As a mother, there are endless threats to my child's life. Keeping our children alive and well is our biggest mission. Providing them with a healthy environment for a happy life is our second biggest mission. Giving them endless, unconditional love is our third, and the list goes on and on in no particular order.
Today's threats to our children are endless. They include self-esteem issues, bullying, cyberbullying, depression and suicide - our children are being attacked from all directions. The one threat that's often being missed if even diagnosed is self-bullying.
I personally wasn't familiar with it until I heard the harsh words coming out of my son's mouth: I don't like myself. I'm bad at everything. I hate my life. With pain in my heart I searched online and researched and most of what I came across was related to mental health and depression. For example:
Being overly self-critical and hard on yourself is a very common depressed thinking habit and one of the key ways that depression reinforces itself and becomes entrenched. Recognizing your self-bullying habit and learning how to challenge it is vital.
Mental health and depression are at the core of my son's self-bullying, but those articles weren'tֲ addressing the issue.
The one wordֲ for self-bullying that really helped me understand it better was that it was "threat" Recognizing self-bullying as a threat is key because it can serve as a helpful guide for how to get rid of it or manage it in our children.
The 4 mental triggers that can lead to kids engaging in self-bullying
It is very common for the tunnel vision of depression to narrow your focus so much that you find yourself over-personalizing the outside events or actions of others. For example, instantly believing that your friend's worried look means you have done something to upset them (rather than being something entirely unrelated to you).
Personalization can lead to taking on an inappropriate amount of responsibility for things and this makes kids susceptible to the next trigger: self-blame.
Blaming happens when we are trying to identify reasons for things happening, usually because we want to prevent them happening again. It is often tempting to make simplistic judgement about who is to blame as this gives simple-seeming solutions to problems.
Self-blaming can make things paradoxically feel more hopeful - we feel as if we have more power to change things if we can believe that the fault lies within our own control. Blaming ourselves instead of others can also be a way to try to protect ourselves from conflicts with others.
Taking inappropriate levels of responsibility for getting everything right is closely linked with perfectionism or a tendency to base self-worth or self-acceptance on performance or success. However, setting unrealistically high standards for oneself is instead more likely to lead to repeated experiences of demoralizing, failure, underachievement, procrastination, self-blame, and self-bullying.
4. Self-criticism and self-attack
Perfectionism or self-blame often lead to a habit of self-criticism. We may believe that we will only do things and kick butt if weֲ threaten ourselves with punishments.
This self-attack and sometimes even self-hatred are the basis for the feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness which
help to entrench depression.
How to counter the threat: self-compassion
Learning how to challenge the depressed thinking habits that trigger self-bullying involves skills of self-compassion. This is a vital longer-term strategy to resist depression that proves true both in childhood and adulthood. First, take notice of when your kids (or you) are showing warning signs:
How often are your kids voicing self-criticism? Have you seen your kids engaging in over-personalization, self-blame, perfectionism, or self-criticism or attack? Try to nip those in the bud before they turn into self-bullying by pointing out how your kid is being too hard on him- or herself.
Likewise, how often are you engaging in your own self-bullying? When you do it, it can be a sign to your kids that this is an acceptable way to respond to events. Give yourself room to breathe, stay positive, and engage in self-compassion and it will be easier for your kids to follow suit.
If the self-bullying is too strong
Knowing that self-bullying exists and is a recognized threat to your child's well-beingֲ is a start. Understanding the source and manifestation of it may require additional help by a professional therapist or mental health practitioner that can help walk our children understand how they're negatively responding to the outside world and give them tools to combat self-bullying themselves.