Aisling* looked at me as if I had two heads. Of all the things she expected to hear in a therapy session, this wasn’t it. Seeing that she was confused, I gently repeated the question.

“So, if they all thought you were a duck, would it make you a duck?”

And with that simple statement, Aisling understood why she felt so disempowered to the bullies in her school. This understanding then opened the door to a solution that would protect her from ever being the victim of bullying again.

By blindly accepting her bully’s opinion of her, without ever questioning it, Aisling was totally vulnerable to the exclusion and character assassination that she had been experiencing.

Believing that their opinion was gospel, the “queen bees” in her class had decided that they had a right to be judge and jury of any person they took a disliking to. Aisling was just their latest victim.

By subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways, the queen bees had sentenced Aisling to a world of social exclusion and rejection that was making her life miserable.

“So, what have you done wrong to deserve to be treated that way?” I asked her.

Once again, Aisling was flummoxed by a simple question that she had never considered.

No one is perfect

Like the rest of us, Aisling was not perfect, but was she any more flawed than the queen bees themselves? No, she wasn’t. So why was she blindly accepting their opinion of her without ever asking herself if it was true or not?

Aisling, like most teenagers believed that she could be measured by what other people in her class thought of her. So, if they thought she was horrible, she had to accept she was horrible.

She believed that the bullies could define who she was. So, if they thought she was a social reject, then this would make her a social reject.

Over time she started to believe that everybody looked at her that way and had even started to believe it herself.

The wonderful thing about teenagers is that when the penny drops, it really drops. I got proof of this a few weeks later when Aisling’s mum rang me to say she had received a call from the principal of the school. A couple of the queen bees had reported to her that every time they tried to talk to Aisling and be “nice” to her, “She keeps going quack quack at us!” Aisling was not bullied by them again.

The vicious cycle of bullying

Because teenagers have not established their identity, they look for clues in their environment for what kind of person they are and who they should be like. This leaves them very vulnerable to other teenagers who have figured this out and have learned how to use it to their advantage. Bullies then use this vulnerability to establish their own place on the pecking order. There is no sweeter sugar to feeling exclusive than to have someone to exclude.

This is a double-edged sword, however, as it reinforces that if I can label others, others can label me. Either I dominate them, or I risk them dominating me.

Over time, this grows into a monster where I eventually see everyone as being at my feet or my throat, ruining my life and the lives of those around me. The characteristics bullies criticise in their victim are the same characteristics that they sees in themselves.

By blindly accepting her bully’s opinion of her, without ever questioning it, Aisling was totally vulnerable to the exclusion and character assassination that she had been experiencing

In a perverse way, the bully is trying to protect themselves from their own vulnerabilities by pasting these vulnerabilities onto their victim and punishing them. The victim becomes what the bully is afraid that they themselves are.

Eventually, the wheel turns and the bully falls victim to their own belief. To cover their growing fear of people, they become rigidly self-sufficient, abandoning others before others can abandon them.

Judge not lest you be judged means that if we judge others, we eventually judge ourselves using the same stick.

Remember, adolescents are all trying to understand their world and how to fit into it. Teenagers who bully are as much in need of understanding and support as their victim.

Bullying needs be overcome by everyone using an understanding, non-judgemental and non-blaming attitude to carefully tease out what’s happening. Without this both victim and perpetrator suffer.

Regardless of whether you believe you must get my approval, or I yours, there is learning for each person involved. Learning to respect ourselves and others equally leads to tolerance and acceptance for everyone.

When we blame ourselves, we cannot heal. When we blame others, we are halfway there. However, when we blame no one, we have arrived.

If you are being bullied

Throughout life, we will meet people who dislike us for whatever reason or will try to bully us. Because we are all different, it’s impossible that everyone will like me or be my friend.

Someone thinking that you are a social reject, doesn’t make you a social reject, no more than someone thinking you’re a duck makes you a duck

However, I can insist that I be respected by everyone as the person I am as opposed to the person they expect me to be.

None of us want to be rejected by others. However, if we blindly accept that we can be labelled by what other people think, then we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who believe that whoever they think is a duck, automatically becomes a duck.

Throughout our lives, we will meet people like this and each time we do, we give ourselves a wonderful opportunity to practice disarming their power over us.

We will always be vulnerable to bullies as long as we believe that in order to be OK as a person, we must get their approval.

Someone thinking that you are a social reject, doesn’t make you a social reject, no more than someone thinking you’re a duck makes you a duck.

By buying into their opinion and accepting it, you are trying to make yourself OK and acceptable which only goes to reinforce that you are in some way not acceptable as you are.

There will always be a kernel of truth in what the bully says about you, but what they are doing is taking all these kernels and ignoring every other trait in you. They then make a stick of their criticism and beat you with it.

Eventually you will only see yourself through the bullies’ eyes. Playing their criticism of you around and around in your head. The more flaws you see in yourself, the less you see in them.

What can you do?

Start by focusing on your own opinion of yourself. The whole you is far greater than the sum of your parts.

Are you a pain in the ass to be with at times? Probably, but look around you, so is everyone else.

As you find the balance between your good and bad points, you will start to see that you are no better nor worse that the person bullying you.

You cannot change what they think about you, but you can stop blindly accepting it. Understand and practice this and you will be free from anyone ever bullying you again.

Quack quack!

Read more

Panic attacks: the fear of fear itself

Are your mothering instincts actually damaging your mental health?