Anger Management Issues & Past Bullying

Eby (6/11/12, Cool Comebacks post) came to counseling with long term effects from bullying that caused anxiety in social situations. Annabel had a different story:  she was a walking powder keg ready to explode.  The week before her first counseling session she became so angry at her boyfriend that she had to go to the ER with severe chest pains and high blood pressure.

Annabel was originally mystified about the cause of her intense reactions, but it became clear when she was asked, “Have  you always been quick tempered?”  Tears welled in her eyes as she recalled being a meek child who kept quiet during relentless teasing about her old fashioned name and high forehead.  The move to middle school gave her a break until eighth grade.  Someone started to taunt her, saying her name in a sing-song voice and Annabelle fired back, demolishing her would-be attacker with a barrage of belittling comebacks.  Many schoolmates witnessed her poweress and no one bothered her again.  Underneath her bravado, Annabel felt defective and weak.  It took all her strength to muster the verbal vibrato to humiliate anyone who might want to hurt, talk about, or deceive her.  If others were nearby, all the better.  Her intention was to send a message to those present that she was not to be messed with.

Expose Wounds in Private

Annabelle and I went back to her early memories of being belittled for bogus reasons.  Angry tears welled up.  Like a protective momma bear, the 46 year old Annabel was helped to express what her younger self never could:

Do you know what it does for an eight year old to be teased this way?!  A person starts to feel like there is something terribly wrong with her…like she can never measure up.  You have no idea of the damage you’re doing!!!!

Wrapping words around inner wounds releases them.  Retorting with name calling is a verbal punch that leaves painful bullets inside to fester.  Exposing such anguish should only be done with trusted others.  Once hurt is expelled, the mind is cleared to consider a cool comeback.

The Power of Positive Speaking

Now the fun began.  I asked Annabel to take the role of the bully so I could play her younger, empowered self.

Bully:  You’re forehead is so shiny it could light up a coal mine.

Anna:  So you’re blinded by my light. I must have super powers.

*     *     *

Bully:  “Annabel”—what a silly old name.

Anna:  I guess you can’t name your children after me.

Both comebacks brought a smile to Annabelle‘s face.  In role-play, she had no words to counter the disarming responses.  We switched positions and she glibly replied with her own version of, You’re blinded by my light….  Her demeanor reflected inner strength.  But something telling happened with the knock on her name:

Bully:  “Annabel”—what a silly old name.

Anna:  But it was my grandmother’s name and you don’t even know her…

 

Annabel’s defensive reaction again brought tears to her eyes.  She was quickly reminded of possible cool comebacks:

  • You say my name like it’s a bad thing.
  • Annabel is my nick name—my real name is Rumpelstiltskin.
  • OK, now you can’t name your kids after me. 

In the redo of the role-play, You say my name like it’s a bad thing easily rolled off Annabel’s tongue.  She looked bright-eyed and strong.  Annabel had given a powerful demonstration of how defensive reactions weaken people and disarming responses, indeed, arm and protect us from cruel comments.   The following explains the subtext that makes cool comebacks so arresting.

EXPLAINATION—Cool comeback (AAAH) responses:

  • Act as if it’s all good—admit, agree, compliment, show gratitude
  • Ask questions—curious questions, hidden questions (I wonder why…)
  • Actively listen—rephrase (Are you saying…), name feelings or      behavior (blaming, accusations, threats, etc.), sympathize, validate (It      makes sense that you…)
  • Hide suggestions—truism (You can…), false choice (Do you      want to … or …), Underlying assumptions (When will you be able to…),      reverse psychology (It’s good for you to keep… because….), power      words (try, dare, but), random responses.
  1. So you’re blinded by my light… I guess I have super powers: a cool comeback that acts as if having a shiny forehead is a good thing and uses a compliment.
  2.  I guess you can’t name your children after me:  a cool comeback that acts as people would want to call their child “Annabel” and then uses reverse psychology to make her name even more attractive.
  3. You say my name like it’s a bad thing: a standard one-liner that implies that her name is a good thing.
  4. Annabel is my nick name—my real name is Rumpelstiltskin: acts as if Annabel is a desirable to cover up a much worse (storybook) name, “Rumpelstiltskin.”   If this response leads to being taunted with the name Rumpelstiltskin, a ready comeback would be….
  5.  Are you practicing saying Rumpelstiltskin to avoid giving me your first born?

