Sunday, April 10, 2011

Words Do Hurt

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.

Please remember.


  1. *Lengthy applause, complete with standing ovation*

    Been there and completely agree. Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will hurt forever.

    Maybe someday things will be different, but for now bullies are bullies and platitudes are pointless. We need a new tactic. I hope we find it someday.

  2. Bravo!

    I didn't have too much of a problem with this when I was growing up, though I was at least to start out rather shy and clumsy. I was also one of the bigger kids.

    The couple of occasions when it did happen to me, I fought back.

    The problem is, however, that they move onto someone else who won't fight back.

  3. There is a huge difference between girls who bully and boys who bully. Boys can be stopped by some of the advice given and as where the victim feels powerless - they aren't, ever, but it is hard to change that feeling. You are correct that talking to the victim does no where near as good as taking proper action against the victimizer (bully).
    Girl bullies and their impact is on another level from boys - it is far worse from what I am to understand and its effects last far longer.

  4. Yep, all true. Dangit.

    The victim needs another peer to speak up, but kids tend to be afraid of being the new target, so they stand by quietly. :( Not all kids, of course, but enough of them.

  5. This post made my heart ache because, unfortunately, everything you've said is true. Bullying is such a problem, and now with cyber bullying, many kids can't even escape it when they go home. Not sure we'll ever be able to eradicate this problem but you're right, it's the silent bystanders that have the power to change individual situations.

  6. Wonderful piece - and very true. Been there, etc...

  7. I'm glad you were willing to share your experiences - they really are the only way to change things.

    My son is 10 and part of the popular crowd. As far as I know, he doesn't bully (and I teach in the district, so I hope I'd know). But even in the popular crowd, there are alphas and betas. Convincing the betas to stand up to the alphas could be the answer in a lot of communities. It won't ever be easy, though...

  8. I completely agree - the bully needs the counselling and/or to be kicked out of school.

  9. I've been there with the whole bullying thing with a couple of my children. It's so hard because it does hurt and it makes me feel powerless when everything I try seems to fail. It's a horrible problem that seems to be escalating.

  10. Bravo! I was bullied a lot and terrified of what would happen if I told anyone. In one case I was fortunate because another girl spoke to my school principle about it and he got the girls suspended from riding the bus for a week. That girl who spoke up wasn't my friend, nor did she want to be, but I still remember her fondly for what she did.

    Parents were no help though. All the same platitudes about words not hurting etc. All I did was stop talking to people about it.


Please validate me.