Bullying is behaviour that makes someone intimidated or offended. Bullying can happen face-to-face, by letter, by phone, by text message or as cyber-bullying via the internet by email, messenger apps and social media. Those who bully via social media often do not know the people they are bullying and are more likely to make remarks in a much less inhibited way because they perceive the internet as being anonymous. Nevertheless, there have been quite a number of legal cases in which victims of cyber-bullying have obtained justice because online bullies can be traced, and they have incriminated themselves by leaving a permanent written record of their bullying on the internet.
Although bullying is often associated only with schools, it can happen to anyone at any age. The list below shows some examples of bullying behaviours to watch out for:
- Physical bullying, including physical intimidation, threats and actual physical attack.
- Role-based bullying, where someone abuses a formal position of power to bully those over whom they have power, for example by harassment, threats against job security or unreasonable demands.
- Verbal bullying, for example name-calling, racism, homophobia or belittling.
- Passive aggressive bullying. This is a subtle but no less damaging form of bullying. The passive-aggressive bully seems to behave respectfully on the surface, but subtly makes condescending or mocking remarks, makes rude facial expressions and bodylanguage, uses sarcasm, deliberately excludes the victim from social or business ventures, deliberately embarrasses the victim or spreads gossip behind the victim’s back, to list a few of the ways in which passive-aggressive bullies operate.
- Gaslighting. This is perhaps the most insidious of all forms of bullying, in which the bully convinces the victim that the bullying is all in their mind, or that the bully is the one who is actually the victim. For example, when challenged, the bully may refuse to admit there is a problem or may blame the victim, and this may happen so many times that the victim starts to believe they really are the problem and that the bully is blameless. The bully may then convince the victim to turn to them for help, to increase their power over the victim.
- Cyberbullying. As mentioned above, cyber bullying is a more disinhibited form of bullying due to the perceived anonymity of the internet. Cyberbullies often try to increase their impact by encouraging others to gang up on the victim.
It can be helpful to make the distinction between behaviour that is simply unkind and that which is bullying. The difference lies in the person’s motivation. If it is pointed out to someone that their behaviour or language is hurtful, if they are being thoughtless or unkind they may feel remorseful and make an apology, even if not immediately. On the other hand, a bully will make sure to repeat the behaviour because they now know it is hurtful, even if outwardly they seem remorseful, as in the case of gaslighting for example.
Bullies bully because they feel insecure themselves and either they feel in some way threatened by the person they bully (even if they are not consciously aware of it), or they focus on another’s defects, no matter how minute, to distract themselves from inadequacies they perceive in themselves. So if you’re the victim of a bully, it might help to know that it’s not about you: it’s about them. Unfortunately, you just happen to be the person on the receiving end. If wasn’t you, it would be someone else. A bully needs a victim (anyone will do) to help the bully feel better about themselves.
A bully’s most powerful weapon is silence, so they tend to seek out those who they imagine will be likely to stay silent about being bullied and they will often do their best to manipulate you into staying silent. If you feel you are being bullied, some of the ways you can help yourself are listed below:
- Keep a diary of what is said and done, and when it happened. This can be particularly helpful should you ever need to defend your position, for example in a work context. If the bulling is in cyberspace, take screenshots of what is posted and when it was posted.
- Be aware that some forms of bullying are unlawful; you may be able to report the case to the police. Note that any kind of bullying in the workplace which counts as harassment is unlawful and may be a sacking offence in company policy.
- Remember, it’s not your fault. You just happen to be the bully’s target. Remember that their aim is to manipulate you – don’t engage.
- Don’t retaliate because you may end up in the wrong if you retaliate. There’s an expression – ‘keep your side of the street clean’ – which means protecting yourself by keeping your relationship with the bully polite, courteous, formal and unemotional, revealing as few of your thoughts and feelings to them as possible, and being polite but assertive in your responses to their bullying tactics.
- Give yourself space to get away from the bully. Engage with them as little as possible. If the bullying is happening in the workplace, keep your relationship formal and businesslike at all times.
- Find one or more people you trust and enlist their support. Tell them what is happening.
- If you feel in real and present danger of actual physical harm, get away as soon as possible. You might like to make sure you have somewhere to get away too should you need it. An internet search for refuges and safe houses in your area is a good starting point.
Counselling may help you build the internal resources you need to protect yourself against a bully, work through your thoughts and feelings, and formulate a plan of action for getting out of the situation. Counselling may also be useful to help you work through historical bullying and lay the ghosts of the past to rest.