A story Monday in Life, etc., about a woman confronting her childhood bully brought a strong response from a local mental health professional. The letter is too long for print but was worth wharing. If you missed the original story, read it here.
While I am happy for Kristi Barlette that she was able to discover her own inner strength after years of verbal abuse, it was extremely unfortunate of her to then draw the conclusion that adults shouldn't intervene ( "Rather than trying to get parents or guidance counselors to intervene" ) but should focus only on "arming" kids to "handle bullying."
Is this what we should be teaching abused spouses or kids who suffer emotional abuse at home? Sounds a little different when we look at verbal abuse in those situations, doesn't it? And yet, what's different other than the physical location of the abuse and the identity of the abusers?
For kids, they have as little choice of leaving school as they do of leaving their home. They cannot escape their abusers. And yet, in the context of abuse in the home, we have whole departments of government whose job it is to ensure that children are not living in abusive homes. But at school, where children spend far more time than at home, it's "just bullying" and kids should embrace the "sticks and stones" mentality.
I have spent 14 years providing therapy to children and adults who carry the emotional scars of this abuse with them. Of course healing is possible, and many do discover their own inner strength but unfortunately many do not. Just look at the teen suicide rate. I started my career working with teens at Holly Hill hospital. You don't become a patient there unless you've already gotten to the point of no longer wanting to exist. And yes, at the time of Columbine we had numerous "bullied" teens admitted because they saw another way of "getting rid" of their own abusers.
There are numerous programs out there to teach empowerment to kids and schools, and many do produce dramatic reductions in the rate of abuse at those schools. I'm all for implementing these approaches, but I take tremendous exception to minimizing the problem itself.
Remember the video of the bus monitor that surfaced a few weeks ago? Everyone was so horrified (and rightly so). The kids were in the court system and suspended from school in short order. Absolutely, clearly their actions constituted abuse. Now picture the bus monitor as an 11-year-old kid. Suddenly it becomes "bullying." Really? Why?
When a child or an adult must live day in and day out with verbal and many times physical abuse, the answer is not to ignore the abuser(s). I'm pretty confident CPS and Interact don't jump in and focus on teaching those battered kids and spouses how to "act more confident!"
Good for you, Ms. Barlette, I really am glad you came out stronger on the other side of your abuse. But you weren't "bullied" -- you were abused, for many years.
Laura Kanai, MS, MFT, LPC