I was bullied regularly from childhood through adulthood. I offer this analysis of the bully mindset, a guide to deal with them, and a strategy to stop bullying for everyone…from direct experience.
To “Stop Bullying,” we must first comprehend what bullying is. Where does it come from? How does it operate? What is its nature? Like any struggle against evil, we must become intimately knowledgeable of it. Superficial sound-bites will simply not suffice. Clever graphics, slogans, mottos, are good; we need them; we need to feel good about ourselves. But what we need more is COMPREHENSION: deep, meaningful, heart-felt analysis of the source of bullying, and understand that the source is as much within ourselves as within the bullies. This is the cold, hard truth. As controversial as it may sound, deep comprehension of this reality reveals the solution to the bullying problem.
So fair warning: this is a LONG read. But hopefully worth it, especially if it might STOP BULLYING.
Let us begin with a discussion of ego. For starters, none of us have one ego. We have thousands of them. Our conscious and subconscious minds are rife with a legion of egos: cravings and aversions, aggressive and submissive emotions, and many more. These egos battle for control of our psyche. You can observe this within yourself: one minute you crave that slice of cheesecake. But the minute after you’ve scarfed it down and your gluttony has been satisfied, shame takes over…you feel guilty; or, you feel ashamed out of vanity because spring will soon be here and you’re worried about looking good in tight shorts (shame is the dark side of pride). Anger, anxiety, greed, lust, etc. The list of egos is very long indeed, and that list applies to every single one of us. Be honest. No point fooling yourself. Accepting this is important! Here’s why…
The ego which most directly relates to bullying is FEAR.
Here’s what notorious film bully, Bill the Butcher (from “Gangs of New York”) said about it:
“Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me, I cut off his hands. He offends me, I cut out his tongue. He rises against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike. Raise it high up in the streets so all can see. That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear.” – Gangs of New York
Like Bill the Butcher, like any of us, bullies behave based on what’s inside. And what’s inside is FEAR. Lots of fear. Bullies are afraid. They are weak; they feel weak, and that scares them. No one likes feeling weak, scared, etc. It’s just that bullies find a different approach to coping with these feelings of anxiety. They lash out. They find others who are as fearful (or more or less fearful) than they are. Fear begets fear. The bully expresses his inner weakness by lashing out; the victim, well, expresses their weakness by taking it, avoiding it, quietly hating it, passive aggression, and many many other coping strategies that simply DO NOT WORK and CANNOT BE SUSTAINED OVER THE LONG TERM without serious psychological consequences and affecting future people-skills.
Like any and all children (especially ones growing, developing, hitting puberty, etc), bullies are struggling with all sorts of egos. Sadly, modern society has NO CONCEPT of what the egos are, how they operate, why they exist, and who they possess. Yes, possess. Ever hear the term “battling your demons”? Ever feel yourself “gripped by anger”? How about “Paralyzed with fear”? What about “mesmerized by an iPad”?
In children especially, egos are always “testing the boundaries.” You know how children always seem to be pushing the limits of what they can “get away with”? Yeah, that’s the egos taking hold and “getting comfy with their host.” This explains why bullies will latch onto a victim and bully them for extended periods of time “just under the radar” of serious consequences by teachers, parents, etc. Because of persistent fear and feelings of weakness, the bully’s own self-worth requires sustained assertion of pride and false sense of self. (Did I mention that egos work together like a tag-team in wrestling?).
Finally, it is crucial to comprehend the egos belongs to our animal nature. Egos are 100% mechanical and reactive. This is why we often feel like we “lose control” when a particularly strong ego is triggered inside us if provoked by some stimulus or circumstance. Sound familiar? Ever “lose it” in a fit of frustration or even rage? No? You’ve never thrown something? Smashed something? Cursed at a crashed computer? Road rage? No? Nothing ringing a bell, here? You’re an angel, are you? No, we are intellectual animals. We have thousands of reactive mechanical egos inside of us chomping at the bit to express themselves, take control of us in a moment of weakness, and make us behave like wild animals.
Ever observe animals? Do you know why they say “never run away from a bear?” You should never run away from any wild animal. In fact, you should never show fear of any kind. Why? Because fear is a negative emotion. That means fear gives off “bad vibes.” Now, animals seem to have a sixth sense about these things; and, to the animal nature, bad vibes mean only one thing: “danger.” And yes, coming from another creature, danger means AGGRESSION. This triggers the famous “fight or flight” response (fear), and if it’s a bear, it leans toward the “fight” side of that equation.
So the latent fear inside a bully comes into contact with the latent fear inside a potential victim. The bully, like the bear, picks up on the “bad vibes” coming from the potential victim (fear, anxiety, self-consciousness). And, somewhere deep down inside the bully’s animal nature, fear is triggered. The bully, if s/he naturally leans toward the “fight” response (versus the “flight” response), goes on the attack.
