By Terri Fedonczak
Author of Field Guide to Plugged-In Parenting…Even If You Were Raised by Wolves
The foundation of bullying and competition are the same: disconnection. Whether it’s a passive aggressive derision or a physical confrontation, the basis is a disconnection from what makes us human…loving kindness. The answer isn’t to focus on the tragedy of disconnection; it’s to foster connection. You don’t stop evil by blowing it up into something terrifying with dramatic headlines, you stop it by giving it a hug, patting it on the head and giggling about why it ever existed in the first place. When we can stop looking at bullying as an evil monster that is impossible to slay, we can begin to shrink it down to size.
Remember being a kid and seeing things in a dark room that you knew were coming to eat you? You looked at your closet, the place from whence all monsters originated, and saw a demon standing there. He was so big and scary, that you screamed for your Mom, only to find a coat on a hanger when your Mom turned on the light. That moment of clarity turned a monster into a coat, and with awareness, the coat can never be a monster again.
If we break the bullying cycle by building up the self-esteem and inner pride of both the bully and the victim, then bullying becomes just a dark coat hanging on a door. The power of the evil evaporates, because evil cannot survive if you don’t believe in its supremacy. The bullies are just as empty and bereft as their victims, probably more so. Bullies have a deep-set insecurity that they are unworthy of love, so they lash out to make themselves worthy of fear instead. What if the victim didn’t show fear, but sent the bully love and compassion? This is much easier to do when the victim is surrounded by their support group, hence the importance of finding their Pride. I found the Power of the Pride in South Africa, where I witnessed a Pride of lionesses acting together to accomplish feats that were impossible to do alone.
My mission is to eradicate the Mean Girl Syndrome. I’m not going to do that by tip-toeing around it or saying, “Oh woe is me, I’ll never be able to do this; the problem is too big for one person to make a difference.” That’s victim mode; that’s believing the coat is a monster. I will break it down to one girl making one choice to use her girl power for good. If I keep talking to girls about how to build their girl power, the tide will start to turn. If I can teach victims to try a little courage, by being vulnerable enough to seek out a Pride of supportive friends, then they will have recruits to help them when confronted with a bully. If I can teach victims and bullies alike to build themselves up with self-care and creativity, then both parties are less attracted to the drama of the victim/bully dance. Bullies crave drama, because it allows them to avoid how empty they feel; and victims crave drama, because it allows them to fondle their story of how powerless they are, thereby avoiding the risk of vulnerability. Drama is a time and energy suck; the antidote is self-care.
You can only help your child with their self-care if you’re practicing it yourself. Self-care looks different for everyone, but it always involves quiet time to stop and assess your own needs. Whether that quiet time is spent in nature or in meditation, take at least 5 minutes a day to stop and ask yourself what you need to be the best version of yourself. It can be as simple as taking 3 deep belly breaths to quiet our frenzied, over-stimulated brains. Take the time to be still long enough to figure out if you need rest, creativity, exercise or play. If you don’t, you can’t be there to help your children figure out what they need.
Every time I ignore my own self-care and white knuckle my way past the point of needing to rest, I am feeding my own inner bully. Instead, I can make a different choice, even if it’s just to change my own self-talk. I can start with kindness and choose a more gratitude-based monologue. Every time I make a mistake, instead of saying, “How could I have been so stupid?” I now say, “That’s okay sweetie! We’ll get it next time. No big whoop!” I can choose cuddling with my dog instead of obsessively checking e-mail or Facebook. I can choose playing with my kids over perfecting that article for the eleventy-ninth time…good is good enough. I can take the energy I used to put into perfectionism and self-bullying and pour it into my mission to show girls how to build their inner pride with self-care and their outer Pride by finding people who like them just the way they are.
How do we stop bullying? We begin by treating ourselves better, thereby ending the allure of victimhood. We pattern self-care for our kids, so that they too will treat themselves with kindness. We show them how important it is to surround themselves with a Pride of supporters, by asking for help when we need it. When self-care and positive self-talk are the norm for kids of all backgrounds, then bullying will just be an old coat hanging in the back of the closet…outdated and outgrown.