Kurt J. Kolka
Bullying leads one survivor into a counseling career
GAYLORD — In the year since she began her private practice in Gaylord, Kristin Lubs Eagle has seen a number of clients who suffer from the affects of bullying.
As a counselor, she can empathize with what they are going through. Part of what led to her to her career is the fact she was bullied herself.
“It was in fourth grade,” Eagle said. “I grew up in Elmira and went to (Elmira Elementary School).”
She was tall for her age and a boy in her class began calling her “Mama Moose.”
“If it had been a one-time event, I probably would have forgotten it,” Eagle said. “But he kept doing it.”
According to experts, one of the hallmarks of bullying is the target is repeatedly harassed by the bully. The constant attacks wear down the victim.
“Our self-esteem is in a constant state of flux,” Eagle said. “It can be elevated or even crushed, depending on those who interact with the victim. I was embarrassed by what he was saying, so, I couldn’t tell my parents.”
She already felt awkward about being taller than other kids. His words amplified those feelings.
“Our culture also tends to place a lot of blame on the victim in situations like these,” Eagle said.
She did eventually tell the playground supervisor, who happened to be the boy’s mother. The mother, however, passed off her son’s behavior as simple teasing.
While the boy didn’t stop, the bullying then became more covert.
Eagle began developing physical symptoms because of the stress of having to see the boy every day and his repeated taunts. Stomachaches became a regular occurrence, keeping her out of school.
Her experience finally reached its pinnacle when the boy took her yearbook photo, altered it to make her look like a cow and passed it around to other students.
Psychologists have noted the victims of bullying tend to develop a pattern of feelings: frustration, hurt or rejection and fear. When they are unable to vent these feelings, the feelings lead to the secondary emotion of anger. During this phase, the target may withdraw, during which they either suppress or repress their feelings. This can sometimes lead to sudden outbursts.
If the situation is not resolved, the anger becomes bitterness or resentment, which then can lead to depression. It is at this stage when the affects of bullying may become deadly.
Eagle’s parents became concerned with a change of attitude toward school and her repeated stomachaches. They arranged for her to speak with the school counselor, Robin Little. While Eagle didn’t reveal who was bullying her, she did tell Little about the incidents. Little was able to help Eagle better deal with the situation.
“People need outlets — whether it’s sports, art, music,” Eagle said. “One of the ways I try to help others in counseling is through art journaling workshops. First, it helps them get their feelings out. Then, this helps us take a look at what they are dealing with from a different perspective.”
Family and friends can have a huge impact of the targets of bullies, as well. Just showing the victim that others care for them and want to spend time with them can help them keep going and prove not everyone feels the same way about them that the bully does.
Everything became easier when Eagle attended middle school in Gaylord and she had a larger well of people to draw friends from. Yet, even then, some of the effects from that fourth-grade year persisted.
“Other people often referred to me as being the shy one in the family,” Eagle said. “Really, it was anxiety which held me back. Life was different after I dealt with that.”
Eagle went to counseling years later and her positive experience with that in dealing with results of having been bullied, led her to becoming a counselor herself.
“Counseling is a great tool,” she said. “We can develop these false thoughts and we need to see outside of this. A counselor can help.”
Taking that step toward getting counseling is huge for people, notes Eagle.
“It takes a lot of trust to go for help,” she said.
Eagle says dealing with the affects of bullying takes time. The length of time it takes for a person to be able to deal with what they have gone through often depends where they are at. Victims who are still in the anger phase will take less time dealing with the issue than someone who has progressed to the depression stage.
A person’s individual psychological makeup also has an impact on how bullying affects individuals. There are those who can let another person’s comments roll off their back. Others take them in. Learning to deal with bullying and the bully requires knowledge and practice for those in the latter group.
People are hearing about bullying regularly in the media today, usually after something horrific has occurred. Yet, it doesn’t have to reach that point.
As Eagle says, victims of bullying need to report it immediately. Parents and other adults who work with children need to investigate sudden changes in their children’s demeanor. Help is available for children and adults who have been affected by bullying — no matter how many years have passed.
Eagle has her own website for her counseling services, www.pointofpeace.com, and has written some blogs on bullying in the workplace to assist those dealing with that issue.