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Etiquette Changes The Power Differential In Bullying

The blogpost of on the subject of bullying has prompted me to expand on a topic many people have asked me for over six years to address.  One of the main raison d’tre of Ehell is to empower people through the use of manners and etiquette to interact successfully with less than pleasant people.    We call them rude boors and Ehell is rife with stories and requests from people seeking how to engage with people who have become more sophisticated in their pushy, rude, aggressive, domineering behavior.   While childhood bullying gets a lot of media attention, the reality is that everyone will encounter adult bullies for the rest of their lives and if one does not acquire the tools to manage these interactions, you will not be as successful as you could be.   Ehell wants its readers to be the best equipped bully busters.

In preparing the content to be published on the blog several weeks ago, I made a purposeful, conscious decision to not post the story to the logical Wedding Hells Bells blog but rather the main EHell blog with a subject line that clearly indicated that the focus would be on giving people second chances, to not use old history as an excuse to deny oneself interaction with the broader family and to throw off the victim identity, and my response reflected that emphasis.   Of course a wedding invitation is not a summons, calling to inquire why a guest declined to attend a wedding can be rude and focusing the discussion on those elements of wedding etiquette would have apropos if I had posted the story to the wedding blog.  But I didn’t because regardless of how Lisa, Brady and female in-laws behaved, my attention was on the OP’s “here and now” response to bullying years earlier.  A lot of readers completely missed that intended focus and there were many comments I declined to approve which endorsed, encouraged and enabled the OP to be deceitful, to continue to identify herself as a victim, to nurture her hatred and memories,  to take draconian steps of cutting off family for having the audacity to associate with the alleged bully and to not move forward.   The comments were a total antithesis of everything Ehell stands for.   Do these people *really* understand what this site is about?

Can childhood bullies change? Some social research would say they do not.   They just become more sophisticated in their bullying.   But I know they can change because I’ve seen it.   It wasn’t hard to find examples online of childhood bullies confessing their dirty deeds with shame and remorse.   Read Carly Pifer’s memories of being a vicious teenaged bully in “I was a mean girl….When I read about bullying today, I realize: Hmm, I did that.”  Or John Cook’s admission of vicious bullying that he deeply regrets as an adult.     Dear Prudence column writer Emily Yoffe wrote that she receives “quite a few letters to ‘Dear Prudence’ from adults who look back and regret being bullies and wonder how to make amends.”   The OP recognized the bride as her “most hated adversary” from years earlier and chose to decline to attend the wedding with apparently little  thought that maybe a childhood bully had changed and before any of the subsequent drama with family occurred.   Hatred is an active, not passive, emotion and evidence that while one may not think of one’s “most hated adversary” all the time, that person does reside in a dark, little, festering corner of one’s heart or mind just waiting for the mental knock on the door to come out.   Hatred is a poor choice of emotion upon which to base decisions as to how one will interact with others.

The often unasked question is, can childhood victims change?  To answer that question fully there must be a dichotomy between “pure” victims and what is known as “bully-victims”, children who have been bullied yet retaliate with bullying.    In one recent study, about one third of the children who either bullied others or were bullied themselves were identified as bully-victims.   Researchers Schwartz, Proctor,  & Chien identified the distinguishing feature of bully-victims as struggling to control their emotions. For example, bully-victims may unintentionally prompt children to bully them again by reacting very emotionally to teasing, threats or physical aggression, and may have similar problems controlling feelings of anger and frustration, predisposing them to retaliatory aggression.   According to an excellent education.com article on bully-victims, “children with a combination of behavioral and emotional problems are at greater risk for psychiatric disorders and criminal offences in young adulthood  than are children dealing with only one of these problems, and have proven less responsive to a comprehensive school-based program for children with severe emotional disturbances. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that these individuals receive support and services that address the full spectrum of their needs.”

“Pure” bullies and “pure” victims have the best chance of changing as they mature into adulthood whereas bully-victims appear to be predisposed to having emotional and psychological disadvantages to overcoming the bullying behavior into adulthood.   A groundbreaking study by Duke University psychiatry professor William E. Copeland followed 1250 NC students from ages 9 into adulthood over a period of 20 years and found that bully-victims had the most serious psychological problems as kids and they also showed up with higher levels of anxiety, depressive disorders, and suicidal thinking as adults than either the bullies or victims groups.   The Duke study also confirmed that all three groups–bullies, victims and bully-victims–had higher rates of some type of family hardship than the kids who didn’t experience bullying at all.   All three groups suffered psychologically in some way as adults demonstrating the point that no one comes out a winner of childhood bullying.

With that in mind, thinking back on one’s childhood experiences of being bullied should reflect a perspective of realizing one’s bullies are likely to have experienced family hardships, were not emotionally resilient, may have likely been bullied themselves and are more likely to have  psychological issues as adults.   This type of thinking is what a cognitive therapist would refer to as “grounding”, i.e. getting you to “ground” yourself in the realities of today, to deal with issues in the here and now as opposed to reacting emotionally to past history.   Acknowledging that your bully was a messed up kid significantly helps you to step into an adult viewpoint looking back in time.   My own reflections on the childhood bullying I experienced prompted me to realize just how good I had it as a kid compared to my bullies, to be thankful for the blessings I did have and to frankly be thankful my life was not a royal mess like several of them ended up having.  I pitied them.

The basic definition of bullying is the exploitation of power differentials done repeatedly over time.     Etiquette and manners gives us a solid ground or framework of ways to use civility to change the power differential.   If you’ve read EHell for years you know the theme of taking control of a situation through authoritative grace and civility is a pervasive one.   I’d go so far as to say manners and etiquette, done with confident graciousness, makes one very powerful and changes the power differential considerably.   People who are adept practitioners of good manners and graciousness are neither victims nor bullies.   Izzy Kalman is a school psychologist in New York City, leader of antibullying workshops, and the author of Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies into Friends has a very interesting way to bully proof children that is compatible with Ehell’ point of view.   It boils down to, “If you get upset, you lose.”  (Sound familiar, anyone?)  How to bully proof a child (or adult, for that matter) is explained more fully in this document.   Please do read it because I’ll likely be referencing it more in the future.

