HELPING THE BULLIED BY HELPING THE BULLY
Most people agree that victims of bullying need help, both in the moment, and for long-term emotional health and wellbeing.
We advise victims of bullying to stand up for themselves, learn self-defense, or "punch 'em in the nose." Even if that stops a bully in his or her tracks, they will very likely move on to their next target. A true bully will quickly zero in on the nearest child who shows a hint of weakness.
By ignoring the psychology behind the bully, we inadvertently perpetuate the behavior.
As with most problems, the solution is easier to get to when we understand the source. Perhaps by taking a closer look at the reasons why a child becomes a bully, and working to help that child overcome those issues, we can redirect their behaviors and save future victims.
THE CULTURE OF BULLYING
"Bullying is really a cultural issue," says Corinne Gregory, author of Breaking the Bullying Culture. "We think of bullying as occurring between the bully and the victim, but really, it's the 'culture' that supports the negative behavior. There are hundreds of things that cause someone to become a bully...but ultimately, if you have a culture that tolerates it and participates in it (either implicitly or complicitly) it will continue."
The founder and president of SocialSmarts, a program for positive social skills and character, goes on to say, "I can tell you that dealing with bullying at the 'typical' place and time we do has not been -- and will NEVER be - effective, because it's much TOO late in the cycle."
THE BIG, BAD BULLY: "IT'S THEIR BEHAVIOR, NOT THEIR CORE"
Can a bully really change? Absolutely, says Michael Harmann, MSW, because in most cases, bullying is a behavior - it is not the core of the bully. A behavioral and personal change consulting specialist, Mr. Harmann works with substance abusers, failure-to-launch clients, and at-risk teens.
Not one to assign blanket blame, Harmann doesn't assume all bullies come from bad parents. He does, however, believe that bullying behavior typically comes from feeling powerless and fearful.
"Consequences are one thing, but they don't address the culture at school. The bully must understand that bullying simply will not be tolerated. We've got to keep the pressure on so the bully will get the message that he or she won't be left alone - and that they must find another way to resolve their conflicts."
Victims of bullies and witnesses to bullying behavior might well ask why we should give any consideration to the bully at all.
"BULLIES CREATE PAIN BECAUSE THEY'RE IN PAIN"
"We need to attempt to understand the bully's perspective," Harmann tells Natural Choice Directory. "What's going on in the home? Bullies create pain because they're in pain. Where is that pain coming from? Does the bully have a safe outlet for that pain?"
Many bullies, says Harmann, live in a "black and white world." A bully generally feels like a victim. "The furthest thing from being the victim is to become the perpetrator. Bullying behavior is an effort to cover up the bully's own vulnerability. It's a primitive mindset. They want to make you pay when you show vulnerability."
With some exceptions, as in the case of diagnosed antisocial disorders, bullies want to change, says Harmann. "We have to appeal to their sense of getting what they want in life. The biggest reaction makes them feel most powerful. As long as we can show them that having compassion and telling the truth - that paying attention to what other people need is what will get them what they want in life, they can realign their behavior to get their needs met.
"Therapy is really about understanding self. Therapy doesn't always work, especially if it is involuntary. But sometimes having someone who is 'cool' and aware of the culture can really sift through the BS and show the kids that they know better. This type of advocacy program, where school staff are immersed in school culture and assigned to bullies can be effective."
Harmann says bullies get a feeling of power in response to their behavior. If they don't receive the desired response, there is no reason to continue, and they will move on.
Unfortunately, if there is no intervention to help the bully deal with his or her own problems, that means moving on to the next victim.
BULLY AND BULLIED
Sometimes a former bully stops being part of the problem and becomes part of the solution.
"As a child I was bullied and was also a bully," reports Betty Hoeffner, author of the Stop Bullying Handbook and Hue-man Kind-A book to End Racism. "I remained a bully into my mid-forties due to my lack of self-esteem, which I covered with a cloak of self-assuredness and over achieving. Healing the pain inside me allowed me to forgive those who bullied me, and myself for all the self-bullying. It also helped me take responsibility for my bullying behavior."
Using her personal experiences to help others, Ms. Hoeffner is the founder of PreventBullyingNow.org and co-founder of HeyUGLY.org, a nonprofit organization that empowers youth to be part of the solution to bullying.
While working to resolve the problems of the bullied, we must also seek to resolve the problems of the bully. There isn't a convenient one-size-fits-all bully-fixer. Some will respond to therapy or look to those "cool" role models or advocates for guidance.
Some simply need rescuing themselves. Many will find a new outlet for their behavior and a new way to achieve strength, others never will.
Whether or not you believe we owe it to the bullies, we owe it to the victims - and the future victims - to attempt to understand what turns a child into a bully.
We can't begin to solve the broader cultural issue until parents, schools, and communities acknowledge the scope of the problem and begin to work together to make all forms of bullying unacceptable.
Learn more about how schools and communities can implement bully-prevention strategies at stopbullying.gov.
Related Reading: Schoolyard Bullying: Open the Blind Eye
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis." She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites around the web.