Bullying, tragically, is an everyday phenomenon in schools, homes, and the workplace, yet it is widely misunderstood. In the workplace, bullying and harassment cost the Australian economy over 10 billion dollars per year. This amount does not cover the hidden costs of replacing those who leave as a result of psychological injuries and the hiring and training of replacement employees. For adults and teenagers but in particular for children the short term and long term effects of bullying include sadness, despair, stress, anxiety, destruction of trust, truancy, depression, and poor academic performance.
Victims may also suffer increased aggression, relationship and friendship difficulties, poor self esteem, which may lead in the very worst case scenario to the introduction of self harm behaviours, suicidal and homicidal thoughts and action. This litany of destruction is something that the community and society cannot afford to leave unaddressed at any level.
Bullying can be a one off event or occur repeatedly. The severity of the bullying and frequency can make the outcome more damaging. Research into bullying – both of the bully and the one targeted by the bully indicates the significant potential for severe psychological, social and mental health problems, which may well have a detrimental effect on wellbeing, social and employment success.
What is often overlooked in the bullying scene is the third participant known as the bystander. In the schoolyard, bullies will only do what bystanders allow. In the workplace staff may feel intimidated or afraid to act. Quite often the actions of the workplace bully are done more covertly, and may happen behind closed doors. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, women are at greater risk of becoming the target of bullying male behaviour. However, when the bully is a woman, it is more likely that her target will be a woman as well.
What does bullying include?
- Hurtful comments, making fun, mocking or ridiculing
- Exclusion from school/social/workplace activities
- Threatening behaviour with implements, workplace equipment eg. knives/drills, or weapons such as knives, knuckle dusters, etc.
- Playing mind games or ‘ganging up’
- Spreading rumours, malicious gossip, photos or videos on social networks and text messaging
- Harassing calls and emails
- Nasty looks, making rude gestures, name calling, focusing with contempt on race, sex, religion, gender or disability.
- Intentional and repeated physical attacks which include, pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing, wrestling, or invasion of personal space etc.
- Destruction of personal/work belongings and property
- Initiation or ‘hazing’ rituals where behaviours will humiliate and intimidate the victim, and are personally and socially unacceptable to the victim.
What more do we know about bullying?
- Studies show that victimized children often suffer mental health problems, particularly anxiety and depression which endure into adulthood.
- Bullies can be perceived as popular because they are socially dominant, however their peers often do not like them.
- Studies have also shown that bullies lack positive social behaviour, are unable to understand others’ feelings, and appear untroubled by anxiety. Basically, they appear to lack empathy and insight into the plight of their victims.
- Children who persistently bully often experience strained relationships with parents and peers. They have little trust in people generally. Also identified is that they often come from a harsh, punitive home environment.
- While bullies may achieve what they want short term, in the long term as their aggression increases, their social desirability is eroded. They tend to associate with similar deviant children with a negative outcome for all involved.
- Bullying is not your garden type aggression: It is a deliberate and repeated attempt to cause harm to those who are vulnerable and perceived as having less power.
- The workplace bully will move from one target to another, and whose depravity is only restricted by the knowledge that they have to appear ‘normal’ to fit in among civilised people.
- They cannot be identified by their status, but by their actions.
- In positions of authority they may exclude or isolate a victim from co-workers.
- Workplace bullies may withhold information deliberately, remove responsibility from a worker, delegate menial tasks, and employ the strategy of negative criticism.
- Intimidation may be the bully’s weapon of choice.
- They often have a Jekyll and Hyde nature. Charming one minute, spiteful and nasty the next.
- The workplace bully will exploit the needs of the organisation and individual for personal gain.
- Bullies damage the reputation of people and organisations and are convincing liars.
- Bullies react to criticism with…denial, retaliation, feigned victimhood, and often blame the victims for their plight.
- Like Teflon nothing appears to stick to the Workplace bully who miraculously appears to be immune from disciplinary action.
- Workplace bullies are attracted to positions of authority where they have access to employees who may become the focus of the bully’s attention .
- Bullies often feel threatened by colleagues who exhibit positive traits such as competence, integrity and popularity. The bully often projects his/her own inadequacy and incompetence onto potential rivals (targeted victims).