Over the next few days we’ll explore work place bullying, cyberbullying and ways to address those issues.




Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jen d. February 10, 2014, 12:29 pm

    Great header! I’m glad to see you back. Hope you’re feeling well and things are a bit calmer in RL.

    The document you posted it excellent. The techniques discussed remind me of an an incident I read of that happened on Martin Luther King Day. A black man responded to racist tweets with empathetic comments and finishing off with “I love you.” The reactions were priceless. Most of the racists were confused, and responded with variations of “er….thanks?'” Some even said they loved him too. Others responded with towering rage or an attempt to explain their behaviour. It was such an effective response to blatant stupidity and rudeness.

    I’ll be using this document to help some of my students. Thanks again!

  • Calli Arcale February 10, 2014, 12:51 pm

    I like the Bullyproofing article you linked to. I was mercilessly teased and abused by classmates right up through seventh grade. It was horrible. But between seventh and eighth grade I had an epiphany, and this is how I expressed it at the time: “I wasn’t just letting the bullies get my goat, I was gift-wrapping and handing it to them.” I didn’t need to keep doing that, I realized. They wanted me to react, and I was giving them what they wanted by reacting. So, I resolved immediately to not give them what they wanted.

    Oh, I didn’t stop reacting; I think that’s unreasonable to expect, especially overnight after so long. But I changed my reactions radically. I started responding with to their taunts with bright, cheerful nonsense intended to confuse them. I really didn’t care if they thought I was weird or crazy, and I didn’t want to be friends with them; that ship had long since sailed. So I went for baffling them instead, and it worked. I was responding, but not to what they said, and they found they were unable to engage me, and fairly quickly they lost interest and moved on. And so did I. Life only got better from there.

    One thing I realize now, as an adult, is that I was employing a strategy similar to that employed by Creationists and conspiracy theorists in debates with skeptics — instead of engaging in the argument on fair terms, just bury them in bafflegab. It is impossible to have a sensible argument on these terms. So why not use that strategy against bullies too? The only catch is you must first let go of the desire to prove yourself. And that’s not always so easy. My bullies made it easy by making themselves so wholly unlikeable to me that I had absolutely no desire to have any kind of relationship with them. It’s not always that easy for victims to let go of that, to recognize that there’s really no point proving yourself to someone who has such little regard for you. They don’t care what you’re like, so why waste time trying to prove it?

  • Angel February 10, 2014, 1:51 pm

    This post makes a lot of sense to me, however, I think the post you were referring to was a simple question of how to decline the invitation without a lot of drama. Clearly the OP had not seen the girl who bullied her in a quite a number of years–maybe she was unready to see and interact with her, sometimes the prospect of interacting with someone who gave you a hard time for a number a years is pretty daunting that first time. I also think that her cousin and his family made it worse for her by continuing to hound her about why she wasn’t coming. It seems to me that they were being the rude ones, not the OP. I am all for letting bygones be bygones, but not everybody forgives and forgets on your (collective your) timeline. It would have been great and shown a great deal of maturity if the OP had just gone to the wedding with a smile on her face. Not everybody can do this.

    Personally I don’t judge her or think any less of her for deciding not to go. And honestly I do think that if her family had not hounded her about it or given her a hard time then the truth would never have had to come out–and then maybe the OP could have “gotten over it” and gotten used to the idea of her cousin marrying someone she does not get along with, in her own way and in her own time.

    And the notion of making enemies into friends–doesn’t always work. Some people are just difficult. There are some people who you may never see eye to eye with–and the best you can hope for is to get along. But you wouldn’t necessarily call them up to have coffee. And I personally don’t want to waste whatever precious time I have trying to figure out the reasoning behind why someone is acting like a jerk. Just as not everyone who drinks is a poet, not everyone who is acting like a jerk has some deep-seated psychological trauma or hardship in their background. Some people just like to act like jerks. They like to make others feel small. They like seeing people uncomfortable. Why should I (or anyone else for that matter) be made to feel badly because we don’t like to be uncomfortable?

  • Anonymous February 10, 2014, 2:53 pm

    I read the article, and honestly, that’s a nice idea, but it didn’t work when I was a kid. I was bullied, and when I tried to act nice and calm in response (if I was even able to do so), then the bullies would just up the ante. If insulting me didn’t work, I’d get my gloves thrown on the road, my face mashed into a snow bank or a chain-link fence, or I’d get dragged down to the ground by my hair, and kicked, punched, etc. I couldn’t even really escape bullying at home, because my brother bullied me too……and he was younger than me. My parents tried the “you’re bringing it on yourself by acting like a victim and letting it upset you” thing, but being young, I took that to mean that they were siding with my brother, and I was on my own–because, while they’d punish him for bullying me, they’d also punish me for screaming when he hit me, kicked me, pulled my hair, sat on my head, turned his friends against me, stole and damaged my belongings, etc., etc., etc. So, while this approach might work (somewhat) with adults, it doesn’t work with kids. An adult can choose who to associate with–if a spouse or partner is abusing them, they can split up. If it’s someone at work, they can change jobs. If it’s someone at a place they go to regularly, like the gym or similar, they could report the problem to someone in charge of the gym, and go at a different time of day until the problem is resolved. Kids can’t divorce their siblings, they can’t independently switch schools, drop out, or decide to be homeschooled. So, often, their only course of action is to tell an adult, and if the adult turns the problem around on the kid, then that can feel really awful, like they have no one to help them. I mean, okay, it’s fine to give that as a suggestion, but don’t delude a young person into thinking that it’s “magic,” and it’ll work every time, because it doesn’t.

