What’s happening within the brain?It’s only recently that researches have started to scan the brains of both those being bullied and the bully, with surprising results. When interviewed children who were on the sharp end of a bully’s tactics reported the same feelings and symptoms that were given by people suffering from depression, anxiety and fear. This would suggest that there would be a manifestation of psychological and physical effects on the child. Researchers are now becoming aware of the true implications of bullying and how it affects children and their brains “using SPECT brain imaging, Todd Clements, M.D., Medical Director at the Clements Clinic in Plano, Texas, has discovered that the brain scans of bullied patients resemble the brain scans of patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Patients with PTSD report identical symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, inattention, flashbacks, etc. What this means is that the human brain is interpreting the trauma of bullying in the same ways a soldier’s brain interprets the experiences of battle or how a car accident victim’s brain interprets the accident (see images of normal and bullied / PTSD brain images). Humans have the ability to adapt to their environment which gives them, the best chance to survive. Unfortunately, a bullied child’s brain interprets the bullying as a threat and adapts to deal with the trauma” Divine (2010). It may well be the case that most of those that are bullied during childhood go on to be confident individuals in adulthood, however there are some that are severely damaged by acts of a bully, if anxiety is allowed to transfer itself to adulthood, then changing long-term ingrained behaviour will be even more difficult to alter. This behaviour is in all likelihood part of normal children’s behaviour patterns, its effect is exaggerated due to social and cultural changes throughout our evolutionary development. Knowing this should give parents and those that are in positions of authority in teaching children an advantage, to develop programs that can help both bully and victim.
Brain scans on the bully also revealed interesting results “that bully beats you up because he enjoys it. Healthy kids’ brains respond to other people’s pain with sympathetic twinges in their own pain centers. But bullies who witness pain show activity in their brains’ reward centers. Aggressive adolescents showed a specific and very strong activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum (an area that responds to feeling rewarded) when watching pain inflicted on others, which suggested that they enjoyed watching pain”Newitz, A. (2008). The activation of reward centres does indicate that some bullies derive pleasure from the activity of bullying. However this is not the case with every person that bullies, or at least from some interviewers’ research, there are children that state that they do not get pleasure from it. Further research needs to be done to confirm this as, even though on one level a child may not think with their conscious mind that they enjoy it, something completely different may be occurring within the brain.
It is also the situation that a large amount of children that get bullied never find the courage to say anything to either parents or teachers, as they themselves feel that admitting this to peers is a sign of weakness. It is therefore up to those that are in positions of authority with children to be mindful of the signs that a child is being bullied. , It’s also important to remember that this is abuse, it may not be as bad as sexual abuse, but it’s no less harmful and so the responsibility falls firmly at the feet of parents, teachers (martial arts instructors), friends anyone that has a child’s best interest at heart. The signs may be very subtle and these may include;
Signs of emotional distress – nervousness, anxiety
Withdrawn, tearful, aggressive, depressed, nervous habits
Lacking in confidence
Bruises or scratching on a young person or attempts to hide physical injury
Torn or damaged clothing, missing personal items
Unusual bed wetting
Fear of going to school – excuses of illness often made to avoid going to school
Coming home without money or belongings that they should have
Having trouble with school work or grades for no apparent reason
Lack of interest in doing things they would usually want to do
Behaviour clues are only as good as the person paying attention to the changes that are happening within the child, for a child to hide stress, fear, or anxiety and possibly physical injury, bruises and scratches for example will take a large amount of effort on their behalf and in the majority of cases they may not even recognise the change themselves.
A plan of action
It’s important that we all remember that fear, anxiety and stress create changes within the child, the brain adapts to the psychological threat, therefore any attempt to help the child, will need to focus on the mindset of the child , superficial patches that deal with outward behaviour will only create short-term results. To obtain long-term recovery the mind will have to be rewired back to a more stable setting. To help address these underlying deep issues, principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) should be part of your tool box, martial artist have been practising this for centuries, it’s know as meditation. Children will also need coping strategies and skills that will help them manage interactions with a bully.
Those that are in positions to help children need to have an idea of how to interact with the child, what they should do and say, there are some things that should not be said or done, especially if you want to avoid making a bad situation even worse for the victim.
