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06/02/2010

The Power of Silence

Bullying3PeopleInvolved8x11 Words can cut you to the quick, but sometimes the silence hurts more. With dealing with bullying situations, standing by is almost as bad as participating. Standing by, and not speaking up, is giving tacit approval, and giving the aggressor what she wants: power. It perpetuates the behavior and can even cause it to escalate.

Giving voice to your concerns or speaking up about bullying behavior is not easy. There is the possibility (or the fear of it) that you will become the next victim. It is also hard to stop something when it seems that everyone is involved, but chances are there are others that are also uncomfortable with the situation. Voicing your concern can help others do the same--and perhaps shut down the behavior entirely.

In a previous post, I mentioned how I had been bullied a few years ago. It was seriously the most painful time of my life--even worse than teenage years because I was an adult! This should not be happening to me! This stuff is for kids!

But, see, it is not. Bullying behavior becomes the norm for a person, and they can easily continue the destructive patterns well into adulthood. Often, people don't realize that they are being a bully, so calling them out on their behavior can make them aware of it.

When I was being ganged up on and shunned by people I though were my friends, there were a few people that stood up to the "mean girls" on my behalf. These wonderful women (you know who you are!) gave me the courage to do something I never thought I could--stand up for myself. And others. In no uncertain terms these women called the bullies out on their behavior, told them it was unacceptable and it stopped. Although this is a very difficult step to take, it is an extremely effective one. 

Another effective way to step out of the sidelines and stop the bullying is to remove the audience. Studies have shown that 85% of bullying occurs with an audience. In my case, it was a virtual one mostly. However, refusing to engage in the verbal battering and simply letting the thread die removed the audience. Once the audience was gone, life continued mostly as normal--in public. In private I was still a weeping mess of depression and bitterness, but I had shoulders to cry on. And that made all the difference.

I remember a direct message I got when this was all going down. An acquaintance sent me a message essentially saying, "Hey! I like you. I'm your friend." That message was a life line for me. Befriending the bullied can let them know that they do matter, that they are likable. It might even stop the bullying--often the target of bullying is chosen because they have few, if any, friends to speak up in their defense.

We women have a nasty habit that we need to get rid of. Though definitions may vary, gossiping is one thing that most women do so well, and yet it can hurt so much. This is a habit that is deeply ingrained in many women. Before I was the target of bullying, heaven knows I filled the ears of many people with things that were best left unsaid. And believe me, it is painful to admit that.  I learned firsthand, however, how much gossip can affect you.

The gossip surrounding me was brutal. I can't even share what it was because after all these years (three to be exact) it still pains me to think of all the nasty things that were being said. Imagine, now, that someone had declined to pass it along (some did).  When presented with a juicy bit of gossip, no matter how much you want to share it, please stop and think first. Ask yourself if it is true. If it needs to be said. If you would want someone to say something like that about you. If the answer to any of these questions is no, find a different topic to discuss. Like how great the coffee is. 

I have to admit that having this experience behind me has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I have learned who my true friends are. I have learned what behaviors are acceptable and which are not. I have become very outspoken about bullying--especially girl-to-girl bullying. I am no longer a victim, or a bystander, for I do not let others be bullied either.

Most of all, however, I am teaching my children and my Daisy troop how to be empathetic and caring. I am teaching them that they are the ones that need to step up if they see unkindness, that they need to speak up for themselves. I am teaching them that everyone--even the bullies--deserve to be treated with kindness.

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This is an original post to Ohio Moms Blog.

(poster credit to NSRPublications.com; picture credit to thephoenix.com)

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