What is Bullying?
Bullying is a relentless type of abuse. Contrary to popular opinion, bullying or being bullied is not a rite of passage or something that children and teens simply “grow out of.” Bullying can cause very serious lasting effects, including emotional scars that last a lifetime. Bullying involves repeated, unwanted, aggressive, and intentional acts done over time to enforce power over another person or group of people. It can occur at any age, during any situation; teens can be bullied at school, at home, at work, or in their churches. Bullies try to intimidate, hurt, and scare their target by using verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and coercion.
There are a number of factors involved in bullying and a number of reasons that bullying can be so damaging to the target. Bullying has three aspects that cause harm to the target:
- An imbalance of power – Bullies use their power to control or harm their target and the target may have trouble defending him or herself.
- Repetition – One of the most damaging parts of bullying is the constant threat of abuse looming over the target. As the abuse is ongoing, the target of bullying may have challenges relaxing or letting his or her guard down.
- Intent to cause harm – Bullies don’t hurt their targets by accident. Bullying must involve the intent to cause harm to the target.
While both girls and boys are bullies, boys are more likely to engage in bullying using physical threats and abuse while girls are more likely to use verbal and relationship bullying.
Due to perhaps in part to growing awareness, bullying is becoming an increasingly challenging problem in the United States and worldwide. According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, in 2007, it was estimated that 32% of school-aged children in the U.S. reported being bullied at school, which translates to one in every four students being bullied at school. Additionally, approximately 42% of teens report that they’ve been threatened online.
What are the Types of Bullying?
There are a variety of tactics that bullies use to hurt their target(s). These methods of bullying can be overt and easily detected, or covert, veiled tactics. Most bullies employ a mixture of the following types:
Physical Bullying: Physical bullying involves physical contact that is intended to hurt or injure the target. Physical bullying may include hitting, punching, biting, kicking, slapping, and punching their target. This type of bullying also includes stealing and destroying the belongings or property of the target. Physical bullying leaves visible marks and is more quantifiable than other forms of bullying.
Verbal Bullying: Verbal bullying is intended to cause emotional pain rather than – or in addition to – physical bullying. There are a variety of tactics used to inflict emotional pain on a target, including name-calling, making offensive remarks, intimidation, making threats, making inappropriate jokes, or otherwise berating the target. It can be hard for victims of verbal bullying to realize that verbal bullying really is verbal abuse— it doesn’t leave a mark on the target’s body – but it can deeply damage the way a target feels about themselves.
Exclusion/Social Alienation: Being purposefully excluded or left out of activities and games is a more subtle form of bullying, and includes ways to socially isolate a target. This may involve spreading rumors, talking badly about the target, and convincing others not to interact with the target. It can be extraordinarily challenging for a target to understand and react to exclusion and social alienation, as this is such a covert form of bullying. Teenagers often employ methods such as spreading rumors or gossiping about other individuals in order to make themselves feel more powerful, while undermining the feelings of another. This can be extremely damaging to teens who are just beginning to learn about the world and their place in it.
Relational Aggression: Relational aggression is the use of exclusionary and/or hurtful behaviors to undermine another person’s self-esteem or status, causing harm to relationships. Relational aggression is a more subtle form of bullying. Relational aggression uses relationships to damage or manipulate the victim’s status or friendships. Aggressors can use rumors, gossip, social exclusion/isolation, betrayal, humiliation, or lies in order to hurt their victims.
Reactive Bullying: Reactive bullying is a very subtle form of bullying in which a bully appears to be the victim. A reactive bully continuously taunts another teen until the target reacts strongly with verbal or physical aggression. The bully then claims that the peer was, in fact, the cause of the altercation. Reactive bullying is often hard to identify because these bullies are often the target of other bullies – a reactive bully causes conflicts and gets bullied by others.
Cyber Bullying: Cyber bullying is an act in which a child, adolescent, or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, or otherwise targeted online by another child, adolescent, or teen using the Internet, online social networks, interactive and digital technologies, or mobile phone devises. Cyber bullying may include cruel emails, text messages, or instant messages, creating a website to mock another teen, hacking into someone’s email, or spreading gossip and rumors about a peer.
Gossip, Rumors, Cliques: The subtle forms of abuse can be very damaging during the teen years, when social standing is of utmost importance. Rumors are a form of verbal abuse that may include saying mean things about another person, spreading information about a target, socially isolating another person, and encouraging others to pick on the target. Cliques are small groups of teens who don’t allow other people into their group, often harmfully excluding others and bullying those who they see as socially beneath their group. Gossip is casual talk between others about another teen’s personal affairs. While some gossip can be good and beneficial to another, bad gossip is causal talk that is harmful, mean, and can destroy a teen’s reputation.
Signs and Symptoms of Bullying
There are a variety of warning signs that an adolescent may be the victim of a bully. The ability to recognize the symptoms that an adolescent or teen is the target of bullies allows others to help take action against the bully.
Common signs and symptoms an adolescent or teen is being bullied include:
- Faking illness to avoid school
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decline in grades
- Loss of interest in schoolwork
- Not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friend groups
- Avoidance of social situations
- Running away from home
- Unexplained loss of toys, electronics, school supplies, or money
- Unexplained cuts, bruises, and other injuries
- Changes in eating habits – suddenly not eating or binge eating
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Damaged clothes, books, or electronic devises
- Decreased ability to pay attention
- Decreased short-term memory
- Trouble concentrating at school or at home
- Decline in self-esteem
- Fear of going to school
- Fear of being left alone
- Blames self for bullying
- Feelings of “not being good enough”
- Major changes in behavior and personality
- Increase in stress
- Feeling isolated
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Suicidal ideation
What are the Characteristics of a Bully?
