Ignoring the Bully Makes it Worse

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Executive Director and Co-Founder of BRRC

Bullying Recovery Resource Center (BRRC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources, education, advocacy and hope needed to stop bullying of school-aged children. Our aim is to stop bullying, stem the long-term effects bullying has on its targets, save lives, and for healing to begin for the family. Our organization began when we identified a need for parents of bullied children to garner support, understanding and education. As we are finishing out our sixth year of existence we have identified an immense problem with many of the schools we attempt to work with – the refusal to call events “bullying.” Until bullying has been properly labeled, the challenge to stop it remains darn near impossible.

The fact of the matter is that bullies are everywhere. They reside in companies, families, colleges, board rooms and in our politics. Rarely can I come across a person who cannot identify a bully somewhere in their life or the lives or their family. Not matter where bullies do their hurtful work, their mission is the same. Barbara Coloroso, internationally recognized speaker, author and bullying expert informs us that “bullying is a conscious, willful, deliberate activity intended to harm, induce fear through threat of aggression, and also to create terror in the target.” Bullying always includes an imbalance of power, the intent to harm, and a threat of further aggression. An additional element occurs when bullying is unabated and that is terror. A bully that reaps no consequences and can reach the point of inducing terror on their target(s) comes to a point where they can act without fear of recrimination or retaliation.

Bullying isn’t about disagreements, anger or conflict. Bullying is about contempt where the perpetrator has intense feelings of dislike toward somebody or a group whom they consider to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect. Bullying is not innate but rather a learned behavior. Barbara Coloroso explains in her book, Extra Ordinary Evil, a Brief History of Genocide, “that once human beings feel the cold hate of contempt for other human beings, they can do anything to them and feel no compassion, guilt or shame; in fact, they often get pleasure from the targeted person’s pain.” We unfortunately are hearing about instances of this level of contempt in our media quite frequently these days.

Bullies also rely on bystanders to carry out their acts of aggression. Bystanders will serve in different roles. Some may stand by and watch, others may actively inspire the person who is engaging in bullying and possibly join in, and others may choose to look the other way. A bystander may offer words of encouragement for the bullying or may dismiss the acts of the bully by stating, “They have learned their lesson and won’t do it again.” The acts of omission or commission actually fuel the fire of a person engaging in bullying. They will feel emboldened when no one stands up to them. Omission and commission also impact the bystanders. They will become desensitized to the cruelty of bullying. Bullying will become normalized. Bullying and creating terror are not normal and need to be called out and stopped.

It is not acceptable to allow bullying behavior to continue. It is not okay to label bullying behavior as something else (conflict, disagreement) if it is truly bullying. Especially as adults who interact with school-aged children, it is detrimental to ignore bullying and hope it will stop on its own. It will not. Standing up to bullying and labeling the behavior as hurtful and unacceptable are not easy feats, AND they are necessary. To allow bullying to continue allows the perpetrator to feel that their actions are somehow acceptable and warranted. Bullying left unattended desensitizes all who are witnesses to the violence and causes great harm and trauma for the bullying target.

It is time to make a different choice instead of normalizing the destructive, terror-inducing behavior of bullying.

1. Find courage. “Pay attention, get involved, and never, ever look away.” This is a quote from a Holocaust survivor. Standing up to bullying behavior, especially if it has gone on for some time will require moral strength and perseverance to do what is right. Properly naming bullying and harassment is important and necessary. Bullying in the schoolyard, online and from a stage are damaging acts and require us to stand up and say, “no more!”
2. Become an upstander. A person who is an upstander will speak up or act in support of an individual or a cause, especially someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied. An upstander will also come to the aid of a bullying target. We can all become individuals who do not allow abusive behavior to happen around us. Let others know you are there to help and support them.
3. Be a role model. The more that we as individuals walk in the path of compassion, inclusion and kindness while standing up and speaking out about bullies and their behavior, the more likely others will follow. Be a leader and ask others to join you. This journey is not a sprint but a marathon.

The normalizing of bullying and deviant behavior needs to stop. If you have questions about what bullying is and what it isn’t, please contact us. We are here to defend bullied children, help rebuild lives, and provide support, education and understanding to families impacted by bullying.

“Recognizing a problem doesn’t always bring a solution, but until we recognize that problem, there can be no solution.”  — James A. Baldwin