Family portrait with parents and four daughters.

Family portrait with parents and four daughters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Families who can’t talk to each other, create problems that grow in magnitude and are passed down the generations. Communication, a willingness to empathise and hold out a hand, is the glue that keeps relationships healthy. To achieve this, needs the wisdom of Job and the patience of a saint. It also need assertiveness. Running away from problems in a family set up, refusing to discuss them, or yelling and shouting to assuage feeling of frustration, just drives a bigger and more dangerous wedge between family members. Loyalty and the strength to support each other when the chips are down, is hard to maintain. It’s so much easier to disappear into a silent chasm of your own making.

When family members stop communicating, people get lost. If the communication is shallow and uncaring, people feel negated. If there is no loving compassion in the way people communicate, then there will be a flatness to life and a sense of emptiness, for what else is life about, but connecting. The saddest stories are the ones reported in the newspapers that tell of elderly people found dead in their homes, alone and uncared for. These people often have children scattered across the world, who have lost touch with them. Of course, the reason for these estrangements is never fully explained, but I know from my own experience, that often it was nothing more than a difference of opinion that caused a family rift that was never resolved.

There is also the issue of courage. It takes courage to overcome rows when bad things are said and people are hateful to each other in a family setting. I am not talking about abuse here; that’s a far more serious issue and should always be addressed with the help of professionals. No, I am talking about having the courage to challenge bad behaviour within a family, in a calm, assertive way that enables you to maintain dignity and self respect. A lot of family misunderstandings are down to a lack of good manners. People who are close, often take each other for granted and forget courtesy and kindness. A culture of ‘anything goes’ can develop in a family, where there is an unspoken permission to ‘let it all hang out’ – to be able to say anything or behave however you wish, even if the words and behaviour is hurtful and damaging. Standing up for your self-respect in a family setting where emotions are running high takes courage, but it so much better than enforced silence or unbridled rage.

Families nearly always have bullies. Bullying is covered up with excuses from them, or from other family members. There is never an excuse for bullying, whatever the circumstances. When people bully, it is because they cannot express themselves with the right sort of assertiveness. Bullying is borne of frustration. It’s hard work to deal with a family bully, because if you love that person, you tend to tread on eggshells around them, in the hope that they will see that bullying is not the way to communicate well. But bullies need to be challenged and that takes self-esteem and courage, too. When you love someone and they bully you, it is your self-esteem that takes the hit.

There is also another type of family member. The martyr. This is the person who constantly says sorry. Who makes him or herself the fall guy. Who lives in a state of apologetic silence. Who can never resolve anything, because to resolve something would mean responsibility. Being a martyr lets you off the hook. You wish to be seen as the person who will lay down your life for others, rather than do anything pragmatic to resolve the problem.  What that means is that you do not have the confidence or insight to  employ intelligence, wisdom, and reason. Martyrs are very emotional people. Deep inside, they feel that the whole world is against them. Being a martyr means you want people to notice you and to acknowledge that you exist, above everything else. You are screaming for attention, you are hurt and you want others to know it. How can you resolve anything, feeling like that? So beware the martyr in your family. They need help!

Then we have the isolationist. The family member who removes him or herself and says, ‘Let them get on with it, I’m out of here…’ This person is usually very sensitive too, but presents a tough exterior. They come across as the know-all. When they are not given enough listening time or they feel that others are ignoring them, or can’t understand them, they are off! They have an innate stubbornness and an overblown sense of self-protection, that prevents them from reaching out to others and loosening up.

So we are back to communication; a vital component in family relations. Parents need to talk to children and listen to them; really listen. Children have to listen to parents… Is that possible? Parents do not have a good press. They are presented as ‘hard-working and poverty struck’ by politicians, as ‘rich and unfeeling’ by the press, as ‘possessive’ by many, as ‘irresponsible’ if they are single parents, as ‘pushy’ if they are ambitious for their kids… the list  of the failings that society seeks to heap upon parents, is endless.  And it doesn’t stop when the kids are grown. Then, we are on to the behaviour of grandparents and their interaction with their children and grandchildren.

