Tag Archives: toxic people

Not to Upset the Family Bully, but . . .

walking-on-eggshells

I just have to share something with you. As a writer, I follow several blogs, one by author Kristen Lamb. She captured my attention in a recent post about bullying. Actually, she’s been cranking out post after post on that subject. In one she mentions “family bullying.”  Here’s the quote that grabbed me:

For every family bully, there are passive members dancing around trying to appease The Great Volcano from erupting. Clean the house a certain way, don’t have an opinion, be invisible and cater to every need Mt. Volcano has and he/she won’t blow.

This brought to mind my client, Paul (not his real name), who was feeling conflicted over spending time with his family at Christmas. The bully in his family is his mother. And the family members, with the exception of Paul, do whatever it takes to make her happy.

His mom recruited a reluctant volunteer from amongst his siblings—a sister—to guilt him into attending. She dutifully obliged even though she has a full appreciation of his position.

Paul has made it a policy to avoid such functions because “family events make me miserable,” he said. “Why do I want to go through that? My mom has to create trouble . . . she’s not happy if everyone is having a good time.”

Paul puts her in the same category as a belligerent child who pouts or storms if she doesn’t get her way or if she isn’t the center of attention.

He doesn’t mind one-on-one interactions with his brothers and sisters. The family dysfunction isn’t occurring then. As for his mother, she’s tolerable when he’s with her alone. That’s mostly because he doesn’t “play her game.” He said, “I see it as a form of standing up to her.” He’s right.

Paul is wary of family gatherings for another very good reason: “Expectations are attached to all family events. People get cranky when their expectations aren’t met.”

Many of us can relate to that.

I can still recall with great clarity a family bullying incident I witnessed firsthand a few years ago. It was painful to watch then, and still is when I think about it today. I described it in a column I wrote about some of the unfortunate consequences of family bullying.

In both of these cases the “family bully” just happens to be the mom . . . that’s a coincidence. Any family member can wear that hat.

On that note, how were your holidays—how did it go? Are there any bullies hiding out in your family?

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She Swallowed A Lie

Bonsai

Depression and dissatisfaction with your life may be direct feedback from your inner guidance system telling you that you’re not fulfilling your true nature.

Branches on a young bonsai tree are wired down and shaped to conform to a fixed design. In time, the wires are no longer necessary. The bonsai will hold its forged shape. Like the bonsai, we were shaped at a young age. But unlike the bonsai, when the wires are removed—that is, when we grow up—we have the option to remain fixed, shaped permanently, or return to our original and natural form. We have choice.

Click here to read about Donna, a client who swallowed a lie about herself.

We are only truly free when we take the initiative to direct our own fate and move beyond an existence anchored to old patterns. 

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Thoughts of Suicide

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In my previous post, Banished from Her Mother’s Heart, I talked about Michelle, who was dealing with her mom’s rejection. In this post, I want to introduce you to Scott. Like Michelle, he marched to the beat of his own drum, and likewise suffered rejection, primarily from his dad. Scott’s gay, and his father couldn’t handle it.

When Scott came to me, he was on the verge of suicide, so great was his anguish. His story is here . . . .

My message to the Michelles and Scotts of the world is this:

In a perfect world, the negative people who occupy our lives—those who cause us strife—simply wouldn’t exist. Nor would any chance for growth. So it appears that getting knocked off balance may be a necessary bother for advancing forward.

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Banished from her Mother’s Heart

going against current

“Your mother is good for you,” I said. “Her disapproval is forcing you to become immune to disapproving attitudes. Unbeknownst to her, she’s stretching you to become self-accepting and to believe in yourself.”

Michele followed the beat of her own drum, and her family shunned her for it—especially her mother.

Parental disapproval, at any age, can send our self-esteem to the basement! It makes us question our worth, our competence and even our age.

“I notice when you talk about your mother, you go small,” I observed.

Nodding, she replied, “Yes, when it comes to her, especially, I doubt myself.”

She explained that her mother’s rejecting and disapproving manner was something she’s always had to contend with.

“How are her failings as a parent challenging you to grow stronger?” I asked.

Read more about Michelle …

”Because you still view her through a child’s eyes—looming larger than life—you’re susceptible to her flawedness,” I said.

We need to be identifying with the more competent, more expansive and grown-up part of ourselves.

I invite your comments.

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Screwed Up But Healthy

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I just had to laugh when Beth—referring to her progress—said this in a recent session:

“I’m still screwed up, but in a healthy way.”

To say the least, I was puzzled by that comment, so I asked, “What do you mean?”

“I’m the product of a dysfunctional household,” she said.  “But I’m in a much healthier place now.  I can handle my mom’s rude and critical comments better. I’m less apt to take them personally.”

That’s all good—I’m happy for her.

What does “screwed up but healthy” mean in your world?

To read more posts about Beth, click on the tag ‘Sam and Beth’ below.

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Guilt is a Cruel Dictator

domineering mother cropped

Beth feels guilty because she doesn’t want her mother to watch her 2-year-old son. She would prefer to use her mother-in-law, her husband Sam’s mom. Why? Because Beth doesn’t want her son to be exposed to the same belittling treatment she experienced as a child.

