Bullying is all about territory stamping. The bully feels a shakable foundation within themselves—perhaps that is how they feel about themselves, their intelligence, their relationships with others, their self-worth—so they stamp out a physical territory in order to compensate for that lacking. As humans, we are visual creatures, and we feel secure when we can physically see boundaries laid down. These territories could be physical spaces—“This is MY lunch table”, “This is MY hallway”, “This is MY parking spot”. These territories could be constructed through people—“This is MY family”, “These are MY friends”, “These are MY allies”. These territories could be stamped out through intellectual means—“This is MY idea”, “This is MY project”, “This is MY topic to monopolize”. Ultimately, by stamping out these territories, the bully hopes to resolve the inner anxieties of that shakable foundation.
We train people how to not only interact with us, but also how to interact with other people. For example, say you are in a conversation with some co-workers, and they start talking about how they heard your boss is having an affair with another employee. If you feed into that gossip, then you are training your co-workers that is a topic of conversation you partake in, and anytime they have new information regarding the topic, they will seek you out. Or, say you have a friend who always “forgets” to study for the test; if you allow your friend to cheat off you or copy your study guide, you are therefore training your friend that behavior is acceptable, and they will continue to ask. The same thing is true with bullies; you train bullies how to interact with you, so you have to stamp out your territory to train them what are acceptable, and unacceptable, ways to treat you.
Scenario #1: The locker
“I was best friends with these girls, so of course we got all of our lockers next to each other. A few months into the school year, one girl told another girl I was talking about her behind her back, and things got really nasty. I would carry all of my stuff in my backpack because I was afraid to go to my locker and see them”.
Bullying works on intimidation and fear. If you avoid the physical location of the lockers, then you are giving those bullies that territory. Don’t let them have it. I would say, in this situation, don’t change anything in your routine for them. Go to your locker at the same times you did before. What you also need to remember is the first time will most likely be very, very awkward, and very, very uncomfortable. But, like anything, the first time is always the worst, and it becomes less painful with every interaction (when you have surgery, the swelling is always worse the first day; when you quit smoking, the craving is always worse the first day, when you start a diet, the temptations are always worse the first day—but it does get better). So, when the time comes, roll back your shoulders, look at everyone in the eye, and sing your favorite song in your head to occupy your thought space. It will be over soon, I promise, and you will train the bullies that the locker space is BOTH of your territory.
Scenario #2: The lunchroom
“My neighbor was always really mean to me. We would carpool to school, and she would sit in the backseat and snicker. I knew she was making fun of me. I would avoid the lunch room, and go sit in the library by myself, because I didn’t want to see her.”
Bullying often works through intimidation—mean looks, whispering, snide comments. But just remember that those things are imaginary boundaries. There is no physical barricade or written rule or laser beam that will drop a bear trap on top of you that says you cannot sit in that part of the lunchroom. So, sit there anyways. You may get a nasty look, but just pray that her face doesn’t get stuck that way.
The media instills the fear in us that people are actually very evil. I’ve recently been into Once Upon a Time, and I’m so appalled (but also so transfixed) on the Evil Queen Regina’s revenge tactics. The media makes us think that people really will hack into our e-mail and steal all of our files, or smash out our windows with a baseball bat, or put a laxative in our milk. This may sometimes be true—I’ve heard stories about understudies putting shards of glass in the lead’s pointe shoes so the understudy could dance. But, for the most part, the bullies we are dealing with are selfish, insecure, and passive aggressive. They enjoy talking about you behind your back. They enjoy you living in “mystery” and making you paranoid. The likelihood of them going out of their way to be this cruel and vengeful on you is slim, because they are selfish and plotting revenge against you will take time out of their schedule, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t go anywhere or do anything.
Scenario #3: The living room
“I lived with three other girls who were just awful. I would find stuff to do so I wouldn’t have to be home. And, when I did come home, I would walk straight into my room, and I wouldn’t come out until the next morning. I wouldn’t use the bathroom or sometimes eat dinner because I didn’t want to be around them. They were awful.”
When we give people time and spaces to talk, bad things happen; when people are bored, they make stuff up to do, and often times, especially with girls, this leads to talking about other people, and talking about other people leads to bullying. In this case, in order to stamp out her territory, the girl should join everyone in the living room. Again, bullies are usually passive aggressive. Their game is only entertaining to them when they can do is behind closed doors, “in secret”. So, this girl should plop down in the living room, stamp out that territory, sending the message that, if you want to talk about me, you have to do it in front of me. Chances are, nothing is going to happen, because underneath it all, the bully is insecure, with a shakable foundation.
Scenario #4: Social Media
“I once went to high school with this girl who would always post these supposedly nonchalant statuses about other people. One day, she posted something that I knew was directed towards me and I was devastated because I didn’t know how many people had seen the status. I skipped school the next day because I was so upset.”
The reason bullies have friends is because everyone else is scared of them; everyone else sees the mean things they say about other people, and they hope to gain the bully’s trust so the bully doesn’t enact the same harm on them. Even though they may not admit it, deep down inside, no one believes the bully, and you are always more self conscious about things. Right, like you notice a “huge” zit coming in, and you are self conscious about everyone seeing it; but the truth of the matter is, everyone is selfish and everyone is always worrying about themselves, so the likelihood of them noticing your small red dot is minimal. And, even if they do, they’ll forget it soon anyways. The great thing about social media is that you have the power to decide what comes up on your news feed. It’s always really tempting to stalk the bully so that you, too, can judge and demean, but don’t resort to their level. The less information you know, the better. So, block them. Claim your social media territory and don’t let whatever they are posting infiltrate your life. Ignorance is bliss, right?
Scenario #5: Other People
“I had this boyfriend who I actually didn’t really like that much, but it turns out, my friend really liked him. She apparently told him a bunch of stuff about me, and we ended up breaking up. The next day, I found out they were dating. I felt so betrayed by her.”
I always hate it when territory stamping resorts to other people. You might notice the clan suddenly wearing coordinating outfits (“On Wednesdays, we wear pink”—I’ve seriously seen it happen before). Suddenly, you might start noticing pictures and statuses together on social media that never existed, with “BFF’S!” captions. In my opinion, whatever beef you and I have against each other should never include innocent bystanders. In these situations, this might be the kind of territory worth letting go of. Often times what happens is the bully finds a mouthpiece to set into the world and bring back information, and it might so be these other people they are claiming as “territory” serve that role. In my experience, if they have some kind of conscience, they eventually will come back and apologize. And if they don’t, those aren’t the kinds of friends you want anyways.