X Marks The Bully

      October is Bullying Awareness month. We have made it to our last installment on Bullying Awareness. Our goal in this segment is to place a mental X mark on bullying behavior. The last few months we have talked about some of the often overlooked characteristics of a bully: bullies play the victim; bullies crave superiority; bullies demand loyalty, and bullies discredit those they perceive as a threat. teen-bullying-2

      Placing a mental X mark on bullying behavior is powerful tool. It does more than just identify bullish tendencies, it becomes a flashing sign designating danger. You would be surprised at the practical value this has in counteracting bullying. One of the main reasons bullying continues is because we have the human proclivity to lose sight that someone is, in fact, a bully. This is because the bullying process manifests similar effects to the Stockholm Syndrome. Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages display an alliance or empathy for their captors. It is a brainwashing that happens through abuse of power and indoctrination. The name comes from a town in Sweden where a botched bank robbery in 1973 turned into a 6 day hostage situation. Instead of seeing their captors as criminals the victims began to bond in an effort to survive. The psychological dynamics cause an almost spell-like hold. They even defended and became protective of their captors. Although many violent captive situations are facilitated by bullies—thankfully, most bullies are not lawbreaking kidnappers.

      Interestingly, studies show that elements of Stockholm Syndrome can overflow into other areas of life where abuse of control and influence are evident (bullying). We can find it in the work place, home, schools, etc. For example a domestic abuse victim chooses to stay in toxic circumstances. Here are similar criteria as defined in Stockholm Syndrome:  Perceived Threats—a bully makes a victim believe that making waves, or challenging the norm could ostracize them (they’d be on the outs).  Small Acts of Kindness—a bully (who otherwise discredits) shows small acts of kindness to keep a victim loyal.  Isolation From other Perspectives—a bully shuts down any attempt from others to influence those under their control (this is how it’s done, period).  Perceived Inability to Escape—a victim feels stuck and tries to make the best of the situation.

      It is a captivity of sorts. This is why the mental X mark has value. It keeps the reality in focus that the controlling person is, indeed, a bully. Visualizing a bully’s behavior with an X is an empowering reminder that bullies are master manipulators. It reminds us not to be spell bound by it. It also opens opportunities to connect with others who are gaining awareness that a bullying situation is in progress. People feel enabled when they sense blinders coming off of others. This is key because it changes the “me” to “we” which then neutralizes the Isolation From other Perspectives. Discussions can now take place as to how a particular bully is holding a group or person hostage, so to speak. Collaboration is an effective way to bring unknowns out into the open in order to address avenues of change. This counteracts the Perceived Inability to Escape.

       You may have several people in your life that come to mind when thinking about placing a mental X as a bullying reminder. Sometimes it’s people we love and care about. They are in our families, neighborhoods, churches and government. Sometimes it’s us.  Kindness and compassion goes along way in redirecting a bully who is open to change. Meanwhile, get your mental pen out and draw a big X on any bullying behavior holding you or others hostage.

Understanding Insecurity

Insecurity has the meaning of being unsure, unstable, shaky, apprehensive, or lacking in self-confidence. There are many environments that can cultivate these types of feelings. It can come from a difficult upbringing, unsettling circumstance, mistreatments, to individual fears. Sometimes these feelings are steady and other times they wash over us in a wave of emotion. They often cause exaggerated fears and misunderstandings. Sometimes they propel us to act in a self-protective manner shutting others out: rejecting before being rejected. Other times they have the opposite effect, causing a person to work overtime for acceptance.

People who struggle with insecurity find themselves vulnerable to all types of unhealthy situations. This makes it all the more important to quickly identify the characteristics of insecurity and take great strides to seek change.

Those of us who struggle with this emotion can generally look back on our lives and see the path of destruction (both mild and severe). The journey will often include making poor choices in friendships, as well as, making poor decisions within those friendships. Those who battle with insecurity often create flimsy boundaries, and have trouble communicating with those closest to them.

When a person who struggles with insecurity feels threatened, that threat can often turn into a wrongly perceived reality. Though it may not be true reality in the actual sense, to them it is reality–only wrongly perceived. For instance, if something happens where a person feels threatened or is suspicious of a possible threat, they may perceive the matter erroneously. This will subsequently set in motion a natural defense mechanism in the heart that is hardly even recognized by the person themselves. Poor choices automatically flow forth because they are birthed out of insecurity and the wrongly perceived reality that accompanies it.

