Learn how to recognize and stop covert, sneaky bullies and control freaks in school. Overt bullies are easy to recognize; they’re loud, obnoxious, threatening and in your face.

Sneaky, stealthy bullies are harder to recognize.  But if we don’t recognize their tactics and label them as “bullies” we can’t energize ourselves to develop and carry out an effective plan to stop them.

Seven warning signs of sneaky, bullying controllers in school are:

  1. They think their sense of humor is correct. They use you as an emotional punching bag.  They think they can say whatever they want and you’re supposed to take it.  They make nasty, vicious, demeaning, hurtful remarks to you and about you in public.  They point out all your mistakes and failings, and they tell your embarrassing secrets.  Then they laugh like it’s a joke.  If you object, they say you’re too sensitive or they were kidding.  They think your feelings are stupid and not logical.  But you better not say anything about them.
  2. They elbow you or knock your books down and look innocent and pretend it was an accident. And they smile.
  3. Bullies form cliques and gangs. They cut you out.  They lure or push other kids to bully you also.  They say bullying you is your fault because you’re different.  But the real reason they bully is that they’re bullies.  They want power and control, and to feel good by putting you down.
  4. They’re sure they’re more important than you are. They think your whole life should be devoted to their needs, wants and whims.  If you won’t, they’ll make you look bad.  They pretend to be your best friend but then you have to do what they want, or their feelings will be hurt.  They’ll spread gossip, rumors and lies about you.
  5. Everyone is a pawn in their game. They think you have value only as long as you can help them or you worship them.  They’re selfish, arrogant and demanding; they think they should be catered to or waited on.  Anyone who doesn’t help or who gets in their way becomes an enemy.  You’re afraid that if you disagree, they’ll strike back at you.
  6. They think their excuses, excuse them. They think their reasons are always correct and are enough to justify what they do.  They think that if you don’t agree, you simply don’t understand or you’re evil.  The absolute certainty of these manipulative narcissists seduces you into self-doubt and self-bullying.  You become unsure of your own judgment and wisdom; eventually you give in to them.
  7. They think their logic, reasoning and rules, rule. They think they’re allowed to do anything they want – to take what they want, to harass, abuse, attack or to 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, they say it’s your fault and your problem.  They’re right and righteous.  Everything is your fault.

Sneaky bullies are emotional manipulators.  They try to make you feel helpless and hopeless.  They isolate you.

Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that the narcissistic control-freak might be right.  If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.

You can never be kind, nice, sweet or caring enough to change them.  You are not the therapist to solve their psychological problems.  The responsible adults are supposed to stop them and then change them or to isolate them.  They’re bullying, control-freaks.  Don’t debate or argue with them, but don’t ignore them.

These bullies have been around forever.  A quote from one of the oldest books we have, “The Mahabharata,” says, “If you are gentle, [bullies] will think you are afraid.  They will never be able to understand the motives that prompt you to be gentle.  They will think you are weak and unwilling to resist them.”

See them as the sneaky bullies they are.  Fight back verbally.  Get help.  Have your friends record what the say and do.  That’s what cell phones are really for.  Get help from a trusted teacher and you parents.  Fight back physically if you can and have to.

If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey.  Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

Keep a flame burning in your heart.  You may be a target; don’t be a victim.  Fight back.

What’s the price of tolerating bullies; slow erosion of your soul.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

People often wonder if they’re being bullied, controlled or abused by their spouses.  They want experts to help them recognize the signs and give them an educated, experienced opinion so they’ll have a new weapon in the next round of the endless battle.  That’s a useful tactic but the major benefits are not what most people think. In addition to overt threats and violence, some criteria that we’re facing bullying, controlling or abusive husbands or wives are:

  1. After marriage or kids, they changed from charming to controlling, sometimes step by step.
  2. They make the rules; they control everything.  We feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  3. Their standards rule – our “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”  Their sense of humor is the right one.
  4. They isolate us.
  5. They control us with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips.  They use the opinions other people who agree with them – their friends, their parents – to justify what they do.
  6. They don’t take our kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop.  They take our self-control as an invitation to bully us more.
  7. They’re willing to argue forever and never admit that they have to change.  Whenever we make a good point, they attack on a different subject.

Or we might recognize the seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists:

  1. They think they know best about everything.
  2. Their excitement is contagious and sweeps us along.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.
  4. They’re more important than we are.
  5. They think their rules should rule.
  6. Everyone is a pawn in their game.
  7. They think their excuses should excuse them.

Both lists are phrased as “They,” but really – we give in; we let them win.  We’re the ones who think good reasons or arguments, more understanding, begging, bribery, appeasement, forgiveness, unconditional love or the Golden Rule will work if we try hard enough.  We’re the ones who think we’re wrong if we give up on someone.

The major, but usually overlooked, benefit in recognizing and labeling the patterns of behavior as “bullying” and the person as a “bully” is that it’s a powerful label.

  1. Indeed, many men women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”
  2. But when we label what’s happening as “bullying,” the unknown terror no longer seems so overwhelming; it’s reduced in size as the light of a strong label shines on their behavior.  Our shame, guilt, doubt and hesitation decreaseOur self-bullying, negative self-talk decreases.
  3. Our spirit rises up; we feel energized and empowered to fight back.  Our will, determination and dedication are strengthened.  Our courage, perseverance, endurance and resolution are engaged.  We won’t quit any more and temporary defeats don’t defeat us for long.
  4. We take charge of our attitudes and feelings, and increase our self-confidence and self esteem.  In so doing, we take charge of our actions and our future.  We gain clarity about our goals and seek personalized coaching to develop a plan and carry it out.
  5. Once we know what we’re up against, we look for information, skills and help.  We feel more powerful when we re-enter the fight.

 

In the next article, we’ll talk about an even better tactic than taking the strength we gain from using the words “bullies” and “bullying” into battle as our shield and sword.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Many people still have friends that use anger to control interactions.

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.

