I distinctly remember the day the bullying began – and the day the bullying finally stopped. My first bully was (ironically) my friend’s older sister when I was in elementary school. Why she honed in on me, I’ll never know, but I remember her making fun of my hot pink high-top Converse sneakers as we walked home from school one day. From there on out, she constantly threatened to beat me up.
The next round came when we moved from the city to the burbs, where it was painfully obvious that I didn’t belong. Several girls and one older boy picked up on my awkwardness and tormented me up until about the 9th grade. Up until then, I hadn’t told a soul about the bullying. I was too embarrassed and was falling into a deep depression. I kept my head down and never said a word as they relentlessly verbally and physically abused me.
Until I had enough. I remember it clearly. I was in math class and someone walked in to my class and delivered a note to me. (We didn’t have texting back then…) The note read, “Meet me at the bus stop tomorrow – I’m going to kick your ass.” Maybe it was the karate lessons I had been taking, maybe I was starting to grow a pair, or maybe I had just reached my threshold. All I know is that the next words out of my mouth were, “Bring it on.”
I showed up at the bus stop the next morning and anticipated the main event, which had played over and over in my mind the night before. I imagined the sweet victory of slugging her, and I imagined the pain of getting the snot kicked out of me. Either way, I was ready. So I waited. And waited. And…..waited. I learned that day that a very interesting thing happens when you stand up to a bully. They back down. Word must have gotten around because from the day on, no one pushed me, grabbed me, screamed at me, threw my books down the hall, called me names, or threatened me again. Oh yeah, and the result of that fight? I won. Not with my fists, however, with my confidence. That big scary “mean girl” bully (who, incidentally, used to beat up boys) not only didn’t show up, but also never looked me in the eyes again.
Bullying Through the Ages
Bullying is not new. But one thing I never had to deal with was bullying in the age of the Internet. These days, kids – and adults – have to deal with cyber bullying and Internet trolls. Unlike my archenemies, cyber bullies have the advantage of anonymity. They cowardly hide behind a screen and spew their hostility at those they perceive as weaker than them. And like in-person bullying, online harassment can have detrimental effects on victims.
Different Forms of Bullying
- Physical bullying is a form of abuse involving hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, etc.
- Verbal bullying is a type of abuse involving teasing, name-calling, making threats, saying hurtful things, etc.
- Social bullying uses humiliation, embarrassment, gossiping, spreading rumors, and excluding others to cause harm.
- Cyber bullying is a form of psychological abuse involving harassment, intimidation, humiliation, sabotage, or threats, delivered by means of electronic communication (email, text, social media, etc.). A “troll” is a person who uses the Internet to spread rumors, start arguments, and generally upset others by posting defamatory, hurtful, and often false statements.
The Effects of Bullying
Notice I use the word “abuse.” Regardless of the type, bullying is a form of abuse and can cause great harm – and trauma – to its victims. Bullying can have serious and lasting consequences. It shakes a person’s sense of safety and has been associated with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even suicide. In fact, we sometimes hear of children and teens who take their own live as a result of bullying. But even adults have fallen victim to the damaging effects of bullying. Not too long ago, a veterinarian who had vehemently fought against pet overpopulation, but who was also charged with performing euthanasia, made news for committing suicide after being cyber bullied to the point of desperation.
Why do Bullies Bully?
- Often unstable and mentally disturbed
- Low self-esteem
- Narcissistic, sadistic, psychopathic, or anti-social personality traits
- Jealous of, or perceive you as a threat
So What Can You Do?
- Ignore them if possible; bullies FEED off of others’ reactions. Engaging with them only gives them a sense of control and ego boost!
- If you need to respond, stand up for yourself in a boring and neutral way. Bullies are intimidated by assertive and confident people. Remember me waiting there at the bus stop? Small but mighty – dripping with newly found confidence and six years of pent up rage.
- Block bullies from social media accounts.
- Keep evidence, especially with cyber bullying.
- With cyber bullying, report abuse to your Internet provider or social media platform.
- Don’t be silent! Let others know, be it parents, teachers, friends, bosses, co-workers, or family members.
- If you ever feel threatened, contact law enforcement. Bullying is illegal in many states.
- Bullying hurts; counseling can help! Don’t keep your head down and remain silent like I did for too many years. Talking to a mental health professional can help you to develop assertiveness skills, manage symptoms of anxiety, anger, or depression, and improve your self-esteem. Most of all, therapy can give you a place to feel safe and supported, while providing hope and healing.
By Jennifer Blough, LPC