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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Mostpeople are afraid of the economic forecast.  Some have lost jobs; more will.  Some have lost retirement funds; more will.  Some have lost hope; more will.  Fear and stress stimulate mostpeople to huddle around the campfire, worrying, whining and complaining about their uncertain future.  They convince themselves that they’re too weak and helpless to succeed.  They’re victims together. A long, cold recession or depression is the consensus prediction.  But that’s not the prediction for my life and it doesn’t have to be for yours either.  And that’s not because I have guaranteed money flowing in or I’m sure my business will be immune to the next little ice age.  There’s a different reason.

We each have self bullies.

The little, self-bullying voices:

  • Know our every fear and weakness, our every mistake and sin.
  • Demean and ridicule us, discourage and depress us.
  • Predict failure, as if they want to make us lose hope and give up.
  • Don’t like us even though they pretend to be trying to help us.
  • That are so persuasive.

We know where we heard those voices that told us they knew better – our parents, relatives, siblings, teachers, ministers, schoolmates, peers.  We know how we made their voices into our self-bullying voices.

I refuse to listen to self bullying.  I refuse to be a victim of my times and circumstances.  You also can rise above mostpeople.

Don’t be a victim of your past.  History is not destiny.  Command yourself.  Ignore self-bullies.  Our self-bullying voices do not know what’s best for us, do not know the future and can’t accurately predict that we’ll fail.

Of course, the economy is lousy and times will be hard.  Most of us won’t be able to maintain our previous standard of living.  Mostpeople are angry because they thought they were guaranteed increasing wealth and security if they did things right.

We haven’t been trained to survive a depression.  So what?  We can survive and even thrive.

Think about what our ancestors survived.  There has always been rotten weather like recessions and depressions, poverty and war.  They’re part of the natural weather cycles – hurricanes, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, avalanches, droughts or floods, earthquakes and tsunamis.  There have also been plagues, famine, pestilence and war.

If we let recession-induced fear and self bullying sap our strength and will, we won’t have the right stuff, we won’t act skillfully and the economic tide will pull us under.  We have within us the inheritance of an unbroken line of people who thrived.  We have within us the seeds of strength, courage and joy.

These economic ice ages have happened in America before.  For example, economic crashes occurred in about 1787, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1897, 1907 and the great depression from 1929-1941.  The rest of the world had similar experiences.

What can we do when we get down on ourselves?  We need WILL and SKILL.

  • In order to succeed, we must choose to ignore self bullying, choose to command ourselves, choose to create the futures we want, no matter what the circumstances.  As individuals, we must have the WILL to persevere, with grit, determination and resilience.

Call that hyper-critical, fear-mongering side of us a “self-bully” so we’ll react with passion and power against it.  So we’ll rally ourselves against its words.  We wouldn’t lie down in front of those old bullies and we wouldn’t let ourselves be abused by bullies now.

  • We need SKILL to ignore our self-bullying voices – turn off the discouraging TV; stop listening to people moaning, whining and complaining; stop listening to victim stories.  Walk away politely from mostpeople who wallow in the dumps of fear and panic.  If you’ve kept your job, don’t wallow in survivor’s guilt.  Get off the emotional roller coaster.

Find friends who don’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead handle things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible.  Find friends with inner lights that give them joy even when they don’t have all the comforts and toys they once did.  Become such a friend.

When the self bullying voices start again, tell them we’ve heard all that before and if they want to help us, they can use a different voice and become encouraging coaches that strengthen our spirits.  Fill the IMAX screen of our minds with the future we hope we’ll have and the friends we want in our lives.  Throw ourselves into activities like physical exercise.  Don’t feed our addictions; eat well.  Feed our spirits with movies, music and books that lift up our spirits and renew our energy.

  • We need SKILL to make plans to keep our jobs or find others, to spend less while still treating our spirits better.  We need skill to get over our feelings, plans and expectations.  Loss of riches, comforts and dreams is not really the end of the world.  Get going again.

Find a coach to keep your spirits up and organize your efforts.  Read the self-bullying section in "How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks."

While the growing recession is the world in which I function, it’s not the world in which I live.  I invite you wonderful people to enter the world that is waiting for you, if you but have the courage to take the first steps.

"What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Are your children and teens resilient?  Do they bounce back after they’ve been disappointed or faced hostility, bullies, abuse or trauma?  Are you resilient?  Do you know how to resist a hostile, abusive, controlling or bullying husband or wife?  Can you resist your self-bullying tendencies?  How about abusive, controlling or bullying friends, relatives or neighbors?  How about at work; hostile, abusive, bullying bosses, managers or co-workers?  Do you bounce back from getting passed over, terminated or fired from a hostile workplace?  You know – lies, yelling, cursing, back-stabbing, verbal abuse, demeaning insults, harassment, false complaints or accusations. According to a Newsweek article written by Mary Carmichael (The Resiliency Gene: A genetic variant may protect some abused kids from depression and other long-term effects) the National Institute of Mental Health is funding studies to find the genes associated with resiliency to hostility, abuse and trauma.  As a former practicing biochemist, I can say that, of course, we’ll find genes associated with almost every pattern of behavior.

But, I think it’s a dead end if we focus merely on the genetic expressions of what’s going on.

Why do I think it’s a dead end?  Because you end up thinking that either you have the right stuff or you don’t.  That belief won’t help your children develop strength of character or as much resilience as they can.  For example, contrast the behavior of the teen in cyber-bullying suicide case with the teen who was acquitted of punching a racist tormentor . . Worrying about the resiliency gene won’t help you be courageous either.  You’ll remain a victim; hoping the system can be made 100 percent safe and fair.  You’re better off thinking that you can develop the right stuff to protect yourself, to create a bully-free environment.  That approach to make the world totally and completely safe is being tried right now in our schools .

Resiliency is something that we’ve seen and studied throughout history.  For example, in their elegant studies of about 700 famous men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962), Victor and Mildred Goertzel, called the eminent survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, “The Invulnerables.”  Our history is full of men and women who failed and then bounced back, struggled and succeeded.

In my coaching of adults (including parents wanting to know how to help their children), I encourage them to focus on the “free will” aspects of their lives.  You have much more control over what you create in life right now, than you do over your genetics.  No matter what life throws at us, whether we’re subjected to natural disasters, large scale human destruction or individual family brutality and trauma, we all must struggle to rise above those events in order to create as great a life as we can.  We can take charge of our efforts  even though we can’t control the results.

Inspire your children by them to look back at their inheritance.  Think of what their ancestors must have lived through.  No matter what their ancestry, they come from an unbroken line of men and women who survived drought, flood, plague, famine, disease, war, uprooting, slavery, rape and every other form of disappointment, hostility, control, abuse, brutality and trauma known.  Everyone one of their ancestors survived long enough to make a baby who grew up to make a baby who grew up to make a baby … until they were born.  If one of their ancestors hadn’t grown up to do his or her part, they wouldn’t be here.  They have a legacy of survivors.

Also think of their mental and spiritual inheritance.  There must have been people who took in some of their ancestors and nurtured, encouraged and stimulated them; even though they weren’t blood relatives.  Despite all the abuse and trauma, here they are.  They have the legacy of survivors.  Stop worrying about their genes and start training them to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong.  Start helping them develop the discipline that’s worthy of all the struggle and effort that went into getting them here.

I remember the stories of what my grandparents went through in order to get here.  They didn’t have credit cards, cell phones, health insurance or own their homes.  How can I let them down by not living as gloriously as I can?  How can I let them down by not encouraging my children to do the same – no matter what their genetics has given them?

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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