There are a variety of social stressors that can be experienced on a daily basis. None, however, are quite as difficult and damaging as bullying.
We often think of bullying as a problem experienced by kids in school. And yes, that’s definitely an area where bullying occurs. But bullying goes much further than just the playground. In fact, bullying between adults, in the workplace, in relationships, and socially happens just as frequently and can be equally as damaging and difficult to deal with.
So, kid or adult, what can you do about bullies and why would one person bully another anyway?
Why Bullying Occurs
Bullying is a form of intimidation that’s used to force someone to do things or behave in ways against their will. It’s a blunt, forceful, and abusive way that one person tries to gain control over another. It’s generally done by exploiting something unique about the victim, or some perceived weakness, thus making them feel vulnerable, alone, and helpless.
While there is no way to justify bullying behavior, it’s important to understand why it occurs. Understanding the basis for this kind of behavior actually can be a tool for the victim to use to push back and make the bullying stop.
Although bullies often have a mean or cruel demeanor about them, they also often have an air of confidence and control. The combination of these two behavioral attributes can lead others to believe a bully is strong, dominant, and indomitable. The truth, however, is the exact opposite.
Most bullies are terribly insecure and have suffered bullying themselves, or some other stressful, traumatic event that they’re unable to cope with in a healthy way. Some people deal with stress and trauma in ways that lead to personal growth and increased resilience, and others don’t. Such is the case with most bullies.
The most common underlying reasons a person becomes a bully are the following.
- Feeling powerless. Nearly all of those who bully do it to feel powerful. This often occurs when a person feels powerless in other aspects of their life. People naturally feel better when they’re in control of their lives. When parts of your life are out of control then you may seek control in other, sometimes unhealthy ways. Namely the bullying and control of others.
- Problems at home. For kids especially, home and family problems are a large contributor to bullying behavior. A child who’s abused, whose family is splitting up, is facing grief, or dealing with other hardships that they can’t affect but have to suffer through, may take their pain out on others through bullying behavior. For adults, these problems can include financial issues, an abusive spouse or unhappy marriage, or personal discontent in the status of their life.
- The need to be seen. A person who feels, or has felt, invisible might see bullying as a path toward attention, recognition or popularity. Rather than achieving recognition in positive ways, they belittle, insult, and hurt others in order to be seen and acknowledged.
- Low self-esteem and insecurity. People try hard to hide their insecurities. For some this effort manifests in a strike-first attitude. Before anyone might notice their own inadequacies, they work to make sure they’ve pointed out the differences, weaknesses, or inadequacies of others.
Do any of these things make bullying behavior okay? No, of course not. But having an idea why someone behaves the way they do can help immensely when dealing with them.
What Kids Face From Bullies
Bullying for kids has come a long way from swirlys and having your lunch money taken. Social media has become a primary tool for bullying today - leading to cyber-bullying which includes shaming, starting or spreading rumors, or posting unflattering photos.
Of course, physical bullying still occurs as well. Name-calling, physical intimidation, and social ostracization all still exist and can make going to school or participating in team sports unspeakably painful for some kids.
Unfortunately, kids might experience bullying for a long time before ever confiding in a parent or trusted adult. So, having an idea of the symptoms a child might show when being bullied is important. If your child shows any of the following behavior, it’s time to consider bullying as a possible cause.
- Lack of desire or fear when going to school.
- Acting out or overreactions to small issues.
- Vague, persistent physical ailments like stomach problems or headaches.
Withdrawal, disinterest in socialization, and lack of interest in their normal activities. These are also symptoms of depression, which can result from unresolved bullying.
What Adult Bullying Can Look Like
Sadly, some people never grow out of being a bully and this abusive behavior persists into adulthood. Some people may also develop bullying tendencies as an adult when their circumstances change (see above) and they don’t cope in a healthy way.
We’ve all probably known an adult bully or two. The boss who yells and embarrasses employees, the neighbor who tries to push buttons (or your garbage cans), perhaps even a romantic partner. Thankfully – hopefully – as adults, we’re better equipped to see the behavior for what it is and look for effective ways to diffuse or remove its effect on us.
What Can You Do About A Bully?
Dealing with a bully, whether you’re a kid or an adult, isn’t easy. And the idea of standing up to them or really doing anything about it can feel very scary. But if the alternative is to continue taking the abuse, then making an effort to change things is crucial for your well-being.
Remember though, you aren’t responsible for changing their behavior or fixing their problems – just for putting a stop to their bullying of you. To that end, keep these tips in mind.
- Remain confident. A bully wants to intimidate and undermine you. By remaining confident – even if you have to fake it - you prevent them from doing that. It’s a small yet big win for you. Remember whatever they’re struggling with has nothing to do with you.
- Remain calm. By reacting in a scared or agitated manner you are feeding their behavior. Stay calm and don’t react. By doing this you prevent them from feeling as though their behavior is effective.
- Acknowledge if necessary. It can be awkward, or downright weird, not to say anything at all in the face of bullying. So, if necessary, consider responses like, “I’m sorry you’re having such a bad day,” “I hope you’re able to fix whatever’s making you act this way,” or “I heard you. Now I’m done listening.” If the bullying is online it’s probably wise to disengage, however, and ignore it.
- Walk away if possible. A person who’s bullying you wants your attention. Taking that away from them by leaving the situation can deflate their enthusiasm. This is the same reasoning for ignoring social media trolls and online bullies. If they can’t elicit a response a bully often loses interest.
- Talk to others. Not sure if you’re actually being bullied? Or, wondering if others are experiencing the same thing? Talk to those you trust. Bullies typically have more than one target, even if you’re the primary one for the moment. Enlisting the support or viewpoints of others can give you comfort and the courage to remain confident and calm.
Sadly, most of us will experience bullying at some point in our lives, including the bullies themselves. The most important goal in surviving a bully is to not allow them to make you change how you see yourself.