This according to Jim Bisenius, a psychologist of twenty-one years.
And no, he’s not talking about fungus.
Bisenius has spent the last fifteen years of his career specializing in bullying and its prevention. He travels from school to school, typically within three hours of his West Chester home, and shares the findings of his research with their students. North Central was one such school on September 15, the school’s Bullying Awareness Day.
“This was a really good bunch of students.” Bisenius said after his presentation. “A great audience.”
The psychologist covered a wide variety of sub-topics in regard to bullying, such as self-defense against a physical bully, how to handle a verbal bully, and the intricate web weaved by a social bully.
The one thing each of these bullies have in common is power. They want it, and they take it from their victims. Thus the key to stopping a bully is to stop giving him power, and start taking his.
During a skit, Bisenius demonstrated how to do exactly that when dealing with a social bully. Inviting a staff member of North Central to take part, Bisenius played the role of the targeted victim, while the teacher was handed cards with insults written on them. Students in attendance were asked to raise their hands when they got bored as the teacher started to insult Bisenius, who sat down and refused to acknowledge the verbal bully.
By the third hateful remark, most of the hands in the room shot up.
“You see what I did?” Bisenius asked. “I didn’t let him take my power. But that’s not enough. Now I’m going to take his power.”
Bisenius then got up and walked directly by the “bully,” stressing the importance of not avoiding the tormentor upon exiting. The key is for the victim to show that the bullying has no effect on them. Whether one begs the bully to stop or reacts harshly in return, it only encourages more bullying.
Perhaps the most intriguing portion of the assembly, however, was when Bisenius dissected the anatomy of social bullying. The model he used is more common with girls, but boys have been known to follow it on occasion as well.
The scenario begins with a popular girl, called Linda in Bisenius’ example. Linda’s best friend, Mildew, so named for obvious reasons, is the social bully. Their friends, Taylor, Tanya, Tara, and Tina like Linda, but fear Mildew, who uses their fear to control them.
Mildew will use Linda to exclude one girls at a time, usually once every couple of weeks. She does this to keep anyone else from getting too close to Linda, and thus threatening her hold on the group. Spreading rumors through the groups gossips, who all Mildews will have long since identified, is the primary method to do this. Not only will Mildew spread a derogatory rumor about, say, Tina and Linda’s boyfriend, the bully will drag a third friend into the lie. Not wanting to incur Mildew’s wrath, the third friend is coerced into agreeing.
Once word of the rumor gets back to Linda, she starts asking her friends. Hearing back from at least two friends that the rumor is true, Linda believes it, and goes to Mildew to vent. Mildew then suggests that no one in the group talks to Tina for a week or two. Anyone who disobeys this order becomes the new shunned friend, as Tina is brought back into the group.
After years of analysis and speaking to many Mildews in therapy, Bisenius has come to the conclusion that two of the friends building a strong relationship is the best way to end Mildew’s reign of terror. Building this friendship in secret is the key, as Mildew won’t be able to come between the two friends. Once strong enough, those two friends are beyond Mildew’s sphere of influence, as they will always have each other. Eventually they can become leaders themselves, freeing the group as a whole from the manipulative Mildew.
More importantly, Mildew herself will have to change. She’ll have to stop trying to control people, and learn to be a real friend to everyone. This is crucial, as Mildew, if left unchecked, is set up for a life of misery after high school.
Once reaching adulthood, Mildew’s tricks are seen as pathetic by her peers. She has no friends, and tries to remedy the loneliness with marriage. Of course, this union is seldom a happy one, and Mildew tries to fix that situation with kids. The kids, in turn, have trouble connecting with their mother, and Mildew ends up spending her golden years in a nursing home.
Ironically, the same social structure that worked for Mildew in high school also work for her in the nursing home. So, assisted living facilities throughout the country are filled with Mildew.
As he tells all of this to children throughout Ohio, Bisenius says the greatest joy of his work is discovering the Mildews in the crowds.
“I can tell who the Mildews are right away.” Bisenius claims. “They can’t hide their anger at having their playbook revealed.”
Bisenius better be careful, though. After all, he may end up in a nursing home someday.
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