Bullying has increased during the return to normality following the pandemic and, as it can occur anywhere, it’s important to know how to deal with an abusive situation.
Firstly, it’s essential to recognise that what is going on is not acceptable and, because bullying can take so many forms, it’s not always obvious what’s going on. Some bullies are blatantly and relentlessly hostile, but many are manipulative, alternating between compliments and support then turning toxic in a flash. Both are abusive. Worse still, unless dealt with, bullying can become pervasive as if a child, or indeed an adult, becomes a victim of aggression and they feel helpless in the face of it then they are less likely to stand up for themselves in similar situations in the future. Therefore, it’s important to identify bullying as abuse and to get it dealt with promptly and successfully.
Objectively, we all know that the problem rests with the bully and not the unfortunate target of their bile but, in the pain of the moment, that distinction can feel irrelevant or possibly even a little pious. From a psychological perspective however, it is key to how the bullying is stored long term in the brain. If it is absorbed as being personal say, because I did this or I wore that it will make a deeper impression than if it is seen as an unfair, cruel but non personal twist of fate. We all have a tendency to personalise the random for example when overtaken or if someone cuts in front of us in a traffic queue but they weren’t criticising our driving or even interested in us rather they were ; a) in a hurry b) an idiot or c) distracted by something and so didn’t adhere to usual road courtesy .Whilst bullying is more direct it is the same principle and it’s bad enough that it has happened so don’t make it even worse by allowing any self-blame to seep in.
The expression hurt people hurt people is true. Happy or content people just get on with their own lives. The fact that someone is disturbed enough to bully another means that they are decidedly not happy or content but instead are insecure and vulnerable. Invariably bullying is an extremely nasty form of envy which causes them to strikeout either on someone just because they are there or on someone perceived by them (who we mustn’t forget is a very mixed up and irrational person) as different. Whilst we all know that differences are what make us worthwhile a bully lacks that confidence or emphatic nuance to understand that. Instead, they think – why am I struggling - why can’t I be loved/ happy etc when someone who …. is? At the root of all bullying is the fact that the bully is miserable and takes it out on someone they think shouldn’t be coping as well as they are.
It’s a natural reaction to want to tell someone to fight back yet the more a bully is shouted at or punished the more jealous of others they will become, the more attention they will seek, and their behaviour will inevitably worsen. So, fighting and shouting back whether you are the target of the bullying or a relative will only make things worse as you are not dealing with a balanced rational mind. A different approach is needed.
What to do if someone tells you, or, you suspect that someone you love is being bullied.
1.Take a deep breath or go for a walk before you do anything because you need to show unconditional love and kindness. Your anger or fear will only compound any trauma they are suffering. This is not about you and so your emotions need to take a back seat, for a moment at least. If you are being confided in reassure that no matter what they say you will support them i.e., do not start shouting or ranting about how much you are going to kill the bastard or other unhelpful thoughts, no matter how overwhelming the urge may be. Thank them for telling you and for being so strong and brave. They must not feel that they are a victim.
2. Repeat the above - show as much love and kindness as you can to give them their confidence and strength back. It may be that you need to stay at this stage for a very long time because stopping any long-term damage from the bullying is the only thing that really matters here. The aim is to mitigate the harm done by the bullying and if they can be happy and confident, or at least not scared, for some of their day they will cope better. Proportions are therefore key and the more time they are distracted and calm the better. So, try not to keep discussing the bullying – get what information is required and then stop asking about it. Instead spoil them subtly but mostly show that you haven’t changed because you know about the bullying. They need to understand that whilst you see it as a bad thing it won’t change their life. If you talk about it endlessly and you show your distress and anger, then this will inevitably double down on the impact of the bullying making the whole thing overwhelming. So, no matter how hard it is for you, simply let them know that you heard them, and you will help but it changes nothing about your relationship. Create a safe space.
3.When calm, decide what practical steps need to be taken for example, who needs told and what help is required? Take your time as there is rarely an urgency even if it’s an ongoing situation as you are not expected to solve the problem instantly and just having been able to off load the burden will have been a huge help – but rather than make a wrong move which may be regretted later try to make plans only when you are calm enough to do so. If necessary, consider extraction from the situation until you have a sound plan – a dose of flu can keep someone from school or work for a while or a sick relative needing urgent help can get someone out of their home. Do what you must but focus clearly and calmly and on how each move helps. Buy time to think if you need to.
4. Try to include, in as positive and constructive way as you can, the person at the centre of this, so that they don’t lose control again. Even if they are too young to make certain choices try to explain decisions in such a way so they think that they are involved in the resolution process. Put them in control.
5. You must accept that you can’t influence the bully’s behaviour. No amount of anger or emotional pleading will make one jot of difference. What you can do is help your loved one, or yourself, change how you feel and behave towards the bully. Lenny Henry tells the story of how he was bullied as a child until one day he decided to change the way he reacted. Instead of showing fear, which is what the bully wanted, he made a joke and asked why the bully was so obsessed with him - did he want to cuddle him? The bully panicked and never came near him again. Whilst this can be done through reasoned thought, it will be much easier with the benefit of hypnotherapy which can access the subconscious to ensure such a confident change of reaction. Hypnotherapy even has a very specific process called rewind and reframe which can quickly change the way things such as trauma and phobias are seen. The bully is changed from an object of fear and stress into something weak, pathetic, or perhaps even laughable and, as you get to choose, into whatever you think would help. It’s a fun, enjoyable and empowering experience. Once the bully sees that something has changed and that they have lost their power the cycle is broken. Break the spell.
What to do if you are being bullied.
All the above applies directly to you and my heart goes out to you, and I applaud your bravery and strength in coping this far but, you now need to think about who you want to tell and how to tell them. This is because you must let go of all this and not bury it away inside of you waiting to pop back up next time you face a difficult time. Your tone will set the ambience for all that follows. So, if you are currently very upset and in need of immediate help and for someone to take charge then being emotional and open will let them do that. Alternatively, if you want to remain in control but want some support, or perhaps there is someone who just needs to be told, then regulate the conversation right from the beginning with phrases like - I need you to listen to me and to not overreact. I am fine but …. Again, it’s about getting back control and seeking help. Everything I said about the power of hypnotherapy for bullying applies, with bells on, for you.
What to do if you or your loved one is the bully.
Look to find the true cause, without blame or fear, because it will be nothing to do with the person being bullied. The trigger may be an obvious event, but it can often be something long forgotten such as a misunderstanding that has festered but it’s always a calm, quiet discussion or, honest self-reflection, that’s the place to start.
With a child something along the lines of – you know I love you, but this behaviour must stop. Rather than scolding them show that you are on their side and that you will help them to work through anything that they need to. If they can’t find a cause, then perhaps some counselling might help them to see things differently as often someone slightly less close can ask the obvious questions.
If you think that you are the bully, then the fact that you have recognised what you are doing is the hardest part. Is there anything you think is a trigger? Give yourself a break but think hard. I have found that it can be helpful to get some paper and make lists as though you are talking to someone else. Then please get some help as often simply hearing yourself speak out loud to someone clarifies matters and you deserve to be free of this baggage and to live a full relaxed life.
And finally, whilst this may seem just a bit too much to contemplate right now, it is possible to not only survive the bullying but to become all the stronger for it. Lenny Henry cites his experience as being the moment he realised that he wanted to be a comedian and actor as, by being able to change the bully’s behaviour towards him, he saw the power he could have over others. No one wants to be bullied, or to be one for that matter, but if it has happened it is a life skill to know that you were able to survive the very hardest of challenges, and that is something to be exceptionally proud of.