We live in a culture that emphasizes winning, and in many circumstances people will use physical and emotional violence in order to achieve some sense of power. Almost everyone will experience some form of bullying during their lifetime, possibly without being fully aware of what is happening.
The effects can be severe and long-lasting, reducing a personís confidence, disrupting their ability to develop relationships with others, and increasing their risk of developing a number of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In some cases, a victim of bullying may spend so much time feeling powerless that the only way they feel they can escape is through suicide. Sadly, this is far too common.
Bullying can take place in schools, the workplace, public settings, care facilities, and your home. To recognize and combat these trends, itís important to seek a deeper understanding of bullying. Letís explore the many forms bullying can take, the groups that may be targeted, and some strategies for reducing or preventing bullying and its effects.
Bullying Among Children
Children are particularly vulnerable to bullying, abuse, and other traumatic events whether these take place in school, in their community, or at home. For example, this could involve a parent who relies heavily on force and strong language to keep their child docile. Some amount of discipline is useful to curb behaviors that may otherwise endanger a child, though this doesnít need to be physical in nature. Taking away privileges or putting the child in timeout are examples of disciplinary actions that donít involve physical force.
If a punishment is motivated by a parentís anger, rather than teaching the child, it may not be appropriate. This is true, even if the punishment doesnít involve outwardly abusive actions like shouting or hitting. For example, imagine a parent locks their child in their room because they are too angry to even look at them. To the parent, this may seem like the right thing to do in that moment, but it is cruel to the child and may create feelings of fear, despair, and anger.
Although it is perfectly normal for parents to become frustrated by their childís behavior, itís best for the parent to wait until they have calmed down before deciding on an appropriate response.
Schools are another place where various forms of bullying could take place. For example, a gym coach may berate children who are too slow or overweight. Or a teacher may single out particular students for poor performance, humiliating them in front of their classmates. In either of these scenarios, the child will be hurt emotionally, causing them to act out. This can also create a defeatist mentality, in which the children no longer believe in themselves and may completely give up on any chance of improving their performance.
Children can also be cruel to each other in a number of ways. Because they develop physically at such different rates, extreme power dynamics can develop when a bigger kid decides to push around a weaker child. However, a bully might simply exclude another child from games or groups, which can damage their confidence during a very important time in a childís social development.
One of the most prevalent forms of bullying has arisen alongside our ability to connect with each other online. Because children have access to internet-capable devices at an early age, they are increasingly at risk for cyberbullying. Social media platforms, in particular, hold a lot of emotional importance among people today, and the perceived distance of digital interactions allows bullies to behave even more cruelly.
Common tactics involved with cyberbullying include the following:
Denigration, which involves publicly posting hurtful statements about another person online. For example, a bully may make a mean comment about someoneís weight in a photo or leave negative comments on all of the victimís posts.
Impersonation, in which a bully hacks into the victimís account and posts offensive or embarrassing content. The bully may also use the victimís account to insult other people, creating additional drama and stress.
Flaming refers to fighting back and forth over social media. This often involves denigration tactics, and any comments the victim makes in their defense will likely only make the situation worse by giving the bully more attention and fuel for criticism.
Outing refers to a bully gaining private information about a person, perhaps posing as the victimís friend initially. Later the bully will post this information publicly without consent in order to embarrass the victim.
Cyberstalking occurs when a bully repeatedly sends offensive, threatening, or humiliating messages to a victim.
Cyberbullies may be anonymous, which can make it difficult to prevent abuse online or punish those responsible. Cyberbullying is especially harmful because children canít escape the digital world as easily as a bully on a playground. Often, children have access to social media channels 24 hours a day. Because online posts are highly visible and shareable, cyberbullying can have widespread effects very quickly. Also, negative posts may remain online for a long time, functioning as a living record of someoneís pain and embarrassment.
Unfortunately, children donít often know how to address issues with bullies, and the abuse may go on for a long time before they seek help. Itís best to talk with children about the different ways they might be mistreated as well as people they could talk to if they are in danger.
Bullying Among Adults
While children may be especially susceptible to bullying, itís a common trend in adult relationships as well. Your workplace is one of the most common areas where you might encounter bullying. While your feelings may be hurt because of differences in opinion, constructive criticism, and disciplinary action, these donít necessarily qualify as bullying when expressed appropriately.
