Stop denying what is happening. If you want to get bullying to stop, you have to get real.
Bullying is an unfortunate reality for many people. There is no area of life where we are immune. People are bullied in their relationships (we call this abusive relationships), they are bullied at work (we call this harassment), and they are bullied at school (we call this bullying).
Bullying is about power and it is about the inappropriate wielding of power to threaten and abuse people into doing what the bully wants.
If someone is being victimized, telling them to stand up for themselves isn’t going to help them actually stand up for themselves. It is just words. Advice like this isn’t helpful because it isn’t realistic.
Someone who is being victimized by a bully might wish that the problem will just go away, but that isn’t realistic either.
Telling people that they just need to be emotionally stronger to withstand the emotional trauma being directed at them is cruel and it’s blaming them for their response to what is happening to them. It also doesn’t help them get the bullying to stop.
We need to get real. We need to start helping people by teaching them the skills requires to get a bully to stop! We need to stop wishing a bully will leave us alone and take tangible steps to make them leave us alone.
It takes courage, knowledge, a little bit of science and consistency to get a bully to stop. Doing nothing and hoping things will change doesn’t work.
So what does work? Operant conditioning, specifically extinguishing a behavior. To do this you need to:
- Stop rewarding the bully (notice I did not say – ignore them).
- Document what they are doing (so that you can let others know what is going on so they can help you – and in case you need this for legal reasons)
- Report the bully
- Be consistent.
It is the last item in this list that is the hardest. When you stop rewarding a bully, they will pressure you to stop. This is what is known as extinction burst or retaliation. In order to get them to stop you have to stop rewarding them. This will cause them to escalate their behavior. You have to continue to not reward them by responding to them consistently, calmly and civilly, not letting them get away with their nastiness, and you have to do this until they stop.