Bullying and its effects on society have been in the news and social media a lot during the past few years. It seems like the problem has become worse rather than better. Maybe bullying seems like more of a problem these days because of greater awareness of its dangers.
I’m guessing that bullying probably has its roots in prehistory because humans have always been cruel to one another. This is so because of social power imbalance. There have always been aggressive people, submissive people and people who don’t want to get involved.
People have threatened each other, spread rumors, shunned certain members of society, attacked each other with verbal threats, and physically assaulted or killed one another since our species first evolved.
Nobody is immune from the insidious psychology of bullying. Bullying is a localized form of psychological warfare. The harm inflicted by bullies includes difficulty in sleeping or nightmares. For children, there is loss of interest in schoolwork, not wanting to attend school, and declining grades. The appearance of self-destructive behaviors like self-harm, drug use, or talking about suicide. The victims, children or adults, feel helpless and suffer diminished self-esteem. They avoid social interaction and notice a sudden loss of friends.
There are outright physical symptoms of bullying. There is theft or damage to clothing and personal belongings. In extreme examples, bullying brings violence and injury. These can lead to long-lasting psychological damage in the people who are bullied.
To be considered as bullying, the aggressive behavior involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The harmful threats or real violence is repeated or has the potential to be repeated. It is the threat or implied threat that creates an underlying mental environment of fear in the victim.
How can you know if a friend or your child is a bully? Do they have friends who degrade or bully other people? Are they increasingly aggressive. Do they get sent to detention frequently or have they been called out by an authority figure? Do they have unexplained new belongings or extra money? Are they competitive and make a big deal about their reputation and popularity. Do they blame others for their own problems and not accept responsibility for their actions?
One of the most frustrating things about bullies that victims must suffer, is when bullies claim to be the victims of bullying themselves. They turn the situation around and claim that their victims are supposedly the real aggressors. These claims are often made when bullies are cornered and made to account for their actions.
To be clear, bullying does not include peer or gang violence, hazing, or dating or domestic violence. These are other serious problems that require other forms of prevention and punishments. However, these become more problematic when they intersect with bullying behavior.
Bullying isn’t just some sort of innocent childhood phase of “kids just being kids”. We find this negative behavior in young adults, colleges, and in the workplace. Bullying is at the core of many of society’s most serious criminal problems.
Bullying continues in large part because the innocent bystanders don’t intervene or prevent it. They just don’t want to get involved. Perhaps they fear the bullying will happen to them if they do. Maybe they don’t want to be thought of as tattlers. In most cases, the innocent bystanders do not support or comfort the victims of bullying. In fact, they tend to further avoid contact with the victims.
It is the combination of fear of the bully and the social isolation by innocent bystanders that causes the deep-seated negative emotions of the victim. When the victim’s life seems hopeless, the self-destruction begins.
We know bullying is a huge problem in schools, in the workplace, and in society at large. It needs to be called out and addressed firmly. This is why we must continue to have bullying awareness campaigns directed towards parents and communities. There must be safety committees in schools and workplaces to evaluate, implement, and enforce anti-bullying programs. There must be places where bullied victims can go to seek refuge from their tormentors. We need to show understanding and compassion to those who have been bullied.
There needs to be an overarching code of conduct in the nation, individual communities, schools, and workplaces to prevent and address the bullying problem. We need a code of conduct and reporting rules. We need to reverse the present climate in which bullying is accepted in some quarters. Bullying is not acceptable behavior by anybody.