This confusing question hides the suggestion that continuing to say Rumpelstiltskin means the bully is fearful of giving up his or her child.

These cool comebacks do not focus on understanding the bully with questions and active listening.  Reasons for random and meaningless remarks may not be worthy of decoding.  It is not likely that this first lesson in the verbal arts will eliminate all of Annabel’s anger problems, but she has been able to experience robust responses that block attempts to rob her of her dignity. A felt sense of being overpowered is the root of all anger.

~ Kate Cohen-Posey, MS LMHC LMFT

Remember to send verbatim Cruel Comments to me at
kateposey45@gmail.com
and I will post them here with suggested Cool Comebacks!

 

For more information, please check out my books listed on this site: HOW TO HANDLE BULLIES TEASERS AND OTHER MEANIES; MAKING HOSTILE WORDS HARMLESS, and EMPOWERING DIALOGUES WITHIN (for the bullies in your brain).

Reversing Long Term Effects

Many people are not aware that the source of their current problem is the long-term effects from bullying. Eby is a perfect example. She came to counseling because of panic attacks that were often triggered in social situations and she worried constantly about what people might think about her. She had a particularly bad time recently when her mother-in-law insisted on seeing her grand children. This woman had told Edy in the past that she did not like her and that she wasn’t good enough for her son.

When Eby recalled the recent visit, the thoughts she had about herself were, I’m trapped and, No one cares about my feelings. But her turmoil went deeper. An inner voice was telling her she was unlikable and that she deserved to be judged. Eby was asked when this “inner bully” might have set up housekeeping in her mind. The logical assumption was during a difficult marriage to her first husband who physically abused her, but further probing led to a memory of being bullied on the bus. Three girls taunted her non-stop for the entire ride back and forth to school every day. She was told she was stupid, ugly and wore rotten clothes. They threatened to beat her up if they ran into her away from school. How did Eby respond? She sat in her seat passively looking out the bus window, enduring every word. Her inner bully now told her that those girls must have been right.

Inner bullies can goad non-stop with ruthless monologues, but they cannot run away. When Eby silently asked this picky part of her why the other kids on the bus or in school didn’t call her names, it was silent and the power shifted. I suggested she ask the inner bully if it wanted her to believe these school bus terrorists to keep her from getting angry and to avoid putting herself in danger. There was immediate agreement within. Eby could now think about the being bullied on the bus with zero distress. But the incident that caused the breach between her and her husband’s family produced visible angst.

It’s Never Too Late for a Cool Comeback

Eby’s husband and family were planning a visit to relatives up north. A non-refundable plane ticket had been purchased for her husband. Eby said, unfortunately, he could not go because she was about to give birth to her third child and have her tubes tied. Her husband would need to be at home to help with his newborn and the older children while she was recovering from surgery. She was promptly told she was a whiny controlling *itch who couldn’t even wipe her own bottom. Eby had two conflicting thoughts: (1) I was in the right for wanting my husband to be home, and (2) There must be something wrong with me because people are again calling me names. The disturbing scenario was replayed with Eby in the role of her sister-in-law (SIL) and the counselor portraying Eby:

SIL: You’re a whiny controlling *itch who can’t even wipe your own you-know-what!

Eby1: You’re a really tight family, so, of course, you’re disappointed that … your brother needs to be here with his kids.

SIL: He does NOT need to be here with you! You’re just a helpless female who cannot manage on her own.

Eby1: It would be wonderful if I were one of those pre-historic women who could deliver her own child in a field while her husband was off hunting the woolly mammoth and then find herbs to prevent future births. It’s a shame what modern medicine does to people.

Eby beamed at this re-write of the event and pulled off a stunning performance of her new persona. She was eager and confident to learn to handle her challenging in-laws. For those who want a more thorough explanation of how cool comebacks work, the following is offered.

EXPLAINATION: Eby’s first response actively listens and names (vulnerable) feelings of disappointment that underly her sister-in-law’s display of anger. In addition, she validates that these feelings are to be expected in a “tight family.” The hidden suggestion that her husband needs to be with his kids is slightly provocative. The next salvo is handled by acting-as-if-it’s-all-good. A comedic fantasy is created to agree with the charge that Eby is a helpless female.