    • admin February 23, 2014, 7:57 am

      What your parents were probably clumsily trying to tell you is that acting like a victim only fuels further aggression from people who have a tendency to exploit power differentials. It’s as if they were dogs with a lamb…no amount of bleating will stop the dog from attacking. (And yes, I think kids can be barbaric little animals.) You had a choice to either act like a victim by submitting to the physical abuse of your younger brother with screaming and a submissive posture or you could have smacked the crap out of him for daring to touch you in an aggressive manner. I have a younger brother, too, and I distinctly remember defending myself from his childish aggressions. I’m convinced boys, as they mature, discover the latent power of being masculine (all that testosterone surging at adolescence) and they begin testing their power and strength on what they perceive as safe targets. Your parents did punish your brother’s bullying but as evidenced by your experiences later in school, they were quite ineffectively in training you to not be a victim.

  • Yet Another Laura February 10, 2014, 4:22 pm

    I’m glad to see that bullying is now being taken much more seriously than it was when I was a kid. The advice I was given amounted to being told to fight my own battles but given no weapons with which to fight my own battles. The literal-minded eight-year-old I was back then assumed that fighting meant with fists, feet, or guns. As a scrawny, underweight kid, that was the most useless advice ever.

    Once you’ve been bitten by a poisonous snake, you’re going to be a lot more careful around that snake or avoid it entirely. Life is way too short to deliberately choose to be around toxic people.

    What follows is my own personal sliding scale of bullying based on my own personal experiences.

    Level One: The harmless snake who looks like a venomous one. Friends of the bullies or the kid who doesn’t have the courage to stick up for the target. These kids are motivated by the need to belong and if they go along, they get along. I’ve already forgiven these people. Remember who the enemy is. It’s not them.

    Level Two: The venomous snakes. The bullies themselves. They’re not harmless, but they are putting something toxic into your system and it does need to be removed. These people are forgivable, but it will take some time to get the venom out. Once you do, forgiveness is like a pair of snakeskin boots.

    Level Three: This isn’t just a venomous snake, this is a radioactive venomous snake. If bitten, you could gain superpowers or you could die. These are the adults who don’t do anything to stop bullying in progress or about to start. They’re the adults who let it happen and give tacit permission to bully. They’re the bystanders who point out acceptable targets. They tell you not to be a tattletale but they don’t tell you the difference between tattling and speaking up when you should. They punish you for the same things they let others get away with. They’re the people who are supposed to help you but instead of helping to remove the venom, they add radioactivity to the venom and stitch up the wound with the poison still inside while telling you you’re healed.

    It’s my sincerest hope that very few people on this board and in other places have encountered the radioactive venomous snakes. I have. The fallout is not pretty or fun. Nietzsche comes to mind here: That which does not kill me makes me stronger. Also George Santayana has a good applicable quote: Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.

    Looking back on the past allows me to recognize that not all of the snakes are in fact dangerous and to recognize which ones are harmless. I handle venomous snakes with care. Radioactive snakes? I have plenty of superpowers already, thank you. I’d rather not have any more or I’ll have to go fight crime.

  • SML February 10, 2014, 5:53 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing this and for posting the link as well. I was bullied a lot as a child and this makes a lot of sense. Reacting with poise and a polite spine is definitely the best way to handle life’s difficult people. 😀

  • NostalgicGal February 10, 2014, 10:25 pm

    Hear, Hear; Yet Another Laura, you’ve distilled it.

    They get free rent in your head or your life only if you let them.

  • ValB February 11, 2014, 12:44 am

    Thank for a clear-headed and realistic essay about bullying. I feel like the label “bully” has become such a hot button and is being used far too liberally. Not every person that disagrees with you is a bully, and not every bully is an inherently evil being that needs to be banished from society. I wish more people would realize that when calling someone a bully, you basically label yourself a victim, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t much better to have as a personal identity.
    Four days ago I learned that I am having a little girl. Reading this makes me wonder what the years ahead will be like for her, and what I can do as a new mom to help her along the way. I hope I can give her enough self confidence to stand on her own two feet, but not so much that she thinks she is better than anyone. I hope that I can teach her empathy, so that she can have a little bit of insight in what motivates the nice kids, the mean kids, the shy kids, and the weird kids. I hope that she has a good instinct of what is right and wrong, and will stand up for the little guy.

  • AngePange February 11, 2014, 4:42 am

    I am (or was) a bullied bully. As a child I was labelled nerd, called names and had my lunch money stolen. In adulthood, if someone picks on me or behaves in a way that I feel is unjust towards me, I lash out, which I suppose is, in itself, bullying of it’s own kind. It comes from a place of insecurity and fear and the desire to “make up for” the past, where I just played dead and took beatings, name calling and other varieties of bullying. That being said, I am learning to identify this and to become more polite about how I react to adult bullies. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. I accept that I still have a long way to go.

  • Ceallach February 11, 2014, 5:22 am

    I agree so much with this post. I believe we can choose how we respond to what happens to us in life, and how it changes us. I could write two very different versions of my life story, one that would indicate a very bad outcome, and the other leading to the successful and happy person I am today. Both are true, I just worked on moving past my issues and resolving where I had come from. It wasn’t always easy, but it was well worth it. I also credit eHell for knocking me into shape as well – I was only 18 when I started reading the site way back in the early days before the first forum. It served as a valuable resource as I examined my own behavior and perspective on the world. I don’t believe in victim blaming, but I do believe in victim empowering. And sometimes that means moving on and saying “actually, that doesn’t matter anymore, it does not define me”.

