Mention bullying and most people will immediately think of a child on a school playground being pushed around by a bigger kid. Others may think of a child being called names like ‘four eyes’ or being teased for a stutter or a limp. But the fact is that the term ‘bullying’ encompasses many more behaviors than many people realize.
So what is bullying? Bullying seems hard to define. Every textbook, website, blog, and dictionary has a different definition of the word. The one thing all of these definitions agree on is that a bully intentionally seeks to inflict emotional or physical harm or stress on another person. Based upon that basic description, bullying takes on many forms. Most people are aware of some kinds of bullying, such as emotional or physical domestic abuse, gay bashing, assault, and sexual harassment. However, there are other types that are more subtle and might not be recognized as bullying. These include teasing and taunting, undeserved criticism, excluding the victim from certain activities (think children’s group recess games), insults, and verbal attacks against the victim’s ideas, principals, race, religion, sexuality, etc. Verbal bullying may take place in person, via text message, by email, or through the various social media networks. Victims may be children or adults.
Bullying can cause serious psychological harm to both children and adults. Children are especially vulnerable, but adults can suffer severe trauma as well, particularly when the bully is a domestic partner or employer. Bullying has been linked to long-term emotional effects ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims may also experience loss of sleep, loss of self-confidence, anxiety, high stress levels and panic attacks. The victim may withdraw from others, living in a self-imposed social isolation, or other may withdraw from the victim out of fear of becoming the bully’s next target. The victim may miss work or school (or even quit work or school) to avoid the bully. Some victims lose the ability to form relationships, some become violent themselves, and others turn to alcohol, drugs, or even suicide as a way out.
Given both the serious effects of bullying and it’s increasing prevalence, it is important – no, it is imperative that bullies be held accountable for their actions. Whether the victim is a child on a playground, a single-mom working as a cocktail waitress in a bar, or a college student hanging out on Facebook, he or she needs not only to learn how to defend against bullies but he or she also needs outside support. There is strength in numbers, after all. It is vital that those who are not being bullied step up and say, “This is not okay.” Even a statement as simple as, “Is name-calling really necessary?” can show a bully that his or her actions are being observed and that his or her behaviors are not seen in a favorable light. Reporting cyber-bullying (often called harassment) on the social networks also sends a clear message that bullying is not acceptable.
While it may be a pipe-dream to imagine a world without bullies, it is possible to stem the rising tide. Through the simple efforts of the common man (or woman), we can work together to spread the message that we’re watching for bullies and refuse to let them get away with pushing people around. And even if you think your contributions can’t change the world, think about this: if you advocate for one victim, if you stand up to one bully, then the world is changed for the better, for good.