1. Ensure that you remain calm at all cost, showing signs of anger or frustration will be seen by the child and focused on, they may believe that they should not have said anything.
2. Keep reinforcing that they have done the right thing by bringing this to your attention, let them know, that you know it must have been a difficult decision.
3. Take time to discuss how they feel, slowly getting around to the important questions, who, where and when?
4. Take it slowly, one step at a time, the longer that the child has been bullied the more emotional torment could have occurred.
5. Agree with the child the first steps, it should be their idea if possible and not yours, working together to tackle l the issues that are raised.
6. Are there simple ways in which avoidance of a person or place could stop the bullying, keep in mind that once a bully has identified a target they may go out of their way to find them and continue the abuse.
Do not leave it thinking that it will sort itself out, take action before things get any worse. Tackling this behaviour needs to be with the support of schools, clubs or any event that your child attends. make sure that you meet with the person at the school who is responsible for their bullying procedures, they should have an anti bullying policy, make sure you see it. getting someone to take responsibility for monitoring interactions while at school. Remember recording meetings and agreed action in writing places a degree of importance on the matter, it’s not going to go away and needs to be dealt with. If you are not happy with the way things are going keep going up the line of accountability, board of governors, positions, you are the only person that can keep the ball rolling and protect your child’s long-term emotional intelligence. This all seems logical information and hopefully it’s not new to parents.
The martial arts
Any good martial arts school will have a policy in place to protect the children that attend, however it’s not just the policy it’s the whole mental and physical training that is important. Good martial arts instructors will teach children non-violent solutions to bully avoidance, this will include strategies to talk and avoid a confrontation, it’s about confidence in yourself that you do not have to resort to physical confrontation to deal with the bully. The goal is to discourage bullies if the potential victim can resist the verbal assault, taking away the control and emotional pay-off, the bully will be less likely to choose them again, as with most perpetrators of violence or crime they are looking for easy individuals to attack. One that has the potential to fight back or is aware and not an easy victim will probably not be chosen. Tactics that are taught should include avoidance, appropriate verbal exchanges, neutral/confident body language and facial expressions, selective ignoring and self-control, physical confrontation is the very last thing on the list. Bullies are looking for the nerve that makes any individual react, if a child can hide their emotions then they are well on the way to counteracting the bully. Once they discover a victim’s weakness they will do it again and again to see the same reaction over and over again.
Physical techniques are the last resort to dealing with a bully, the problem with any conflict especially with children is knowing were the boundaries are, when is it the right time to act, to fight back? is there a time? should you never resort to physical violence even when being beaten on? There are some that would support this, with words such as “if you use violence against a bully you are then no longer any better than the bully” we have all heard this at some point I am sure and to be fair adults have the same problem, when to fight or when not to fight? Should I use a pre-emptive strike? These are important questions and are beyond the scope of this text and will be covered later. The most important point is should any child use violence to protect themselves? The answer to this question will be different for a great many individuals, ask an adult this very simple question, if you were being beaten by another adult and had the means to defend yourself would you? My thoughts on this is that everyone has the right to defend themselves and their family, should it be different because they are a child? Children will eventually come of an age where they can process this line and do the right thing at the right time, the main aim here is to convey knowledge of the bully and the victim, what they are and how to help a victim fight back, hopefully before too much psychological damage has been done. If you are dealing with a child who has already become a victim, then it’s no good just treating the behaviour of the child you have to get to the root cause of the problem, the psychological effect on the mind.
Be mindful all the time!
