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Sticks and Stones

December 10, 2011

I have been meaning to write this post for some time now, but I have been putting it off. However, after an extremely ignorant and insensitive status was posted by someone on facebook yesterday (that hit way too close to home for me), I couldn’t hold off writing this post any longer.

You see, there is a belief that our society has continued to be perpetuated. It can be summed up in two statements:

“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”

“Kids will just be kids.”

Both of these statements are wrong. Both of these statements are lies.

Parents, educators, and society at large have bought into this lie. It shows by the fact that we treat these situations as if the victim is the one to blame. They must have done something to deserve it. We say things like “well, did you do something to them first?” We tell kids not to let it get to them and those that do are seen as weak and too sensitive. We use the excuse that “kids will just be kids” so that we don’t have to actually engage in parenting, discipline, and teaching.

But, this is WRONG.

Words have tremendous power. They can do terrible damage. They can break a person: mentally, emotionally, and humanly. You can destroy a person. To deny this is to question the tons of research that has been done that proves that this is true. A UCLA-led team of psychologists found a genetic link between physical pain and the pain associated with social rejection. In an article, from 2003, about their first study, the researchers stated:

“These findings show how deeply rooted our need is for social connection…There’s something about exclusion from others that is perceived as being as harmful to our survival as something that can physically hurt us, and our body automatically knows this.”

From an article about their second study:

“What we found is that individuals with the rare form of the OPRM1 gene, who were shown in previous work to be more sensitive to physical pain, also reported higher levels of rejection sensitivity and showed greater activity in social pain–related regions of the brain — the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula — in response to being excluded”

This research not only shows that social rejection has a dramatic effect on people, but that some people are affected by this much more than others. This is very significant because it shows that while some people could be bullied and have no ill effects, others could be bullied and be broken by the experience.

In psychology there is actually a term called “mind rape.” It exists because psychologists have come to recognize that just as a person can be physically violated, they can only be mentally violated and that both can have devastating consequences. Sadly, many people are still under the impression that because you don’t have physical scars that means you can easily shake it off and it won’t have a lasting impact on you. In domestic violence we talk a lot about emotional and verbal abuse, but sadly when it comes to bullying these discussions are nowhere to be found. There have been small changes in landscape and kids are being prosecuted and punished for bullying, but it is still rare.

Why does this hit so close to home for me? I went to a school that was K-12 and I was bullied, harassed, and picked-on for over 10 years. Some times it was simply jokes or taunts, other times it was vicious rumors, getting beat up, or having my stuff taken and destroyed. I felt completely alone and cut off, like no one understood what I was going through and there was no one I could tell and talk to about this. That’s what happens when you have very few friends and neither they nor any other students did anything to stop or report this and adults just pushed the party line of “words can’t hurt you” and “kids will just be kids.” It was hell on earth and the only end I could see to it in sight was to graduate and never come back.

So, when a person on facebook wrote, “Bullying is NOT an excuse to commit suicide,” anger may have exploded inside me. This statement is wrong on so many levels. I think the person was trying to say that suicide is never the answer and I completely agree with that, but there are better ways to say that instead of the statement they chose. This statement implies that the person chose suicide on a whim or that bullying is not really that bad and if you weren’t weak or overly sensitive you wouldn’t contemplate or commit suicide. Could you be more heartless? I doubt it.

To the person’s statement I may have responded with a comment about how terrible of a statement that was. In response to this, the person wrote back, “Jon, the bullies can’t hurt you anymore.” I doubt they could have said something more insensitive than that. This statement belies their complete ignorance on this subject.

They can’t hurt you anymore??? What a load of crap.

People that say this have no idea. They have no clue the lasting effect that bullies can have on a person. I am 33 years old and I am still dealing with many of these effects. In seeing a counselor over this last year, I have come to see just how much my life has been affected by what happened to me so many years ago. I have problems trusting people, I question and over-analyze what people say and do, and I tend to close off and by wary of opening up to people. Why? Because the only defense I could muster was to wall myself off from the world and go deep inside myself in order to protect what little of me was left. At the same time, when people say things like “You are one of the smartest people I know,” “You are an amazing person,” etc I don’t believe it, I can’t, because of the view of myself that I have because of what happened to me. So don’t tell me they can’t hurt me or other people anymore. That is a lie. They might not be around, but their effects are still here.

To those that bully, harass, or pick on other people, I wonder if you realize the impact and effect that you have on your victims? For many, I doubt that you do. Regardless, though, you have no right to say and do the things you do. None. And the consequences and repercussions for your actions should be severe. Nobody deserves to be treated the way you treat people and you should be held accountable.

To all the other students who know this is happening and do or say nothing, despite what you may think, you are accountable. You have a responsibility to do something. You cannot sit idly by and let it happen. If you do nothing, you should be considered an accomplice to those that are doing the bullying.

To adults, parents, and educators you cannot continue to perpetuate the idea kids will just be kids and that bullying and harassing cannot have an extensive effect on the victim. To say this is to make an excuse for doing nothing. That is NOT acceptable. You may not know who it is happening to, BUT you know that it is happening and you must do everything you can to see that it doesn’t. You must be proactive towards both those doing the bullying and those being bullied. To allow it to happen makes you an accomplice as well.

And finally, to those that have ever been bullied or picked on, there are those of us that understand. To any person that is currently being bullied or harassed, you are not alone. Despite the feeling that no one cares or will listen, there are people out there that want to help. They do exist. I promise. It does take courage on your part. You do have to share.

Things can change. But that will only happen if we stop perpetuating and believing the lies.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can destroy a person. Kids need not just be kids. Kids need discipline, rules, and guidelines.

There is hope.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    December 11, 2011 10:53 am

    Very insightful, Jon. I hate that you had personal experience with this issue. However, you are helping others deepen their understanding here. Oh, and FYI.. friend,you are amazing and smart. Those are indeed truths!!

    • December 11, 2011 12:40 pm

      Thanks friend. If my story helps others, then it’s one worth having and telling

  2. bullyadragon permalink
    December 11, 2011 12:38 pm

    I can’t even believe someone would post something like that on facebook. The bullies can’t hurt you anymore, but the scars of what they did can, and only someone who was never bullied (or who was a bully) would think that something so traumatic would just disappear when the actual situation is gone.
    So sorry.

    • December 11, 2011 12:49 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I took a look at your blog. Your son is blessed to have such an amazing family surrounding him and advocating for him. I’m sorry that you even need a blog to chronicle this journey that you are on, but I hope that it can encourage others to not allow the status quo to continue. Thank you.

  3. December 16, 2011 9:13 am

    Jon,

    I’ve been meaning to read this, and wow, am I glad that I have finally taken the time to read it this morning. Thanks for not keeping your thoughts and your experience to yourself. You are a tremendous blessing to me! I love you brother:)

  4. Joshua Costello permalink
    December 18, 2011 12:56 pm

    jon-great post. I am excited for our generation. I believe that we will help bring an important focus on emotional health to our children. Our parents generation did not and does not have a good grasp on it.

    • December 18, 2011 9:38 pm

      Thanks Josh. I really hope our generation gets it right.

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