All tactics are situational so expert coaching is required.  We’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of people commanding themselves, stopping bullying and getting free.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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:

Common examples of this tactic are:

  • An abusive spouse yells, controls and beats his partner. Then he blames his loss of self-control and self-discipline on the target.  “If you did what I wanted, I’d be nice.  You brought it on yourself.  It’s your fault I treat you so badly.”  See the case study of Grace in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up.”
  • 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.

I disagree with all those assumptions.  Also, if you accept the guilt, blame and responsibility, you’ll be a victim for life.

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

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.

Don’t let them destroy your inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience.  Don’t go down the path to being a victim for life.  Don’t let them destroy your self-confidence and self-esteem.  Don’t let them stimulate your anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  Don’t let them push you toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Instead, break the game.  Don’t accept the responsibility for their feelings and actions.  You don’t have to be perfect before they have to change how they act.  Give the responsibility back to 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.

All tactics are situational so we’ll have to go into the details of your specific situation in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” has many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family.  They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us.  They count on our self-bullying and guilt.  They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval...  They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad.  And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune. Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.”  They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.

Of course, we’ve tried everything we can think of, but the negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame, bullying and abuse haven’t stopped.  We’ve tried to do exactly what they want, but it’s never enough.  We’ve apologized and pleaded with them to stop, but that just makes them act nastier.  We’ve gotten angry and threatened not to see them, but they broke down in such tears of distress we felt guilty or they blamed on us even more or they acted nice for a few minutes but, when we relaxed, they attacked us more about something different they didn’t like.

So what can we do now?

  1. For the sake of peace and quiet in the whole family, we could keep trying to endure the abuse while begging them to stop.  After all, we never know; if we only kept trying, if we only did enough, they might change.  Also, they might leave us in the will.  And it’d be our fault if we quit too soon.  Many people fly low until they have children and see their toxic parents either criticizing and emotionally abusing their children or belittling and criticizing them while being sweet to the grandchildren.
  2. We might continue objecting and arguing; enduring our frustration and anger.  Usually this tactic repeats endlessly and often spirals out of control.  Relentlessly toxic parents won’t admit they’re wrong and give up.  Eventually they’ll escalate and cut us out of the will.
  3. We might try withdrawing for a while; not seeing them, telling them we won’t return emails and calls, and then carrying through.  People usually shift from the first two tactics to this one when they see the effect of their toxic parents on their own children.  This tactic sometimes convinces nasty, mean, bullying parents that they’d better change their ways or they’ll lose contact with their grandchildren.  But the relentlessly toxic parents don’t care.  They’re sure they’re fine and they’re sure they’ll win if they push hard enough, like they’ve always won in the past.  So they don’t change and we go back to arguing or we give up or we finally respond more firmly.
  4. The next step is to withdraw for a long time, maybe forever – no contact.  It’s sad but we have to protect the family we’re creating from our own predatory parents.  It’s usually both scary and very exciting.  Most people, despite any guilt they feel, also feel a huge surge of relief, as if a giant weight or a fire-breathing dragon has been removed from their shoulders.  Our spouse and children may celebrate.  Get out of town, go on a vacation, turn the phones and email off.

What to expect and how to respond?

  1. They’ll attack when we withdraw.  Expect them to make angry calls and send hostile emails.  Save these on an external drive or a cheap recorder before deleting them.  They want to engage us, so do not engage endlessly and fruitlessly; no return calls or emails, no hateful or vindictive responses.  We’ve only gotten to this point because they haven’t changed after many approaches and warnings.  We might have to change our phone numbers to unlisted ones and change our email addresses.
  2. They’ll rally the extended family.  Prepare by making cue cards of what to say; no excuses or justifications.  Just tell the family what you said and did, and what you plan.  Ask them not to intervene.  Tell them we’d like to see them but only if our toxic parents are not present.  We’re sorry they’re caught in the middle but that’s life.  They do have to choose who to believe and what behavior to support.  Be prepared to withdraw from anyone who attacks or interferes.
  3. They’ll disinherit us.  When they can’t manipulate us through love, blame, shame and guilt, they’ll try greed.  If we don’t do what our toxic parents want right now, they’ll cut us out of the will.  Don’t be a slave to greed; it’s a deadly sin.  If we want to have a bully-free family life, we’ll have to make it on our own.  The real benefit is not merely ending the brutality, it’s the strength of character and the skills we gain when we make decisions for ourselves and chart our own course in the world.  We’ll end the negativity, stress, anxiety and depression usually caused by toxic parents.  We’ll develop the strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience we all need to make wonderful lives.  We’ll be able to express our passion and joy without cringing, waiting for the next blow to fall.
  4. We’ll have an empty space in our lives.  Even more than the empty physical space we’ll now have at the times when we used to get together with our toxic parents, we’ll have a huge mental and emotional space.  How many hours have we wasted thinking about our parents, worrying about the next episode, dreading what might happen next, agonizing over what to do.  We don’t have to do that any more.  Of course, being weaned from an old habit takes a little time.  We must be gentle with ourselves.  Focus on the freedom we now have.  Now we can think about the things we want to think about; not about pain and suffering, not about past failures.  Now we have space to bring into our lives people who will be part of the tribe of our heart and spirit.
  5. Our children will wonder why.  Tell the kids in a way that’s age appropriate.  Are we protecting them from the verbal abuse of their toxic grandparents or from lies that paint us as bad people?  They’ll want to know what’s going to stay the same.  Will they have fun, celebrate holidays, get presents, have extended family?

The most important lessons we offer our children are not through books and lectures.  Those are important, but the most important ones are the ones they see in our behavior when we’re models of behavior we want them to learn.

Be a model for them of someone who protects himself and them from anyone who would target them, even someone who’s close by blood.  Being close by behavior counts more than blood.  Show them not to be victimized even by blood relations.

Show them to how to be the hero of their lives.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to endure whatever bullying and abuse our toxic parents dish out simply because they’re our parents.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives. “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of children and adults getting over their early training and freeing themselves from toxic relationships.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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‘Tis the holiday season and kids’ expectations are high.  They want what they want and they want it now! We may want to draw new lines, cutting back because of the economy or because we’re just tired of their whining and complaining or because we think they’re on the path to become spoiled brats.  But if we don’t please them, many kids will throw temper tantrums in public, as well as at home.  They’ll scream that you’re unfair, that all the other kids get what they want, that their lives will be ruined if they don’t get what they want right now, that they won’t have a social life, that they’ll be picked on because they’re poor and that they hate you.  Or if they’re very young, they’ll just scream.

