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What to Do About Bullies

Over the past two weeks we’ve looked at the different types of bullying and why bullies bully. Now, we will look at some tips to help deal with bullies and their hurtful behaviour. 

When faced with a bully, it is easy to give in to them, to retaliate with similar behaviour, or act out in anger and hurt. This usually gives the bully satisfaction or leads to the victim getting in trouble as well, neither of which is helpful. As we discussed last week, the reasons behind bullying is always to do with what’s going on inside the bully and in their life. While keeping that in mind, consider these suggestions:

1) Don’t give the bully opportunities. If you know that someone has it in for you, don’t make yourself vulnerable by being near them alone. If possible, keep out of their way altogether, or at least try to always have others around you for support. Bullies are rarely brave and are less likely to attack you if you’re surrounded by friends. Having people you trust nearby is also good for witnesses – if anything does happen, they can verify it if need be.

2) If possible, ignore the bully (both in face-to-face and texting/cyberbulling situations). Remember, a lot of bullies hurt others for attention and power, so by ignoring them you are denying them from getting it in a negative and hurtful way. Once they realise their behaviour isn’t working, they’ll usually leave you alone or even (in some cases) change their behaviour. If you react to their treatment of you however, you are reinforcing to them that acting badly is the way to get noticed and be in control. 

3) If ignoring them simply isn’t working and/or a response is needed, then try to give one that is full of confidence. It’s important to wait until you’re not feeling angry and emotional so you can stay in control of your words, not stoop to their level and/or get yourself in trouble. By remaining confident you also deny them the chance to make you feel small. You are showing that they do not have power and control over you, and so once again they are forced to look elsewhere to meet their needs and/or to change their behaviour.

4) Also when responding to a bully, use strong body language. Don’t cower in front of them. Stand up tall and look them in the eye. Again, this communicates to them that you are confident and that you’re not going to put up with their behaviour.

5) When it comes to saying something to them, use ‘I’ statements. This means that instead of using accusatory and aggressive ‘you’ language (e.g. ‘You are a horrible person!’ ‘You are always picking on me!’), which often just fuels the argument, change your statements slightly to say ‘I’ (e.g. ‘I’m tired of this bullying and I want it to stop.’ ‘I’m not going to put up with this any more.’ ‘I was hurt by what you did and I don’t want it to happen again.’) By applying this subtle change, you are owning your feelings and not giving the bully ammunition to keep going. It shows your confidence and ability to stand up for yourself and once again denies the bully their dysfunctional need for power and control.

 6) Say something random. If a bully is having a go at you and not backing off, giving a random response often works. That could mean saying something like, ‘Nice weather today, isn’t it?’, which catches the bully off guard. It also shows them that you’re not scared, and that as such what they’re trying to do isn’t working.

7) Depending on the person and intensity of the situation, there may be a chance for you to help the bully deal with their issues, thereby stopping their behaviour. This is often possible if you and the bully have been friends in the past, and/or if the bully simply isn’t aware of how hurtful they’re being. However, this said, you are ultimately not responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own, and nor should you be expected to sacrifice your own happiness and health for another. If someone is continually hurting you, then you first priority should be yourself. Remember that we can’t change anyone – we can influence them, but at the end of the day people only change when they want to. If appropriate, do what you can to help them, but if it’s really not working or they aren’t listening, then do what you need to ensure your emotional and physical safety.

8) Get help from a teacher, counsellor or another trusted adult if the above fails to stop the bullying. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, getting support from others strengthens you against the bully. Sometimes even just talking about what’s going on will help you to understand the situation, find a way forward and free you from the weight of worry.

Every situation with bullying is different, so just try what works for you. What’s most important is that you don’t put up with bad behaviour, but rather take steps to separate yourself from it so you can enjoy your life to the full.

Next week we’ll look more why it’s important not to have a victim mentality. Until then, remind yourself that you deserve a life free from bullies, and that their treatment of you is not a reflection on who you are as a person.