How can we understand the dynamic that runs between a bully and their victim?
Working for two decades, first as a therapist and later as a psychologist, I have engaged with victims of domestic violence and war survivors. Amongst my clients were also teenagers struggling due to being bullied at school.
In that process I learnt that a victim of bullying initially needs to deeply understand their own feelings about their embarrassing, even traumatising experiences. This was achieved through the genuine, empathic interaction between me and my client. Through this process, once a deep connection was established and the long-suffering victim felt totally understood, believed and respected, their anxiety was reduced and their mind was able to rationalise their painful experiences.
This treatment included an in-depth effort to improve my client’s self-image and self-esteem so they are able to have a more focused analysis of their psychological and emotional state. They could also find inner resources to think of alternative responses to their attacker if similar bullying situations would occur.
In the next stage my client was able to have a clear understanding of the dynamic that occurred during the bullying. Most interesting was the fact that once freed from their fear, shame and anxiety, they could then analyse their tormentor’s inner feelings during the bullying. I was always surprised with the insights that the teenager would have about their tormentor’s inner emotional state. The final conclusion of their understanding was that the bully is the one with serious problems of self-esteem and the need to project their feelings of worthlessness and helplessness onto someone else.
In this process the victim, who initially felt shame, embarrassment and fear, was transformed into a powerful person who was able to empathise with their tormentor and understand the reason behind their bullying. At the same time my client was empowered to plan calmly their response in any future cases of being bullied.
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