In a society where social media has highlighted and made the “bully” cool, it has convinced our youth to post videos of bullying and laughing about it. It has given “fake” bullies a platform to gain fame, popularity and even fans to some extent.
With popularity being paramount in the world of tweens and teens, bullying and cyberbullying has become a norm and opened the door for a new way to become cool and accepted. It has also created a real reality that at any given moment anyone can be bullied, from an adult riding on a public bus to a tween on Snapchat. No matter the age. No matter the race. No matter the location. We are all potential victims.
As a child I was bullied on multiple occasions during my elementary and middle school years. At times, I can now see how I was a bully, I shamefully admit. But why? Why do we feel the need to bully someone? Someone so vulnerable. Someone who is minding their own business and just being them.
I recently listened to Brené Brown’s Ted talk, The Power of Vulnerability, and it all suddenly became clear. It’s not the victim that is vulnerable, it’s the macho bully that’s vulnerable. Based on Brené’s Ted Talk, “vulnerability is at the core of fear, shame and struggle for worthiness.” As I thought about that more it became clearer as to why, in some cases, kids become bullies. It all points to the struggle for worthiness and fear.
For the longest time I thought bullies were people who were just acting out what they saw at home, what they saw in movies and TV, or were just aggressive and angry by nature. I also couldn’t discount the fact that some kids have social anxiety issues and aren’t quite sure how to fit it, so they act out. No matter the circumstances, I always thought that bullies just chose the most vulnerable people to pick on.
Then I thought about myself. I didn’t like fighting because of what I saw in my home and I kept to myself when I wasn’t around familiar people. So, to a bully I was ripe for the pickin. But I was cool, I thought. I had a diverse group of friends at school. I was athletically gifted. I was intelligent and helped others. I was cool with the cool kids. So, how was I vulnerable enough to get bullied? But the bigger question for myself was, why in some cases did I bully others? Hmm… I could never figure that out. Until now!
Bullies want power. Bullies want control. Bullies want others to fear them. But I didn’t want that during the times where I consider myself to be a bully. But now it all makes sense. Bullies are vulnerable to their own emotional attack, and when it comes, bullies numb their pain and take it out on others, so others feel like them – full of fear, shame and unworthiness.
And that is exactly what I felt! Fear AND Unworthiness! I struggled for many years with feeling worthy enough, feeling like I belonged, feeling like part of the crowd. I lived with a ton of fear. The fear that people wouldn’t like me, the fear that if people knew the real me, they would bully me or tease me. Although there were only a few instances, as a result of this fear and feelings of unworthiness, I chose to bully others.
Looking at the world we live in today and witnessing the rise of bullies across America, it is so easy to see these young kids yearning for true connectedness, living in fear and struggling for worthiness. So, some turn to bullying to numb their fears and disconnectedness because they are scared to be themselves. They are scared to be vulnerable. They are scared to open up and admit their mistakes or failures, or share their thoughts, opinions and insecurities.
Brené says “Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, belonging and love”, and that is exactly what a lot of our youth missing today. As adults, teachers, parents, mentors, and coaches, we need to do a better job at helping our kids feel connected, feel worthy and most importantly teach them it is OK to be vulnerable.