Today is Bullying Awareness (aka Pink Shirt) day. Conscientious people who are aware of it are wearing pink shirts to help raise awareness of Bullying and its cost to the victims. It is a topic I am very sensitive about, having been subjected to a lot of severe bullying as a child.
For those who have never been bullied severely, it is hard to understand just how many forms it can take, and how fast it escalates from “Kick Me” signs, nasty names, and shoving (the popular image), to character assassination, dangerous pranks, violent assaults, false police charges, and even rapes. My school ignored “harmless bullying” in hopes that it would toughen me up based on the earlier image. Because they made light of it, my bullies sexually assaulted me, and later, did permanent damage to my body. It isn’t a laughing matter.
Bullies are wounded, angry, psychologically scarred people – they are working out their own inner pain and confusion on someone who can’t fight back, usually because they can’t fight their own abusers. Because of this, a lot of them don’t have the wherewithal to know when or how to stop. They keep escalating until they hurt someone, or one of their victims snaps. One of the boys who bullied me from 1993-94 was murdered by another boy who was bullied by him, because it had become so severe.
The result of bullying can be intense and long-lasting. Some of the results I have experienced myself included:
- Recurring nightmares.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Psycho-sexual disorders.
- Inability to trust others.
- Antisocial behaviour caused by displaced anger.
- Alienation from my own gender.
- Distorted body-image.
- Low self-esteem.
- Disrupted academic performance.
- Permanent physical scarring.
- Detachment from the body.
- Compulsive eating leading to obesity.
In other people close to me I have also seen bullying cause:
- Brain damage.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
- Drug addiction.
- Running away and homelessness.
- Criminal arrests.
- Vulnerability to cult brainwashing.
- Personality disorders.
Look again at those lists. The last one especially: at 33 I have lost three friends to suicide; all of them found it a better option than continuing to be bullied.
Is this list looking familiar to you? I want you to sit down and take a minute to take inventory; if you have been bullied, what has it cost you? What is it still costing you?
One of the worst parts is that bullying can turn you into a bully, too. The hurt can be so severe that you need to work it out yourself, and hurting others the way that you have been hurt becomes an almost automatic reflex. Human beings are basically good creatures; we generally act in bad, cruel, and evil ways because we feel we have been hurt and wronged (*). When we become damaged through experiences like bullying and abuse, it can lead to sense that we are always wronged, irrevocably victims can become people who continually hurt others, creating a domino effect of pain and revenge that spreads out throughout our culture.
The impact of bullying can be life-long, an endless well of pain, frustration and anger… but it doesn’t have to be.
In the past few years I have made a lot of efforts to free my mind from a lot of the pain and misery that Bullying has caused me in the past. I have had the good fortune of learning NLP techniques for controlling the power of memories as part of my professional training. I have worked through elaborate meditative programs to release the pain of being bullied. I have performed ritual releases of my pain. I have attended programs on forgiveness.
I have had the good fortune of working with Forgiveness expert Colleen Bushman, (along with two other incredible coaches who have focused on the issues), who pointed out to me how important it is to let go of these experiences. She told me that holding on to the pain of being bullied means that I have invited every last one of the people who hurt me to do so for the rest of my life over and over again. Worse yet, I am not hurting them one bit by remaining bitter and angry; somewhere they are relaxing in their apartments – or jail cells (I am not entirely done with bitterness) – without a second thought to me. The only person who is getting hurt now is me, and it is within my power to stop it.
Believe me, it is worth it. Now that I have made the effort to let go of the pain of being bullied, I am less prone to depressive thoughts. I am able to approach the world with a positive attitude. I can enter into meetings with trust, and doing so, earn the trust of people who can help me with my business and social life. I can focus exclusively on the things that matter to me. I don’t waste another moment reliving my experiences, except when I do so as a story to help others.
And the result of those changes are: I’m happier, I’m bolder, I’m stronger, I’m sexier, I’m more confident, and I am more creative.
So here are some basics you can do over the space of just one month that can let you drop that pain.
Forgiveness is not what a lot of people think it is. It isn’t choosing to forget what has been done to you and think kindly on the bully that has done it. It is saying “what you did has no power over me anymore” and refusing to let it control you. It is deciding that the bullies of your past – and their actions have no place in your present. Letting go of grudges. I don’t know why we would ever choose to forget, the two do not have to be part of the same package.
Tell Your Story
Chances are, you have never shared the worst part of being bullied with anyone. Nobody knows the worst, most painful moments. I urge you to write it down as a story so that it is out there in the world. You can keep it to yourself if it is too painful to share, but I find it is best to share it with one other person at least. In my case, I shared it with the world through The Good Men Project. They are interested in this kind of story, and sharing it can help others heal, too. I would be honoured to hear your story, if you have no one else you could share it with.
I recommend Colleen Bushman’s excellent programme on forgiveness.
Burn Your Pain
I am a big fan of ceremonies. The ancient Celts had one that has always worked well for me, in miniature. They would take all condemned criminals, as well as symbols of the evil in the world, and offerings to the gods, and bind them inside giant wicker men, which they would burn on Samhain (Halloween) night. I did something similar by taking all the feelings and all the memories and turning them into written messages. I put them in a box, and I burned it to ashes. This sort of catharsis can be incredibly powerful. Other good options might be tossing them in a river, or making them into clay figures you can smash with a hammer.
I’d imagine you probably don’t know how to get in touch with the people who hurt you in the past. The worst bully in my school was named after a famous ancestor, as were every other boy in his extended family for the last three generations. Finding the one I wanted to talk to would be a near impossibility after 20 years. Whether you can find them or not, write them a letter (by hand). Tell them what their bullying cost you, how it has lingered in your life, and how you now choose to let go, because they have no further power over you. Just get it out. If you can and want to, by all means send it. If not, destroy the letter after you’re done.
Take Control of your Memory
Bullying survivors often let themselves be drawn into memories of their bullying, reliving the whole event over and over again at the worst possible times. Memories have power over us… if we let them. There are exercises out there that can allow you to weaken the power and intensity of memories. With a little work, a memory that drives you to tears on a regular basis can be made faint and indistinct, with no power to intrude on your life, and little effect on your current emotional reality.
Resolve to Live Well
George Herbert once said “Living well is the best revenge.” He’s right. There is nothing that erase the power others have over you than to find something better to do with your time. By focusing on your goals and your happiness, and doing your utmost to have them, you don’t leave much room for sadness, depression, or trauma. Set powerful and meaningful goals for yourself, and take action to reach them every day.
* I figure I should back that statement up. This is not an article of faith alone for me, this comes from years of study of philosophy and the human condition. If you really want more than that, I can also offer you science.