October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a month which lasts all year for many, as bullying is far too common. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, more than one out of every five students reports being bullied.
There are many reasons bullies tend to target particular individuals, including appearance, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity, but perhaps most motivating of all is the knowledge they can somehow get away with it and that their bullying has the desired effect.
Many people engage in bullying in part to avoid facing their own problems. This is true of children and adults alike. They think that by putting someone down, they will feel better about themselves. They may have difficulty empathizing with their target or be angry about having been bullied themselves. After all, people who have been bullied are more likely to engage in bullying behavior. In many cases, bullying behavior may reflect the insecurities of the person lashing out.
The potential negative symptoms of being bullied are well-documented. They may include depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, loss of expressed interest in activities that used to be fun, health complaints such as headaches and nausea, and a decrease in academic achievement. Children may tend to avoid school or other places where a bully could be present.
What to Do If You’re Being Bullied
If you’re experiencing bullying and are unsure how to respond, start by asking yourself these questions:
- What type of bullying are you experiencing (physical, verbal, psychological, cyber, or a combination)?
- Do you think the person is trying to actually hurt you or just trying to intimidate you?
- How many times has this happened to you? Did it happen only once, does it happen every so often, or is it a daily occurrence?
- Have you tried to ignore this person? If so, did it help?
You have three primary options if you’re being bullied, depending on whether the bullying behavior is violent/aggressive or not: ignore, respond, or tell someone.
If you are being bullied and feel there is no way out, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
- Ignore: If you notice the bully is just trying to upset you or get a reaction out of you (as opposed to trying to cause physical harm), you can try ignoring the behavior and see if they lose interest. In many cases, the person doing the bullying may just want to feel powerful. Reacting negatively to their behavior may signal to the bully that they are having an effect, propping up their perceived position of power.
- Respond: If you choose to respond to a bully, be mindful of what you say or do, as your response to bullying behavior could lead to you being disciplined or getting into a dangerous situation. Assuming you do not feel unsafe or physically threatened, you may choose to take an assertive stance; talk in a firm manner; and look the bully straight in the eyes and tell them enough is enough. People who bully tend to pick on certain people because they don’t think they’ll be called on it. Do you see bullies pick on people who show no fear? Eye contact, posture, and tone of voice are important. Think about how you would react to someone who spoke to you in an assertive tone. Look at role models you believe are assertive and try to learn from their body language. Just remember that some bullies can use more than just words, so never put yourself in a situation where you may be in physical danger.
- Tell someone: If you feel you are unsafe or that you could get hurt (or even hurt yourself) because of what is happening, talk to someone immediately. If you are a child, talk to an adult—parent, teacher, friend, or school counselor—you can trust. Remember, bullying is so common that the person you talk to likely has gone through this or knows someone who has. More importantly, they can help you identify ways to do something about it.
Five of a group of 37 studies analyzed by Yale School of Medicine researchers reported children who had been bullied were up to nine times more likely to express thoughts of suicide than children who had not experienced bullying. If you are being bullied and feel there is no way out, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Additionally, these websites may provide helpful resources:
The good news is bullying eventually stops, even though you might think it doesn’t. How you respond (or don’t) to bullying may affect how quickly that happens. Remember that you are not the problem; the issues are with the person who is doing the bullying, not with you. You are not alone, and help is always available.
- Bullying statistics. (2016, December 8). Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Retrieved from http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/stats.asp
- Bullying-suicide link explored in new study by researchers at Yale. (2008, July 16). International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 20(2). Retrieved from https://news.yale.edu/2008/07/16/bullying-suicide-link-explored-new-study-researchers-yale
- Who is likely to become a bully, victim, or both? (2010, July 8). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/07/bully-victim.aspx
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