They’ve made a list and they’ve checked it twice.  They’ve kept score and know you’re embarrassed by the fuss and more likely to give in when they meltdown or get out of control or go ballistic in public.

They’re just like we were, if our parents let us be. If we’re distracted now, embarrassed or lack confidence, we’ll make exceptions when other people are around and we’ll give in.  Of course, the kids will smell blood and up the ante.

So what can you do?

  1. The key is not to be embarrassed, distracted or self-judgmental.  Be clear; if they don’t get what they want it really is not the end of the world.  Don’t let their self-confidence and self-esteem depend on external stuff or other people’s opinions of them.  Don’t take personally what they say.  Do not care about or look at other people (including your parents) to see if they’re disturbed or disapproving.  If you care what other people think, your children will know that they’ll eventually win.  If you lose it; kids know that they will win eventually.
  2. The rules don’t change in public, although your actions will be different in each different situation.  Explain in private beforehand what you can afford and can’t afford, and what you think is appropriate and not appropriate.  Be clear about the areas in which they have no choice and where their vote counts and where they have total control.
  3. Normal children are supposed to learn how to manipulate you to get what they want; their job is to see if bullying works on you – where and when.  Their job is to test you by pushing your boundaries to find out where they can get their way.  Your task is to look at them lovingly when they’re throwing a stubborn fit because you can see how that determination, strength and perseverance will help them when they grow up.  That doesn’t mean you give in to them.  Your job is to stay calm and to assert your will to educate and socialize them whether they agree or not.  You can give them your reasons in a way that makes it a statement of fact, not a matter for debate, not a matter they get to vote on.
  4. Children just want to know the rules and boundaries.  You help them feel secure when you’re consistent, calm, smiling, loving and firm.
  5. Have a get-away plan before you go anywhere.  You and your partner-spouse will have to agree beforehand.  That may mean taking the kid for a walk or leaving early.  If they lose it, you will have to get them away and do your best to calm them down.  Don’t put them in situations where they get too hungry, tired or “wired” by too much input, sugar or caffeine.  For some kids, a big lesson is that they’ll be removed while everyone else is having a fabulous time.  Show them that their upset is definitely not contagious.
  6. When the children are very young (pre-schoolers), long before you think they can understand language, you can calmly and firmly state, “If you behave like that, I won’t take you any more.”  And then remove them.  You’d be surprised: they understand your calm firmness long before you think they can.  Often, you can distract them with whatever is around and interesting in the environment.  If you train them now, you might be able to enjoy their polite and civil company when they’re teenagers.
  7. Sometimes, with older kids, you can break them out of a fit by grading their performance.  Just like you see in the Olympics, line everyone else up and give grades for the performance – a 6.9, an 8.7, a 9.2.  With a loving smile and laugh, encourage them to do better, to shoot for a hissy-fit that’s worth a 9.9.  Give them a big round of applause or a wave.  Then go about your previous business.  The more you’re enjoying yourself, the less they’ll push the tactic of throwing hissy-fits; the less they’ll think that negativity, anger, rage and explosions will get them what they want.  By the way, boys will often stop any behavior you call a “hissy-fit.”
  8. If you lose it once in a while, there will be no permanent damage.  Of course there are a small percent of children who make the fight with you a matter of life-or-death for them.  Calmly convince them that’s not a good use of their energy and they won’t win that fight until they’re 18 and leave home.  If they continue that fight, they’re telling you they need serious help.

If you give in when they’re young, you’re training your children to be abusive, bullies, a.k.a. spoiled brats who think they can get what they want through harassment, abuse and bad behavior.  It’s hard enough for them to make their way through life with good behavior; it’s much harder if they’re badly behaved, grown-up brats.

For a great example, see how single-parent Paula stopped being bullied by her teenage daughter in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”  Of course, every situation is different so you’ll need expert coaching to design a plan that fits you and your children.

In her article in the New York Times, “The Playground Gets Even Tougher,” Pamela Paul points out that Mean Girls begin their nasty, vicious harassment, bullying and abuse on the playground and in pre-school.  They don’t wait until fifth grade or junior high school. In my experience, mean girls put down targeted kids for whatever reasons they can find – from poor, discounted, unfashionable clothes or the lack of the latest cell phones and bling, to race, religion, physical differences and hair color.  Mean girls also form cliques that ostracize, exclude and cut-out their targets or scapegoats.  Mean girl behavior cuts across all socio-economic categories – inner-city, rural, suburban and expensive, private schools.  The movies, “Mean Girls” and “Camp Rock,” give some graphic examples.

Consequences for the targets can include stomach aches, throwing up and pulling hair out before school, as well as anxiety, nightmares, sleep walking and excessive crying.  Even worse are self doubt, negative self-talk, self-hatred and loathing, loss of confidence and destruction of self-esteem.  Too often, suicide and its effects on families and communities follow. Childhood bullies and mean girls who aren’t stopped usually grow up to become bullying adult as spouses, parents, friends, and at work as co-workers and bosses.  Similarly, targets who become victims unable to stop bullies usually grow to become adult victims as spouses, parents, friends, and at work as co-workers and bosses.

Of course, mean boys are just as bad as mean girls and mean dads are just as bad as mean moms.

