To Bully, be Bullied, Bystand or Be the solution.
Bullying is a phenomenon that exists in nature and has been observed in animal and human models. It is a phenomenon that happens worldwide and causes untold angst and stress and yet there is very little that is done until someone is unable to cope and takes desperate measures to remedy their feelings.
Bullying can take many forms and can sometimes be indistinguishable from teasing, hazing and other practices that are considered ‘normal’ and something to just be taken on the chin. It can happen at school, in the home, in the workplace, socially, in the community, in cyberspace and pretty much anywhere that one human perceives an opportunity to exert themselves in some way over another human and seeks to carry out that act, often repeatedly with increasing intensity and frequency.
Whilst not an exhaustive list, bullying can take any of these forms and can exist anywhere there is a power differential to be had; Physical/Verbal/Cultural taunts and teasing, Stealing money or belongings, glaring/staring/not sharing, breaking in line, poking/touching inappropriately, damaging other’s belongings, ignoring, selective inclusion/exclusion, coercive demands, withholding something until receipt or something else, sexual reprisals/demands, demanding performance of some act without rational reason that is humiliating or degrading to another, requiring acts of an individual who is incapable of carrying them out for the purposes of segregation and acts that amount to exploitation.
This can come from friends, colleagues, peers, parents, siblings, community leaders and similar such figures. Bullies are not necessarily those who are physically stronger than others, they also come in the guises of more socially adept or connected, with more money, more powerful position, smarter or more skilful in some way or just plain better looking than anyone else.
This list may be longer than what you had in mind and include a wider variety of actions than you thought would come under the heading of bullying but this is only a small representation of what actually goes on in many people’s lives on a daily basis, in some routine or another that they feel unable to break free of, feel unsupported for and feel powerless to change.
According to recent research in the US, over 20% of Elementary/Primary aged school students experience some form of bullying. While this number drops of as Middle/High/Secondary school years approach, there is still a considerable amount of bullying behaviour reported and at an escalated level. If unstopped and unsupported, these bullies may well go in into adulthood carrying on with these maladaptive behaviours unchecked, in a mistaken effort to control situations where they themselves lack confidence, and meet out even more punitive and/or more damaging forms of these behaviours such as office bullies, stalkers, sexual predators, social exclusionaries, cyber-terrorists and worse.
There are multiple parts to any bullying situation and we may have all played one of these roles at some point in our lives; bully, victim, bystander/watcher, whistle-blower or dare-er. At any point in the development of these relationships, many people have had the opportunity to intervene but often most do not, preferring instead to hope it will stop, go away, disappear, redirect interest or just plain not have happened. The truth is that once a bully and victim realises that no one is going to help the victim, it is too late.
Bullies are often bullied themselves and actually are in need of support for their own inabilities to cope but this is rarely recognised in time. Most recognition goes to victims, who may have physical signs of being hurt, may have sullen and frightened behaviours, may have inexplicable loss of money and/or property or damage to belongings as well as low mood, anxiety, depression and loss of interest in activities, school work, peers or interests that once gave them enjoyment.
Bullies themselves may have some of these signs early on but may also often cover up pain and hurt by carrying out behaviours that deflect, such as being nice to a teacher, giving gifts to people or other more socially acceptable or laudable behaviours in order to distract them from action going on elsewhere that may be less than sparkling behaviour. Some of the most effective measures for supporting both parties is to give everyone the chance to describe what feels like being bullied, as one person’s line is drawn in a different place from another.
For example, when one comes from a home where parents insist on particular behaviours around cleanliness or orderliness, when the child has the opportunity to make choices for themselves, they may decide to either have no rules for cleaning or to go to the opposite extreme and persecute themselves and others with their own rigid interpretation of the rules. Thus, when asked to be responsible for such a situation in a social arena, they may not be able to have the same boundaries as others who may have come from homes that were more relaxed about cleanliness and thus display intolerant and/or demanding behaviours towards others, assuming a ‘leader’ role or similar in an effort to exert order in an otherwise seemingly unruly group.
This can be most readily witnessed in adult social bullies who ‘collect’ weaker adherents who ‘follow’ their lead. Often these individuals will offer gifts and rewards to those who will spend time with them and choose a select few who will form part of their core co-bullies, unwittingly or otherwise joining in. Then, these individuals will utilise the core group to entice others to join in on events that help the initial bully to appear more powerful and confirms this sense in them so that by choosing who will be included and/or excluded they exert the control over others that they refuse to have levelled upon themselves, such as judgment or having to deal with one’s own painful emotions as one is surrounded by other’s who confirm the power and thus the bully is perpetuated, constantly replacing lost individuals, with new core loyals, who may well feel rewarded for finally being allowed in and therefore become all the more loyal, reconfirming the bully’s power, goals and self. Where this line can be drawn can be difficult to tell however.
For example, if we are teased by a good friend for a habit, such as always splitting the lunch bill exactly in the number of people or according to what each had precisely, it is up to the individual to decide what level of comfort they have with teasing and also to say with which level they are uncomfortable. As an adult, one usually develops self-respect to the measure to be able to say such things in defense of one’s self. Children however, are still developing such sense and may not yet be resilient enough to recover from a blow that was too strong, to recognise that it was too much, to have the wherewithal to enunciate it to someone who can do something about it or to anyone at all and to tell the difference when everyone else seems alright with but it really doesn’t feel good and so to say something immediately so that it does not build up.
Once this is set in motion and no one questions the balance, it can be very difficult for young persons to develop the discrepancy to defend themselves and to be able to seek out help when they are unable to or no longer able to cope with what is happening to them. Often, because of this and due to pride or other such concepts, many students do not seek help, because it is not cool or they would lose face, and let it go until the bullying situation escalates beyond what is reasonable and sometimes ends up in damage to property, other people’s welfare and even the loss of human life.
With the advent of social media, it has become even easier for faceless perfectionism to taunt anyone who wishes to seek it out and for those who are still learning to flex their social-emotional learning boundaries to go too far without having to have to respond to the consequences that would have once been instituted on the school ground or in the home or community.
Many schools and organisations have instituted policies and essential agreements around expected behaviours from verbal, physical, mental and cyber with clear consequences for transgressions. Homes have become less clear territory as more children have free access to electronics and less chaperoned time on them.
Whilst physical, verbal and direct emotional bullying have perhaps reduced in numbers as the migration to cyberspace ensues, this form of bullying will probably go on for some time, numbers will most likely pale in comparison to what can be exacted through social media however. It is an important time to be aware of our children, our colleagues and our own behaviours. It takes only a moment to stop and educate if we can recognise the opportunity and/or encourage others to do so on their own behalf, but the consequences are now more dire and more and more isolation leads to potentially greater numbers of reported fatalities, whether there is an actual increase in numbers or not.
Take a moment to check with your children, friends and family – does anyone feel under duress or stress for something they are unable to control or feel they have no ability to change? Then it may just be time to encourage them to talk and for you to listen and to find out where their boundaries are. Help someone else recognise this today, Don’t be a bystander, be a supporter of learning, whether on behalf of the bully, the victim or the bystander – everyone has a role to play in development and in diffusing. Which role could you take today?
A Special Week: Monday 14th November: Bullying Awaress Week, 2016
Learn how to recognise, respond to, prepare for and report on bullying situations and more from both Canadian and US sites.
Our fave phrase…
“Remember that all things are only opinions and that it is in your power to think as you please”
– Marcus Aurelius (112-180 C.E.) Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher
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