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Bullies Among Us
Posted: 8/26/2011 | Personal Development Comments
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I was bullied in high school. Seriously bullied… mostly by other girls. There were threats to my life. My parents’ mailbox was blown up. I was shoved against a wall and yelled at, had 4-5 creepy prank phone calls a day, along with being laughed at in the hallways and in the lunch room. I was once pushed down a flight of stairs, and experienced other disturbing events. It was a deeply painful experience for me. I remember feeling panicked continuously. It didn’t seem to matter if I was sweet and kind, nothing I knew how to do made a difference. I felt both helpless and hopeless. My fear and sadness was so intense it took many years of work on myself to get through. Thankfully, a few factors allowed me to graduate a year early and escape from the social hell I experienced at school. 


I’m sure people who didn’t go to school with me would be shocked by all of this. Even those who were part of it didn’t know the whole picture. You can imagine how the topic of bullying might feel to me. 
According to psychologist and researcher Dr. Dan Olweus, bullying can take many forms and involves negative and hurtful behavior repeatedly over time. Bullying can occur on physical, verbal and psychological levels. While we usually think of bullying as physical and verbal abuse, there are also more covert and subtle aspects of bullying. A person can be bullied through isolation and exclusion. Gossiping, lying about someone, and starting false rumors, whether face to face or on the internet, are all forms of bullying. 
There’s been a lot of media attention focused on the problem of bullying in schools, especially the cases of children who have resorted to suicide. Many who have been bullied go on to live with the emotional and psychological scars caused by their experiences. 
Who is the bully, and why would they want others to feel so small? Most bullying is based upon competition, a need to feel superior because of a deeper belief of inferiority. A pack mentality occurs, especially with children who are trying to find their place in life. Adolescence is a big time when all children are trying to fit in and survive. Bullying is really a young and primitive tribal reaction rather than a mature and more psychologically autonomous or individuated way of being.
As we grow and mature emotionally, we focus more upon what we have in common with other people. We see the similarities and recognize a common community, rather than the differences. Young, tribal thinking is black and white: you’re either like me or you’re not. Maturity brings us connection with others and we grow past our fear that we don’t belong to this small group and see that we belong to, and with, the human race and the world.
Here’s the kicker: we all have within us the capacity to bully, to varying degrees. We’ve all had times in our lives when we felt the urge to make someone else feel small to make ourselves feel bigger even if it was only in our imagination. We can ask ourselves, have I ever bullied? Do I owe any amends? Is there anyone that I need to apologize to in order to set things right?
We can examine our own behavior, and see if we’ve isolated another, or played a “prank” that hurt someone’s feelings. Ever egged someone’s house, or pulled a chair out from under them, or laughed when someone else did it or encouraged someone else to do hurtful behaviors? Ever intentionally excluded someone from a group activity? Have you joined in a rumor, or participated in gossip that hurt another? We may not have meant to hurt or humiliate anyone, but in our unexamined actions we might cause others to suffer because of our own insecurities.
As a clinician and psychotherapist I have worked with people who have been bullied, and those who have been bullies. The truth is that everyone suffers in their own way. On some level it’s amazing we all made it out of high school alive.
At my ten year high school reunion, 15 women apologized to me for the bullying that occurred in my teen years. This took courage and humility on their part. Some say that time heals all wounds, but in my experience time by itself can let us cover over the pain and block those hurt feelings rather than truly freeing ourselves of the inner pain. With intentional and deliberate inner emotional and psychological work, I was able to get beyond the pain and scars of the bullying experience to place of healing and thriving. Some might say that the painful experience allowed me to become a bodhisattva in training. I did have the opportunity to develop more compassion for others, even those who act aggressively. I now feel grateful because it’s helped me in my training to do the work I do today. Ultimately, I continue to practice accepting myself and others for who we all truly are.
I look forward to hearing about your experience. Your comments make a difference for all of us.



Julie       Posted: 8/31/2011 1:00:03 AM

Sounds like we went to the same high school!

To comment on lisar251''s post, I believe the answer is to empower those who can stop the bullying and help the bully get appropriate guidance. They need to know there is a problem and have the resources to deal with it.