However, if your manager or coworker seems to be intentionally embarrassing, intimidating, or criticizing you constantly, they may be bullying you. Spreading office rumors, telling offensive jokes, making unwanted sexual advances, and taking part in profanity-laced rants or conversations are also common forms of abuse in the workplace.
Because we depend on our jobs to provide for so much of our lives, it is easy to feel trapped in these situations. Sometimes calmly, yet firmly letting the bully know that their behavior is not acceptable and asking them to stop is enough to dissuade them from continuing to hurt you. You might ask a supervisor to be present for this interaction. Do not retaliate against the bully at any point as this may confuse your management team when they evaluate and respond to the situation.
If you arenít comfortable speaking directly with the bully, your employer may have an anonymous way to report the issues to a human resources department or a considerate manager. Unfortunately, your identity might be obvious to the bully, especially if they are already singling you out, and itís possible this could worsen the situation. Hopefully, however, the management team will take action to ensure the bullying stops.
Beyond face-to-face issues, there are other ways that bullies can take advantage of people in the workplace. Management team members are particularly well-poised to bully from a more administrative vantage point. For example, perhaps you are consistently scheduled to work the hardest or most inconvenient shifts, while others only have to do so occasionally.
Bullying can also occur related to the amount youíre compensated. This might mean you havenít had access to opportunities for raises or promotions, or maybe you arenít being paid as much as someone who does equal or less work. In most areas of the U.S. and around the world, significant pay gaps are a major issue, especially for women. While local policies are being put into place to correct this, it will still take time and the willingness to speak out about fair compensation in order to see individual and widespread change.
At home, bullying may take the form of domestic violence, which affects many families. Often this involves a spouse who is verbally or physically abusive. Perhaps the bully holds some kind of power over the other, like a higher salary, which may make the bullied person feel like they would have nowhere to go if they left. Often this power dynamic is accompanied by physical threats and violence, which forces the victim to submit out of fear.
Less obvious forms of domestic abuse include the following:
Constant blaming for the abuserís own problems, negative feelings, or poor circumstances.
Jealousy that leads to constant accusations and close monitoring of the victim and their communications.
Controlling behavior, which may begin as a means to keep the victim safe but later prevents the victim from acting independently with their finances or traveling freely.
Isolating the victim from their friends and family.
Demanding sex when the victim is unwell, tired, or unwilling.
Enforcing strict roles related to how a person should behave, who should do specific tasks like cleaning, and who gets to make decisions.
Domestic abuse can have major impacts on a family, even for members who are not the direct target of mistreatment. At times, domestic violence is part of a vicious cycle created when future generations take on the habits of an abusive family member they grew up with. Consider that if you saw your parents behave toward each other aggressively, it may seem like a normal way to solve your problems. Without more positive examples, this may easily become your tendency as well later on.
Responding to Bullies
In some cases, whether the bully is a child or an adult, they may not realize how their behavior impacts others. For example, someone who has been promoted to a manager position because of their expertise in a previous role may not have received the proper training in order to manage a team of people. This lack of preparation could result in them unknowingly favoring some employees over others or creating situations that may seem intentionally stressful.
Similarly, children may not understand the serious emotional impacts their words and actions may have on others. In either of these situations, clear communication could be the first step to solving issues with bullying. As I mentioned above, retaliation using similar tactics as the bully will likely only worsen the situation. Instead, calmly and confidently explain how the personís behavior makes you feel and ask them to stop. You may need to practice this interaction on your own or ask for someone to help you negotiate the situation.
Although a bullyís personal history does not give them the right to cause pain toward others, it is important to note that their behavior may be influenced by their own troublesome circumstances. This could be an abusive family member or some other factor that has inspired them to seek other forms of control in their life.
We canít always know other peopleís emotions based on how they express themselves, but itís important not to hate someone outright just because theyíve treated you poorly. Perhaps they need help as well from unstable circumstances. This may be especially true for children who are behaving aggressively toward others due to abuse at home.
You donít deserve to be bullied ó not at school, at work, at home, or anywhere else. Unfortunately, bullying is a widespread practice that can take very subtle forms and may last years. By knowing what to look for and making efforts to prevent yourself from remaining a victim, you can stand up against bullies throughout your life and help others to do the same.