Bullying is an attempt, usually systematic and ongoing, to undermine and harm someone based on some perceived weakness. Although commonly associated with children, bullying can occur at any age, and members of minority groups are significantly more likely to be bullied in adulthood.
Examples of Bullying
Bullying of schoolchildren is perhaps the most well-known form of bullying. Children may physically bully other children by hitting them, taking their possessions, or damaging their property. Bullying can also be verbal and may include exclusionary tactics, name-calling, and threats. A growing problem is cyberbulling, which is the use of the internet and other communication technologies to deliberately harm another person.
Some studies indicate that boys are more likely to engage in physical bullying while girls are more likely to participate in verbal bullying. For this reason, bullying by girls may be underreported and may last longer before it is noticed.
Bullying can also occur in adulthood. In recent years, workplace bullying has received significant attention. This bullying can take the form of sexual harassment, attempts to extract favors, excluding people from meetings, gossip, and other forms of overt hostility. Some forms of workplace bullying, particularly sexual harassment, are legally actionable and can result in lawsuits.
Effects of Bullying
Bullying can dramatically lower the self-esteem of the victim. When it occurs in childhood, it may interfere with the development of social skills and normal relationships. Bullying victims often feel afraid to go to the location of bullying, which is especially problematic when bullying occurs at work or at school. In extreme cases, bullying victims may attempt suicide. In recent years, there have been several well-publicized suicides that were caused at least in part by bullying.
Therapy for Bullying
Victims of bullying may find support and a safe environment to address their feelings in counseling or therapy. Being a victim of bullying can result in difficult emotions such as anger, shame, anxiety, and isolation. Therapy can help victims of bullying notice, share, and process painful feelings, which left unattended can negatively impact one's personal well-being. Some people who are victims of bullying may internalize the role of victim, which can cause challenges in one's relationships and one's sense of self. A trained therapist can help a person better understand how this role impacts their lives, as well as teach coping skills for moving forward, such as assertive communication and boundary setting. Some victims of bullying benefit from support groups or group therapy, in which people who have experienced similar types of victimization can support one another in healing.
People who bully others may also benefit from therapy, though they may be reluctant to acknowledge their bullying behavior openly. In therapy, bullies may begin to understand the impact their hurtful behavior has on others, explore reasons for why they bully, learn new skills for communicating positively with others, and/or address personal experiences that may have contributed to their bullying behavior. Often bullies have unresolved personal wounds that contribute to their bullying behavior, and addressing these emotional wounds or identity/social issues in therapy can be an integral step towards stopping bullying behavior.
Bullying in Popular Culture
Sex advice columnist Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better” project to discourage anti-gay bullying and to prevent the suicides of gay children. October is National Bullying Prevention and Awareness Month.
Josie, age 11, is the victim of bullying at her middle school. A group of popular girls have been calling her names, teasing her in public, throwing paper at her, and posting mean messages about her online for other students to see. Josie is very afraid, anxious, and upset about how the girls are treating her, but keeps her feelings to herself because she is ashamed to be considered a tattle-tale. One day the girls at school humiliate Josie so badly that she tells her mom about the experience after school. Josie's mom immediately contacts school officials and meets with school administration to discuss the bullying problem. Josie begins seeing the school counselor regularly to talk about her feelings, practice behaviors for responding to bullies, and building self-esteem. The school administration also begins a school-wide program to crack down on peer bullying. With the support of her parents, the school, and the school counselor, Josie feels much safer and is better able to assert herself in the presence of bullies.
Bullying. (n.d.). U.S National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bullying.html
Last updated: 05-02-2014