To my adult readers and the kids you love,
Bullies are fearful people. Fearful people use control as a means of maintaining their own status within a group of people. They learned early in their lives that when they were out of control bad things happened to them. This understanding is in no way meant to justify or empathize with the bully or with her actions. Instead, it can empower the victim.
For example, if Jane is bullying Sarah, Sarah may be empowered to withstand Jane’s torment if she takes the focus off of herself and directs it at Jane. Bullies are fueled when a victim receives and accepts the harmful words or hateful attitudes they communicate. So, if Jane sees a fearful reaction in Sarah, the uncertainty, tears and dwindling sense of confidence in her victim are like gasoline in a car: Jane is in the driver’s seat and she feels a sense of power and the freedom to run over Sarah.
Victims of bullying often believe the lies told to them by bullies. What if there was a way to teach our children—young and old—that it is possible to disarm a bully by focusing on the heart of the bully herself?
Anytime we can choose to focus on “the other” we see the world more clearly. Taking our eyes, ears and mind off ourselves distracts us from our own patterns of thought and awakens our ability to observe. This is a discipline. Focusing on others does not come naturally and it is not easy.
The victim of bullying can be empowered through her own choice to focus on the heart of the bully because it gives her control over the way she will or will not receive the words of the aggressor. Let us imagine that Jane tells several other young people that Sarah is a liar and a slut. Sarah knows Jane’s words are false so Sarah has a choice: Sarah can choose to focus on Jane and realize that Jane has a need to control her world. Sarah can choose the freedom that comes in not trying to justify or defend herself against Jane’s lies. She can focus on Jane by consciously deciding that Jane is working from a destructive motive and that Jane does not have the power to determine Sarah’s identity.
Sometimes, bullies win. Sometimes their words are written into the cement of others’ consciousness making them “truth” to unsuspecting hearers. In these cases, the results can vary from no-big-deal to broken relationships and tarnished reputations at the direction of the bully’s mouth. Even so, they still do not hold the power to actually design the identity of their targets. A victim’s identity can only be bent by the fiery words of a bully if the victim herself agrees to step into the fire of acceptance.
Just as focusing on the other demands discipline, so does not believing lies told to you about yourself. It is easy to believe critical words and assessments of the way in which we are perceived by the world. Insecurity works like a positive charge and negative words are like, well, a negative charge. Because we all hold some measure of insecurity it is easy for bullies to brandish the power of the magnetic attraction from their tongues to our hearts. However, our insecurities do not have to be allowed to push and pull us. Instead, we have a choice: we can decide what opinions, messages and views we will accept on the magnetic boards of our hearts. It is easy to leave your magnetic board open to any and everything. It takes discipline to stand guard over your own heart and make decisions about what you will and will not allow to enter its gates.
When I was in middle school I was chubby, my clothes were “uncool,” I lived in an apartment when most of the kids in my district lived in houses and my single mom, my little sister and I were poor. There were plenty of targets at which the popular and insecure could take aim. And they did. Unfortunately, I never mentioned the taunts and destructive words to my mom. I was too embarrassed to tell her what they said and I didn’t want to make her feel badly about not being able to buy me all the cool kid accouterment. But I wish I had told my mom.
If I had told my mom, or even another adult I trusted, I would have had an ally. Rather than trying to tough it out and be strong, I could have allowed myself to be vulnerable and asked for help. I could have realized that I had choices, instead of feeling helpless.
If you are a victim of bullying, I would like to encourage you to choose two actions: one, ask a trusted adult to become your teammate. I guarantee you: ANY trustworthy adult will gladly stand with you and help strengthen your waning self-esteem. No one escaped childhood or young adulthood without being bullied in one form or another at some point. And two, take out a piece of paper, fold it in half and then unfold it again. On the left side, write down all the lies your bully has told you about yourself. On the right side, write the truth that extinguishes that lie.
For example, I was often told I was “stupid.” Well, I was bad at math and I didn’t care about science. So, some people may have thought I was stupid. But that was a lie. The truth is that I am intelligent and when I am interested in something, like Theatre or writing, my natural interests and gifts shine through my work. So, I would write, “I am stupid” on the left side of my page and on the right I would write, “I am not good at everything. But I am excellent at some things.”
One more example: I was often called fat. Well, I was chubby when I was in middle school. It’s true. However, I would write down, “I am fat” on the left side of the page and on the right side I would write, “The shape of my body does not equal my identity. I am beautiful in God’s sight and to my family. My friends who love me don’t even care about the shape of my body. They love my humor, kindness and the way that I listen to them when they need me.”
There is so much freedom in replacing lies with truth!
Let us all make the choice to see others with as much kindness and gentleness as we can, even when they are being mean to us. Another person’s ugliness toward us does not dictate who we are but it does reveal the weaknesses in him/her.
Focus on the heart of the other. Don’t believe the lies told to you about yourself. Humble yourself and ask a trusted adult for help.
—Jill Szoo Wilson