Bullying can happen to anyone at any age. It is a significant problem for many children and teens at school, but it can also happen to adults, most commonly in the workplace. It is important to distinguish bullying from teasing and other forms of aggression.
An aggressive interaction is considered bullying when it is purposeful, aggressive, mean behavior, repeated over time, either directly or electronically (cyberbullying), and characterized by an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the target.
It can make victims feel weak, ashamed or frightened. The US Department of Health and Human Services says that bullied kids have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and mental and physical health issues. Those doing the bullying are also more likely to have long-term issues such as depression or problems with aggression.
If YOU are being bullied:
First, know that bullying should never be tolerated. In addition to being deeply hurtful, bullying can leave you feeling angry, afraid, helpless, isolated, ashamed, and even guilty that the bullying is somehow your fault. You may even feel suicidal. Here’s some action steps to help deal with the problem and put a stop to the damaging effects of bullying...
Reach out to others. No one should have to handle being bullied alone. As soon as possible, get support from a parent, counselor, coach, community leader, or trusted friend. Your safety is the first priority.
Stand up for yourself in a safe and effective manner. Use tactics such as ignoring their advances, as well as confident body language and an assertive voice to tell the bully to back off. Attract attention and make a lot of noise to corral others so you are not alone, until you can get safely out of the situation.
Develop positive coping skills. Reflect on all the things you appreciate and are grateful for in your life, including your own positive qualities. Keeping a gratitude diary to write down big and small things you are grateful for can be very effective at helping you cope while you are getting support.
Reframing the perspective of the bully can also help you cope (once you are out of danger). The person who is bullying is unhappy and frustrated, and wants to have control over your feelings so that you feel as badly as they do. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
If YOU are bullying:
People demonstrating bullying type behavior need help as much as the targets of bullying – often they have been bullied themselves at some point. Understanding your motivations is a great place to start to try and stop your behaviors. Once you are able to gain an understanding as to why you are motivated to bully others, you will have valuable insight in learning how to stop the behavior.
Often we bully others when we feel stressed and our bodies are stuck in a prolonged, hyperarousal, fight or flight state. If we can recognize the source of stress and how to deal with it, we can override our stress response and prevent it from getting more serious.
After you have worked to de-escalate your stress, look for alternative ways to channel your energy and build up your self-esteem, such as starting a new hobby, volunteering, or joining a club or interest group. Talk to a mental health professional about ways to regulate your emotions and anger. A counselor can help you develop skills to engage in prosocial behaviors, behaviors aimed at establishing yourself within your peer groups.
Recently, there has been a push in schools for social-emotional development that focuses on teaching youth how to manage and regulate their emotions in healthy, mindful ways. Students have a designated calm place to take a break, they learn to “use their words,” or employ other mindfulness tools when feeling upset. This encourages them to navigate confusing and complex emotions in non-violent ways.
If you are the victim of extreme cases of bullying where intimidation and violent threats are involved, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set up this hotline that you can call 24/7:
STOP BULLYING NOW HOTLINE (USA) 1-800-273-8255
By: Ilise Reznick
Mental Health Counseling Intern