There’s a new day for awareness in Canada, around the problem of bullying. Today, on Feb. 27th people are encouraged to wear pink to voice their awareness of the problem of bullying.Â Most of us have some personal experience with bullying. In childhood those examples and memories of bullies and their actions are probably clear and obvious. Many of us are also aware of bullies and bullying in our adult lives.
I grew up being the target of bullying throughout my childhood. I was one of the kids that didn’t fit in, I never ended up in any clique or group, I was always an individual. I had friends, but I never belonged to any ‘group’. I would always have one or two close friends, but I just didn’t fit in to any of the little boxes.Â I have a lot of memories of being bullied. I have memories of times where I was unbelievably terrorized. There was definitely more trauma than drama involved in these situations. I remember as a child having anxiety and depression issues, which were definitely in part contributed to by dealing with daily bullying in school. I remember being physically ill because of the fear involved. Bullying impacted me in many ways. It affected what classes I took, it affected what grades I got, it affected me physically, mentally and emotionally.
I was lucky that I had some loving and caring people in my life that helped me to feel special, loved, and important. That regardless of the bullying, I managed to survive with my self esteem intact. Like most teenage girls, I had struggles with self esteem, particularly in the face of bullying. But I also had support and love from people that helped me keep my head above those hostile waters.
I’m taking the day to reflect on bullying, not so much on my experiences in the past though, but more on the present and the future.
The reality is bullying exists in many different forms, and in adult arenas as well as those of childhood and adolescence. I have witnessed acts of bullying in my social circles as an adult. I have watched people use behavior that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates others. Often, out of my own fear of becoming a target of the bully, I have remained silent.Â I still struggle with what if any action to take in regards to the adult bullying I witness.
The Canada Safety Council defines adult bullying as a â€œgrab for control by an insecure, inadequate person, an exercise of power through the humiliation of the target.â€ It usually involves humiliation or abusive words that lower a personâ€™s self-esteem. It can take the form of rude, degrading or offensive remarks; intimidating gestures; or discrediting a person by spreading rumours, ridiculing them or calling into question their convictions and private life.
Bullies typically act out of feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. The bully through their negative actions is trying to grab control and power through bringing others down. I used to have only fear and anger towards these individuals, but that was when I was a child. As an adult, I have a great deal of compassion and concern for these bullies, even though their actions are reprehensible, I’m aware that they are coming from a place of deep hurt themselves. I long for solutions where I can protect those being bullied but do so in a way that ‘diffuses’ the bully rather than moving against them in such a way that will only cause them to continue or even escalate their behavior.Â
Simply retaliating or reacting towards a bully out of anger is clearly not a solution. It may be helpful to understand that bullying is learned behaviour. As children, bullies were likely not taught good communication skills particularly around how to communicate their needs, wants and goals in a healthy positive fashion. They likely observed their parentsâ€™ bullylike interactions with others or even were bullied by their own parents, and learned to mimic the behaviour. They are like wounded animals that lash out wildly at any creature they perceive as weaker than them.Â Wounding them further, will not solve the problem.
In adulthood bullies are most likely to pick on those who cooperate well and who generally have a non-confrontative interpersonal style. The bully will often focus on those who have capabilities they view as a threat, and try to cut them down.Â Adult bullies, like their schoolyard counterparts, are usually deeply insecure people with questionable social skills and little empathy for others. They turn this insecurity outwards, and feel real psychological satisfaction in their ability to attack and hurt the the people around them whom they feel to be a threat. Intimidation from these bullies is driven by their need to control others.
So what do we do about adult bullies and bullying? Good question, and I don’t think there is one right solution for everyone or every situation.
Sometimes confronting the bully in a calm fashion can diffuse the situation, asserting yourself and outlying your concerns while being able to give specific examples of what behaviour you feel is inappropriate may be enough to dissuade them from continuing to bully you. Often though, unfortunately it does not, or they may perceive you as too ‘difficult’ a target and simply choose to target someone else.
Ultimately, it is both the person being bullied and the bully, that needs support and resources. Unless the bully takes responsibility for their behavior and realizes they have issues around communication and interpersonal relationships and actively seeks out help to learn new interpersonal skills, they are unlikely to change.
My advice to those being bullied, is if a calm respectful confrontation of the bullies behavior does not work, is to simply distance yourself as much as possible from the bully. If the bullying is severe, and you can collect evidence and record events you may have a legal case if you feel it necessary to protect yourself from further action.Â Whether to engage legal support and take a bully on, or to walk away, after attempting to work it out with the bully doesn’t work, is something that would have to be assessed by the person in that situation.Â Sometimes social pressure can also be effective in curbing a bullies behavior in a community. The important thing is not to turn into a bully yourself in dealing with these situations.
The persons ideally that need to make the changes, are the bullies. They need to become aware that their behavior is unproductive. That they may get a short term sense of satisfaction through their bullying actions, but in the long term they are dealing with insecurity, and hurt of their own, that is only leading constant interpersonal struggle.
Are you a bully? Do you feel intimidated and insecure about others at times, and if you do, do you typically react by trying to ‘take them down’? Do you have a history of interpersonal conflicts? If you’re always having relationship problems you need to be aware that one of the common factors in all of them is you, and somehow you must be contributing to that conflict.Â You have a choice. You can choose new behaviours. However you may or may not be able to stop bullying on your own, it may take the help of a counselor or therapist to help you learn new behaviors and ways of communicating to replace the old ones.
Ultimately the only way to stop feeling intimidated and insecure towards others is not to bring them down, but to raise yourself up. When you feel insecure that is the moment that you can make the choice, to show yourself and others love, support, and to empower yourself in a legitimate fashion that will have long lasting positive results for you and others.Â Reacting to insecurity, fear, etc, by lashing out and trying to hurt another and bring them down won’t raise you up. Bullying may give you a temporary feeling of power, but in the big picture it just serves to bring you lower you down and continue that cycle of feeling insecure.
So do something today, and tomorrow, about bullying. Look around you and become more aware of bullying behavior around you. Is it happening to you? Is it happening to others in your community? Do you know a bully? Are you a bully? Likely it’s impacting you or someone you know right now in your life.Â Is there a simple solution to deal with the situation? No. But awareness is the first step. There are a few second steps you can take, I encourage you no matter which step or steps you choose, you choose to walk them with compassion.
‘Live in Love’