This week is anti-bullying week at my son’s school. It reminded me of many clients who come through the clinic for hypnotherapy that have been bullied in the past, and carry this as a powerful negative trauma that affects them, 30 and even 40 years later.
Bullying can have a massive impact on people who have suffered from it. It can:
· Create a sense of hopelessness
· Create a sense of powerlessness
· Develop levels of anxiety and fear, particularly relating to social situations
· Encourages withdrawal and minimising responses, and feelings of being ‘alone’ against the world.
· Create a strong sense of injustice
Bullying, at its heart, is a dysfunctional relationship. It is often seen as a play for power and control, but in my belief this can be a simplification of what the ‘bully’ is seeking from the relationship. Often the bully is seeking significance and to be included, control and to be seen as competent, or to be liked. The victim of the bullying is often just the ‘instrument’, and the bully seeks these psychological ‘rewards’ from others (the friends that watch and cheer them on) or themselves (internal compensations).
The relationship is therefore dysfunctional – one person uses the relationship to ‘take’ what they need, and the other, usually against their will, is forced to supply it.
What is true is that different people can be in the same circumstance and evaluate it differently. Some may see a situation as ‘bullying’, whilst others do not. Bullying, by definition, comes about by what the person feels as a result of an interaction. It is in the interpretation. (This by no means is meant to condone behaviours which use other people as a source of gaining what one needs).
By encouraging bullies to become more self-aware of their needs and their behaviours, we can hope to break the cycle of bullying. However, as I see many people in clinic where the trauma from bullying is carried throughout their lives, here are some ‘tips’ that you can use to help people affected by bullying that make a difference.
1. Skills and strategies. The frustration and negative self-referencing from a situation arises because at the time the person did not find the skills and strategies to diffuse, move beyond, or reframe the event. Discuss what skills and strategies were missing, and what could be done in a similar circumstance to develop a positive, forward looking learning frame from the experience.
2. Responsibility. Often the ‘victim’ develops a sense of responsibility for what happened. What is true is that the only thing they are actually responsible for is how they respond. It is not possible to control how other people behave, only taking responsibility for how you choose to act under a given circumstance.
3. Specificity. The bullying is usually related to one relationship, over one time period. What is true is that the person has many other relationships which are not the same. They have many relationships which are healthy, positive and nurturing. Seeing the bullying in context rather than as a ‘globalised’ thing (“I was always bullied”) provides context.
4. Normalisation. Bullying, unfortunately, is very common. Knowing that others deal with dysfunctional relationships and find ways to cope can be an important encouragement that they can, too.
5. Timeframes. We cannot go back into the past and change things – no one has yet invented a time machine. Therefore, continuously referencing a negative event like bullying from the past does nothing but cause upset and frustration. We can only affect ourselves in the present. If we take the lessons from the past – such as what skills and strategies serve us and what relationships we want to focus on – and live in the present, we have a much better chance of moving on.
6. Isolation. People who are bullied often lose sight of all the people around them who would support them, if only they knew. It can feel terribly lonely when you are bullied, and the process of keeping secrets and isolating yourself only enhances the problem and doesn’t connect you with resources that can help you.
7. Knowing that we all want to be included, in control and liked allows us to view our own response to the bullying incident – why does it make it feel like this? By having some empathy for the bully allows us a place of generosity to start reshaping the relationship (if we decide that we want to).
Bullying is terrible. However, for all of the trauma that can come of it, there is a series of things that can help people who have suffered shift to a positive, forward looking frame beyond the event and the trauma.
If you would like to discuss how you can move beyond past traumas such as bullying, please contact me via the contact page.
What experiences do you have in overcoming being bullied, or working with those who have suffered?