By: Louise Amar
We all, at some stage in our lives have experienced or have seen others experience bullying. If there is one thing that can destroy a young child's confidence and quality of life at school or even with friends out of school or in the family home, it's bullying. It is a big deal and needs to be dealt with quickly once uncovered.
Bullies form their patterns of behavior early in life, starting around two years of age. It usually occurs when the aggression that comes out of what is known as the "terrible twos" is not handled well and corrected by parents or primary caregivers.
Bullies are not born, they are made. A lot of research into bullying now suggests that bullies suffer deep down with anxiety issues, do not fully understand their own feelings or the feelings of others and usually have strained relationships with parents and peers.
In our age of computers, cell phones, and group chats, electronic bullying has now become a real issue for our kids growing up. With the anonymity afforded through the internet and cell phones with 24/7 access to those victimized by bullies, online bullying is a real problem and can hurt our children deeply.
Bullying is so devastating for the bullied because it triggers the three core wounds of human beings: abandonment, betrayal and shame. This must be understood if we are to support our children or others that have been or are being bullied because these wounds are archetypal and run deep.
For example, feelings of abandonment create an experience of fear, loss and rejection for the victim. No amount of saying “you have to stand up to the bully and be strong and tough” will heal this if the fear a child is feeling is not understood and addressed first.
Betrayal triggers and creates feelings of anger, frustration and lack of trust and shame, which in turn create feelings of hopelessness and the idea that the bullied feels they are bad or not worthy especially if they judge themselves as cowards or weak in not standing up for themselves.
If we address them and face these painful issues and do not deny or pretend they are not happening, they can generate such huge gifts for us, our children and our family in facing them and growing together. When handled well, often the bully and theirs parents can benefit even if we do not have much sympathy or compassion for them in the difficult moments. We can have a hand in stopping this behavior so our own children and others do not suffer at the hands of a bully or group of bullies.
Many of my clients come to me with difficulties and discomfort that can be traced back to being bullied at some stage in their lives. It is important to remember that bullying just doesn't happen at school or to kids. Many women come to me with real health issues having tolerated bullying from their husbands or partners and other family members and even mothers that are bullied by their kids.
The intense emotional build-up that comes from living with bullies or tolerating bad abusive behavior of others over time turns into pathology and illness if left unaddressed.
As a mother, I have had to address my son being bullied around age eight. Luckily, we have worked on developing a strong bond of trust over time, and that payed off since he came to me as soon as it happened. Most children suffer by themselves for long periods of time and do not tell others what is happening.
I went to inform his teacher the next day to observe what was happening, and she confirmed that a particular child with emotional issues was focusing on my boy. We agreed on a plan of intervention from the teacher. I worked with my son to face his natural fears of answering back and challenging someone with his tendency to avoid conflict. After teaching him how to set boundaries with love and not fear or aggression of his own, it was wonderful when he returned home triumphantly having faced his fears and worked things through. It took several days and attempts, but my son pulled through working with myself and his teacher to put an end to the bullying.
With my daughter around age nine, we had to face a different type of drama within a group of her girlfriends. When we noticed her more withdrawn and not so happy to go to school as usual, we finally got to the root of the problem and realized our daughter was in fact provoking the other girls. They would, in turn, be mean to her back. We had to work with our daughter, so she could understand it was her behavior causing some of the reactions in other girls. Once she understood and accepted this, she changed her behavior and dropped several of the girls as friends.
If bullying is addressed quickly in partnership with our children, teachers, and others directly, it can be stopped. There is nothing worse for a bully than to be discovered and exposed. Bullies tend to want to operate secretly for maximum effect.
I'll share with you some tips I have learned and adapted to address bullying from the work of clinical psychologist Dr. Mario Martinez. She created remedies or healing experiences for relationships with ourselves, our children and loved ones regarding abandonment, betrayal and shame.
The remedy or healing quality for abandonment is commitment. Commit to telling yourself and children each day that you and they are loved and lovable. Become your own and child's best friend and confirm to yourself that you will not abandon any part of you today. If you do, you will quickly recommit to being there for yourself and loved ones. Keep your word to yourself and your children, commit to your own development and growth. Commit to listening more attentively to your children and being more aware of what is happening in your family. Commit to dealing with issues yourself and your loved ones face a priority.
With children that have been or may be bullied, apologize for not having noticed sooner and re-commit to being there for them. Promise to honor your commitments to them fully and to make dealing with bullying a priority. Be very honest with them and trust them to commit to resolving issues for themselves in helping them to believe that they can do it with help and guidance. Help them love and believe in themselves and that they are lovable.
The remedy or healing quality of betrayal is loyalty. Be loyal to your values and who you are as a woman. Stand up for yourself and your children. Make appropriate boundaries as needed out of love not fear. Focus and be loyal to developing your own strengths and talents as a woman, a mother and wife. Acknowledge yourself for what you do well and share this confidence with your children in dealing with the bully.
With our children and loved ones who are being bullied, tell them honestly from your heart how important they are to you. Acknowledge them for their uniqueness and what they do well. Put your emphasis on their strengths and talents and link that to them having the abilities to deal with the bully or a difficult situation. Listen to them without judgement or being "hooked" by what they are saying. Acknowledge their loyalty to you and the family and how important that is to you. Express how important it is for them to be loyal to themselves their beliefs and values and that they must be fearless in setting healthy boundaries to protect and keep themselves from harm.
The remedy or healing quality for shame is honor. Shame is such an easy emotion for ourselves as mothers and wives and our kids to feel. With shame, realize it's a feeling and not a fact. With shame, we or our children believe we are wrong or bad. It's different from feeling guilty and accepting we have just made a mistake. With shame our children believe they are the mistake.
Honor yourself and children by putting them first when they are going through difficulties. Stop sacrificing yourself for others. Develop an inner-voice that speaks to you and your children's wounds, vulnerabilities, and mistakes with love and tenderness . Stand up for yourself and your loved ones and become more aware of what you and they need rather than what you and they want!
Make neutral boundaries as needed. These are not extreme boundaries that take time and energy to maintain. If a boundary is costing you or others it's not coming out of love. Honor the creative free spirit in yourself and your children free from your own fears and concerns.
Shame is a big feeling to overcome for our children that have been bullied when deep down they believe they are cowards or weak in not standing up for themselves. Take time to describe and honor the true eternal beauty you see in your child that is outside the drama they are experiencing. Listen deeply to how they feel and especially to how they are making sense of what has been happening to them. Educate them as to what may be going on for the bully and not to take it so personally whilst at the same time honoring their pain and feelings they are experiencing. Be present with them and ask them how they would like you to respond in dealing with their issues with being bullied. Most children will try to avoid dealing with the situation. Let it be known that as a parent you cannot allow this to continue so how can you work with them to resolve things. Honor the brilliance in them in what they do and talk things through to give them the confidence to step up and deal with things. Ask them to imagine how they will feel having dealt with what is happening with honor and dignity.
Bullying is a real challenge to deal with, especially if the bully or bullies do not respond initially or our children avoid dealing with the issue and pretend all is ok. Once the family pulls together and commits to resolving it with teachers or others involved, it can be dealt with effectively.