Wednesday, June 16, 2010
All cruelty springs
from weakness. (Seneca, 4BC-AD65)
There are those who say that bullying is behind all forms of
violence, conflict, persecution, abuse, harassment, discrimination and
The recent death of Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old
Massachusetts girl who hanged herself after being harassed by a group of
students in her school, puts a spotlight on bullying among teenagers. And there have been other notable
child, teen and young adult cases, on and off the Internet (i.e. cyber-taunting
on Face book), that come to mind when we think of bullies. However, it isnt just children and
teenagers who bully. Although it
may not be as obvious or as easily identifiable, adult bullying may be more
widespread. Independent research
suggests that bullying is happening to around 1 in 4 people regardless of
age (Life After Adult Bullying Internet)
Bullying is defined as an act of repeated aggressive
behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or
mentally. (Wikipedia) It is
characterized as behaving in a manner to gain power over another person. And it is a form of abuse. I would suggest that if you rephrase the
descriptive action from repeated aggressive behavior to taking frustrations
out on those who are weaker or different, bullying becomes a much more
commonplace and identifiable act.
In fact, it is pervasive.
There are different types of bullies and different
environments in which they proliferate.
There are verbal bullies, physical bullies, serial bullies, Gang bullies,
Cyber bullies, subordinate bullies, unwitting bullies, work bullies, sadistic
bullies, and psychotic and sociopathic bullies. There are bullies at work, at home, in schools, in
governments, in religious organizations, on the Internet, and in social
What all bullies have in common is the use of power to
satisfy ones own psychological shortcomings. Each time a bully moves against someone weaker, he/she feels
better about himself for an instant.
But because that feeling doesnt last, they do it again and again. Sometimes the bully appears to lack
insight into their own behavior (unwitting bully), but more often the bully
does know but elects to ignore the moral and ethical considerations by which
the majority of people are bound. The rules dont apply to them. Or they have projected so much
self-hatred on the other that they truly believe that those they are bullying
deserve exactly what they are getting.
Why are there so many bullies in society? Because bullying in and of itself is
not against the law. And most bullies
commit non-arrestable offenses. So
it becomes unconsciously acceptable.
Its an outlet - a way to express frustration and/or rage and stay
within the confines of the law.
There are adult bullies we can easily identify. Hitler was
a bully. Racists are bullies. And your boss may be one as well. Parents and older siblings have been
known to bully. Certainly, gang
members bully. But what about
those who threaten, shame or intimidate you into doing things you dont really want
to do? It happens to most of us,
and when it does, we are being bullied - even when it comes from a person or
institution that you love, respect, admire your government, your church, your
girlfriend/boyfriend, a family member, a professional colleague. Sometimes there is a fine line between
harmless coercion and bullying.
But you can feel the difference. You know when you are truly ambivalent and therefore open to
being talked into something vs. when you are being forced to act against your
better instincts, wishes or values.
And if you are being bullied by more than one person (i.e. an
organization or group), it is even more difficult to stand up for yourself.
More insidious and pernicious is the type of bullying that
has less to do with forcing you to do something you dont want to and more to
do with putting you in your placeÂ, minimizing or even destroying you in order
to feel better about themselves. People
do this consciously or unconsciously because of a hole inside of themselves
that they try and fill by being better than someone else. It gives them a sense of power and
authority in the world that they may not otherwise experience. It is a way to externalize their own
feelings of insecurity, inferiority and rage by putting those feelings on
someone else and then attacking them.
Some bullying is so subtle that you can begin to believe the bully. They make you feel unsure of yourself - bad about yourself. They can even do it in the guise
of friendship or love. It becomes
more of a mind game than an outright violation. But it is bullying just the same. We will not be able to rid the world of bullies, but we can
learn how to stand up to them.
The kind of people who bully usually have low self-esteem
and a certain amount of resentment (envy, jealously) that pushes them to
project their own feelings of inadequacy onto you while denying that anything
is wrong with them. Not all
bullies are serial bullies -
sometimes the average person loses it under pressure and takes out their
feelings in a bullying manner. But
regardless of how or why it is happening to you, it is not acceptable.
How do you stand up for yourself against bullying? Recognize what is happening and
remember that it is the bully who has the problem, not you And that it can
be dealt with. Unless they are
physically threatening you, bullies are paper tigers. If you stand up to them calmly
and confront their behavior rationally while asserting your rights, they will
back down. If you call them
out on their actions, they usually have no place to go especially if others
are witness to those actions. You
dont have to attack a bully; you dont want to give them a reason to escalate
by engaging in a heated or emotional manner. You simply have to resolutely stand up for yourself. You may be thinking that this sounds
easier than it would actually be.
So start slowly. If you
cant immediately stand up to a bully, at least dont play into their behavior
by trying to appease them. Let
them know by your reaction that you are not cowed, and then quietly walk away. Think about what you want to say and
either approach them later or wait until the next time they behave in that
manner and then call them out on it.
Bullies dont have any real power.
Once they realize that you wont engage in their game and have exposed
them, they will fade away.
Roni Weisberg-Ross L.M.F.T.