Bullying has the potential for significant emotional harm but individuals have the potential to be less vulnerable and more resilient towards bullying and its’ effects. It is clear that people’s mindset about bullying largely determines the effect of the bullying on their emotional and behavioural response.
Two girls receive the same cyber-message on several occasions saying that each has been fooling around with a popular boy at a school party and that the boy’s girlfriend is on the warpath. Carmen is quite devastated feeling extremely depressed about the impact of the message on her reputation while Alex pays little attention to the message, reminds herself that she is a worthwhile person and returns a SMS saying that the sender’s spelling stinks.
Research and clinical work with children, adolescents and adults who have been bullied that has shown that a major contributor to helplessness, despair, depression and rage is their tendency to take bullying behaviour personally: “Because I am being picked on, there must be something wrong with me. I must be a real loser. This is awful, I can’t cope.” This self-talk reflects an attitude of self-depreciation. People who have not been wounded by bullying have a strong amount of self-acceptance. They protect themselves emotionally by thinking “While it stinks to be bullied, I am still a worthwhile person. I am proud of who I am. I can cope.”
Are we disempowering people because of the belief that not only is bullying bad, but it is something awful and terrible and, therefore, we have no choice but to feel devastated? Epictetus wrote over 2,000 years ago “People are not affected by events but by their view of events” and Shakespeare said that “Things are neither good nor bad but thinking makes them so.”
Bernard, M.E., & Ward, D. (2012). Bullying: Building the capacity to cope. Oakleigh, VIC: Australian Scholarships Group.
Michael E. Bernard, Ph.D. Professor Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne Founder, You Can Do It! Education