Myth: Bullies come from a background of abuse.
Long term research and studies of young children who experienced abuse in preschool show that they become victims – not bullies – who have little control over their emotions.
Myth: Bullies strive for power because they feel powerless.
Bullies use aggression in a premeditated, calculated, dominating way to ensure they get what they want, and in most cases this works. A vast number of children experiment with power tactics early in their childhood years but relinquish such strategies in their adolescence.
Myth: The best way to deal with a bully is to fight back.
Physically confronting a bully is strategically placing oneself in the weaker position and encourages the bully to continue. By being assertive and walking away the confrontation and potential for aggression is reduced significantly.
Myth: Bullying is a problem for schools, families and workplaces to solve.
Bullying is a societal problem and must be dealt with proactively to ensure inappropriate behaviours are addressed sooner rather than later so that anti-social patterns are not reinforced.
Myth: Cyber bullying is a recent phenomenon.
Cyber bullying is a flow on of local peer group dynamics and pressure using a medium that is readily accessible and reaches a broad audience. Think of it as text messages rather than wedgies. Most at risk are those who are isolated and lonely and use the internet as their primary source of communication.
20 Tips for Positive People Combating Bullying
- Report the incident
Before the matter gets out of hand or the bullying becomes an established pattern, report the matter to a person in authority – senior management, workplace union representative, teacher, principal, parent or friend.
- Seek advice and educate yourself on the subject of bullying.
Plan for action by learning all you can about bullying, post traumatic stress disorder and specific types of bullying. Seek legal advice if needed and check out the laws relating to bullying and harassment.
- You’ve got to have a plan.
Keep a journal of incidents, conversations, allegations, criticisms, dates and document what action was taken and by whom. Keep a copy of letters, memos, emails, anything that will support your case. Look for a pattern of incidents – bullies usually apply similar tactics that have proven to be effective over time.
- What’s their position on bullying and harassment?
Obtain a copy of the employer’s, or school’s anti bullying and harassment policy. If you are denied a copy then seek legal, union, or department advice on the matter.
- It’s not what is seems.
Do not under estimate the bully’s capacity to deceive and manipulate colleagues, parents, peers, persons in authority.
- Speak up or forever hold your peace.
Speak to the offender about how you feel and request they stop. If they appear menacing, stand up straight and say ‘leave me alone.’ Hold your hand out and say ‘stop it.’ Move away to a crowded area where you can be safe.
Stay calm. If the situation is within the family home seek refuge in a place where you will be safe from harm. It is most important to have a contingency plan.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
- It’s time we met.
Arrange a meeting with the person and have another (third) party present. In the case of meeting at a school, have the teacher, principal, offending party, as well as an advocate to assist. Ensure all documentation is presented including a copy of current legislation/legal directives on bullying and harassment.
- Doctor and specialist support.
If a doctor or specialist has assisted you with medical advice, medications, and completed reports of psychological, physical and emotional ramifications as a result of the bullying, ensure that copies are provided at the time of meeting with the other party or seeking redress.
- The blame game.
Often the victim/survivor of bullying is made to feel shame, embarrassment, guilt and fear. This is a very normal reaction, although misplaced and inappropriate. Tactics of control include instilling guilt and fear in the victim.
By using such strategies all abusers, including child sex abusers, control and silence their victims.
- Naivety is the greatest enemy.
It is conservatively estimated that one person in thirty is a serial bully who exhibits sociopathic traits. This is most evident in the workplace. It is important to be able to recognise and see the disordered personality behind the mask. The serial bully has a completely different mindset and will not change – except to hone their skills of deception, manipulation and evasion of accountability.
- Please explain.
As stated previously, record everything in writing. It is important that correspondence include substantive and quantifiable evidence. Quite often the bully’s criticisms and allegations are founded on distortion, blame and fabrication. In other words they are an opinion or fabrication on the part of the bully for the purpose of control.
- Establish a support network.
Bullies separate and isolate their target and may go so far as to cause conflict and division within the victim’s circle of friends, family or colleagues. Often the bully will play on their vulnerabilities. You may see your colleagues or school friends distance themselves or simply melt away because they are frightened to be the next target of the bully.
- Educating the targets of bullying.