In my experience, mean behavior is a natural tactic for many girls to try – children naturally try to take all the toys and to feel powerful and superior by putting down other girls.  Even when they’re very young, some shift into forming mean girl cliques. Let’s point the finger at the source: With children this young, the problem is their parents Mean girls have parents who fail their responsibility to channel their daughters into better ways of acting.  The four-fold problem is:

  • Mean moms who ignore mean girl behavior at home, on the playground and in preschool.  These moms have many opportunities to step in and teach their daughters how to do better in age-appropriate ways, but they don’t.  I think of these as absentee moms, whatever their reasons – whether they’re simply uncaring or not paying attention or don’t want to deal with it or not physically present.  Nannies can be even less responsible, especially if their employers don’t want to hear about it.
  • Mean moms who set a bad example by acting mean to their extended families, to their children and to helpless servers in all forms – waiters, checkout clerks, nannies, maids, etc.  Mean girls imitate what they see and hear from their mean moms, not pious platitudes or empty commands thrown at them.
  • Mean moms who encourage mean girl behavior.  They enjoy watching their daughters be popular, superior and controlling.  They may think it’s cute and a sign of leadership potential, but whatever they think, they train their daughters to be mean.
  • Mean moms who protect and defend their mean daughters when they get feedback about mean behavior.  Of course, one-in-a-million children will be sneaky enough to be mean only when their parents aren’t looking.  Sneaky, mean girls can bully targets by acting as if the target did something to hurt their feelings and get their protective moms to get the target in trouble.  Or mean girls will simply threaten a target by saying they’ll get their moms to get the target in trouble.  Mean moms collude and often encourage this behavior.  Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series is an example of a mean boy protected by his mean father.

Suppose you’re the parent of a child who’s bullied by a mean girl, what can you do?  If you’re convinced that your daughter was not a provocateur who tried to get the other girl to react and get in trouble, should you talk to the mean girls, their moms, teachers and principals?

  • Know your daughter; will she assert and defend herself?  Since she might not talk about the meanness, you have to watch carefully on the playground and look for signs after school.  Mean girls are bullies who try to assert themselves over less assertive and less aggressive children.  Don’t ask your daughter to suffer or “rise above” because a mean girl and mean mom don’t know any better or have difficulties in their lives.
  • You might encourage your pre-school or kindergarten daughter to stand up for herself, but you should give plenty of encouragement and specific direction.  Even though your daughter is young, champion her inner strength, courage and perseverance.  She might be a target but she doesn’t have to become a victim.  Never believe mean girls’ opinions and don’t give in to their demands.
  • Intervene rapidly when your daughter seems unable to defend herself.  Don’t let the behavior continue.  Say something strongly and firmly to the mean girl.  Girls who were merely experimenting with a mean behavioral tactic will stop and not repeat it.  That’s a test of the girl – nice girls stop when you set a behavioral standard but mean girls don’t.  Mean girls think they’re smarter than you and that they have their own mothers’ protection.
  • If the mean girl doesn’t stop, test the mean girl’s mom one time.  Calmly detail the behavior and listen carefully for the response.  Is the mom appalled at her daughter’s behavior or does the mom blow it off or explain it away?  Just as in sports and childhood, your daughter might have been provocateur and then looked innocent when another girl retaliated.  So it’s natural for the other girl’s mother to try to discover the whole context and behavior before the incident.  But does the other mom immediately get defensive and angry, and twist the facts in order to blame your daughter?  Does she insist that her daughter is never wrong?  Is the mean girl’s mom too busy with her own life to educate her daughter or has she turned her child over to a nanny who won’t correct the child?
  • If these attempts change the girl’s behavior, you weren’t dealing with a hard-core mean girl and a mean mom.  But mean girls and mean moms aren’t stopped by the easy tactics.  Now you have to cut off after school activities including parties, despite the ramifications.  Also, get the pre-school teachers and principals involved.  Some will be helpful; they’ll keep it confidential, they’ll monitor to get their own evidence and then they’ll intervene.  They’ll get the mean girl out of your daughter’s class, they’ll break-up the clique, they’ll stop the behavior at school and they’ll have proactive programs to talk about mean girl behavior.  Depending on the age of the girls, they’ll teach witnesses what to do.  Unfortunately, unhelpful, uncaring, lazy, cowardly teachers and principals will look the other way or condone or even encourage mean girl behavior.  They’ll put you off with excuses.  Don’t let this happen.  Remember, principals fear publicity and law suits.

Of course, every action plan must be designed for your specific situation; depending on the children, the parents, the school and the relationships.  That’s where expert coaching will help.

Teach your children what’s right and also how to defend themselves.  Don’t convert your daughter into a victim.  Don’t sacrifice your child on the altar of your ignorance, fear or sympathetic heart.  Protect and defend your child even though there may be a high cost socially.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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James Jones, the Florida father who boarded a school bus to protect his 13 year-old daughter from school bullies, has been raked through the media for his over-reaction.  He’s apologized profusely that he threatened the bullies and the bus driver who hadn’t stopped the bullying. The episode was captured by the bus surveillance camera.  No doubt about what he did.  The case will wind its way through the courts.  No doubt he should have been more active in contacting the school instead of boarding the bus.  He admits it.

But I think the discussion has focused on the wrong aspect of the situation; on his over-reaction.

The more important aspect is whether there was indeed bullying and, if there was,

  • How come the school principal was unaware?
  • How come the driver didn’t report it?
  • How come the videotapes weren’t scoured to see if there was evidence for the alleged bullying?
  • How come the principal didn’t talk to kids on the school bus about acceptable behavior at the beginning of the year?
  • How come none of the witnesses were willing to come forward, knowing that the principal and teachers would protect them?

A possible answer to these questions might be that there was never any bad behavior on the school bus.  But that would be surprising.  What was your experience on the school bus?  Ask your friends.

Jones, of Lake Mary, Florida, and his wife claim that their daughter, who has cerebral palsy, had been called names and pushed around.  They also claim that they had complained to Seminole County school administrators in the past, but nothing had been done to help their daughter.  Jones told deputies that boys placed an open condom on his daughter's head, smacked her on the back of her head, twisted her ear and shouted rude comments at her.

The response of the school administrators is the usual, “We didn’t know; they never contacted us.”  They focused on Mr. Jones’s over-reaction instead of on the alleged bullying on the bus.  “Changing the focus” is a typical tactic of bullies and people trying to gloss over their failure to respond effectively.

