When you’re on the receiving end of harsh words, you feel hurt and powerless. You might think your only options are retaliating or retreating into yourself to try to protect your feelings. However, you have more power than you think.
When my daughter was the target of verbal and emotional bullying, one of the many things that frustrated her was that she felt like someone else was in control. She couldn’t control what the bullies said or did, and she felt like she couldn’t control how their negativity made her feel. How nice would it be if we could wave a magic wand to make people stop being “mean” and make sure they only say kind and truthful things? I’d like my children to grow up in a world like that!
As much as we’d like to make other people stop being mean, the truth is that we simply can’t control what other people choose to say or do. However, we can play a role in ending the cycle of negativity and steering communication in a positive direction. The key is focusing on two things that you CAN control:
The words of others are only as important as you allow them to be. Just because someone might intend to harm you does not mean you, therefore, must be harmed. Believe it or not, you get to decide how the words and tone of others make you feel.
But how, exactly, do you turn those affirmations into action: into the ability to take back control of your life and happiness?
Make it a game. We call ours Baffle That Bully!
Now, there’s not enough room in a blog post to describe our three step strategy in full – for that, you’ll need to read Baffle That Bully! – but, basically, it’s a combination of:
Whether or not you’re the target of bullying, the first two steps of our strategy can help you stay calm when confronted with negative words or actions:
If you focus your thoughts on Stomach Breathing and Happy Thoughts, you will distract yourself from the negative encounter. In fact, you might not even hear what they say, which is just fine, because it’s probably toxic.
The third step of Baffle That Bully! deals with how you choose to respond:
3. Say or Do Something that is Completely Random and Harmless: To do this step correctly and break the cycle of negativity, your response must have absolutely nothing to do with what they person just said or did AND be harmless. Your tone should be genuine and kind.
The first time my daughter went to school armed with her new strategy, here’s what happened: One of the bullies approached her and starting saying cruel things to her. Rather than trying to hide or getting upset, she did Steps 1 and 2 to stay calm and then said, “Hey, you play baseball, don’t you? How’s the season going?”
She later told me that she had never seen a more confused kid – not hurt or harmed in any way – just baffled. He started stammering, “What? What are you talking about baseball for? I didn’t say anything about baseball!” Then, he walked off shaking his head.
Day after day, the strategy continued to work. My daughter felt back in control of her life, capable of handling anything, and happy. She made it impossible for the bullies to enjoy picking on her, and they eventually left her alone.
We’re all responsible for breaking the cycle of negativity. Just as groupthink makes it easy for one negative comment to follow another, it just as easily allows for one positive comment to follow another. But, someone has to make the first positive comment.
Why don’t you and I be the ones to make that first positive (or, at the very least, Completely Random & Harmless) comment? Then, let’s ask our children to do the same.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.