Take it from a man who has suffered bullying (and still does) — that there is a way to deal with the bully and being the bullied.
Born with no arms and legs, Nick Vujicic was a prime target for bullies at his school. At age 10, he attempted suicide.
In Singapore last week for the launch of his latest book, Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying (And Other Stuff That Keeps You Down), the Australian motivational speaker and bestselling author shared how his faith helped him overcome the trauma of bullying—but not before revealing worrying statistics about the bullying epidemic affecting children worldwide, both at home and in school.
In a survey conducted by the Hawaiian government last year, 12.8 percent of students have attempted suicide—double the rate on the US mainland. Two-thirds cited abusive homes as the reason for attempting suicide while others cited bullying as school as the instigating factor.
Vujicic (pronounced “vooycheech”) was born in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia, with no arms and legs. Unsurprisingly, he grew up struggling with inner demons of low self-esteem, depression and self-destructiveness, feeling that he would never graduate from college and support himself nor find a woman who would love him. The trauma of being bullied at school every day pushed him to the brink of suicide.
Today, he has a double Bachelor’s degree, majoring in Accounting and Financial Planning from Griffith University. Through his nonprofit organization, Life Without Limbs, he has traveled to over 54 countries and his books have been translated into 36 languages. Just last year, he and his wife, Kanae (whom he married in 2012) welcomed a son into their family, Kiyoshi.
Like his previous best-sellers, Life Without Limits and Unstoppable, Stand Strong is about overcoming adversities in life; but it goes beyond dishing out convenient self-help mantras to sharing specific methods to fight back while according respect to the perpetrator:
- Creating a safety zone within oneself
- Establish strong values no bully can shake
- Deal with cyber bullies
- Develop a spiritual foundation to stay strong against bullying
- Monitor one’s emotions and control own responses
- Help others who are bullied
In 2013, a year after Vujicic visited a school in Hawaii, the principal wrote to him saying that after his visit, bullying cases dropped to zero.
One standout aspect of the book is about treating the bully with respect (while protecting oneself) instead of bullying back and ostracizing him or her. Vujicic himself discovered that the biggest bully in his school who tormented him and many others had been brought up in foster homes, and violence was the only way of life he’d known. By controlling one’s own emotions and responses to the bully, the vicious cycle of bullying can be broken.
Acknowledging that there is no single infallible strategy for dealing one-on-one with bullies, Vujicic shares different methods he used to face up to his bullies in his book—some right and some wrong.
In one instance, he was lured into a fight (impressively, he was the one who sent the other boy scuttling).
In a separate incident, he directly confronted the bully. “It takes confidence and humility to admit that you’re hurting. Look them in the eye and tell them to stop.” To his surprise, the school bully did. “When you know that you’ve done everything you can, that’s when you even have compassion on them,” he explained.
To this day, even as a well-known figure, he still suffers from bullying. In the chapter about creating a bully defense system, he recounts a recent episode where a drunk hotel guest embarrassed him in front of his new wife by making crass, hurtful comments about his body; in that scenario, he kept silent, and the sting of embarrassment soon passed.
The book also talks about handling the bullies within oneself—the negative emotions that seek to override one’s physical responses. “The space between feeling an emotion and responding to it is critical. In that space lies the secret to self-control and emotional intelligence, the two gifts that can help you be more successful, confident and happy.”
In combating bullying, Vujicic also shared about the importance of connection between parent and child, and encouraged parents to have conversations beyond the “surface-y” things, such as “How was school?” “Did you do your homework?”
“Have conversations outside of school and homework, spend quality time with them, take up video games if you have to, being too busy is no excuse,” he said. “Educate them about the world, teach them that life is not just about the next toy. Help them understand the difference between irrational fear and rational fear.”
He also emphasized the importance of affirmation. “Affirm the truth of their value, that they are loved just as they are, and don’t have to worry about what other people think. Tell your kids that they are beautiful, don’t let other people determine their value. Be intentional about encouraging them every day. If you’re not persistent and intentional in telling them the truth of their value, they will not hear it from anywhere else. It needs to come from you. Even if you feel like your influence is limited, use my story as an example of pressing through and not letting other people determine your value.”
Sharing about the importance of grounding a child in his identity as who and whose he is instead of what he looks like or what he does, Vujicic said, “I don’t even care if [my son] becomes a janitor,” adding that it was the janitor at his high school who inspired him to become a motivational speaker.
His advice for those being bullied? “Hold on. Don’t give up. Don’t tease back. Don’t gossip back.”
Faith As An Anchor
For all the insurmountable odds he has overcome and the happiness he walks in now, Vujicic has this to say about the oft-spouted mantra “just think positive.”
“To believe in an absolute truth, you must first believe in it to look for it. If you tell me that there’s a gift outside the door, and I don’t believe you, I won’t look for it, and I will never have it. If there was no gift, it does not matter how hard I believe, it doesn’t change the truth that there is no gift. Your belief does not change the truth, but your belief in the truth helps you find the truth and live in it,” he says, speaking of his faith in God that helped him overcome his greatest life struggles.
“You can think positive—and that’s a part of it—but without faith in God, it’s not the full picture, because happiness doesn’t come from existing and living your best life. What if I never became a speaker? Am I still Nick Vujicic? Yes. Will I still find hope? Yes.”
He explains further, “Now that I know I’m an eternal being, I can go look for things and try things. If I fail, I’ll try again. If it’s meant to be that I’m gonna be a speaker, I’m gonna be a speaker. But if I’m not meant to be a speaker, my happiness is not determined by what I achieve and what I have, but who I am and how I affect people along the way. Because at my funeral, no one’s gonna care that six of the top 10 books in Singapore were written by me. They’re gonna care about how Nick loved people, how he brought the best out of people, how he believed in heaven and how we’re gonna see him in heaven. To me, that’s why I’m rich and that’s why I’m happy, and I just hope people find that the deeper meaning of life is bigger than just believing in a circumstance or a dream.”
Stand Strong is a definite must-read for those struggling with bullying problems as well as parents whose children are involved with bullying at school, be it on the giving or receiving end. However, with bullying being a scourge not just within the school—remember the Singaporean bully caught on video viciously slapping a co-worker across the face last year—it’s a good read for just about anyone who does not want to be a mere bystander when injustices happen, but be a force for positive change.
Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying (And Other Stuff That Keeps You Down) is available at all major bookstores.