We don’t know the facts.  School bus tapes haven’t been scanned.  Complaints to the school officials by the Joneses haven’t been documented. However, I’m suggesting that in too many cases, school administrators are not proactive in creating an environment in which:

  • Every kid knows that bullying is wrong and won’t be tolerated.
  • Adults are monitoring areas in which most bullying occurs.
  • Every child (every potential witness) knows what to do and that their reports will be confidential and they’ll be protected.

The huge outcry in support of Mr. Jones demonstrates the lurking fear that all parents have: principals, teachers and staff too often look the other way and don’t actively protect our children.  There’s the lurking fear that our child will be the next bullying-caused suicide.  We empathize with Mr. Jones’ frustration and anger.

I’d be more likely to believe the school principal if he or she stood next to Mr. Jones on nationwide television and said things like, “Yes, Mr. Jones over-reacted, but we won’t tolerate bullying anywhere at school, we’re reviewing tapes to see if there was bullying, we’re questioning the driver, we’re instituting a strong program to educate all teachers, staff and kids that we won’t tolerate bullying.  We’ll get the facts in this specific case.”

I disagree with the supposed experts who say that parents shouldn’t intervene, even if the targeted children can’t protect themselves, for example, because the number of bullies is overwhelming or because the child has cerebral palsy and can’t protect herself, like Mr. Jones’ daughter.

I think we simply have to know how to intervene more skillfully so that, when necessary, we know how to force inactive, lazy or reluctant principals to act.  For example, if the Joneses had been more skillful in documenting their complaints to the school, if they really did, there would be a clear paper trail of every interaction with the school administrators, including administrators’ signatures on minutes of every conversation and the Joneses would have copies.  Individualized coaching is crucial to developing this skill.

More important than psychologists’ claims that “when [parents] jump in and [intervene], it helps the kids actually feel worse because they feel less control, they feel like they can't handle themselves and they feel defenseless without the bodyguard there,” is that when children actually are overwhelmed or helpless, they know that they’re protected by responsible adults.  They can learn to protect themselves better as they grow more independent.

Mr. Jones’ daughter was helpless to defend herself.  The stress, anxiety and fear are greater because she wasn’t protected. Let’s focus on the real problem; bullying on the bus, near the lockers, on the playgrounds, in the bathrooms, in the hallways, in the cafeteria and everywhere else bullies feel safe to attack their targets.

You can see or listen to “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” for many examples of how to stop bullies.

In their article in the New York Times, “There’s Only One Way to Stop a Bully,” Susan Engel and Marlene Sandstrom focus on the educational aspects of programs designed to stop school bullying.  Let’s look at the whole picture and especially at the piece that’s usually missing from ineffective school programs:

  • Laws: Over 40 states have passed laws to specify school bullying behaviors and to make them illegal.  That’s a necessary step.  Good laws give legal leverage to principals, school district administrators and teachers who try to stop school bullies.  Good laws can also force reluctant school principals to implement and enforce effective programs to protect the targets of bullies.
  • Programs: Laws, by themselves, will not stop bullying.  Also, expensive, off-the-shell anti-bullying programs won’t stop bullies as long as the programs remain in their binders and are used merely as window dressing to show the appearance of compliance.  Furthermore, programs that are focused on rehabilitating or therapeutizing bullies are ineffective.  Since the only consequence for bullies in these programs is lengthy lectures, they have no reason to change their behavior and they victimize their targets more brutally.  Real bullies are adept at manipulating the system and do-gooders who run it.  Effective programs are designed for specific schools and school districts by participation between a consultant, principal and teachers that broaden to include staff, parents and students.
  • Effective Programs: The motivating force behind these programs is proactive, responsible adults who don’t wait until a flagrant case is brought to them or they are surprised by a suicide.  Effective programs educate teachers and all staff to observe, intervene and report bullying situations.  These programs educate all staff, children and parents about behavior that’s acceptable, how that behavior will be rewarded and how to stop behavior that absolutely won’t be tolerated.

Effective programs have clear procedures and consequences at every step of the way.  Ineffective programs move much too slowly; they protect the rights of bullies to have a lengthy process of rehabilitation while they give bullies continued access to their targets.  Effective programs begin with protecting the victims; they move swiftly to remove bullies even if that interferes with the bully’s educational opportunities.  These programs begin the first day of school and are reinforced weekly.

  • People: Everyone must be involved in backing an effective program.  Irresponsible adults pretend that they don’t know who the bullies are or where it occurs or they think that the Golden Rule will change the hearts of real bullies.  Responsible adults will have a strong commitment to making their environment safe.  The children must be taught what is expected of them and how to respond if they’re bullied or if they witness bullying.  Kids must also have a way of finding help with temporary urges to act like a bully.

A critical group is parents.  Principals need core groups of parents to support efforts to stop bullies, despite threats from bullying parents.  Also, parents can lead the efforts to communicate and to set the tone of acceptable behavior with other parents.  Vigilance and involvement are necessary to maintain the standards.

  • How to recognize real bullies.  If you think of all students as fitting on some version of a Bell curve, you’ll see that some kids won’t ever bully while most are in the middle group – they’ll accept the prevailing tone and behave in ways that are praised or tolerated.  That’s where education and a tone of no-bullying can influence their behavior.

But no matter how much they are indoctrinated, they’ll try bullying when they’re having a bad day or a bad year in their personal lives.  If they’re not stopped, they’ll be encouraged to continue and they’ll even act worse.  If cliques get formed to pick on scapegoats, these middle-ground kids will be tempted to join or at least to look the other way.  If the individuals in the cliques are stopped and punished, kids in that middle group will tend to remove themselves from the cliques and to fit into the prevailing tone of civilized behavior.

None of the kids in those two groups are what I call real bullies.  Real bullies are at the end of the curve.  They come into school with bullying as their main tactic to get what they want and to assert themselves.  They are predators who won’t change because of lectures and indoctrination.  They must be stopped or they’ll set the tone of acceptable behavior and draw other kids into bullying and abuse.

  • The missing and critical elements: Stop bullies; remove them; deal with their bullying parents.  The “one way” Engel and Sandstrom focus on, like most experts in this field, is to educate bullies and encourage other students to befriend and involve the bullies in inclusive activities.  They stress expressions like “be good to one another,” “be kind,” “cooperate,” “relationship,” “friendship” and “bullies require our help more than punishment.  These are important for everyone to hear and they can set the tone for the kids in the first two groups but they’re not enough to stop real-world bullies.

The missing elements that are critical to stop predators are swift and firm responses of adults to remove and isolate bullies, and to let parents of bullies know what is going on and what behavior will not be tolerated.  Principals, teachers and staff set the tone by their actions, not their words.  They show what behavior will be accepted and what won’t.  Too often, principals won’t be straight forward, clear and firm with the parents of bullies.  Too often, principals take the path of least resistance because they’re afraid of bullying parents who threaten law suits.

Good programs also teach children how to “defend” and “stand up” for each other.  Good programs make children feel safe in becoming active witnesses instead of remaining passive bystanders or reluctant collaborators.

Stopping bullies is the first and necessary step to gain leverage to teach bullies that their old tactics won’t get them what they want.  It’s more important than knowing if bullies are seeking love or power, or have low self-esteem, or simply don’t know better.  When bullies discover that their old tactics no longer work, they’re more willing to learn new tactics to make their way in the world.

Real bullies are very strategic in their behavior; they harass, bully and abuse kids who the other kids won’t protect.  Or, like little scientists, they’ll bully a kid once and keep score of that kid’s response.  If the targeted kid is ineffective in stopping a bully, bullies will take that as an invitation to do whatever they want with impunity.  They’ll continue to increase the frequency and severity of the abuse until they’re stopped.

All kids know whether the adults will protect them or if they’re on their own in a jungle in which power, not right, rules.  Just as all students know who the bullies are and what areas of school are unsafe, examples of the consequences meted out to bullies will spread instantly.

Some bullies use their strong emotions to become the center of attention, take control and coerce or manipulate other people to give in and do what the emotional bully wants. Children throwing fits are practicing and learning if that tactic works.  Adult masters of emotional bullying are effective with spouses, partners, friends, extended families and at work.  Some bullies are especially effective in places where other people’s politeness keeps them from stopping the bullying – like at parent groups, reading clubs and parent-teacher meetings.

These “Drama Queens” and their male counterparts have strong emotions and over-the-top reactions.  They come in many forms.

For example:

  • No matter how trivial the problem at school, Claire’s daughter was never at fault.  If Claire’s child didn’t get the special treatment she wanted, or if her child was marked down for not completing an assignment or for misbehaving, or if her child wasn’t the first or the most successful, Claire threw a fit.  In public, she yelled at other children or at teachers and the principal.  She threatened law suits.  Pretty soon, teachers allowed her spoiled, bratty child to bully other children.
  • James had three young children, but he was always the center of attention.  If he didn’t get waited on instantly or was asked to do something that interfered with his personal plans or comfort, his constant irritation blew up into outrage and anger.  He yelled at his wife and the kids.  He blamed them for disturbing him and punished them in nasty ways for days.  Usually he was allowed to do anything he wanted and was rarely asked to help.  His wife said, behind his back, that it was like having a giant kid in the house.
  • In the workplace, Tracy ranted in her office, but never followed through with her threats or promises.  She moved on to turn the next problem she saw into a catastrophe.  But once she’d blown up at you, no amount of good performance would get you out off her “bad” list.  She’d sabotage you without telling you why.  Pretty soon, everyone did exactly what she wanted.  They didn’t want scenes and they didn’t want Tracy to stab them in the back.
  • Charlie was a lousy friend, but everyone was afraid to tell him.  He was always late, took up the whole time talking about himself and needed everyone to help him do what he said he “needed” to do.  He borrowed but never returned, he never had money to cover his share of activities and all the fun had to wait until he arrived.  If anyone wouldn’t wait or tried to stop his narcissistic speeches or wouldn’t give him what he wanted, his feelings were hurt.  He was crushed, incensed and ranted for hours; he never let go of a perceived slight.  Of course, it was just easier to give and go along rather than to offend him.

Although they come in many forms, Drama Queens share some common traits.  They:

  • Are hypersensitive, highly emotional and easily hurt.  They’re super-intense, angry, hostile and emotional. They over-react as if everything is a matter of life and death.
  • They misunderstand, jump to conclusions and blow up and demand apologies.
  • Are perfectionistic, nit-picking, control freaks.  They’re vindictive blamers. They take everything personally and remember forever.
  • Take over every situation or group.  They act as if their drama is more important than anything else in the world.  Nothing and nobody else matters; not even getting results.
  • Think that spewing of emotions reveals the “real” person.  They’re uncomfortable with people they see as expressionless.  To Drama Queens, loud emotions show strength; calm people are wimps.

Unless we stop them, we end up walking on egg shells and deferring to them.  Their likes and dislikes rule.  Pretty soon they’re in charge.

Drama Queens increase everyone’s anxiety, stress and depression.  Most people mistakenly accept the blame for triggering the Drama Queen.  They also create chaos.  Their hyperactive, panicky, adrenaline-rush is addictive and contagious.  Soon, everyone is on edge and ready to blow up at the slightest provocation.

Logic and kindness won’t change them.  And you won’t cure them.  Their tactics have made them successful since childhood.  Only a devastating comeuppance or years of intensive therapy or coaching have a chance of changing that style.

When possible, vote Drama Queens off your island.  You’ll need carefully planned tactics if they’re in your extended family or live on your block and their kids are friends with yours.  At work, try to document activities that destroy teamwork or are clearly illegal.  You won’t get anywhere if you want the big bosses to act because the Drama Queen hurt your feelings.

If the Drama Queen or King is your spouse, I’m sorry.  You’ll have to demand behavioral change while you prepare to move on.  Usually, they won’t grow up and learn a new style unless they have to.  They’d even rather get a divorce and blame you than change their style.  Drama Queens are addicted to their habit – knowing that they’re the center of the universe – and need repeated fixes.