    • admin February 11, 2014, 8:19 am


      • English1 February 13, 2014, 4:50 am

        As a child I was bullied for the last couple of years at school. I can see a lot of truth in your post, and it’ll be interesting to read more and explore those issues. I am well aware that many bully children behave that way as a reaction to something else in their lives. It is a way they can take control and power if they lack that elsewhere, and it makes them feel strong when at other times something or someone is making them feel bad.

        But I do see a hint of victim-blaming in your post. And a way for people to refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. I do believe some people are bullies as they are simply not very nice people. Even when they were children. Not everyone is nice at heart.

        And how do the people fit in who are not what I would call the bully instigators, but go along and join in with it for their own sakes, even though they know it’s wrong. Bully-cowards?

        People can change, and often regret what they have done.

        One of my best friends now admits she was a bit of a bully at school (I didn’t know her then) and I’m amazed by that. She is one of the kindest, most helpful, caring people around – would do anything for anyone and never a bad word said. She did it because she was bigger than the others, strong, very confident, and could get away with pushing other girls around (physically and mentally). It was a power trip for her, then. She has no excuses and is ashamed of it now. There was nothing in her background that made her a victim.

        Funnily enough we met at work where we were both bullied very badly by one of the managers. Managers best friend also worked there and joined in. Over time we all left and now we are both friends with managers best friend, who is no longer in contact with manager. And at least twice a year she falls apart apologising to me for her involvement (has cried over it). she was a bully-coward at the time, regrets it, and is a nice person really.

  • Lerah99 February 11, 2014, 8:48 am

    I have a problem with the “Zero Tolerance” policies many schools have put in place.

    For example: we just had a case in Florida where a gay teen was being beaten by another student. A football player steped in and stopped the beating.

    The football player has been suspended for 10 days because the school has a “Zero Tolerance” policy against violence to try to curb bullying. Now, that football player is NOT a bully. He is a hero who stepped up and stopped another kid from being beaten in the school lunchroom.

    Here is a link to the article about the fight: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/florida-teen-who-stood-gay-student-suspended-10-days100214

    • Meegs February 13, 2014, 12:58 pm

      Something very similar just happened to my boss’s son. And that is why I will be sending my son to private school (he is only a year old now so God only knows how bad things will be by the time he’s in school).

    • Melanie February 13, 2014, 2:48 pm

      Ridiculous. I hate these kinds of policies. Administrators should be able to hear both sides of the story and decide a fair outcome, not just the same blanket policy for every situation.

    • lakey February 13, 2014, 3:57 pm

      As a retired teacher I believe that “zero tolerance policies” are not a good idea. They are too simplistic and life simply isn’t that black and white. Schools need to have rules that are enforced, but there always needs to be room for judgement. Zero tolerance policies often end up with an incident that makes the news where a zero tolerance drug policy results in a child being suspended for having a tylenol. A zero tolerance weapons policy ends up with a student being suspended for bringing a dinner knife to school to cut a birthday cake.

      Zero tolerance against bullying is even more difficult because deciding what behaviors are “bullying” is very subjective. When you are dealing with large numbers of students distinguishing between what is teasing among friends and what is bullying can be difficult.

      Often when schools have zero tolerance policies it is because the personnel don’t want to take responsibility for making a judgement. Making a judgement based on the details of the incident and the people involved is the job of administrators and teachers; it may not be easy or foolproof, but it is what they are paid to do. Using a zero tolerance policy to avoid common sense is an easy way out of a difficult situation.

  • AzaleaBloom February 11, 2014, 9:06 am

    I agree with what ValB posted above. While it is fantastic that bullying is starting to be taken seriously, I worry that the whole movement is being taking too far. One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a child is a very simple one – not everyone is going to like you. And you’re not going to like everyone. Someone disliking you doesn’t make them a bully. How they express it does.

  • Carol February 11, 2014, 9:22 am

    I was viciously bullied by a girl in high school, to the point of being physically assaulted in a stairwell by one of her friends in 12th grade. My first memory of the girl was the first day of 4th grade after I’d moved to that school district over the summary. She was being teased by other kids because of a very, very short haircut, this in an era when we all wanted to grow our hair down to our waists. I heard her telling people that it wasn’t her choice, her older brothers had decided to pin her down and shave her head one day. Looking back, I do wonder what kind of childhood she had and how that affected her growing up, because clearly her brothers were bullies (or worse).

  • Carol February 11, 2014, 9:23 am

    Sorry for the typos. That’s “over the summer” not “summary”.

  • Wild Irish Rose February 11, 2014, 10:25 am

    Yet Another Laura, I LOVE your snake metaphor. Very well put.

    I have to admit I was skeptical about the article, especially given that I had made a comment that was not “published” right away–I kind of got the impression that Admin. didn’t like what I’d said and was therefore going to ignore my comment. But the article made me think about what I’d said, and I’ve pretty much changed my opinion on this. I too had always been under the misconception that most bullies didn’t think well of themselves and that’s why they victimize others, and that the proper way to address the problem was to zero in on the bully’s behavior and try to correct it, rather than actually giving victims the tools with which to deflect bullying. How very naive I was! This article should be required reading for teachers, administrators, and school counselors, to say nothing of parents. Yes, kids should be taught that bullying is bad so don’t do it, but they should also be taught from the beginning how to manage being around people who are unpleasant. Admin, thank you for opening my eyes and for sharing this article.

  • Michelle February 11, 2014, 10:30 am

    Okay, I’ll tell you write now, I’m going to cry as I write this. But I want to write it as a testament to the pain of a bullied child’s family as well, and how that can stay with you.

