Bullying, Disabilities, and The Empathetic Heart

I don’t have children, but this would very much be top of mind if I did. To raise a child to be sensitive to others, to have compassion and empathetic view, is one of the most important traits they could have.

I’ve had the fortune to participate in a training on bullying and harassment recently (though this is a long-time hot topic for me, and one I regularly talk about with the kids in our Martial Arts classes. I myself was bullied and harassed growing up, and with the prevalence of cyber methods, it is even more insidious for children these days.) The training focused on bullying as it pertains to all children within a school setting (primarily public in this case), but also with some particular data regarding bullying and children with disabilities.

It might seem alarming to some of you that children with disabilities are bullied approximately 1.3 times more than their neurotypical (non-disabled) peers. (George G. Bear. et al. Differences in Bullying Victimization Between Students With and Without Disabilities, School Psychology Review. March 2015, Vol. 44, Issue 1 cited in Rose and Gage, Exploring the Involvement of Bullying Among Students.)

Bullying in and of itself is horrifying, but the prospect that it is happening even more to children with disabilities is difficult to grasp. My passion lies in not only empowering others by helping them to discover their own inner strengths, talents, and abilities, but to equip them with the tools necessary to manage challenging situations. Martial Arts is my current vehicle – as  one of the instructors under my Sensei, I am able to impart values and knowledge to the children during class. Naturally it isn’t always easy to keep the attention (by the way, not AGE-dependent so much as child-dependent…and time of day!) It is therefore crucial to be both consistent with messages, and to repeat them with frequency. It’s amazing to hear the kids respond to “what is our goal with a bully?” with “TO CONTROL AND NEGOTIATE!” (We encourage the idea that we aren’t learning Martial Arts to injure anyone else – the key purpose is to know how to protect ourselves and others, should we need to, but also to use our skills only as a last resort.)

For children with disabilities, the concept of bullying can be more difficult. Cognitive or physical limitations may result in the child not fully understanding that he or she is IN a bullying situation, let alone how to manage the situation if it is happening. I believe in teaching – I believe in helping individuals to understand how to recognize danger, violence, harassment, and bullying before it happens or, if that window is missed, when it is happening. It is only with the knowledge of what is taking place that we are able to do something about the situation.

I also believe it is vital that each of set the example – whether our own children, our nieces and nephews, kids we see in classes at school or in sports…we are always on the radar. Children are constantly watching and learning from our actions as much as our words (I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of a little one coming out with a mouthful of something hilarious after having picked it up from an adult – you never know what they’ll say next, only that they are ALWAYS absorbing.)

Children will pick up our mannerisms, our prejudices, our attitudes, and our approach to people / places / things. As such, we must keep in mind that what we say / do, and the methods by which we manage situations are likely to be adopted (depending on how much time we spend with them.) Takeaway —> Children are hugely impressionable.

EXAMPLES…

  1. In Martial Arts class, I ensure that I hold EVERYONE to the same standards (including myself)
  2. I am always impeccably dressed (gi, belt, tabi, hair tied up, no jewelry)
  3. I ALWAYS show a “Zanshin” or “ready stance” when I am demonstrating a technique with my Sensei…both before and after the technique, to show it is vital to always be ready for a potential threat (or a threat’s follow-up)
  4. When I see someone acting out or in a bullying manner, I very quickly address it and make sure involved parties understand what happened, and why their actions were not acceptable
  5. I treat everyone equally
  6. I speak in a firm but respectful tone
  7. I reward great behavior with positive, verbal affirmations
  8. Likewise, I don’t tolerate fooling around – a Martial Arts setting is not the place!

My behavior and approach will be modeled, so it is important that I lead by example. I do the same when volunteering – we have a few children with autism who like to get particularly rowdy. I make clear when something is not acceptable in explicit terms, and I encourage and reward positive behaviors.

