Counsellors thoughts: Anti-bullying week 2020
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
In a world that needs connection this year, 'United against Bullying' is a great theme for this year's #antibullyingweek. I imagine that everyone has been touched by bullying, whether experiencing this personally, supporting a loved one going through a similar situation, or even acknowledging that they were once the bully. If you have had dealings with bullying, you know that it brings up feelings of fear, anxiety, low self-worth and loneliness.
It is important to remember also that, although the campaign is directed towards school children, bullying can happen at home, in social circles and at work. It may be passed off as something else, but it is still bullying and is still hurtful. Why is bullying so hard to cope with?
Firstly, it chips away at your self-confidence; what may start as a small comment can snowball into something major and before you know it, a group is making remarks about something you have done, or the way you are. Which raises the next point - bullying often centres around who someone is as a person; the way you look (or don't look), the way you act (or don't act), the ways you think (or don't think). Constant aggressive comments about this are damaging to your self of self. You start to doubt yourself, your ways of being and thinking.
You'll have noticed that with the statements in the last paragraph, I added brackets around counter statements, and this is because the other thing bullying does is create a sense of 'otherness'. Bullying often happens in the view of others, or is initiated by a group and creates a sense that, as the bullied person, you are different and not invited to be part of the group. As humans, we long for acceptance - we require it as a baby to survive, we need a significant other to provide for us. As we grow, we long for connection and acceptance. Bullying denies that to the individual and can create a lonely vacuum in which one resides.
Bullying also creates feelings of anxiety; the worries about going to school or work the next day for fear of a physical altercation. The anxious feeling when you are on the way to a social gathering where you know the evening is filled with undertones of snide remarks and gaslighting. Avoiding situations where the perpetrator will be present, denying yourself specific enjoyments such as foods or drinks for fear of comments made are protective measures but put your life on pause as you slowly shut down.
What can you do if you are experiencing bullying?
Firstly, talk to someone you trust. This sounds cliché, but the the only thing harder than being bullied is going it alone. In an ideal world, this person may help you to tackle it practically, but even if you are not ready for that stage yet, at least you have someone in your corner you can check in with.
Check in with your thoughts. Bullying very rarely centres on facts; comments about appearance, beliefs or who you are as a person are someone's opinion. It is important to remember that and to remind yourself that these are people's opinions (NOT fact). If you are having a hard day, remember the things that you do well, your strengths and positive points.
Try to find a way to deal with the situation. This is where it is useful to have someone you can trust and confide in. Create a plan of how to deal with the issue through words - who will you tell, how can that person help? What will you do if the issue is not resolved?
Avoid social media. In this day and age, a lot of bullying happens online. For those who are bullied in person, social media means that this can continue wherever you are; at home, on the bus. Have a break from social media, or block people are are abusive if you value connecting with kind friends on you favourite platform.
For parents/carers of children who are being bullied
The news that your child is being bullied must be hard to hear. You have spent years, and continue to, try and raise them to be confident, happy and supported. This kind of dilemma can bring up many emotions for parents; anger, frustration, sorrow. It may also make you question you abilities as a parent. It is important to remember that you can do all you possible can, and things will still happen out there in the world which are beyond your control in the immediate moment. It is important not to put yourself down because of the actions of others.
If you feel anger, turn that into passion to support your child and to find a resolution. Speak with you child to create a plan of how this will be dealt with and follow through on the plan with vigour and power.
If you feel sorrow, express that to your child. Let them know they are not alone in their unhappiness and that they have people there who love them and will support them. It can be easy to assume your child just needs you to be strong. You can be strong and emotional at the same time and this encourages them to talk about their feelings and emotions moving forward.
Could counselling help?
Counselling provides individuals, couples, families or groups with support and a space to explore their emotions in a health way. There are therapists who specialise in working with children and they can be found by using the search filters on Counselling Directory.
Counselling could also be a supportive mechanism for a parent or carer, dealing with this issue, or an adult who is being bullied. Attending counselling can help you explore the painful memories and feelings associated with the bullying, and also help you ask questions about your identity. Some therapists also work on assertiveness and problem solving too which can prove helpful in some situations.
Adam Rothwell MBACP is a registered person-centred counsellor in private practice. He sees clients online and in person in the South Manchester, Stockport and Cheshire East areas of North West England.