Learning Points: It is the bully who has the problem, not you

Last week’s article explored bullying and how parents can support their bullied child. This week, I’m going to offer advice on how you can rebuild self–esteem and confidence after being victimised.

When you are targeted, it can shake your understanding of yourself, and can do so for a lifetime. I often meet adults who come to my clinic for help, because they are being targeted once again, by someone, in a very negative way, this time in work.

In those early conversations, I am often introduced to that earlier child. I hear that voice so clearly; the sadness and isolation they experienced at the hands of a bully is very present in the room, as they delineate this new experience of being bullied in work.

They often talk about how they have allowed someone to position them in a particular way, or how that person must have seen something in them that promoted this subtle attack on them. This kind of mindset illuminates just how destructive and negative bullying is on the psyche of the bullied. Why is it we are so quick to blame ourselves for someone else’s behaviour?

If we have a negative view of ourselves, or if we allow someone to print that view on our internal puzzle, we will always struggle with self-esteem and confidence. And when we meet someone who says something negative about us, we will believe them. Therefore, we come to view the behaviour of the bully as being provoked by something lacking in us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A bully targets someone for myriad reasons. And when we blame ourselves, we hand over ultimate power to that person. That is not a desirable way to think about why you have been bullied. It certainly won’t help you as you move forward into adult life and it won’t help you to recover your strength after being bullied.

In fact, if you believe it was your fault, you will constantly live in fear, because you are waiting for someone else to spot that thing about you that made you a target. A lot of the work I do in those early sessions is rewriting that script. Changing that narrative can be difficult, because when you hold something as a truth about yourself, it can be uncomfortable and unsettling to see it as a falsehood. ‘It must have been my fault, I’m weak’: I’ve heard this sentiment many times in my clinic. Challenging and changing that perception is a must if the person is to empower themselves after being bullied.

Tips on how to rebuild self–esteem.

It’s not your fault. That might be a hard realisation, but it is an important one, because it is the truth. We so quickly blame ourselves for something that is out of our control. But how you internalise it is in your control. Don’t allow the bully any further head space.

People become the target of bullies for many reasons. I talked with a young girl recently and she was labouring with what one of her friends had said to her. She told her that ‘no-one likes you, because you’re so stupid’ and she was constantly making derogatory remarks about her clothes.

When we unpacked where this negative behaviour was coming from, it didn’t take us too long to figure out her friend was envious, because she had recently started dating someone her friend had liked.

When someone launches a negative comment or engages in persistent bullying behaviour, there is something inside them that is unhappy or which makes them feel inadequate and they are trying to diminish you to make themselves feel powerful. Understanding that takes a lot of their power away.

Journaling your feelings is an important exercise for ameliorating the pain caused by bullying. Work out those negative feelings through your writing. This will help you to rebuild your confidence.

Your uniqueness is your strength. Start to see yourself for how you truly are and not how you think others see you. We are all unique: celebrate that. You were not targeted because you are unique, you were targeted because someone else has an issue with who they are.

Try to find purpose from your experience. There is something to be learned from every experience. What have you learned from being bullied? That you are strong enough to overcome it? That you will never allow anyone to take power from you again? That bullies are weak?

Being bullied and having someone target you in a negative way can erode your self-esteem. However, how you come to understand that experience will either empower you once again or continue to make you a victim. Choose to be powerful.

Richard Hogan is clinical director of therapyinstitute.ie, a school teacher, systemic family psychotherapist, and father of three. If you have a question, contact info@richardhogan.ie

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