Bullying at School, Work, Home

In my practise, I come across a lot of clients that is currently being bullied or was bullied in their past.  It is frightening to witness what long-lasting negative effects it has on all ages, genders, races, sexual orientations and social classes.

So, what is bullying?  One of the more comprehensive definitions comes from Wikipedia which says:

Bullying is the use of force, coercion, or threat, to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate.  The behaviour is often repeated and habitual.  One essential prerequisite is the perception (by the bully or by others) of an imbalance of physical or social power. This imbalance distinguishes bullying from conflict.  Bullying is a subcategory of aggressive behaviour characterized by the following three minimum criteria: (1) hostile intent, (2) imbalance of power, and (3) repetition over a period of time.  Bullying is the activity of repeated, aggressive behaviour intended to hurt another individual, physically, mentally, or emotionally.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying

Unfortunately, in the cyber age that we live in, bullying doesn’t only happen in person, but also occurs through various digital platforms, for example Facebook, Twitter and other messaging platforms.  Because we cannot always see the injuries that bullying causes, it becomes more difficult to see the injuries being inflicted on somebody when they are being bullied.  Therefore, it is important to spread the message and give opportunities to the inflicted by creating a safe environment where they can open up, get help on how to deal with bullies and heal from the harm that was caused.  By saying that, it is also extremely important for the bullies themselves to be given a safe and non-judgemental environment to receive the help and healing that they need.

Bullying at Home

Through studies, it has become evident that siblings who are being bullied, often suffers from social isolation, substance abuse, depression and other mental health issues.  It mostly occurs at home between siblings, especially when there is competition between the siblings for the limited love, resources and attention that parents provide.  But that is not all, it is also the quality of the relationship that the children have with their parents and how they are guided by their parents on how to interact with others and how to build healthy relationships that effect how they deal with others and build new relationships on their own as they grow older.

It could be that the child is growing up in an environment where there is a lot of yelling, putdowns, persistent need to dominate and harsh criticism.  It is here then where the child learns that such behaviour is acceptable and thinks that it is the only way of dealing with relationships and life situations, and simply do not know that such behaviour is unacceptable.  We as parents must check how we behave in high emotional situations and whether we use name-calling, accusations and violence.

So, what are some of the red flags to look out for when you think that your child is being bullied or could even be a bully themselves?  (1) Birth Order – firstborn children (especially boys) are more likely to bully younger siblings; (2) Parenting – lack of parental warmth seem to promote sibling bullying; (3) Peer Victimization – being victimized outside the home by same-age-peers seem to increase the risk of becoming a bully; (4) Early Experience of Bullying – being bullied at a very young age (age 5 or younger) increases the probability of bullying siblings; and (5) Individual Differences – behavioural problems, poor social cognition and antisocial behaviour seems to promote bullying tendencies.

Because bullying at home isn’t always viewed as problematic and is often seen as harmless and light sibling-rivalry, but it is our duty as parents to help and guide our kids to stop bullying and to create a safe-haven for the ones that are being bullied.

Bullying should always be taken seriously, and a clear message should be brought across that bullying at home or anywhere else will not be tolerated.  Set clear rules and reasonable punishments in place and follow through with these, for example, take away your child’s phone or computer should bullying occur via a cyber platform.  A few other tips to try is to set a good example as a parent, encourage good behaviour and learn about your child’s social life and which factors may influence your child’s behaviour, but most importantly is to teach our kids to treat others with respect and kindness.

Bullying at School

Bullying at school takes place in nearly every part of the school environment, which means, in and around the school building.  It can take place on the bus, while walking to or from school or even during extracurricular activities.  Bullying occurs during break-period, in the bathrooms, in classrooms and even the school hallways.  The bullies taunt and tease their victims until the victims feel that they have no relief and nowhere safe to go to and might resort to suicide or self-harm to escape the humiliation.