    My sister was born with a bad heart, in 1968. She had to have surgery when she was 2 weeks old, again when she was 10, and again when she was 14. Because of the circulation problems that came with her complicated heart problems, her cheeks were always quite blue, and her lips were blue. Every once in a while, I would be around when someone would comment to her on this, and while most of these comments were benign (I remember one older lady telling her she could tell she’d just had some grape koolaid – this woman meant nothing by it, she was friendly, but it made my sister even more conscious of it).

    I used to yell at her a lot, and fight with her, because quite simply, as the child I myself was at the time, I felt very strongly that she was getting too much attention from our parents and I was probably quite jealous of that. Looking back on it, and realize it could not be helped – when you have a very sick child, you’re kind of glad when the healthy ones can take care of themselves a little bit more – but boy, back then, trying to explain that to me – nope, wouldn’t have flown.

    I guess I knew she was being teased in school, but she was four years younger than me, and so we were never in the same school together.

    Then, years later, I read something she’d written about one of her worst school experiences. She wrote about coming into a classroom and sitting in her seat, and looking at the blackboard. There was a stick-figured girl on it, with “BLUE LIPS” and “BLUE FACE” written near it with arrows pointing to the stick-figure. And the whole class was laughing at it. And she wrote that all she could do was sit there and cry. (I can only assume this was BEFORE the teacher entered).

    To this day, I wonder and pray that I did not yell at her the day that happened to her. Even now, I’m just so upset that that happened to her, and that she kept it to herself.

    So bullying affects anyone who loves victim as well. Not as much as the victim, of course. I would never lay claim to that. But its sickness spreads, and it really needs to stop.

    And yes, I’m crying right now.

    • Melanie February 13, 2014, 2:51 pm

      Hugs to you.

  • Mouse February 11, 2014, 11:06 am

    Kudos to the Admin for addressing this subject. I do have a question, however. My mom and brother are teachers. I have a friend who is a school administrator. We were talking about bullies at one point, and I agree that most of them are “bullied bullies” who are part of a vicious cycle. Sadly, the cycle is more common than people think.

    But the school administrator noted that every now and then there are kids who simply do not “get it” and have no interest in getting along with other kids in school. I was bullied by someone like this during my entire time in high school. He not only did not stop bullying, he also was known for violent, antisocial behavior. Once, he was suspended for punching a kid at a basketball game. By his senior year, he was failing a class he needed to graduate from high school. People were actually trying to bribe his teacher to give him a passing grade so he’d leave and wouldn’t repeat another year.

    I even remember talking to the school counselor about the guy, and she said, “It’s not just you. He behaves like this to everyone. You should hear how he speaks to me.”

    I attended college a year early, skipping my senior year in the process. Once I was home for spring break, and I was taking a walk in my hometown. I heard someone scream an obscenity at me, turned my head, and saw the bully behind the wheel of a car. He then drove off.

    Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know. I guess I wonder how to handle these toxic characters and keep other students safe.

    • Melanie February 13, 2014, 2:53 pm

      Wow. I think that if no one at a school can handle such a student, they need to call the police on him. Give him some real consequences. If necessary, he can go to a continuation school or get his education in juvenile hall. Also sounds like he needs some therapy, which he also might be able to get at those places.

  • Kimstu February 11, 2014, 11:11 am

    I think etiquette is underutilized both for defense against AND prevention of bullying. Yes, it’s important to use your polite spine to stand up to bullies, but it’s also important not to take bullying for granted as a social norm that can only be countered by individual “bully-proofing”.

    I think it would be more helpful if schools etc. focused on a “pro-civility” rather than “anti-bullying” approach. Civilized behavior should be defined positively as a standard to uphold, rather than negatively as the absence of specific forms of uncivilized behavior (such as bullying).

    Constantly harping on bullying as a bad and forbidden thing just makes mean kids think of bullying as glamorous and daring. The emphasis instead should be on expecting kids (and people in general) to be civil to one another. Bullying is just another form of civility fail.

    • Mouse February 14, 2014, 2:37 pm

      I agree with this. I also think that pro-civility policies need to be established early on–as early as elementary school.

      I was told to ignore bullies and I tried. I really tried! Unfortunately, ignoring often simply does not work. Instead of leaving students to fend for themselves, schools need to teach them that bullying is just not acceptable. Period.

  • Aria February 11, 2014, 6:55 pm

    I didn’t reply on the first post because I was rather conflicted. I was bullied severely as a child. School was torture and I would never, ever want to relive my childhood again. However, for me the bullying stopped with high school. I moved to a very large high school and that proved to be a boon, because no one knew me or cared. I honestly can’t remember the names or faces of the bullies, nor do I care to remember. But it stopped sooner for me than the OP of that story.

    I remember seeing a TV show once – Oprah, I think – where adult victims of childhood bullying got to confront their past tormentors. One woman who used to be a bully was very embarrassed and apologetic about her past behavior. The other was completely unapologetic and said the victim deserved it. I honestly wondered what the point of confronting someone was. Either they would feel bad, which didn’t really help, or they wouldn’t, which was worse. Is an apology really necessary to go on? If I got an apology from one of the people who bullied me, I would just feel very awkward.

    That said… I thought the OP’s story was a bit off. Carrying a grudge for that long is… strange. Although you’re not obligated to have someone in your life who has hurt you, it might be good to see if they have changed. However, at the same time, Linda’s response to the OP not coming to her wedding set off alarm bells to me. Confronting someone about why they can’t make it is not nice. And taking it to the extreme of enlisting other people… that’s really not right. I wonder if she wants the OP there to reassure herself that she ‘did no harm’? The whole thing seems fishy to me.

  • Lizh February 11, 2014, 7:09 pm

    Hi there.
    I am a teacher and I suffered some bullying at school … mainly for my surname and my haircut.
    Fast forward to the present…I’m a teacher and a student bullied me. I’m on medication and about to start a new school year. However, I’m optimistic about the future.

