That bully needs to talk! (And it’s in everyone’s interest that they do.)

by rachael bushby Jan 31, 2020

10 things you can do to make bullying better and why.

You freeze. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Your blood boils. You are resisting full fight mode. ‘Don’t say anything, dad - it’ll make it worse!’ says a little voice. The same little voice that has been gathering all its strength for hours, days, weeks, months, (years even) … to tell you they’re being bullied. Or try to explain they’re being pushed out, just little by little, until they’re made to feel worthless and humiliated. Or - if they’re really brave – to finally find the courage to tell you they believed by sending that nude photo, they’d be liked and accepted - but instead it’s been sent to everyone in the WhatsApp group  (the one that was set up especially to talk about them) and now they just want to crawl under their duvet and hide from the jubilant taunts of the keyboard warriors. Toxic. Insidious. All too common. But what do we do? They’re right. We may very well make it worse if the systems we rely on are not fit for purpose.

‘Bullying’ - a soft and liltingly unsatisfactory word that fails to evoke the true nature of the story it defines. Seeping into every walk of life, it is an ugly manifestation of the human ego - a unhealthy desire to bolster self-esteem by shaming others (arguably projecting the inherent shame of the perpetrator). And it’s on us all. It’s a flaw in our human make-up. None of us knows when we might succumb to its draw, in whatever subtle guise it shadows us. We must be constantly be on our guard, because if we use our power, in whatever form, to cause pain to those we perceive to be weaker, we go there. We might not intend to, we might not notice, we might justify it in all sorts of intellectual ways – but we go there.

I teach teenagers and I coach adults but when it comes to bullying, the hallmarks are the same. The bully pays and so does the bullied. There are no winners in the long-run. The pain bullying causes makes it hard to believe (or care) that the bullies suffer too. But they do. Often, whilst belittling others they have artificially high self-esteem as this strategy works in the short-term, but their deeper-rooted issues are always there, inevitably coming to light later. In the short-term, however, their cruelty is serving a purpose and its rewards are often more powerful than the threat of the punishments. Bullying is as old as time and without sounding entirely defeatist, won’t ever be eradicated entirely.

But... and this is a big but... society can do far more to address the root cause rather than simply treat the symptoms. And it needs to start early, because you can bet your bottom dollar, the bullies in the workplace were in the thick of it as kids. They may have been bullied or they may have been bullies or they may have witnessed bullying, but they certainly didn’t invent it when they reached 38 and the dizzy heights of middle-management.

And don’t get me wrong, we do a lot already. ‘Stop bullying’ campaigns can make an impact (especially those that target the ‘laugh-alongs’); punishments sometimes feel necessary and arguably could be harsher; victims can be encouraged to rise above their attackers etc. etc. But all these surface-level, and often reactive methods, fail to address a fundamental problem: bullies often can’t stop! They feel deep shame and need help. And they don’t hide this fact: they are screaming out for help, sometimes from a very young age.

It is widely accepted that one of the most distressing childhood experiences is to be a victim of bullying. However, where is the investment in addressing it? We have an arsenal of over 400 types of therapy on the planet – but when it comes to bullying, we seem to default to the good old poster campaign! According to the charity Bullying UK, bullying is a significant issue in many schools but the way it's dealt with makes all the difference – so let’s deal with it better. That doesn’t mean hard-working teachers working harder, it means government investment.

The advice for children who are being bullied is to speak out and tell someone. But what happens when they do?  Current advice suggests that changing your body language can make a huge difference to whether the bullies notice you; this is something a counsellor or therapist can work on in the form of role play or creative therapy in order to empower the client with the ability to step out boldly and look confident, even if they are not feeling that way on the inside. How many children (and adults for that matter) who need this support, can access it in a timely manner? In my experience, not many.

Coaches can also work on goal setting. This requires the coach to engage in active listening; to paraphrase and summarise the client’s words and thus clarify their meaning; and to observe the core conditions as set out by Carl Rogers (empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard).  If it is the bully who being coached, this is also an opportunity for them to admit to themselves how they feel about their actions. By offering alternative perspectives, the coach is able to prompt them to consider their options carefully and have chance to explore various different courses of action.

Bullying is something that society has to confront head on. All schools have policies that set out the stages of dealing with an incident in terms of punishing the perpetrators, however not all schools are able to offer emotional support to the victims and bullies that is consistent enough to enable them to heal. Schools that do have an integral counselling service and adopt a coaching philosophy are best placed to serve the needs of both students and staff. Luxmoore discusses the importance of an institutional culture that is open, honest and free of anxiety where asking for support is considered ‘normal’ and even ‘admirable’. [1] It is within this environment, that students feel comfortable and confident to come forward and seek help.


So, back to the worried parent dealing with the bullying bombshell. What can you do to make life that little bit easier for your children (once you’ve managed to wrestle your inner grizzly bear, that is!)?

  1. Listen to them. Don’t just hear what they are saying. Really listen.
  2. Listen to yourself – does your gut instinct tell you they need more help?
  3. Ask your child to write down everything that’s happened or help them do this.
  4. Talk to the school.
  5. Even better, write to the school – include your child’s words.
  6. Ask to see a copy of the school’s bullying policy.
  7. Ask what intervention is being put in place for the bully. A simple punishment may not be enough. Suggest they may need more support!
  8. Check the bully’s parents/carers have been engaged.
  9. Ask about counselling or coaching or other empathetic therapy for your child.
  10. Contact charities for support/search blogs – click here for more info.

 [1] Nick Luxmoore, School Counsellors Working with Young People and Staff, P20


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