What is bullying?
Bullying is such a common problem it’s easy to forget how serious it can be. There can be this attitude that it’s just some character-building part of growing up you have to deal with. So someone is slagging you off – sticks and stones. So they knocked you around – toughen up and shake it off.
The reality of the situation is that every day, sometimes without even realising it, loads of people are dealing with bullying. It can happen to anyone at any age. It happens in school, at home, at work, on Facebook or even live on TV, and sometimes people can’t just shake it off. They shouldn’t have to, when you think about it.
What it is
Bullying takes a whole load of different forms and can happen in pretty much any environment where people have to interact with each other – in school or college, on the pitch, at work and at home – even in relationships.
Given that it can happen in so many ways, it’s hard to give one definition of what bullying is. We understand it as one person or a group of people intimidating someone else on a regular basis.
The reasons behind it are often pretty complicated. On the surface it can happen because of a perceived difference – sexuality, culture, physical appearance. That said, you might even just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunate but true.
The main types of bullying are:
- Verbal – you’re probably familiar with this one. It’s name-calling, put downs, slagging or threats. It can be face-to-face, written or often over the phone. It can also include sexual harassment..
- Physical - being punched, tripped, kicked or having your stuff stolen or damaged. It can also include sexual abuse.
- Social – being left out, ignored or having rumours spread about you. Often one of hardest types of bullying to recognise and deal with.
- Psychological – this type of intimidation can be hard to pin-point – dirty looks, stalking manipulation, unpredictable reactions. It’s often less direct than other types of bullying and you can feel like it’s all in your head.
- Cyber bullying – being slagged off or harassed by email, on social networking sites or having your account hacked into. This is a new-ish and pretty tough type of bullying, because you can feel like there’s no let up from it and it can be hard to know what to do about it. Read up on cyber bullying.
Being bullied can have a big impact on your self-esteem. You can start feeling isolated, sad and angry. Which you shouldn’t have to. The important things is to keep reminding yourself it’s not your fault and you haven’t done anything to deserve it. It can happen to anyone, and it’s almost always because of something going on in the bully’s life.
Who do you think of when you picture a bully? In reality, they aren’t always the stereotypical tough kid in school. They can be girls or guys. They can be your age, older or younger. They can be your friend, your girlfriend or boyfriend, you brother or sister, or someone at work. Importantly, you may also come across bullies in positions of authority – a teacher, a parent, a boss.
Keep an eye out for ways that you might be intimidating or isolating someone yourself without realising. You might find that tough kid in school is actually pretty nice.
Why do people bully others?
Often, people who bully have low self-esteem or have been victims of violence themselves. They might be having a tough time at home or be dealing with stuff in their own lives. Whatever the root of it is, they’re using bullying as a way of making themselves feel more powerful.
If you’re being bullied, remember whoever’s doing it is probably not as tough as they make out. Often bullying can become their way of dealing with their own problems – frustration, jealousy, lack of knowledge, fear or misunderstanding. In other words, it’s their own stuff that’s making them behave that way. That doesn’t make it ok, but the point is it’s not your fault.
How bullying can affect you?
As well as affecting your self-esteem, bullying can cause physical injury, stress and make you feel alone. It can feel like there’s nothing you can do about it without making it worse. It can be pretty scary.
Ways that bullying can make you feel:
- If it’s been happening for a while, you can end up thinking you’re to blame, feel guilty for wanting the bullying to stop, and feel like you deserve to be bullied.
- You can feel like you’re stuck with it and it’s going to be like this forever.
- Because bullying can be part of the culture in some places like school, work, social groups, sporting groups etc, it can sometimes feel like ‘the world’ is against you and that you’ve got to deal with it alone. It can feel like there’s no one you can turn to. There is.
- You feel like you aren’t accepted by the ‘cool’ people or don’t fit in.
- You might feel like changing the way you look or feel like hurting yourself – some people become anorexic or bulimic because it’s the only way they feel they can cope with how bad they’re feeling.
- If you’re bullied for being good at something – school work, sport, music, art, work, or your hobbies – you can feel like giving up, hiding your talents because you want to stop others being jealous or hostile (some call it the ‘tall poppy syndrome’).
- You can feel rejected or depressed.
- You can feel like you have to put yourself down in front of others to get accepted.
- You can feel like you have to become the ‘class clown’ so that people laugh at you rather than hate you.
- You can feel alienated at school. Sometimes even teachers don’t understand. Sometimes teachers bully too. Sometimes teachers feel threatened by students who question and challenge decisions, who think differently or who know more than they do.
- You might feel people look at you on the surface and don’t see the real you – for example, if you’re in a wheelchair they may only see the fact that you don’t walk, and not that you have a good sense of humour and loads of different interests.
- You can feel in danger or afraid.
- You can get confused and stressed.
- You might end feeling ashamed of yourself, family, gender, race or culture, or economic position.
What can you do?
It’s really tempting to say you shouldn’t feel like this, that you should know you’re not any of the things they say you are and you’ve nothing to feel bad about. It’s true. If you’re feeling any of these things, remember it’s because of someone else, not because of who you are.
But sometimes it’s not as easy as all that. It can be hard to just switch off your feelings, and you might need some help getting through it and reminding yourself about all of that. Talk to somebody about it.
By working out how you’re feeling and why, you can figure out how to deal with it, and how to protect yourself.
For more information about what you can do, check what to do if you are being bullied.