Project Protekt: For Shame! Bullying & Keeping It a Secret
Bullying and shame
“If you ever come home beaten-up, and the other boy didn’t get it worse than you, I’ll beat you up all over again”
No, my father didn’t actually hit me, ever, but he did say that. I was around nine years old and still remember it as if he had said it to me this morning. He also enrolled me in Jiu-Jitsu classes, somewhat against my will. I was by no means the macho-super-jock he had hoped for and his expectations in my pre-adolescence marked the death of our relationship. He was but a reflection of his culture. Men were supposed to be strong and tough. We’re supposed to chase girls. We’re supposed to take care of ourselves and fight our own battles. Yesterday, as I was detailing anti-gay bullying to a school principle in Florida, she asked me: Why didn’t he come to me sooner? Why did he let it go on for over a year? The answers were so obvious in my mind, I didn’t understand how they wouldn’t also be clear in the minds of others. In an effort to clarify the goals of Project ProteKT, I’m examining these issues in more detail and looking for a way to articulate them clearly. Bullying results in fear, shame, embarrassment and guilt which increase progressively whilst the bullying goes on. The victim isn’t just being confronted by the bully, he’s also confronted by the social expectation that he be a man, and the expectations he has of himself.
Catch 22: By asking for help the bullying victim feels he’s weak, he’s giving in, he feels the bullies must be right.
Shame is a powerful and painful emotion. So powerful it has been used by religious groups & sects to control their flocks for millenia. It’s caused primordially by a combination of a strong sense of guilt and embarrassment. It originates from the basic human sense of right and wrong. If you do something perceived as wrong, you feel guilty and ashamed and develop the belief that others will judge you for your alleged transgressions and finally that you merit punishment. This is a particularly dangerous aspect of anti-LGBTQ bullying because what’s perceived as wrong and meriting ridicule is an integral part of the individual’s identity. That means victims can begin to question the value of their own existence. The many recent LGBT suicides, from Kenneth Waishuhn to Eric James Borges to Tyler Clementi show us the devastating effects different forms of bullying can have on the youngsters in our community.
We are talking about a dangerous cycle where the shame imposed by bullies generates a secondary cycle of strong feelings based on a belief in having done wrong, whether or not that belief is correct. Compounding the situation even further is the sometimes permanent damage to the bullying victim’s psyche. In a recent conversation with my psychiatrist friend, Dr. Anita Harris, she explained that she has a patient that’s still dealing with the horrible reverberations of being relentlessly teased during his adolescence. What Anita describes is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is manifested by a sense of unworthiness, undeservingness and non-entitlement. Bullying destroys self-confidence and self-esteem. It is unfortunately all too common for anyone being bullied to feel undue amounts of shame. That is a pattern assisted by society’s tendency to blame victims. The bully, noticing he has found a vulnerable target, then heaps on the guilt, increasing the belief in their victim that they (the target of abuse) are deserving of all the bad things that are now happening to them. This is the cycle we must find a way to stop. The first step to any victim’s rights campaigns is to remove the shame that is caused by victimization. Any ideas on how that can be done?