Those who are targeted by bullies often have to educate those who are or should be supporting them. Information on how to do this is available on the internet. Try Bully Online
- Record incidents in the Accident or Incident Book.
In cases of sickness, absence or ill-health due to stress as a result of the actions of a bully, record it in the accident or incident book. This ensures that the bullying is officially registered and logged. Inform the school principal or employer in writing that a person’s bullying behaviour has resulted in physical or mental health concerns. Should victimization occur as a result of this course of action, consult a lawyer.
- If the bullying becomes public.
If the bully makes unwarranted criticisms in public or it appears on record, it may require a solicitor’s letter to the bully pointing out that they and their actions are subject to the laws of libel, slander and defamation of character.
- The emotional backlash of bullying.
There are common emotions and feelings that come about as a result of bullying. These may include..
- Hopelessness and feeling stuck
- Alone with no one to help
- Guilt at having done something wrong
- Depressed and rejected by friends, family, or colleagues
- Afraid and unsafe
- Shame that this has occurred and being targeted
- Confused and stressed at being singled out
- A leopard doesn’t change its spots.
The serial bully at work is a serial bully at home and in the community. The objectives of the bully are power, control, domination and submission. The means employed include disempowerment, manipulation, isolation, ritual humiliation and constant denial of being accountable in any way.
Additionally control is maintained over finances, movements of the victim, enforced isolation, the choice of friends, and employment. Disempowerment is the ultimate goal.
- Bullies, victims and domestic violence in the home.
Bullying and domestic violence are related and often when experienced in the home go unreported. It comes as no surprise that recent studies have identified the link between violence and bullying. Children exposed to violence in the home engage in higher levels of physical bullying outside the home. These children learn negative behaviours from seeing what their primary care givers do and how they interact. Other experts view these children as victims acting out by physical and psychological means as a form of defence.
Strategies against bullying may include…
- Gathering strength and asserting power
- Focusing on safety at a personal and child protection level
- Harnessing of maximum power which can include contacting police, obtaining a restraining/intervention order, alternative short and long term accommodation.
- Developing a safety plan with the children
- If staying in the family home change the locks, install safety devices to secure windows, the garage door, and include smoke detectors etc.
- Alerting authorities and security at schools and day care about the current situation and who is authorised to pick up the children.
- Telling the neighbours/landlord that the abuser no longer lives in the house, and police can be notified if he is seen near the home.
- Devising a code word to use with the children, family and friends when the police are needed.
- Teaching the children how to use the telephone to contact someone they trust. This also includes contacting police and the fire department.
- In the case of arguments, trying to move to an open area of low risk with access to an exit from the house.
- Leaving money, spare keys and extra clothing with a person you trust.
- Keeping copies of important legal and financial documents (perhaps leaving some of them with a responsible, trusted friend).
- Having a different bank and bank account to increase independence.
- Installing sensor lights around the outside of the house.
- Informing your employer and security supervisor of the situation.
- Screening telephone calls at home and work.
- Vary shopping and home/work routines and motoring/transport routes.
- Adding emergency phone numbers into ‘contacts’ of the mobile phone.
- If uncertainty exists about safety, ensure that someone travels with you to and from work, during outings and lunch breaks. Always let someone know of your destination, and expected time of arrival.
- When you leave you will need to have…
- Personal identification and passport
- Children’s birth certificate
- Copy of your birth certificate
- Social security cards
- Cheque book, ATM cards, Credit cards
- Keys – house/car/office
- Driver’s licence and vehicle registration
- Welfare identification and related paperwork
- Medical records – for all the family members
- Legal documents eg. Divorce papers, intervention orders
- Bank books, insurance papers
- Rental/lease agreement, house deed/title, mortgage details
- Address book
- Jewellery, photos, items of sentimental value
- Children’s favourite toys and blankets
- Small saleable objects
- Clothing for self and children
- Put responsibility for bullying where it belongs.
So often partners, employees, or children blame themselves when they are the target of bullying. They falsely believe they must have done something wrong to incur the wrath of the bully. Bullying is a choice made by the bully and society must enforce the stance that morally, legally and socially it is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. For every action there is a consequence.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important.” – Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon
“If you don’t have a hero be your own hero.”