Thursday, September 17, 2009

On bullying

There is a notion out there, a very dangerous one, that bullies only lash out because they are jealous. Someone stands out because they're special and the bullies don't like it and try to cut 'em down to their own size... as it were. So there. And all that.

I don’t think that’s true at all. Sometimes, I’ll allow that someone somewhere will actually lash out because of jealousy. Rich parents, better home, cooler natural hair, bigger church… whatever. It was my experience though, that most of the horrible things done between my classmates were done for establishment and maintenance of power. When she said my socks didn’t match and laughed as hard as she could until I cried, she wasn’t secretly jealous of me in some other way. When they told me I’d never get boobs or boyfriends because of various things that rhymed with my name, it wasn’t because they thought I had an awesome name and great hair. When, in turn, I was horrible to “weaker” students than myself it was because I had a lot of hurt inside me and the only way to deal with it was to make the anger in me louder than the pain. Hurting someone else is sometimes it’s own reward; not any other mechanism of jealousy. In middle school especially, the strong will eat the weak. Period. The weak sometimes learn to blend in with the strong, sometimes escape their tormentors’ wrath by becoming tormentors themselves, and usually just live through the entire ordeal stuck tight in their weakness with no way out.

Rarely though, is it actually because of jealousy. Girls don’t make other girls cry because of jealousy. They do it because they can and because it gives them power. They do it because they enjoy cutting power away from others. No really. THAT kind of power feels very, very good. Girls are very, very good at it. Causing someone irrational, emotional pain is a very powerful experience and it is the first real power that many of these girls ever feel – for a very sad few of them, it will be the last sense of control they ever get.

Now, while it’s true that nobody can make you feel bad unless you give them permission, that kind of balanced approach to a stressful situation cannot be gained while in the throes of middle school. We’re not yet strong enough to place personal importance outside the reach of our hateful counterparts. We’re not yet smart enough to ignore their words and we’re not yet emotionally stable enough to shake off the slander that really hits home. It’s a time, cruelly, when we’re learning those tools and gaining those strengths, but as they’re still unformed… we’re all still brutally vulnerable and very few of us come through it unbroken.

She is getting singled out for some reason. She probably does stand out. That she is incapable of concealing whatever it is that makes her a target just adds salt to the wound. A lot of it. Telling someone that they’ve been bullied (and locked in a locker without pants on, for instance) because they’re “special” makes that someone want to carve out every nuance of “special” that ever existed to prevent the torment from continuing. Approaching a bully with a blurred “I know you are but what am I” kind of defense mechanism only escalates the banter and it spurs on the bullying to sickening levels with sickening efficiency.

She is getting singled out. Acknowledge that. Embrace it and help her find ways to gain strength from it by learning to avoid the situations entirely. Help her learn that the words, though they hurt, come from a place that she doesn’t control. Tell her it’s not her fault and that she can learn to be a far more compassionate person to those around her because of her experience. Teach her to listen, and observe, and predict where the bad stuff happens so that she can just plain avoid it, and eventually discover ways to disarm it before it escalates…

Because THAT is a skill that she’ll use all through her adult professional life and beyond.

No comments: