We all have heard the phrase “two sides of the same coin?” Similarly, it can be said that a person who gets bullied and a person who bullies others are two sides of the same coin. Same coin relating to underlying mental health issues. A person who bullies others has serious mental, emotional, and self- esteem issues, whereas an individual who becomes the target of bullying has serious and lasting mental health problems.
Now, how about we get a little insight into what bullying is? It is an unwanted aggressive behavior projected towards an individual that involves a real or a perceived power imbalance, occurring in school and workplace settings. This kind of behavior is repeated or can likely be repeated in the future. In order for a behavior to be considered as bullying, it needs to be/have:
Aggressive- ranging from verbal abuse to physical abuse, that threatens or harms others physically or even emotionally. It also includes harming personal property.
Imbalance of power- Power plays a major role/cause for why bullying occurs in the first place. The aggressive party thinks that they are “greater than” in some manner, which allows them to exude power. This sense of power can be illustrated through various methods:
Economically demonstrated- The aggressive party can bully an individual to give them money, or to buy certain things for them, in extreme, can force them to indulge in activities that can obtain the money.
Physically demonstrated- The build of a person matters here. We all have seen Gian bully Nobita due to his large build such as not allowing him to play with them, pushing him on the ground, due to which Nobita went to Doremon for help.
Emotionally demonstrated- Manipulating an individual’s feelings and actions, such as making them embarrassed publicly.
Mentally demonstrated- Mostly those individuals who perceive themselves as smarter than others or more capable, can be pushy in getting things done their way, maybe pass hurtful comments that can cause harm to their self- esteem, and if bullying pertains for a longer duration, the individual who was the target can suffer through serious mental condition/disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.
The power demonstrated through the internet: The Internet is the most open stage for bullying to take place, especially, since being anonymous is much easier online. The leading example is the hate comments passed to celebrities, famous figures, and religious matters. Doing so gives the bully an illegitimate power over their target.
Repetition: The pattern of bullying behavior has the potential to be repeated time and again. An individual is exposed to negative actions or threats repeatedly by one or more than other persons.
Bullying encompasses a wide variety of malicious and aggressive actions- physical, violence, verbal mockery, ostracism (exclusion from a society or group), spreading rumors (either orally or by some means of communication such as through the Internet).
Bullying occurs mostly in and around schools and playgrounds, but recently, workplace bullying has also come up and the internet has led to distressing forms of bullying around the world. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that approximately 20% of students complained of being bullied.
FORMS OF BULLYING
Bullying in school:
When talking about bullying in school, I can't help but remember the infamous Regina George’s character from the Mean Girls movie. The depiction of a bully in this movie included the power play of beauty and wealth. In school, bullying can occur in various forms, the most common being amongst peers, teachers either being the victim or the culprit of bullying has also been a major concern in schools. Group bullying, often known as mobbing, is more prominent in high schools and has more lasting effects on the target than individual bullying (one-on-one) which is more prominent in elementary schools. The pinpoint locations are school bathrooms, schoolyards, cafeteria, gymnasiums, school hallways, and school buses. Generally, mobbing may be physical bullying such as pushing the target by purpose, fistfights, making the weaker student-run errands for them, etc. It can also be emotional and through the internet such as uploading videos of the bullied individual carrying out embarrassing activities that had been ordered by the bully/bullies to do so, sending random text messages; passing of harsh comment publicly for example, if a student lives with either their mother or father, bullies can turn this as a sensitive topic and can make a big scene out of it, in front of the class.
Bullies have a specific population target in schools that makes it easier for them to exert power and demoralize other individuals; these include- students having some form of disability, underweight or overweight individuals, students who have poor academic/sports skills, racist bullying, religious bullying, and the socioeconomic background also plays a role in students who get bullied or are bullies themselves.
The National Care for Education Statistic (NCES) report revealed that:
Middle schools (grade 6, 7,8) have higher reports of bullying than senior high schools.
Emotional bullying takes place more often than physical bullying such as pushing, spitting, tripping, etc.
Physical injury due to bullying was highly seen in sixth graders and middle schoolers.
Victims of school bullying had low self-esteem, aggressive behavior, less confidence, and isolated behavior.
Anyone who has seen the “F.R.I.E.N.D.S'' series will know how Chandler was bullied in his workplace by his co-workers and his boss as well. Basically, Chandler was mistreated for the way he spoke and for his humor. Workplace bullying can be defined as a situation where an employee is exposed to prolonged and repeated forms of harassing or aggressive behavior by his/her subordinates or leaders, wherein the individual finds it difficult to defend himself/herself.
Workplace bullying includes disregarding of opinions, isolation, rumors, treating the target as an outcast, increase of workload, making the victim run errands like getting drinks, doing favors not related to work (remember how Anne Hathaway’s character use to run around the city just to fulfill her boss’s need, the character played by Merly Streep in the movie “Devil Wears Prada”), unwanted and sudden removal of responsibility, etc. Now if we look at the reasons for the occurrence of workplace bullying, the research-based link shows job design specificities, role conflict, etc. Work-related negative experiences such as dissatisfaction with their job and performance level, low commitment towards work, job anxiety, and more of these types of negative effects make a person vulnerable to be bullied.
