Archive for October, 2010

Bullies and the Bullied

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Bullying is abusive and control-driven behavior that can take place anywhere and anytime human beings are interacting with each other. It can take different forms, consisting of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. No matter where or how it occurs, bullying damages people and, in some cases, even kills them.

Bullying behavior arises from perceived dominance that one person exerts over another. The dominator, or bully, may be physically stronger than his target, be older, have more money, possess a higher social status…there are a number of ways people measure themselves against each other. Competitive pressure can elicit bullying from the perpetrator, who may not even be aware that he is being abusive because he or she is too caught up in their drive for control or power.

Perhaps one of the most detrimental forms of bullying is the kind that occurs behind closed doors, within peoples’ own families. Of course, it goes by different names – spousal or child abuse, domestic violence, even “getting yelled at.” But it’s basically bullying. This type of bullying situation is particularly injurious, as it may be unknown to anyone outside the family, and the victims are often so ashamed that they either deny what is happening or keep it secret. It can go on for years without being addressed, becoming the status quo within a victim’s home life.

Unfortunately, many victims of bullying – and particularly if they are subjected to it in their formative years – have a tendency to store up their resulting anger, then repeat the pattern and become bullies themselves. Thus continues the destructive pattern of behavior that is basically the perpetrator’s means of distracting himself from his own underlying feelings of inadequacy.

Some victims of bullying take another even more tragic route. They come to believe the messages sent – verbally or non-verbally – by the bully, and they begin to devalue themselves. If this continues, a person’s self-esteem can become so battered that they might lose interest in trying to be who they are. They might actually abandon their own sense of self in favor of the opinions of those around them, which can lead to crisis and tragedy.

How often have we heard of teenagers hurting themselves or committing suicide because they could not “fit in” with their peers? At an age when peers are hugely important in a person’s life and a solid sense of self is not completely formed, it is easy to see how bullying can lead a young person to despair.

For the individuals who struggle through being beat down by parents, relatives, schoolmates, bosses, even “friends,” some type of damage cannot be avoided. The effects may not show up as blatantly as a suicide attempt, but they can color that person’s attitudes and choices for a lifetime. Depression, a feeling of purposelessness, low self-esteem, a tendency toward addictions and myriad other forms of self-destructive behavior, isolation, and a quiet sense of despair can all be the norm for victims of bullying.

Sadly, many individuals adopt these symptoms for life, without ever considering that they or their attitudes could be more functional. And chances are, even if they don’t bully others themselves, their souls (or “psyche” to use a more technical term) are impaired and they have little true feeling to offer those around them.

Surely there is hope for recovery from the effects of being beat down, however it happened. But depending upon the source, extent, and longevity of the bullying, it can take many years of consistent healing work to make a change. Moving past this trauma is indeed a journey toward healthy living and attitudes, but one well worth embarking upon.

Awareness:

The starting point of recovery from bully victimization is simple awareness that one has been abused and affected by the actions and behavior of others toward them. Unfortunately, many victims of bullying take on shame and hold themselves in so little regard that they cannot even recognize that they have been affected. Being abused has created within them a sometimes very deeply-ingrained belief that for some reason, they deserved the bad treatment.

If a child is bullied by members of their own family of origin, they can literally grow up not expecting any other type of treatment. As adults, they unconsciously recreate the familiar pattern – with themselves again in the role of victims – by choosing friends and mates who are abusive.

Wanting To Change:

With dysfunctional core beliefs and inability to see the problem, a victim of abuse may have to endure a tremendous amount of suffering over an extended period of time before he is willing to remove himself as a victim and recover from the effects of being bullied. Being treated poorly is – surprisingly and tragically – far too familiar and therefore comfortable for some people to contemplate changing. Furthermore, an individual may well not even know what healthy relationships look and feel like, so they don’t have a clear idea of their goal. And so, they automatically continue to struggle along as a victim, rather than brave changing the underlying dynamic.

