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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bullying: The consequences on not just the child but on the adult (who was that child)

For those of us who were bullied as children, adolescents, and as adults, the question is why we continue to act as if today were yesterday:  A limp, terrified bag of flesh in the jaws of a huge, ravenous beast.

An old engraving of "Daniel in the den of the lions" terrified me as a child.   I could not look at it, even though I could not get it out of my mind.

The thought of saying to the person bullying us, calmly, "Give me some respect" never occurs to them.  And if it did, they would imagine that saying this to the bully would make the bully angry and hurt the adult.

Alternatively, (calmly)"Don't talk to me in that tone of voice."

(calmly) "I cannot and will not talk to you when you disrespect me."

(calmly) "I cannot and will not talk to you when you are angry."

You have the right to not stick around when someone else is attacking you, especially if you cannot fend for yourself.   In fact, you shouldn't have to defend yourself.  Leave the premises (assuming the other person is not bigger than you and will not chase after you) so as not to be attacked at all.

But this assumes one recognizes when one is being attacked, and for those who were abused or bullied as children, being screamed at may somehow seem "normal."   It is not.

One is not engaged in a televised debate (where there are rules of conduct, just the same).  One can refuse to talk to another person who is raging at you and treating you with contempt and ordering you around.

Again, because adults from a dysfunctional childhood (family/school/neighborhood/etc.) tend to freeze like deer caught in the headlights they revert to being cowering, mute(d) victims.   Overpowered by people who are meaner or more powerful (at least imagined to be), they try to defend themselves (weakly) when all the time they are submitting to a form of punishment meted out by other people who enjoy lashing out at others due to their own personal hang-ups.

No one ever told me how to stand up to a bully.  Here I am referring not to someone who is actually physically threatening another person but instead is using psychological means to make another person afraid and bend to the will of that other person.

(I am not referring to people who will actually use a baseball bat, knife, etc. or deliver a sucker-punch if you resist doing exactly what they wish).

* * * * *

I have a hunch that "People who were bullied as children are people who are bullied now as adults."  The bullying does not stop just because the bullied child has grown up.

But very few people will admit to this.

I wish those entrusted with safeguarding the psychological well-being of others, e.g., social workers would read this.

* * * * *

The ironic thing about what happened to me Monday morning at the downtown YMCA is that after thanking the lifeguard who on Friday had intervened to prevent a collision but qualifying that thanks by adding that I had felt "disrespected by what he said and the way he said it," the lifeguard then began to rage ("shock-and-awe") at me.


It was as if I were on a Metro bus watching a mother, almost always from a disadvantaged socio-economic/educational background, were screaming at her little kid, "Hey,  WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU?  You SHUT UP, You heard me?"

I felt exactly like the person below:

Then he angrily berated me for another 5-7 minutes, reiterating "WHAT DID I SAY TO YOU" in the same tone of voice.  Yeah, he had me feeling my knees weaken underneath me.

This behavior dissipated whatever lingering doubts I had that the lifeguard on Friday had indeed shouted in an angry, blaming, disrespectful manner at both me and the other swimmer in the lane (who had not told me that she wanted to split the lane instead of continuing to swim in a circle).

What was even more disturbing is that in this form of bullying, the power of the bully rests as well in saying without words to the bullied, "And if you cry, if you tell anyone, if you complain, then I'm really gonna kick your ass.  You gotta take it, man, 'cause, you know, you don gotta choice."  And it's got to be backed up by action.  Bullies don't think about what the next step to take is if the bullied "squeals."  Hit him harder.

Every boy and man in America knows this.

Bullies don't listen, they react.  Even if they know bullying is wrong, they get easily trapped in their anger.

Or they choose it (anger)--it's a way of getting things ("the job") done: 

Strike first and with overwhelming force so as cause panic and disorder in the other camp.  Then continue hitting hard.  Leave either when you run out of ammunition or when you feel the job is more than half done.

That's how we get the job done.  

And that's what the military teaches soldiers.

Is there another model for being a man?

Is there another model for our communities?

Most American films revolve around physical violence.  The blind celebration of black American culture is testimony to that--we take it hook, line, and sinker, without examining or discriminating what within it is healthy and what in it is diseased.  (We won't take a look at the color of the skin of the perpetrator except when s/he is white).

We worship violence and pretend we don't.  What hypocrites we are.

* * * * *

What is interesting for me to state now is that the bully and the bullied of childhood meet in adulthood.  The bullied person is the mirror reflection of the bully, and the bully cannot stand to see himself (or herself) in the mirror.

The bully needs the express feelings long submerged in his consciousness.  To feel "alive," so to speak.  The bullied flees the bully as the hare flees the fox.  If he should stop and confront the fox, he will become engaged in a struggle in which he has little chance for survival.  That is the "end game."

Usually the end game is not played out.   Instead, there is a game of "the hunt," an occasional or frequent assertion of power through a violent action or gesture.  The scent of fear is very visceral for the bully.

The bully and the bullied meet and enact the dance for the rest of their lives.  Both are trapped, the hunter and the hunted, the hunter and the deer in the headlights.

boyfriend/battered girlfriend    schoolyard bully/puny kid    high school clique/social outcast    "shrew"/henpecked husband   university professor/graduate student    army sergeant/private

For men, the worst thing is to admit that they have been bullied because of the self-respect that is lost as a result.  Google "bully" (images) and you find cartoons, and not photos of adult men.  Why?   Because men will put up a fight to not carry inside the image of someone whose "manhood" (someone else can "overpower" you) has been "robbed."

Once bullied, one is "under the authority" of the bully, which is experienced as a loss of integrity and self:  a slave/master dynamic becomes established, or at very least, a power hierarchy.  

# # # # #

At the core of every bully and every bullying behavior is someone who is bullied and who was taught by someone else to behave this way.

And in a society which espouses equality in name but where power is celebrated and power relations the dominant dance, bullying thrives.

See Alice Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware.

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