*Recently edited from my original*
A few years ago there was a school shooting, and an 11 year old boy called into a radio show to bravely express his thoughts, feelings, and experiences with bullying. After this, I felt compelled to write an article, so here goes.
I debated in writing this at all due to my own past with the bullying I suffered as a child and adolescent myself. But, I’m hoping that this might just help someone. Even just one person.
I think we all know what bullying is, but I believe that we tend to end up with 2 basic questions about it.
1. Why does anyone bully at all anyway?
I’ll do my best to keep this short, but it can be a rather complicated answer, so I’ll try to hit the highlights. In general, many bullies have been hurt by others(adults usually), and take their anger, aggression, and jealousy out on others. It’s not an excuse by any means, but as I always say, hurt people, hurt people.
In some cases, the bully feels better when they bully because the person being bullied feels worse than they do. This is often a result of issues at home. Now, many folks might think I’m implying abuse or something, but that isn’t the case at all. I’ve treated several bullies who come from rather nice, normal parents, although abuse can certainly contribute to the problems. A young bully may have felt invalidated in some way at home, or perceives that they’ve been invalidated. So often times bullying is simply a mean, wrong, and twisted way of making themselves feel better.
Onto question #2
2. What do I do if I’ve been bullied?
This one is hard. It’s hard for me because truly, if I got bullied, or someone tries bullying me now, I want to hurt them in some way. And no, I’m not speaking emotionally or metaphorically. I mean physically. I don’t have difficulty with self control and keeping myself from actions of physical violence or anything like that, as I have grown enough to be able to deal with adult bullying in better, safer, and more productive ways. But what do you do when a person or group of people bully you constantly?
There was a time in my life when I had some rather disturbing thoughts about what to do with bullies. I’m blessed because I didn’t do anything too extreme. I have, though, learned a bit from my experiences, and that mixed with my education and experience in the mental health field, I think, lends to some suggestions for you now. The suggestions below are not perfect, and realize that if you do one or all of them, the situation you are in won’t magically be better.
- First, realize that you can’t control this person, and that the person bullying you probably has worse problems than you.
- Tell someone. Preferably a trustworthy adult(if you’re a school age person) who can help. Confide in your friends. Tell teachers and principals if the bully is at school.
- Gather your friends. Sometimes what we call a show of force is necessary. This is still a non-violent option. But I can tell you that if it’s just one person bullying you, and you have at least 4 or more people at your side telling this bully that they can’t do this anymore, they sometimes back down. At least for the moment.
- Try to talk to them. I’m putting this one in here knowing that at least in my personal experience I haven’t had a lot of success with this(and I’m actually pretty good at talking with people), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You might be able to convince them to leave you alone.
- Do your best to not be afraid. Look, I get it. If a particular bully is in fact getting physical with you and you are actually getting some physical discomfort or injury from this bully, you might start developing some fear. But, bullies are wanting that fear reaction. They often thrive on it. Don’t give them what they want.
- Group discussions/therapy. I know that this one probably sounds really far fetched, but I have had pretty good success with bullies of all ages in my office, and showing them how exactly their behaviors make others feel, while educating them on why they’re doing what their doing. Again, many of these bullies are expressing pain that they have(albeit in a bad way).
Lastly, I do want to address something I have spoken about with teens and adults in several groups in the past: Resorting to some sort of physical act, violent or otherwise.
It was said to me some time ago that “if you fight back against the bully and win, they leave you alone and you get the respect of the bully and your peers. It’s worth getting expelled.”
As I have already typed, I have a bit of a bias in this area. I was bullied nearly every month of every year I was in grades 1-12 in this country. The amount of white hot rage and cold hatred I developed for bullies was enormous, and I still get upset when others are bullied, and I freely admit that I sometimes think that bully needs to be thumped. But, we can’t do that.
There used to be a show on tv called bully beatdown. The host, a mixed martial arts fighter, who himself was bullied, hosts the show and interviews the bullied, and the bullies. The bullies are offered a chance to win $10,000 if they can withstand two, five minute rounds in the ring with a seasoned mixed martial arts fighter. If the bully loses, the bullied get the money, and the pleasure of watching their bully get the crap beat out of them. I admit that there’s a part of me that likes it.
That being said, a physical act or a violent physical act should be a last resort. Only if you are truly in danger, or someone else is in danger, should you do this. Young people especially need to heed my warning.
Take my word for it. Hurting others won’t make you feel better. Additionally, we don’t live in a society where we can have a civilized version of “an eye for an eye.” If you assault someone, you run the risk of not only getting expelled(students), but arrested(anyone of any age). You also have no idea about that person’s health status, and most people don’t have enough fine motor control to know what they’re doing anyway. If you’re going to use some sort of physical act, you need some training. Preferably non-violent training. Skills and techniques where you can deflect, evade, and restrain someone, IN A SAFE MANNER.
In the end, focus on being able to not lay a hand on that bully. No matter what happens. You’ll be a better person for it. Trust me.