Now, the young bully, still unable to cope with all these emotions (let alone control them), and having very little self-awareness to know what the hell is going on in his/her own psyche, might even RATIONALIZE a source of those “bad vibes”…”He’s weird; she’s gay; he’s fat; she’s anorexic; he looked at me funny; she deserved it, etc.” and JUSTIFY his/her “fight” response to the bad vibes (since the bully will rarely, if ever admit to being afraid). But s/he is.
Fear begets fear. And the bully will keep testing and pushing the limits of how much s/he can get away with to cope with his/her own anxiety with their “instinctive response”…fight versus flight.
The key, then, lies on the shoulders of THE VICTIM. Comprehending that the bully is as afraid and self-conscious (possibly even moreso) than you are, all you need to do is stand up to the bully. Make it clear to the bully where the line in the sand is, and demonstrate to the bully that crossing the line will have consequences. This must be done in a responsible way, to be sure, but DO NOT EXPECT ANYONE ELSE TO DO THIS FOR YOU. The key to this strategy is for the Victim to overcome his/her own fears IN THE MOMENT and show courage in the face of the bully. This is the only way to neutralize the “bad vibes” triggering the bully’s “fight instinct.” And, in no uncertain terms, it is the only way to earn the bully’s respect.
I have a Cairn Terrier. His relationship with cats illustrates exactly what I’m talking about. As a terrier, my dog thinks he’s the biggest dog in the world and that everyone and everything is essentially his play-thing (HUGE ego-personality). If a cat, seeing my dog approaching, runs away (fear, flight instinct), my dog will chase it (fear, fight instinct). If, however, that cat shows its teeth and claws, raises its back and hisses (fear, fight instinct), my dog will tuck tail and run away “yike yike yike!” (fear, flight instinct). But, if the cat remains cool, calm, without a care in the world regarding the my “terrible terrier” (shows NO FEAR), my dog will trot up to it, wagging his tail, sniff its butt, lick its face…in other words, my dog will treat the cat like it was a dog or person (and my dog loves people and other dogs; and, as it turns out, cool cats).
If the cat doesn’t show any fear (doesn’t give my dog any reason to react with fear), my dog is cool with the cat. I’m sure many dog owners have similar stories.
In the above example, I mention how my dog will run away from aggressive cats. I do not recommend this approach with bullies. An anger response is a recipe for disaster! You might get lucky, an aggressive response to bullying might get the bully to back off; but someone already in “animal fight response” consciousness is not likely to back down from a fight, especially if they are physically bigger and stronger (or have buddies for back-up).
Promoting an inflated sense of self-worth and boosting the ego in victims of bullying is not the answer, either. Inflating pride or vanity or skewed sense of self-love will cause the victims of bullying to give off “bad vibes” of a different kind (not fear per se, but still negative energy), and this might spur on the bullies to lash out even more. Self-righteousness is another losing proposition. Bullies love making themselves feel better by taking kids down a notch. The “bigger the game” the bigger the ego reward for the bully. This, by the way, is why bullies (often average or below average students) go after “nerds” and “scabs”. Bullies are intimidated, intellectually, by really smart kids and “the best defense is a good offense” defense kicks in again.
“Know your enemy, know yourself even more.”
– Sun Tzu
True non-aggressive, non-confrontational Self-Confidence comes from a higher place. Call it your Conscience, Consciousness, your True Self, your Higher Self, your Soul, your God, Spirit, Heart, Compassion, Love…whatever faith or science or tradition you believe in calls it.
What you call it doesn’t matter. That you KNOW IT is what matters. Know it intimately. What matters is that you get to know your Self. Spend time with your Self. Experience your Self free and clear of friends, family, society, TV, movies, books, video games, teachers, preachers, politicians, and everyone and every thing of influence in your life. Go out into nature and spend quality time with YOU. Find your bliss and JUST DO IT. Not for recognition. Not for reward. Not for approval. Just because YOU LOVE DOING IT. Maybe it’s playing music; maybe its dancing; maybe its writing in your diary. Maybe you love painting, cooking, woodworking, gardening, knitting, playing with lego, volunteering, planting trees, corresponding with a pen-pal in a developing country, visiting your grandparents and listening to their stories to learn from their life experience. Who knows? Who cares…no one has to know. You’re allowed to have a secret gift/love/passion that only you and YourSelf share.
Go for a long run or bike ride to the next county and let the fates guide you to a new adventure. Trust in your instincts; learn to access your intuition. Be ethical. Listen to your conscience. You know what’s right and wrong. Act, as best you can, by that inner guidance. Your inner compass. And when you make mistakes, acknowledge you’ve made them, recognize the egos at work behind them, accept responsibility for those egos inside of you, and then move on. Don’t beat yourself up…ever. Don’t become your own worst bully! Strive to reach out to others and resist the temptation to be a loner; but don’t crave the crowds all the time, either. Your Self-worth is not measured by how many “friends” you have on Facebook. Better to have ONE really, really good friend than three dozen half-hearted ones.
