Saturday, 17 May 2014

A word or two about bullying...

You may have seen this clip recently, I know I have had it come up on my Facebook feeds several times over the last couple of days. If you haven't seen Bars and Melody with their anti-bullying rap from Britain's Got Talent then I do recommend it, and also it might help to have some tissues handy when you do watch it. It's a powerful clip that speaks to the torment and angst experienced by victims of bullying and so I am throwing in my two cents about the topic as well.

What is it? 

To make it clear, from my perspective, bullying is not some big guy punching a little guy, that is violence and even if the guys were the same size it's still not my idea of good conflict resolution... in fact with adults that is called assault and is a crime in my country. The way I have learned to define bullying is that it involves the following:
  • repeated or ongoing
  • deliberate act(s) 
  • to have power over someone 
It is not an accidental shove in the corridor or an unkind word spoken in a moment of haste. It is deliberate and designed to disempower someone else, and it is more like a campaign than a one off act of violence. It also has the power to diminish the victims, paralyse the onlookers... indeed it can become like a playground version of terrorism. So from my perspective, bullying is not just kids being kids. 

Bullying is not always physical violence either, it covers a range of behaviours designed to alienate and disempower the bullied including:
  • name calling
  • threatening 
  • following 
  • excluding 
  • stealing possessions 
  • spreading rumours 
  • hate mail (texts, emails, social media etc) 
And the saddest thing of all is that bullying isn't confined to the playground... it isn't something we only see in children and young people. It can happen in the workplace, in community/social groups and in some homes. It even happens online, where people are victimised in social networking conversations. How on earth can we expect our children to hold higher expectations for themselves than we as adults are prepared to demonstrate?

Imagine what this sort of thing does to the victims' self esteem and self image. What impact might this have on their brain?

The Brain and Bullying: 

When something happens regularly or when we practice a behaviour or thinking pattern, it creates a strong pathway in the brain, the more we travel that pathway the stronger it gets (it's called Hebb's Rule or Law if you are interested in finding out more). It's like learning to drive a car, initially we struggle with steering, gear changes, braking or acceleration and watching where we are going all at the same time but over time much of the mechanics becomes automatic, that is because we have laid a pathway (or several) that we have then strengthened through repetition.

Imagine if the pathways that were made strong were ones that said 'you are worthless', 'you are ugly',  'nobody wants to be your friend', 'you are dumb', 'why do you even try, you'll only screw it up', 'I hate you, everyone hates you'. Even when you had left school the pathways remain and may replay with the slightest provocation depending on what else we have going on for us. What impact could that have in relationships and social situations?

For the bullies as well, the pathways strengthened may be those that tell them 'power over others makes me feel good and strong', 'I can only feel good when I am putting someone else down', 'I am worthy when I am powerful', 'I am not really a very nice person so this is the only way I can have friends', 'no-one likes me'. Can't imagine they'll be exceptionally effective voices to act on as we move into the workplace and more intimate relationships either.

So what can we do? 

That is the million dollar question. I would love to see a kinder place for us all where diversity was celebrated and differences acknowledged not feared or ridiculed. To take a quote from a colleague of mine, it is where we accept people as 'not wrong just different'.

If someone is being bullied they need support, they need to hear other voices so they can change those tracks or create alternative pathways. It won't stop it hurting, but it does lend some strength. If you see someone who looks vulnerable then please help them in whatever way you can... a smile can help someone feel just that little bit connected to something positive even if they don't show it straight away.

If we are being bullied then self care becomes paramount. This is where our resilience toolkit is helpful, and provided we have a good stock of tools first it will be a great asset... unfortunately those targeted do not always have a lot of options, hence they become targets in the first place. Can you fill it whilst you are going through a hard time? I am sure you can but I know it isn't easy. The more help you have the better and if there is no-one around that you can talk to or connect with then there are internet and phone line support networks available.
Always remember you need to be your own best friend and give yourself the love and care you really do deserve. Simple things like having a warm shower or a bath, eating some fruit and veg (rather than chocolate and chips), going for a walk or a run or doing star jumps in your house if that is safer, doing something kind for someone else, finding an interest and pursuing it, reading positive stories, listening to positive music (my favourite at the moment is Pharrell's Happy song... I know it is a bit obvious but hey it works) and try to get some decent sleep. Meditation is a great tool to help develop a mindful way of being. All these things help you to feel stronger inside even when you are hurting.

If you are a bully or a bystander then it is time to stand up, look in the mirror and ask yourself if this is really how you want to be? Ask if this is being the best version of yourself you can be? It isn't too late to change and again if you need help or support there are online and phone helplines that can help you.

This may seem a trite way to deal with a serious problem. It's not intended to be so and these are only a couple of small suggestions for a start. We all need to acknowledge that if this is happening in our communities we have a responsibility to act- it is not just the school's problem. It is not just the victim and the bullies problem either. It is not easy to stand up and be counted but just remember it is harder to feel like you don't count at all.

What other possible solutions do you suggest for bullying? Who do you think is best placed to create solutions and change this behaviour? Have you seen it happening as an adult? Does this seem like reruns of childhood bullying or is it a more sophisticated approach? How can we contribute to creating safer, bully free environments?


  1. Well written commentary Meg. I like the fact that you touch on bullying in the workplace which is or can be just as prominent as it is in the playground. Yes, how can we stop it? A great question.

  2. Thanks for the comment Peter. :)
    I wonder if workplace bullying is harder to identify as it is more calculated? I suppose it depends on the setting and the culture.

    1. That's a good question Meg. Could it be the bully has a goal in mind which requires planning so it does become calculated. How best can he reach that goal? And who can he recruit others to help him to realize the goal. So his or her actions become calculated as he calculates how he will do it not caring about who he steps on to do it.
      Could it be it is a desperate attempt to overcompensate for his/her insecurities? So many questions.

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    3. That makes sense Patricia. You are right, a lot of questions come when we start thinking about bullying and it has me thinking that these questions we have bring us to a place where we might be able to tackle it.
      I think we need to ask the questions more, we are often too scared to 'get involved' when we see something going with or to someone else and if it is happening to us fear of retribution or looking foolish stops us from advocating for ourselves. But if the behaviour is never challenged then will it ever change?
      Why do we tolerate bullying in the workplace? I know it isn't everywhere but it does happen