However, the pain of living with so much negativity from others and from one’s own distorted self-concept can serve as the most compelling force for change. Having learned not to expect much from others and from life, the bullied victim fulfills this attitude in their own situation. They might have a job they hate (but don’t feel they deserve a better one), a marital relationship fraught with conflict and emotional/physical abuse, or a list of responsibilities and obligations that crowds out pleasurable or self-fulfilling activities.

In a sense, a person’s misery can be their greatest blessing, if it is painful enough to motivate some real and positive action to lessen it.

The Journey Back:

Everyone who has ever suffered the effects of being bullied, but managed to break free to lead a full and healthy life, has their own story of how they healed from the damage. Surely, there are many different ways people adapt and grow to better their life experience. But a common thread among them is the need for a reliable source of help from other people, perhaps a therapist, to guide them past the negative belief system they have developed in reaction to being abused.

The opposite of being bullied is being taken care of and nurtured. If victims of abuse are in situations where the people around them are either bullying them, unaware of their suffering, or unavailable to help, they need to find support elsewhere. In time, with loving support and validation, they learn that they are worthy and capable of practicing self-care, including removing themselves from situations where they are being bullied.

Once freed from the emotional consequences of being bullied, an individual can live confidently and love themselves as well as others. Their growth can continue for a lifetime, even to the point of being able to forgive and feel compassion towards their one-time abusers.

Although bullying is all too common among people everywhere and probably evident since humans have existed, the pain it causes can be a force for spiritual seeking and emotional healing. And since we all are affected to some degree by those around us, any effort by individuals to learn more healthy and loving attitudes has the potential to benefit the whole of society.

On Being Judgmental

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Certainly, our experiences bring us wisdom over time, but wisdom can easily be mutated into the less desirable trait of being judgmental. And this attribute can pose a real challenge to living our lives positively and healthily.

Individual impressions that we connect – accurately or not – to particular people, objects, places, and situations, can easily become an indelible association in our mind. And if the impression is negative, all similar objects, people, and so forth are automatically attached to that less-desirable evaluation.

Our judgments are usually made instantaneously – a “first impression.” This seems natural enough. After all, the thoughts and feelings we have when experiencing something new can be important internal cues for triggering self-protection against pain and danger. Here they operate at the level of instinct – something surely innate and intended for our survival.

However, as conscious beings, unless we are willing and able to give our judgmental instincts a second (and sometimes even a third and fourth) look, we could be coming to conclusions based on not enough information. This results in closing our minds to new and potentially enlightening experiences, information, and relationships. We actually become stagnated by our own perceptions.

Unfortunately, further solidifying our judgmental tendencies is the secondary pay-off we might not even be aware we’re getting: the feeling of comfortable superiority to others around us. It is a false security derived from feeling that we are “right” and others are “wrong.”

The good news is that, as with any other character defect, we can consciously work on being less judgmental. The first step in this process, of course, is becoming aware of our tendency to judge. Particularly challenging is that for some of us, being judgmental is an automatic and ingrained reaction. And because it’s such a “normal” thought process, we might not even notice ourselves doing it. Like any kind of work we do on ourselves, it will take conscious thought and practice to catch ourselves.

Once we’re aware of our thinking, we may be able to delay reaching conclusions about the objects of our judgment long enough to ask ourselves if we are being fair and reasonable.

The real groundwork for becoming less judgmental, however, begins with changing the attitude we have towards – not the world around us – but ourselves. The habit of criticizing and condemning ourselves, in areas such as our career successes or failures, personality quirks, life situation, physical appearance, wealth or lack thereof (the list can be infinite), directly relates to how we perceive everything around us.

Thus, turning inward with more compassion and gentleness will transform the most significant judgment we make everyday – that of ourselves. Is your attitude toward yourself loving and patient, or are you constantly feeling that you don’t measure up? Changing our feelings about ourselves is something we can all make the decision to do. It may take some time, but we can draw upon our loving Spiritual resources for help.

Imagine the charity we could extend to others and everything around us, lessening the harsh and critical view of the world we carry around daily, if we turned around our attitude toward the one person we can change?