Those who bully can engage in such behavior due to many factors, commonly seen factors are, either the person belongs from a rich socio-economic background or they earn more than their colleagues. They can be related to those at higher post or themselves are working at the higher posts. They may inculcate an environment of unhealthy competition to get the promotion, or may act as informants for their bosses, etc. 61% of bosses turned out to be those who bully others (2017 research by the Workplace Bullying Institute).
Here the debatable topic of “if the Internet is a friend or a foe?” comes into play. And we all know how big of a foe the Internet can turn into. Yes, I’m talking about the “dark” alley of the Internet, a.k.a., cyberbullying and one of the most dangerous advantages of cyberbullying is that it gives anonymity. This gives open space, allowing unsettling and difficulty in combating because victims won't know who did it. Cyberstalking, for instance, is, to be honest, a creepy way to harass someone, particularly teens engaging a lot in such activities, makes me think that they are more fit for the role of the FBI. Hateful comments to celebrities can take on a huge malicious form such as it can also include rape or death threats or defamation of reputation, spreading false rumors, etc. Another instance to take into account is posting pictures or videos that can create a humiliating situation for those who are being bullied, or those pictures or videos can be used as blackmail tools for bullying behavior. Since the internet has created opportunities for such aberrant behavior, it also tends to be more vicious and inescapable as the victim safe heaven is under peril.
It is a subtype of bullying which is easily recognizable and usually occurs in colleges and senior secondary schools. It often turns as malicious, especially for the newcomers as they are victimized, further, becoming a cause of psychological and physical torture. Ragging is done in various ways- dress code ragging, verbal abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse. The Gumrah series showed many such episodes of how ragging is dangerous and should not be encouraged in any sense.
WHY PEOPLE BULLY
A glimpse of why people bully, was seen in of the scene of the movie “17 again”, where Zac Efron’s character called out on low self-esteem issues of the individual who was a famous bully in the movie and also addressed that in order to cover his own insecurities, he used social dominance as a way of a defense mechanism; which to some point is actually true. Research has found that people who bully have some sort of dysfunctional psychological makeup due to which they lack in skills such as prosocial behavior, anxiety trouble, and control of aggressive behavior. Now the question stands, “whether bullies are born or made?”, ie., if people who engage in bullying behavior, are due to nature or nurture. Clearly, bullying is an acquired behavior and not something an individual is born with.
The roots of bullying behavior start from an early age, generally from 2 years and more. If a 2-year-old’s normal aggression is not handled with balance and consistency, children develop loosely formed restraint against aggressive behavior in social settings. Another reason can be, agreeing to every want the child has. Not every want is necessary to be fulfilled, parents should take extra care and consideration in this matter and the consequences as well, i.e., the tantrums a child throws if he/she doesn't get what they want. Parents need to reason out why their behavior is inappropriate and why they refused to fulfill their requests. If this pattern of behavior continues and is not handled properly, the child may bully other peers or acquaintances in getting what he/she wants.
Individuals who engage in bullying behavior have a distinct cognitive feature, a type of paranoia one can say. They tend to misinterpret others' intentions, leading to hostile behavior towards others in neutral situations. Bullying behavior is linked with a false self-image, i.e., Others may not have a positive opinion about them but they see themselves in a positive light. People who bully others find it difficult to engage in adaptive ways- social thinking, self-regulation, emotional regulation; to gain social attention and status. Individuals who act as bullies recognize the insecurities of others which becomes the basis for shame and humiliation for their targets.
WHO ARE THE TARGET
People who bully others don’t go around picking randomly, having said that, what are the specific traits that make someone a sitting duck for those who bully? Are these traits inborn or circumstantial? Let’s look at some bullet points for these questions:
The foremost nicety that comes forward is a lack of assertiveness and emanating fear. Research shows that the mentioned specificities make an individual prone to bullying.
Anyone who doesn’t necessarily carry the tag of “cool kids”, easily catches the eye of those who bully. Individuals who have contrastingly different styles than the newest trends, being underweight or overweight, either being too intelligent (commonly termed as geeks or nerds) or not so progressive in academics, belonging from different cultural backgrounds, the newbie in school or workplace, etc.
Individuals who do not socialize with others easily, who seem to come along as provoking or antagonizing to others, as generally portrayed in movies- those who have a scary facial expression, or wear such accessories that give an impression to stay away.
Research shows that those who bully choose such individuals who visibly express emotions of irritation, sadness, and embarrassment. Basically those who exhibit insecurity and trepidation ( a feeling of anxiety or fear).
Suitably submissive individuals are played like a fiddle (easily manipulated) by those who bully.
Even if someone is not the instigator of bullying, they may contribute to the behavior. Roles people play when they witness bullying are as follows:
The assistant: These individuals hype up the aggressive behavior of those who bully others, and may occasionally join in.
