not present.
Over the years, the same conversations were replayed after extended family gathering except in Jane’s house. There, Jane and her family had a wonderful time; free from criticism, bullying and abuse; free from the endless re-hashing of Betty’s latest attacks.
Once Jane had cleared the abuse out of her family’s life, they were able to find friends they loved being with.
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 give in to or argue with bullies’ excuses, reasons and justifications. 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 adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).
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.
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?
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’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.
In summer the “Queen Bees” come out in force. Every neighborhood has at least one.
For example, Jill was jealous of Mary. All the other women in the neighborhood liked Mary. Her home was always open; she always had treats; her kids are fun and shared their toys and games. The nicer Mary was, the more the other neighbors liked her, the more jealous Jill was.
Jill made excuses about what Mary had done that made her dislike Mary, but underneath it was simple envy that turned to hate. In Jill’s mind there was room for only one queen bee in the hive.
Jill’s venom came out in sneaky, backstabbing tactics.
She tried turning the other moms against Mary. She whispered in one person’s ear that Mary liked someone else better and had given that person better gifts or had brought better food to that person’s picnic. In another ear she whispered some malicious and catty things that Mary had supposedly said. In a third ear she whispered that Mary thought that the woman’s children were stupid and nasty.
It took a while for Mary to realize that false rumors and malicious gossip about her were being circulated and even longer to recognize the source. The neighborhood had been a friendly place in which all families got together, but it soon become a tense battleground in which previously friendly women become suspicious of each other. Husbands were eventually drawn into the conflict.
Jill was in her element. She knew how to drive wedges between people and also how to bring people together into a clique with her as the head. She used Mary as the target and scapegoat for her clique.
At first Mary took it personally. She assumed that she must have done something wrong to offend Jill. Stress, anxiety, self-doubt and negative self-talk soon decreased her confidence and self-esteem. She tried explaining her good motives in response to each charge that Jill leveled at her, but she could never satisfy Jill that she wanted to be friends.
Ruling the hive was Jill’s personal agenda and she wouldn’t let Mary remain in the way.
Eventually, Mary went outside her comfort zone. She stopped being reluctant about creating tension or conflict or making a scene in public. She decided to shine a light on Jill’s gossip, innuendo and lies. One at a time, starting with her closest friends who were aware of Jill’s tactics, Mary clarified the situation and repeated what Jill had been saying about them. Then she got them together so they could compare notes.
She then spoke one to one with every other woman in the neighborhood.
But that wasn’t enough. When she caught Jill in blatant lies, she made them public at neighborhood gatherings. Mary was always sweet and smiling when she asked Jill to clarify what she had said about one of the other women or about their children.
Jill was surprised and unprepared. She’d always been able to hide in the shadows because women where she had lived previously had been too polite to create conflict and tension in public. Once Mary begun shining a light on Jill’s actions, other women began noticing what Jill had done to them. They noticed how afraid they’d begun to feel about offending Jill and started figuring out why that had happened.
At first, the neighborhood split into camps. Over time more and more women moved into renewed friendship with Mary. They found that they couldn’t stay in the middle. Jill always trapped them into some shabby, hostile plot. Jill’s camp grew smaller and smaller. Mary’s good character and friendliness won out. Jill’s controlling, sneaky tactics become more apparent.
That was last summer. By Christmas, the balance had swung in Mary’s favor. Jill and her family moved away.
Leading up to this summer, the women are planning more family activities. Tension has decreased, but it will take the rest of the summer before the camaraderie gets close to what they had before Jill moved in. Maybe one more family will still move.
Stealth bullies like Jill can be difficult to detect and even harder to stop. Most of their targets have to go through a self-bullying, self-questioning phase before they realize that they’re not at fault, that they didn’t do anything wrong to start the abuse.
Imagine that you have a new boyfriend who seems wonderful and you’re looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day. But in your past relationships you were harassed, bullied, controlled and abused. You finally realize you have a tendency to pick the wrong guys. What should you look for with this new one and what should you do if you see any warning signs?
Step back and take a look at how he treats people now. Don’t listen to any of his reasons, explanations or excuses. Look only at his actions. Everyone can blow up once a year under extreme pressure, so count how often he behaves that way. Look for patterns.
Does he push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what he wants?
Does he make the rules and control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on? Does he think that his sense of timing and rules of proper conduct are the right ones?
Do his standards rule? Is your “no” not accepted as “no?” Is he always right and you’re always wrong? Is sex always when and what he wants and for his pleasure? Is his sense of humor always right? Does he say that he’s not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive? Do your issues get dealt with or are his more important so he can ignore your concerns or wishes?
Does he control you with negativity, disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt? For example, no matter what you do, are you wrong or not good enough? Does he cut you down in subtle ways and claim that he’s just kidding? Or does he control you with his hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide?
Are you afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage? For example, do you walk on eggshells? Does he intimidate you with words and weapons? Does he threaten you, your children, your pets or your favorite things?
Are you told that you’re to blame if he’s angry? Do you feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained? In this relationship, has your self-doubt increased, while your self-confidence and self-esteem decreased?
Does he isolate you? Are you allowed to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work? Does he force you to work because he needs your money? Are you told that you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them him?
Does he need your money to make his business schemes work? Does he have a pattern of not keeping jobs, even though he blames his lack of success on other people or bad luck? Is he looking for someone to support him like he thinks he deserves?
