A thoughtful piece for Sunday.
As someone who was bullied growing up, there are a few things I’ve learned about it (there is no expert like one who’s experienced it herself). No, I’m not experienced in psychology—Psych 101 is the closest I’ve come to it—but there are things I’ve come to know as true about being bullied.
First of all, all those platitudes are bull. I mean the ones the teacher/guidance counselor fills your head with after pulling you out of the middle of class. They include such gems as: “Ignore them and they’ll go away,” “They’re only doing it because you’re reacting,” “If you tried reaching out to them, I bet they’d stop,” and my all-time favorite “Words won’t hurt you.”
Um, no. They do hurt. And no, I can’t change how I feel about them, only how I react. But it’s no fair telling an emotional eleven year old to ignore the people yelling names at her. If you really want to stop bullying, you don’t do it by talking to the victim. They’ve done nothing wrong! Confronting them about it (okay, confronting me about it) only makes them feel like they have. And if they don’t like being called names or pushed around, it’s no fair telling them to feel differently.
The second thing I’ve learned about being bullied is: all those kids’ shows where the main character stands up to a bully and suddenly, everything is okay? Also bull. I remember a show where a character tells her bully that she only does it “to feel good about herself” and that she’s the loser. And everyone in the freaking school hears what the MC is saying and stands behind her, including the bully’s friends.
Tried that. Blew up in my face. Because the bully still knew how to push my buttons and still did it with gusto. I didn’t make her suddenly realize the error of her ways. Nor did the people around rally behind me. They just joined in on the taunts.
The absolute worst thing about bullying is that the victim has no power. He or she can’t get the bully to stop, and they can’t stop feeling like crap when someone yells a name at them.
A victim can’t change a bully. The only people who can change a bully are those not involved—the people who aren’t powerless.