23 May 2011

Examining Our Relationship to Cruelty

The notion of writing a post about bullying has been flitting around my mind for some time.  It is such a huge, important, topic. And now that cyber-bullying is becoming so prevelant, it seems that bullying in general is finally getting more mainstream attention.

It truly seems that the cyber-world is providing a new dimension for cruelty in our relationships.  A therapist I consulted with recently called out "textual abuse" in a couple she was working with, who were sending abusive texts back and forth throughout the day.  If this is what adults are doing, what in the world can we expect of a 13-year old?

I read a story about middle-school bullying the other day that was so heart-breaking I began to cry.  I won't repeat it here, to save others from having the same experience.  Or maybe I am afraid of talking about it, and am trying to protect myself.  Suffice to say, it made me want to contact every person I was ever cruel to between the ages of 10 and 18 and say, "Good God.  I am so sorry."

I think about people who were mean to me and what it would mean for them to acknowledge that at this point in my life.  Their lack of acknowledgment certainly isn't keeping me from being happy, but I do think a few "Boy, I was a real asshole to you in high school" 's, would hit somewhere deep inside.

As a couples therapist, one of the most important things I do is call out bullying between adults.  I have to come to feel that as adults, it is absolutely imperative that we call out and deal with bullying between children.

To use a phrase I have grown very distasteful of, "kids will be kids."  But three years of harassment by one person is not "kids will be kids", it is bullying.

In my time as a therapist, I have never had a client recall how they were saved from bullying only to recoil at the horror of being coddled by a parent or teacher.  Instead, my consulting room has been filled with stories of sad, lonely children wondering why no one said or did anything; wondering what they did to deserve it.

Bullying is, unfortunately, a part of life.  We seek for power and dominance; we seek to be liked or loved and subject ourselves to taunts in an effort to find that experience; we stand by.

But cruelty should be addressed and stopped as soon as it is noticed.  Tell that vulnerable child that they matter by being upset and concerned that they are being hurt.  School may not be the only place where they are being bullied, but at least it is a place where there might be someone who cares.

Here's a great article about the effects of bullying, in case you are interested.  If you have difficulty with relationships and were bullied as a child, I highly recommend exploring those issues and feelings with a good therapist.

And if I do offer those apologies, I'll be sure to write about it here.
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