When you feel you don't belong - why bullying is so damaging and must be confronted. Image courtesy of Ambro at freedigitalphotos.net
Adolescent bullying can be the time where young people are most vulnerable to the effects of others’ behaviour that essentially is giving the message: “You don’t belong”, “You are not accepted”, “There’s something wrong with you/You’re flawed” or “You’re not good enough as you are.”
It doesn’t have to take the form of physical violence, either. It can be more subtle, like exclusion from groups, or stinging verbal comments.
I feel that bullying during the teen years is a problem that needs to be taken more seriously. Adolescence is a stage of development when acceptance is extremely important for the formation of Identity – Knowing who you are. If you are receiving the message that “who you are” is “unworthy”, this has short-term and may have longer term repercussions.
Not everyone is a bully – fortunately most people are more or less accepting of others. However, people may ‘’copy” the bully’s behaviour, and the victim may feel unworthy to the extent that they begin to hide or avoid future social interactions.
Unfortunately, even the positive interactions may be avoided if the rejection behaviour is severe enough. Due to the message being given that “You are not good enough as you are”, the person may even try to change themselves.
This may lead to social anxiety where the person now feels they won’t fulfil the social expectations of others. They may feel they are just like anyone else, but for some inexplicable reason, they just are not good enough as they are. The avoidance behaviour may lead to not actually being able to find out that not everyone will treat them this way, which deepens the social anxiety.
Depression may develop. Social psychologists have identified that positive connections with others, and acceptance is a vital need. Without the positive messages from pleasant exchanges from others that aren’t received due to intense fear and a deep-seated belief of unworthiness and fear of future rejection, sadness is inevitable. This is not a chemical-based depression.
Identity difficulties may become a problem. That is because a person may change themselves to fit in to what they perceive others want them to be. For example, if a person is told they are “hated for being too quiet”, they may become talkative, or feel a pressure to be ‘someone who they are not’ around others.
Unfortunately, during adulthood, those bullied in adolescence may have become ‘stuck’ in that stage of life where acceptance of self and a strong and positive self-identity are expected and needed changes to progress to mature adulthood.
They may continue to hold onto the ‘unworthy’ if not resolved. There are cases of even adolescent suicide that have been reported. Social avoidance, low-self-esteem and identity issues may continue into adulthood.
It is estimated that one in four young people are bullied in some way. Because of the serious repercussions of this:
1. Teachers, parents and others who work with young people need to be aware that bullying exists. Outlets should be given to the young person to discuss how they feel, and what interventions may be available. Covertly, actions to facilitate the person(s) in question performing the exclusion behaviour to recognise how this is affecting another young person’s self-esteem may be needed.
2. Actions can be taken to prevent this from occurring in the first place like educating young people about the effects of it, and open class discussion. It needs to be taken out in the open. The prevalence may be even that the majority of people at some time in their lives felt socially excluded.
3. For those who have issues with confidence in social communication, adults can give young people skills for how they might deal with social situations.
4. A trusted adult can be a support for the person, who may be alienated and depressed.
5. Teachers may encourage class activities where people are required to sit with people they don’t know. In the classroom certain behaviours are expected. During these discussions, the young people can get to know each other, promoting greater confidence talking to each other outside the class-room.
6. It’s important for teachers and other adults to take a pro-active role in bullying behaviour because of the severe social consequences it may incur. For example, recognising a young person who sits alone during class or lunch-break, someone who is depressed, avoiding school, or not fulfilling their academic potential. A young person may fear discussing what is happening because it may cause the situation to be worse, and they may have not developed the adult skills to deal with it.
Stopping rejecting behaviour during formative years may increase confidence, lower depression, anxiety and improve social skills not just during the teens, but for life.
Great article. Bullying is a major issue and it can have long term effects as you say. Unfortunately some adults think teens should be able to 'deal with it' and will label them weak if they are unable to.
Thank you Marie. I can relate to that...I think that's why adults need to 'diplomatically' yet effectively need to intervene in a way that doesn't point the finger. I know this may be a hard task to achieve, but if a teen can't rely on adults in his/her life, who can they turn to. Thank you for your input. I agree. x