Rebecca Gray asked to write a guest post for my site and I am honored to have her share her wisdom and thoughts here. There are many different ways to handle bullies and Rebecca offers her insights here. ~Alan Eisenberg
Bullies are getting a lot of press nowadays, but it’s difficult to tell whether bullying behavior is on the rise, or we’re just noticing and talking about it more than we did in the past. In our obsessively politically correct environment, there is an ever-increasing push to avoid confronting or even defending one’s self against a bully, and to opt instead for a more positive developmental response to aggressive behavior. We are also being told that the best way to deal with bullying is to ensure that our children don’t bully others in the first place. Our children’s schools often take a zero-tolerance approach to any physical confrontation, punishing both the victim for defending him or herself and the instigator for initiating the behavior. This is patently unfair to the victim, and does little if anything to stem the aggressive behavior other than forcing the bully to practice his or her aggression somewhere out of the school’s sight and/or jurisdiction.
While eliminating the violence in the first place is admittedly the ideal solution, we have to realistically acknowledge that it is not the whole solution. Sometimes, you simply have to fight back if you hope to get the bullies to leave you alone. Fortunately, by helping our children to understand what drives the bully, we can better prepare them to deal with it in the most effective manner. In short, fighting back needn’t always involve physical violence. By understanding and responding directly to the underlying causes of bullying, the bullied child can emerge from the situation with an increased level of self-confidence, which is kryptonite to the bully’s attempt to be Superman (or Superwoman). A few things to keep in mind are:
Bullies are afraid
Bullying is probably a remnant of every animal’s instinctive drive to be dominant in its environment. Beyond the mature animal’s need to establish dominance so as to attract the most desirable mate, that dominance also serves to increase the animal’s physical safety, by allaying potential threats and challenges before they resort to physical confrontations. In both senses, people are no different than other animals. We just have the intellect required to either change or rationalize the behaviors.
You need to choose your best response
The challenge a person faces when confronted by a bully is two-fold. First, the victim has to determine whether it is safe to respond in kind. Faced with an opponent who is significantly larger and stronger, or with multiple aggressors, it is usually wise to avoid physical violence if at all possible. Secondly, the victim has to have the self-confidence to ensure that he or she looks like neither a victim nor a threat to the bully. Here are some possible ways you can advise your child to respond.
Make the bully your ally – Responding to a bully as if he or she is merely engaging in good-natured kidding is ideal, as it shows that his intended victim is neither afraid nor desirous of usurping the bully’s position as the alpha or dominant member of the exchange. This can serve to redirect the aggressor’s behavior, and can even be the foundation for a great friendship. It also serves to minimize or even eliminate the intervention of authority figures such as school principals and police, both of whom are indoctrinated to respond harshly to any confrontation.
Remove yourself from the situation – The common wisdom among virtually all martial arts schools is that the best response to an attack is to walk away from it. The downside to such a response is that it feeds the bully’s desire to intimidate. But what you should keep in mind is that avoiding a fight is an expression of good common sense, not an act of cowardice.
Just don’t take the bully seriously – A bully’s aggression is based in his or her desire to intimidate. If forging a friendly relationship isn’t feasible, you may be able to dissuade him or her by simply not accepting the role of victim. It can be difficult to project confidence when you are genuinely frightened, by not playing the part he or she wants you to play, you might be able to redirect the exchange to a less threatening tone. At the very least, you will be denying the bully the fear that is so essential to his being satisfied.
Fight fire with fire – If you simply cannot redirect or remove yourself from the situation, you may actually have to show the bully that you will not tolerate his or her attempts to dominate you, even if doing so means resorting to the bully’s level of communication. You don’t want to inflict harm on anyone, of course, but if you feel that there is an imminent threat of violence being directed at you, you may have no choice other than to respond in kind. On the one hand, this can be physically very dangerous to you, especially if your aggressor is larger and stronger, or is backed up by similarly aggressive friends. On the other hand, many bullies whose aggression is responded to in kind will realize that they aren’t getting their needs met, and will move on to other targets or – ideally – reconsider their choice of behaviour.
No matter which response you choose, it is important that you talk with someone you trust about what you’ve gone through. If the confrontation occurs at school or off grounds with one of your fellow students, you can talk with a trusted teacher or counsellor. By doing so, you afford yourself the opportunity to process the emotional upheaval that such a confrontation always elicits, as well as help you deal more comfortably with future confrontations. Reporting the confrontation to a person in authority can also reduce the likelihood of the bully escalating his aggressive behaviour toward you or others. You’ll be doing your fellow students – including the bully – a favour, by helping others to avoid facing the same kind of confrontation.