My daughter was bullied this time last year. Her friendship group turned on her after she had an argument with one of the main girls. It was very difficult to watch, as a parent, and my husband and I were very worried about her. They isolated her and said very hurtful things on social media about her. She was so frightened of them that she used to eat her lunch in the toilet. Her school did nothing to help and we really struggled as a family. Her mood deteriorated and she even stopped eating. I was bullied as a child and I still feel the pain of it all. My husband was very concerned about her, so we moved her to a new school this year and everything was going very well. She has made a new group of friends, who are very supportive and she was happy again. But, recently, I have noticed that her mood has started to dip and she has stopped talking to us and I’m worried all over again. Can you please give me some advice?
Firstly, it does sound like you all had a very difficult time last year. It’s important to acknowledge that the residue of that experience is still in the family, so any change in your daughter will bring it to the fore. I’m very sorry to hear that you were bullied as a child.
Nearly all of us experience bullying on some level, over the course of our lives, whether as the victim or perpetrator.
The impact of being bullied can, in some cases, last for many years, even a lifetime.
But, remember, a bully only has as much power as you give them.
A question I often ask students who sit before me, emotionally recalling their horror story of being bullied, is, ‘Why did you believe them when they said that about you?’
This is an important question to think about, when you are analysing your daughter’s experience. Why is it we so easily accept the negative comments as truths and discard the positive ones as just fake flattery?
I often explain to students that we have a puzzle of ourselves that we form as children and when we receive positive feedback, if our puzzle has taken a negative shape, it will not fit.
However, when someone says something negative about us, it slots right in. It’s the perfect fit.
So, I would wonder why your daughter has such a poor view of herself. Her self-esteem needs to be built up. And the best way to start that is by helping her to interpret her experience of being bullied.
Explain to her that when someone says something hurtful about another person, it says more about them and their insecurities than the person they are saying it about.
Help your daughter to see that those girls who said those terrible things about her are insecure and that they joined together to make her feel bad about herself because they are fundamentally unhappy in themselves.
Something I say to students a lot, and I feel it really helps them to come to some understanding about their experience, is: “Maybe you reflected something they lacked and that’s why they turned on you, so maybe it was not really about you at all and more about their insecurities. Maybe those people are to be pitied, not believed or feared.”
This shift in mentality can often alleviate those feelings of shame and guilt that someone who was bullied can feel.
We often blame ourselves for being targeted. I hear the same narrative from students who were bullied. They utter the same victim-blaming sentiments: “Maybe they saw I was weak; that’s why they bullied me”.
You need to work on this with your daughter. I also wonder if her recent change in mood is due to the fact that it is coming up to the anniversary of her difficult time. It may be as simple as that.
Maybe she is reliving some of those old feelings again. This time of year can be very challenging, especially when we have associated it with a negative experience.
Try not to allow your experience of being bullied impede your ability to listen to your daughter in a supportive way.
If you become anxious, you are reinforcing that your daughter should be worried.
Be careful not to do that.
There is no doubt that being bullied is a destructive experience for a young psyche. But helping your child to interpret that experience in a new way can empower them.
Finding the right moment to talk to your daughter about her current feelings is an important first step.
A car journey home from school might be a perfect place to start that conversation.