Bullying: Beyond the playground, within our power to change

Lizzie Velasquez story

We don’t hear much about adult bullying. Usually, we hear about the kind that takes place among children and teenagers. Bullying doesn’t go away once we outgrow the playground. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for college students and even adults to engage in both physical and psychological bullying. Moreover, cyberbullying continues to gain popularity as a way for bullies to torment others, no matter what age.

“Bullying is a coping mechanism. Mean people do graduate high school, go to college, get jobs, get married and have kids of their own. Mean children without guidance equal mean adults,” said Sharon Rengers, R.N., with the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Norton Children’s Hospital.

Adults are more likely to use verbal bullying than physical bullying. Adult bullies may be out to gain power over another person and make themselves the dominant member or leader of a group. Their acts may be deliberate and obvious or more subconscious and subtle. They may try to humiliate others in order to “show them who is boss.”

Experts generally see two key factors that contribute to organizational bullying: cultural norms, such as a focus on winning, power and violence; and an institution’s environment — homes, schools or workplaces that lack high standards for the way people treat one another. Norton Healthcare’s code of conduct reflects strong policies to address unacceptable behaviors and foster a safe, cooperative and collegial professional environment. Thankfully, more workplaces are joining us in taking bullying seriously.

Social and personality issues play big roles in most forms of bullying. Those who gain recognition or attention from bullying have no motivation to change their negative behavior. Why change if the behavior gets them what they want? Jealousy or envy — amplified by insecurity, immaturity and weak personal or social skills — can also fuel bullying.

A common thread that seems to run through various types of bullying is misplaced feelings of fear or resentment toward those whom bullies perceive to be “different” or outside their ideas of what is “normal.” Lizzie Velasquez, a 25-year-old motivational speaker, anti-bullying activist and author, points to this as a factor in her life experience.

Lizzie, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and has never weighed more than 60 pounds, grew up with a syndrome that keeps her from gaining weight. As only one of three people in the world today who live with this condition — so rare it has no name — Lizzie has overcome enormous adversity, including bullying.

“I felt like some sort of monster,” she said in a recent television interview as she recalled her first day of kindergarten. “I never told anyone how bad I was being picked on because I was embarrassed. When I would take a bath at night, that’s when I would cry.”

After seeing an online video during her high school days in which she was called the ugliest woman alive, Lizzie began to look at her journey in a new way. “I decided my syndrome does not define me. I chose happiness,” said the successful speaker and writer, whose third book will soon be published.

Lizzie’s 2013 “How Do You Define Yourself?” talk has garnered more than 9 million views online, and she has been featured on several TV talk shows as well as in national and international media. She is the executive producer of a documentary based on her life, “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story,” which is set to premier at the South by Southwest conference in March. She is working with Congress to pass the first federal anti-bullying bill.

“I tell everyone, ‘Even though you don’t have my syndrome, you might be able to relate to the struggles I’ve had,’” she said, explaining how talking about bullying is therapeutic for her, too.

Bring a friend to hear Lizzie share her message of courage, hope and inspiration as part of Norton Healthcare’s Go Confidently speaker series. Join us Tuesday, March 31, 6 p.m., at The Olmsted, 3701 Frankfort Ave.

Norton Healthcare’s Go Confidently speaker series was created to inspire people to realize their full potential through thoughtful discussions on health-related topics of interest. To register for this free event, sponsored in part by the Norton Healthcare Foundation, call (502) 629-1234register online.


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