Dealing with Bullying

1902780_825582470792076_380046463_nBullying in any shape or form, whether in person or online, is a very difficult thing to deal with. I’ve had my fair share of it, with trolling on my social media sites and the occasional personal attack/character defamation (mostly from people whom I’ve never even met). This has again happened to me very recently, and thankfully it’s only the second personal attack that I’m aware of using myself as the subject.  It’s a slog to get through it all, and can make you despair at the human race entirely, but I’ve come up with some ways to deal with bullying, which may help you if you ever find yourself in such a situation. If you are in physical danger, please contact the authorities at once. Here are 10 ways you can work through this situation, should you find yourself being bullied in any shape or form.

  1. Don’t take it personally. Though you may be the subject, actually, it’s not about you at all. It’s about them, and their own insecurities, fears and suffering. When you can see that, you can also develop compassion for them. They are not faceless entities, even though they may have piled on you as such. These are real, living human beings, who are someone’s son, daughter, lover, mother, father, brother, sister. They have their own difficulties, their own lives, their own past experiences and suffering. They have some very large misperceptions about you, and that’s all. You are not the cause, but the subject of their misperception and subsequent projections and personal suffering.
  2. Don’t lash out emotionally. Disengage. Hurting someone who has hurt you only prolongs and increases the suffering in the world. Define your boundaries, so that you do not hopefully have to undergo something like this from the person again. If this means blocking someone on social media or email, or avoiding them in public, then do so. If the circles you work or live in don’t allow for a full disengagement, then do what you can to not allow their misperception into your physical space or your mind.
  3. Talk to and find a support network, whether that is your family and/or friends. Don’t encourage people to take sides, and turn it into a “flame war”. Simply find support from them, allow them to remind you of who you are in their eyes, what they mean to you and the difference that you make in their lives. We can often forget this when we are going through bullying, and can easily get sunk into a pit of suffering and wondering, “why me”. Allow these people who are a real part of your life to rekindle your sense of self, and your life’s meaning for them. Then find out what your life’s meaning is for yourself.
  4. Work with gratitude. After you have disengaged and hopefully have found some support, take a moment to remember all the good things in your life. These will usually far outweigh the bad things that are currently happening, which can seem overwhelming at the time (thanks Kris for this one). Take some time to yourself, make a cup of tea, and sit down in a comfortable, cosy room, taking time to remember everything that you can be grateful for: a loving family, good friends, a roof over your head, your snuggly cat, the beautiful sunshine, the nourishing rain, your heroes and heroines, the delicious cup of tea. You can even make a collage with photos of all these things and hang it in a prominent area of your home, to provide you with a visual reminder each and every day.
  5. Talk to respected people in your community. Chances are they’ve gone through something similar. If you poke your head above the parapet, expect to be shot at. So, they may have some good advice to give you on getting through, as they’ve been through it themselves. You don’t even need to give them the full details, just ask for their advice on bullying in general, and how to overcome the horrible feelings that it invokes.
  6. Have compassion for yourself, as well as for everyone involved. Acknowledge your feelings, your sadness, your anger, your despair. Don’t try to push them aside, for they will most likely come back in some shape or form that is totally inappropriate. Sit with your feelings, allow them to move through you, and then you can let them go. Water needs to flow in order to not become stagnant. So too does energy, in my opinion, and energy needs to flow. Emotions are a form of energy, and so let them flow, in a safe and responsible way. Be emotionally responsible for your own feelings, and know what belongs to you, and what does not. When you can let go of what does not belong to you, you are well on the way to your own personal sovereignty.
  7. Everything is impermanent. This is pretty much the first and foremost Buddhist teaching. What you are currently going through may seem like hell, but in a few days, weeks or months, where will this all be? If it helps, remember past difficult times, and how you survived those (without engaging in the suffering from these past experiences – look at it like a scientist would look at data, and make a conclusion based on that). Look to your family tree, and find out how your ancestors struggled, and made it through. Again, your friends may help in this regard as well. Next year, where will all this be? Where will this episode be? Most likely far, far away, remembered as an experience from which you learned how to become more resilient and compassionate.
  8. You are not better than them. Often, the advice given to you can be “you’re so much better than them”. While you may not cause suffering the way that they do, you are not better than anyone else on this planet. As soon as you think this, you have elevated yourself above someone else, which means that you have de-humanised them or turned them into a faceless “other”. We are all in this together. Do not let ego interfere in the process. Remember who you are, without any ego inflation tactics, which are only temporary, and which in the long-run can lead to very poor behaviour on your part.
  9. Integration. This is at the heart of all the Druid teachings for me. Remembering that we are all part of an ecosystem, and that everyone has a role to play. This correlates to the point above. Everyone has something to contribute, and from everyone a lesson can be learned to help us become better in ourselves. Not better than any other person, but better in ourselves so that can positively contribute and make this a truly flourishing, functional ecosystem.
  10. Endurance. Treat it like an athlete treats endurance training. See it as good practice for holding on to your principles. See it as an excellent workout for the mind and the soul. But remember to take breathers when you choose not to engage or think about it. Do not think ‘this is ill fortune’, but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune’. (Thanks to Katie, and her Stoic studies for this one!)