    So, what I mean is, I hope you include some posts about bullying at school, especially from teens to adults. It’d be much appreciated.

    Lots of love.

  • LizaJane February 11, 2014, 10:35 pm

    I have always hated bullying against others and myself. Fortunately, I have a strong personality so was able to stand up to it. Sometimes with physical fighting in my younger days. Imagine my surprise when a girl I went to high school with told me I was one.
    Background: I ran with a group of 10 girls. We were rarely all together at the same time and some of the friendships were and are stronger. We had common and uncommon interests; honor students, cheerleaders, band members, athletes and a couple of artists. We also all had friends outside this group.
    We came from varied background; farmers, stay at home moms, mechanics, factory workers, business owners, secretaries and professionals.
    I admit that there were 2 who were prone to bullying, but we quashed it with the “That’s not cool” method
    Why was I a bully? She said that some of us were together every weekend and that we never asked anyone from her group to join us. (?)
    That was actually because there was only one of them that we liked, but still, not being all inclusive all the time hardly made us bullies.

    This is a case, to me, where someone laments about being bullied, when they weren’t and only brings out the “ignore it” advice which is no defense against truly vicious bullying.

  • Anonymous February 12, 2014, 12:22 am

    Okay, I see the difference between victim blaming and victim empowering now–I was told to stop acting like a victim, ignore the bullying, pretend it didn’t bother me, etc., etc., etc., but I wasn’t given any substantive help in doing that, and when I tried something and it didn’t work, and then told an adult about it, then I’d get brushed off/blamed for that too. So, yeah, it’s good to teach kids to stand up for themselves, as long as you actually give them the tools they need, and don’t just use the “stand up for yourself” line as an excuse to do nothing.

  • Susan February 12, 2014, 7:55 am

    I’m going to post this article on my facebook page. It reminds me of how I was brought up in the 70 and 80’s with the phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” I think we’ve forgotten this.

    • admin February 13, 2014, 11:39 am

      I think words can hurt very much *but* becoming aware of why the other person feels the need to use them as a power leverage starts you on the road to victim empowerment.

      • EllenS February 13, 2014, 5:13 pm

        I think it’s important to understand Dr. Kalman’s position that “words can never hurt me” is not a truism, but a prescription. Yes, words can be very hurtful to the emotions, but if we empower our kids to be discerning about who is speaking and whether it matters (aka his recommendation to ask kids, “do you think it’s true?”) then they can learn to shed that hurt and not take it inside themselves.
        It is one thing to have your feelings hurt – it is quite another thing to accept someone’s negativity as your own inner identity. Kids do have limited options and limited coping skills, but as adults we have many options and can seek out and learn those skills for ourselves.
        You can’t deflect/ignore all negativity, but part of a healthy emotional life is the ability to get rid of/purge negativity from inside yourself, just like your immune system fights infection or your organs purge toxins from your body.

        • Heidi March 10, 2014, 1:50 pm

          I disagree very much with that old phrase. Bones, cuts and scrapes heal, words can never be unsaid, even if apologies are offered. Experiences can affect you forever in various ways.

          When I think back on my fairly frustrating child and teenage years, being bullied, I don’t remember what it felt like to have to have teeth pulled because I had fallen and broken them, I don’t remember what it felt like when I scraped my knee open down to the cartilage and such. But the bullying I endured, the helplessness I felt trying to fight it and the lack of help from respected teachers and adults have stayed with me my entire life.

          And this went on up through probably my junior year of high school. When I was younger, getting things thrown at me on the playground, being spit on, getting gum thrown in my hair, that sort of thing. Middle School was pretty rotten, getting garbage, liquids and the such dumped in my locker, to the point where I had to carry around all my schoolbooks, jacket and everything because otherwise they would be damaged and I was blamed. High School, not being able to leave art projects on my assigned desk because they would be purposefully damaged (and the art teacher doing nothing, even though he knew who the culprits were after repeated destruction). Throughout the years, I had groups of people try to get me in trouble by saying I had done something against the rules (and I was pretty straight-laced). Since it was them VS me, I usually took the fall even when I wasn’t involved. For one of these examples, while nothing ever came of it legally, I was fingered and interrogated as the perpetrator on calling in a bomb threat to the school in High School.

          Violence is not the cure or the answer, but sometimes I look back and after all the useless advice and lack of help by adults IE: “Kids need to work this out on their own,” and “Kids will be kids” I sometimes spitefully daydream that I had finally responded to physical assaults and damage/theft of personal property with escalated violence in kind to prove how useless the adults and their “policies” were. While I don’t agree, I can see why we have so many issues in the school system.

          As I deal with some social and interaction issues as it is that I never received help for (because my parents believed control, prayer, religion and willpower were the real answer), my already fragile trust for people was enormously damaged by my youth and today I am more comfortable and functional when I am isolated. It makes holding certain jobs a real challenge. But with that being said, I do NOT tolerate bullying or bullies as an adult (and I do not feel I am generally targeted as an adult). They get a piece of my mind and if it involves having to go to law enforcement or a higher authority, so be it.

          I have 0% sympathy for the teens who are prosecuted by anti-bullying laws that stay on their permanent records, especially in cases where suicide is involved. It SHOULD be punishable to make someone’s life that kind of hell. I threw away a lot of dreams I had been working toward because I didn’t think I could handle the abuse, or because I believed I didn’t deserve them. I let people treat me bad because I believed I deserved it based on my life experiences. I have moved past a lot of it, but it took me most of my adult teens and twenties feeling miserable and insecure. My experiences colored me and my opinion of people for the rest of my life. Maybe I would have always been the same person, but maybe if I had more support during my mentally developmental years, I would be healthier and happier today and not so hesitant to ask for help when I need it.

          My opinion, sorry for the wall of text.

