The headline above could not be more true. At least one in three adolescent students have been bullied in Canada recently (www.bullyingcanada.ca). Whether it be physical, online or verbal, bullying can have a profound impact on the victim, ranging from mild insecurity to, in some cases, suicide. During my college years, I was part of an outpatient program for anorexia. While there, I heard from countless women who had been told they were ugly or fat when they were little which was for many the starting point of their eating disorder. Decades later they were still haunted by and trying to silence the echo of those words through starvation. Words hurt. In fact they cut so deep, that many cannot recover from the sting of their poison.
In order to help most effectively, we must understand the “why” behind the behaviour in the first place. The bully learned the behaviour somewhere and is lashing out as a result of their own pain. The shame they feel, they want to put onto others in order to feel better about themselves. Perhaps they feel a lost sense of control from abuse and want to regain that power by demeaning or dominating others. In many of the seminars I offer on resilience and PTSD I often talk about the analogy of an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is simply the outward manifestation pointing to a deeper issue lying beneath the surface. We cannot simply judge and correct the behaviour, we must go to the root.
Supporting the victim is comfortable for most however many of us don’t know how to deal with the bully. Here are a few thoughts worth considering:
1 – Be calm but firm (yelling is probably familiar to them and will only trigger them to shut down or fight back).
2 – Treat them with respect (they are a wounded human).
3 – Try to build trust and connection.
4 – Listen and find out what’s going on with them.
5 – They are not their behaviour (be hard on their actions, not the person).
6 – Affirm their strength and qualities and remind that they are meant to lead others not bring them down.
7 – Let them determine how they can make things right (so they feel in control and empowered to make right choices).
8 – Love. They are likely deficient in that area and you may be the only source of love in their life.
9 – Don’t underestimate your influence in their life. You may be the only person who listens and treats them with respect and love. That is how we make the world a better place… by loving the person in front of us.