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What really happens with bullying?

Having worked as a school counsellor, bullying was a subject that came up often. The main question…why am I getting bullied?

Advice from teachers, parents and friends offer numerous suggestions; the bully likes to be in control, they feel better when they make you feel bad or they are just plain nasty and you should keep away from them. But what is really going on?

Let’s start with a story…

Amy is 14 and has started to get really bad acne, which is making her feel self-conscious. Her friends are all really nice about it and don’t make a big deal of it. On Friday Amy’s school bag breaks, and so over the weekend she goes out with her parents and they get a new one. Amy really loves her new bag and can’t wait to show her friends. When she comes back to school on Monday another girl in her class, Maisie, who is known to be a school bully, starts taunting her in front of the rest of the class calling her ‘pizza face’ and demands she hand over her new bag so she can throw it in the bin ‘where it belongs’. Amy is really upset and runs away in tears. Amy is devastated that her skin looks so bad and knows this is why she is being picked on.

From the outside, it appears obvious that Amy’s bad skin is the reason for this awful bullying, but let’s look closer. The new bag is also important here; it symbolises care and love from Amy’s parents. As soon as her bag broke on Friday, they made time at the weekend to go out so she could choose a new one. They noticed her and valued her.

Maisie’s parents would not have done the same, in fact, they hardly even notice whether she is in the house or not. If they did realise her bag was broken, her mum would have gone crazy, yelling at her and calling her useless and selfish, telling her she didn’t deserve anything. Maisie would probably have been given her brother’s old school bag as a replacement.

Even if Amy had given Maisie her new bag, Maisie would not have felt able to keep it because it would only have reminded her of what she didn’t have. The only way Maisie could get some feeling of satisfaction would have been by putting Amy’s bag in the bin or defacing it; only gaining a feeling of pleasure by removing the feeling of pleasure from someone else.

So, what does this tell us? Bullying comes from vulnerability and is often expressed by envy; taking away something from someone else in the hope that it replaces what they feel they are lacking. They want something that you have, whether it be love, consistency, potential or relationships.

Often those experiencing bullying, like Amy, will assume they have done something wrong or they are to blame. For example, Amy believing she deserves to be bullied because her skin is looking bad. She may imagine the bullying will go away if she can find a way to cover up her blemishes. This gives Amy a sense of control in a situation that feels scary and hopeless.

In counselling, we look at coping mechanisms and explore these feelings of blame and hopelessness. Instead of being a victim of bullying, we look at Amy being a survivor and the power she has.

Many of us experience bullying in our lives, not just at school, but also at work and in our families.

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