There was a girl who bullied me all through high school. Nothing too intense, but lots of spreading lies about me, embarrassing me in front of other people and throwing shoes at my head (okay, that last one was a little traumatizing). Almost a decade after graduating, I ran into her at a reunion-type event. Much to my surprise and to the surprise of my friends around us, she started bullying me AGAIN! We were in our late 20s and she still hadn’t gotten over her dislike of me. #SMH Even as I write this, I can picture her making fun of me.
Here are a few important things to remember about bullying and how to best deal with it.
1. It’s not you. It’s them. For some reason, something about you brings out insecurities in the bully. If they were not targeting you, they would be going after someone else because they are the ones who are unhappy. Realize that there is nothing wrong with you—it is completely their issue. See the chart below for more insight:
2. Stand your ground in who you are. Read this next sentence twice: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CHANGE ANYTHING ABOUT YOURSELF BECAUSE SOMEONE ELSE DOESN’T LIKE IT. Not. A. Thing. Your personality, the way you look, the way you dress, the things you love are all part of what makes you YOU, and you are wonderful and loved. If there are things that are continuously making you a target (e.g., wearing a sombrero to school every day) that you could take or leave, maybe it’s not the worst idea to ask your parents to get you a new hat. However, if that sombrero makes you happy, then by all means you should continue to rock it confidently. To defeat a bully, you need to retain your self-control and preserve your sense of self—that takes away the bully’s power and denies them what they want: to make you feel bad about yourself.
3. Brush it off. Walk away from the bully. Bullies want to know they have control over your emotions, so don’t react with anger or retaliate with physical force. When the girl bullied me in high school, it made me feel terrible about myself and I would cry in private. When she bullied me as grownup, I felt terrible for her that she was still so miserable after all this time had passed. She brought up in front of a large group of people lots of things that had happened between us in high school. I confidently looked her in the eye and said, “I’m actually glad we went through that in high school. My job [in Hollywood at the time] is very stressful and involves a lot of rejection. I am stronger now and have much thicker skin because of you.” Several people at the reunion told me they admired how I handled the situation.
Let this make you stronger. Hopefully one day you will no longer have to see this person, and both of your lives will move on. However, the truth is there will always be bullies and the only thing you can control about the situation is the strength in your response.
4. Call for backup. The good news is you are not alone in this. The bully may have made you feel alone, but you are not. You have your family, other friends and God firmly on your side. Also, research shows that about 25 percent of kids experience bullying, so you are definitely not the only one. Talk to your parents, siblings and friends about what is going on. Hopefully you have a friend or two who will have your back and be willing to walk with you on hallway routes where you know you may see the bully. If the person picking on you is in your circle that you hang out with, try and find one or two people from the group and break off into a smaller group that treats each other right. An older sibling, mentor or pastor at your church probably has been through something similar and can empathize and provide great advice.
5. Pray for the bully. It really is hard to hate someone while praying for them. Ask God to help you see things from their perspective. For example, at the time the girl bullied me at the reunion, her family was going through some very messy and embarrassing things. I realized that part of the reason she was trying to embarrass me was to deflect the attention from herself. Ask God to help you see things through their perspective and show compassion whenever possible. Pray He gives grace, wisdom and strength during this time and ask Him to protect you.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44
6. If necessary, alert the authorities. Sometimes, in high school and in the real world, bullying crosses a line. If you are ever in a situation where you cannot deal with it on your own or feel like your personal safety is on the line, it is IMPERATIVE that you talk to your parents, teachers or the police. Do not let the bully and/or bullies isolate you into thinking of harming yourself or become depressed. School counselors are trained to deal with this exact situation. There are even support groups, and many within the Project Inspired community can relate and help you get through this and come out on the other side triumphantly.
Do you have additional advice on how to deal with bullies?