Yesterday, I took part in a panel about bullying and the bystander. I was very disappointed, since the panelists spoke exclusively about online bullying, and outside of a sentence about men getting
|Being bullied can feel like being caught in a storm.|
bullied, it was only about female targets. Based on the description, I thought they were going to cover a much broader spectrum of experience.
At least another woman who is on the autism spectrum and I were able to represent the invisible disability community.
Anyway, it did highlight how the cruelty of bullying is so hard to bear alone. Folks with learning and developmental differences are often already in a very lonely place, but bullying only magnifies that isolation.
As frustrated as I was about the panel, they did bring up a few good ideas that boiled down to one simple concept: supporting the person who’s being targeted.
That can take many forms, but the best one is a simple, “I think you’re wonderful/smart/hard working” or “I agree with you”. By demonstrating that you’re with the person without dignifying the bully with a response, you’re clearly showing your support without further inflaming the situation.
In many ways, that’s easier to do online than off. I’d prefer to state it in a comment where the bully/ies can see it, but private messages can also be helpful.
It does get trickier when the bullying is happening in person. You can’t always help the person leave the area to cool off, as in the case of school or work. If the situation has already escalated to physical violence, it can be dangerous to step in. There are also all sorts of relationship dynamics involved, too.
When I was dealing with bullying in school, and later in workplaces, I found it helped a lot when my friends and family expressed interest or admiration in things I did well. Those little breaks from the torment helped me shift my focus enough to gain new perspective on the situation at hand.
It also helped build my already flagging confidence enough to take the action I needed to. My mental state shaped the way bullying effected me. I learned to view the ones who targeted me as the ones with the problem. Their behavior became my problem, but once I made that distinction, I had strength enough to erase their power over me.
Bear in mind, that was just my experience. Simply being there for someone can help them immensely, and although they must build confidence in their own way, having vocal support is a huge boost.
I do think it’s important to remember the bullies are fully responsible for their thoughts, actions and consequences of their actions. They’re the ones who make the choice to treat others poorly, and they’re the ones who must face whatever fallout there may be. They’re still human, so they may also be suffering from something else, but they must still be held responsible for what they do or say.
One of the most common themes I see is that those of us who aren’t “normal” force the ones who treat us poorly to act. That applies to other crimes, too, especially rape and domestic violence.
The victim is never at fault.
The fact they may be different is not enough to force someone else into cruelty. The only behavior the target is responsible for is their own. When it comes to bullying, that fact gets lost.
That’s why comments like “You should feel like this”, “You should toughen up”, “You should grow a thicker skin” or anything else starting with “You should” does more harm than good. While some suggestions can be helpful, like tracing IP addresses on the internet or getting the law involved in serious cases, any comment trying to force someone else’s preferred behavior on the person being targeted does more harm than good.
Put simply, one of the best things a friend can do for someone who’s being bullied is to offer honest support without attempting to influence their behavior.