Bullying comes in different shapes and sizes. No one likes to be bullied. Lately, my thoughts have focused on ways to counter bullying and they all return to one place—character strengths.
Recognizing Your Own Strengths
Looking to character strengths in ourselves and others helps to build confidence, hope, and a sense of belonging. These are the very ingredients that help guide our actions in life in a positive direction. They also are the opposite of what comes to mind when we think about a bully—a lack of real self-confidence, a sense of hopelessness, and feeling alienated from the group.
So, how do we create an anti-bullying strategy? The first step is to recognize our own character strengths—or if you are a teacher, parent or coach, help the individual being bullied find their strengths. By identifying what makes us our best selves, we feel good about ourselves and, the stronger our self-regard, the more likely that we will want to give to others. Recognizing strengths in others is a way of gift-giving free of cost, but worth its weight in gold.
How to Spot Character Strengths in Others
What character strengths are we talking about? You can tell someone that they are a good person by naming a variety of strengths – kindness, humor, bravery, fairness, teamwork, creativity, curiosity, forgiveness, honesty, hope and more are real character boosters. Be specific in pointing out another’s strengths, for example, “That was really brave of you.” Or “You play fairly. I really like that about you.”
There are many character strengths to be aware of, and you can look for them in yourself and others. Be a detective. If you are working with youth experiencing bullying, make strength-spotting fun! See what you can find. Looking for ideas on strengths? You can learn more about all 24 VIA character strengths that have been discovered through careful research.
Using Perspective to Break the Cycle of Bullying
If you (or a youth you are helping) become the unfortunate victim of bullying, always start by acknowledging and accepting your character strengths so you are reassured of the good in you. The more that you are aware of your strengths, the easier it is to put a bully’s taunts in perspective (another character strength!). This way, you are less likely to be swayed by the bully’s opinion, which is often distorted in the first place. Bullies tend to focus on others’ weaknesses. By focusing on your strengths, you can break the cycle.
In the best of circumstances, the foundations of character are built at home by our caretakers, but not everyone has had such a fortunate life-learning experience. This is where peers, friends, and teachers can take on the role of character-builders. By boosting others rather than putting them down, you are providing some of what they need to be their best selves. And that’s a big sum.
And for those of us who have been wearing blinders when it comes to character strengths, life will be different as you play detective. You will find aspects of yourself that you not only come to value, but also can guide your thoughts and actions in life in positive directions.
Strengths are by definition positive, so it is hard to look at yourself and life through dark-tinted glasses. Because you have captured the best in you, you have the capacity to see the best in others.
To learn more about anti-bullying techniques rooted in VIA character strengths, check out I Don’t Want to Bully Anymore: A Young Person’s Guide for the Bully and the Bullied (2019).