I hope that this helps, if ever you find yourself in such a situation. If you do, remember that many people have experiences this, and that you are not alone. Get outside, look at the birds flying overhead, the bees in the garden, and notice nature all around you. You are never alone. You are part of something truly beautiful, so do try to focus on that. And have a big, virtual hug from me.

Beware of Trolls

Can we look for reasons behind why some people behave the way they do?  Psychologists have been attempting to do that for hundreds of years, perhaps priests and other members of the community who wanted to help said before that.  In today’s day and age, we have the internet phenomenon of “trolling”.

According to Wikipedia, trolling is when someone attempts to sow discord on the internet by trying to start arguments and upset people.  They can do this in a variety of ways – posting off-topic messages to detract from the original intention, or posting inflammatory words on groups and online forums in the hopes of kicking things off.  From the wiki site:-

“Early incidents of trolling were considered to be the same as flaming, but this has changed with modern usage by the news media to refer to the creation of any content that targets another person. The Internet dictionary NetLingo suggests there are four grades of trolling: playtime trolling, tactical trolling, strategic trolling, and domination trolling. The relationship between trolling and flaming was observed in open-access forums in California, on a series of modem-linked computers in the 1970s, like CommuniTree which when accessed by high school teenagers became a ground for trashing and abuse. Some psychologists have suggested that flaming would be caused by deindividuation or decreased self-evaluation: the anonymity of online postings would lead to disinhibition amongst individuals Others have suggested that although flaming and trolling is often unpleasant, it may be a form of normative behavior that expresses the social identity of a certain user group  According to Tom Postmes, a professor of social and organisational psychology at the universities of Exeter, England, and Groningen, The Netherlands, and the author of Individuality and the Group, who has studied online behavior for 20 years, “Trolls aspire to violence, to the level of trouble they can cause in an environment. They want it to kick off. They want to promote antipathetic emotions of disgust and outrage, which morbidly gives them a sense of pleasure.” Adams, Tim (24 July 2011). “How the internet created an age of rage”. London: The Guardian (The Observer).

“Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group’s common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they – and the troll – understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll’s enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group. Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling – where the rate of deception is high – many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one’s online reputation. “ (Donath, Judith S. (1999). “Identity and deception in the virtual community”. In Smith, Marc A.; Kollock, Peter. Communities in Cyberspace (illustrated, reprint ed.). Routledge. pp. 29–59. ISBN 978-0-415-19140-1. Retrieved 2009-03-24.)

The term trolling these days can refer to not only those people who have a clear agenda in creating discord or playing identity games, but also those for whom bullying is an enjoyable pastime.  Online bullying tends to fall under the category of trolling, perhaps because it is simply easier to call all those who misbehave on the internet with a single label.

