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Saying 'No' to bullying

I suspect many, if not most of us, have experienced some form of bullying in our lives. Some of us have grown up with bullying in the family as being normal, others experienced it in school and possibly later in life in the workplace.

What does bullying look like?

It can be very confronting and unpleasant to be on the receiving end of bullying behaviour, which often seeks to ‘overpower’ and control through methods which aim to demean, diminish, humiliate and ridicule. The bully has an assertion of dominance with an expectation the recipient will crumble or comply and it can be for any reason; from being quiet, loud, uncoordinated, judged to have strange hair, being tall, short, smart, stupid, overweight, underweight, eating different food or, no ‘reason’ for being bullied that makes sense. To the outside observer it can be seen as overt and unashamed targeting, or it can be more covert and more in line with gaslighting.

The word bullying is used a lot though, and perhaps we have become so used to saying it and hearing it that we only ever see or do anything about bullying when it gets so bad that someone takes extreme measures to stop it. Sadly, many people feel so much shame that don’t tell anyone till it has done lasting damage.

What feeds the bully?

Reaction feeds the bully. If we take a scientific look at what happens between two people in this situation, we see that the need for control is like a fuel, an energetic exchange that can be explosive or more insidiously transactional. Once the energy has been exchanged, the tension is discharged – until the next time. One is inflated, one is deflated. This exchange is often the result of a learnt behaviour that has resulted in a dysfunctional mode of communication in relationships. Suffice to say, the energy that bullies knows that if it can snare its target on a hook, then it doesn’t need to work very hard to get its target to react. As soon as it reacts, the target stokes the fire and hands themselves over to be the play-thing of the bully. Hook, line and sinker.

Unfortunately, experiences of this type of exchange can become familiar patterns of behaviour for both the bully and the bullied. Meaning they will continue to recreate the dynamic in other relationships if it is not addressed and supported.

How do we stop feeding the bully?

I don’t know about you but when I read that the bully needs a reaction from me – it tells me it is looking for an exchange of energy and if I don’t buy into the deal, then the deal falls apart. This is a foundational key to changing many unwanted behaviours and dynamics in our lives and comes back to observation. If we simply observe what’s going on, the bully has nothing to grab onto. Don’t bother trying to ‘look the part’ and have an external ‘I’m not bothered face’ whilst the inside is fully bothered, because this is about a chemical reaction – it is an exchange of energy – since when did energy need to eyes to see? It can feel things far more acutely! So, if we come back to observation, to observe is far more than watching with our eyes, it too needs to be about energy and calls for a movement that detaches from caring about other peoples’ opinions. One that stops seeking people’s approval, particularly as if you get the bullies approval then you will more likely be off their radar. So many hooks!!

When you detach from needing their approval, it leads to a natural ability to observe rather than engage. Detachment does not give one drop of your attention to those who are demanding it.

​So, how can we support our children to deal with bullies?

As parents, we want our children to feel safe and confident in being their amazing selves and to be able to withstand the pressure of school, the playground or any other setting and relationship. We want to show them, by our role-modelling, that relationships are not about power imbalances or getting your own way. We also want to build an awareness that we can fall into either of these behaviours very easily and without consciously being aware of it. Therefore, simply setting a standard in your home and interactions for decent and respectful relationships is a strong foundation to build on. They can then practice taking that into their day and talk about it with you when they get home – encourage (not expect!) them to share what they experience, see and feel so they can be scientists of what is happening around them.

When decent and respectful interactions become normal practice at home, children are better equipped to observe and consider why things are happening at school or with friends, and therefore better equipped to handle the challenging situations they will inevitably face when you are not there.


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