Verbal harassment, bullying and abuse; put-downs, lack of respect and cutting out can destroy confidence and self-esteem.  Disparaging and demeaning remarks; ostracism, backed by righteous, sneering, superior judgments can be devastating to children.  But they’re no less severe when done by adults to adults. A Mother’s Day article in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Henry, “What Cards Never Say on Mother’s Day,” complained about the lack of respect that dedicated, full-time mothers often get from other women, “even after four decades of feminism.”  The article had some suggestions for dedicated mothers who still struggle to get respect from working women.

While the article was accurate in pointing out the problem, I think it totally missed the solution. Bullies have used the put-down tactic forever.  Remember all that cutting out with nasty, sarcastic comments, especially through junior and senior high school?  Girls master this technique and boys wield it effectively also.  If you’re not in the “right” group you’re scorned and shunned relentlessly.  Even current celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Taylor Lautner talk about being the targets of this type of bullying in their school days.

Of course putting-down and cutting out rotten.  But it’s not only kids who do it.  As Amy Harris points out, working mothers often give no respect to women who stay home to be full-time mothers of their children.

Don’t waste time analyzing why people put-down others.  That path won’t get you anywhere.  Don’t waste time wanting laws to prevent people from putting down others.  A legal solution also won’t get you anywhere except in the case of public statements about people in certain protected categories.

The real solution lies in you.  When other people don’t respect you, look at the source and the possible consequences.  Don’t take it personally, but also don’t let it go by without saying or doing something in return.

So, what can you do?  First, you have to be strong in your own judgment of the path you’ve chosen.  Being a full-time mother is a wonderful path.  Work is necessary, but for most of us raising children is our most important and fulfilling task.  I hope your children will grow up wise enough to appreciate your dedicated mothering when they’re adults.  Not because you made a great “sacrifice” but because you made a wonderful, life-affirming choice and the children you love could reap the benefits.

Instead of taking other people’s judgments personally, go through the world testing other people to see if they rise enough in your estimation for you to keep them on your island.  I hope you find wanting anyone who puts you down for choosing to be a full-time mother.  Their choice to put-down mothers shows their lack of good sense.  Don’t allow the judgment of people without good sense to be important to your confidence or self-esteem.  Don’t let their judgment cause you self-doubt or negative self-talk.  And don’t let them stay in your life.  Instead, surround yourself with people who champion mothers.

I also said that you shouldn’t let their put-downs pass.  Stopping bullies begins when you understand that real-world bullies don’t take your politeness or minimizing or ignoring them as a sign that you’re morally superior or inviting their friendship.  Relentless bullies aren’t stopped by minimizing, ignoring, begging, bribing or appeasement.  Dedicated bullies take the Golden Rule as a sign that you’re weak and also as an invitation to prey on you more.  Doing nothing when you’re the target of relentless bullies is like holding up a sign saying that you’re a victim.

Almost every woman I’ve ever talked to who was taught by a well-meaning mother that she should feel sorry for the inner emptiness, low self-esteem and inner pain of the nasty girls who hurt them that she should ignore and rise above the catty remarks and hatred, now regrets their passivity.  They feel keenly their lack of empowerment and bear the scars of their supposedly virtuous martyrdom.  They wish that their mothers had trained them to fight back skillfully; verbally or physically.

There are many tactics you might try in response to put-downs; depending on you, them and the situation.  Some mothers form their own cliques of supportive mothers.  Others write responses on cue-cards and memorize them for delivery at the right moment.  Some responses are sarcastic put-downs directed toward the women who don’t appreciate mothers or who aren’t satisfied and even joyous with the opportunity to raise children.  Others merely comment on lives wasted at work.  Others use pity: “I’m so sorry that you’re the kind of person who’s not fulfilled and doesn’t set a better example for your daughter (or son).”

I want to recognize an important truth that we often overlook.  We know that we’re doing the right thing successfully when some people (“jerks) don’t like us and scorn our work and its value.  People who put-down full-time mothers fall into that category.  Don’t care what they think; don’t desire their respect.  Instead, get them off your island and let them know it.

The success of Mahatma Gandhi and non-violent protest or non-violent resistance is often cited as absolute proof that such non-violent methods can defeat oppression and stop bullies.  That idea is often linked to the assertions that the world was a simpler place back when people came together face to face, a small group of committed people can change the world and there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. As much as I almost always try non-violent techniques first, I disagree strongly.  You’re better off thinking of non-violent protest as a method, a strategy or a tactic; not as a philosophy.

Let’s examine non-violent protest as if its truth as a philosophy can be tested against history.

Gandhi-ji was successful against the British and I wouldn’t argue that any other tactic he could have employed would have succeeded.  But his success only proves that in that particular circumstance, lead by that unique individual spirit, the tactic of non-violent protest was successful in getting the British to leave India.  Do you think that non-violent resistance would have been effective in India in 1857?  Or that it would help the Indian people now against Pakistan (or vice versa) or against the Muslim terrorists who recent launched their attacks in Mumbai?

I remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement.   I was actually in Chicago when he led the march and rally.  Do you think he would have succeeded in leading a march in Chicago in 1920 or New York in the 1830’s (read about the mass atrocities and killings during the riots there)?  Do you think the movement would have succeeded integrating schools in the South without the Federal troops willing to shoot?

Gandhi and Dr. King were in the right places at the right times for the methods they chose.  Would either have even gotten obituaries in the newspapers if they tried non-violent protest in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur, or against the Ayatollah or Sadam Hussein, just to name a few?