Insecurity can manifest itself in many ways. Consider this example: Sally feels threatened because another woman is talking with her boyfriend. Sally becomes suspicious and jump to a wrong conclusion based on her insecurities. Then Sally makes the choice to voice the suspicion without knowing the motivation of the other woman–or her boyfriend–or the circumstances involved. This, of course, sets into motion a flurry of negative repercussions. The other woman’s reputation is called into question. Also, Sally’s boyfriend cools his relationship with Sally, seeing this as a red flag. Sally has caused turmoil due to her incorrect perception of reality, which is based on her insecurities. She may even ask, “How did this all happen?”

Using the same scenario an insecure person may be compelled to take an opposite course of action. Here is how that might look. Although Sally sees a woman talking frequently with her boyfriend she does not ask him who the woman is, but chooses instead to ignore the situation. She believes that the fault is hers–that she simply needs to try harder to win her boyfriend’s affections and that regardless of how much she hurts because this may be the best relationship she can ever hope for. However, he continues to be in relationship with this other women and even receives phone calls from her while out with Sally. Two years after Sally has married this man, he tells Sally he’s leaving her. Can you guess why? That’s right–for the other woman. In this scenario, Sally’s wrongly perceive reality (based on insecurity) caused her to put the blinders on, ignore red flags, and remain in an unhealthy relationship.

In the same way insecurity affects the way a person sees others, it also affects the way they see themselves. They may feel as though they are worthless, even to extreme degrees. In their mind nothing about themselves is appealing. Oftentimes this will manifest itself in choices such as lack of personal hygiene, wearing ill-fitted or unclean clothing, not taking care of home environment, or engaging in unhealthy activities.

On the other hand, it go to the other extreme and cause a person to focus too much on themselves, their appearance, their home, and their social life. This person builds a facade of success, masking a deep fear of being found deficient.

Is there a way out of this vicious cycle? By the grace of God, a person cannot only be freed from insecurity’s destructive influences but can emerge as a person of great spiritual strength and grace. Only Christ can do this work in the heart. The first step in the healing process is a recognition of emotional and spiritual poverty, as well, as the inability to overcome in their own strength. Daily looking to the Lord for a renewed heart and mind is a great place to start. Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Clouds Of Broken Thinking invites us on a journey of reshaping our minds with God’s powerful life-giving narrative.


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“A must read for the Christian walk in this world.  I went back many times to read it again not wanting to miss a word.” -Helen Bigg

“I wanted to ingest every word. I am giving this book 5 stars, and would give it six if I could.” -B Koehn



Bullies Play The Victim

      As Bully Awareness Month approaches (October) we bring you September’s segment, “Bullies Play The Victim”.  Over the last few months we have examined several characteristics of a bully. It’s apparent that dealing with a bully can be both lengthy and complicated process.
      One of the biggest complications arises outside the bully themselves—that being the circle or community where the bully holds clout. A collective group can take on a bully’s agenda feeling fully convinced that they are doing a good thing. This stems from the often over looked bullying characteristic of a “Bully Playing The Victim”.women_sunset_silhouette_dark_black_sun_warm_dawn-603578.jpg!d-2
      Playing the victim is arguably one of the most powerful strategies a bully can utilize because the emotional charge it generates to fuel support. With this maneuver a bully is able to turn the table on their own victim. This happens in the court rooms regularly—lawyers often defend guilty clients by casting them as the victim. When the jury deliberates we see the complications surface. Although they were initially influenced by the client and the lawyer, it’s no longer about just them, it has now grown into a community of people whose emotions have been tampered with. The primary goal all along was to cause the jury doubt towards the real victim by inciting sympathies for the guilty party.
      This can manifest itself in all types of real life bullying scenarios. Many times a bully, because of a broken background, actually does feels like a victim. They have a hard time separating out their acts of bullying with feelings that they are being victimized themselves. Especially if on lookers do not show support of their efforts of control. This compels them to heighten their pseudo victim platform. The bully capitalizes on their victim’s emotional expressions to do this. It becomes tactical in that to provoke an emotional response from their victim, will make their victim look foolish. This in turn garners speculations that they themselves are the ones are being mistreated. Bullies manipulate to gain false credibility by these emotional instigations. On top of this they derive a measure of satisfaction in goading their victim into an emotional response—it shows vulnerability, and for a bully exposing vulnerability is empowering.
      Dealing with a bully can be extremely tricky, especially when it comes to the community dynamic. If you can answer yes to any of these questions you might be dealing with a bully or a group of people who are under the influence of bully’s “victim mentality”.
1.    Is there someone you know who is trying to keep control by using a victim status?
2.    Do you sense a growing division or rallying of sympathy for someone who has a history of being bullish?
3.    Is a person in your life displaying any of the previous discussed characteristics of a bully: discrediting, demanding loyalty, a need for superiority, or leveraging of a victim mentality?
      When helping someone who is being bullied one of the best things we can do is employ logic rather than emotion. No matter how emotionally destabilizing a bully’s actions or remarks can feel, remember they are trying to push the buttons of emotion to build their personal “victim” platforms. If we can identify and recognize this pattern it will help us to replace our emotional reactions with intellectual reason and acumen.

