When I was in junior high school I had a positive experience of connection and community. I was involved in the student council, music, and worked on the newspaper. I had very positive relationships with several of my teachers and had a nice group of friends at school. I participated in a competitive athletic focus outside of school which provided me with a sense of security not connected to the school environment.
This was a time that is one of those positive memories set into my harddrive to remind me about how to re-direct my life toward success when I am in a less hospitable environment.
High school for me was just that – an inhospitable environment!
I had a number of painful experiences of bullying by a clique of popular girls who used their power to isolate and mislabel me – strangely this was significantly nuanced so that I was also seen as a popular girl by those outside the clique, even while their misrepresentations of me were held as truth. In addition to these relational bullying experiences I had several physically bullying and abusive experiences which I endured without assistance from family or friends.
Having been victimized I felt the only positive course of action was to be a survivor. It seemed the most powerful response I could have developed in reaction to these experiences.
Overtime, I have discovered the effect of survivor scenarios not only in my patients and clients, but also within myself. It is better than feeling victimized. It allows for an increased sense of power but it remains related to the action of surviving so keeps a person stagnant. It is less than feeling like a thriver. Thriving is where true growth happens.
Surviving mentality keeps you treading water, which Is CLEARLY better than drowning, but after a while it seems you’re stuck in the same place. Much like the action of treading water you stay afloat but in the same place.
This is where the issue of power over versus empowerment becomes more tangible. The survivor is fighting the control of the power over. The thriver feels empowered and therefore can focus his efforts on getting out of the scenario toward a better situation. In the treading water metaphor, thrivers swim away to shore with spaces of treading water to catch their breath and regroup their energies.
So the need to survive is necessary but the focus is on thriving – moving away from the situation and transforming it toward growth. A certain degree of internal strength and power is required for this action – what I call resilience.
There is a really great book called Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons that talks about the kind of relational bullying that goes on among girls beginning in preschool and intensified in high school. It gives a lot of examples of different types of bullying and the effects. And in subsequent writing she has discussed some of the ways to help de-emphasize this issue in various environments.
According to the theory of what helps people be thrivers instead of victims, I had a number of great things in my life to help me move through and away from the bullying experience. I had a very close relationship with my brother that helped me to feel connected and supported even though I couldn’t talk to him about my experiences. I enjoyed school and learning and felt successful intellectually. I had a connection outside of school – athletic- which allowed me to feel successful and powerful. I had a spiritual connection which drove my perception of other people’s actions. And I had a previously successful school experience including positive relationships with teachers so that I could repeat that if I made efforts to do so. And I had a generally optimistic personality style – just how I came into the world.
Even with these I felt traumatized by these experiences and had a number of things to work out around power issues in the years that followed high school. But the important point is that I had resilience and was therefore able to work out these issues.
The important things to bring to your child’s life (or your school, or healing experience if you are an educator or counselor) are a sense of community. Make sure that people stand with the individual who feels victimized to decrease that sense of isolation, intention. So pay attention to the social aspects of learning not just the academic. And remember that bullying behavior in the beginning is a style of developing a personal relationship with power so help guide that development without demonizing the early bullying person, intention.
Normalize difference – yes you’re smaller, yes you’re younger – what’s cool about that (they can usually tell you what isn’t cool about it) – reframing the perspective (paradigm shifting) of these and creating internal strength – especially starting with preschool and grade school age kids but throughout their learning years. Increase an internal understanding of her limitations and her strengths, seeing this as a whole experience.
Offering connections in several communities: school, athletics, music, art, religious or spiritual communities, perception. This allows for him to see that he can make good connections and allows for successes in various environments.
Point out and help them create positive memories of successful problem solving experiences, so they have an internal foundation of resilience – a history of having gotten through something difficult with success, perception.
And support the optimistic personality style. This is something that seems to be hardwired into our personalities so if you have someone who tends to be pessimistic it will be harder to increase their resilience – however the above tools will help.
And be present and available to your child. Try to keep your power issues OUT of the equation so they don’t develop problems through osmosis.
Ok, so that’s a lot of information. See if you can incorporate some of these tools in your world.
See you tomorrow.