Earlier in the session, cool comebacks were also used with Eby’s inner bully. Her picky part was asked a question that created silent confusion: If the school bus terrorists are right, why don’t the other kids call Eby names. The next question used sympathy to change the picky part from a bully to a misguided helper: Did you want Eby to believe she was ugly and stupid to keep her from getting angry and to avoid putting her at the mercy of violent threats. Whether dealing with bullies in the brain or street thugs, the AAAH steps are used:

  1. Act-as-if- it’s-all-good—admit, agree, compliment, gratitude.
  2. Asks questions—curious or hidden.
  3. Actively listen—rephrase, name feelings or behavior, sympathizing, validate.
  4. Hide suggestions—truism, false choice, underlying assumptions, reverse psychology, power words, random or unclear responses. Hidden suggestions are set off by ellipses and underscored.

Eby can use all the support she can get and would love to hear from others who are dealing with difficult in-laws.

~ Kate Cohen-Posey, MS LMHC LMFT

Remember to send verbatim Cruel Comments to me at
kateposey45@gmail.com
and I will post them here with suggested Cool Comebacks!

For more information, please check out my books listed on this site: HOW TO HANDLE BULLIES TEASERS AND OTHER MEANIES; MAKING HOSTILE WORDS HARMLESS, and EMPOWERING DIALOGUES WITHIN (for the bullies in your brain).

Beware of Faux Questions

I want to thank Debby for a classic, one line zap designed to trigger defensiveness by imbedding criticism into a question:

What is wrong with YOU that you would….?!

Don’t fall prey to this. Being defensive and offering explanations will weaken you. Only answer questions that show a genuine desire to understand your views or actions. Many difficult people make the mistake of being critical and asking a question at the same time. The question always gets lost in the verbal volley that is triggered. Several examples of ways to coolly counteract (CC) these faux questions are offered below with (AAAH) EXPLANATIONS of what makes the responses effective:

  1. Act-as-if- it’s-all-good—admit, agree, compliment, gratitude.
  2. Asks questions—curious or hidden.
  3. Actively listens—rephrase, name feelings or behavior, sympathizing, validate.
  4. Hide suggestions—truism, false choice, underlying assumptions, reverse psychology, power words, random or unclear responses. Hidden suggestions are set off by ellipses and underscored.

Example #1:

CC1: So are you trying to say I’m defective or do you really… want to understand why I …?

Bully: Of course I want to understand!

CC2: Are you sure… you truly want to know my reasons for ….

EXPLANATION: The first CC asks a question that highlights the attempt to offend and offers a choice to admit that the bully’s aim is to insult or to actually make an effort to understand. It should be made with a tone of sincere curiosity. Even difficult people will take the high road, rather than owning up to being blatantly nasty. This multiple choice questions also hides the suggestion to want to understand. The power word, try, is used to imply that the attempt to point out flaws isn’t working.

If the bully’s tone of voice still sounds angry, a second question is posed to build impatience and focus attention. This creates an opportunity to hide another suggestion to understand and gives the person time to switch gears from debate to dialogue.

Example #2:

CC: Aw…You sound so frustrated, but thanks for … wanting to understand why I….

EXPLANATION: This CC actively listens by naming the person’s feeling. This type of empathy focuses on the vulnerable feeling underlying the more reactive anger. But is a power word that discounts everything that came before it and creates yet another opportunity to hide a suggestion to understand.

Example #3:

CC: Could you please be just a tad more harsh.

EXPLANATION: Reverse psychology in this CC politely encourages bullies to continue undesirable behavior, which puts the target in a no-lose position: bullies either cease uninvited behavior or the person’s true request is granted. Active listening puts the spotlight on the bully’s harsh tone, increasing self awareness, rather than focusing on others.

~ ~ ~

The cruel comment, What is wrong with YOU? is often made by family and spouses. Sincere questions, empathy, and light-hearted reverse psychology are the ticket with the intimate insults.

For more information, please check out my books listed on this site: HOW TO HANDLE BULLIES TEASERS AND OTHER MEANIES; MAKING HOSTILE WORDS HARMLESS, and EMPOWERING DIALOGUES WITHIN (for the bullies in your brain).

“Homo”to Mo Jo: Confidence That’s Contagious

Thanks to Larry for your for your cross-cultural story of the most common cruel comment in modern times in your comment to the last “Cool Comebacks” post.  It shows how quickly verbal taunts can ignite physical violence.  Often people think the only way to stand their ground in their neighborhood or culture is some form of brutality. I’ll offer several examples of cool comebacks (CC) that empower without punching and bloody noses.

