Ten years ago, a 14 y/o boy (I’ll call him Brian) began treatment for depression and insecurity. Brian was an attractive, soft-spoken young man who was aware of feeling depressed, but had trouble articulating exactly why, except for the fact that he felt lonely.
A few months into weekly psychotherapy, he shared that he was being tormented while playing in a touch football game with other middle-school boys. Jack, one of the boys, kept knocking him down or hitting him without any provocation. Brian’s eyes filled with tears. “What can I do? I tried talking to him, but he just ignored me. I asked him why he was doing it, and he just laughed. We play every day at recess, and I really don’t want to stop because of him.”
“Any clues as to why he’s so mean?”
“None. I didn’t do anything.”
We spent the hour exploring all possibilities and came up empty. Towards the end of the session, I leaned forward in my chair and looked Brian square in the eyes. “Brian, I’m going to make a recommendation, but if you tell anyone I’ll deny it.”
“What? What do you mean?” Brian asked, obviously intrigued.
“I want you to knock Jack down, so hard, that he has trouble getting up. You’ve tried talking to him like a decent person. It got you nowhere. He’s not reasonable and not nice… Knock him down hard, but don’t kill him or break any bones.”
Brian just stared at me.
“Brian, you’re a really good guy, and what he’s doing isn’t fair.”
Brian just kept staring.
“Any other thoughts?”
Brian shook his head.
“Okay, see you next week.”
Brian nodded, stood up, gave me a sheepish smile, and left. I sat for the longest time staring at my diplomas. Did I do the right thing? There were no classes on helping nice kids battle playground bullies in my psychiatric residency.
The next week, Brian walked in the door, and before he even sat down said, “I did it!” He had a huge smile plastered across his usually worried face.
“What? What did you do? Tell me all about it!”
“We started playing and Jack went back to pass. I aimed my head for his stomach and knocked him down as hard as I could. When we were on the ground, I got on top of him and just stared him in the face. Then I got up and walked alone back to school.”
I encouraged Brian to tell me in detail how the whole thing went down. As the story unfolded, it became clear that Jack was actually on the same team as Brian. In effect, Brian had knocked down his own quarterback! I said, “Wow, that was really making a statement.” Then we both laughed and hi-fived.
It’s not often in therapy that there is a pivotal moment when things change. But, this was such a moment.
I treated Brian all through high school and saw him during holidays until he graduated college. Brian became an all-state wrestler in high school and was a varsity wrestler at a well-known university. He remained a sweet, caring person, had good friends, and a good relationship with his family.
When Brian learned to defend himself, he also learned to value himself. A person with good self-esteem doesn’t let himself be bullied.
This was one my most well-received posts. Bullies need to be stopped. Whether they exist on the schoolyard, the workplace or inhabit religious fanatic sects, it is my hope that we can all have the right to choose who we want to be and have the freedom to make that choice come true.
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11 thoughts on “I’M GOING TO MAKE A RECOMMENDATION, BUT IF YOU TELL ANYONE I’LL DENY IT — a reprise, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist”
Thank you Dr. Smukler for another insightful and meaningful post.
This is the same advice I’ve given all 3 of my kids… don’t go looking for a fight but if someone keeps having a go then hit back.
Good for you and good for Brian. Love it!
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P.S. if you don’t mind your info being posted to your site you can also respond to this message as I am subscribing to this thread. Much love and many thanks =)
Thanks, Kimmy; Ask away! Art
I found your email address through your Gravitar profile and I was wondering if you would mind if I used it to set you up. Also I need to add a picture and some info about you and I was hoping I could just use the stuff that is associated with your page. If this is okay then I will go ahead and set you up on my website. I need to add a user id and a password so if you have one that you would like me to use let me know or I will just make one up for you and you can change it at any time. Keep me posted and thank you so very much for allowing me to use your wonderful information.
Hi. Please feel free to use my email address and use whatever id and password you like. Thanks, Art
(Standing ovation) I was beat up a couple of times in jr. high until I caught the biggest and baddest of them alone in a show-down moment of ‘I’ve had enough’. It’s the only way sometimes. Good for you! YOU should write a dissertation on the subject and then make that college course you mentioned was lacking. 😀
Holy crap! I LOVE this post! You go dude! You totally cracked me up and made my day, I so needed to hear that. My tolerance for bullies is a big fat zero. Thank you for reminding me that I need to stand up for myself in order to take care of my self esteem. Seriously, I was just sitting here thinking of letting a cyber bully get by without responding to a wretched remark they made about my character because of my beliefs and I was going to let it fly because I wanted to be the nicer person. But, now I think I have the proverbial balls to go back and defend my stance and I know for a fact it will help my self esteem. Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I would love to use a clip of this on my blog (I can put you as a guest author to help boost SEO rankings) to help increase awareness that bullying should not be tolerated, that is with your permission. Please feel free to say no, it won’t hurt my feelings. I just think this is an amazing post!
Much love and abundant blessings,
Hi Kimberly; thanks for the wonderful comment. Please use any part or the whole of my post. Thank you! Art
Thanks Art! You’re the best!