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As Utica writer Erika Lowenkopf enters the finishing stages before the release of her memoir “Missing the Boat,” she has taken some time to reflect on the impact she hopes the book will have. Although the memoir, to be published at a future date by Philosopher Poet Press, covers several aspects of the author’s life, its central theme centers around the dangers of bullying, and its impact on those subjected to this form of peer abuse. Lowenkopf’s ultimate goal in writing and releasing the book is to offer comfort and hope to those who may be going through something similar to what she has gone through in her past.
“People ask me why I’m doing this,” she said. “They say ‘Why are you bringing this back up now? It’s over.’ But this is for those who have to go through bullying right now.”
As one who has survived bullying, Lowenkopf offers some realistic, helpful guidance for anyone being subjected to abuse by a peer or supervisor in school, a community organization or group, or the workplace.
Do all you can to find your true self and be that person
Victims of bullying often mistakenly believe they have to change in order to fix the situation. Some attempt to push themselves to adopt the values, tastes, opinions, and outward details of the group the bully belongs to, thinking that if they would just make an effort to fit in, the abusive behavior would stop. Others cling fiercely to “outside” groups they hope will intimidate, creep out, or scare the bully into backing off, even if these are also people who do not share their values or interests. Or they may go out of their way to be the lone scary, tough, or weird person around, thinking they can distract everyone enough for the bullies to just forget about targeting them. None of these coping methods are healthy in the long run. Instead, Lowenkopf urges those who are being bullied to only adopt values, styles, and behaviors they truly believe in or like, regardless of the reaction a bully or someone they are trying to impress might have to these traits.
“Victims feel a lot of pressure to prove themselves to be the opposite of what the bullies have labeled them,” Lowenkopf explained. “If the bullies have decided to label them as ‘ugly,’ they go out of their way to try to prove that they’re attractive to other people. If the bullies have decided to label them as ‘stupid,’ they push themselves to be the ‘smartest’ person in school. Don’t give in to that.”
Get qualified professional help for yourself
One way to work on discovering and confirming your own values, opinions, tastes, and interests, and to cope with other issues bullying will add to your life is to seek professional help in the form of counseling or other mental health therapy. While this is pretty much standard advice for anybody coping with any serious social issue, Lowenkopf advises bullying targets to take the extra step of making sure the therapist they choose is willing and able to help with the issue of bullying.
“Make sure it’s someone who takes the issue seriously,” she cautioned.
Take the same steps to keep yourself safe that you would take with a dangerous person in any other situation
Contrary to popular myth, bullies are not misunderstood fools, suffering from low self-esteem, acting out to gain attention or affection from the victim, or just “being kids” or “being tough coworkers.” Bullies are abusive people. They are often manipulative, able to pretend to be friendly or even helpful when necessary to cover their abuse. Bullies are often capable of lying to teachers, counselors, and supervisors about their own behavior and that of others. They may directly or indirectly threaten their peers to get them to go along with them. Many bullies display traits commonly found in those with serious personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder, or even antisocial personality disorder, the diagnosis most commonly associated with people known as sociopaths or psychopaths. If you suspected you might be dealing with someone like this in any other type of situation, you would do all you could to limit your contact with them entirely, and behave in a polite but distant manner when forced to interact with them. Lowenkopf advises applying the same approach…and the same awareness…to bullies.
“Do not try to ‘kill them with kindness,’” Lowenkopf warned. “In my experience, it didn’t work.” She further explained that because bullies are so intensely self-focused, and so fixated on reaching a goal of fitting in with a crowd, gaining power over others, or simply alleviating their own boredom by enjoying someone else’s suffering, attempts to befriend them or ingratiate yourself to them by being overly friendly or helpful toward them will only provide them with additional fuel for their bullying.
Avoid blaming yourself
Everybody has people they dislike. Everyone has met, or at least seen, other people they find annoying, physically unattractive, depressing, irritating, or otherwise unpleasant to look at or be around. We have all met or seen people whose personal style we find tacky or silly or inappropriate for the situation in some way, whose values we don’t agree with, and whose hobbies or interests we find bizarre or puzzling. We do not all bully all of those people. The decision to bully someone else is a choice, and it is a choice made by the bully and nobody else.
“As I was writing my book, I had thoughts that I had done something to bring the bullying on all those years ago,” Lowenkopf noted. “But I know now that I didn’t. Never blame yourself for bullying. They chose to behave that way.”
Connect with others who have gone through the same thing, or are going through similar experiences
Talk to a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional about joining or starting a support group for bullying in your area. There may also be bullying groups on social media or hosted on their own pages on the internet. Just make sure to use extreme caution when interacting with strangers online. Anyone underage should allow their parents or guardians to vet any online group they are thinking of joining, and adults must remember that anyone can host a group on social media, and everyone you meet online is not who they claim to be. But as long as proper safety guidelines are adhered to, the internet may be a valuable resource for peer support and connection.
Interacting with works created by those who have survived bullying can also be a form of support. Lowenkopf’s memoir “Missing the Boat” will be available soon. Be sure to reserve a copy as soon as publication is announced.