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

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

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

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

Stages of typical cycles are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, I recommend:

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

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

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

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

You’ll find many examples of these responses in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.

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

 

 

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?

  1. 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.
  2. Alicia’s parents talked to a teacher who confirmed the level of abuse but said she was helpless because it was all verbal and the school had no policies or programs in place and her principal didn’t want the subject of bullying brought up.  The teacher also told them that Tammy’s parents had been spoken with the previous year for attacking a different girl, but since Tammy was winning and feeling good, her parents didn’t see any reason to stop her.  In the long-term, Alicia’s parents knew they had to fight for a strong anti-bullying program and probably a new principal but that didn’t help resolve the immediate problem.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Alicia’s parents decided to focus on helping her turn around her thinking.  She had thought that since she was evidently failing Cory and Tammy’s tests for friendship, she must be doing something wrong and there was something wrong with her.

The big shift came when Alicia decided that she was really testing them.  She decided that there was nothing wrong with her; Tammy, Cory and their friends were simply jerks.  She decided that Cory, Tammy and the others were stupid and insecure, and needed to put someone down in order to feel good.  And that her old friend Cory was especially weak and ignoble.  They had failed Alicia’s test of who she wanted to be friends with.  She didn’t want to be friends with people who acted that way.

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.

What Alicia’s parents did to try to rally the principal and district administrator is a different story.  Typically, when harassment or abusive behaviors, and bullies are tolerated at a school they do not remain as isolated incidents, they become typical patterns of behavior.  Therefore, there were many other kids in Alicia’s position of being harassed and targeted by other bullies.  But how Alicia’s parents rallied them is also a different story.

The important story here is that through personalized coaching, Alicia started a life of testing the world.  She took charge of her attitudes and feelings, increased her self-confidence and self esteem, and changed her life for the better.  In so doing, she took charge of her actions and her future.

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

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

So what can we do now?

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

What to expect and how to respond?

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

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

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

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

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

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
24 CommentsPost a comment