As we age, the things that help us to stay healthy and happy are good relationships, within our social groups and with our families. This has been proved scientifically. It is also recognised that people entering nursing homes today are far more frail and need more care than they did years ago. Is this because we have lost that sense of family? Families are split; live far way from each other, do not communicate and by doing this, create a situation where older members feel unloved and uncared for? This affects their sense of well being and self esteem. If you think you are useless, of no value to your family or are simply a seen as a burden, you are not going to feel much like living, let alone live a productive and happy life.

That nagging sense that often overcomes older people, that they are surplice to requirements, that in our throw-away society, it’s time they were thrown away, does not make for contentment. This often happens when there is a divorce. The married couple separate and make new relationships with new families. The old grandparents are sidelined for the new crop. Kid’s loyalties become confused. They love their original grandparents but are expected to suddenly love the new lot! They love their parents, but now they are expected to show love and respect for the new ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy’… It’s very tough on everyone.

Now we come to the most difficult of family members; the fantasist. This person is not grounded in reality. He or she will see their children as saints, when they have committed bloody murder! This person will swear that black is white and white is black. This person will avoid a brush with reality at all costs. They will turn reality into a fantasy and swear that their fantasy is a true representation of what is happening. They will never accept that there are none so blind and those who will not see…  Fantasists lie and they believe their own lies. They cannot understand why people don’t believe them. If confronted, they will say they are just’ exaggerating a little’ or they will withdraw into silence until, they can find an audience to listen and believe their next fantasy. In a family, it is very difficult to explain the behaviour of the fantasist. They are very good at avoiding, at making promises they never keep, at saying outrageous things, while expecting to be forgiven because they are were ‘only joking’. The story of Walter Mitty illustrates the mind of the fantasist beautifully. Mitty is a simple man who lives a vivid fantasy life within his mind. He imagines himself in a variety of exciting roles, yet his own life is bland and unexciting. Walter Mitty is a hapless dreamer. If you have one of these in your family, beware! There is nothing wrong with dreaming, in the right context. Artists have to be dreamers, otherwise they would produce nothing. This, to my mind, is a very valid use of fantasy and dreaming! But the bleak world of a Walter Mitty character deserves our compassion and a gentle nudge into reality now and then!

Staying grounded when dealing with your relatives, keeps you sane. Good communication is the only way through this minefield, I’m afraid. It takes sustained effort and committment and it’s not easy.


§Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...

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Cyber bullying is apparently rife across networking sites on the Internet. It is a hateful practice and has been responsible for much despair and unhappiness. In some cases a suicide has been the outcome. Why do people do this sort of thing to others? Young people, it seems, are particularly vulnerable to cyber nastiness. Bullying of any sort is evil, but on the net, where a bully can terrorise someone for months on a daily basis make me sick to my stomach.

Something is seriously wrong with a society that allows this to happen. Why are some social networking sites so irresponsible? I found a site the other day, quite by chance, that asks you to write in a box what you think of a person. Of course, you could use this site to write very nice things or you could say something hateful and all the world might read it. Why? This is an open invitation to  bullying. These sites should be closed down.

I love the Internet. It is a wonderful tool and it enables people like me to have a voice. But when people abuse it, when kid’s are tormented by these cyber crackpots, then something should be done.

I remember my experiences of bullying when I was a child. The fact that I remember them so clearly, shows how much impact they had on me. On one occasion, I was bullied by a particularly obnoxious boy of about ten years old called Roger. He had two equally nasty brothers, a year or so older and they made an unpleasant trio. One day, playing in the local park with my friends – you did that in those days, parents thought the dangers less  – the hateful trio appeared and began to verbally abuse me and my friend. Then, because I was a lippy kid, they turned the full force of their brutishness on me. I was tied up to a tree and threatened with a kitchen knife. My friend escaped and ran home to tell her Mum, a rotund lady with a forceful personality. She marched to the park and screamed blue murder at the boys. They scattered like frightened sheep. I was untied and taken home, where my elder brother who had a day off work and was cleaning bits of his motorbike engine on the kitchen table, listened to my story with rapt attention.