Bullies Crave Superiority

      Bullying has been part of culture since the dawn of time – whether It is Napoleon, King Henry VIII, or Catherine the Great, power thirsty leaders want people to be subject to them. They crave superiority. Although the classic bully is typically portrayed as physically intimidating–many times its not size, but intellect, skillsuperiority_vs__inferiority_3_by_chiptheghost-d2yhib3 sets, resources, or position that intimidates and influences people.
      The Bully’s drive to be superior generally comes from deep seated insecurity. Overcompensating for this emotion becomes the means by which they create a world where they can appear superior, not only to others but to themselves. They are many times people with winsome personalities which can make this quality hard to uncover.
      One of the destructive by-products of a bully’s craving for superiority is the need to protect a persona. To the bully, it is less about the person bullied and more about managing their own image. Often, the bullied recipient is simply a casualty of the bully’s sense of superiority being challenged. This is why a bully will pick a certain person to constantly berate, primarily in public to demonstrate their dominance to others. Bullied victims often don’t realize they have just stepped on a hornets nest when they question, resist, or challenge a bully. But you can be sure that the response by the bully will always be double in intensity. For instance, a person might think they’re suggesting or recommending something reasonable or helpful when fire-hose of berating is opened up on them at full blast. Intimidation tactics are always in the back pocket of a bully ready to fire, and they use them proactively.
      If you can answer yes to any of these questions you might be dealing with a bully:
1.    Have you tried to reason with someone whose response surprises you in intensity?
2.    Has the response intimated you or undermined your credibility?
3.    Does the intimidating person calm down as long as you fall in-line?
      Recognizing the characteristics of superiority in a bully is key to helping others who are being bullied. When we see a person responding in exaggerated intensity towards someone—do not jump on the band wagon. Ruining someone else’s reputation is a classic way bullies build their superior posture. Joining in a bully’s defamation contributes to their continued building project of superiority. Staying out of it, or jumping off the bandwagon always helps the person being bullied to regain their balance.

