how can words kill? The psychoanalyst Claude Halmos responds
January 7, 2023: a schoolboy hangs himself in his room. He was 13 years old and his name was Lucas. How can a boy of this age come to such a gesture? How can he, in the midst of his notebooks, his books, his objects, in this universe which is his, and which no doubt habitually reassures him as familiar things can reassure us, decide on a gesture which will moments later, all that for him will no longer exist, and that he himself will no longer be there? What could he have experienced that drove him to such despair that he could no longer consider any other solution?
Faced with this questioning, a word was put forward: harassment. It was explained that students in his class were “harassing” Lucas about his sexual orientation. And everyone was once again outraged. Well Named. But have we taken the measure of what harassment really is? Nothing is less sure.
We can indeed think that many of those who are indignant, if they were questioned further on the suicide of Lucas (or on others, which occurred in equivalent circumstances) would undoubtedly invoke – without denying the weight of the suffering suffered – a particular fragility of this adolescent. Thus proving their conviction – widely shared elsewhere – that, if harassment can be fatal, it is not in its nature to be. However, such a view is wrong.
Lucas undoubtedly had weaknesses: all human beings, regardless of age, have them. But harassment has no need for the frailties of its victims to kill them and what is more surprising is not so much that it kills, but that it does not kill even more often than it does, for it is, as such, a weapon; and even a weapon with, in its very design, the ability to kill. And it would be urgent to understand it, because only the awareness of its extreme dangerousness can allow the immediate and total mobilization that bullying requires as soon as it occurs, especially in schools.
Why is bullying so dangerous?
Every person lives with an – internalized – image of themselves, which is essential to their psychic balance, on the one hand because this image is part of the awareness that this person has of themselves (awareness expressed by in French, the pronominal form: I “me” feel like this…). And, on the other hand, because it is always with the idea (false, but tenacious) that others will necessarily see her as she sees herself that the person approaches her encounters with them.
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