We talk a lot about bullying these days, on blogs, on television, in schools and in our homes. While it makes for important conversation and brings a serious issue to the forefront, bullying still happens across the country every single day. And bullying can affect someone for years afterwards.
It is evident that bullying is an issue that is going to be around for a while despite efforts towards the contrary. With texts and social media, it has also become more difficult to define who should get involved and whose jurisdiction covers those actions. When is it the school’s responsibility? What about the parents, the police, the FBI, the cell phone services or the social media sites? It seems that none of the above are being taught how to effectively and appropriately deal with these situations.
Bullying still happens at the adult level all the time. Apples do not always fall far from apple trees, you know. As long as there are people of any age who feel the need to pick themselves up by pushing other people down, there will be bullies. As long as there is a receptive audience for those bullies, there will be bullying.
Two studies that just came out that, perhaps if used in combination, can help recipients of bullying find a path towards emotional healing. Because if the victims heal, the bullies cannot win.
Right now the negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident far into adulthood, according to new research out of Great Britain. They found that people who were bullied when young more likely to have poorer physical and emotional health, as well as poorer cognitive functioning later in life. When children are repeatedly exposed hurtful actions by children of a similar age, and find it difficult to defend themselves, the impact can be seen as many as 40 years later.
Even if you were not the victim of bullying yourself as a child, think about how many other adults you know who talk about how difficult that time was for them, and how painful it is to for them to think about even now.
Perhaps we can change that, at least for some people. Other research out this week says that focusing on the context of difficult memories (such as those of being bullied) rather than the emotions, can help the brain to remember in a less painful way. In other words, recalling the particulars of the situation (such as where it took place or how you got out of it) rather than how you felt about it (sad, embarrassed, or ashamed) will help your mind to reduce its emotional impact. And if it does not have as much of an emotional impact, the bullies do not win.
I would venture to be that some of us already do this now on some level. Think about the events of September 11, 2001, for instance. I bet you can recall where you were, how you found out, and how the rest of your day played out far faster than how you felt.
So instead of dwelling on how you felt while being bullied, whether it is in the recent past or the long ago past, try to think instead about the context of the situation. Where were you? What was the weather like that day? Was there someone who did make an effort to help? Where did you go afterwards?
The researchers found that when the brain focuses on other details, the mind wanders on to something else, instead of dwelling on the emotional aspect of memories of being bullied. This also allows us to not have the added pressure of trying to suppress hurtful memories, because that can often make matters worse in the long run. Instead, this concept allows us to shift the focus of the memory from emotional to factual.
And when we do, the bullies will not win.