" 'Just ignore them and they'll stop' was advice I was given and tried for much too long as a kid. I now translate it as 'bullying is your fault, and not in any sense the responsibility of the bullies--deal with it in a way that can't possibly cause any fallout for adults' ."
And starcat_jewel commented:
"I'd also like to hear you weigh in on the pernicious sentiment of, 'No one can hurt you unless you let them.' This, IMO, is one of the single nastiest things you can say to a child that's being bullied. Not only is it a free ride for the bullies, but it makes anything bad that happens as a result THE VICTIM'S OWN FAULT."
The idea that if words cause you pain there's something wrong with you is bedrock folk wisdom in our culture, summed up as "Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you." For thirty-five years I've been writing and teaching that that's false. For at least that long we've had solid evidence that the most serious risk factors, for all diseases and disorders, are (a) chronic exposure to hostility, and (b) chronic loneliness; I've spent at least the last quarter century writing and teaching that basic fact. You'll notice that I haven't become a wealthy superstar doing that. The culture has a vested interest in supporting the "stick and stones" myth; we are addicted to violence, and that addiction is embedded in a "Winning is everything" matrix. It's important to the culture to maintain the right to be verbally cruel to others and blame the results on those we abuse. Most of us have very few opportunities to be physically violent; taking away the verbal violence would be deprivation.
Our children are taught that verbal abuse is okay. There's lip service to "Be nice!"; sure. But when the child comes to us and says, "Tommy and me were playing, and now he's crying and he won't play with me any more!", the parent says, "Did you hit him?" The child says, "No! I just called him a stupid-head, and now he's crying!" And the parent says, "Well, don't worry about it. He'll get over it." The child wants to know why Aunt Grace isn't joining the family for dinner, and the parent says, "Your Aunt Grace got her feelings hurt. You know how she is .... she can't take a joke. She makes mountains out of molehills. She'll get over it."
There is a respected and powerful school of therapy devoted to the idea that people who feel that they can be harmed by words have something wrong with them that needs fixing -- Rational Emotive Therapy, from Albert Ellis. Albert Ellis is a weathy superstar.
Recent research is perhaps going to help with this. We've recently had studies coming out of neuroscience proving that the brain handles emotional pain in exactly the same way it handles physical pain, and that the same neurophysiological events take place in the brain in response to a verbal attack as those that take place in response to a blow from a fist. We're seeing articles in the most respectable medical journals reporting that a broken heart can no longer be considered a metaphor. But resistance to a change in this cultural construct that protects violence is strong and deep; the struggle against that change is going to be fierce.
The targeted person is not the one at fault in bullying. The pain is real, and its effects are severe. Ironically, the bully is also in danger. The risk factor is exposure to chronic hostility, whatever its source. With the single exception of the person who is sociopathic/psychopathic, the stream of hostile language is as dangerous to the person dishing it out -- and to any trapped bystander -- as it is to the targeted victim.