I wasn’t too upset, I was furious. I was indignant and I wanted revenge! My brother and I hatched a plan. Our house had a long drive and at the end was a gate. I would sit on the gate and swinging back and forth, watching the world go by. I knew that the hateful Roger and his brothers would pass our gate every Saturday afternoon on their way to the park, where no doubt, they would bully some other kid. On this particular Saturday, having been briefed by my brother; a very grown-up teenager, I waited on the gate. Roger came into view. He was alone. I was on target. As he approached the gate, I jumped down and, with my brother egging me on, I pushed the hapless boy against the gate and pummelled his flabby chest with my little fists. He didn’t put up a fight, but sank to the ground like a melted jelly. I was victorious. I told him in no uncertain terms, that I would finish him and his brothers off if they dared to come near me again. I was nine years old at the time.

Roger slunk away and I never saw him or his brothers in the park again. Now, I am not saying that violence is the way to stop bullying – but that experience gave me huge confidence to be able to stand up for myself and fight my corner when I needed to. And it was all thanks to my brother, who gave up tinkering with his motorbike in order to spend some time telling me how to deal with a bully by myself. Of course, he’d been hiding behind the garden wall, watching incase it all went pear-shaped, but I did it myself and for that, I felt that any other sort of bullying I experienced would be simple for me to stop.

Of course, things were slightly more complicated when I reached adulthood. I was on my own and there were still bullies out there, particularly in the work place. But that early experience tempered the way I dealt with such problems. There were no punch-ups but I was confident to be able to face up to bullies and use well chosen words to defeat them. If I needed more help, I would whistle-blow.

There is, however, one exception. It’s not easy to deal with bullies in your own family. Where familial emotions are concerned, it can throw your carefully planned anti-bullying tactics. Dealing with a bullying child, sibling, in-law or parents is very difficult. Of course, it is abuse, as all bullying is. And then you do need to ask for help.


United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

Image via Wikipedia

The temperatures are falling. Outside the snow creates a misleading beauty that masks the possibility of road accidents, broken legs and hypothermia. Many people will be house bound and unable to get to work. It will cost the economy but it will give us time to think. Working from home is becoming more acceptable and if the weather continues to be unpredictable and dangerous, it may be the way forward. Working alone from your house might make you lonely, might make focus difficult, but you may find you become more productive, less distracted by other things; situations that can only happen when you are working away from home and dealing with colleagues.

Every time another person steps across your personal boundary, they steal a piece of you.  When someone says something nasty about someone else and you are offended on their behalf,  you are a witness to yet another felony and submitting to it. When you observe verbal bullying, you may not have the strength to speak out, but you can write the details down. It doesn’t take a minute. No journalist would go out without his notebook. Keep one handy, along with a pen and record time, date, names and incident. You will then have the power of accurate information, the knowledge which immediately gives you the cool upper hand – good power and knowledge is power.

Have you ever considered how you communicate? I think it’s all about perception. (One man‘s meat is another man’s poison and all that.) When words come out of someone’s mouth, directed at another person, they are the verbal picture of thoughts. But it all happens so fast that the two often get out of sync and the person on the receiving end ends us totally confused, completely misunderstanding what is being said, because what the speaker is thinking is not what he/she is saying.

However, it’s not always a case of the word/thought misalignment. Sometimes, something much worse is going on – the abuse of power. Power can be benign or toxic.  Power is the ability to make people think, feel and behave the way you want them to.  As children we were all under the power of a whole host of adults: teachers, parents, doctors. Then we grow up, but some things remain the same. We become sub-ordinate to bosses; managers, supervisors, senior partners, to mention just a few.  Think how many people in your life have power in some form or another, over you. Credit card companies? If you owe them money, yes. Banks? Less than they used to, but once they foreclose on your overdraft, their power becomes supremely active. And what about in marriage? The statistics for domestic abuse in the UK are still a disgrace. To be abused by a spouse or partner must be on of the most toxic uses of power.

