Letter to Bullied Children

By: Zoe Lewis,CSW

Do you ever wish you had more friends? If so, you are not alone. Most people have felt this way at some point in their lives. We all want to feel connected and liked, and when we don’t, it is very painful for all of us. It can be easy to believe negative things about ourselves when other people are treating us badly. Many kids say things like, “I don’t have any friends. No one likes me. There must be something wrong with me.” Sometimes we can start thinking that people would like us more if we could just fix the things we think are “wrong” with us: if we were better looking, smarter, less smart, thinner, bigger, more athletic, more popular, stronger, etc., maybe it would be easier to believe that we are good enough the way we are. The truth is that you are just fine, right now, exactly as you are. This can also be very hard to believe if you are being told otherwise.

One of the worst parts about being bullied, teased, or left out is that we learn to start putting ourselves down. When someone calls you a name, instead of thinking, “Wow, that person must really feel bad about himself if he treats people the way he’s treating me,” you start thinking, “He wouldn’t be calling me that name if it weren’t true.” We start seeing evidence everywhere that reinforces these negative ideas about ourselves. When someone doesn’t invite us to their party, or doesn’t sit next to us at lunch, we add these experiences up in our heads and create a story out of them. For many people, the story becomes, “I don’t fit in. There’s something wrong with me, and people don’t like me. I deserve to be alone because I’m not good enough.” Eventually, we stop being able to see the evidence contradicting these ideas. For example, when we have already decided that no one likes us, we don’t even notice when someone smiles at us or seems interested in something we’ve said. If you believe that no one wants to be your friend, you will start pushing away the people who do want to be friends with you, because you don’t allow yourself to risk feeling rejected. Some people may go through their entire lives feeling lonely and unlovable, just because of the story they started telling themselves when they were children.

It isn’t easy to write a new story for yourself, especially one that you believe right away. When our emotions are very strong, we tend to believe the thoughts that go along with them, even if those thoughts are incorrect. If you feel like crying when you think, “No one likes me,” it will seem difficult to believe anything else. However, what you must do when you have a negative thought about yourself is to examine that thought very carefully. Try to look at it in the same detached, matter-of-fact way you would watch a cloud floating by in the sky. Ask yourself, what is the evidence supporting that belief? What is the evidence against it? Then try to come up with some alternative, more realistic thoughts. In the previous example, when you thought, “no one likes me,” make a list of the evidence supporting that idea and a list of the evidence against it. Really think about things that contradict this negative thought. Evidence to the contrary could sound like, “Well, Sarah asked if I wanted to be her partner in gym class yesterday, and that boy in Math class said hi to me this morning.” Then come up with a more accurate idea. In this situation, you might tell yourself something like, “John said no one liked me, but maybe he’s having a bad day and wants someone else to feel worse than he does. Maybe he’s jealous that I got a better grade on my project. There probably are many people who really do like me.” In fact, many studies have shown that working hard to come up with different, more positive ideas about yourself, in place of the old negative ones, ends up helping people feel better about themselves.

All this being said, no one should have to be bullied. If you are being picked on at school, tell an adult. If nothing changes, tell another adult. You deserve to be treated kindly and with respect. What you can take control of for the rest of your life are the things you choose to believe about yourself. It takes hard work and commitment to change negative thought patterns, but it is possible. You deserve to believe that you are good, smart, kind, lovable, and worthy- because you are!

One of the worst parts about being bullied, teased, or left out is that we learn to start putting ourselves down. When someone calls you a name, instead of thinking, “Wow, that person must really feel bad about himself if he treats people the way he’s treating me,” you start thinking, “He wouldn’t be calling me that name if it weren’t true.” We start seeing evidence everywhere that reinforces these negative ideas about ourselves. When someone doesn’t invite us to their party, or doesn’t sit next to us at lunch, we add these experiences up in our heads and create a story out of them. For many people, the story becomes, “I don’t fit in. There’s something wrong with me, and people don’t like me. I deserve to be alone because I’m not good enough.” Eventually, we stop being able to see the evidence contradicting these ideas. For example, when we have already decided that no one likes us, we don’t even notice when someone smiles at us or seems interested in something we’ve said. If you believe that no one wants to be your friend, you will start pushing away the people who do want to be friends with you, because you don’t allow yourself to risk feeling rejected. Some people may go through their entire lives feeling lonely and unlovable, just because of the story they started telling themselves when they were children.

It isn’t easy to write a new story for yourself, especially one that you believe right away. When our emotions are very strong, we tend to believe the thoughts that go along with them, even if those thoughts are incorrect. If you feel like crying when you think, “No one likes me,” it will seem difficult to believe anything else. However, what you must do when you have a negative thought about yourself is to examine that thought very carefully. Try to look at it in the same detached, matter-of-fact way you would watch a cloud floating by in the sky. Ask yourself, what is the evidence supporting that belief? What is the evidence against it? Then try to come up with some alternative, more realistic thoughts. In the previous example, when you thought, “no one likes me,” make a list of the evidence supporting that idea and a list of the evidence against it. Really think about things that contradict this negative thought. Evidence to the contrary could sound like, “Well, Sarah asked if I wanted to be her partner in gym class yesterday, and that boy in Math class said hi to me this morning.” Then come up with a more accurate idea. In this situation, you might tell yourself something like, “John said no one liked me, but maybe he’s having a bad day and wants someone else to feel worse than he does. Maybe he’s jealous that I got a better grade on my project. There probably are many people who really do like me.” In fact, many studies have shown that working hard to come up with different, more positive ideas about yourself, in place of the old negative ones, ends up helping people feel better about themselves.

All this being said, no one should have to be bullied. If you are being picked on at school, tell an adult. If nothing changes, tell another adult. You deserve to be treated kindly and with respect. What you can take control of for the rest of your life are the things you choose to believe about yourself. It takes hard work and commitment to change negative thought patterns, but it is possible. You deserve to believe that you are good, smart, kind, lovable, and worthy- because you are!

Kate Hall