Being bullied is humiliating. It happens when people are purposely mean, and behaving in a way meant to harm and embarrass another person, over and over again. Sometimes it isn't obvious at first and can be confusing when bullies pretend to be your friends.
If you are an adult, chances are you have been a victim, perpetrator or at the very least, a bystander of relational aggression at some point in your life. This is a subtle, yet highly damaging form of bullying that takes an emotional or psychological form.
I’m sure you’ve seen it, the whispers between two friends as they giggle and look at someone; the eye rolls; name calling; secret sharing; rumor spreading; gossiping; ignoring; hurtful comments; lies; manipulating; the silent treatment; and the most common and often most painful- - deliberate exclusion. This is relational aggression or relational violence. It is when someone’s behavior is meant to damage, attack or manipulate another’s social status, relationships and friendships. This behavior can extend to the internet where people are further humiliated on-line, through social media.
Gifted people may become targets of of all kinds of bullying, including relational aggression, starting in childhood, usually nearing middle school. Other kids may make fun of them for being “smart”, or having unusual interests and knowledge; exclude them from social circles and activities; spread rumors to damage their reputations; or attempt to provoke strong emotional responses . Adults (including parents and teachers) may taunt them, challenge their knowledge, and punish them for working ahead or sharing their knowledge. This can cause kids to hide their intelligence, socially isolate, give in to bullies to gain acceptance or mend the situation, and ultimately feel like they don’t belong in this world.
Aggressors and targets of relational aggression are more likely to feel short term effects of loneliness and isolation, have depression and anxiety, feel alienated, have emotional distress and low self esteem. Whereas long term effects, especially for young people, can be more serious, like suicidal thoughts and attempts, self harming, poor relational skills, developing eating disorders, unwanted pregnancies, engaging dangerous risk taking behaviors, and struggling in or dropping out of school.
If you are the parent or support person of a child dealing with relational aggression, remember it is not their fault. They should not be blamed, further humiliated or forced to change who they are. It is important to empower your children to be able to report the bullying, and to stand up for themselves.
Here are some ways you can help your child to feel more confident and able to defend and accept his or herself even when faced with the cruelty of others:
* Be a good role model. Teach and model relationship building skills.
* Teach and model empathy
* Help your child to identify his or her individual strengths
* Learn, teach and practice good communication and conflict resolution skills
* Encourage them to be involved in extra curricular activities where they can be successful and grow
* Work with teachers and school administrators to better understand your child and their needs
* Work with school administrators to recognize when your child is mistreated and how the school can help to improve the situation
* You are on your child’s team and on their side. You love them, and it is important for them to see you are there to help, are someone who accepts them, and who teaches them with kindness how to navigate the world.
These skills can be applied to your life as well. If you are an adult:
* Seek help and support in building positive relationships
* Be kind to others
* Notice your own strengths
* Learn and practice good communication and conflict resolution skills
* Develop interests you engage in regularly that make you happy and allow you to feel successful
* Seek out supportive people with whom you can build healthy relationships
Most of all, remember, you and your child are not alone. Don't be afraid to ask for help from your child's school, from supportive friends or from a therapist who can teach vital skills for reducing bullying and building resilience from such a traumatic experience.
About the Author:
Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has nearly 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.