Are you a bully?

When you think of a bully, what do you see? Is it a picture of Nelson Muntz screaming “Ha Ha!” as he points in your face? Or do you see the stereotypical circling around the small, defenceless boy in the playground as everyone shouts “fight, fight”?

I’m sure there’s many a playground brawl that occur daily in the school playground, but in an ever-increasing digital era, bullying is shifting over to the internet, and the persona of bullies has shifted with that.

In today’s world, victimising someone can easily be shrugged off as ‘banter’; however, this less overt type of bullying can be truly destructive. Young people can be causing pain and angst towards someone and be completely ignorant to their actions.

Bullying research has affirmed what we already know; bullying is the result of an unequal power dynamic – with the strong attacking the weak.

Bullying can follow us throughout life, workplace and professional bullying is just as common as childhood bullying often it is just less obvious.

I interviewed a young lady who has been the subject of bullies all her life, she wishes to remain anonymous, so for the sake of this article, she will be known as Ms Smith.

Ms Smith said: “I experience bullying in my adult life. It’s almost more insidious and painful as a ‘grown up’ than as a child. We ought to know better, yet we don’t and we still act out when we are not comfortable with who someone is.

“What’s worse is that as an adult I am expected to suck it up and get over it.”

Sometimes the things that make us unique are the very things bullies attempt to make us feel bad about. In the moment, it can be hard to recognise the lack of value in their vindictive words; it can be hard to tell yourself, and believe, that what they’re saying isn’t true.

Victims are told that the actions of bullies are spawn from jealously. Although, this does not offer any solace; their motive doesn’t soften the blow of their venomous words and actions.

Unfortunately, the internet has made the world much more rural, instead of a localised hub, where bullying was typically contained, such as in school, it is now much more widespread. Before the internet, and social media, bullying ended when you would withdraw yourself from the situation in which it was inhabited.

Social media has made bullying harder to contain. If you are harassed on Facebook, a ceaseless stream of notifications leaves you vulnerable to victimhood.

Ms Smith said: “It was never anything blatant, physical or obvious. It was always underhanded, mean, cruel and off the radar. It was just an intense dislike, which I never understood what I’d done to deserve.”

The inescapability of ‘cyberbullying’ has huge consequences, not just for children but for adults also. The internet has made bullying both harder to escape and also harder to identify. It has also, perhaps, made bullies out of some of us who would otherwise not be. We are immersed in an online world in which consequences often go unseen – making it easier to deceive ourselves about what we are doing.

It can be really difficult for us to look at our own behaviour, especially as we mature, and assess the implications or our actions.

So why is it so difficult for us to identify bullying behaviour in ourselves?

In social systems with a pecking order it’s natural for ‘higher-ups’ to exert power over subordinates. In a society full of anxiety, stress and pressure, slight digs at others could be a means of elevating ourselves – making us feel better. With a mounting pressure in school, this can be an outlet for children who are suffering.

A few tips for those avid social media users out there:

  1. Don’t say anything in writing that you wouldn’t say in person.
  2. Remember tone and intention are often hidden and misinterpreted in text form.
  3. Don’t ever post someone else’s words or images without their expressed consent. The internet is a permanent place.
  4. Think, if you saw the same comments written about you that you have written about someone else, would you be hurt?

I took to Facebook and Twitter and asked the community “What would you say to anyone who has, or is being, bullied?”. The responses are a powerful reminder that our differences can be our strengths, and that bullies do not get to decide who you are or what you’ll achieve in life.

Here are the responses:

“Always remember that people make fun of the things they don’t understand in other people. And the things they poke fun at are the things that make us unique.” – Charlotte Armstrong

“It strikes me that in this life, I/we will always be too posh, too common, too clever, too talkative, too serious, too dramatic, too artistic, too fat, too thin, too stupid, too dippy, too annoying, too irritating… just too much for a lot of people. You will never please everyone, especially not yourself. Try to learn to love yourself and work hard on that now.” ─ Ms Smith

“Different is beautiful. Never, ever forget that.” – Miriam Gwynne

“It sounds cheesy, but it does get better!” – Stacey Crawford

Our Anti-Bullying topic contains guidance on what constitutes bullying, strategies to prevent and tackle it, as well as template forms to report and record incidences of bullying in your school. We also have useful videos which outline how to address bullying and provide assistance in setting up ‘nurture groups’, to provide a safe and welcome environment for pupils who experience social, mental, emotional and health difficulties.

Ms Smith (2016) (Telephone communication regarding her experience of bullies) [Personal communication: 30 October 2016]

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