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Uniquely You: Taking on the Bullies

I was brushing my hair this morning and a memory popped up. I recalled being bullied by a girl in 7th grade because I had started parting my hair on the side. (A huge nerd thing to do in 1980). An instant shot of pain hit my chest, and I started to sweat, even now, 40 years later. Flashbacks of stomach aches and dread of school were resurrected in an instant as I stared at myself in the mirror, hairbrush paused at my part. Bullying is such a blow to one’s self-esteem, experience of safety, and access to joy, especially at age 12.

In 2017, the CDC and Department of Education claimed that true bullying contains three elements:

  • observed or perceived power imbalance

  • unwanted aggressive behavior

  • repetition or high likelihood of repetition of bullying behaviors

People bully others through intimidation. Whether it's emotional or physical, bullying behaviors often aim to control what feels very out of control for the perpetrator--for example, their lack of positive self-regard. Bullies have often been victims of abuse themselves and may even battle issues such as early sexual behavior and drug use. Bullying can include cruel taunting, leaving others out of social situations, or even physical attacks such as pushing, kicking, or worse.

I know many of you were bullied, too. In fact, studies reveal that roughly 1 in 5 individuals aged 12 to 18 are bullied, and nearly one-half of youth aged 9 to 12 are victimized. Some numbers suggest that about 43% of adults experience bullying as well. It's a problem too big to sweep under the rug, as tended to happen 40 years ago. In a heart-breaking circumstance in 2011, a 14-year-old boy, Kameron Jacobson, was taunted to the point that he took his own life. The growing problem, with this tragic event at the apex in part prompted national action. In 2013 the SEATBELT (Safe Environments Achieved Through Bullying prevention, Engagement, Leadership, and Teaching respect) initiative was launched in Washington. The title was inspired by statements from Kevin Jacobsen, Kameron's father. Kevin Jacobsen once noted how automatic it has become for children to reach for their seat belts when getting into a car, something he still has to think about doing. The idea is for kindness to become as natural as putting on a seatbelt for the youth in our communities. The goal is to eradicate bullying in the span of a generation.

There is a major impact on the physical and mental health status of those bullied. Some signs are health complaints (remember my stomachaches?), declining performance in school or at work. loneliness, isolation, depression, and anxiety, among others. In order to numb the pain of these symptoms, many individuals turn to substance abuse and eventually even suicide, as we've learned.

Those outside the bullying circumstances can change the trajectory of many of these situations. People nearby can step in and use their voices to deter the attacks. Involvement of teachers and other adults is crucial. According to, adults should take these first steps:

  • Intervene immediately. It is ok to get another adult to help.

  • Separate the kids involved.

  • Make sure everyone is safe.

  • Meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.

  • Stay calm. Reassure the kids involved, including bystanders.

  • Model respectful behavior when you intervene.

Do not ignore these behaviors. They aren't going away. They are just going underground--to the internet and a less physically visible environment. Intervene and be the change.

In reflecting on the impact that bullying had on me, especially those struggles that continued throughout my life, I recognize that it is an act of courage, isn’t it, that we work hard to find our voice and stand in our unique power to grow into strong and loving adults? Congratulate yourself today for making it this far! Be kind to yourself and others. Part your hair where you want, cut it short, grow it to your knees, shave it, dye it purple. Celebrate YOU!



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