Bullying awareness starts with awareness

As many of you will know, this week is Anti-Bullying Week. We could post the ‘One Kind Word’ video or recycle the media pack content from the website (all of which is ‘good stuff’). But you’ll likely have seen that elsewhere already.

So, I thought I’d contribute a personal share instead—something you won’t have seen. Before I do that, I wanted to point to some research on the subject of bullying that resonated with me.

The University of Warwick and Duke University Medical Centre published a study in the journal Psychological Science. Amongst the many interesting (and disturbing) findings was this:

“Victims <of bullying> tended to be more successful—but less healthy—than bullies in adulthood. In general, victimised kids grew up to do better than the kids who bullied them. They made more money, had more friends, and were much, much less likely to be convicted of a crime—but they still did worse than those who weren’t bullied at all. And their mental and physical health tended to be worse than everyone else. (When researchers controlled for other childhood hardships, the risks for both victims and bully victims did not change).”

I was bullied at secondary school. And I still feel the impact now.

I was terrorised every day on the school bus. Intimidated, named-called, threatened. When I got off at my stop, I’d regularly have 10 boys surrounding me, threatening to beat me up or hurt my family or my dog. I would wake up terrified every morning.

I never actually got psychically hurt by anyone else. Even then, I was taller and broader than my peers (and even those older than me). But the constant torment and fear very much took its toll on me, mentally.

Suddenly, more extreme physical side-effects arose. I found myself with awful stomach upsets. They were very real and almost constant. The only ‘benefit’ of these was being regularly off sick from school. I then found myself secret eating and binge eating. These destructive eating habits had the knock-on effect of compounding the stomach issues.

Over the course of a year, the physical impacts got worse, and so did my absence.

The school noticed – and I was called in, with my parents, under the threat of suspension for ‘excessive absence’ from school.

Again, the prevailing sense of dread washed over me. I felt trapped between feeling ill, being bullied, disappointing my parents and fear of consequences from the school.

I’d love to say at this point that I’d had a helpful intervention from a friend, or a revelation in my thinking. I didn’t. So, I found myself in the school office – parents, headmaster and me. And I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. The torrent of emotion came flooding out.

The school listened to my issues – and the boys concerned were spoken to. Coincidentally, being at the end of Year 10, many of the older culprits were about to leave onto pastures new.

A few awkward terms remained – and the bullying turned from overt to covert. No more crowds of boys around me, threatening me. But whispers, sniggers and looks fuelled a (justified) paranoia. An improvement, certainly – but not a resolution.

That finally came when I entered Year 11, and everything changed. The bullying stopped.

But the stomach issues? They stayed. Sure, I’ve developed coping strategies, so my absence is not an issue etc. But they have plagued me for my whole life and actually hospitalised me on numerous occasions now.

What about the mental impact? Well, this too, has evolved in some ways and festered in others.

On the positive side, I have developed an outward resilience and toughness. To the casual observer, little phases me. I’m lucky to be part of a wonderful business and have fabulous family, friends and colleagues. To all intents and purposes, I am ‘successful’.

But am I truly happy? I should be. But something in my mental makeup keeps stopping me.

For example, I now struggle with self-validation. Most people who meet me see someone with much confidence. Those who REALLY know me, know my truth to be far different.

I now have a strange relationship with emotion with those I don’t know. I tend to come across as cold or transactional – but, in truth, it stems from a fear of being vulnerable.

I also struggle to find peace – happiness with my lot in life. I always seek more. Never settle.

Like all of us, I’m a work in progress. I’m definitely a number of steps away from inner-peace and enlightenment.

Because, as the research attests, bullying doesn’t just cause ‘in the moment’ damage – it is far more insidious and long-lasting. Not just weeks, not just months – not even years. But decades.

The theme for 2021’s week is ‘one kind word’. Whilst no one could argue against that, I wished I’d had someone who wasn’t just kind – but a more skilful coach. Someone who was curious and challenging but wrapped it in kindness.

If you can do that for somebody – be they in your family, your friendship group or at your place of work, don’t hesitate.

#Bullying #MentalHealth #Coaching

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