What’s Behind Bullying – A Trauma Perspective
The Anti-Bullying movement is a
But I often get frustrated when I hear about another ‘campaign’, another fundraiser to ‘educate’ people on ‘anti-bullying’. There’s no doubt the message needs to be spread and heard, particularly when we hear of tragic events that have come largely as a result of bullying behaviour towards another. The affects words, passive, explicit behaviours, can have on young minds and adults can be devastating and permanent.
But here’s my issue with ‘anti-bullying’; we’re only treating the symptom. Let’s say I have a deep wound on my leg. I could get a bandaid and cover the wound up and leave it alone. But sooner or later that wound will fester and get worse over time. I could replace the bandaid continually, and never bother to address the wound itself and it wouldn’t go away, in fact very quickly it will become infected and now I’m left having to treat the infection and the wound. Or suppose I have a crack in my lounge room wall. I could try and paint over it to conceal it, but over time the crack would protrude through the paint, perhaps becoming longer and deeper. Without looking at the reasons why the crack is appearing, I’m really only cosmetically trying to fix the problem.
And this is what I see happening with bullying. We’re not looking at the reasons the individual is behaving this way, we’re only focusing on the behaviour we see. And of course if this behaviour is dangerous to another individual, then immediate action to stop it is required. But rarely does action on the present behaviour stop as a result of being reprimanded. The ‘bully’ in question often repeats the same behaviour to the same person or finds another person to target.
When I was at school, I was often targeted by the one person or group. If I ever spoke up, which I rarely did, the consequence on the ‘bully’ was never sufficient to cause them to stop their behaviour, infact it usually motivated them to continue pestering me even more. A reason why kids don’t often speak up.
Why don’t they stop, even after a consequence? There is always an underlying reason we behave the way we do. There is a reason we lash out at people, we get angry, we get so worked up, we use physical force to express something triggering us underneath and that’s what needs to be addressed. If we address the ‘why’ behind the behaviour, then we can resolve it.
I didn’t bully anyone physically at school.. School was a place I went for safety, for solace away from the problems I had in my family. Despite the dysfunction I was living through at home, I didn’t resort to hurting anyone. I was in enough pain myself. But in my later years of school, in year 11 and year 12, I often resorted to childish manipulative behaviours towards my friends. The way I treated my friends towards the end of year 12 was terrible. Was that bullying? I don’t believe so, but many many years later I look back on that time in my life where I lost some dear friends because of my behavour, I can reflect on that time in my life and understand now, from the perspective a 40+ year old that there was a reason I behaved this way.
I was 17, lost, confused and literally terrified for my life. I’d only known childhood trauma, abuse, dysfunction, abandonment, neglect and had absolutely no attachment to my only caregiver, my mother. The thought of having no purpose or direction, no one to go to, school the only safe and stable routine I’d had for 12 years about to be taken away from me, was so scary for me. I inadvertently started to project my inner fears, (fears I didn’t understand) onto my friends. I treated them horribly. I created such a chasm between myself and my friends that I ended up alone on the night of my year 12 graduation.
Had I known how to express or even name how I was feeling to someone, I know I would never have treated my friends this way. But at the time, I did what I knew to do, based on the dysfunctional upbringing I had.
I don’t believe the majority of bullying with children is intentional at all. I would surmise based on my own experiences that children do what they know to do, either through modelling or an outlet to express some very deep and unresolved emotions.
It’s interesting that The Australian Institute of Family Studies statistics on child abuse and neglect released in June 2017, shows a very steady increase in abuse, neglect and harm nationally. Does this correlate with an increase in bullying amongst children specifically? I don’t know, but I would, again, only based on my own experiences, say it makes sense that the two would increase respectively.
Why? I don’t believe we need research papers or stats to tell us that how we grow up grossly impacts the way we treat ourselves and each other.
My basic physiological needs were met, but besides that, my safety and sense of belonging were barely a part of the equation. I had no attachment, no sense of trust. I couldn’t depend on my parents or extended family for any nurturing or sense of belonging. Logically, how does this absence of two crucial needs translate to how I see the world and how I treat people within it?
Simply put, I didn’t give a shit about other people, if no one gave a shit about me. My virtual upbringing was based on repeated evidence that no one was going to give a shit about me. No one was going to protect me or stand up for me. No one was showing me I mattered.
If I understand that how I treat others is a direct reflection of how I feel about myself and what I believe I deserve, then it’s stands to reason that bullying (and in particular repeated bullying) is a red flag of some underlying reason, some unmet need on the individual that they cannot or do not know how to express or resolve. And that is what I wish we could address with ‘bullying’.
Particularly children, I wish we could look further into the reasons a child is behaving in a particular way. Why do they seek out unwanted attention? Why do they feel so motivated to hurt, belittle, antagonise, target another? What do we know about what they’re going home to every single day. What are they subjected to? What are they not receiving from their care givers?
From my own experience, I understand what it’s like to not have my needs met and try and integrate into a world that seems so ridiculously unfair. I understand what it’s like to want to off load my anger, my unresolved emotions onto people, just to release it. Just to get it out of my head. I understand what it’s like to hate yourself for treating others like shit, when you don’t want to, but you have no idea how else to be.
If we understood the reasons ‘why’ people (children) behave the way they do, I feel the issues surrounding bullying would be easier to understand and work with. It may well have repaired or saved me from losing some very dear friends.