When Our Loved Ones Step Away From The Church

      What feels like our loved ones turning their backs on faith may actually be a part of a phenomenon called deconstruction. Although the word “deconstruction” is fairly new (from the 1960’s) the essence behind it has been around since the beginning of time. In other words, this current popular term has old roots. Understanding this may help put intoIMG_6758 perspective the deconstruction process our friends or family may be experiencing. Simply put, deconstruction is a season of critical examination and reorientation.
      As threatening is this may feel to the religious community there’s really a very healthy aspect to it. For instance, if a grown child comes home from college and announces they have different ideas about their faith, listening to their new thoughts instead of being defensive, could prove beneficial. Even if it feels like an affront, seeking to understand underlying reasons could bring deeper insight into our own faith and need for deconstruction.
      In a recent bible study a concern was raised about adult-children falling away from the faith. I explained that some might not be turning their in back on faith at all, but rather faith “practices” and faith “expressions”. They might be discovering their own wings in spiritual matters. After class a woman pulled me aside and said this thought gave her great hope. So many parents are desperate to understand what’s going on with the children they’ve raised in the church. They feel distraught. But these emotions are based on the very tightly wound bubble of Christianity that our sons and daughters may be trying to deconstruct. As unsettling as it feels, we can be reassured that true and living faith isn’t lost or threatened by investigating and questioning religious traditions and theologies. In fact, politics and philosophies that surround our faith may be in need of a good sifting.
      There are many different bubbles within the larger bubble of the Christian Culture. A recent study suggest there are over 40,000 denominations. Each denomination carries its own unique system of theology and tradition. I remember my own bubble. I was young and a single mom at the time. The church I attended became my world. As a result my Spiritual experience became an imposed training ground for my children. But those learned Christian experiences, at some point, would naturally need to be deconstructed in order for my children to discover faith for themselves—and often that is direct result of seeing life outside their fixed church culture.
      One of my own deconstruction processes came about when God placed three son-in-laws in my life within a three year time period. Each of these young men came from different denominational backgrounds, and each highly educated in their beliefs and doctrines, holding Doctorates and Masters of Divinity. Two were actually pastors and the other a pastor’s son. The discussions in my home between these newly formed families (my son-in-laws and my daughters) were intense at times. Add to this my ultra savvy single daughters, one who was a Moody Bible College graduate. The strong differences were in the individual theologies, and each was as solid as the next. But stronger than their differences was the one unifying bond–Jesus and the work of the cross. The conflict in cultures however caused great soul searching for me. It was a revelation that serious Christians can feel and behave very differently due to their upbringing, traditions, and convictions. Through many of their conversations I could see cracks in my own bubble that only surfaced because of the challenge it presented. My little Christian world was obviously not the only world. Thus, deconstruction naturally ensued as God used my three son-in-laws to help me cultivate a deeper faith in Him, rather than in systems of theologies.
      Because the church is made up of fallible humans-beings deconstruction is inevitable. And as history unfolds and cultures change the need for examination and reorientation continues. But sometimes we fear so much for someone in the deconstruction process that we forget to let God be God in theirs lives instead of us. Loosening our hold and trusting God through the ups and downs of deconstruction will ultimately provide a safe place.
       Even methods of communication in the religious world transform over time. I remember asking one of Billy Graham’s grandsons why he didn’t hold crusades like his grandfather. His answer impressed upon me the reality of change. He told me tent meetings were obsolete since the internet has made everyone a potential evangelist. Although the gospel itself never changes—theologies, preferences, ceremonies, and deliveries around it constantly evolve.
      Never-the-less, some segments of Christianity continue to impose harsh and legalistic applications. They assert ideologies from these bubbled-places rather than listening and respecting when disagreed with. These expectations become like iron bars. Here is where we find some of the greatest necessity for deconstruction. Keep in mind people who are in this process may be labeled deserters. But often they are not abandoning the faith, they are simply abandoning the bubble.
      A Scripture verse that needed deconstruction for me was Romans 12:2 which says “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be renewed in the transformation of your mind.” I had been interpreting it in away that kept me bound to the expectations of my particular Christian culture in the past. For instance examining and reevaluating was seen as disloyal and conforming to the world. But taking a closer look at this verse helped me discover something radically freeing!
      The context is actually “grace”. It’s staying away from patterns, models, and modes of trying to be good and holy without being transformed in the heart. In the preceding chapter we see God’s plan for a church that looks much different—grace-based. The Apostle Paul reveals God purpose—this way no one can say, “I’m this or that” or “my behaviors are superior”. All became level by means of unilateral disobedience. God has bound everyone to disobedience—so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:32)
      In other words, when Scripture says do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, it’s talking about our constant default as humans to make our theologies about us, about our goodness, or our preferences, our interpretations. He did not want our Christianity to become a badge of superiority which causes us to thinking too highly of ourselves and treat others with contempt (me vs. you). The scripture could be understood this way, “Do not be conformed to worldly patterns of proud spirituality”. The context makes this clear in the preceding verse which says, “I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) And the looking at the verse after which says, “For by the grace given me I say to everyone among you not to think to of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” (Romans 12:3-5) It is clear that we are to be poured out as living spiritual offerings unto the Lord for the sake of one another (me for you). This flies in the face of the patterns of the world–not by thinking ourselves superior. Grace is opposite of the world way of doing religion, “If by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:6)
      If my old perspectives on this one verse can become deconstructed through the lens of grace then all of Scripture invites deconstruction of this nature. It is healthy and good for the soul and not something to be feared. In fact, God is all about deconstruction. Jesus three year ministry on earth displayed a continual pattern of deconstruction as he spoke against the legalism of the Pharisees (the spiritual leaders of the day). And Galatians 3:3 doesn’t doesn’t pull any punches when addressing Christians, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish be means of the flesh?”
      Even ministries that start off altruistic begin to morph into business and profit centers. Programs are honed to please people and bring in revenue. Tithes from struggling congragants are used for staff retreats and office remodels. Critical examination and reorientation will always be needed because of human tendency to conform churches and ministry agendas to the patterns of this world.
      The Apostle Paul also speaks in deconstruction terms in 1 Corinthians 3:12 when he paints a mental illustration of Jesus as the foundation. That is, Jesus’ work on the cross being our righteousness (not our own). He goes onto to say that anything built on this foundation will be examined (deconstructed) and if found without certain qualities—destroyed. The highest quality materials like grace (which is golden), and mercy (like precious stones) will remain. But works that look and feel impressive on the outside, yet, empty on the inside will be like hay which is burned-up.
      If we have put our faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ we are all in this together no matter where we are on the bubble and deconstruction spectrum. Both loving and wrestling with a church that hasn’t been perfected yet, and won’t be this side of heaven. Your loved-one or friend who has stepped away temporarily is somewhere in this process. The best thing we can do for each other as we go through deconstruction is to pray, listen, and show kindness, respect, and grace. These materials are tried and true and go the distance. In the end God will perform the ultimate deconstruction, “I will shake not only the earth but also the the heavens…the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things [including our religious bubbles]–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:27) “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)


Bullies Demand Loyalty

Month 5: Bullies Demand Loyalty

(Bullying Awareness Series Part 2)

As an advocate for women and girls—every month leading up to October I will add one identifiable characteristic of a bully that often gets over looked. This month is “Misuse of Loyalty”.

