Friday, December 27, 2013

Bullies, School Shootings, Social Rejection thoughts


Very interesting article/video I came across today regarding being bullied. It is about a girl who is bullied because her looks do not conform to what others have deemed "acceptable".

My Thoughts...

When a school shooting or teen suicide occurs we like to focus on issues like gun control. Rarely, do I hear people bring up the topic of social rejection and social isolation and how these two factors are almost always present in the lives of those who have resorted to killing themselves and/or their fellow classmates.
The fact remains, people rarely go out on killing sprees if they are feeling good about themselves, if feelings of happiness and high self esteem are bubbling up from their subconscious and friendship opportunities abound. It is unlikely that a popular student surrounded by a group of accepting peers would have these suicidal or killing tendencies. These factors buffer the growing teenager from the impact and tremendous changes that occur in the brain.

During youth, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is still in its development phase and teenagers are, at the same time, constructing their own identity.  More than any other time in their lives, a teenager is seeking acceptance and approval from their peers. Furthermore, their brains tend to have a heightened level of sensitivity to rejection, to being ignored and excluded by their classmates. Combine this with the fact that the developing teenage brain is more prone to risk-taking, impulsive behavior. While most students will have little difficulty merging into and being accepted by one of the plentiful cliques that high school offers—jocks, nerds, geeks, skaters, musicians, pet enthusiasts—there is bound to be a few stragglers and loners.
My thought is that the stragglers/socially rejected individuals have made countless efforts to fit in with a group, to reach out and find a group of students who accepts them, a group of people who approves of their own emerging identity but… they have been rebuffed and rejected on numerous occasions. This process of seeking acceptance isn’t new for them, it probably started during their grade school and junior high school days. It was during these years that they encountered an impasse to achieving basic peer approval. Perhaps their looks, attire, tastes or mannerisms were deemed “wrong” or “inferior”. At this point, the seeds of despair were planted. If junior high or high school doesn't bode well for friendships or acceptance into a particular clan, these individuals begin to lose hope.  They begin to ruminate on suicidal thoughts, or, their thoughts may take them down the path of action and aggression. This is where school shootings come in.
Human beings have an almost desperate need to belong, to be approved of and accepted by their peers and to form connections with other members of their social sphere. When these basic human needs are not fulfilled, psychological disturbances arise.
Drawing from personal experience related to social rejection, I’ll never forget a girl in my junior high school years. This girl was called names like “fat” and “ugly” repeatedly—almost every day, right to her face! I even remember a very poignant day in 7th grade where one of the most popular, good-looking jocks in school began kicking her until she fell to the ground. He was even surrounded by a group of very popular boys and girls who were all cheering him on as he kicked her. I happened to be walking by at the time, on my way to the next class. I remember being suddenly overwhelmed with shock that I stopped and began watching this incident unfold right before my eyes. I don’t think I ever felt so depressed for someone in my entire life. Even to this day, I still feel guilty for not jumping in and shielding her. 

 A few years later, I, too, would encounter the effects of the mean, cruel—albeit popular students myself. On the school bus one day in 9th grade, I was quietly minding my own business reading a book. I was always the quiet, shy sort without a group of comrades at my side.  All of a sudden, one of the popular boys sitting behind me made an announcement to the entire bus about how “I was an ugly crater face and shouldn’t be able to ride the bus because I was so scary.” Everyone on the bus laughed and even chimed in. People began to taunt me and laugh in a sadistic fashion.   I’ll never forget how terrible I felt. I was fully aware of how bad I looked—but being flatly reminded that you are ugly by another group of very popular classmates was almost too much to bear—especially during the teenage years.
On top of this experience, I had a litany of social rejection and isolation experiences. While my thoughts didn’t lead me down the militant path of aggression and violence, I repeatedly entertained thoughts of self hatred and even suicide.  Instead of blaming the group of sadistic peers that surrounded me, I would blame myself and try to change myself to gain some degree of acceptance. These experiences of repeated rejections ultimately turned me into an isolated, introverted person who probably suffers with unnecessary anxiety.
I am almost certain—confident—to suggest that the socially rejected, isolated individual will often go down one of two paths. These are: depression/suicide and/or violent aggression towards others. Being a loner allows for the perfect storm, the perfect place for a mind to brew self-loathing thoughts or intense feelings of anger for those who have caused you such psychological distress.
We as a society help create these monster-mentalities who go on to commit suicide and/or take the lives of others with them. The popular teenagers who reject and ignore the “loner types” are major contributors to this phenomenon. It might be difficult for those who have never experienced the full dimension of peer rejection and psychological pain to understand what such an individual may be feeling. The teenage years are a hard enough time as it is. Add on to this the aspect of rejection and ostracism and we are bound to see some negative consequences.
Studies have shown that once rejected by their peers, a child will have a nearly impossible time in school ever becoming popular or even simply “accepted” again. They are forever blighted with this stigma.
Perhaps we should focus on bullies—not just the “classic” bully-type but also the throngs of popular students who use their powers not to integrate with all students but to form exclusive, catty, even sadistic groups.