Bullying & Self-Image

Many people will experience bullying at some point in their lives. This could be by others at school, by brothers or sisters, or even by adults. It’s important to remember that bullying is bullying, no matter where it’s coming from, and that the best way to stop bullying is to call it what it is and ask for help.

Bullying comes in many forms, from physical hitting and stealing or damaging your belongings to indirect bullying like excluding you from groups and spreading nasty rumours.

Some myths about bullying include ideas like ‘it’s harmless fun’, it ‘builds character’, it’s ‘just teasing’ or that the best way to deal with it is to fight back. If friends and relatives say these kinds of things to you, they may mean well but that doesn’t mean they’re right! Bullying is never acceptable, and hurts both the victim and the bully in the long term.

It can be very hard to speak up about bullying, but if you or someone you know is being bullied, it’s important to take it seriously and do something about it.

UK Charity Changing Faces have a lot of resources around looking different, building your confidence, and coping with reactions from others. Visit their Young People Hub.

“Being bullied in Secondary School is very different, as there are many more people of older ages and kids get meaner the older they get. Never keep your feelings inside, it makes things worse. Talk to people who you trust, this can be anyone. If things get really bad then you must tell a teacher. I know this sounds like it will make things worse, but it won’t. I kept things to myself for a while and I got very depressed. When I started to talk openly to my friends I felt happier and more confident to just ignore the bullies. Let them see you having a great time with your friends. Don’t let them get to you!” Chloe, 16 year old with a cleft

“I remember one day a boy just called me every name possible about my nose and my lip and I ended up losing control and shouted so many things back then sat in my room all night and cried, but it didn’t make me feel better. In fact it taught me that retaliating wasn’t going to change the way I looked and it certainly wasn’t going to change that boy’s opinion of me, it was only going to show him that he had won by getting a reaction out of me.” – Jacqueline, adult with a cleft

“By secondary school, after becoming a little bit more mature, I did realise that I was a little different than everyone else, but it didn’t really matter to me. My friends liked me for who I was and barely even noticed my scar. It wasn’t until GSCEs came that I chose to tell the whole school my story (so far) through a speech I had prepared for my coursework. I received huge amounts of recognition and support from both teachers and classmates.” – Chris, adult with a cleft

If You’re Being Bullied

The Clinical Psychology service with your Cleft Team can help you talk through any issues you’re having with bullying or your peers.

The best thing to do is talk to someone in charge, like a teacher, another adult, or your parents. Don’t be embarrassed about this – everyone needs help at some point in their lives, and you have the right to be safe from attacks and harassment. If they don’t listen or can’t help, try someone else and don’t give up until someone takes you seriously.

If you have a cleft, you may look or sound a little different to other people your age, and you may find that other people pick on you because of this. Bullies tend to pick on anyone who is different, especially if they do not understand what’s caused the difference. It may be that the bully doesn’t even know what a cleft is, or what it means, they just see you as ‘different’ and want to single you out because of this. This is prejudice-driven bullying, and is very serious, even if your bully doesn’t understand why. You should tell someone in charge immediately such as your parents or teachers.

When hurtful words are used, it’s often because the person using them doesn’t understand what they mean or why they are hurtful to you, they just know that the words will get a reaction.

You should try to remember that being different to others is nothing to be ashamed of. You have probably gone through several surgeries before you were even a year old, and chances are you have still found parts of growing up with a cleft difficult. The fact that you have overcome these difficulties is something you should be proud of.

If you are being singled out because of differences caused by your cleft, you could take it as a chance to teach your school or class about cleft lip and palate. Talk to your teacher about a way to do this, or ask your parents to talk to the school for you. Your teacher may be able to present something to the class about cleft, or your school may even agree to host a whole assembly around cleft and what it means. If you feel confident enough, you may even want to present something yourself!

The CLAPA website has ideas about what you can do in your school to raise awareness of cleft, including presentations and resources you can use. A CLAPA volunteer may be able to help you and the school put something together.

You could also think about talking to other young people with a cleft about this. Talking to others about your experiences is a great way to learn about ways to cope and what has worked for other people. It may also help you to feel more confident about who you are and the differences that make you unique.

Staring and Comments

If you look or sound different due to being born with a cleft, you might have to deal with other people staring at you or making unwelcome comments. Most of the time, people won’t even realise they’re doing it, but it can still be upsetting. You can’t control what other people do or say, but you can control how you react!

What You Can Do

Smile – a big, confident smile is the best way to show that you’re not the one with the problem – the person staring is! It can also make you feel better than just ignoring the staring, because this way you’re standing up for yourself and being proud of who you are without causing a scene.

Make a joke – If you think it would help, try a funny response like “don’t worry, it’s not contagious!” or “Oh no, I hadn’t noticed! When did that happen?” It shows your personality and can help to get over any awkwardness.

Reassure people – Sometimes people are only staring because they’re concerned. That doesn’t make it okay, but it does mean you can easily reassure them by telling them about your cleft, mentioning that it doesn’t hurt, or saying something like “This is just the way my nose is, don’t worry about it – I don’t!”

Explain your cleft – Have a short explanation ready about your cleft for anyone who asks about it. It can be as simple as “I was born with a cleft lip and I had surgery to fix it when I was a baby. I still have a scar, but it doesn’t bother me.” If you want to start a discussion about it, you could add more details like “I’m having another operation next year on my jaw. It’s scary, but I’m excited about it!” Practice a few different explanations until you feel comfortable with them, and use whichever one feels appropriate at the time.

Learn about cleft lip and palate – knowing all about cleft lip and palate in general means you’ll be ready to answer any questions that might come up and will be able to correct any false ideas people have about it. It may also help to build your confidence around dealing with your own treatment.

Change the subject – If you don’t want to talk about it, introduce another question or topic to move the conversation away from your cleft. For example, if someone asks about your scar you could say “I had an operation when I was a baby but I’m okay now. Did you do your maths homework?”

If this is something that’s really bothering you, you might want to talk to the Clinical Psychologist in your Cleft Team. Part of their role is to try and help young people like you who are concerned about other people’s reactions to their appearance by talking through the problem and coming up with a plan to manage these difficulties. For more booklets or online resources, try Changing Faces.


 

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Published: November 2015

Next Review: February 2017

Source(s): Range of existing literature from CLAPA, including a leaflet produced by the Royal College of Surgeons in association with CLAPA. Stories and suggestions from teenagers born with a cleft have been included throughout. Information from Kidscape Changing Faces was also consulted. This information has been reviewed by cleft health professionals as well as CLAPA’s Children and Young People’s Council.

If you have a comment or question about the information in this page, or would like to know more about the sources of this information, please contact Communications & Information Manager Anna Martindale at [email protected] or 020 7833 4883.

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