It turns out that almost all verbal bullying (ie: insults) are about 6 basic things. This means that even though bullies like to insult people, they aren’t very creative in their insults. Perhaps if they watched more Monty Python or read the 7 page curse in Tristram Shandy they would be more creative. Of course, if they did those things, they probably wouldn’t be bullies in the first place.
Dr. Lieberman researches cyberbullying at MIT. And yes, you can get funding for that. Anyway, his research turned up something interesting. And that is that 95% of all insults are about 6 things.
These 6 things are:
- Social acceptance/rejection
I think pretty much everyone alive has been insulted about one or all of these things at some point in our lives.
The question is why these 6 things? Why are these the go to insults for bullies? The answer is because these topics are about our identity and specifically about aspects of our identity that we a) can’t change and b) feel insecure about.
We look the way we look. That isn’t something we can change. And our looks impact our sexual desirability. Is that fair? No, but that’s how things work and we are instinctually attuned to this.
Our intelligence is similarly something we can’t change and yet it is something we are continually judge on.
Same goes with our race/skin color our ethnicity our sexual identity, which is actually a bit fluid but still, we can’t change our gender without surgery.
The only thing that we can impact is our social acceptance and rejection. And really, when you think about it, a bully is all about stigmatizing the first five elements in their victim in order to impact social acceptance. Because ultimately, that is usually what the bully cares about. Their own social acceptance. If they can make someone an outsider, they are by default on the inside. It’s a precarious game they play and make no mistake; it is a game to them.
How can we use this information to defuse what they are doing?
1) Accept who you are. Accept your looks, your gender (as confusing as that may be at times), your size, your sexual interests, your intelligence, everything. You are who you are. Own it. If you refuse to be insecure about who you are a bully can’t use your insecurity against you.
2) Understand that they can’t ostracize you from your friends. Only you can do that by withdrawing from your support network because you begin to believe the lies the bully is telling you (that no one likes you). The bully is lying to you about that. Don’t believe the lies. Allow your friends to continue to be your friends. Don’t push them away from you when you need them the most. If you find you are targeted by a bully, make an extra effort to reach out to your friends. If you withdraw, you make the bully’s task easier. Fight back by being open and friendly to anyone who is nice to you.
3) Be nice. People like people who are nice. The bully isn’t nice. They only have status because people are afraid of them. Studies show that the nice kids. Kids who go out of their way to be nice to other people are well liked and are actually quite popular. So don’t let the fact that there is an angry person prevent you from being the good person you want to be. It is the quickest way to make sure people will want to defend you.
4) Don’t stay silent. If they are attacking you, other kids are also their victims. If you speak out and report them, you are doing yourself and their other victims a favor by speaking. You are also doing the bully a favor by not rewarding their anti-social behavior which is going to hinder them in the future. So speak out, politely and compassionately and calmly and tell them what they are doing and saying isn’t ok. Not to you and not to other people.
PS – if you haven’t heard about Tristram Shandy – here is a link to the book. Good luck getting through it. But to entice you the idea that nose size is indicative of penis size comes from this book.