When the full story is written of these fast-changing times, surely one the most significant events of this century will be the now upcoming death of bullying. Bullying has been one of the embedded destructive cultural habits of the now fading period of power-by-domination. Bullying is responsible perhaps more than any other distorted behavior, for the erosion of the not-always-present values of respect, nurture and care in our human consciousness. Today, thanks to the many caring and conscientious public school teachers and principals, responsive parents, legislatures, judges and police officers, we are training our elementary, middle and high school children to be able to identify bullying, to successfully interrupt bullying and training them how to socially stop it (www.stopbullying.gov). Intentionally or otherwise, we are actually using our children to eliminate one of the most toxic behaviors of the past 5000 years of power-by-domination, thus making room and respite for the much needed qualities and values of respect, nurture and care. This will be an amazing and productive feat of what otherwise could be called social engineering via child labor (or child learning)!
“Typically, the bullying-cycle must include both an act of aggression on the part of a potential bully, and a response by a potential target that is perceived ‘by both’ as a certain sign of submission. In other words, usually unconsciously, the target “agrees” to be bullied.
Bullying is the repetitive and disrespectful diminution of a person’s Being-state – who they are, what they think or feel. Spiritually and psychologically, bullying attempts to create a sense of separation and uncertainty between the person/group and their sense of Self, eroding their ability to listen to their own intuition and their own inner knowing. In essence, bullying attempts to separates a person/group from their connection with their inner Spirit [e.g. the bullying present in cultural racism attempts to diminish one’s sense of Self and worthiness as a Human Being]. In this sense bullying is trespassing upon the inherent Spirit of a person or group – a kind of spiritual violation or spiritual crime.
NOTE: Extreme physical bullying, such as assault, , extortion, blackmail, torture and murder are legally identified crimes. The focus of this article is on daily-life bullying. While the dynamics of all bullying remains the same, obviously the possible consequences of any involvement or attempts to interrupt physically violent bullying is very dangerous.
The tools of the bully can vary, but all of them are unkind, impolite, emotionally crazy-making, and sometimes physically dangerous. The most common tool is the verbal jab or retort that attempts to minimize, trivialize or exaggerate your identity, your ideas, or your feelings. The goal is to discredit, and socially or spiritually isolate you, “keep you in your place”, and ultimately shut you down.
Another tool the bully uses is exaggerating their own emotions as a way of minimizing yours. Typical in domestic relationships, the bully’s feelings are felt and expressed in large and exaggerated tones and terms – absorbing all the time and energy of the discussion. It becomes a process of wearing you down, and arguing you into submission. You rationalize your submission by calling it love and saying, “If it is that important to you…then let’s do it your way”. Bullying can also appear passive as in ‘the silent treatment’. This is a another version of “socially/spiritually isolating” you. Making you feel alone to increase your sense of uncertainty, and increase the bully’s sense of power. This method is often used on playgrounds and schools by children and teens that isolate and ostracize their target. The silent treatment is also common within adult domestic relationships.
Perhaps the most sophisticated bullying technique is the mastery of voice tone. Here, the content spoken is often irrelevant be it damning, observational, or praise – but it is the voice tone cleverly juxtaposed to the words spoken which hints, suggests, insinuates or outright proclaims the real message of judgment, distain and unworthiness of some aspect of a person’s Being – who they are, what they think or feel, or believe. This method is often seen in unhealthy corporate cultures, and is also common in highly educated groups and relationships.
As you can see, bullying can be a really messy affair. And while it is likely we all have used one or more bullying techniques when we have felt threatened or uncomfortable, a true bully uses these techniques repetitively, unapologetically and often unconsciously. For a true bully, the bullying behavior is a default. It is this unconscious aspect of bullying that has allowed it to be culturally overlooked and unchallenged – until now.
