Bullying is a type of oppression in which, by means of cruelty and violence, one person continues to subjugate another and have power over the victim. When someone continues to say and do things to have power over you it is considered to be bullying. Many children are affected by bullying, but it also happens between adults in homes and boardrooms. Adults can also bully children when they abuse their power to humiliate, reject or hurt a child.
Bullying can be physical when someone continues to physically hurt you, damage your belongings or take your belongings. Emotional bullying includes being called names, making things up to get you in trouble, threats and intimidation, spreading rumors or sending you offensive text messages. Social bullying is when the bully excludes you from friendship groups and influence others to turn against you.
What are the psychodynamics of bullying? Aspects of the person’s personality are played out. Cruelty can bolster the bully’s ego at the expense of others. Some children come from homes where their models use aggression and cruelty to express anger. Bullies are often children who have been bullied, hurt or make to feel scared and vulnerable. One way to deal with such emotional pain is to identify with the perpetrator – you become the perpetrator and make someone else feel as scared and vulnerable as you have felt. Then you can feel powerful and victorious. When children come from backgrounds where empathy for others are not develop they do not care about other’s feelings. Love, respect and care builds empathy. Bullies long to feel powerful, strong and popular. This mostly indicates that they have been hurt, humiliated, rejected or traumatized and have an emotional need to turn the tables. Now someone else can feel alone, scared, unloved, powerless and weak. In this way the bully can get rid of his/her pain and let someone else feel it. Those who have been brutalized tend to turn to brutalize others. This process is not conscious. In a way the bully is trying to communicate how hurt he feels by getting someone else to feel that hurt and so understanding his hurt better. Individuals can gang-up against someone. This is usually done out of insecurity and a fear of being excluded.
Anyone can be a victim of bullying, but children who do not stand up for themselves are more at risk to be bullied. Children who have low self esteem have a greater risk of being victimized. Children who feel helpless and worthless, do not have friends, are anxious and depressed and who tend to be passive and lack healthy aggression (assertiveness) are more at risk.
If you are bullied the first step is to tell an adult and if they do not take you seriously to tell another adult. Do your best to stay away from the person who is bullying you. Stay in groups and try to find a buddy. If the bully does or says something to you try to ignore the bully (bullies like to feel that they have made an impact and have caused you to feel scared, angry or hurt). If possible try and stand up for yourself – bullies often choose children who doubt themselves and do not stand up for themselves.
How can parents help their children? If children grow up with a secure attachment to their parents and feel safe, loved and respected it greatly reduces their risk to be a victim or perpetrator of bullying. The mother or primary caregiver’s responsiveness and attunement to the baby’s needs and communications helps the infant on the road to mental health. If parents have empathy with their children it builds the child’s self esteem and helps the child develop empathy for others. Children need praise and they need to feel valued. Parents can model how to treat others with respect and compassion. If parents are firm and have clear and consistent rules without abusing their power children feel secure. Children’s risk increases if they do not have a secure bond with their parents. Some parents encourage their children to be aggressive towards friends and siblings. When parents use physical punishment or emotional outbursts to discipline or are rejecting towards a child it increases the child’s risk. If parents abuse their power to reject, hurt or humiliate their children the risk increases. All humans have aggressive, sadistic and frightened feelings. In favorable circumstances the destructive side can be contained and neutralized by the healthy part of the personality. If a mother can tolerate and contain her baby’s angry, frustrated and scared parts it helps the child grow towards an ability to contain his/her own feelings.
Remember “Home is where we start from”. Children who are secure, loved and have secure attachments at home are less at risk to bully or be bullied. Their internal worlds are more secure. Larger social structures that allow the abuse of power in our external worlds also contribute to a culture of the abuse of power. Please do not turn a blind eye, children really need to be valued.