The point is this: as you develop a deep, intimate relationship with YOU; you will start being able to get a handle on YOUR FEAR. You will exude a kind of quiet confidence from knowing where your TRUE STRENGTHS comes from; all your greatest gifts. Every good thing you have done, do now, and are yet to do. Here’s a hint: this Source is not in the head; it’s in the HEART.
Learn how to connect with that Higher part of you. Learn to go through life with that power at your side. Make it your “wingman;” your “right hand man.” The “trusty sidekick” to you, the HERO / HEROINE, of your epic heroic quest (life).
Every heroic quest must have challenges. A hero wouldn’t be much of a hero without them. The key is HOW we handle those challenges. HOW we handle the people challenging us. It’s a test. For them and us. But unfortunately, we cannot control others. They are responsible for their own heroic journey. All we are is responsible for ourselves, our own responses to fear, aggression, intimidation, violence. We can choose to “play along” and allow fear to beget fear, aggression to trigger an aggressive response in us, intimidation to illicit a terrified reaction from us, and violence to get us to use violence. But remember that 99 times out of a hundred, you can diffuse the situation completely simply by not playing along. By not giving into your own egos, by not reacting to the aggressive way bullies operate, you are taking the high road, and are refusing to allow yourself to be dragged down into their animistic, evil approach to life.
Don’t think it’ll work? What if I called it “Non-Co-operation,” or “Non-Violent Disobedience”? what then? Sound familiar? Ever hear of a little fellow named Ghandi? Ghandi faced notorious bullying on a national scale – some would say international scale. Ghandi employed the type of approach I am advocating and with it, stood up to the British Empire.
Are you a parent, teacher, or other mentor trying to explain who Ghandi was to a younger child? The video below will help.
Small children should take note that Ghandi also began as a shy child without many friends. He was also likely bullied. But he found a powerful source of strength and guidance within himself, and that source of Light and Courage helped him stand up to the British Empire and win India’s freedom!
Similar approaches were taken by Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. And the strength of all these non-violent forms of dealing with tyranny came from the same source…that source that is inside all of us…that’s inside of you, too.
Call it love. Call it whatever you want; it doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you get to know it and learn how to let it help you in times of danger.
Sometimes we have no choice but to fight. Sometimes circumstances leave us with no choice but to defend ourselves from physical or psychological harm using our defense-of-last-resort. There’s no reason we have to kid ourselves. Some bullies are just really, really bad seeds. And there’s no denying that. Some people are ruled by their egos 99% of the time and there’s very little hope they will react positively to even our best intentions and expressions of love. But violence should be our very last resort. And even then, it must never be motivated by fear or anger. It must always be treated in a practical way: “this person is hitting me; I must get to safety ASAP; or, if I can’t get away (maybe we’re on a school bus) I must stop them from hitting me.” Period. That’s it.
THIS IS CRITICAL: YOU MUST NOT GIVE INTO NEGATIVE EMOTIONS IN THE FACE OF BULLYING. YOU MUST NOT ALLOW YOUR OWN EGOS TO POSSESS YOU. Make no mistake: if you feel hate toward the bully; if you judge them; if you curse them (even if only in your head), or blame them, or yourself, or your parents, teachers, society, the world, etc. (even if only in your heart), YOU WILL MAKE THE BULLYING WORSE. Why? Because if you send off “bad vibes” bullies will react to that as aggression, in just the same way they react to fear, and the result is they will become even more aggressive.
Our first best response to bullies should always be compassionate love, fueled by our COMPREHENSION (which I hope this article has helped with). If we know, deep down, that our aggressor is scared, why not feel sad for them? We all know what it’s like to be scared. We all know what it’s like to feel alone, lonely, misunderstood, bad about ourselves, etc. Why not ask the bully a personal question, from a place of loving kindness? Seriously. Hold out an olive-branch; a hand of friendship; a kind word; an honest smile; half of a candy bar. Sure, the bully might refuse it; or take advantage of it. But at this point, what have you got to lose? If you SHOW the bully you’re not afraid, and SEND the bully “good vibes” with your thoughts, words, and actions, there is a good chance you will trigger a POSITIVE REACTION in the bully.
And who knows? Maybe there’s a real human being, vulnerable and just longing for loving kindness and honest friendship lurking somewhere beneath “the big bad bully.” Maybe there’s someone who’s not all that different from you, after all. If only you can REVEAL THAT TRUTH to the bully; they will COMPREHEND that you are not all that “different,” “weird,” etc. after all.
If you do that, bullying will become child’s play to you. You will have conquered “mount bully” and you will be prepared to take on any challenge life can throw at you. People of all ages will respect you (not everyone will like you, no need to kid ourselves, but even “your enemies” will respect you). Besides, your new-found courage and confidence, coming from a place of wisdom and compassion, will carry you forward and through any opposition; any challenge; all of life’s trials. And you will succeed.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – FDR
Thank you for letting me share this with you. Good Luck.
[…] answer, of course, is NOT to be afraid. In our blog Stop Bullying Now—a Guide for Victims of Bullying, we describe the harmful effect of fear in the company of animals. Basically, fear is interpreted […]