EXPLANATIONS will immediately follow each comeback describing which of the  four (AAAH) responses have been used:

  1. Acting-as-if- it’s-all-good—admit, agree, compliment, gratitude.
  2. Asking questions—curious  or hidden.
  3. Active listening—rephrase, name feelings or behavior, sympathizing, validate.
  4. Hidden suggestions—truism, false choice, underlying assumptions, reverse psychology, power words, random or unclear responses.  Hidden suggestions are set off by ellipses and underscored.

Example #1:

Bully:  Homo!

CC1:  Did you say I have mo jo?  Thanks!

Bully:  Oh no I didn’t!

CC2:  Well, be careful you don’t let any of yours rub off on me.

EXPLAINATION:  The first CC acts-as-if by misunderstanding the insult as a compliment and expressing gratitude before the question can be answered.  The urban dictionary defines “mo jo” as self confidence and self assurance.  Bullies don’t usually persist in the face of a cool comeback, but just in case bashing continues, a follow-up is given.  The second CC also acts-as-if by complimenting the bully and plants a hidden suggestion that if the bully persists, something good will happen to his target, which is reverse psychology.

Example #2:

Bully:  Homo!

CC1:  You must be on Macho Patrol….I’m not surprised.

Bully:  What do you mean [menacing tone]?????

CC2:  No one would want to mess with you.

EXPLAINATION:  The first CC acts-as-if by complimenting the bully with the word “Macho” and then makes an unclear comment (I’m not surprised) that would make most people want to back off.    But if the bully persisted, a compliment is used that the bully would not dare to refute.

Example #3:

Bully:  Fairy!

CC:  You should keep worrying about who’s who in fairyland until you know …there’s nothing to fear.

EXPLAINATION:

  1. Active listening is used to re-name the taunting behavior as worrying.
  2. Reverse psychology encourages continued “worrying,” giving the bully a choice to continue what he’s doing or to refuse to comply by stopping the taunting.
  3. A hidden suggestion is planted that there’s nothing to fear.

Example #4:

Bully:  You gay-fer [the more modern version of this oppressive remark].

CC:  Thank goodness you’re still on gay-watch. I thought… people don’t bother with that anymore.

EXPLAINATION:  The word “gay-watch” is a play on Baywatch (the very successful, very heterosexual TV series), making it a hypnotic power word that focuses attention on the hidden suggestion that follows and confuses the issue.  Next, a hidden suggestion implies that it is out-of-date to worry about sexual orientation.

±    ±    ±

If you have found these examples of cool comebacks funny or confusing—good! Humor uses unexpected responses to derail aggression.  Confusion creates a mild trance state that makes people receptive to change.  Anyone is welcome to plagiarize these cool comebacks for personal use, and, undoubtedly, there are many more people, straight and gay, who have experienced various types of bashing.  Cool comebacks are limitless.

For more information, please check out my books listed on this site:  HOW TO HANDLE BULLIES TEASERS AND OTHER MEANIESMAKING HOSTILE WORDS HARMLESS, and EMPOWERING DIALOGUES WITHIN (for the bullies in your brain).

~ Kate Cohen-Posey, MS LMHC LMFT

Remember to send verbatim “Cruel Comments” to me at
kateposey45@gmail.com
and I will post them here with suggested “Cool Comebacks!”

Cool Comebacks – Introduction

One of the best ways to recover from childhood bullying is to disarm and charm difficult people in your adult life.  I accidentally discovered these skills as a teen.  Years later I became a counselor and led groups for teens.  The favorite topic was everyday insults that were inescapable.  I began to codify a set of strategies to melt meanness and in 1995 published a children’s book:  How to Handle Bullies, Teasers, and Other Meanies (Rainbow Books, Inc.).

As I continued to counsel, I found that adults needed these skills as much as young people in dealing with spouses, in-laws, co-workers, and their very own children. John Wiley & Sons published my second book, Making Hostile Words Harmless, in 2008.  Gradually, I began to realize that it is not enough to know how to deal with the bully on the street because we all have bullies in our very own brains.  John Wiley & Sons published a third book, also in 2008, Empowering Dialogues Within that explains a method for turning inner discord into dialogue.  My approach to counseling is unique because it is “bully based.” I have been in practice in central Florida since 1973.

I’ve given many presentations that fall under the title “Dealing with People Who Are a Pain and the Bullies in Your Brain.”  I think this website and a blog is the perfect venue for sharing our challenges and successes with the verbal arts.  To begin, I offer the DON’Ts and Dos of Cool Comebacks:

Don’t:  Attack back, defend yourself, withdraw (ignore remarks), or use “I-messages.”

