The Anti-Bullying Alliance defines bullying as the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power.
Bullying takes many forms and can include:
- physical assault - such as hitting, kicking and pushing
- verbal attacks - such as threats, name calling and belittling someone
- social bullying - deliberately excluding someone by ignoring them or not including them in plans
- cyberbullying - targeting someone online with hurtful messages or sending sexually explicit images or videos
Who might be bullied?
We often associate bullying with young people and school, but anyone can be a victim. And it can happen in any setting and within existing relationships such as partnerships, work colleagues and family. Often individuals are bullied for being different - perhaps because of race, gender, sexuality or disability.
Our member Kemi Omijeh says: "Bullies will pick on what they see to be a weakness in their potential victim. Among children and young people, it tends to be those who are different in some way, when the irony is we’re all different.
Emma Cullinan adds: “Bullying can be random because what's different in one setting will fit in in another. In one school a child may be ridiculed and bullied because they don't like sport but love science, destroying their sense of self. While in another school their preference may be supported and valued, building their self-confidence."
Who are bullies and why do they bully?
“A bully seeks to harm, intimidate or coerce,” says Kemi. “They tend to see their victims as less than themselves and assume they’re an easy target.”
“Some people mistakenly believe making others look smaller will make themselves feel bigger but, actually, it’s the opposite," adds Emma. "Being kind to other people will boost your self-esteem.”
They both agree that hurt people hurt people.
Says Emma: “The impulse to damage someone does not, naturally, come from a good place. People may become bullies because they were bullied themselves and copy the behaviour. They may feel insecure or in pain and want to make others feel the same. They try to offload their dark and difficult feelings onto somebody else.”
What are the signs that someone is being bullied?
Signs of bullying can be difficult to spot. Many people will keep their worries to themselves or they may try to brush it off.
“Changes in behaviour and becoming withdrawn can be signs of bullying,” says Kemi. “They no longer act like their usual self.
“It’s also important to notice how the person behaves around their bully. Signs can include avoiding the bully or seeking their approval. They may be on edge, anxious or cautious, or have mood swings."
What can you do if you, or a loved one, are being bullied?
Being bullied can make you feel isolated and it can feel really difficult to do anything about it. You might not know who to turn to or fear it will get worse if you speak out.
Kemi says: “If you're worried someone is being bullied, as much as they might resist it, support them to report it through the proper channels. This may take a while, so take time to listen to them and reassure them that it will be OK. But avoid taking over or pushing them into action or a choice. Gentle guidance and support is needed.”
For children and young people, it’s important to make their school aware. Schools have a duty of care to ensure children are safe and well in their environment.
Adults in a work setting should keep notes of all incidents of bullying, with details of dates, what happened, who was involved and any witnesses. Encourage them to seek help in whatever way they can.
One option is to remove yourself or your loved one from the situation.
Emma says: “While this can feel like giving in to a bully, a child who is ostracised in one school can be fully accepted in another – or even in a different classroom – and that will be life-changing for them. You have to balance your education, or career prospects, with your mental wellbeing.”
She adds: “Let the person being bullied know you love them unconditionally and will treat anything they tell you with support and understanding. Never feel or suggest they deserve it - you will compound the bully’s damage.
“If you're the victim, remember there’s nothing wrong with you. Your bully is probably jealous of you or incapable of tolerating difference. The problem personality is theirs.”
How can counselling help victims and bullies?
Whether you’re being bullied now or have been in the past, a counsellor can give you a safe space to explore what’s happened and its impact on you.
Emma says: “In therapy, I help people to understand that, where someone is being nasty to someone else, the problem does not lie with the victim’s personality, it lies with that of the bully.
“Everyone needs to connect with others - our universal fear is of being alone. Bullies gather people around them and exclude one person. The whole group joins in because their absolute fear is of being alone. They work together to subject their victim to their greatest fear.”
Kemi says victims of bullying need a lot of emotional support for their mental health.
"Therapy can help you feel confident again and build your resilience. It can also help you move on and heal from the trauma of bullying.”
Therapy can also help bullies by enabling them to discover the underlying reasons for their behaviour.
“It can provide them with a safe and healthier outlet,” Kemi says. “It can offer coping strategies and ways to break behaviour patterns like bullying."
If you have any comments or would like to share your story, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Get help for someone else
How to offer support and where to get advice.