“My son is miserable in his first few months of high school,” his suffering mother told me. “He’s picked on for being short again.” Jeffrey comes from short parents, but he was little even by their standards. After much thought (and more worry), his parents decided to administer daily injections of growth hormone, which allowed Jeffrey to grow some but not enough.  Teased in middle school, he began a body building campaign so that, with the encouragement of his parents, he offered his tormentors, to quote the book of Exodus, “a strong arm and an outstretched hand.”

When he enrolled in a new high school in a new city, his torment began anew, this time by means of innuendo, passed notes, and derogatory gestures–I guess a little more “mature” than name-calling.  Why didn’t Jeffrey return to the strong arm policy?   He looked at his peers, who, unlike himself, were bigger than they were in eighth grade and he was scared. Plus, he told himself, there’s a lot of them and only one (short) me.

This thought is the cause of Jeffrey’s losing his battle. His mind is defeating himself before he begins to fight.

What more powerful thoughts might help Jeffrey?  The remainder of this blog is addressed to Jeffrey–and to Janice, to Jeremy and Julia, the countless known or hidden young people tormented and scarred by bullying.

First, bullies are afraid. If they weren’t, they’d pick on someone their own size (literally, in Jeffrey’s case). And they wouldn’t need a crowd to back them up.  Why are they afraid? Most commonly, they’ve been bullied themselves, often by a parent. Sometimes they’ve got a secret weakness (perhaps learning disabilities) which they use tyranny to hide. Other times they pick up inherited or family fears, social, financial, or marital.

The  ”friends” around them are scared, too, scared that if they don’t follow the bully, s/he’ll turn on them next.  Each bullying episode they witness strengthens their dread, cementing the bullying clique.  They’re afraid of being found out and also often feel guilty about their cruelty.

The bully only picks on people who show fear in facial and body language. Like dogs, bullies are very sensitive to the physical communication of other humans–avoiding the gaze, moving slightly out of the path, head down, eyes lowered or darting around for support, rapid breathing, arms close into the body, showing up late to avoid a confrontation.

The victim must follow Lady MacBeth’s advice to her husband, “Screw your courage to the sticking place.”  Back to dogs, remember the old adage: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Pick your time and place–maximum advantage to you. Enjoy your planning stage and keep the image of your opponents’ fear in your thoughts.

You won’t be fighting a group. Keep your eyes on the leader and take her on. Keep in mind that nothing she can do in a fight will be anywhere near as painful as the humiliation you feel being a victim.  And the adrenalin will keep you more than comfortable; you’ll actually feel excited. If your method is the fist, recall the boxing advice: punch all the way through your opponent; don’t stop at the skin. (This, of course, is in your mind as well.)

Don’t be put off by extraneous fears, such as getting suspended or angering your parents. Hopefully, adults will be on your side, as most people loathe a bully. Even if they’re not, it’s still worth it. A bully can torment you for months and years, taking the joy out of your life. A day or even a week suspension is a cheap price to pay.

Unless you are in real gang warfare (and then disregard all of the above), this strategy works.  It works so well that sometimes the bully runs before you get to do your real damage. It’s not uncommon that you two become fast friends afterwards. You’ve freed the bully’s crowd from their servitude, and some of them may befriend you as well. Most important of all, you earn back your self-respect.

It’s in your own mind that the battle is won or lost. Your actions merely follow your thoughts.