The reinforcer: Laughing, mocking, and high fiving those who bully and basically being an audience when bullying occurs, acts as a reinforcer of this behavior. According to behavioral researches, interviews with self-admitted bullies shows that an audience becomes one of the main motivation for exhibiting such behavior. “Abusing a peer is a good way to enhance your reputation and to get respect”, a direct quote from one of the self-admitted bullies.
The bystanders: Bystanders provide an audience for those who bully, but they do not provide any feedback nor do they defend the victims. They may witness bullying take place but don’t act on it in any way. Many such individuals say that they don’t want to intervene because it’s not their job to stop it, or they fear retaliation from those who bully or do not want to be labeled as “a snitch” or as “whiners” since these tags can make them a target for bullying.
EFFECT OF BULLYING
On those who bully:
“Bullies aim to inflict pain. But eventually, the one most hurt by bullying is the bully himself!”
-Hara Estroff Marano
For those who bully others, have a distorted idea that aggression and manipulation are acceptable approaches to solve a problem. Those who bully have trouble in keeping up with their lives due to-
- being low on restraining their aggression
- their emotional regulation is low
- haven’t learned prosocial behavior
- are always looking for someone to do the work for them, thus, their personal growth is limited.
These factors contribute to having a downward spiraling life which affects their job life, relationships, and learning. Those who bully others easily engage in toxic activities such as-
alcohol and substance abuse
play a role as the domestic abuser
destruction of property
violation of traffic rules
trouble in academic, curricular, sports fields; may drop out of school or college.
partake in early sexual activities.
On those who are bullied:
In the movie “A walk to remember’, the opening scene shows how a teenage boy jumped from a height in a water bed and hurt himself in the process. Why did he do it? That’s because he wanted to be in the infamous group of the high school, and they promised him that if he did this stunt. The group didn’t take it seriously, but the boy did. Self-image, self-worth, and self-esteem take the worst hit for those who are bullied, due to this, they become more prone towards mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) substance use disorder, and even suicide. Research shows that childhood bullying’s effects are seen in the long run of life and not just during childhood. Those who are bullied experience negative emotions and experiences such as:
low academic results
drop out of school or college
feeling of shame
disturbed sleep patterns
psychosomatic symptoms such as:
other physical complaints with no medical cause
difficulty in establishing and maintaining a relationship with others
low-performance level in the job
self-destructive behavior including self-harm
WAYS TO STOP BULLYING
The first step in dealing with a bully is to teach children bully-proof skills, that said, to teach how to be confident and to take a stand for oneself. As for those who engage in bullying behavior, teaching them adaptable ways to manage their aggression and make them understand the consequences of bullying others. The second step includes looking out for warning signs for bullying; these include:
sleep pattern disturbance
stress and anxiety look on the face
things such as books, pens, personal accessories being lost or destroyed in some way
absentee from school or college or workplace
poor academic/workplace performance
self-destructive behavior such as running away from home, self-harm or having suicidal thoughts
those who are bullying, warning signs can be getting into trouble such as verbal and physical fights
getting a lot of detention from school/college
acquirement of newfound money or other belongings
or just looking for a “Burn Book” just like Regina George had.
Bullying needs to be reported to higher authorities like parents or teachers or bosses, but people who are being bullied or who have witnessed bullying hardly ever approach them. There are many reasons for it and especially one that makes me understand as to why people don't address bullying is because of the social ignorance; one of the real-life example that I’ve heard was that the person who did approach their teacher for witnessing bullying, got “ don’t be such a whiner” as a response
Other reasons being-
they fear being seen as weak, so they try to handle it themselves.
people fear that if they report such behavior, they too will become the target of bullying.
they fear being judged. Those who have to go through such humiliating experiences already feel that no one understands them, so even if they do reach out to their parents or any adult, they’ll be judged and maybe misunderstood.
another reason can be, for those who are not directly involved in bullying behavior but are present in that group, they fear being thrown out of the group or they may fear losing their support or their reputation.
The third most important way to stop bullying is to teach children that their role plays an important part in stopping bullying behavior when and if they witness such a situation. Since active audience attention hypes up bullies, children can be taught how to prevent such behavior.
Schools and colleges have been actively drawing out ways to stop bullying such as introducing anti-bullying programs and informing parents and their children the consequences if they are caught bullying someone. Anti-bullying policies and laws have been introduced as well, under which mentioned anti-bullying programs have been made for schools and colleges which also provides teacher training to provide protection for those who are being bullied.
Many campaigns and events are also carried out to raise awareness against bullying such as:
Anti-Bullying Day: people wear mainly pink colored dress code and generally it is celebrated on May 4th every year.
Anti- Bullying Week: an annual UK event that takes place in the third week of November.
International Pink Day: an event organized for standing up against bullying and is held annually in the second week of April.
National Bullying Prevention Month: is held in October and was originally started in the U.S. The event invites countries nationwide to participate in raising awareness and prevention against bullying.
We are a group of health professionals, including Psychologists, Clinical psychologist, Rehabilitation Psychologist, Counsellors, Mindfulness Experts and Social Workers. We are working since 2018 in India to foster mental health.