Understanding Bullying

We usually associate bullying with mean-spirited children picking on and abusing innocent children, but bullying is a phenomenon that happens with people of all ages, and the principles are the same for both adults and children. Many of us who experience addiction and mental health issues at one time or another have been bullied in our lives or have been bullies ourselves, both of which can cause trauma that we seek to self-medicate from. As we come to understand bullying, we recognize that there is pain on all sides, and eradicating the issue means healing the forces driving the bullying in the first place.

Bullies very often have been bullied and abused themselves. It is their unresolved pain causing them to lash out and hurt other people. We think of bullies as being the culprits, the ones to blame, and we tend to pile our judgment and blame onto the bullies. In doing this, we fail to see just how much the bullies themselves are suffering. Chances are they wouldn’t want to cause others pain if they weren’t hurting themselves. They might be being abused in their homes, by trusted adults, or by other children.

To heal the cycles of bullying, we have to treat the offenders with more inclusiveness and compassion. We can’t exclude them from our communities, as separation and exclusion can exacerbate the existing trauma they’re acting out upon. It can make them feel even more isolated. They’ve already been judged and looked down upon. Not seeing their pain and pushing them away from us only hurts them more. How can we hope to stop their hurtful behavior if we aren’t helping them?

Adults can be bullies just as much as children can. Sometimes people prey on other people’s weaknesses and use them to their advantage in order to control, manipulate, embarrass, degrade or abuse them. This can happen in the workplace, in community, even in incidents of road rage or other conflict between strangers. This very often happens because the “bully” hasn’t processed and healed from their inner pain, and it’s causing them to lash out, hurting the people around them. In a way, bullying can be seen as a cry for help.

The more we can offer our compassion and support to those people bullying others and help them to understand and work through their pain, the more we can end the cycles of bullying that are impacting our mental and emotional wellbeing and creating so much divisiveness in our communities.  

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