Zak Mucha, LCSW
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Zak Mucha has presented workshops on emotional abuse at the School of the Art Insititute of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, and to Chicago Public Libraries and Chicago Public Schools as a part of the Teen Volume Program.

Emotional Self-Defense

Bullying is not merely an issue for children or adolescents, but early interventions can minimize or eliminate later susceptibility to physical or emotional abuse. Adults working with children and adolescents have the opportunity to disrupt the aggressor/target dynamic before it becomes calcified. We can tell children “it gets better” as long as we also provide the tools needed to make it better. These tools are not a simple “kit” or a list of bullet points, but are the first, and always individualized, steps in emotional self-defense.

Physical bullying may diminish over a lifetime, but emotional bullying can continue throughout adulthood — in the workplace, social settings, intimate relationships, and among family dynamics. The behavior of both aggressors and targets can be repeated throughout the lifespan, creating damaged and damaging cycles of behavior.

Those targeted by physical or emotional abuse already possess the empathy needed to not hurt others. They must also be taught the steps of recognizing aggression, identifying their own pain, and determining the cost of challenging the aggressors in order to stop the bullying. As adult caretakers, we are to model behavior and provide a safe space for learning. This responsibility may provide the only respite for a child and may provide the best opportunity for that child to realize his or her own needs and values.

If our culture continues to acquiesce to the demands of the aggressors — by denying our empathy can coexist with our own self-defense — we diminish our own potential, as individuals and as a society.