For all the talk about bullies, they still exist. Even if your school has a no-bullying policy, you know that that policy has holes in it. People still bully other people. People still bully you.
What can you do? When you’re being bullied, what are your options?
Bullying includes physical intimidation, of course, people shoving you, tripping you, and threatening violence. Bullying includes taking your stuff, trashing your stuff, and threatening to trash your stuff. But bullying also includes saying bad things about you, spreading lies and rumors, attacking you on social media, and threatening others who are nice to you. Bullies are masters of control. They have multiple weapons to use against you.
This is why bullies continue to be such a problem. It’s hard for the people in charge to watch everyone all the time, and it’s impossible to limit kids’ interactions with each other to the point that bullying can’t happen. So while zero-tolerance policies at school and community awareness programs are helpful, they are powerless to actually stop the problem. If you’re being bullied, you must decide on your own what to do about it.
Bullies are cowards. They don’t attack everyone but focus on people they think they can manipulate. Be someone who is stronger than that.
- Dial down your guilt feelings so you can be less nice. I’m not saying you should turn into a bully but you want to quit being a patsy. If you find yourself saying “yes” to requests when you really would like to say “no,” then start being more in charge of yourself. Forget feeling guilty about refusing other people or about doing your own thing.
- Quit playing favorites—and favoring bullies. You hand your bully power when you do whatever he asks you to do. There should be no one (except maybe your parents) who can dictate your actions all the time, every time. If you find yourself caving in to the same person over and over, that’s a bad sign. Try saying “no.”
- Realize that you can be a kind person without being a doormat. Check to see if you have a reputation as someone who can always be counted on to help out. Check to see if others don’t really see you as a person but see you as a helpful accessory they can employ when they want. Your friends aren’t bullies, of course, but your reputation as someone who will do anything someone asks is understood by everyone.
- Notice that you’re not responsible for everybody else. Along with being too kind, some of us—often the same people—are too responsible, always worrying about others’ feelings, about their success on their homework, or about their lack of lunch money. You are not responsible for other people’s happiness. Don’t get involved.
- Make people meet your standards. Someone who is not a good friend isn’t a friend at all. Someone who cheats and is mean and spreads rumors isn’t the sort of person who deserves your time and attention. Be admired for your steady self-concept not for your puppy-dog friendliness.
Obviously, these are things you can do. I’m not telling you that being bullied is your fault and that if you were a stronger, more together person bullies wouldn’t bother you. That’s true – bullies are cowards and they pick on easy targets—but it’s not your fault that it’s true. I’m just trying to tell you how you might be coming across. I’m also trying to tell you that the only person you have the power to change in this bully-victim relationship is yourself. You’ll feel more confident and less vulnerable once you are more confident and less vulnerable.
So do what you can to build yourself up and be strong without going over to the Dark Side. You don’t have to be a bully to manage bullies but you don’t have to be nice to them either. Understand also that the world cannot protect you, so don’t count on it. To a great extent, you’re on your own here, and realizing that is part of putting bullies in their place.
At the same time, do your part to make bullying unacceptable. Report bullies to the authorities. Let your parents know what you’re going through. Make sure your friends know where you stand. Make sure you have other people around you, to back you up or at least be your witnesses, when bullies appear on the horizon.
Remember this: you’re right and the bullies are wrong.