‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.’ Adults of a certain age may have used this adage to deflect verbal taunts and teasing from a bully during their childhood.
Bullies as antagonists have remained the same but some of their tactics have changed.
The act of bullying is a form of youth violence — harassment taken to the next level — and it can happen to anyone in any community regardless of age.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is likely to be repeated.
Bullying may be direct and include physical acts such as hitting, pushing, tripping, and overt verbal attacks and threats — name calling and taunting. A subtler form of bullying is indirect or relational aggression which involves rejection by friends, exclusion, being ostracized from the group, and covert verbal attacks, including gossip.
Whereas boys typically perform direct forms of bullying — physical acts and verbal attacks — to those outside their friendship circle, girls typically engage in relational aggression against those within their friendship circle, and are more likely than boys to ostracize others. This behavior has been documented as early as six-years old.
Adults engage in bullying behavior too and they have had years to hone their tactics. It is likely that an adult who exhibits bullying behavior was either the bully or bullied as a youth.
Bullying campaigns used by adults in social or professional environments include: Physical bullying – physical attacks, simulated violence, extortion, rape, personal space violation, physical entrapment, physical size domination. Tangible/Material bullying – one using their title or position or financial, informational, and legal leverage as a form of intimidation or harassment to dominate and control their victim. Verbal bullying – shaming, criticism, threats, and racist, sexist, or homophobic insults. Covert or Passive-aggressive bullying – the bully seems nice and behaves appropriately on the surface yet initiates negative gossip, sarcasm or joking at the victim’s expense.
Other tactics may be more insidious and include: withholding pertinent information needed to perform a task, exclusion from critical meetings, vague direction, rules, and expectations of performance. In addition to professional isolation, social exclusion, lack of encouragement or facilitation of professional development, condescending comments, eye contact, facial expressions, or gestures.
Finally, bullying may occur electronically — called cyber-bullying — which involves repeated harm directed to the victim by using computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.
The negative impact of bullying does not solely affect the victim. Bullying affects the perpetrator and the bystanders and its effect can last many years after the experience. The effect of bullying behavior has been linked to some of the following:
- Decreased academic or work performance
- Substance use
- Mental health issues (depression, anxiety, feeling of loneliness, thoughts of suicide)
- Violent abusive behavior
- Early promiscuity (during youth)
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ StopBullying campaign provides information on the different forms of bullying and tips on how to prevent and respond to bullying. Please note, bullying methods will vary depending on the age of the individuals involved. However, the consensus is that you cannot change a bully but in some cases over time, the bullying behavior can be stopped.
For individuals who need assistance coping with the effects of bullying, the California Department of Consumer Affairs licenses therapists and psychologists through the Board of Behavioral Sciences and Board of Psychology. You can research a professional and check their license here.