Beth feels strongly about her position, but teeters at times. She’s weakened by her mom’s guilt tactics.

“Maybe I should let her,” Beth said.

I told her this:

 “Guilt should never be the basis for our decisions. It’s a poor judge of what’s right.”

“Your priority is your son, not your mother and not your guilt. Can you imagine the amount of guilt you would feel if your son experienced even a portion of the emotional abuse you experienced?”

Wiping away tears, she nodded. “You’re right.”

By the end of the session, Beth was relieved. She learned several things that gave her a new way of seeing things. For one, she learned it was okay to set a boundary—even right to do so!

Moving forward, Beth and Sam will avoid mentioning babysitting, period. Instead, they’ll arrange times for their son to visit grandma when either Sam or Beth can be present. And if Beth’s mom starts using guilt tactics, Beth will change the subject.

We don’t have to be held hostage to guilt or to those who wield it like a weapon.

To read more about Sam and Beth, click on their tag below.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Reject Spirit Zappers

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When we tune in to the outrage of being violated, no matter what the degree, it’s the beginning of putting up a protective shield.  We’re designed to be invested in self-preservation.

 It appears that for the duration of our lifetime, we’re assigned to one person to fully watch over, to love unconditionally, and bathe with constant caring and protection. We inhabit that person’s body. How else can you explain survival instincts, defense mechanisms, and pain?

These statements are excerpts from a column I wrote about Natalie and Tiffany a few years ago.  Today,  they know how  to avoid deflating people. I’m happy for them, and am moved to help others with  the same advice I  gave them.  I would love to hear your story!

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The Cookie War

stack of cookies

It’s not about the power another person wields or takes; it’s about the power we surrender.

That is what I conveyed to Amy in our counseling session. She needed an answer for  dealing with her demeaning husband, and it didn’t entail placating  him or being little around him.  It entailed boldly standing up for herself.   Read Any’s story here . . .

We must speak our truth, I told her, in part  because it might change the other person, but mostly because it changes us.

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Stuck in Anger

A client of mine—I’ll call her Anna—shared this tidbit by Garrison Keillor:

“When you’re angry at people, you make them part of your life.”

That’s so true! Prolonged anger usually has a focus, and that focus usually involves a particular person. I can’t imagine being angry at my printer for two weeks—20 minutes yes, but not for two weeks.  On the other hand, I can imagine—at an earlier point in my life—being angry at another human being for two weeks. And that encrusted anger didn’t free me in any way. It kept me mentally fused to that other person.

So the lesson is clear: If we don’t want bothersome people in our life, we have to give up the anger. How do we do that? By making a decision to either walk away—as Anna chose to do with an unkind friend—or by changing the way we think about that person.

This is what Sophia, another client, did. She doesn’t have the luxury of merely walking away because the unkind person in her life happens to be her brother.

“His nasty comments just leave my blood boiling,” she said. “How do you see him?” I asked. “As a jerk!” she said. I commented saying “As long as you see him that way, you’ll feel tortured by him.”  I went on to suggest she view him as a younger version of what he’s becoming. “If he were fully evolved, he would treat you with more sensitivity and respect.”

Ever notice that our well-being is never at risk in our encounters with advanced souls?

This way of thinking doesn’t excuse her brother’s behaviors. Disrespectful and rude behavior is never okay. I made sure Sophia understood that and advised her to be protective of herself. “It’s just that this different way of viewing him takes the sting out of it,” I said. “You suffer less.”

After Sophia and I talked back and forth about it all, she had an illumination: “Ahhh. That’s why forgiveness is important. It has more to do with what it does for us—not the other person.”

She’s got it!

I think this quote by Carrie Fisher, the actress, expresses what being stuck in anger does to us:

“Resentment is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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Keep Your Mouth Shut! Really?

 Numerous times in our lifetime—no, in a single day—we’re faced with a dilemma: Do I open my mouth or keep it zipped? Do I take the risk or play it safe?

It’s not easy being verbally courageous. I fail at it more times than I succeed. But when I do succeed, it leaves me feeling a bit giddy. I think it’s because the freedom to express one’s thoughts has an elevating effect.

I’m reminded of this quote by George Orwell:

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

It’s taken me a long time to realize that it’s not a bad thing to tell people what they don’t want to hear. It may even be a good thing—not only for ourselves but also for the other person.

For example, when we put up with ill treatment by remaining quiet, we silently side with the least noble aspect of that person. We don’t help them grow. In fact, we rob them of the opportunity to do some healthy soul-searching.

In his book, Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes: “When you adapt to the world, you don’t better it.”

As for the personal price for remaining tight-lipped, I recall counseling Nicole, who had a co-worker who repeatedly demeaned her in front of others. “I’d rather have a root canal than be around that woman!” Nicole exclaimed. “I swear, she must sit up nights sharpening her nastiness skills!”

When I asked Nicole how she typically responds to this treatment, she said she keeps it to herself. “I don’t want to cause any problems.”

“How about those problems you carry around inside?” I asked. “Don’t they count?” I was referring to the array of dark distresses that ferment deep within, robbing her of contentment—call it indigestion of the soul.

Bottom line: Asserting ourselves when honesty needs to happen benefits all parties.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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