Bring it on, Bullies: Fighting Back With Empathy

We sit in a large semi-circle as the professor walks the room and tosses out discussion-questions to the class: “What is one belief you hold true about human nature?”

The previous questions had made me ponder and consider for a length of time before I was able to answer constructively, as they are designed to do.  However, this one, for me, was simple.  My hand shot up, “I have always been a believer in the innate goodness of people.” I said.   And it’s true.  I have always thought that people are largely caring and compassionate.  They most often strive to be their best and do right by others.  I think that unless you are a sociopath- which is rare- we all have a sense of decency and consideration for our fellow humans. Unforeseen challenges arise in everyone’s life that have the ability to derail us from this path and bring out the very worst in us.  However, if given the opportunity to heal and move forward, we strive to jump back on that better path again. 

While yes, I believe we are all essentially good and endeavor to be kind, we don’t often understand how.  I don’t mean that you don’t know how to click on the “donate” button to an important charity or let the mom with the screaming kid cut in front of you in line so she can just get that kid out of there.  I mean, we don’t know how to be emotionally kind.

“Emotional kindness” is the ability to use empathy and perspective-taking to understand another’s feelings and behaviors in a certain situation.

What is misunderstood by many is the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

I have a thought- “My husband just left allllll the dishes in the sink for ME to wash!!! What am I, his maid?!?!?”

I have an emotion associated with that thought- My anger is at a 10!!!

I then, consequently, have a behavior associated with that emotion- I make snide, passive-aggressive remarks to make sure he understands how truly pissed off I am.

Now, I’ve created a situation where we are both upset.  I’ve gotten myself super pissed off and ready to fight and my less than stellar behavior has pissed him off too.  

What if I had tried to take his perspective and attempted to empathize with him in that moment?  What if I had used emotional kindness?

If I had really stopped and reflected on the situation, I would have noticed that he did seem extra tired when he came home that day.  I would have reminded myself that he almost ALWAYS washes the dishes, so something was probably on his mind or else he would have done them.  I would have understood that leaving the dishes in the sink had nothing to do with me personally and that I knew in my heart of hearts that he did not think of me as his maid.

When I rearranged my thoughts, my emotions calmed down, and instead of being passive-aggressive, I gave him a hug, walked to the sink and did the dishes without another word.

Bullying hasn’t been a huge issue in our home yet, but we haven’t escaped its grip entirely either.  It is one of my biggest parenting fears for both of my children, especially Man.  When you are raising a child with differences, whether subtle and somewhat undetectable or glaring and overt- Man probably falls somewhere in the middle- it puts him or her at greater risk.  However, if we are being totally honest, unfortunately, every child is at risk nowadays.  Whether the parent of a child with special needs or the parent of your average Joe, I am definitely not the only parent who worries about their child being bullied.

 But what if we tackled bullying with emotional kindness? This is what I have been trying to instill in both of my children lately.

When one of them comes home saddened and deflated by a challenging altercation with another student, my initial instinct is to go nuclear on that kid.  My mama bear instinct in full effect, I want to speak harsh words to this young child and tell them to leave my kid alone!!

Buuuuut, then I calm down and try and use it as a learning opportunity.  I let them be hurt by it, because, of course, being teased, or “burned” as the kids like to call it, isn’t fun and it’s very upsetting.  However, I then try to teach them to think of what the “bully” might have been feeling at that time.  As a believer in innate goodness, most likely, that kid is having a rough time of his own and bullying is the only way he knows to make himself feel better.  I show them what empathy feels like and together we work on finding peace with the situation through increasing our emotional kindness.

Bullying at this young age is often a result of not having the skills to express your true feelings and emotions.  Often, children cannot even identify their emotions, let alone talk about them rationally.  Starting to teach our children at a young age to understand that there is always an emotion behind a behavior is a vital skill with lifelong benefit.  It certainly doesn’t eliminate the hurt of being bullied, but it allows them to minimize its overall lasting effect.  It allows them to depersonalize the negative behaviors of others, a skill which will forever be of benefit to them.

Please note, this post relates to general bullying as defined by, “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”  It does not pertain to harassment, which is a prosecutable offence.  0000000

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