Understand Bullying: Why Some Surrender

John Bailey
5 min readJun 1, 2021

Welcome (back?). Last time, I promised to disclose why some surrender to being bullied, and how that choice can lead to shame, sadness, and depression — even becoming a life-long narrative of victimization — or even harm to self or others.

Motivational Literacy considers surrender as an emotion — that of giving up or accepting defeat. In the context of bullying, this is the third action of the bullying system: Accepting mistreatment.

Surrender is the most common navigation from frustration by American youth — and the second-most-common by American adults. We call it “surrender” because of the language and gestures that go with it — raising the hands and saying “I don’t need this”:

Surrender is also a common navigation from fear, as a person moves toward submission or flight. And, surrender is often the next emotion after a person feels overwhelmed.

Most people move from surrender into shame or sadness — other bullying system states that encourage acceptance of mistreatment. Some people will surrender briefly and bounce back into persevering toward their goal; many will not.

What we repeatedly do in one context we are more likely to do in another. If we habitually surrender to frustrations, fears, and challenges — we’re more likely to surrender to bullying — which is just another kind of frustrating and frightening challenge. Children tend to copy — and to generalize — emotional patterns like this. Question #1 for adults is: “What are you modeling?”

How often do you use a phrase like this — or something similar:

  • “It’s just not worth it.”
  • “I don’t need this!” (hands up like the picture above)
  • “It’s just too much to keep doing it.”
  • “I’ve had it.”
  • “I’m done.”

Each of those — or anything like them — probably disclose a surrender in progress — the ending of some effort; the unraveling of some commitment.

Remember that emotions are faster than rational thinking? So, any “reasons” we offer about those phrases and choices are rationalizations we’ve built AFTER choosing to surrender. Our response to frustration, fear, or overwhelm — has been to give up and, ACCEPT THE LOSS (the third action of the bullying system!)

Forget your “reasons” for a moment, and just be honest about how frequently you use phrases like the ones above. Realize that frequency is your frequency of modeling “surrender” as an emotional navigation.

We tend to repeat whatever we repeat.

Regardless of your past pattern, consider using the debriefing activity I outlined earlier in this series to improve your batting average. Remember the debriefing activity isn’t a “secret adult thing”, but part of an effective life-skills kit that youngsters won’t use if they don’t think it’s normal. All high-performance athletes and performers use this kid of activity daily.

Surrendering to Bullies:

In earlier parts of this series, I’ve said bullying is “social sorting by despotic means”. And, the third activity of the bullying system is “acceptance of mistreatment”.

In the bullying context, “surrender” means accepting “your place” in a social dictated by someone else.

The bully isn’t just advertising their position over the target; they’re advertising their authority to dictate social order. And, others tend to follow along with this through the psychological pressures of conformity.

If we repeatedly surrender in the face of one kind of challenge, it makes surrender a more acceptable way to deal with another.

In our culture, surrendering is considered the act of a coward- a shameful act. To accept being “put in one’s place” — having one’s worth defined by another — implies that the self has no inherent worth — that worth comes from the grace of more powerful people. This is the structure of shame. And, it is crushing.

Shame is self-sustaining with surrender: Each begetting the other.

And, it is not surprising that sadness follows in a way that can be life-threatening to the surrendering, ashamed, sad person — or even to others. Some people will “bounce” out of their sad desperation through an explosive expression of anger and violence…

What Can I Do?

If we want to reduce bullying, we must build resilience in youngsters by making surrender a less common navigation from fear, frustration, and overwhelm.

One of the most important things adults should do to help this is to demand an end to “zero tolerance” for self-defense. That kind of policy sends a message to the child that they are not valued by adults and that they shouldn’t value themselves. This encourages them to surrender ; to accept others’ definition of their worth; and to feel ashamed for being unworthy of protection even by those who claim to value them.

Under zero-tolerance-of-self-defense policies, they will be punished for NOT surrendering to one despotic social organizer —through the power of a different despotic (patently unfair) social organizer.

This is another reason children suffer silently and don’t even talk to their parents. Under “zero tolerance” for self defense, standing up for themselves in the short term means bigger and farther-reaching punishment including, loss of grades, permanent record, and being labeled a trouble-maker (one who does not readily surrender).

Can we wonder why children would choose to surrender to the smaller and lesser of bullies — or why they choose to suffer silently rather than suffer even worse shame?

Adults should model effective coping with frustration, fear, and overwhelm by moving into states other than surrender and anger — by doing “troubleshooting” to discover and learn from the experience. Adults can also model perseverance — and maintaining that by taking smaller bites of the elephant. We should model a healthy diet of developmental frustration and fear — to build our tolerance and navigation into determination and resolve rather than surrender.

Beyond modeling, adults can facilitate healthy doses of frustration and fear — making sure to provide right-sized experiences. This will encourage growth rather than surrender. If we (or a child) take too big a bite and winds up in surrender, we should model or coach a bouncing-out navigation — back into resolve.

Well-managed martial arts classes are a good venue for youngsters to face fears and frustrations and build the vital success habit of persevering and overcoming. Every fear, frustration, and overwhelming situation is another opportunity to model, practice, and encourage this habit — and to use debriefing to make sure they notice and take it in.

The change you want to see is waiting — for you to make it happen.

What are you waiting for?

Next time, I’m going to show the role sadness plays in the bullying system — and how it can lead down a dark path — to both being a target — and to bullying!