          • Heidi March 10, 2014, 1:55 pm

            Let me add that my big frustration as a child was more with the assaulting of my property and physical person. I learned to stop caring what people thought of me and quite frankly, while it was hurtful when I was elementary/middle school age to have people pretend to be my friend just to hurt me, I didn’t want to be “fair-weather” friends or socialize with people who would treat others badly anyway. I did not care if I was considered “weird” or wasn’t in the popular clique. As an adult, I find I could really care less if people decide they do not like me for my opinions or my personality. I have less “fake” relationships this way and it’s much more tolerable.

  • Aje February 12, 2014, 8:36 am

    An important issue. I was having a chat with my mom about acceptable bullying the other day. You know, how if you don’t actually know the person it becomes acceptable to say and do things that are really horrid.

    Our example (via the news) was Justin Beiber. For years in teaching I watched kids make fun of him. Saying he was gay, stupid, a girl, couldn’t actually sing. And in truth…. he was just a little boy with a cute haircut. The things on the internet about him were really inappropriate, the kinds of things that if someone had written about anyone I knew I’d be horrified and angry. But again, socially acceptable and cool. It’s the popular thing to hate him.

    Now he’s having more issues than ever, in jail- and no wonder when people hate him so much. I felt the same sort of feelings when Rebecca Black came out with ‘Friday’. Bullying is totally acceptable and encouraged in present society. Makes you loose faith in humanity.

  • Melalucci February 12, 2014, 3:12 pm

    Thank you for the “How to Bully-Proof Your Child” article! I’m a teacher, and it made a lot of sense to me. I was picked on as a child, and a lot of the time, I was able to deflect insults and other harassment. I think I retained some of those skills as an adult, and I’m learning more and more as I get older. It’s liberating to not obsess over what other people say and do.

  • Cabelcb February 12, 2014, 6:09 pm

    I was bullied as a child. I had to work hard on moving past those feelings. I understand it can be hard but it is worse to fixate on those bad feelings. I agree bullies often have not so good stuff happening at home that they are trying to deal with. Does that give them a free pass? No but it does explain their behavior.

  • Simmi February 13, 2014, 4:08 am

    I’d also like to see you do a section on dealing with bullies in the home. My brother bullied me for many years and I now see this happening with my cousins. I’d like tools and ideas to nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand.

  • AMC February 13, 2014, 12:59 pm

    I was bullied a lot throughout my childhood. I had glasses, braces, was overweight, and often “the smart kid” in class. I was a pretty easy target for bullies. My mom would often try to explain to me that bullies acted the way they did because something was wrong in their lives; I just happened to be a convenient target on which they could release their frustrations. She would also advise me to “kill ’em with kindness” because the less reaction bullies got from their victims, the less entertaining it would be for them.
    I got to apply her advice once when I was in eighth grade. The boy who sat behind me in English, “Ben”, would tease me mercilessly about my weight, call me disgusting and say that I smelled. And then he’d get all his friends, who were the athletes, to join in. It got so bad that our teacher took me aside and asked if I wanted to change seats away from Ben. I told him no. I knew that would only be a confirmed win for Ben. Instead I stuck it out, refused to react to his insults but took every opportunity to show him kindness. I’ll never forget the bewildered look on his face one day when he yelled out to the rest of the class that needed a piece of paper, and I tore one from my notebook and handed it to him– with a smile.
    Eventually the insults ceased. I guess he just got bored. Or maybe my kindness took away his motivation for trying to torture me. Whatever it was, I was proud of myself for knowing that I dealt with it on my own. This may not work for everyone though; I was lucky that his bullying was limited to words and never escalated to violence.
    One more thing about Ben: In the years since we graduated, I’ve learned that Ben has been in trouble with the law multiple times, including for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk and for having inappropriate sexual contact with a minor. I don’t know what Ben’s childhood was like or what led him down such a terrible road. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it was the same thing that led him to bully me.

  • Huh February 13, 2014, 1:52 pm

    I would love to see you do an article/post on dealing with bully parents or bully exes, as I have friends going through some majors problems with both.

    I read the article at the end of the blog, and maybe I missed a point and just need someone to explain it to me better, but what do you do when that doesn’t work – not getting upset and giving them the reaction they want and remaining polite? I truly know people that will just.keep.hammering.on.

    • AMC February 17, 2014, 4:48 pm

      A bully is a bully whether they are a child on the playground, an man who won’t leave his ex-girlfriend alone, or a parent who flexes their authority by belittling and pushing around their own child. Bullies don’t have respect personal boundaries or their victim’s rights, and their behavior is usually the result of their own messed up lives and internal struggles. Though more serious intervention may be required in some situations, the same general principles Admin speaks about still apply.

  • MissyJ February 13, 2014, 5:54 pm

    I was bullied on the job by an older woman for years. It was in an educational setting. Whenever I became a full-time employee, she turned on me. She was supposed to have trained me on certain jobs, but she would give contradictory instructions or just put me off, hiding work from me and making me look incompetent to do my job. She would constantly nitpick me over details and then condescend me in front of others while doing my job, and would give me thinly veiled insults about my appearance or lifestyle. You might ask, why didn’t I go to my supervisor? I did. No use. He was scared of her. She must have had something on him. Why didn’t I go to Human Resources? I did, and they were informed beforehand by the supervisor that it was just a catfight between two females, and that we needed to “work it out amongst ourselves.” This co-worker had a history of bullying other women on this job (eight) and even the former supervisor (also a female). I also was dealing with a chronic illness at this time and combined with added stress of being bullied on the job, I started having frequent absences. I finally resorted to resigning the job than to be fired over having to miss more work. I was later told by different people that my co-worker told people that I got fired from my job or would make speculative comments when people asked what happened to me “well she is no longer working here for certain reasons” and I even had several students and colleagues complain about her unprofessional behavior and comments about me. I just threw in the towel and said, “You win. This time.” But what goes around comes around. I still have nightmares about it, however.

