Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.
Many people think back on their school days with fondness. They get warm fuzzies about their friends, fun at school dances, and pranks at school. For others, school was a nightmare where bullies made fun of them, humiliated them, and destroyed their self-esteem. When people experience bullying as children, they may carry this emotional baggage into adulthood.
In my case, I was bullied off and on from about Grade 5 to Grade 10. At its worst, coming to class was like walking in a minefield. Boys would grab my books and played catch with them. I had to watch out for boys putting their feet in the aisles to trip me up. When I sat down at my desk, the girl behind me would pull my hair, poke me, or kick under my chair. Nasty comments about my ugliness and weirdness were bandied about.
Health Risks of Bullying
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, victims who were bullied in childhood are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, and a 5 times higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts in adulthood. Others are at a higher risk of substance abuse or a lowered immune system. Bullying can destroy our self-esteem, trust issues, a sense of security, and body image - if we allow them. It is like a tornado whirling through our lives, sucking up our positive traits and leaving in its wake, fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, depression, and destruction. How do we begin to repair the damage?
Some people look to physical solutions or revenge to repair the harm done to them. Some former geeks seek affirmation that they have hot bodies and good looks by becoming strippers or models. Others turn to drugs, alcohol, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors to deal with their pain.
Some talk shows occasionally show a "geeks to gorgeous" segment where people who were picked on in high school show off their hot new looks to the bullies who teased them and put them down. Pictures flash with victims' dorky appearance - hair askew, a face full of acne, coke bottle glasses, flat stick figures, etc.
Then poof - through a cloud of smoke and flashing lights, the former victim confidently walks out on stage. Their tight, short dresses or speedos leave little to the imagination. Victims may experience satisfaction in seeing the former bullies forming a shocked silent "wow" on their lips or on their knees, apologizing for their hurtful actions. But is that kind of confirmation all that is needed to heal the wounds inside? How do we get over the hurt and humiliation inflicted by bullies?
Steps of Overcoming the Effects of Bullying
There are several things we can do to recover and heal from the effects of bullying.
Acknowledge And Deal With Our Pain
First, we must take a hard look at ourselves and acknowledge our pain. I had to admit how it hurt when my classmates called me ugly. How ashamed I felt of my stupidity when people made fun of my awkward ways. How depressed I was when no one wanted to be my friend. If we do not face our emotional anguish, it is easy to get caught in a destructive pattern of recycling pain and letting it define who we are.
A tape is recorded that plays in our heads every time we face life's challenges:
"Bullies told me I am ugly, so I might as well accept the fact that I will never get married."
"Bullies told me I was stupid, so I can't be confident at my job."
"Bullies told me to be ashamed of my body, so I will cover it up and avoid social situations."
Even when the bullies are gone, the recording subconsciously repeat their negative messages in our heads. Our false beliefs about ourselves ruin our relationships, work, and social life. And we hurt all over again. We need to challenge those messages and turn to our personal truths.
See Ourselves from God’s Perspective
Bullies base their decision to harass others on their own dislikes or prejudices, a sick need to feel powerful in front of their peers, or cravings to feel better about themselves by putting others down. These are not valid criteria for determining our self-worth.
Bullies measure us by human standards: beauty, wealth, status, intelligence, etc. For me, I struggled with my looks for a time. Yet, my mirror image reflected an attractive woman. The physical attributes were there, yet bullies thought I was ugly. I was considered stupid by the kids at my school, yet I actually was intelligent. So what was something wrong with me? From God’s viewpoint – nothing at all.
Instead of focusing on why our bullies have a negative opinion about us, we need to see ourselves as God sees us. God is the one who really knows us as His special creation. To Him, we are beautiful, inside and out. God equips us with intelligence, talents, and the courage to fight our battles. It does not matter if we have a physical disability or are socially inept. God does not give us any challenges that we do not have the strength to handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Accept the Things We Cannot Change and Change What We Can
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.
- Reinhold Niebuhr
God gives us the ability to accept the things we cannot change and change the things we can. He gives us many tools to help us on our journey. The Bible tells how we can overcome our insecurities, anger, and low self-esteem with the help of the Holy Spirit.
When I was bullied, I locked up all of the character traits that would show my inner beauty for fear of being hurt. I had to submit myself to the love and care of God to let down my defenses to become the person that God wants me to be.
Forgive the Perpetrators
Forgiving those who hurt us is an essential step in the healing process. If we allow ourselves to stew in our anger and hurt, we stay stuck in our pain. We are giving the bullies a stronghold in our lives that will continue to fester until we are willing to let it go. God promises all through the Bible that He will avenge any wrongs committed against us. We have to trust that God will take care of the situation.
Love Our Enemies
Jesus commands us to love our enemies, pray for them, do good to them if we can, and not seek revenge (Luke 6:27-28, Romans 12:17). The last thing we want to do is do something helpful to a bully, but our niceness will probably be more galling to them than any of our nasty remarks or revenge attempts. It is like heaping burning coals on their heads (Romans 12:20).
Hold Offenders Accountable
There is a difference between forgiveness and holding others accountable. Bullies should face the consequences for their actions, if possible. They should be reported to the authorities that be and, in some cases, be charged for criminal behavior. When my elementary school found out I was being bullied, they took steps to protect me, such as putting me in another class away from the bullies.
Try to Understand Why People Bully
Why do people bully? Sometimes an understanding of where a bully is coming from can help us to heal. There are many reasons why people indulge in this kind of behavior, most of which have nothing to do with us personally.
Seek the Support of Friends, Pastors, or Other Professionals
We all need help on our journey of healing.
When I looked at things impartially, I found that the bullying was often not about me. It was about them - their need to be mean, vent their fury, dominate, appear powerful, or express their dislike because I was shy or different. Bullying is usually not personal and should not be internalized that way.
If we were not there, someone else would have been treated the same way. No matter how bullies hurt us, ultimately, they cannot define who we are if we do not let them.
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version
Bullying Experts Psychiatric Effects Into Adulthood, National Institute of Mental Health
Bullying: A Christian Perspective and Response, Family Fire, Doug Van Til
What does the Bible teach us about bullying? The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Neal Hardin
7 Christian Tips for Dealing with Bullying, whatchristianswanttoknow.com, Crystal McDowell
© 2013 Carola Finch