The Dynamics of Bullying & How to Stop It
“Typically, the bullying-cycle must include both an act of aggression on the part of a potential bully, and a response by a potential target that is perceived ‘by both’ as a certain sign of submission. The cycle is only set in motion when both of these two essential elements are present. Once both of these two elements manifest themselves, the bullying cycle often proceeds to feed on itself over time, and may last for months, years, or even decades. The cycle is most easily broken at its initial onset; however, it can also be broken at any later point in its progression by simply removing either one of its two essential ingredients.” Wikipedia 2014
The most essential element behind bullying is a “mutually perceived power difference”. Both the bully and the target of the bully need to believe in this power difference – which on various levels may be very real – physically, socially and economically. The aggressor in bullying is using a disrespectful-power-seeking-behavior for personal and social gain.
Unfortunately, bullies will likely always be with us. The more helpful thing is for you, as the target of bullying, is to find a way to dissolve, shift or alter this perceived power difference. Naming it and understanding the dynamics behind it is the only way to stop it.
One of the most effective ways to shift the perceived or real power difference is to consider the legal and/or spiritual aspects of your life and the bully’s life. Both the legal realm and the spiritual realm place a high value on the inherent sovereignty and the inherent dignity of every individual and group. Legally and spiritually, everyone is created equal. If you as the target of bullying can gain a solid grasp of the interaction between you and your bully on legal/spiritual grounds, you will be much more likely to begin to think, see and act in a “non-submissive” way. Your willingness to stand up for your inherent sovereignty and dignity will stimulate your courage and creativity – and you will begin to see this bullying ruse for what it is – you are allowing yourself to be diminished and disrespected, and you realize this is not the way you should be treated. This shift in your perception and energy field in and of itself will begin to interrupt and stop the bullying. You will begin to sense and recognize new and different ways to respond to your bully. Make no mistake, challenging bullying will always be emotionally risky, and can sometimes be physically risky. You cannot always predict how the bully will react to your new responses – but you can learn that recapturing your self-esteem is worth the risk. While no amount of predictive theory on bullying will eliminate the physical and emotional risks of developing your challenge to bullying, understanding the dynamics which feed or starve bullying behavior is key to rising above it. Gradually, you will become a model and mentor for others.
Training the Responsive Bystander -Bystanders and witnesses have a huge strategic, creative and active role to play in creating the energy impression of non-submission which breaks the bullying cycle. The bully uses the mutually perceived power difference to create feelings of social/spiritual isolation in you. It is not uncommon for bystanders to feel equally threatened by a bully. For their own protection, they will often simply stand by and witness rather than intervene or assist. Sometimes that is the wiser thing to do. However, when teaching children how to interrupt bullying in schools, one of the main interruptive techniques is “spontaneous crowd support”. A whole group of bystanders will spontaneously surround the person being bullied and engage him/her an irrelevant improvisational group conversation, or begin singing, or telling stories. Bystander support, especially collective bystander support dissolves the energy imbalance of the bullying dynamic and eliminates the social isolation of the target of the bully. Both of these shifts interrupt the act of bullying and make room for something new and respectful to unfold. Trained responsive bystanders are the key to uprooting our culturally embedded behavior of bullying, and shift our collective response to a sense of cultural responsibility for the well-being of us all as a community. I am seeing the day when we train everyone on how to effectively and safely be a “Responsive Bystander to Bullying”; similar to the way we train everyone in the Heimlich maneuver and CPR.
Last week I was helping a caretaker of a small apartment building fix some things on the second floor. One of the posted building rules is: ‘No loitering in hallways’. I looked down and saw the caretaker’s very precocious 14-year old granddaughter sitting on the hallway steps chatting with her friend. Teasingly I said, “Who are those people loitering in the stairway?” Completely unfettered, she smilingly turned and said, “Quit bullying RedHeart”. I felt the joy of freedom and authenticity radiate from this young wise one. “Good catch”, I replied, and she went back to her conversation.
“When a couple says they never fight – one of them is a coward, the other is a bully.” Pre-marital counseling from Father Joseph Besslar – priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Dent, Minnesota 1921-57.