The wisdom and lessons of history are clear, whether we like them or not.  They’re found in the great literature of the world, as well as in the facts we know:

  • The world was never a simpler place.  Try living your life on a self-sufficient farm, especially when the locusts or drought or flood or fire comes.  Or when a conquering horde comes over the hill to kill all the men and take the women and children into slavery.  That was dealing with problems face to face.  Remember in the Iliad what happened to mighty Hector’s wife and son.  No unemployment insurance, retirement funds or welfare.
  • A small group of people can change the world.  Usually that’s what has happened, whether they start a Renaissance or a dictatorship or they’re called the Founding Fathers or Mothers.
  • Although there are many things we’ve accomplished through science and technology in the physical, material world, there are many things we can’t accomplish in the organic, living world.  We will never have world peace.  We will never have a global society that encourages and makes possible everyone’s individual freedom.  Power is a reality of human nature, not freedom (as much as we Americans value it).  Protecting me and mine against you and yours, or people grabbing what they want is a reality of human nature.
  • In response to a question about peaceful, non-violent protest being effective when facing Chinese soldiers with machine guns, the Dali Lama said, about two years ago, that had we stood there and prayed and chanted and reasoned, they simply would have shot us all.  Similarly, the Quakers in Pennsylvania were barred from holding office because their peaceful methods did not protect the colonists they served from Indian attacks.
  • History shows that, for the most part, those who succeed practicing non-violence live in caves, deserts, misty mountains or monasteries.  Usually, they live on practically nothing or are supported and taken care of by people who brave the world in which violence is a probability.  For example, Gandhi could live poor and politically active because, in part, he was supported by the efforts and money of one of the richest women in India.

To think that we can have sustainable world peace is to indulge in childhood, magical thinking – very 60’s and 70’s.

So what can we do?  Keep working at it; be strong, skillful and resilient in your efforts; think strategically, being right isn’t enough.

Start with your personal world.  Deal effectively and individually with the bullies you find, whether they be face to face or cyberbullies, bullies at work, home or school.  Help make laws against those behaviors, but if you want society or the government to actively guarantee security, you will create Big Brother and you won’t like the consequences.

Think of non-violent protest and reasoning as initial tactics to employ.  Sometimes they’ll be effective.  Bullies will show you if non-violent protest enough to stop them.  But if non-violent resistance doesn’t stop a bully, you have to be more clever and firm.  History actually shows that usually the best way to prepare for peace is to be strong enough to wage war successfully, despite the seductively catchy bumper sticker to the contrary.  Remember, no method succeeds everywhere and every when.

Prepare yourself to be ecstatic and joyful in the world the way it is, whether you decide to change it or not.  That joy and ecstasy are signs of the saints.  As much as the world is full of all the awful things we can think of, it’s also full of beauty, grace, love and nobility.  Fill yourself with joy in the face of the full range of life.

If you can’t be happy until the world is totally peaceful and all the problems are solved, you’ll have a lousy life.  That would be a waste of your potential for wonder, awe and joy, as well as for effecting change … even knowing that change won’t last beyond your life span.

This post is based on the following comment: WOW!!!  I was amazed to find your post, "How do you know if someone is your friend?" right when I needed it most.  I now know what category my daughter's best friend falls under.  My daughter has gone through MOST of the examples that were used in this post with her friend for over 3 years and because there is no hitting involved...it was hard to really label what was going on.  But terming her a "Stealth Bully" is perfect!! I actually can't believe how on target your examples were; they’re so close to what my daughter has been experiencing with a person who was supposed to be her friend.  Just recently, she finally told her supposed friend that she is going to take a break from their relationship because the friend won't stop her negative behavior.  The supposed friend had a fit at school (uncontrollable crying) and got sympathy from other students.  She told everyone my daughter was bullying her and she didn't know why my daughter won't be her friend anymore.  Her supposed friend also manipulated the teacher by breaking out into tears in the classroom and telling the teacher that she has no idea why she is being ignored.

The teacher yelled at my daughter and told her that she will not tolerate any bullying in her class.  My daughter had no chance to explain her side and is devastated at how this has blown up in her face when she is not the bully.

Tears are a very strong weapon when used by manipulative, professional victim children.  I am coaching my daughter now what to say to the teacher because I want her to learn how to stand up for her rights in a respectful way.  I am going to show her your post so that she can understand more what is going on here.  Hopefully this will make her feel better, although right now she feels everyone is on her friend’s side.  Thanks for the post!

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Hi,

I’m glad you found the post and that it helped.

Taking what you said as accurate and true, you and your daughter have run into a common manipulative, stealthy bullying tactic.

When someone (your daughter’s supposed friend) cries, most people assume that someone else (your daughter) must have done something bad and should be stopped.  Most people react to their assumptions and attack the designated perpetrator (your daughter).  Your daughter got labeled unfairly and without being allowed to present her side.  Also, the teacher didn’t judge by character, because bullies like your daughter’s supposed friend usually manipulate the same way repeatedly.  They can be recognized by their repeating pattern of behavior – that’s how the get what they want.  And I’d suspect that your daughter doesn’t have a pattern of bullying or abusing her friends.  Shame on that teacher for jumping to conclusions, supporting the bully and blaming the true victim.

A person who uses the crying, victim tactic repeatedly is a special type of manipulative, stealth bully that I call “Professional Victims.”  Your daughter has been victimized by a person using their hurt feelings to gain power and control; a sneaky professional victim.  We often see this between brothers and sisters who want to manipulate their parents.

You’re on the right track coaching your daughter how to stand up for herself.  However, since I suspect that she’s younger than high school age, and since adults sometimes won’t admit error in front of children, you also may need to talk with the teacher and the principal to make your daughter’s case.  Gather evidence, if you can, of other times when the supposed friend has used the same sort of tactics that depend on her feelings being hurt.

Maybe they also need a copy of the original blog post and my book, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks.”  My next book, “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and a 10 disc CD set containing both books should be out right after Thanksgiving.

Of course, the professional victim is not really a friend of your daughter’s.  Professional victims are selfish, vicious, ruthless control-freaks.  They try to manipulate authorities to defend them and to punish people they’re trying to beat into line.

Your daughter is now testing everyone at school.  She should make her case and then see who is foolish enough to believe the false friend.  Your daughter doesn’t really want to be friends with people who don’t recognize her good character, as opposed to the professional victim’s.  Your daughter may find out that no one at school sees clearly.  Well, now she knows about them.  Be resilient.  Move on and get better friends when she moves up to the next school.  She simply won’t be going to reunions with those people.  No great loss.

I know that may sound difficult if she wants to gain acceptance by a peer group.  But part of her job in life is to test the whole world and keep on her island only the people who see her worth and whom she likes.

Good luck and best wishes.