Bullies are made, not born, and yet, many of us, quite understandably, struggle to feel compassion for them. What then happens is that bullies lose their voice, often even their right to speak, except when they’re behaving like bullies.
So what happens when we go out of our way to give bullies a voice – and then, a chance to heal from the pain that is causing them to behave like bullies? It was the question The Tapping Solution Foundation got an opportunity to answer when we first began working with Shyla.
During her last year in middle school, Shyla had suddenly turned into a dark, brooding teenager. Now in high school, her grades had been on a downward spiral, and nearly every week she was being sent to the principal’s office for bullying.
Prone to rage-fueled outbursts, Shyla had become a source of disruption and frustration for teachers and administrators alike. Unfortunately, the ongoing negative attention she was getting – in the form of school detention, reprimands, and more – only seemed to worsen her attitude, behavior, and performance.
What few at her school initially realized was that Shyla’s transformation had taken place soon after a shooting had taken place at her former school. Forced to remain still and quiet in the dark for five agonizingly long hours of city-wide lockdown, Shyla, then a middle schooler, had huddled alone under a desk listening for gunshots while helicopters flew overhead and sirens blared nearby.
Although she had survived that day, all these years later Shyla was being haunted by the trauma of that experience. To make matters worse, Shyla’s family life was unpredictable. Whether at home or school, Shyla felt she had nowhere to turn for support and guidance.
Fortunately, one administrator at her current school looked into Shyla’s history. After realizing that Shyla had been caught in that shooting, the school reached out to The Tapping Solution Foundation, which is increasingly being recognized for the success of its trauma relief programs in schools nationwide.
Soon after sitting down with Shyla, it was clear to Lori Leyden, Director of The Tapping Solution Foundation that Shyla was suffering from untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) incurred during the school shooting.
After explaining how tapping accesses the amygdala in the brain and then lowers cortisol levels in the body, Lori asked how her body feels when she’s overcome by rage. Shyla described a burning sensation in her stomach, and an inability to think before acting out her rage.
Hoping to motivate her to do trauma-healing work, Lori asked Shyla what her goal was. Kids who are labeled as “bullies” are often punished, but rarely asked what they want or how they feel, so giving Shyla a voice in the process was critical. “I want to improve my grades so I can transfer to the school I want to go to,” Shyla replied without hesitation.
While many of her teachers saw Shyla as an out of control problem student, it was clear that Shyla had done extensive independent research about attending this one specific school. In order to attend that school, however, she had to maintain a higher grade point average and receive positive reviews from teachers.
With that long-term goal clearly in mind, Lori then asked Shyla to focus on a petty annoyance she’d recently experienced. Before diving into trauma healing work, it’s important to experience some kind of results from tapping, as those initial results make people more invested in the process.
Shyla’s petty annoyance had happened a few days earlier, when her sister had borrowed Shyla’s favorite shirt without asking. Using that event as a starting point, Lori led Shyla through a few rounds of tapping. Within just a few minutes, Shyla could recall the event without feeling any irritation. She also shared that her body felt more relaxed.
Over a period of several weeks, Lori had weekly tapping sessions with Shyla, focusing on clearing the emotional intensity of her memories of the school shooting. When the focus turned to Shyla’s bullying behavior, it became clear that she, like many kids, had only begun bullying others after being continually bullied by a small group of students at her current school.
Her bullying was a coping strategy, a way to appear tough so that she herself would no longer be harassed.
There had been one especially traumatic day when a student had called her fat, and then ripped her shirt and pushed her into a nearby crowd to be publicly mocked. Just recalling that day, Shyla could feel rage burning in her stomach before racing up into her head. With that memory fresh in her mind, it took just two rounds of tapping to get Shyla’s rage from a 10 out of 10 down to a 2.
After releasing the emotional charge from these events and others, Shyla once again became a different kid. This time, however, the transformation was a reflection of her positive mental and emotional well-being. The next time she was bullied, instead of lashing out in rage, she stayed calm. She also reported the bullying to school administrators.
Her goal of getting into the other school was so important to her that, for the first time ever, Shyla was willing to risk being called a “tattle tale.”
Since then, Shyla has become a leader at her school. Teachers and administrators alike now see her as an example of the transformation they want to see in other students.
Once she’d used tapping to heal from the trauma of the school shooting she’d survived, Shyla no longer needed to use bullying behavior to defend herself. Instead, she can rely on positive forms of leadership to move her life and school community forward.
By giving Shyla a chance to heal and reclaim her voice, Shyla could see that she didn’t have to be victim to others’ bullying. Nor did she need to use bullying behaviors to protect herself. What a difference!
I’m thrilled to share that The Tapping Solution Foundation is doing this kind of work at a growing number of schools around the country, helping students, teachers and administrators to heal from trauma, and to support them all in fostering a positive environment for learning and social/emotional development. Just imagine what could happen if all children everywhere had easy access to the kind of healing that Shyla and her school community received.