So, how does power communicate itself to you? If someone yells at you or attacks you, you know they want you to submit. It’s clear and it pays off to acquiesce,  for instance when a mugger points a gun at you. Only the very bravest or the idiots, depending on your point of view, would challenge that use of power.

If you are being harassed or bullied at work, you have the power of human rights, government legislation and your union behind you.  Yet if you choose to say and do nothing, to allow yourself to be a victim and act in a submissive manner to a bully, you are not only letting yourself down but also all those other people who worked for years to get the laws passed. By letting others make decisions for you and by submitting to their opinions and actions that you know in your heart are wrong, gives your share of the good power away and that sort of power is precious and not to be squandered.

I am not advocating that you spend your life as a private detective, watching everyone for signs of power abuse. But bullying and harassment have been steadily increasing everywhere and not just by people you might expect it from. The police have come under fire for their aggressive tactics at the last G20 summit protest in London. If it hadn’t been for all those camera phones recording incidents that clearly show an abuse of their power, we would only have the police version of what actually happened and it might have been a version less truthful than the ones captured on camera.

When you feel that you are being more submissive that you would like to be in a bad power game, stand firm and remember you can use a type of communication that will work; stay silent. Give the bully his head. Let him/her blow off the verbal steam. Smile sweetly and make a bee-line for the nearest quiet place and write it all down.  After all, the pen is so much mightier than any sword and the simple act of writing releases feelings that might otherwise damage you. Then, after recording everything you can take time to work out a clear strategy. You can embrace your good power and put it to use, going down the right channels to find support.

The trick is to learn to make healthy boundaries in the moment by attending to your feelings, opinions, perceptions and needs. Your right is to assert them with integrity and compassion but to recognise harassment and bullying and refuse to accept them when directed at yourself or others.



Facebook logo

Image via Wikipedia

How do you feel when somebody puts derogatory remarks about you on their Facebook page? When it happened to me recently, I felt really abused. I went through all the right channels to complain but that didn’t help the sense of betrayal I experienced, because the words written about me were out there, in the ether for ever. It was so humiliating, because the bully had been clever by not mentioning my name, but any one knowing me, would recognise who was being referred to and therefore, in my mind, I could be identified.

The person who published the remarks against me was someone I had once helped when they were in dire straights. I didn’t expect gratitude, but I did think they would show some loyalty when our friendship ended. It ended because I could not tolerate the behaviour that this person exhibited to me and to others. Too late, I realised that this was someone I couldn’t help, because they were so psychologically damaged. Only an experienced therapist or a spell in a psychiatric ward might assist this person, not me.

The whole episode left a very bitter taste in my mouth and for awhile, made me suspicious of offering a helping hand to anyone. But I have never been one to turn the other cheek. We all make mistakes in judging others. But there is no excuse for naivety and I think that on this occasion, I was naive and in a sense, somewhat vain. I thought that my well-meaning actions would be so effective that they would change a whole lifetime of abusive and unacceptable behaviour.

The person is now free to do what was done to me to someone else – maybe many people and there is not a thing I can do about it. To challenge or confront would simply open myself up to more abuse. But to ignore it seems so cowardly; turning the other cheek upon myself. We all meet people that have personalities like this person as we travel through our lives. And we are rarely taught by our parents or teachers how to cope when we become victims of maliciousness and slander. Most people do nothing and hope that it will just all go away. But if nothing is done, this sort of bullying can also become obsessive for the bully and turn into stalking.

I won’t forget this in a hurry and it’s taught me one thing; the internet can be an amazing resource, but it can also be a place where reputations are ruined and malicious gossip can flourish.