Any word, or group of words, not just the obvious insults, can be bullying words. Words and tone of voice are the first weapons in a bully’s arsenal. Menacing tone, menacing words, menacing body language, menacing behavior. These are the basic, but by no means the exclusive elements of bullying. The first three may be non-physical, but they are not without impact. Bully words include terms like “loser,” “slut,” “fatso,” “nerd,” “freak,” “jerk,” to provide a few mild examples. If these bullying words are said with aforementioned menacing tone and body language, they can have dramatically negative effects.
Psychiatry, psychology, and mental health have become important parts of our world in the 20th century. Since their advent, it has become understood that the old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is not true. The right words, delivered in the right way at the right time, can lead to healing or, in the case of bullying, horrific results. There have even been instances of attempted suicide, and completed suicides, resulting from bullying.
Cherokee Billie said, “Never underestimate how your words can shift the atmosphere, change an environment, and inspire a heart. Words do create worlds. Speak well.” Some people, though, do not speak well. They use bully words and diminish another person, often without even pausing to consider the possible long-term results of their utterances.
Bullying is not just about using bully words, or making unkind or vicious remarks on a social networking site in cyberspace. Bullying is a matter of intent. Bullying can be compared in some ways to rape; it’s about power and dominance, not human interaction. Ironically, both the person being bullied and the person doing the bullying are trying to get the same needs met, those of safety, individuality, and self-determination.
No federal laws specific to bullying yet exist. However, the First Amenment, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, and laws pertaining to an individual’s right to equal protection have been cited in cases of harrassment.
When someone, especially a young person, is being bullied, it’s easy for them to feel as if they were being pulled into a never-ending downward spiral. At best, the young person feels stuck in one place, seeing no way out of the predicament. What may not be considered is that the person doing the bullying feels equally as stuck, seeing himself or herself as unable to back down or disengage from the confrontation without losing the regard of those around him/her.
A third party, someone outside the bully-bullied dynamic, can change the situation without losing face. Addressing bullying involves approaching the situation from a minimum of three perspectives: 1) the bully, 2) the one being bullied, and 3) whoever intervenes between the person being bullied and the person doing the bullying.
All three factions involved in a bullying situation need to have access to a safe person to talk with. This safe person needs to have good listening skills, be trusted to maintain confidentiality, and be considered safe by the person talking to him or her. A counselor or therapist fulfills the first two criteria in any case. A person who is dealing with a bully, however, must know that all three criteria are being met. Being perceived as trustworthy doesn’t necessarily come with the counseling or therapy license.
1. Points to keep in mind about bullies:
a. They are often being bullied in another part of their lives, usually at home
b. They have needs for self-esteem and encouragement that are not being met
c. They don’t have much self-confidence. Bluster, yes, but there is no substance in the long run
d. They have no or inadequate human relations skills. Chances are good they’ve never been taught how to interact in a healthy way with other living things, including animals.
2. Bullies love an audience only when the audience is made up of their admirers, who are usually even weaker than the bully. Without that admiring audience, the bully loses a great deal of power.
3. Going a step further, if bullies are removed from the presence of the one they’re bullying, even isolated from those whose approval they seek, they often de-escalate quickly. Without a cheering section, they have no one to perform for and their bluster and posturing decreases.
Helping the one being bullied
If you are the target of bullying, try the following:
1. Do not go anywhere or do anything alone. At least, not at school. There is strength in numbers. Bullying is far less likely to happen if you are not alone. This can be another young person with whom you are having a meaningful interaction, or an adult.
2. Do not get sucked into exchanging nastiness with anyone you feel bullied by. If you can learn not to take personally anything a bully says, you keep your power. What they say and do is about them, not you. Keep in mind, it must feel awful to feel the need to be a bully.
3. Learn to become more confident in yourself and your abilities. Bullies pick on those who show fear, not the ones who look like they know what they’re doing. Enroll in a martial arts class, take a self-defense course, get involved with an activity, participate in something that increases your confidence in yourself. Self-defense instructors teach, if it feels wrong, it is wrong, so don’t go there. Prevention is a huge part of staying safe.
4. There are groups specific to bullying situations that support both the bullied and bullies, although not in the same group. Find and join one that suits your needs. If nothing else, you will learn you are not alone.
1. Separate the bully and the one being bullied as quickly as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a physical incident to resolve. Putting distance between the two ends the immediate conflict and reduces the chance that someone will be physically hurt.
2. Direct both the bully and the bullied to their respective safe person. After an altercation is a good time to process feelings and motivations behind actions – on both sides.
3. Touch base with someone who is not involved with the situation in any way. It can be as simple as an exchanged glance and head-nod, as complex as a therapy session, or anything in between. Those who intervene need to be supported, too.
In this situation, the safe person serves both the same and different purposes for the three types of people involved:
1. For the bully, the safe person helps with the de-escalation process, makes the bully aware of the inappropriateness of his or her behavior, and suggests ways the situation can be handled differently.
2. For the bullied, the safe person verifies their safety, expresses confidence in the person’s ability to deal with the situation in the future, and makes certain the bullied is not in a situation where he/she can be immediately bullied again.
3. For the one intervening, a safe person can help with debriefing, remind of any documenting that needs to be done, and provide a positive perspective. If asked, the safe person can help come up with additional ways to address a bullying situation.
Dealing with bullying cannot be effectively accomplished unless the person being bullied and the person intervening take action. All the insight on why someone is being bullied is useless without someone taking action on that insight.
Any bully conflict must reach a point where education happens. Everyone must learn what is really going on in a particular dynamic. The visible behavior is only the tip of the iceberg. In a more general sense, learning about the psychology underlying the bullying behavior benefits everyone. Addressing individual specific issues helps both bully and bullied to learn more appropriate behavior and get at the root of the problem, instead of simply trying to modify symptoms.
Ideally, this is where a counselor or therapist would become part of the team. For this to be successful, though, all parties would have to agree. People are more willing these days to trust and avail themselves of counselors and therapists to help with shorter-term problems. If the bullied and bully can acknowledge each others’ strengths, then they can reach at least a cessation of hostilities.