Surviving the Effects of Bullying
Many people think back on their school days with fondness. They get warm fuzzies about their friends, fun at school dances and pranks at school. For others, school was a nightmare where bullies made fun of them, humiliated them, and destroyed their self-esteem.
When Christians experience bullying as children, they may carry this emotional baggage into adulthood.
For me, I remember feeling lonely and isolated from my classmates by shyness and awkwardness. I was bullied off and on from about Grade 5 to Grade 10. At its worst, coming to class was like walking in a mine field. Mystery hands tried to push me down the crowded stairwells as the student masses flowed down the steps. Boys would grab my books and play catch with them.
I had to watch out for boys putting their feet in the aisles to trip me up. When I sat down at my desk, the girl behind me would pull my hair and poke me. Nasty comments about my ugliness and weirdness were scribbled onto the desks. I cringed every time my teacher called my name in class in case someone sniggered or mocked my stupidity.
Health risks of bullying
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, victims who were bullied in childhood are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, and a five times higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts in adulthood. Others are at a higher risk of substance abuse or having a lower immune system.
Bullying can destroy our self-esteem, trust issues, a sense of security and body image - if we allow them. It is like a tornado whirling through our lives, sucking up our positive traits and leaving in its wake, fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, depression, and destruction. How do we begin to repair the damage?
Some people look to physical solutions to repair the harm done to them. Some former geeks seek affirmation that they have hot bodies and good looks by becoming strippers or models. Others turn to drugs, alcohol, or obsessive compulsive behaviors to deal with their pain.
Some talk shows occasionally show a "geeks to gorgeous" segment where people who were picked on in high school show off their hot new looks to the bullies who teased them and put them down. Pictures flash with victim’s dorky looks - hair askew, a face full of acne, coke bottle glasses, flat stick figures, etc.
Then poof - through a cloud of smoke and flashing lights the former victim confidently walks out on stage. Their tight, short dresses or speedos leave little to the imagination. The whistles and panting males in the audience confirm that the former geek is now a sexy, confident woman, handsome man or a stunning drag queen.
There may be some satisfaction in seeing the former bully forming a shocked silent "wow" on his lips or on his knees apologizing for his hurtful actions. But is that kind of confirmation all that is needed to heal the wounds inside? How do we get over the hurt and humiliation inflicted by bullies?
Acknowledge our pain
First, we must take a hard look at ourselves and acknowledge our pain. I had to admit how much it bothered me when my classmates called me ugly. How ashamed I felt of my stupidity when people made fun of my awkward ways. How depressed I was when no one wanted to be my friend. If we don't face our emotional anguish,
It is easy to get caught in a destructive pattern of recycling pain and letting it define who we are. A tape is recorded that plays in our heads every time we face life's challenges.
"Bullies told me I am ugly, so I might as well accept the fact that I will never get married."
"Bullies told me I was stupid, so I can't be confident at my job."
"Bullies told me to be ashamed of my body, so I will cover it up and stay out of social situations."
Even when the bullies are gone, the recording takes over and we subconsciously repeat their negative messages in our heads. Our false beliefs about ourselves kick in and ruin our relationships, work, and social life. And we hurt all over again. We need to challenge those messages.
Bullies measure us by human standards: beauty, wealth, status, intelligence, etc. For me, I struggled with my looks for a time. Yet, my mirror image reflected an attractive woman with a perfect oval face, flawless skin and thick curly brown hair that never needed a perm - much to the envy of my friends later in life. My shape was graceful and toned by years of dance training.
The physical attributes were there, yet bullies though I was ugly. I was considered stupid both by by the kids at my school, yet I actually was very intelligent. So what was something wrong with me? From God’s viewpoint – nothing at all.
Seeing ourselves from God’s perspective
Instead of focusing on why our bullies have a negative opinion about us, we need to see ourselves as God sees us. God is the one who really knows us as His very special creation. To Him, we are beautiful, inside and out. God equips us with intelligence, talents, and the courage to fight our battles. It doesn't matter if we have a physical disability or are socially inept. God does not give us any challenges that we do not have the strength to handle. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Bullies base their decision to harass someone on their own dislikes or prejudices, a sick need to feel powerful in front of their peers, and craving to feel better about themselves by putting someone else down. These are not valid criteria for us to use to determine our self-worth.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
God gives us the ability to, as the Serenity Prayer says, accept the things we cannot change and change the things we can. He gives us many tools to help us on our journey. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand how much God loves and cherishes us.
Good friends,can also help us to see us as we really are. The Bible tells also how, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome my insecurities, anger and low self-esteem.
When I was bullied, I locked up all of character traits that would show my inner beauty for fear of being hurt.
My outgoing personality hid behind a wall of shyness and silence. My intelligence and extensive knowledge of books and culture was not allowed to show. I had to submit myself to the love and care of God to let down my defenses and become the person that God wants me to be.
Loving our enemies
Jesus commands us to love our enemies, pray for them and do good to them if we can (Luke 6:27-28). The last thing we want to do is do something helpful to a bully, but really, our niceness will probably be more galling to the bullies than nasty remarks or revenge attempts. It is like heaping burning coals on their heads (Romans 12:20).
Forgiving the perpetrators
Forgiving those who hurt us is an essential step in the healing process. If we allow ourselves to succumb to the temptation to stew in our anger and hurt, we stay stuck in our pain. We are giving the bullies a stronghold in our lives that will continue to fester until we are willing to let it go. God promises all through the Bible that He will avenge any wrongs that were committed against us. We have to trust that God will take care of the situation.
Trying to understand why people bully
Why do people bully? Sometimes an understanding of where a bully is coming from can help us to heal. There are many reasons why people indulge in this kind of behavior, most of which have nothing to do with us as a person.
I looked at things impartially, I found that the bullying was not about me, it was about them - their need to vent their fury, dominate, appear powerful or express their dislike of someone just because they are shy or different. Bullying is usually not personal, and should not be internalized that way. If we weren't there, someone else would have gotten the same treatment.
© 2013 Carola Finch