It can be very challenging to understand what makes one person decide to bully another. What is known is that those who bully thrive upon controlling and dominating others. What follows is a list of common characteristics of a bully, however not every bully will have each characteristic.
- Lacks empathy and is unable to understand why others are hurt
- Has a dominating personality
- Is a mixture of impulsive and hot-headed
- Is quick to anger
- Dislikes rules and very infrequently follows them
- Has a positive view of violence and abuse
- Does not receive warmth or love from parents
- Is not well supervised by his or her parents
- Has a disruptive behavioral disorder or antisocial personality disorder
- Has grown up with overly permissive or overly harsh parents
- Enjoys the discomfort of others
- Lacks a strong social support network
- Has challenges regulating his or her emotions
- Has been the victim of a bully or abuse
Why Do People Bully?
It can be very hard to determine why someone has singled a target, or “victim,” and often, victims of bullying blame themselves for abuse. As research shows that one in about every four people are the victims of a bully, it’s clear that a target is not alone in their troubles. That may not make it any easier to cope with. Bullies abuse their target for many of the following reasons:
- They’re being bullied somewhere else – at home, in their community, or elsewhere
- The target is somehow “different” from the bully – race, religion, the way the target dresses, or sexual orientation
- They’re jealous of their target
- The bully wants to make him or herself more popular
- They want to feel powerful
- The target’s appearance
- The bully wants to escape his or her own problems
- The target’s social standing in their peer group
Tips for Surviving a Bully
If you’re the target of a bully, it’s really important to remember that it’s not your fault. While it may hurt to deal with the pain of something the bully said or did, it’s the bully’s problem, not yours. Never be ashamed of who you are – you’re a wonderful person who deserves the very best. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted person – a parent, teacher, counselor, or friend can help you through this time.
Here are some other tips for surviving a bully:
- Physically protect yourself if you can’t walk away.
- Make sure that your parents know what is going on. If there’s any threat to your emotional or physical well-being, it’s imperative that you tell your parents about the bullying.
- Deal with your feelings and find a good way to let out stress. Whether it’s working out, punching a pillow, taking a long walk, or meditating, you need to let that frustration and hurt out.
- Stand up and walk away from the bully. He or she wants power and control over you – don’t give the bully the satisfaction. Calmly stand up, turn your back on the bully, and walk away with your head high.
- Keep your anger in check. A reaction is what a bully is looking for from you. Don’t give him or her the pleasure of knowing he or she hurt you.
- You can’t control the bullying any more than you can control the weather. Don’t stress yourself out over the bullying, instead focus upon the ways in which you can react to their abuse.
- Take charge of your life and do one nice thing for yourself every day. This could be as simple as taking a walk, talking to a friend, or writing in a journal. Just make sure you are kind to yourself.
- Remember, it won’t last forever. While it may feel as though you’re trapped in the abuse by the bully, it cannot possibly last forever. You’re going to emerge on the other side victorious and happy, knowing that you learned something from this experience.
- Find your real friends – anyone who participated in hurting you is not a friend. Finding one or two people you can truly confide in can ease the feelings of social isolation and give you a ton of comfort. Let them know about the bullying and talk about your feeling – don’t bottle it up inside.
What Are The Long-Term Effects of Bullying?
Bullying is no longer considered to be a short term problem that dissipates over time and with age as many adults are also the victims of a bully. The long-term effects of bullying leads to suffering from many lingering effects, long after the bully has disappeared.
The most common long-term effects of bullying include:
- Greater risk for depression
- Repressed anger – at the bully and those who did not step up to help during the bullying
- Avoidance of settings in which the bullying occurred
- Anxiety at the thought of bullying
- More frequent, unexplained illnesses
- Poorer academic performance
- Increased risk for mental illness
- Increased feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Increased absences from work or school
- Difficulties trusting others
- Revenge-seeking fantasies
- Lower self-esteem, poor sense of self-worth
- Increased somatic complaints of pain
- Increased risk for running away from home
- More prone to alcohol and substance abuse and addiction
- Self-harming behaviors
- Suicidal ideation
Bullying and Suicide
It’s clear that bullying leads to many harmful, negative effects on the bullying target— higher rates of mental illness, poor self-esteem, and self-harming behaviors are some of the lasting effects of bullying on a person. There is a strong link between bullying and suicide in the U.S. and worldwide. Suicide is the third leading cause for death for young people, leading to about 4,400 deaths each year. The targets of a bully are between 2 and 9 times more likely to consider suicide than their peers. If you or someone you love feels suicidal, don’t hesitate to call 911 immediately – this is an emergency.
Warning signs of suicide include:
- Depressive symptoms
- Ongoing sadness
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Loss of interest in once-loved activities
- Changes in eating or sleeping
- Talking about, or showing a keen interest in death or dying
- Making statements such as “I wish I were dead”
- Increased risk-taking activities such as driving while intoxicated
- Substance abuse
- Alcohol use
- Giving away prized possessions
- Saying goodbye to loved ones
- Expressing that he or she “can’t handle things anymore”
- Making comments that the “world would be better without them”