I could probably go on and on about this topic, so in the interest of education I offer the following information gathered in my own recovery. Why would I write about bullying at all? Are we not Goddess lovers, one and all? How would such behavior ever come into a spiritual path that believes all life is sacred?
Well, we all come to this path with all our old baggage. That baggage may include jealousy, fear, and a desire for the wrong kind of power, that which attempts to control others.
Bullying is not merely, as many belittle, an occasional stinging comment made by a significant other at the breakfast table, a bad day with the boss, or children wrestling on the playground.
Bullying is cruelty deliberately aimed at others with the intent of gaining power by inflicting psychological and/or physical pain.
Bullying behaviors are varied: name calling, humiliation, spreading rumors, gossiping, public ridicule, scape-goading or blaming, isolating, assigning poor work conditions and job assignments, or denying holiday and vacation time in the workplace, or more obvious punching, hitting, kicking, taunting, ostracizing, sexualizing, or making ethnic or gender slurs, etc.
Those who are the targets of bullying often feel intense vulnerability, fear and shame, and increasingly lower self-esteem that may increase their likelihood of continued victimization. Victims may become depressed and feel powerless. Many who have been bullied over a long period of time become suicidal. Others may retaliate in acts of violence or begin to bully others.
Unfortunately for victims, many people who are sought out for support dismiss bullying by saying, “It’s happened to all of us, just ignore it”. Some will even say the victim must deserve it! For too many, bullying has become such a part of the fabric of everyday life that many look the other way, and many have become numb to its devastating effects. Others see bullying behaviors, yet they avoid intervening because they feel powerless to stop it.
Studies indicate that two-thirds of the attackers in thirty-seven different school shootings felt persecuted into doing so due to long histories of being bullied by classmates. Being the target of bullying is a major factor in youth suicide, and millions of Americans face abuse in the workplace daily.
Many bullies have been perfecting their skills of intimidation since early childhood. Without intervention, the feelings and beliefs of childhood bullies become strengthened and ingrained. Bullying on the playground is frequently only the beginning of a life pattern that culminates in domestic violence and/or bullying in the workplace. Bullies depend upon the confusion, fear, or feelings of powerlessness in their intended victims, as well as the silence of those witnessing abuse, to continue their behaviors.
We learned through many interviews that those who had been life-long bullies continued to be so until someone had the courage to intervene. Bullies seem only to be temporarily empowered, and both bullies and their victims are injured by the helplessness, apathy, and silence of others. We need to create workplace, school, and community norms where aggression towards others is unacceptable, not because of strict law-enforcement or severe punishments, but simply because we care about one another.
Courage does not mean that we are without fear, it means, as Pee Wee Reese demonstrated in 1947, that we do not let our fears stop us from acting:
“It is not death or pain or loss that robs us of power: It is the fear of death, the fear of pain, the fear of loss that turns the manipulated into victims and the manipulators into terrorists”. (Abdullah, 1995, p. 56)
According to Bullies by Jane Middleton-Moz & Mary Lee Zawadski, “Bullying is frequent and systematic cruelty deliberately aimed at a person by a person or persons with the intent of gaining power over another by regularly inflicting psychological and/or physical pain.” The first chapter in this book is entitled “Moving Out of Denial”. This is a critical step. Bullies too often get away with bullying because we turn our backs, we do nothing to stop them, we don’t stand beside the one being bullied, and we “don’t want to get involved” because we are afraid it will happen to us.
Every day in America over 160,000 children miss school because of fears of bullying. About 20% of high school students who were surveyed said they had seriously considered suicide because of having been bullied. And, about 43% of our school children are afraid to go to the bathroom for fear of being bullied in the school restrooms.
Bullying exists in our schools, in relationships (both straight and gay), in the workplace, and anywhere there are people. And yes, pagans are no different. If you are a part of your local pagan community, you will be very familiar with what are called, “witch wars.” The basis of a witch war is a staged campaign conducted by bullying behavior. Typically, it consists of unfounded rumors, innuendos, and outright lies spread via a “gossip mill,” one person to another, one group to another. Sadly, it is typically an Elder or a group of Elders who spread these rumors and lies, for the sole purpose of silencing and destroying the reputation of someone or a group. Because it comes from an Elder, it goes about unquestioned. There is no physical violence just a staged campaign to destroy a reputation. It is about power and truly has no place in any spiritual community. It is hurtful and devastating to the people being bullied.
It is vital that this problem be addressed, and it begins with everyone. It begins with education and it begins by standing up and saying “NO!” When we see a sister or brother being bullied, we need to use our power to stand beside her/him, to let her/him know she/he is not alone. We need to speak out against the bullies. We cannot be afraid just because it is coming from an Elder. We cannot continue to be blind to it. We cannot be silent.
There are many excellent books on bullying that you can buy in a store or online. Here are some that I personally recommend:
Take the Bully by the Horns by Sam Horn
Bullies: Strategies for Survival by Jane Middleton-Moz and Mary Lee Zawadski
Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman by Phyllis Chesler
How to Handle Bullies, Teasers, and Other Meanies by Kate Cohen-Posey
Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons
Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher
Books that are particularly useful for recovering from abuse:
The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Hadin Elgin
The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work by Suzette Hadin Elgin
Tongue Fu by Sam Horn
How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable by Suzette Haden Elgin
Images from CC0 Creative Commons