In daily life I also do my best to lead with an empathetic heart. This doesn’t mean I am necessarily more vulnerable to or unaware of realistic dangers, only that I approach my assessments with some level of compassion. (I am not, let’s be clear, referring to a dangerous situation – during such times, we must act without hesitation. This is its own rabbit-hole conversation!) But. . .in regular, day-to-day activities, I do my best to treat others as I want to be treated, and to have compassion for those in need. I am not raising a child of my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t impact those around me – I want those children to know the beauty of an empathetic heart, and that it is up to us to champion for those who may be unable to do so for themselves. 

There are many bullying situations in which a child may not fully grasp the danger he or she is in (as above.) While there are no definitive statistics, it is clear that many people stand around and do nothing. To me, that is simply unconscionable.

We encourage the children in our classes to – first and foremost – get an adult. That action is doing SOMEthing. If they are in the midst of it, we show them some of the ways they can be involved and stay as safe as possible. But we don’t say “just stand there and stare!” We want them to recognize danger when it occurs, and know that they have safe options to HELP. At the end of the day, those actions can literally save a life. 

Empathy and compassion matter.

Having tools to use in dangerous situations matters.

Let’s do our part to help children to understand what they can do, and to help them grow into compassionate adults – they need never, EVER be helpless.

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Magnify The Strengths

I have the great fortune to work with many individuals with disabilities, and to learn alongside their families and those in special education. I have always lived my life believing that kindness is not only valuable…but crucial. I believe that when we have something nice to say, or we recognize something beautiful in another person, that we should speak up.

Working in this community has extended the importance of this even further. There is nothing more wonderful than seeing the face of a child when they suddenly believe in themselves. When we share a kind word and focus on their strengths (often in spite of great adversity) we have the power to illuminate their world. I take that responsibility very seriously, and frankly…I feel it is an honor to be in such a position. As all human beings, they already know where they struggle…they don’t need to be reminded of where they fall short, but rather to see all the things they do well.

No matter who you are, no matter who someone else is…if you have something kind to say...SAY IT. Don’t hold back because a few supportive words could make all the difference in someone’s day…or in their life. We all remember certain compliments we’ve received over the years, and we remember how those comments made us feel. Share that gift with others that they too may recognize their wonderful contributions to the world.

 

Never Regret Being A Good Person

There are certain tenants by which I live my life – though I may fall short of my own (somewhat lofty) standards at times, I know that gratitude, kindness, acceptance, patience, respect, honesty, and empathy will always be at the top of my list. 

I’d rather be kind to someone who isn’t in return than meet them on a lower playing field. The Universe has a way of righting paths without my intervention…so I allow it, and Karma, to do their thing.

I am 1,000% responsible for my behavior – good, bad, and otherwise. But I will never have to own anyone else’s. 

“AS IF” – The Key To Magic And Manifesting (Yes, Really!)

It’s a simple phrase – two words, to be exact – but it can have a profound effect on how your life unfolds. I’ll share an example below…

It is a human problem to get caught up in “should,” in “what is,” and “what could be” – everyone projects at times, and everyone worries. We also often mix up what we can change with the multitude of external influences that we can’t. Here’s a not-so-secret secret:

CONTROL WHAT WE CAN – US

Yes, I know…humbling. But, so true. We have absolutely ZERO control over anything but ourselves. Don’t lose hope, throw in the towel, or begin assuming that means we are on a predestined path-‘o’-doom just yet, though. We aren’t! By controlling ourselves – the only sphere in which we truly have power – we are able to affect what goes on around us.

The ever-awesome Serenity Prayer

Think of the ability to impact our surroundings, therefore, as the positive byproduct of managing ourselves (our reactions, our responses, our non-responses, our attitude, our actions…) It’s kind of like lead by example…only the student to follow suit in this case is destiny...

OUR INTERNAL DIALOGUE MATTERS

As per my post yesterday, Speak Victory, Not Defeat, the conversations we have internally can literally map out how our path unfolds before us. Positive thinking, energy, and words can – oh yes, quite literally! – attract the good you are hoping for. Ever heard “be careful what you wish for”? There’s a reason people say it…because enough people have experienced the “hoping-for-the-worst-and-that’s-exactly-what-happened!” Another sterling example of how life is shaped by the input we provide it – I’m willing to bet you’ve been there.

