How Bullying Affects Our Whole Body: Limbic System, Fight, Flight, or Freeze

At Beachwood we get many questions about human relationships: why people behave the way we do and why we feel the way we do.

In our previous Beachwood post on bullying we wrote: “One of the issues that we’ve been helping clients with at Beachwood Integrative Equine Therapy, especially after the disruptions of COVID-19, is how to prevent and disrupt bullying. 

When we experience bullying as children, as young adults, and as adults, it feels awful, overwhelming, and can shatter our trust in human relationships.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and The National Bullying Prevention Month is coming in October. Please reach out for help now for the trauma & stress that you feel if you are experiencing bullying. 

Why Bullying Feels the Way it Feels: How to Heal from the Experience of Bullying

If you’ve experience bullying the question becomes, how can we heal from the experience of bullying? 

When we experience something that is overwhelming like a bullying episode alone, it gets stored as trauma in the limbic system; the fight or flight part of our brain.   

The first step is realizing that when experiences are stored as trauma, we need help to process that experience before we can even realize that is not our fault. 

We can repeat to ourselves: “I didn’t do anything wrong.” 

And, we need help—the connection with another human to connect up our subconscious and conscious systems so that our entire system realizes: We don’t deserve to experience any kind of bullying, including cyberbullying, workplace bullying, or team sport bullying. It is never okay for someone to bully. 

It’s almost impossible to realize that while we are in the moment, and it’s really difficult to fully understand that bullying is not our fault and we didn’t do anything wrong when we are alone; we need a helping hand (or hoof!)

When We Experience Bullying, How Can We Move From Reaction To Response?

As soon as you can, reach out to someone you trust. An ally, a friend, a teacher, a barn manager, a team coach. In the equestrian world, we take the US Equestrian Federation USEF Safe Sport training as adults to help us figure out what to do next

It always involves believing the person who says they are being bullied, and it always involves listening to figure out what’s going on.  

If someone who’s experiencing bullying comes to you, please don’t dismiss it.  Please listen.

Anxiety, Trauma, Stress, And Depression After Bullying: What Can We Do To Prevent And Disrupt Bullying?

This is a really big topic with so many aspects to it, so I’m going to focus on two that we can act on as parents, as leaders, as coaches, and as trainers. As the very effective Swedish anti-bullying program KiVa recommends: connection is key.

We often have much more power and agency to prevent and disrupt bullying that we believe and it starts with two steps: 

  1. Set the tone and shape the culture
  2. Trust and pay attention to what you are hearing and seeing 

Part of disrupting and preventing bullying begins with getting grounded and connected, and then being as curious as possible.  

Finding out what’s going on and hearing from both the bully and the one who has experienced being bullied can often unravel the conditions that allowed bullying to occur.

Disrupting a Bullying Culture: Reacting from Anger vs. Responding from Calm Curiosity

Disrupting an unhealthy culture isn’t always easy as an ally, parent, coach, and leader. When we react to information about bullying with accusations and anger, we’ve missed an opportunity to find out what’s going on for everyone involved. 

Questions to ask ourselves and find out more about:

  • Why does someone need to exert power over someone else? 
  • Is there something in the culture of the team or barn or club that encourages belittling or ridiculing or reducing others that team members are picking up on?
  • What’s going on that makes it possible for bullying to occur and who is involved? Why?

Bullying Is About Exerting Power Over Someone: Workplace Bullying is about Workplace Culture

How can we help to prevent and disrupt bullying? By making it really difficult for bullying mindsets to be acceptable.  

Bullying is often a way to “get through” from a very early age.  If someone has been allowed to bully, it’s critical to make it clear it’s not allowed in the community or culture you’re a part of.  Children, young adults, and adults can all experience bullying. There is no age limit and the experience is isolating and overwhelming until we figure out how to re-connect.

As this Harvard Business Review article on workplace bullying shows, people who bully exploit their power over others to intimidate and isolate others when the workplace culture permits it.

We have the power to set the tone and shape the culture with the way we talk and interact with all the people around us. We can make sure bullying behavior doesn’t take root in the first place with very clear responses to “power-over” behavior. 

Our Role in Preventing Bullying: Our Responsibility in a Position of Power

As adults we are so often in situations where we hold power and how we wield it, how we talk to each other, how we talk to children, creates a culture. 

We can set the tone and shape the culture to be one of respect. We can listen and ensure all voices are heard. We can begin by being curious about and interested in what’s going on, and responding with understanding, appreciation, and compassion. 

Brené Brown, Ph.D. author of Daring Greatly, who pioneered work on leading with courage and compassion has a PDF handout called Dare to Lead to help leaders work through difficult conversations and set culture

When we actively create a positive culture, we will see the results.  We are helping our children and young adults and peers to create healthy relationships and interactions with each other. We have the choice to “create a world in which everyone can grow and flourish.

If you are experiencing or have experienced bullying, or if you know that you bully and you want help, please reach out to us at Beachwood Integrative Equine Therapy #cyberbullying and get help now. 1-877-788-4325.

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