Breaking Free From Bullying

‘Bullying is learned behavior, and anything learned can be unlearned.’—Dr. C. Sally Murphy.

THE bully and the victim of bullying both need help. The bully needs to learn to relate to others without abusing power. And the victim of bullying needs some practical tools to cope with the problem.

Often, the bully does not know how to relate to others and fails to understand the feelings of those he intimidates. He needs to be monitored and taught to communicate properly. The book Take Action Against Bullying says: “Unless new behaviors are learned and adopted, bullies continue to bully throughout their lifetime. They bully their mates, their children, and possibly their underlings in their place of business.”

Help Not to Bully

Training children early in life to be empathetic can help to prevent them from turning into bullies. Educators in some lands are working with a new style of education called empathy training. The objective is to teach students as young as five years old to understand the feelings of others and to treat people with kindness. While there is yet little statistical data on the long-term impact, early results suggest that those who have gone through the training are less aggressive than those who have not.

As a parent, you should not leave such training entirely to some school program. If you do not want your child to become a bully, you need to teach him by word and by example how to treat others with respect and dignity. What can assist you? Likely, you have readily available an excellent but underappreciated source of training in this regard—God’s Word, the Bible. How can it help?

For one thing, it teaches clearly how God feels about bullying. He despises it! The Bible says of God: “Anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates.” (Psalm 11:5) Furthermore, God is not blind to what is going on. The Bible records his feelings of regret, or sorrow, in connection with the Israelites when they suffered “because of their oppressors and those who were shoving them around.” (Judges 2:18) On many occasions God punished those who abused their power and bullied the weak and defenseless.—Exodus 22:22-24.

The Bible also contains what may be the most famous instruction ever given regarding how to show empathy. Jesus stated: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) Teaching children to embrace that Golden Rule—to love it and live by it—is not easy; it takes a good example, persistence, and hard work, particularly since young children are naturally self-centered. But all such effort is worthwhile. If your children learn to be kind and empathetic, they will find the very thought of bullying repulsive.

Help for the Victims

Victims of bullying, particularly the young, face a difficult challenge—that of maintaining balance under pressure. When someone bullies you, he is probably eager to throw you off balance emotionally. He is hoping that you will resort to extremes of anger or show terror. If you fly into a fit of rage or burst into tears and express hurt or fear, the bully is getting what he wants. So he may try to provoke the same reaction again and again.

What can you do? Consider the following suggestions. They are written primarily with the young in mind, but the principles may also apply to adults dealing with bullies.

Keep cool. Don’t give in to rage. The Bible wisely advises: “Let anger alone and leave rage.” (Psalm 37:8) When your temper is out of control, you give the bully power over you, and you are likely to do things you will only regret.—Proverbs 25:28.

Try to put thoughts of revenge out of your mind. Vengeance often backfires. At any rate, revenge is not really satisfying. One girl, who was beaten up by five youths when she was 16 years old, recalls: “I decided in my heart, ‘I will get even with them.’ So I got some help from my friends and took revenge on two of my attackers.” The result? “I was left with an empty feeling,” she says. And her own conduct worsened afterward. Remember the Bible’s wise words: “Return evil for evil to no one.”—Romans 12:17.

When things appear to be getting heated, get away quickly. The Bible says: “Before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” (Proverbs 17:14) In general, try to steer clear of those who tend to bully. Says Proverbs 22:3: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.”

If bullying persists, you may need to speak up for yourself. Choose a moment when you are calm, look the bully in the eye, and speak in a firm, level voice. Tell him that you don’t like what he is doing—that it is not funny and that it hurts. Do not resort to insults or challenges.—Proverbs 15:1.

Talk to a responsible, caring adult about the bullying. Be specific about the problem, and ask for help in handling it. Do the same in your prayers to God, and this can be a wonderful source of help and comfort.—1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Remember that you have value as a person. The bully might want you to think that you don’t matter, that you deserve to be treated badly. But he is not your judge. God is, and he looks for the good in each of us. It is the bully who becomes less worthwhile by resorting to such conduct.

Parents—Protect Your Children

Parents too can start early in preparing their children to deal wisely with bullies. They can, for example, use role-playing games with their children to demonstrate how to project a sense of confidence.

Even physical posture—standing up straight—can send a subtle message that dissuades some bullies. Making eye contact, keeping hands and arms relaxed, and speaking in a firm, steady voice may help too. Parents are urged to teach their child to walk away, to avoid bullies, and to ask a trustworthy adult for help, such as a schoolteacher.

Eliminating bullying behavior starts with educating the family. Parents who make themselves available to their children, listening patiently and empathetically to their concerns, instill in them a feeling that they are wanted, supported, and loved. Many professionals in the field of parenting and peer problems urge parents to provide their children with a positive view of themselves. Such a healthy outlook reduces their appeal as targets in the eyes of bullies.

But more is involved than simply talking. Each member of the family needs to learn to treat others with respect and dignity and to cultivate empathy. So do not tolerate any bullying behavior in your household. Make your home a safe haven, where respect and love prevail.

The End of Bullying

“Man has dominated man to his injury.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9) That is how the Bible summarizes human history. Indeed, bullying has plagued mankind for thousands of years. A Bible writer said: “I myself returned that I might see all the acts of oppression that are being done under the sun, and, look! the tears of those being oppressed, but they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, so that they had no comforter.”—Ecclesiastes 4:1.

However, God surely sees all the bullying that is going on in the world, and he feels for those who are being oppressed. But will he ever do anything about it? Yes, he will! Note his promise found at Micah 4:4: “They will actually sit, each one under his vine and under his fig tree, and there will be no one making them tremble; for the very mouth of Jehovah of armies has spoken it.”

Think what the world will be like when that promise is fulfilled. No one to make others tremble in fear—no bullies! Does that not sound appealing? But God has done more than promise such a future. Right now a highly effective Bible education program is under way globally. It is reaping positive results. Those sharing in it are taught to alter their more aggressive personality traits, to remain at peace with one another, and to treat others with respect and dignity. (Ephesians 4:22-24) Very soon the effects of this superlative instruction will permeate the earth, and the problem of bullying will no longer exist. God’s promises recorded in the Bible will be a reality. Everyone then living will enjoy a world without bullies!

[Picture on page 8]

There is no shame in walking away from a bully

[Picture on page 9]

In a healthy family atmosphere, children are taught to cope with all kinds of bullying

[Pictures on page 10]

Teach your children to speak up for themselves in a firm yet tactful manner