How can we then protect our children from becoming bully victims?  It is important for us to teach our children that they are not alone, and that the communication channel is always open.  Open and non-judgemental communication between children and their parents are crucial.  Help your child by instilling a strong self-esteem in them so that they can stand up for themselves in a mature and non-harmful manner.  Encourage your child to stay in safe areas where they are surrounded by other children and to tell a teacher immediately, but also ask the teacher to write the occurrence down.  Children also need to know that they must not give out their telephone number to people that they do not completely trust as this can lead to harassment if somebody sends them threatening or offensive messages.  Should the child travel by bus or walk to school, find a safe alternative route or another bus that can get your child safely to school.

Bullying at Work

You are out of school and rid of all the bullies, but a rude-awakening just hit and you are confronted by a bully at work – What Now?

Gary Namie, a social psychologist and the co-founder and director of WBI said the following about bullying at the workplace “It comes just like sexual harassment – uninvited, undeserved, unwarranted”.  It causes harm to both your mental and physical health and include effects like major stress, anxiety, trauma, depression, low self-esteem, self-doubt, suicidal thoughts, gastrointestinal issues and even high blood pressure.

The difficulty with bullies in the workplace is that they mostly operate within the rules and policies of the organization.  Their abuse comes in forms of intimidation, threats and humiliation of their specific target.  It costs the corporation valuable resources, such as high turnover rates, poor team dynamics, increased employee absences, decreased productivity and financial loss resulting from legal costs or bullying investigations.

So, what do these bullies do?  One bully could be screaming, cursing, making a public scene or even sending angry emails or using aggressive body language.  Another bully could be breaking you down every chance that he or she gets by telling you that you are the weakest link in the team and breaking you down so much that you start to doubt your abilities.  This same bully might be taking credit for all your work, leaving you out of social functions at work or could even play jokes on you with the intent of humiliating you.  There are even the bullies that withhold instructions or information from you and therefore setting you up to fail.  These people will intentionally leave you off from important conference calls or invitation list for a meeting or will not pass important information to you which will prevent you from doing your work to the best of your abilities.

And then there is the one who pretend to be your best friend but who will undermine you behind your back and tear you to shreds by calling you unreliable and unskilled.  They will do this behind your back, but face-to-face, they are your best friends.

But how can we handle such a bully?  This is a grownup person that we are dealing with and we must treat it in a professional manner.  We also must treat it in such a manner as to prevent from being victimized in the future.

First things first, speak up.  Speak up before you become a long-term target for the bully.  Plan beforehand what you are going to say, explain what the problem is and stay calm, direct and polite.  Secondly, document the bullying and the effect that it has on your performance.  Make sure that you document the date, the time and where the bullying took place and if other people where in the room when it occurred, remember to also keep physical evidence, such as emails or threatening notes.

Thirdly, do some research on your company’s policies on bullying.  If your company doesn’t have a policy on bullying, read more about your company’s values and expectations which can strengthen your case.  Reach out to HR, specifically the person which is more focussed on culture and people who can guide you onto the next step forward and assisting you with coming up with solutions.  Alternatively, you can reach out to your manager or one of their peer managers.  It is always helpful to state that you have tried various avenues of addressing the problem and that you require further assistance from them.

Most of all, take care of yourself outside of work.  Do things outside of work that will make you feel happy and good about yourself.  Do some yoga or running or spend some quality time with friends and family and lean on them for support.

If You Are A Bully

It is most likely that you already know that what you are doing is wrong, but you are unsure of how to take the first step to stop your behaviour.  If you are the bully, it helps to think how it would make you feel if somebody else was harassing you, picking on you or made fun of you.  Would it make you feel alone, afraid and awful?

Luckily you are not beyond help and there are various avenues on the road to bettering yourself that you can take.  Firstly, find somebody that you can talk to, maybe being a therapist, a teacher, a friend, a parent or a colleague.  This person should be somebody that you trust and that you know will not judge you.  Ask yourself, what made me start bullying and why am I picking on certain people?  Start to work on your anger and stress management skills and surround yourself with positive people who only have your healthiest and best intentions at heart.  Work on your self-esteem and learn that life can be a much more enjoyable environment with kindness and respect for all living things.

Numbers to Contact

Childline SA:  08000 55 555

GEM Mental Health Therapy & Coaching:  073 504 3546

Thank you very much for reading my blog.  I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere.  Please send any feedback or comments to info@gemtherapy.co.za and remember to have a look out for a new blog every week.

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