The common advice to disregard name calling does not work.  Bullies are determined to provoke a reaction. Ignoring them, just makes them more persistent.  Being assertive is also commonly recommended, but bullies take statements like, “I don’t like it when you talk like that,” or “I want you to stop,” as a dare to do more.  In fact, instead of making I-statements, cool comebacks place the spotlight on the other person with the word, you.

Do: Act as if it’s all good, Ask questions, Actively listen, and make Hidden suggestions.

These responses spell the acronym AAAH, which breathes light and life into cruel moments.

More specifically these responses include:

 

  • Acting as if it’s all good—admit, agree, compliment, show gratitude (Thank you for…)
  • Asking questions—curious questions, hidden questions (I wonder why…)
  • Active listening—rephrase (Are you saying…), name feelings or behavior (blaming, accusations, threats, etc.), sympathize, validate (It makes sense that you…)
  • Hidden suggestions—truism (You can…), false choice (Do you want to … or …), Underlying assumptions (When will you be able to…), reverse psychology (It’s good for  you to keep… because….), power words (try, dare, but), random responses

You are invited to send in:

  1. Cruel comments that have hurt you or your child. You are promised to receive a Cool Comeback with an explanation of what makes it disarming.  Remember, bullies can be bosses, spouses, in-laws, parents, “friends,” and even your own children.
  2. Disarming responses you have made in the face of cruelty and how suggestions from this blog have worked for you.  You will receive feedback on what you did that worked.
  3. Messages you hear from inner bullies like, I’m disgusting, People don’t like me, People want to hurt me, I’m not as good as…, and so on.  You will be given suggestions on how to dialogue with these “voices.”
  4. Questions about disarming responses.

Be sure to include the ages of participants, a brief description of the setting, and actual remarks that were made.  Cool Comebacks can be some of the most empowering moments in your life.  We’ll start with one of my stories as an example of what you can send.

SEISMIC POWER SHIFT

I remember a car ride when I was in my late 30s with my father and my husband. It had been more than 20 years since I lived in the town where I grew up, but I came home to visit twice a year. My father asked me if I knew the origin of the name of the street on which we were driving—Glebe Road. He was quite the history buff. I said, “I don’t know,” and then looked forward to what I thought would be interesting trivia. Instead I got blasted:

Dad: I can’t believe you lived here all your life and you never learned how this street got its name!
What is wrong with you…How could you be so stupid.


Me: Well Dad, are you disappointed in me or my education?


Dad: (total silence)

Thirty-five years of being yelled at for girlish giggling, coming home 5 minutes late, talking on the phone too long, and other trifling matters were reversed that day. In a ten-word sentence I named what he was feeling (disappointed) and gave him a multiple choice question (me or my education) that poised him to look at himself. My father had never been at a loss for words. I knew there had been a seismic power shift. He later told me that Glebe meant “old church road,” but I had gained far more by not knowing the answer and learning that I could turn my “ignorance” into an advantage. So that’s an example, now your turn. Send your cruel comments to me at kateposey45@gmail.com and I will put them up with my responses for you and the rest of our community to see and learn from.

For more information, please check out my books listed on this site:  HOW TO HANDLE BULLIES TEASERS AND OTHER MEANIES; MAKING HOSTILE WORDS HARMLESS, and EMPOWERING DIALOGUES WITHIN (for the bullies in your brain).

~ Kate Cohen-Posey, MS LMHC LMFT

Remember to send Your “Cruel Comments” to me at
kateposey45@gmail.com
and I will post them here with my “Cool Comebacks”!

Cool Comebacks to Cruel Comments

Kate Cohen-PoseyComing soon to the Bullying Stories website is a new section called “Cool Comebacks to Cruel Comments” hosted by Kate Cohen-Posey, MS, a licensed Mental Health Counselor and Family Therapist.

Kate has written several best-selling books as well, including Empowering Dialogues Within, Making hostile Words Harmless, Brief Therapy Client Handouts, and  How to Handle Bullies Teasers, and Other Meanies

You will be able to access this section at the top of the page under the new “Cool Comebacks” menu link. Kate will be a new contributor to this site and bring her unique insight as an expert in the field to help offer advise and support to readers of this site. I am happy to welcome Kate Cohen-Posey to this site where I know she will offer her professional perspective to the issues of bullying in our communities.