Given that October is National Bullying Prevention Month, I have seen a multitude of stories about how we can put an end to bullying by speaking up against the bully. As a psychotherapist, I keep wondering, "What about the bully? Don't we realize they really need help?"
Now before I start getting virtual eggs thrown at me, I want you to know, I am saying this very purposefully.
Think about this for a minute. How we generally look at bullying is that there is the bully and the victim of the bully. Who has the power here? The bully right?
What I invite you to consider is the more we reinforce that the bully has power, the more we unconsciously make bullying attractive to those who are psychology in pain. The bullies feel powerless, weak, and extremely vulnerable internally. In order to protect themselves, they lash out and try to power over others by being manipulative and mean.
We have all been told that there are underlying issues when someone acts out, but most of us play right into it. The power we have as a society is to change the messaging regarding bullying and to call a spade a spade by recognizing that the person willing to be cruel in actions or words is doing so because they are psychologically troubled. So why not let it be known to bullies that we see through their tactics to what's really going on?
As a person who experienced sexual molestation in my youth, I was once labeled "the victim." Yet, being the victim leaves a sense of powerlessness that keeps you questioning, "What did I do to deserve this?" Fighting years of depression and suicidal ideation, trust me, it is not a very powerful question to be asking oneself. A large part in regaining my power was recognizing that I was not the one with the issue, the perpetrator was. So while I had some unfortunate circumstances in my life, I do not consider myself a victim because I don't define myself based on those experiences.
My life's work has been about learning, creating, and teaching emotional empowerment for adults and youths in order to know as individuals how resilient we can be regardless of circumstances. Today's bullying is largely psychological warfare used to manipulate others and make them feel powerless. Yet, as we know, it is bullies who are actually insecure. While I understand the reason for the messaging of "Stand Up to Bullies," I also want to point out that it reinforces bullies are powerful.
In order to see bullying decline in an era where people can anonymously post hurtful words and agendas, we need kids to recognize bullying as something people do when they are not operating from a healthy internal state. Through this perspective shift, all of those who are in pain are recognized, so whoever is struggling can get support without shame. The message turns to something like "Want to lash out? Instead reach out -- for help!" In this way, the message is about the behavior of lashing out (as either bully or "victim seeking revenge"), which never works to resolve the internal pain one is experiencing.
As long as we give bullies the power, bullying will be a temporarily solution for those who are internally hurt to make themselves feel better about who they are. It's time to spread the word -- if you're a bully, get help! Then they are no longer the all-powerful bully that we need to stand up to; they are only wearing a very frail mask of strength to hide their insecurities and vulnerabilities.
For more information on how to make empowered choices, read about Emotional Empowerment Education (E3).