Saturday, 24 March 2012
This is a tricky one. Bullies don't often realise they are bullying.
We all get bullied at some stage, be it by a parent, sibling, "friend", teacher, co-worker, boss, spouse etc. At what point does it become bullying though?
If you are strong enough not to let the bully upset you, are they just acting inappropriately?
If you are sensitive to their treatment of you, are you weak, allowing yourself to be bullied?
If someone makes a joke at your expense, and everyone laughs except you, have you just been bullied?
What makes an interaction cross that line?
How can you stand up to one person and say "don't speak to me like that" and yet allow someone else to threaten your sense of self?
I think what defines a bullying episode is when the victim feels too intimidated to respond, and has no other choice but to "take" the bad behaviour. Of course we all know the long-term effects of bullying.
The funny thing is, a bully might see a long-term bully-victim relationship as a friendship, not realising their words and actions are causing pain for the victim.
The victim is often good at hiding their true feelings as they have learned to assimilate in order to survive. They know it would be dangerous to challenge the bully; it might mean confrontation - verbal or physical, social exclusion, recriminations etc. They toe the line, putting up with ever-increasing bad treatment in order to survive.
Bullies bully because they have been bullied. How's that for a tongue-twister.
A bully will often have grown up having their needs unmet, feeling threatened, lost, lonely, powerless. The way they reclaim a sense of self is by elevating themselves over another, making someone their scapegoat, so they feel a little control. With boys, it seems to be name-calling, physical intimidation; with girls it is more covert. The little glances, raised eyebrows, smirks, nudges, that are so insidious, but can crush a person over time. The heirarchies of social groups, the Alpha female and her posse, swanking down the school corridors, the hangers-on, desperate for an invite to join in. The odd-balls, who always turn out to be world-changing people.
I was in the library last week with my boys and a class of boys came in to return and borrow books. They were about 10-11 years old, puberty just around the corner, but still acting and talking like children themselves, taking over the space with their jostling bravado. The louder tough guys, the quiet gang, and the odd-ball with his long neck, small chin and thick glasses, standing alone in the middle of the group. A teacher spoke to him and made a joke, and I wondered was it with or at him, because he only smiled politely. I wanted to run to him, hug him and say "You're ok, you're great, you're more interesting and intelligent than all these louts" but I didn't, of course.
I wonder at the idea of school reunions. I wonder who really enjoys them. Surely you have kept in touch with those that mattered to you, and the rest is all showing off. I suppose Facebook replaces the need to congregate in a function room every ten years, photo albums in hand. We can all see what our peers have been up to, and don't need to feign interest at their progeny's achievements.
But gone is the chance to "have your say", to stand up to a former bully, maybe not confront them, that's not you, but to smile coldly and turn away from their greeting. Maybe they'll never know now that they made your life hell for a month, a year or six years. Maybe it's better that way. Maybe you have moved on, doing better than she did. Maybe you'd end up feeling sorry for her, because she once thought she had it all, and she really hadn't a clue. That chance meeting in a shopping centre years later, when you realised the "golden girl" had quickly lost her sheen... That piece of gossip through the grapevine that pointed out what you'd known all along, that the Queen Bee would lose her ranking when the last school bell rang... Now the most you can do is ignore her friend request. It's not the same, it's not the thought that comforted you fifteen years ago when you were crying into your pillow. Back then you envisaged a day when you'd meet her face to face and let her have it, telling her exactly what you thought of her. She'd cry, you'd smile, life would be good.
Yeah, bullying isn't nice. Lots of our interactions could be better, nicer, kinder. If we all stopped to think how our words sounded before opening our mouths, if we all were happier in ourselves, if none of us needed to put someone down to feel better about ourselves, there would be no bullying at all.