I have been subject to various trolls over my online lifetime – both those who simply wish to sow discord on online forums, those who have a hidden agenda and those who are simply bullies.  The question remains – why on earth would someone want to do such a thing?

In a way, I’m not sure this question can ever be answered, for we cannot get inside someone’s head. We can understand some of their motives, but unless we have access to every single second of their lives which may have influenced their behaviour, we are still making assumptions, which may never be proved.

Some of “my” trolls have sought to change the topic of conversation, for reasons only known to them. I can speculate that they didn’t like my opinion, or that they may be working with those who are on the “other” side of the situation, debate or discussion.  Trying to return back to the subject time and again can be futile, especially when there are several trolls working together. In this case, I have simply walked away from that discussion, forum or group if I feel that the moderators are not doing their job correctly in keeping things going forward on topic, troll-free.

Other trolls have been bullies, such as on this blog where a particular troll was attempting to silence me from any further posting for whatever reason.  Swearing and telling me that I should seek psychiatric help among other things led me to believe that the individual in question was projecting their own fears and anxieties onto me, a faceless person (they may or may not have known me personally).  At any rate, any of my thoughts on this person’s behaviour would simply be speculation.

So, what can we do about it? Are we simply to accept that there are trolls online, and we are to ignore them, as many people have suggested – “Do Not Feed The Trolls”? Or is there something that we can do?

For moderated online communities, I feel the responsibility should like with those who claim to be moderators. Some moderators may have their own agendas, however, and so are perhaps not the ideal people to perform such a task.  If a moderator on an online forum, group or community was part of a company, and a discussion was taking place in where the objectives of that company were in question, they may simply close down the thread or delete it for no apparent reason.  In this instance, freedom of speech is being impinged upon, and there is very little we can do about other than try to work around said moderators, to try and go over their heads to a “higher source” who may or may not listen to our opinions, suggestions or queries.

If it is a “personal” attack, such as on a personal blog, what can we do? Do we delete all the posts that this person has made, and simply ignore it?  I haven’t – I have left these person’s posts in place to show how life is for some people – it is a testament to human interactions, to human behaviour and to society and culture as a whole.  Only when the remarks have become so antagonistic as to resort to swearing and using violent terms have I decided to no longer accept posts from these people.  I am using these trolls as an example to other readers as to how some people behave, either in an online community or, heaven forbid, in real life.

In a way, I have a very real sympathy for these trolls.  This may be totally imagined, and it is only a personal assumption, but I believe these people to have very unsatisfying lives in general.  Why else would someone want to do such a thing?

In our world of ever-increasing virtual interaction, it is my fear that more and more people will not be able to engage with others in a respectful and honourable way. Without that face to face interaction, will we see an ever-growing increase in such bad behaviour, which could also impact upon real-life situations?  Will this bad behaviour, ingrained and learnt from an early age be taken out into the real world, where this will occur more and more in face to face situations? I sincerely hope not – it’s bad enough that it is occurring online.

So, what can we do about it?  We can make people aware of what is occurring, for starters.  We can then deal with each interaction with as much respect and honour as we are able.  We can make points known, and then if the discussion falls into chaos and disrespect due to trolls, we can refuse to engage, simply stating why we are refusing and then walk away.

Sometimes walking away from a bully doesn’t work, however. Sometimes they get their best shot when your back is turned.  All we can do is to remember that, as the heathen saying goes, “We Are Our Deeds”.  Whether these are online opinions or not, I feel that this saying is applicable to everything that we do in our lives.  Sure, not everyone of us is a shining example of humanity, and simply because we have done less than honourable deeds in the past does not mean that we continue in dishonour – we can work to gain that back through everything that we say and do today.

And so, for all the trolls out there who may be reading this – remember this saying. We are our deeds.  It’s not too late.

And for those who are being plagued by trolls, I offer up a previous blog post which may help to overcome any feelings instilled by this abhorrent behaviour:  https://downtheforestpath.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/is-that-so/