  • LonelyHound February 17, 2014, 3:03 pm

    EHell Maven-
    This is a long time coming and I am excited to hear/read what you have to say and advice you have to give. I started reading this site after the deploarable treatment received by some people at a wedding I attended. I took your advice and my ideas of what I did not want and tried my best to apply it to my wedding. I hope I did alright.
    Now as the mother of two boys, we (DH and I) want to teach them how to politely diffuse a potentially explosive situation. I know this question might receive a backlash, but can you tell me how, as a parent, I should explain the “line in the sand”, as my DH calls it? We, as parents, want to teach children to end conflicts peacefully, especially because you do not know if a bully is being a bully because that is what he/she learned at home; but there comes a point where you have to defend yourself with more than just dignity. Where is that line?
    What I mean, is when is it okay to fight back. I, DH and his entire family were brought up to fight back when we are being attacked; and you NEVER throw the first punch or the second, if you can help it. However, you do not let yourself be the punching bag either. I have been bullied badly but never had to do this. DH has once and only once, and he was not the insitgator. I know we all want to teach our children non-violent solutions, but is defending oneself from a beating acceptable in the etiquette world?

    • admin February 23, 2014, 7:34 am

      In regards to the physical line in the sand, we taught our children that line was when someone touched you inappropriately or invaded personal space in a threatening anner. One issue that parents of girls face is how to teach them to respond to unwanted sexual advances from their crude male peers. My eldest daughter had to be encouraged that it was OK to slap, elbow or shove away the boys who crossed that line. My next blog post in the Bullying series goes into a little more detail about this.

      I’ve been asking older adults if they were bullied as kids and the predominant theme I’m hearing from the men is that they might recall one incidence of being bullied by another male but it was resolved with a physical response after repeatedly ignoring it. My husband, for example, was being physically bullied by another boy at age 13 or so, he tried to avoid it but one day he punched the bully in the face, they were both disciplined by the principal but after that, no more bullying. Through the remaining years of school, they actually were quite civil to one each other. I know it’s not political correct to sanction a physical response to certain behaviors but there are times when it is necessary.

  • Enna February 20, 2014, 1:50 pm

    I was bullied at secondary school by someone – a boy who I will call Sean – I would not speak to him if I met him because he was so unpleasent. If he aplogogised to me? Maybe. If he married a relatin? I would be weary of him, see how he behaved towards me but I would not go out of my way for him at all – because he just isn’t worth it.

    I was out with some firends one night and another person who was silly at school, “Gerry” actually said sorry for being an A!!! at school which was good of him.

  • Marozia February 23, 2014, 5:52 pm

    Bullying is horrible for kids. While I, myself, was not part of the ‘playground’ bullying, my workmate was. She had her hair set on fire, was pushed over and taunted because of her weight.
    You may have read recently that Charlotte Dawson, one of Australia’s models and commentators was the victim of cyberbullying. This poor lady was found dead in her home. She had been diagnosed with depression. May she RIP.

  • Lorali April 12, 2014, 3:23 pm

    I just wanted to say that I really liked this post. I was bullied at primary and secondary school, but have now got to a place where I can be kind to the girls involved.
    I used to blame myself, insisting that I was the problem, they had a right to bully me. I also used to have so much guilt, due to the fact that I stayed silent when they bullied others, thankful that they weren’t preying on me instead.
    I lived with anorexia and bulimia for seven years until last March, when I finally agreed to go into hospital for treatment. During that time, I got in contact with the girls who had been involved.
    I realized that they had changed into adults; they were no longer the witches of my child’s nightmares. I also realized that they had their own issues – this does not excuse the way they behaved, I must point out, but that realization made me come to terms with them as human beings. It gave me empathy, and helped me move on from my own ‘victim’ status.
    Now before I continue, I know that most people do not ask to be victims – they don’t deserve to be.
    But once my eating disorder began when I was 15, I made mistakes too. I wasn’t a nice person; not a bully, but not an easy person to be around. I wrote three of the girls letters; these girls had not always been kind to me. In fact, two of them had been close friends and yet when I needed them, they let me down. They spread rumours about me, ignored me and, despite being aware of the emotional mess I was in, did nothing.
    And I realize that they couldn’t do anything. Sometimes the people we call our best friends are the people who make us feel the worst about ourselves. And sometimes they just don’t know how to help.
    Out of the three, two wrote back. They were kind, understanding and their reactions let me know how human they were.
    The third girl did not write back, and to be honest I did not expect her to. She once wrote me a letter, during the time I was slipping into full ED mode, detailing all my faults, telling me I was too difficult to love – in fact, I was ‘unlovable.’ My greatest fears and insecurities as a 16 year old girl – and still, as 22 year old woman – spelt out. I still wrote to her – because in some ways my behavior had been inappropriate and unhelpful. I didn’t know it at that time, but I did not deserve that letter. However, I still feel the need to atone for what I actually had done.
    My letters were not confrontational or accusing – they simply told these girls were I was been, where I had been and I realized my behavior. They were not an elaborate apology or a plea for forgiveness. They were simply an acceptance of responsibility for my own actions. They were difficult to write, and were simply (in the most self-absorbed way possible) a way for me to move on, from my pain and my anger. Two emotions that forced me to remain a victim, even if only in my mind.
    I felt better after writing those letters, and I am still glad I wrote them.
    It is a year since I went into hospital, looked into the mirror and realized not only that I did not like what I saw, but I didn’t even recognize it. And I choose what I do with my life, not my past. A year has gone by, I weigh a good amount and I have not relapse. Long may it continue.
    I am no longer the victim of my life story, but the heroine.