Bullying: It’s how you react that matters

Posted by Trevor on 24 August 2012 | 2 Comments

In “Three Simple Steps,” I relay a detailed account of an experience I had as a 12-year-old boy, in which I was bullied on a public bus by perhaps a half-dozen boys who were several years older than I was. The experience was humiliating, and “I believed something weak, ugly, or low about me must have caused [the] tribal behavior” of those boys. Bullying is as devastating now as it was then, and I believe that people – mostly kids – don’t understand the consequences of being a bully. An almost animal mentality can result when a bunch of kids are put together.

William Golding explores this mentality in “Lord of the Flies,” an allegorical novel which tells the story of a group of young British students who are stranded on an island. The author suggests that this animal mentality – this instinctive savagery – is somehow inherent in mankind. In the story, these kids are basically unsupervised, and they get together and turn into a sort of dictatorship state. I saw this mentality played out in my experiences, and I have seen it many times since then.

What “Three Simple Steps” tries to help you overcome is not what you think about such a situation, because you can’t really help what you think. If you’re being bullied, you can’t help the fact that you immediately conjure a bunch of negative thoughts about you, the event, and the tormentors. You hate the bully, and you want to harm the bully if you have the chance. You then look at yourself in the mirror, and you immediately think to yourself: “there is something wrong with me,” “I’ve got to be attracting it,” “I am making it happen.”

You can’t help those thoughts. Thoughts are instantaneous. It is not what you think that determines a happy or sad life, but how you react to those thoughts. Although we cannot control our immediate thoughts, we all have 100% control on how we choose to react to them.

How you react to those thoughts that result as a consequence of being bullied makes the difference. For me, finding some techniques that protected me from those thoughts helped. It was really quite eye-opening.

When I was a teenager, being a foreigner in shabby clothes was pretty much like having a bulls-eye on my back, and I was the target of bullies through most of my high school years. To survive those years, I copied a mental technique that my sporting heroes of the time like Bjorn Borg and Sevvy Ballesteros used to protect themselves from crowd hostility. Simple and silly as it sounds, I imagined myself surrounded by a glass shield that was invisible to everyone but me. I imagined everyone’s words and taunts firing at me like arrows, and bouncing off  the shield, and crumbling to dust. I was untouchable. I was safe inside, and I developed a sense of determination, confidence, and immunity from it all just like I saw in the stillness of Bjorn Borg as John McEnroe tried to disturb his game with rants at the umpire and by firing up the crowd. That made a huge difference for me, and eventually the taunting kind of stopped or if it didn’t, I stopped noticing it.

How you react is the important thing.

If you are being bullied, consider reading biographies of successful people such as Ranulph Fiennes so you can learn how others turned the situation into what made them successful. Sir Ranulph Fiennes is an adventurer and holder of several endurance records. He served in the Army for eight years including a period on counter-insurgency service while attached to the army of the Sultanate of Oman. He later undertook numerous expeditions and was the first person to visit both the North and South Poles by surface means and the first to completely cross Antarctica on foot. In May 2009, at the age of 65, he climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. According to the Guinness Book of World Records he is the world’s greatest living explorer. Even after a quadruple heart by-pass he ran seven marathons! As a child, however, this “man’s man” struggled at the hands of bullies:

‘Such remorseless nastiness squeezed every last trace of self-confidence from me. At one point, I stood on Windsor Bridge and contemplated throwing myself off. I didn’t go through with it, but I can understand why some children feel so bad that they think about suicide. It lasted for about two years. . . Looking back, I can see that Eton inadvertently built individualism. You either conformed or realized there was no way you could conform. Once you realized you could not conform, it strengthened your ability to be an individual.’

Other famous people, who have described the torment of bullying and how they overcame it, include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Phelps, Pierce Brosnan, Christina Aguilera, Tom Cruise, Kristen Stewart, Winona Ryder, and Sandra Bullock. They are all individuals who learned the power of controlling their mentalities to become successful.

Knowing that there are always people worse off than you and that they managed to survive and get out helps you realize that you can get out too. That was the only thing that kept me going really.

But I have never forgotten it.

I have never forgotten what the bullying felt like and never forgotten the people who did the bullying. If I met them in a crowded room right now, I would certainly make them very aware of what I think about them. The reality is not like what you see on TV, where students, having grown and matured, all arrive at a school reunion, the bullies turn out to be really nice, and the guy who was bulled forgives them and they are all happy together.

I think the challenge we have, especially for parents who think their little child is an angel when out of their sight he or she behaves more like a demon,  is to make bullies realize the damage they do. How you do that, I don’t know.



  1. Erika says:

    Hello Trevor! Thanks for your post. I was having a conversation with my 10 year old twin boys, yesterday as a matter of fact about bullying. They have been bullied by this one kid for about a year now. One of them asked me yesterday, what he should do when they start school again & he starts bullying them again. I told him, “it’s not what he says or does to you, but how you react.” I told him to imagine his favorite superhero and the words just bouncing off his chest. That is how you are I said. No one can touch you with their words. We will see how this school year goes for them. The principal is aware of it, but they are not supervised every moment.

    • Trevor says:

      Hi Erika,

      That’s good advice for the boys. Kids at that age can no doubt be difficult. Most schools have enacted a pretty tough stance on bullying, but you’re right when you say they can’t be there all of the time. I hope they have a brilliant school year!

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