As a mental health teen counselor for over 10 years, I heard a lot of stories from kids bullying. I heard questions like, “why me?” “what’s wrong with me?”, and “how do I get her to stop?” As a licensed mental health counselor at Legacy Counseling Service I work with a lot of teens and families from Tulsa and Broken Arrow. I understand the pain and subsequent mental health problems, such as teen depression and anxiety that being bullied can cause.
Sarah (name has been changed) came into my office one day in tears. She sat down in front of my desk and practically yelled, “What’s wrong with me?” She had been the focus of a bully and now everyone hated her and no one would be her friend. She felt ugly and worthless, all because some kid could convince her those things were true. To address Sarah’s hurt and anger, we worked through the why, what and hows of bullying.
Why me? Sarah needed to understand the characteristics of bullying victims. Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., in his 2013 article “Are You an Easy Target for Bullies?” says victims of bullying are often considered different in some way. “In schools, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth, children with disabilities, and socially isolated youth may be at an increased risk of being bullied. A recent study showed that autistic children are more prone to bullying.”1 He also suggests that victims are often very smart which means they are competition for the bully or they are very nice and the bully believes they are too nice to fight back. As we discussed these characteristics in our counseling sessions, Sarah could identify where she might fall into the victimology. Once identified, Sarah could regain her sense of power and strength to stand up to the bully.
What’s wrong with me? Truth is, there was nothing wrong with Sarah other than the fact that she listened to the lies of the bully. She was smart, nice looking and kind. She had listened to one person’s OPINION of her and allowed that to become her truth and depression and anxiety were beginning to set in. Jealousy is a real motivating factor in bullying behavior and once Sarah understood that jealousy might be the incentive, she was able to understand how she could become victimized. Sarah also needed to address her use of the words “nobody” and “everybody”. These overgeneralization statements are common with teens. The concern is that these statements often give the feeling that things will always be just as they are. Since nobody likes me, how can I ever find friends? Since everybody thinks I’m ugly, then surely, I will always be ugly. Over the course of therapy Sarah learned to recognize the untruth of those overgeneralizations so that she could see a chance for change.
How do I get her to stop? Honestly, this is the million-dollar question that I hear in my counseling sessions. In their article, “What Can Kids Do?”, Stopbullying.gov offers these suggestions to help stop bullying:
- Tell the bully to stop
- Stay away from the bully as m (stopbullying.gov)uch as possible
- Stay away from areas where the bullying takes place, if possible
- Talk to an adult
- Tell your parents
Sarah tried telling the bully to stop. When that didn’t work, she talked to her parents and tried to stay away from the bully. And, eventually, the bully left her alone. But, while the bully left Sarah alone, chances are the bully moved on to find someone else to victimize.
Being victimized by a bully, whether in person or through cyberbullying, can be devastating. Many teens who are bullied experience depression, anxiety, isolation, low self-esteem, and even think about suicide. But, as we look to help the victim through mental health counseling, we need to remember that bullies often have their own set of issues that they need to address before they can turn from their bullying ways. If your child is being victimized or if he/she is bullying others and you want things to change, visit us online at www.legacycounselingservice.com today to make an appointment. We are here to help your teen and family improve their mental health and regain the confidence that your teen may have lost as a result of bullying.
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