From victim to victor: How to beat bullying

During his school days, chronic epilepsy sufferer James Bailey, 27, was bullied mercilessly—just because he was different to other children.

His experiences led to severe anxiety and depression but as a teenager he successfully turned the tables on the bullies by learning self-defence and striving to become the best that he could be in life.

In this exclusive article, James—author of new inspirational memoir Light in the Shadows: A Life of Epilepsy—draws upon his experiences to provides hard-earned guidance to help your children, or yourself, deal with bullying once and for all.

By James Bailey

Bullying can happen at any stage in life, though it tends to be focused around school age. Whenever it takes place, however, or in whatever circumstances, it can have a long-lasting, and sometimes devastating, effect on an individual’s mental wellbeing, crushing their self-belief if unchecked.

I should know, because through my school days I was a constant target for bullies. I’m 27 now but I’ll never forget just how cruel some of my peers were to me. In my case the reason for being seen as a target was because I was different from the other kids. I have a severe form of epilepsy that has led to almost half a million seizures in my life, and that’s a conservative estimate. It all started when I took a nasty fall as a toddler and, of course, there were many instances of me having a seizure in school. Rather than receiving the empathy of my classmates I was called all sorts of derogatory names, such as “epileptic freak”, and was openly mocked.

It’s reckoned that as many as one in five young people fall victim to bullying, and that’s today, when schools have for many years had strict anti-bullying policies in place. As I see it, the problem is that schools are not allowed to take sides and have to remain completely impartial with respect to both parties, the victim and the bully. This, in turn, means that there’s no real consequence or blame apportioned to the antagonist, even when—all things considered—they fully deserve it.

James Bailey says that there are many strategies that parents, teachers, employers, and victims of bullying themselves can employ to stop the persecution.

Of course you can’t suggest to your child that they strike back (physically) at bullies as schools have a zero-tolerance attitude towards violence, and rightly so. Still, it can feel very much like a lose-lose situation for the victim, and one that if not dealt with in some manner could leave them with lasting emotional and psychological scarring, long after any actual wounds have healed.

In light of this, I propose a fresh, new approach to an age-old problem. It’s one that any victim can use to stand up to their bullies as well as any parent, teacher, or employer supporting a victim, and it’s one that could very well see real results in stopping bullying before it really starts.

To give you a better idea of how I’ve come up with the following strategy, it’s based on many years’ training in both martial arts and self-defence. I have competed in championships for Judo and Korean martial art Kuk Sool Won, and have reached the level of a black belt candidate. I have also studied the most effective forms of self-defence under some of the biggest and most respected teachers in the field. As such, I have instructed people of all ages, and especially children, and have learnt more than a thing or two about how to nip bullying in the bud.

So, over the years, I have developed many ways to deal with bullying, depending on the particular form it takes:

Verbal Bullying:  Dealing with verbal bullying comes down to two things. Firstly, not accepting what is said about you as the truth. An old instructor of mine once told me that if the things my classmates were saying weren’t the reality, and I recognised this, then why I should let it bother me?

Secondly, unlike with physical bullying, you can strike back verbally. Work with someone you know on your wit, honing the art of come backs. Also, pay attention to developing the tone of your voice to deal with aggressors confidently. I’m not saying that you scream at them but certainly raise your voice and talk with authority and intent. As a bonus, is will also draw attention and support, perhaps from a friend, teacher, or colleague.

Physical Bullying:  Physical bullying is possibly the most common form and, to be honest, if it has got to this stage then the victim is left with fewer options. Still, working on the tone of voice and assertiveness goes a long way. Look at your posture and ask yourself what is your body language saying about you? Is it showing strength, or is it displaying weakness?

Also, look into physical de-escalation techniques, such as certain self-defence systems. I would personally recommend Judo and boxing for anyone of secondary school age. If a child is of primary school age then just stick to Judo.

James Bailey found new levels of self-confidence and self-belief through studying martial arts.

If you’re an adult then I would be more inclined to recommend Krav Maga, MMA, or kickboxing, all of which will grant you the same skills and ability as above. These disciplines will just place you on a slightly different path because, as an adult, we often find ourselves in different situations and circumstances to children and teenagers. 

What all of these have in common, though, is a positive benefit to your confidence and mental state 

Cyberbullying:  Cyberbullying is especially horrible and brutal, but can also be one of the easiest to deal with—at least in my experience! You can’t avoid bullying at school or work but with cyberbullies you can report and block them with a few clicks.

With children and teenagers, always do your best to protect them by asking them about their online activities and if there’s anything bothering them. Young people can take cyberbullying much more to heart than older people, and sometimes with tragic consequences. Fostering an open and honest dialogue is, therefore, essential so action can be taken.

James Bailey has just released his inspirational memoir, Light in the Shadows: A Life of Epilepsy, that recounts a life growing up with chronic epilepsy and how he dealt effectively with all the challenges that brought with it, including relentless bullying.

In concluding, I want to come back to the new approach to tackling bullying that I mentioned above, and specifically concerning bullying in schools. My view, and this may be controversial to some, is to treat bullies like adults. Don’t cushion the criticism of their actions; come down hard to emphasise the potential consequence of what they’ve done. At the end of the day, what is school? It is somewhere to prepare young people for the outside world. Clearly, however, I am not speaking of pre-schoolers or primary school children here, where kid gloves definitely still apply.

Let’s take an example. Scott, a 15-year-old boy, is picking on a classmate that we’ll call ‘Sam’, because she’s slightly overweight. Over time these constant insults reduce Sam’s confidence and crushes her self-belief. One day, Scott sends her a nasty message over social media. He thinks it’s funny but Sam has had enough and she decides that she can’t go on anymore, taking her own life.

OK, this is a dramatic illustration but it does happen and the principle is the same for any degree of bullying in secondary school. The question to ask Scott, long before this imaginary ending plays out, is to think long and hard about whether he could handle having that on his conscience? Could he deal with the knowledge that he pushed someone else to breaking point, and was a key factor in the tragic outcome?

The only way we can truly counter bullying in schools is by putting an end to it before it starts, and the only way we can do that is by building a victim’s resilience so they are more of a force to be reckoned with. If it still continues then we have to come down as hard as possible on the bully, driving it home that their actions have consequences. Bullies in secondary schools are not being friendly to their fellow children so should not be handled in a child-friendly manner. The gloves have to come off.

Light in the Shadows: A Life of Epilepsy by James Bailey is out now on Amazon priced £7.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an eBook.  For more information visit James’s Facebook page

James has also just launched a Go Fund Me page to help support his goal of providing a dedicated mentoring service to people of all ages who suffer from bullying, epilepsy, anxiety or depression. You can donate here

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