Kids that are being bullied need an advocate with those in authority over the bully. The advocate can be a parent, a school official, etc. I think kids feel empowered when we take them seriously and act in ways that are supportive of their needs.

When my son was bullied in the 1st grade, I did not expect him to bring it to his teacher''s attention that her discplinary system was ineffective and that the solution was as simple as calling the kid''s parents. I did not expect him to confront the bullies about their behavior. He did the right thing to tell me and have me take care of it with the teacher. The bullies'' parents took care of it with their kids, and that was the end of it. It was not a 1st grader''s job to take it any further than telling his parents.

Shawn       Posted: 8/30/2011 9:54:05 PM

It''s funny how we tend to assume that those who are successful and grounded later in life somehow had it easy growing up! Yet I find, as in your case, it rarely is the situation.

Bullying is such a terrible thing and until recently I don''t think was taken seriously (Kids will be kids was the mantra I heard growing up).

But so glad that''s changing and that people like you are a stand for what can happen when the deep healing work is done...and how that serves others.

Kate Sanner       Posted: 8/28/2011 10:28:23 AM

Excellent post, Dr. Howard!

lisar251       Posted: 8/29/2011 10:29:01 PM

Looking back is there anyway you could have empowered yourself at the time and gotten the bullying to stop or even changed schools?

I was called ''retard'' by class-mate/friend of my brothers and I don''t think I even told an adult (the moms were friends). I did back then what I still do today via breath holding/silence and feel powerless. It scarred me bc a part of my already believed I was ''stupid'' and less then and I felt I was in a way.

Just wondering if we can help the parents/teachers etc to teach our kids to feel empowered...

Dawn       Posted: 9/15/2011 2:54:29 PM

Jennifer, I never had a clue that this was happening to you in highschool. I always admired you from afar. I apologize for not being aware of what was going on around me. For what it is worth. You always seemed strong, smart and together in every way. I guess we have all had instances in our lives when the so called "happy face" covers up what we are really going thru! Take care of yourself.

seahorse       Posted: 8/30/2011 9:48:04 PM

Dr. Howard, I am sure that even after all of these years it was very difficult for you to write and share your experience. I am also sure that the post will help a lot of people feel not-so-alone. Thank you.

Shonda Taylor       Posted: 9/6/2011 11:28:33 AM

As I often say, bullying is nothing new in school. I too was bullied mercilessly after I moved into a new neighborhood where it seemed the other kids felt I didn''t belong. My bullying was less about violence although I was hit and pushed several times. For me it was more about the rumors, name-calling, and being left out. It was only after I got to college that I began to fit in and find myself. And after many years on my journey, I now look back on those days and can''t help but feel somewhat grateful. If it wasn''t for the bullying I may not have taken the path that I did. So thank you for sharing your experience. It''s nice to know that you''re not alone. Many blessings. Shonda Taylor-author of the Spiritual Freedom Process.

Connie       Posted: 8/31/2011 1:16:36 PM

Hi Dr. Jennifer, yes the strong successful entrepreneur who I sat near on the plane did not strike me as someone who had been abused in high school. I was not bullied in school and my Dad was my principal. Knowing early-on that he was aware of family backgrounds of students both bullying and bullied, I felt this made him highly qualified to be an effective mediator, and bring issues to a fair conclusion. He was the most fair-minded adult I knew growing up, and had a great influence on my youthful personality. I wonder if you had a good support system at home or tried to recruit the help of a respected teacher, if your own ordeals would not have resulted in years of torture. I am very lucky to have had the parents I did and their ready support, but I know this is often not the case.
Happy to have met the transitioned YOU. Connie

fat loss       Posted: 11/11/2011 2:40:31 PM

Probably the greatest blog around!

Jon M       Posted: 10/30/2011 2:32:33 PM

It''s an excellent feature.
I think we all suffer bullying throughout our lives in various forms and do so to others as you say in subtle ways even not realizing it. Suicide can result in those with which is the worst. Office banter can be cruel & picking out the weak ones is an example. Those in authority also do it as a means of expanding their ego, within sibling groups another example. Most surprising I know of a current ongoing situation of teasing within a spiritual group by a faciltator, who has spread to the other group members, so the majority of that group now do that same tease, again very subtle bullying and cruel aspect of human nature.

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