I’ve been thinking more about bullying and perceptions. In the comments to Memoirs of a Bullied Kid I saw several people mention how they came to perceive themselves entirely in accordance with how they were perceived by the bullies and bystanders. As difficult as it is to realize and accept the fact that our own perceptions are not the same as the true reality, I would say it is even more difficult for a kid who’s being bullied to realize that the perceptions of the bullies are not the true reality either – far from it, in fact. The damage done by bullying lies in the distortions it creates between reality and the perceptions of all who are involved in it, including the bullies.
Bullies, I think, tend to engage in bullying because it allows them to perceive themselves as more powerful than they actually are. Their authentic self knows they are not as powerful as they feel, even if their conscious self refuses to admit this. This discrepancy leads to fear – either conscious or subconscious – that others will see through them, i.e. will realize they are not so powerful. Rather than resolving this inner dilemma by working toward accepting reality, it seems that often, they instead respond by trying to become more powerful – by bullying more viciously. Since this can only result in an even greater discrepancy between reality and their perception, it adds to rather than relieves their insecurity. This sets up a spiral of escalation that becomes more difficult to break out of with each iteration.
I’ve seen a lot of news articles listing things like characteristics of bullied kids and the effects of bullying on bullied kids. They absolutely deserve our attention and support in recovering from the abuse. But we can’t stop bullying by only helping the kids who are bullied. The article linked to “characteristics of bullied kids”, sadly, concludes with “So the key to alleviating depression for all forms of bullying – cyber and otherwise – may reside in the home.” NO! The key to alleviating depression for all forms of bullying is to stop bullying. Treat the disease, not the symptom!
The only way to stop bullying is to stop the bullies. We need to be studying the bullies and figuring out why they have such a strong desire to feel powerful in the first place, and how they get the misguided idea that power comes from hurting other people. We need to help them realize that true security comes from the pursuit of authentic relationships, not from the pursuit of power, and teach them how to form those relationships.