Bullying has received much mainstream media attention lately partly due to unfortunate and cruel use of technology, both in gathering and disseminating information. There are ways we can protect and defend against being victims. We can’t rely on others to be kind-natured and sensitive to our feelings all the time which is why these skills are so important. Having a strong foundation in understanding bullying and how to protect yourself can improve your resilience and lessen emotional distress.
What is bullying?
Bullying is any verbal or physical action taken, directly or indirectly, toward a person in the service of manipulating them either without regard for, or specifically to harm, the person’s well-being or emotional state. It is a forced “power-over” relationship established by the bully in order to affect a desired change (either physical or emotional). The person being bullied, for whatever reason, has little or no say in the matter. Below, I outline reasons why bullying occurs, identifiers to watch for in others and ourselves, and ways to deal with it in a healthy manner.
Why People Bully
Some people don’t like “different” because it challenges their sense of security. When someone is unable to identify a pattern of another’s behavior, they aren’t able to predict what may happen next. This can be stressful and unwelcome, and so they do things to coerce the person into conformity. If comments or asking don’t work, sometimes it escalates to bullying.
Need for control
If there are situations in a person’s life which they want to control but can’t, they may look to control other situations. Domestic abuse is a quintessential example. A man might have to do what the boss tells him (lack of control) even though he despises his supervisor. He comes home and verbally or physically abuses (exertion of control) those who are defenseless and who depend on him for financial support, thus fulfilling his need (in an unhealthy way) to feel control.
People who do things out of the norm get attention because of the novelty of their behavior. A bully may become jealous and use tactics to criticize and discredit the attention getter and to refocus the attention on them.
Envy for material possessions
Bullying is a way for a person to “take them down a notch or two”. If a bully feels there are things someone else has, bullying is an effective, albeit unhealthy, way for the bully to feel better about what they don’t have.
People may see others bullying and controlling situations, getting their way. They want to have that control and so they do it as well. This applies more for children than adults, but as empathy and age is on a continuum, it can be the case for anyone.
Importance of Control
If we control our surroundings and situations, we decide what happens and what doesn’t. As a result, we get to decide when we feel safe. You could say that control is the ultimate security, which we all want. We all do things to have this sense of security and fulfillment of need- go to work, give a loved one a hug, drink water, say we are sorry, smile at the cashier, express our disappointment, etc. Society considers people doing these (pursuit of needs) to be perfectly acceptable. Isn’t bullying about controlling situations to meet needs as well- to “affect a desired change”? What, then, is the difference between the “pursuit of needs” and bullying? Our concern and regard for others emotions and well-being is the difference.
How to Spot a Bully
Level of regard is key
The difference between the “compassionate pursuit of needs” and bullying is our level of regard for the others’ feelings. This is the crux of the matter- the crucial ingredient that makes bullying what it is. If we consider the above definition of bullying, it implies that the bully does something either to hurt another emotionally (specifically to harm) or, at very least, doesn’t take their feelings into consideration (without regard for…the person’s well-being or emotional state). By monitoring the level of regard a person has for another during interactions we can identify when bullying may be occurring.
Being able to identify when bullying is happening is the first step in protecting yourself. If you feel uncomfortable and the other person doesn’t seem to notice or care, it could be happening. Watch for body language and tone of the bully. Does it seem they are trying to intimidate or manipulate? Consider why the person might want to bully you. Do they have a reason or motivation to do so? Finally, is what they say or do extraneous or is there a pattern? Watching for any of these things can help you determine if there is cause for concern.
6 Ways to Protect Yourself
1) Know when it is happening
Use the identifiers outlined above. Pay attention to what they say AND their tone and body language.
- Do you feel uncomfortable?
- Are they disregarding your feelings?
- Are they trying to manipulate or intimidate?
- Is the behavior a pattern or in passing?
2) Be honest with yourself
We may feel ashamed or embarrassed when someone “makes” us feel something we don’t like. Denying how we feel doesn’t make it go away. Allow yourself to feel whatever happens and use this as a way to inform yourself that it may be happening.
- It’s ok to feel hurt, sad, or mad
- It doesn’t mean you are weak, just that you feel
- The other person doesn’t have power over you, but it may feel that way
- Let the feeling be just that, a feeling
- Use this as a tool- an indicator- instead of judging yourself
3) Have a voice
One of the best ways to regain the feeling of power is to identify aloud what’s happening. A large part of feeling as if there is a loss of power is trying to hide from those feelings. Also, calling the bully out can break the cycle. Bullies rely a person’s discomfort to avoid confrontation.
- “I don’t appreciate your comments. They aren’t appropriate.”
- You can get support when you do this
- Let other people know what’s going on- social pressure can be helpful
- “This guy thinks it’s cool to put people down.”
4) Remove yourself
Because bullies rely on an audience and/or a reaction, their tactics won’t work if you aren’t there mentally or physically.
- Choose not to be around (physical absence)
- Leave if they start to bully
- Ignore them by talking to someone else in the area (mental absence)
- Choose not to answer them if they start to bully
It’s not running away, it’s deciding not to expose yourself to something unhealthy.
5) Get support
Talking to others about how you felt, why you felt it, and how you can protect yourself is an invaluable tool. You don’t necessarily need a counselor to help you with doing this. Someone you trust and who is compassionate (social support system) will do just fine.
- Talk to someone- process your feelings
- Role play with a friend how to confront so it feels comfortable
- You can have someone supportive with you to confront the bully
- Get other ideas of ways to deal with it from a friend
6) A note about privacy
Part of the reason bullying is so difficult to combat lies in our generosity of sharing things about ourselves without concern for our privacy. Technological advances have made transfer of information almost instantaneous and the sharing of this information seductive. When we share sensitive information about ourselves with anyone who will listen, it becomes difficult to walk away or ignore attacks if it is used against us. Be selective about what information you post and who you share it with
By understanding what bullying is and why people do it, we can better identify when it happens- to us as well as others- and then be proactive in protecting ourselves. By taking the initiative to do so, we also exert healthy social pressures on bullies and choose to be empowered rather than victims.
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