A bully enlists and utilizes loyalty for
their own benefit. In fact, you may hear the word loyalty quite often in a bully’s Bully 2 bluevocabulary. It may be concealed in phrases or questions designed to establish a sense of camaraderie, “are you with me?”, “can I count on you?”, “do I have your support?” Either way with a bully there is an ulterior agenda—a binding of loyalty against something or someone.

The dictionary describes loyalty as faithful adherence. Because of its favorable connotation we naturally think of loyalty in a positive light. But for the bully it’s far from altruistic. Loyalty to them is simply a means to an end. Any deviation from faithful adherence is seen as an affront.

A bully uses several methods of manipulations to gain loyalties. The most common being an offering of favor or acceptance. Not only does it feels good not to be on the bad side of a bully’s reproach, but there are tempting benefits too. If it’s in the school lunch room it might be an invitation to sit at the cool table. If it’s in the work place it might be the carrot of advancement. If it’s in a social setting it might be the allure of recognition. If it’s the home it might be the peace and calm that comes from non-confrontation. The thought of being considered “disloyal” is too risky of a challenge for many. A bully can build quite a submissive following with this one maneuver.

Another way bullies gain loyalty is blackmail. Not the obvious kind with threats scrawled on mysterious notes, but in small ways like hints of exposure to shame. The bully is skilled at finding and holding misgivings over the people they influence.

Additionally, bullies operate by promoting an exaggerated sense of loyalty they possess. They act as their own publicist touting inflated stories of support by others. This in turn influences a going along with the crowd mentality. No one wants to be the naysayer or noticeable cog in the wheel of a seemingly united front.

In summary, exposing loyalty manipulation may help shed a light on how bullying takes shape in a community. Identifying the misuse is a good place to start. If you can answer yes to any of the following questions there may be in an environment of bullying.

  1. Have you felt an onslaught of favor or buttering-up in a effort to win your loyalties?
    2. Have you felt pressured into a group’s mentality against someone or something or someone?
    3. Have you feared retribution for not being loyal to someone’s agenda?

Combating bullying happens by becoming familiar with these and other signs. You can help by refusing to be swept into a bully’s manipulations. By not going along with the crowd when you see these signs happening—you will be slowing down the momentum of loyalty that keeps a bully in power.


Bullies Discredit

6 Months To Bullying Awareness Month.

(Bullying Awareness Series Part 1)

As an advocate for women and girls I have been involved in the anti-bullying movement for years. We all know that bullying is real, but we may not be aware that it can be difficult to spot. One way we can make a difference in the anti-bullying movement is by shedding light on the characteristics of a bully that often gets overlooked. Every month leading up to October I will add one often missed, but identifiable characteristic. Bully 1.jpg

We start the month of May with the characteristic of DISCREDITING. A bully’s power of control can be found in this pervasive action. The New Oxford American Dictionary describes the word “discredit” as a way to harm a reputation or cause (a person, piece of evidence, or idea) to seem false or unreliable. In other words, it’s a deliberate weakening of someone’s reputation in order to strengthen ones own. Bullies can easily garner support by others unaware. Onlookers stay silent because they do not want to become the target of similar treatment, or they are tricked into believing the discrediting stories are actually true. Unfortunately, this allows the bully to gain substantial power. This dynamic can be found in schools, homes, families, work, church, etc. Bullies can be children or adults, and all sexes. Here are a few questions that will help you identify this particular quality in a bully.

1. Is there a “repeated” pattern of discrediting?
2. Are people afraid to speak positively about the person being discredited?
3. Does the discrediting somehow boost the position or reputation of the one discrediting?

One of the greatest ways to combat a bully is simply by recognizing this characteristic. If we see multiple people being discredited by a person or group—it should raise a red flag immediately. Our refusal to be drawn into believing the discrediting news begins the process of empowerment. Not only for us but for the person being bullied. There is comfort and strength we give a bullied-human when we turn our backs on the bully’s persuasions. The act of not automatically embracing a bad story is life-giving. Even if it seems convincing. Consider the source and ask the questions above. If you can answer yes to any of the questions then you might be dealing with a bully.