WHAT causes a person to begin bullying others? If you have ever been victimized by a bully, you probably would say, “There’s no excuse for that kind of behaviour.” But there is a big difference between a reason and an excuse. The reason why a person becomes a bully does not excuse the wrong behaviour, but might help us understand it. And that can have real value.
Anger at the bully’s conduct can blind us, filling us with frustration, but we need see more clearly how we can find solutions. So let’s look at some factors that give rise to this unacceptable behaviour.
Social or financial background can be little to do with it. Often a bully’s childhood is marred by poor parental example or by outright neglect. Many bullies come from homes where the parents are cold or uninvolved or have, in effect, taught their children to use violence, outright or suppressed, to handle problems. Children raised in such an environment may not see their own verbal attacks and physical aggression as bullying; they may even think that their behaviour is normal and acceptable. Sometimes bullying begins with younger siblings, or cruelty to animals..
One 16-year-old girl who had been bullied at home by her stepfather, and at school by fellow students, confessed that she had become a bully herself. She said: “Basically it was a lot of anger building up inside of me; I just picked on anybody and everybody. Feeling pain is a big thing. Once you feel the pain, you want to dish it out.” While such physical aggression may not always be typical of female bullies, the anger behind it is.
Schools bring together large numbers of students from different backgrounds, who have been brought up in widely varying ways. Sadly, some children are aggressive because they have been taught at home that intimidating others and verbally abusing them are the best means of getting their own way.
Unfortunately, such methods often seem to work. An educational psychologist says: “We’ve got kids who are figuring out how to play the game, for them, bullying works. They get what they want—they get power, status and attention.” It can seem ‘cool’ to act confident, aggressive, tough.
Another factor that helps bullying to thrive is a lack of supervision. Many victims feel that they have no place to turn—and the tragedy is that in a lot of cases they are right. One study found that teachers detected and stopped only about 4 per cent of bullying incidents.
A recent study has shown that youngsters are more popular and more admired by teachers and friends if they return schoolyard hostility in kind. One academic study recently suggested teachers should not protect pupils from playground bullies as this can help them handle difficult events in the future. This is a dangerous fallacy in my view. I agree with anti-bullying campaigners who have condemned this opinion. In honesty, such views can only harbour toleration of bullying. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/, Daily Mail, May 24 2010).
Intervention is crucial. Debra Pepler says: “Children are incapable of solving the problem because it’s about power, and each time a bully picks on someone, the bully’s power is enforced.” Our age is one when even 10 or 11 year olds appear in court for attempted rape. What pattern lay behind such headlines?
Why is bullying under reported? Simply because victims of bullying are convinced that if they report the problem, it will only get worse. Experience from schools with tough anti-bullying policies show this is not true. However, to greater or lesser extent, many young people spend their school years in a permanent state of anxiety and insecurity. What are the effects of living that way?
Targets of bullying may stop talking about school, or about a particular class or activity at school. They may try to go to school late each day or miss classes or even make excuses to miss school entirely. Many families who opt for home education cite bullying as a factor.
What may help identify a child who is enduring bullying? They may become moody, irritable, frustrated, or act tired and withdrawn. They may become aggressive with those at home or with peers and friends. Other children who observe acts of bullying also suffer consequences. The situation induces considerable fear in them, which detracts from their ability to learn.
However, the journal Pediatrics in Review says: “The most extreme consequence of bullying for victims and society is violence, including suicide and murder. The sense of powerlessness experienced by children who are victimized can be so profound that some react with self-destructive acts or lethal retaliation.”
In a 2001 study, involving 225,000 Canadian students, found between one fourth and one third of them were involved in some form of bullying, either as a target or as a perpetrator. In the same group, 1 in 10 had seriously contemplated suicide.
Persistent bullying, synonymous with psychological warfare, may erode a victim’s self-confidence, induce serious health problems, and even destroy careers. Bullied individuals may experience headaches, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression. Some develop symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. Whereas physical attacks may bring sympathetic support for the victim, emotional attacks may not elicit the same response. The damage is far less apparent. Instead of sympathizing, friends and family may get tired of hearing the victim’s complaints. This can only lead to isolation.
