When I was in the third grade in Southern California, I rode the bus to school, along with my older brother. For some reason, this kid named Mike decided to start teasing me. I really don’t know why he targeted me, but he decided I was easy prey. Maybe because I didn’t fight back. I didn’t want to fight; even at the age of eight, I knew I wanted to grow up to do something that involved helping people, not hurting them. His teasing often brought me to tears, as he made fun of my clothes, my freckles, my lunchbox, just about anything he could think of I suppose. My big brother coached me to “just ignore him”, so that’s what I did. When that didn’t give him the reaction he wanted, he advanced to physical bullying. He would sit behind me and poke me or pull my hair. When my brother noticed this, he firmly told Mike one day, “leave my little sister alone”. I still remember Mike’s taunting laughter, “what are you going to do about it?” Mike was about to find out. The next day, I guess Mike decided I had ignored him long enough, so as I made my way onto the bus, he stuck out his foot and tripped me. I fell face down into the hard bus aisle way. With one hand, my big brother reached up to pull me to my feet, and with the other, he punched Mike square in the nose. Mike never bothered me again. And my big brother forever became my hero.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not a proponent of violence but I am a proponent of standing up for yourself. While I was never the target of childhood bullying again, as an adult, I have been the target of several bullies. Bullying is definitely more sophisticated in adulthood, but the results are the same – deep emotional pain. I did some research to prepare for this post, and interestingly, the most recent statistics I could find on national bullying prevention websites were from 2014 – nonetheless, I found an interesting pattern in the stats I did unearth. One in three students in the U.S. report having been bullied at school, and 27% of adults in the workplace report being bullied on the job, which is nearly one in three as well. So, no matter how you slice it, bullying isn’t just a problem of childhood.
Hope whispers, stand firm.
Bullying can take many forms; emotional, social, relational, mental, spiritual, physical – and unfortunately, bullying is no respecter of age, race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic status. There are bullies everywhere. A 1 in 3 statistic means that you, or someone you love, will likely become the target of a bully at some point. However, if you learn to stand up, chances are the bully will stand down. Here’s how:
- Know Yourself
The best defense against a bully, aside from knowing how they operate, is knowing how you operate. If you are a person who is emotionally sensitive like I am, you will need to focus on your core internal truths when a bully comes calling. Bullies will try to turn anything into a perceived weakness; part of their game is to make you feel bad about yourself so you will lose confidence in yourself. Don’t take the bait! Bullies use lies and deception (partial truth) to emotionally abuse and throw you off balance. Have a few core truths that you say to yourself every day, such as, I am strong, I am compassionate, I am intelligent, I am resourceful, I am creative, I have purpose, I am loved. Core truths are important – you need to access them when the bully starts degrading you. Like two sides of a coin, on the flipside of every weakness, is a strength. Focus on your strengths. When a bully insults you, or says something to try to humiliate you, look them square in the eye, and say, “you’re wrong.” Reframe the conversation. Turn the tables. Focus on what you know is true about yourself. Your confidence will take the bully by surprise, and often shut them up.
- Know Your Bully
At the core of every bully is two key issues: insecurity and fear of not being in control. Ironic, isn’t it? They are working to make you feel insecure and out of control, so they don’t have to focus on the fact that those are their issues! In the world of mental health, it’s called projection. While bullies are insecure and fearful, they can often be intelligent when it comes to their methods of targeting. Bullies seek out their victims in a very calculated way. They generally look for people who are compassionate, caring, tend to care too much about the approval of others, or in the case of physical bullying, appear physically weak in some way. Their goal is to first psychologically disempower you, so they can wear you down. They will project their own insecurities and fears onto you. Generally, if a bully is criticizing you for being compassionate, it’s because they are insecure about their own lack of compassion. Bullies don’t have healthy self-esteem. They are masking low self-esteem by overcompensating to dominate and control others. If you can remember that a bully is a very insecure, fearful, and lost soul, it may take away some of their perceived power. We often give bullies more power than they actually have.
- Know Your Support Network
It is true that there is strength in numbers, especially when it comes to standing up to a bully. It’s critical that you tell a few people you trust what’s going on, and garner their support. We all need help sometimes. We all need to be in community. If you are not isolated from community already, a bully will seek to isolate you. In the animal kingdom, the ones who get quickly picked off by a predator, are the ones who are alone, at the back of the pack. Surround yourself with good people, who love you, believe in you, and know you – they can help you remember who you are when you need emotional support and strength. You may need them to stand with you at some point, against your bully. They will be prepared if you have shared the situation with them. It’s important to know what your limitations are, and when to call for reinforcements. In mental health, the number one factor to people rising resiliently in the face of adversity, is a strong support network. Whether you have been personally bullied or not, abusive conduct toward another human being is something we should all be concerned about and willing to take a stand against. Most bullies will back down if there is a support group around their targeted victim.
- Know Your Options While I’m all about standing up against the bully, please hear me: if your physical safety is at risk, don’t stand up – run away! You can’t stand up to a bully if you’re in a hospital bed, or six feet under. Safety first! Most bullying begins with emotional torture, and then may advance to physical harm. Have a safety plan for escape in place and know your surroundings. Never put yourself in a situation where you could be alone with a bully when it could potentially turn physically violent. If it’s an emotional bully you are facing, the best option is to stay calm and unemotional, maintain a power stance by sitting or standing up straight, look them in the eye, speak confidently, and redirect the conversation – remember your core truths!
- Know Your End Goals
Remember that most bullies are smart, and you are going to need to be smart as well about how you plan to stand your ground. That involves knowing what your goals are, so you need to think about what’s most important to you in taking a stand. Are you standing up to a bully in an effort to protect yourself? Someone you love? For the sake of principle? To make a change? You need to know why, because you will need to call on your courage with your goals in mind when the bully comes calling. For me, it’s about being a part of something greater – I want to contribute to dismantling abusive systems. All abusive systems have abusive people in them. Bullies. I also know who I am, and I will not allow a bully to reframe my identity. It has taken me many years of work to gain this kind of confidence in myself, but it’s worth the work. One of my core truths is that love conquers all. I seek to live by I Corinthians 14:1, “Let love be your highest goal.” I’m not perfect; I make lots of mistakes, but when I view the world through this lens, it makes me a stronger and better person. Bullies don’t generally respond to love and kindness initially, (they will probably mock it), but that mocking is all the more reason to stand up for who you are and what you believe. Don’t let the bully determine who you are, or who you become. I have witnessed bullies respond to love when the target remains in a tough love stance, rather than decompensating into an onslaught of counter degradations. If you refuse to back down from your core truths, the bully will eventually back down. My pastor says that your greatest pain can become your greatest purpose. I believe that; I have lived it out in my own life in many ways. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger? Yes! And wiser too!
Stand firm my friends!
- Know Yourself