When I speak at school assemblies as an anti bullying activist, I’m often asked what the key is in helping to bully-proof students. I start by giving some background to my advice.
You see, when I was three years old, I was plucked from an orphanage in Pakistan and adopted into a Dutch family in the Netherlands. As a result of being dark-skinned and short in a land of fair-skinned and tall peers, I was bullied as a child, and I learned firsthand what it is that takes a bully’s power away.
I tell students that there’s this one thing they can do to stop bullies in their tracks—I tell them “own your uniqueness.” In other words, truly accept who you are.
You see, that very thing that is causing students to be bullied is the thing that can also stop bullying. Ownership of the things that we are physically, and the things that we are inside, the things others can’t see, is what will halt the nature of a bullier.
Why does self acceptance work? If students—and anyone for that matter—can learn to accept who they are, no matter what it is, their attitude will be different. People who are accepting of themselves project confidence and security and do not get bullied. This might seem unreal or too good to be true, but it’s not. I know.
The nature of a bully is someone who is scared him/herself and who bullies others in order to feel better about him/herself. This may be surprising, but I believe that the bully and the victim are mirror images of each other—both acting from a place of fear. The bully, therefore, looks for someone weaker, someone who the bully perceives as easy prey, someone who is not confident and secure and accepting of who they are. Why was I initially bullied as a child? I was scared, and when you are scared you are in victim mode.
Often, it takes an honest talk, discussing those points that bullies like to target. Whether the student gets bullied over his weight, the fact she wears glasses, or perhaps an ugly incident of some years back that was gossiped about and has never gone away—these are the points to talk about.
Discuss whatever it is openly and honestly and help the student to come to terms with that sensitive point. Practice lines like, “Yes, I am short. Yes, I do have four eyes—I have to wear these stupid glasses because otherwise I can’t see. Yes, I know that I’m fluffy. So what’s wrong with that?”
Getting to a place of self acceptance will likely not happen in just one session or talk. Indeed, adults often grapple with this issue for years and some are still struggling with truly accepting their uniqueness. But knowing where to start is the first step to becoming a well-rounded individual with inner strength that bullies will shy away from.
ABOUT GABRIELLA VAN RIJ: The leading voice of the Kindness movement, Gabriella works to spread the message that we are all unique and we each have something to offer the person next to us. She has a non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation in the US. She is the author of I Can Find My Might, a part self-help, part practical resource for students, parents, and educators on bullying and self-acceptance.