If you answered yes to most (or even any of these questions), pull out a piece of paper and write, in big capital letters, “Bully” and “Control-Freak” and “Abuser.” Now you know what you’re dealing with. Post these signs on your mirror, car, computer and work space. Put them in your purse.
While bullies are courting you, until he gets you, he’ll treat you the best he’ll ever treat you. For bullies, it’s all downhill after he thinks he’s got you.
How does he treat other people like:
Servers – waiters and waitresses, clerks at the movies and retail stores, people who work for airlines. Does he harass, bully and abuse them? Does he try to get something for free?
Supervisees, coworkers and vendors. Does he think they’re stupid, incompetent and lazy? Does he jerk them around? Does he retaliate viciously if he feels offended?
Acquaintances and friends? Does he keep them only if he’s the boss or center of attention? Does he have friends who have lasted? Are the relationships brutal or are they like those you’d like between equals?
His former girlfriends or ex-wives. What would they say about those relationships? Does he claim all those women were bad or rotten? Did he retaliate in the end?
His parents and siblings? Does he abuse them because they deserve it, or has he simply walked away because they’re impossible to have a good relationship with?
Don’t think you’re unique, different and safe; don’t think that he’ll never treat you that way. That’s magical thinking. A person who has mastered harassment, bullying, controlling and abusing these people, especially the helpless servers, supervisees and vendors will eventually get around to you.
What does he wish he could do to those other people?
Does he wish he could have had the strength, courage and opportunity to retaliate without bad consequences to himself?
Is he itching to take his anger or rage out on someone else (like, maybe you)?
Ignore your overwhelming feelings of true love. Don’t waste your life trying to fix him. Get rid of him now before it’s too late; before you live together, or he slowly gets you to give him control. He’s only a boyfriend. Find a better one to have all those feelings of true love with.
Iris’s manager knows everything. He bullies Iris and her co-workers by being right and righteous; he’s sarcastic and demeaning. He destroys teamwork by his constant criticism. There’s never a word of praise, only correction and put-downs delivered in a haughty voice. Every sentence starts with an unspoken, “Well, stupid, you should know …” or an exasperated, “I’m so frustrated; you’re so incompetent.”
He acts superior while he runs down each employee to the other managers or bigger bosses. He lists their faults and every mistake they’ve ever made. There’s never a word of praise for their many accomplishments. He seems to enjoy making each critical, hostile remark. He says that it’s for their own good; it’ll help them become perfect.
Iris feels chastised, like she’s a child being corrected by a harsh parent. She’s worked at the company for 15 years; her boss for 5.
What do you think should she do about his bullying?
Iris’s manager’s style of leadership is like the statement attributed to Captain Bligh of the Bounty, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” His verbal abuse creates a hostile workplace and it destroys her confidence and self-esteem. She wonders if there’s a kernel of truth in what he says. She’s also afraid of protest because he is her boss and she should respect his position, confrontation is distasteful and she might lose her job.
Iris is in a tough spot. Her boss is a well-known type. First, he’s a know-it-all who enjoys putting down people. Second, he’s also the town gossip, dishing the dirt on everybody. Bullies like him rarely change because of pressure from below. After all, he does know best.
Doesn’t he sound like some parents we all know who think that the best way to help their children is to pound them relentlessly and embarrass them in public? Deep down, these merciless parents do feel self-satisfied and righteous.
Know-it-all bullies and town-gossips sometimes change when there’s strong, consistent pressure from above. The pressure must be coupled with, “Change or you’re gone.” But Iris’s manager has made himself seem indispensible to the bigger bosses, so Iris will have some difficult choices:
Be as straightforward as she can with the bigger boss, knowing that her manager will find out and try to get her fired.
Go to the bigger boss with most of the team, in hopes that the weight of numbers will sway the bigger boss.
Find a bigger boss that she thinks will act wisely and keep her from getting terminated.
Transfer to another department or look for another job – which is hard since Iris’s been there 15 years.
Take it as best she can until she retires.
Iris should realize that her manager will take whatever she does as mutiny and will try to strike back. I’ve rarely seen know-it-alls and town-gossips change. Iris’s in a tough fight.
Coaching and the book, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” helped Iris see her boss as a bully. She realized how skilled she was at work and that she could get other jobs. She refused to waste 8 hours a day for the rest of her life in workplace-hell. Her determination and courage soared.
She used the five-step process and decided to go to the big boss. But the big boss only gave Iris a lecture on how valuable Iris’s manager was. The big boss wouldn’t even let Iris make her case.
Two bullying bosses were two too many for Iris. She resigned. She was surprised when she rapidly received a number of better job offers.
Iris said that the big inspiration for her came when she had a name for what was happening – “bullying.” That freed her from her self-imposed restraints. She said that she felt the weight of the world lifted from her shoulders. She now feels free and alive like she hasn’t for years.
I think that self-esteem begins with actions. Strategic action (whether it works out the way we hope or not) increases confidence and self-esteem. Iris got herself out of a situation that she couldn't change.
She was successful. Notice I say that without any knowledge of the future – whether her new job will be better in the long run. Success is measured by the right actions you take, not by how wonderful it works out each time. In the long run, as you keep taking the right actions every day, you'll get more of the results you want. And your personal and work space will have fewer bullies to bother you or waste your time.