You might have heard of Lizzie Valasquez, a motivational speaker and author. Lizzie suffers from a rare congenital disease that makes her stand out, whether she wants to or not. In her latest book Dare to be Kind, she talks, among other things, about bullying.
Even when she was a young child, people would sometimes react negatively to her physical appearance. As young as 5 years old, she would hear adults comment in hurtful ways about her appearance, unable to understand how they as adults could hurt a child who hadn’t done anything to them. She’d want her parents to righteously protect her, but instead, one of them would approach the adult and say “This is my daughter Lizzie. Would you like to meet her?”
It took Lizzie a long time to recognize the wisdom behind her parents’ response. Instead of seeing one person as victim and the other as perpetrator, they saw 2 people who needed help in 2 different ways: Their daughter needed to be made visible in a truly supportive way; and the bully needed to be seen for who he or she was in that moment – someone who was hurting.
Only people who are hurting hurt others. The bully lashes out because they’re hurting, and they don’t know how to better handle their pain.
Here’s how to deal effectively with bullying.
- 2 choices. In this situation, you have only 2 choices: you can choose to ignore the bullying, or you can respond to it. Neither choice is the “right” one, and only you can determine what’s right for you. One suggestion: consider the consequences of your choice.
- Ignoring it. Is this a battle you really want to fight? If the bullying isn’t extreme, if it’s a one-off situation, or if it’s potentially dangerous, you might consider ignoring it. Putting yourself in physical danger is rarely justified, and there is no shame in turning away if that’s what you need to do.
- Responding to it. This takes courage, and if done effectively, can end bullying, or at least suppress it. Effectively responding to a bully requires empathy – putting yourself in the shoes of the person you feel is being a bully, because we all have the potential to bully. If I’m hurt and feel isolated, I’ll respond or react to anything or anyone with, at the very least, caution and self-protection. If, on the other hand, I feel safe, I’ll be a lot more open to giving others the benefit of the doubt.
A bullying person is a hurt person. Respecting that they hurt, and at the same time respecting your own needs, may make the difference between a potentially dangerous and explosive encounter and a minor incident.
If you’ve ever been bullied, being empathetic isn’t easy. It’s a personal affront – hurtful, ignorant, abusive and disrespectful. It might help to understand that everything we see, do and say is a reflection of what’s going on inside us. To bully others, we must first bully ourselves.
To move on from being bullied means being able to leave it behind, emotionally and mentally, so that it doesn’t take up any space inside you. Moving on means that the current encounter, and all future encounters are no longer a problem – that you’ve mastered them.
Choosing to respond to bullying in an empathetic and balanced way is empowering.
If you’re interested in knowing about your natural character traits, you might be interested in Discover Your Natural Character.
Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist. To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .