Have you ever had past trauma that you tell yourself wasn’t a big deal, and downplay the impacts it had on you? But then, something cracks the emotional wall you had built, and suddenly it comes crashing down, hitting you like a ton of bricks and you fall apart.
That happened to me twice recently; once was about family this summer, and once was two days ago when I gave a speech at an anti-bullying rally. I had no idea it would be such a big trigger for me. Anytime I worked on my speech, I would start to cry. The mere thought of the subject causes a physical reaction, a tightening in my chest and alarm bells going off in my mind.
I have been bullied extensively throughout my life, but because death was never directly threatened, and the physical abuse wasn’t severe, I told myself it could have been worse and therefore wasn’t that bad. I now know that isn’t a healthy way to process trauma. And bullying is legitimately traumatic, even if there is no physical altercation. The consequences can be dire, as bullying has caused many tragic, needless deaths from suicide.
What is Bullying and Why Should We Care?
Bullying is a power play with intent to bring others down and make them feel small beneath them.
It may seem like bullying incidents are isolated and only affect a small amount of people. But many bullies are actually psychopaths who are pathological liars and dangerous, or sadists who enjoy inflicting pain on others.
Many bullies are highly persuasive and successful, becoming corporate or religious leaders with wide influence and power. “Active shooter” situations at schools or public places often involve bullies or people who have been bullied. Stopping bullying can potentially lead save many lives.
Transcript of my Speech:
Here is the full text of my speech, modified only slightly so that it won’t be so specific to one event. This wasn’t intended to represent a thesis on the subject, but I do believe it has some important and unique points, and the crowd loved it (despite the fact that I was crying during the speech). I hope this is helpful to educators and people of all ages:
“Thank you for listening to me today. This is a sensitive topic for me because I myself was bullied for my entire childhood. I apologize in advance because I’m probably going to cry, because this is all very triggering to think about. I promise that most of what I’m going to say will be positive though.
I have memories of being bullied as young as preschool, all the way through high school, some instances in college, and I still encounter bullies once in a while now.
What people might not realize is that not only are the specific incidences painful, but that the targets of bullies live with a constant fear, like a cloud of oppression hanging over them all the time.
It affected my entire being and changed who I was, so much that I didn’t even know who I was because I was so afraid of what people would think if I let myself be who I was and do what I really wanted to do, and say what I wanted to say. I had no self confidence and lived in shame.
Now, I’m Mrs. Florida USAA, a health coach, home organizer, a mom, and I have a masters degree. I am also a toxicuty expert about things like chemicals and lead poisoning.
But there is also mental toxicity. Things like stress and anger are toxic to your body and mind. Bullying is toxic. But there are things that can be done about it, and things we can do to heal ourselves and rise above it.
Please know that if you’re being bullied, it is not your fault. What bullies do is because of THEIR own issues. So don’t view yourself through the bully’s eyes, because that would be an inaccurate self portrait.
What can be done to stop bullies? One thing I want to talk about is that teachers can play an extremely important role in stopping bullying. I personally have been a substitute teacher for all ages, and so I’ve experienced what it’s like to be on both sides of the classroom.
In my experience as a student, I felt that teachers often turned a blind eye to bullying that they surely knew was happening. As an adult I realize it’s because that popular crowd of students including bullies gains so much clout that extends to teachers too. Teachers want to be liked and accepted by the majority, to help them maintain order and control, which is understandable.
I do have the utmost respect for teachers because their jobs are so challenging. Especially during middle school; if anyone reading this is a teacher or parent of middle schoolers, or middle schoolers themselves, my heart goes out to you. In general it does get better after that peak surge of hormones and drive to challenge authority quiets down.
So, I do understand the challenges, and I can see how combating bullying seems like one more thing teachers shouldn’t have to fit on their plate because it doesn’t seem to directly related to education, which is the main job of a teacher. But as I said, bullying is toxic, and affects kids ability to focus and learn. It puts them in a state of fight or flight, which basically means they are in a protective survival mode, which isn’t conducive to listening or learning.
I think that effective solutions need to be even bigger. There needs to be school-wide no-tolerance policies for bullying. When you see or hear bullying, you say something, and if you’re a teacher, you take appropriate action and enforce consequences. That way all teachers and school staff uphold this standard, so that no single teacher needs to become the uncool teacher for standing up for bullying victims.
Peers who stand up for what is right instead of being complicit and silent are hugely important. People who are bullied often feel that everyone has ganged up against them and that it feels like them against the world.
Parents and all adults can also play a huge role by modeling friendly behavior towards others, instead of speaking negatively about others, criticizing how they look, or talking down to people or children.
This is so important not only in school, but for all of society. Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t just disappear when you graduate high school. The sad reality is bullies persist at all ages, especially online. The good news is, you’ll have more freedom and power to avoid them or appropriately circumvent them.
And I think that if we start shutting the bullying down early on in schools and making it unacceptable, we can prevent some of that adult bullying. You can also learn strategies and tools at events [or online or from counselors] that you can use forever. I also believe that workplaces and social media forums should take stances against bullying.
I also want to encourage you to be unique. I know that many of you in school try so hard to fit in, and not do anything weird that might make you a target for bullying.
But the rest of your life, what is going to get you ahead are the things that make you stand out. Top colleges don’t want to give scholarships to students who were mundane and were just blending in. They want the students who sparkle, who follow their passions, develop their talents, and who lead others. Your success will depend on your uniqueness, and those are the things that make you interesting to the right people.
My advice is: Don’t follow your friends, or the people you want to be your friends because they are popular. Follow your interests, and I promise you’ll find your people. And when it comes to friends, quality is better than quantity. So even if you only have one good friend, cherish that friendship and continue to grow it.
And if you feel like you have no friends, that is really hard, but it just means you haven’t found the right one yet, or that possibly you need to be more open minded about being friends with people even if they aren’t popular, or aren’t the exact same age as you, or maybe they don’t go to the same school as you. You can meet more possible friends by always being a nice person, and try taking classes outside of school, like dance, art, music, or things like Girl Scouts.
Please follow your passions and believe in yourself. It’s how I finally got where I am today. I am available to contact further, and I love to share positive affirmation messages.
Thank you all for being here today, and being yourself.”
More Advice for Kids
Having self confidence and showing it are great defenses because they make you a non-ideal target.
Don’t react to the bullies. Act like you don’t care what they say. Again, this will make you an unideal target because they aren’t getting a rise out of you like they wanted.
Report the bullying immediately. This way if it continues, there is at least a record and timeline of you reporting it. If they still won’t stop, keep speaking up, until someone helps you get the help you need to stop it.
Realize that often, bullies are acting out because they have difficult circumstances in their home life. This does NOT make their actions ok, but it does help explain their desire to exert control and power over others.
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