Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
Bullying is prevalent in epic proportions these days. From school-yard to corporate offices, bullies are everywhere it seems. So, how do you bully-proof yourself and your kids? There is no one simple solution, unfortunately. Just like every person is unique, so is every case. The dynamics may differ, but there ARE a few things in common.
Most of us have read, seen or heard about bullying. One common thread most bullying incidences have running through them is the issue of control. Domestic Violence cases, stalking, harrassment, bullying- they all stem from a desire to control another human being. Whether the bully is trying to control the environment, the actions of one or more people, or their emotional state, it is about control.
So, how do we turn the tide so to speak once controlling or bullying behavior(s) have focused on us? How do we take back control of our lives and sanity in those situations? Bullying may feel like an overnight phenomenon, but, it’s usually not so. Bullies usually choose someone, whether it was a conscious decision or not, by focusing on the easiest target. The one(s) who look like they won’t put up a fight. Unfortunately, that usually means the people who are “nice” or show compassion. Good manners, shyness, empathy- they can all be misconstrued as weakness.
Bullies are looking for victims who won’t fight back. Those that don’t like confrontation and will back down quickly. If someone is picking on you, whether you are a child or an adult, it can very well boil down to the fact that they think they can get away with it. It’s that simple.
One of the first things we teach our students is that they are going to learn how to fight so that they don’t have to. If you know that you can take care of yourself, you are confident and it shows in your body language. People are less likely to give you a hard time if you look like you could take care of yourself. Why do you think that the most assaults happen to the elderly and small children? They are the most defenseless groups, that’s why.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and those demographics are no different. There are seniors in their 80’s who can take on a 20 year old and show them a thing or two. We have students in elementary school that can take on adults in the ring and hold their own. It happens. But, it’s not the norm.
So, how do you project confidence if you don’t have it? If someone is taking advantage of your good nature- if you are being bullied, it’s time to make them rethink the advantages of bullying you. If the payoff they are looking for is no longer available, that’s a start. It takes courage to change. It takes courage to speak up. We teach our students that their strongest weapon is their voice. Your words have power.
Our Get REAL program focuses first and foremost on awareness skills. Developing confidence and being aware are vital keys in self defense. A physical confrontation is the final stage of an attack. Self protection, whether from bullies, abusers or bad guys takes on many forms. Being aware- seeing what’s going on around you and letting others see you being aware are the first tools we need to have in order to better protect ourselves. Just looking confident can go a long way. Remember, if someone is looking for an easy target, they are looking for victim body language, along with other passive and non-confrontational behaviors.
If there was a fire in your building, you would yell “FIRE!!” at the top of your lungs and try to get everyone out of danger as quickly as possible. If someone is treating you disrespectfully, verbally or otherwise, then speak up- “Stop it!”. Everything from “leave me alone” to “I’m telling” to “that is NOT okay” to a thousand other statements setting personal boundaries is not only the right thing to do, it’s your perfect RIGHT to do.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that no one can make you feel inferior without your permission. You have to teach people how to treat you. If they think they know already and it’s not the way you’d like to be treated, it’s time to re-educate them. Fighting is a last resort. That’s why it’s called self defense. If there is no other option other than defending yourself physically, then do it. But, there are usually plenty of other options.
And, there is no reason to suffer in silence. Just like there is strength in numbers, there is help available for victims and their families of bullying. There are times when doing what we thought was the right thing, or doing what we thought would work, just hasn’t worked out in our favor. That’s when it’s time to get professional help. We have put a list of resources on our website, all from the book Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon. It’s an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. There are resources for students, parents and educators.
There are many people who have been where you are and have come out the other side stronger. If you need help, by all means seek it. And, if you aren’t getting the help you need, keep looking, keep talking and keep asking. You are not the only one going through this and there is a lot of help out there. If you need to work on your confidence, get into a program that will help you see your own successes. There’s nothing like small, incremental accomplishments to build confidence.
Role play- practice the “what if” game. What would you do if someone said_______? What would you do if someone excluded you from a group? What would you do if you found out your best friend had lied to you and was talking about you behind your back? What if? There are too many situations to cover them all, but you can come up with some scenarios of your own. Practice standing up for yourself. Practice in the mirror, practice with a friend. See yourself being confident and assertive. Small steps lead to big gains. Don’t give up.