Myths About Cyberbullying

We hear a lot about cyberbullying these days. We’re led to believe that cyberbullying is fundamentally different from regular bullying, as in the classical example of the school playground bully. But how different is it?

The premise that cyberbullying is fundamentally different from regular bullying is that its victim cannot escape it. It’s as if there are no technological or psychological means for defending against it. But is that really true?

Bullying, when it’s truly bullying, is not a good thing. I won’t minimize its impact. At the same time, if your child or teen gets cyberbullied, it’s an opportunity to learn or reinforce a couple of things. One, look at what would motivate a person to bully — particularly to “cyberbully” online, where the anonymity or lack of physical presence involved makes it the ultimate of cowardly acts.

Two, look at the counter-technology available to block or otherwise prevent undesired parties from entering your social media or Internet space. For the most part, you can be done with them. And it’s a liberating thing. If you have to still deal with them at school or work, that might be a significant matter, but cyberbullies are often too cowardly and sneaky to take their tactics out of the Internet realm where they feel powerful.

I am a psychotherapist by profession. If someone came to me to talk about the cyberbullying they experience, I’d give them the greatest and most sympathetic listening ear in the world. At the same time, I would not let them leave their sessions without consideration of the fact they are free to kick cyberbullies out of their Internet space, along with an understanding that cyberbullies are some of the weakest, saddest, sickest and most vulnerable people on the planet.

Rationally speaking, it does not make sense to be afraid of people who cannot and most likely will never hurt you. Hurt feelings are not the same as broken limbs. If someone threatens violence against you over the Internet, that’s a whole different story, especially if the threats are viable and credible. But cyberbullying as we generally understand it involves primarily, if not exclusively, psychological warfare. The way you fight in psychological warfare is in letting your enemy know that he or she has no power. You lessen that power by building your own emotional muscle.

Let’s face it. Bullies are attracted to people who seem weaker than themselves. They prey on people who are vulnerable. While bullying is in no way justified or excusable, there’s probably something about you that the bully sees as vulnerable and, because of the bully’s sick nature, needs to prey upon. If you really want a new way of looking at the bully, think of the behavior as doing you a favor, and providing you with an opportunity to grow and strengthen your own self-respect.

Let’s face another fact. A lot of time, adults have their own agendas. Whether right or wrong, they have felt pushed around or put upon by others in society. If they see something similar happening to their own kid, or groups of kids in society, then they feel an urge to defend these kids as a means of righting the injustices they feel they have experienced in their lives. This may be fine, so far as it goes. But if it involves turning the victim of cyberbullying into a young person who goes through life seeing everything through the lens of defensive, petulant and thin-skinned victimhood, then you’re actually engaging in your own form of abuse by contributing to the creation of such a weakened soul. Sometimes the protectors are just as damaging as the forces from which they seek to protect the young and the vulnerable. Let’s be careful!

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