Understand Bullying: The Role of Sadness

Welcome (back?) to Understand Bullying and the role of sadness – the part that emotion plays to encourage the three actions of the bullying system:

  • taking Advantage of power
  • using Aggression
  • and Accepting mistreatment

At first glance, it may seem that sadness would only influence the third action of bullying – acceptance of mistreatment. Shame and surrender emotions both tend to lead into sadness.

But, we can understand bullying better when we notice that one common exit from sadness is angerwhich is also called one of the five stages of grieving. And, anger can easily invite expression through the other actions of the bullying system: taking advantage of power or using aggression.

understand bullying sadness
So, although our first guess about a child showing sadness may be that they’re more vulnerable to being a target, we have to allow that they’re also vulnerable to bullying behaviors as part of their coping with sadness or grief.

Sadness is a normal emotion, attached to normal experiences of life. And, as a culture, we love to be sad about things – partly because it sells.

I really said that: “sadness sells”. People get misty and they’re more vulnerable to a sales pitch that offers to perk them up – or to justify the D-word: “deserve”. That’s another pathway for the person who starts out feeling sad to find their way into abuse of authority or using aggression: “I deserve…” they say to themselves. And, off they go.

Back to Bully Culture:

This may seem counterintuitive at first, but look at the way our culture celebrates victim status – and suspends the normal rules of conduct and merit around anyone who has had misfortune. The messages from culture – and maybe from us – are that “victims deserve” something more than the average person.

Combine this sense of entitlement with the natural navigation from sadness to anger – and you’ve got immediate rationalization for bullying behaviors.

We can “give people a break” for misbehaving once. But, it’s important is to prevent such behavior from becoming a strategy – a consistent way to meet one’s needs. That sort of pattern will look disturbingly like the anger-and-blame vortex I described in the post on bullying and anger.

What Can I Do?

Sadness is a risk emotion for potential targets – and also a warning emotion that someone may be getting bullied. Sadness is also, a risk emotion for potential bullies. If a youngster you know is displaying sadness (and especially if they’re trying to hide it) – consider deepening your conversation with them – or seeking professional help for them.

The change you want to see is waiting – for you to make it happen.

…by modeling healthy ways to cope with sadness and grief.

It’s important for adults NOT to hide their own sadness – as if having or feeling or expressing sadness were something to be ashamed of. Vulnerability – and the ability to have it – is the opposite of weakness. Vulnerability is courage and strength – one of the anti-shame emotions.

Vulnerability is also fact: No normal person is without sadness and grief.

It is important to model that sadness is temporary – and that the other emotions around sadness are also temporary and expected (including anger). And, we must model that the anger is also normal and not shameful – when expressed in acceptable ways. Modeling – and accepting expressions of emotion in “safe places” and times can be very useful for navigating through sadness into something else.

When dealing with loss, it’s useful to realize that memories last forever – becoming resources to inform and enrich our future. Modeling this way of thinking – and acting – is the best way to invite children to also build effective strategies around sadness.

Remember the debriefing technique: Talk about experiences and emotions. Do that openly yourself and encourage children to learn this skill of self expression. It will pay dividends throughout their life in both self-growth and building strong relationships.

If a youngster you know displays, or tries to hide, sadness over an extended period of time – or at very intense levels – seek professional assistance to help them cope – and to help you coach – with the issue. There may be abuse or other problems that should be uncovered.

It is always easier to identify emotions and emotional patterns – and to learn skills for operating the emotional tool kit we are given – than to clean up messes created through poor operation of that took kit.

In the next installment I’m going to reveal the most powerful and significant emotion in the bullying system: Shame. I’m going to show how it interacts with the other emotions; how it can turn dangerously into a self-sustaining system; and what you can do about it.

In the meantime, I’m interested in your stories, remarks, suggestions, questions – and requests for information about dealing with different bullying or emotional navigation puzzles in your life. When you post a comment below, I’ll do my best to answer in a useful way. If you have something more private, just use the contact link here.

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