According to at least one expert, David Hanscom, MD, bullies should receive consequences for bullying. He points out that everyone except bullies hates bullying. Bullies, on the other hand, get some sort of payoff from bullying. That’s why they do it.
In fact, “bullies love it when people try to stop them,” according to Dr. Hanscom. In his recent Psychology Today blog, Bullying Is Assault and Should Be Treated as Such, he explains that assaulting others provides bullies with the attention and control they crave.
The Finger Trap
That creates a paradox similar to the finger trap puzzle you may have run into when you were a child. The harder you fight to release yourself, the more ensnared you become. If you relax, you can easily pull free. Obviously, though, it requires counter-intuitive thinking to solve the puzzle. We naturally try, as hard as we can, to pull our finger out of the trap. We are hard-wired to struggle against bullies who assault us.
Give up, and you win. Fight, and you lose.
Don’t try to stop the bullies, and you cut off their oxygen supply. Dr. Hanscom is right, of course. But how many of us would stumble upon that wisdom on our own? Also, what’s the difference between refusing to fight the bully as a strategy and giving in to learned helplessness? Where’s the line between refusing to empower bullies by ignoring them and conceding that the situation is just plain hopeless? When faced with bullying, are we supposed to do nothing?
Bullying Leaves Long-Term Scars
These are important questions, because according to Dr. Hanscom, bullying is an assault that can have devastating long-term consequences. He speaks as a spine surgeon and chronic pain expert. In fact, he is the author of Back in Control: A Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain. Among the outcomes he talks about are increased anxiety, depression, and risk of suicide; chronic illness; and decreased satisfaction with life.
Dr. Hanscom, therefore, believes that bullying should be taken seriously. He notes that, if adults verbally or physically assault another adults, we can get help from the criminal justice system.
Bullying Is No Trivial Matter
But, somehow, we believe that kids’ bullying other kids is a trivial matter — even when it leads to suicide, as it did in the case of 12-year-old Charley Patterson.
Every time we lose a child to suicide, it is an unimaginable tragedy. But bullying can be strongly discouraged, if not prevented. The criminal justice system is a long way from perfect. But if judges and juries treated targets of bullying as victims of criminal assault, that might go a long way toward persuading the perpetrators to think twice before harassing other people and, potentially, causing lifelong trauma, pain, and sickness. At least, they would be on notice that their behavior could have consequences. That, at least, would be a step in the right direction.