Mobile phones and the Internet are increasingly a social lifeline for many young people, but unfortunately bullies can use E-mail, social networking and text messaging to torment victims. Such electronic bullying has moved police to issue reminders that perpetrators are likely committing a crime. Parents should talk to their children about the people and places they visit on-line and to put computers in an open area of the home where it is easy to monitor what children are reading and sending. The police warn children never to respond to a bully’s message and never to “give out their log-in codes or passwords to others,
Workplace bullying affects domestic relationships. It can trigger an inexplicable urge for the target, or sufferer, to hurt loved ones at home. When such cases of conflict drag on unresolved, even spouses who are otherwise supportive can run out of patience. As years pass, the family may be more likely to disintegrate.
A workplace bully is as likely to be a woman as a man. Female bullies more typically use such tactics as social exclusion and spreading rumours. Behaviours can be manipulative or subtle, using inequalities in work load, unfavourable work rotas, unfair demands at short notice, for example. In addition, increasing numbers seem to be resorting to physical violence as well. Such ones over-control, micro-manage, and put others down with negative remarks and constant criticism, often humiliating their target in front of others. Sufferers are usually good workers who awaken professional jealousy in others.
The tactics of harassment range from childish antagonism to criminal injury. The target is subjected to character assassination, verbal abuse, or the cold-shoulder treatment, excluding him from conversation. Some victims are deliberately overworked or are regularly singled out to do the most unpleasant tasks that no one else wants to perform. Colleagues may sabotage the victim’s efforts to work productively, perhaps by withholding information. In some cases, perpetrators have slashed a victim’s tires or hacked into his computer.
Work associates may stigmatize a person by, pretending not to see him, or playing practical jokes. Bullies rarely recognize their impoliteness or apologize for their behaviour. If they do so, they may quickly revert to similar behaviour patterns. They often victimize workers who are capable, loyal, and well-liked by fellow employees.
Workers who experience bullying tend to work less efficiently. The productivity of co-workers who witness bullying is also affected. Bullying can lead workers to feel a sense of betrayal from their employer, and less committed to their work. One report claims that bullies cost industry in the United Kingdom an estimated two billion pounds each year. And it is said that such behaviour is responsible for more than 30 per cent of stress-related illnesses. Depression, sleeping disorders, and panic attacks are among the consequences of harassment. Statistics suggest that more women than men are victims of bullying at work, although this is believed to be because women are more likely to talk about the problem and to seek help. Interestingly, those who sexually harass women in the workplace will often bully male colleagues into accepting such behaviour.
Every business, whatever size, should have a robust, effective anti-bullying and whistle-blowing policy. Ideally, it should include an independent source of help for both employer and employee.
In order to not feel degraded, humiliated and have your sense of self and self-worth assaulted, what can you do? Consider the following suggestions. They are written primarily with the young in mind, but the same factors apply for adults dealing with bullies.
- Keep cool. Don’t give in to rage. If you get agitated you have joined the battle on their terms. When your temper is out of control, you may only be responding in the way they want, you give the bully power over you, and you are likely to do things you will later regret, which may include getting blamed for the incident.
- Pay attention to your induced reactions. What is this person trying to emotionally induce in you? Notice how you feel when speaking with them. It will give you important clues as to how to deal with them more effectively and appropriately.
- Try to put thoughts of revenge out of your mind. Vengeance often backfires. At any rate, revenge is not really satisfying. One girl, who was beaten up by five youths when she was 16 years old, recalls: “I decided in my heart, ‘I will get even with them.’ So I got some help from my friends and took revenge on two of my attackers. “I was left with an empty feeling,” she says. And her own conduct was penalized afterward.
- When things get heated, get away quickly. In general, try to steer clear of those who tend to bully, explore alternatives to confrontation.
- If bullying persists, you may need to speak up for yourself. Choose a moment when you are calm, look the bully in the eye, and speak in a firm, level voice. Speak slowly, the normal tendency is to gear up and speak rapidly. Tell him that you don’t like what he is doing, that it is not funny and that it hurts. Do not resort to insults or challenges. In so doing, do not put yourself at further risk.
- Talk to a responsible, caring adult or colleague about the bullying. Be specific about the problem, and ask for help in handling it. Be prepared to seek further help, if the first person proves unwilling, even if they are in a position of authority.
- Remember that you have value as a person. The bully might want you to think that you don’t matter, that you deserve to be treated badly. But he or she is not your judge. Determine how you want to be treated. Bill Cosby, American actor and comedian, once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone”.