Recently in the UK a 14 year old girl took her own life due to Cyber bullying, if this tells us anything it should be that parents have to be vigilant all the time. This type of bullying is disturbing and it’s not the first time that young adolescent children have resorted to suicide. This type of bullying is perhaps the most dangerous type of bullying as it can be done anonymously and has a very powerful effect on the mind. Why would someone believe what they read on an internet forum or text message sent to their phone? The reason is how our brains work with regard to the law of similarity. If it looks like a tiger it is a tiger. Like causes like and the brain perceives this, if we see a person being sick just after eating a particular food, we ourselves will not want to eat the same food, this has an evolutionary benefit, as it would have protected the individual from consuming the same food and suffering the same fate. Experiments have shown that if we create a negative thought and feeling this will transfer to our conscious mind and become prominent, over the fact that we know it not to be true. For example take a glass of clear drinking water, apply a label to it that says ‘contaminated with radiation’ and feel the effects that this will have on thinking about drinking the water. This rule of like causes like, can be seen when we observe an individual that has in their past decided to ink their body with ‘tattoos’ for example, or someone who has worked out and is big and muscular, we link these individuals with bad behavior or crime and in doing so our minds automatically create a thought of, stay away from them, don’t talk to them, there is a threat there somewhere, even though in our mind, if we take the time to think about it, there is no real danger. These linked thoughts of similarity are ancient wiring processes within the brain that are automatically transferred to the mind and brought into conscious thought. In the time of our Stone age ancestors this process would have worked perfectly, there is a tiger, looking for food; we had better be on our way before we are the food! Children these days are exposed to constant stimuli input from the cyber world, over time this informational input which was once used to aid humans survival, has adapted itself to create the idea that what is read and spoken about on the internet is indeed “true and real” the mind uses similarity and adapts the belief within the individual that what they read is how it is. Cyber bullying is found in mediums such as email, text messaging, and social networks such as Face Book, MySpace and “ASK”, the last one it would appear being particularly unregulated as the bully can remain anonymous as they can create false names and profiles. Cyber bullying consists of the same threats that can be found in any bullying situation, with threats of violence, verbal abuse and the use of language that may not be normally said when face to face.
The bully who knows no right from wrong
There are a few bullies where no amount of therapy will help, the only explanation is that the bully is a cruel individual, they like to harm and inflict pain on others. What’s more, these bullies have no understanding of what Is right or wrong, they feel no remorse, lack empathy and in most cases these individuals carry their behaviour with them through into adulthood. These type of individuals have predisposition to violence, aggression, manipulation and lying, they can also be very intelligent and in some cases very hard to spot, one in 25 adults have this type of character trait. Quite often people will use the term nature versus nurture, in the case of these individuals it is nature that has created the shortfall in the ability to understand and nurture will only have a very limited effect. understanding this particular type of character trait will require more text than this article allows.
From all the information above it would seem that we live in a world that is controlled by fear and to a degree this is the case, we are fearful today of so many things, we fear the sun, diseases, bad health, violence is everywhere, we do not let our children play freely due to predators, the risk of terrorism is ever-present, the list goes on and on. The fact is that nothing creates a feeling more powerful within our minds than the risk of fear. Is it true? – are we now living in the most dangerous times within our evolutionary history? Facts would argue otherwise, our life expectancy has increased generation on generation and statistically fewer people die today theatre they did 100 years ago. What we do have now is instant communication across the globe, when a horrendous event occurs such as the September 11 terrorist attack in New York, we are instantly dialled into the event and those survival mechanism within our brain are triggered, we become fearful. This subject is not one that we like to dwell on long, but we must remember that the bully can be overcome, there are ways to combat their effects.
Bullying and the effects that this behaviour creates is a very serious issue, if they are not addressed than the psychological scars will continue throughout life. We will never eradicate this behaviour completely, acknowledging this gives us the tools to understand the behaviour, identify those that carry out the bullying and their victims. This in turn allows for real control and management for both parties. They are both victims, the bully from exposure to cultural stimuli and a lack of nurture with the child’s best interest at heart and from a left over survival mechanism within the brain. The individual who is subject to the bully’s behaviour, is also a victim of cultural stimuli, lack of understanding, support, love and nurture. My hope is that this information will at least help a few, if it does, then at least a few will grow up without the foreboding baggage given to them by a bully.
Divine, M. (2010) Bullying Hurts: How bullying takes our brain’s ability to adapt and turns it against us. Posted on 07 September 2010 by admin. accessed on 04/08/2013 @ http://www.michaeldevinecounseling.com/blog/bullying-hurts-how-bullying-takes-our-brains-ability-to-adapt-and-turns-it-against-us
Espelage, D, L. and Holt, M, K. (2001) Bullying and Victimization During Early Adolescence: Peer Influences and Psychosocial Correlates. Howarth press, Inc.
Newitz, A. (2008). brain scans reveal that teen bullies get pleasure from your pain. Accessed on 05-08-2013 @ link. http://io9.com/5079234/brain-scans-reveal-that-teen-bullies-get-pleasure-from-your-pain