The energy we put out tells the Universe what we want – without judgment it tries to match our “desires.” The intense focus and power we give to our thoughts is like handing over a blueprint to the powers that be. “Thoughts become things,” they say… Yes. They do.

SHIFT OURSELVES, SHIFT THE UNIVERSE

I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to buffer oneself against disappointment, by the way. I also don’t think it’s necessary that we lower our standards. Rather, it’s about altering our own perceptions and expectations. When we see and expect great things, they often find their way to us. When we don’t, life can become a merciless tidal wave. 

So how do we shift that little thing called the Universe? We rephrase. Instead of “I can’t afford that,” we could say “I have more than enough to do all the things I want and need to do.” Instead of “I can’t” try, “I can do anything I put my mind to – I attract positive opportunities all the time.” 

Here’s an example from my own life…

Somewhere around three weeks after meeting my husband, I told him a story about magic and miracles. Until I finished speaking, I’m not sure he knew I was referring to him…

We were having dinner at a diner in our hometown, and I remember – wholly unabashedly – explaining how I had (only a few months before) announced to the Universe that I was all-in for a change. A complete overhaul. I was so committed to being happy and healthy, that nothing was to stand in my way. I had decided that either:

  1. I’d go through life solo, and be 1,000% okay with that (and I was) OR…
  2. I’d meet a man who was everything I ever hoped for, and the man I would marry.

Yes, I was that specific.

And…even more so…

I made a vision board and described – to a T – the man I was sitting with that night, and the man I married one Halloween a year and a half later. I described qualities that I so desperately wanted in a partner, but ones I never had. I described a man who was loyal, honest, gentle with my heart, accepting of me in spite of my quirks, who would respect and love me more with each day. I described the kind of person who would be as excited about my passions as I was, for no other reason that they brought me joy. I described the kind of man anyone would want in their corner because he’d have a heart brighter than the sun…

And then? I took it further. I embraced the “AS IF.”

New Years passed and I not only continued to remain committed to myself, but I made it a point to practice daily. I thought about what it would be like to come home to someone who was actually happy to see me at the end of the day…because no one else ever was. I acted AS IF that actually happened, and I’d hear him in my mind coming home and speaking to me with kindness. I’d make myself feel what it would feel like to be held, and loved, and cherished…AS IF I already had those things.

I not only focused, thought, spoke aloud…but I believed. I believed I was worthy and deserving. I believed those things AS IF. It took some practice as I had not known what such things felt like…but I did everything in my power to try.

I remember the look he had in his eyes when I finished speaking that evening. I remember my voice saying that I had dreamed so deeply that my thoughts became real, and that in a moment of magical manifestation, he walked out of a snow storm and through the door at the coffee shop where we met. I remember the hug he gave me before I got into the car after dinner, and the feeling of safety, comfort, warmth, and joy.

STAY IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT

I was never the kind of person who needed to be in a relationship. I never felt that I needed to be “completed,” and I wasn’t desperate to be in another situation after so many that had failed. I was a shell of a person for a long time, and it still takes work to be a better human being each day – something I ever strive for. But I decided that the only thing that would hold me back is ME – my thoughts, energy, action, and words. I needed to do an about-face, jump back on the positive bandwagon, and to act AS IF the things I wanted had already come to pass. When I did, my life shifted dramatically…

I remember, also, when I shifted jobs earlier on in my career – I remember whenever I started to feel unappreciated, not challenged enough, or that I wasn’t growing on the trajectory I had set for myself, something else came along. When I think about it, I was envisioning being promoted, or being eagerly offered something new. And opportunities always managed to materialize. Maybe I was young and felt naively impervious – that may be true. But I recall not having the sense that I couldn’t – it just felt like opportunity was there and I could have it. (I also, by the way, remember leaving my last job in Fashion…which was horribly unpleasant. It was, however, something I sincerely believe I wished for.” Tale for another day, but let’s just say, I was heard by someone upstairs!)

