Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Counsellor urges validation to stop bullying

By Maria Timm, Counsellor, Douglas College

Imagine stopping for lunch at Subway, or a sandwich shop of your choice. So many options! Toasted? With cheese? Dressing? Salt? Pepper? Waiting in the airport recently, sitting close to a Subway, I found myself listening to people ordering various combinations. What struck me was the confidence with which each person ordered.

My fascination with people’s ordering habits was not just due to in-transit boredom. A few years ago, a client shared with me her difficulty ordering at Subway as an example of her debilitating anxiety. Attempting to walk her through the process, I inquired about her Subway preferences. She froze and was completely unable to identify what she liked. Eventually she attributed this indecision to having been bullied in high school. Her sense of identity was so eroded that she was unable to voice an opinion for fear that it would be ridiculed.

There are many different types of bullying. Some are more overt, such as physical violence, while some are more indirect, such as social exclusion. As my Subway story illustrates, bullying may not end after high school but can continue throughout college and university. This may take the form of hazing, gossip, or exclusion. As was the case with my client, survivors of bullying suffer significant collateral damage, such as lowered self-esteem, anxiety, difficulty trusting others, and in some cases, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many resources offer advice on this subject; in particular, I recommend an article by Katie Greengrass and a wonderfully hopeful story from the website CALM.

Many experts in the field seem to agree that bullying often arises out of a lack of self-esteem, or, in other words, a feeling of being invalidated as a person. This feeling is then projected onto others in the form of bullying.

If we want to stop bullying, I believe we need to focus on the inverse of bullying, which, in my opinion, is validation. Validation could be described as an overt recognition of another person’s value. This can be done by showing appreciation of another person’s qualities or attributes – something as small as a compliment can go a long way. This poignant little video demonstrates the power of validation in daily life. It is a helpful example of how every single person can help increase empathy in the world and thereby work towards making bullying obsolete.

I am happy to share that my client is now able to order her favourite Subway (BLT without bacon, with mayo) with confidence, and that she attributes her sensitivity to human suffering to her own high school experiences. She has translated this into a career working with children with autism.

February 27 is Pink Shirt Day, and Douglas College is showing its support at both campuses. Students and employees are invited to drop by the concourse or atrium between 11am-2pm for activities and resources, with a free pink t-shirt giveaway at noon sharp. Come early as the shirts will go quickly!