Life is tumultuous and we have no way of knowing what is to come. We can stay worried and stressed, which is a horrible way to exist (we rob ourselves of joy and the ability to experience life!) OR…we can practice positivity and act AS IF. Trust me, I’m working on it too – being an Empath means I feel my own emotions (rather loudly!) and everyone else’s too. I have to work at not taking things that aren’t mine, and finding the space to breathe. But…I DO. I turn the radio down and talk to myself ALL. THE. TIME. I make it a habit to say something nice to myself, and to act AS IF as much as I can. Even when we know it’s the best way to be, it isn’t easy! But…it’s possible, and it’s the “possible” we want to aim for.

IN SUMMARY:

  1. Focus on what you can change, not on what you can’t. That means getting to know YOU intimately.
  2. Speak victory! Try shifting perceptions and expectations to GOOD and GREAT. Expect wonderful and you might just find yourself having a better day, or presented with exciting opportunities.
  3. Think about times when you got what you “wished for” – good, bad, otherwise. This might reveal quite a lot…
  4. Rephrase everything you say and think to positive statements.
  5. Remember that you are worthy and deserving of good things.
  6. Picture all the wonderful things you want in your life AS IF you already have them. Be specific. Be clear. Focused intention can bring about miracles.
  7. DON’T GIVE UP! Keep practicing. Fake it until you make it. It takes time to shift our thinking but…everything is possible, and the Universe will follow suit.

🙂

 

 

 

 

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Overthinking

Since this is in-line with my other post…!

Overthinking is a disastrous habit – truly. It seeks and destroys in a fell thought, and generally, we are way off base! I am learning – and trying – to overthink less. When in sports, I always remind students (as much as I do myself!) that thinking too much inhibits movement. Imagine what overthinking does to our brain, body, and soul?!

It’s okay to reflect – I believe that shows our eagerness to learn. But “overthinking” is often a big negative, carrying us down self-imposed, imaginary rabbit holes where things AREN’T actually as they are. 

The best way I know how to “fix” my problem is to begin with awareness. I try to be aware when my thoughts barrel off the tracks at high-speed because, if nothing else, I can *try* to grab at the breaks. Awareness allows us to acknowledge what’s going on…and from there, we can actually do something about it. We can remind ourselves that we are being irrational and unreasonable...and we can replace those “negative” thoughts with positives. Boy, do I need that today!

As with everything else, a lifetime pursuit but…we have to start somewhere! Listen to your thoughts and honestly ask yourself if they are based in reality and / or the here-and-now. If they aren’t, you might need to step back for a moment, slow your thoughts down, and even give yourself a pinch. It doesn’t hurt to make a gratitude journal, or to say some “positives” aloud – such exercises can bring us back to a present, calmer, and more positive state. Happiness actually IS and inside job.

 

Still Learning

There are so many things that I am still learning in life, and so many that will be a lifetime pursuit. I think that’s really the case for all of us – each day brings and endless opportunities to learn. And knowledge is infinite…

One of the harder lessons, however, is one that I struggle with daily – learning to be more gentle with myself. While I know that staying in the present moment is THE way to be (for so many reasons!), that the conversation I have with myself is crucial to my well-being, that I have SO much to be thankful for (and I am!) and that “I should be’s” are never appropriate…I STILL have a hard time.

Today is one of those days where I feel like I am beating myself up…ad infinitum! I don’t really deserve it, but it’s always the way that our habitual “hard-on-ourselves” attitudes are one of the most challenging to uproot.

Fortunately, I’m committed to the long haul – reflecting on my behaviors not only that affect those around me, but also myself, is something I do every day. I’ll be a “work in progress” for a lifetime but…that’s okay. I’m thankful for all that I have, and for all that my mind, body, and soul have – successfully – carried me through.

Here’s to being a little bit kinder to ourselves instead of carrying around unnecessary blame and hurt…

 

 

To Give, And To Take

Giving is not about what we receive in return, and ought to be without expectation.

That which we are blessed to receive, however, is worth cherishing.