Bullying: not just for kids

Submitted by Stark County Citizen’s Mental Health Task Force

When most of us think of bullying, we think of kids; the schoolyard bully who steals your lunch money or the “mean” girls. While many bullies outgrow such behavior, for others it doesn’t stop at high school graduation.

It’s important to differentiate rude and mean behavior from bullying. Being rude is inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else. We’ve all been guilty of doing this on occasion. Saying yes when a woman asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?” can be considered rude behavior even if you gave an honest answer.

Being mean is purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone else. Mean behavior is intentional and aims to hurt someone. Telling someone they are stupid, fat, or ugly in the heat of the moment is mean. Mean behavior can be hurtful but it is seldom repetitive.

Bullying is intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time that involves an imbalance of power. The different types of bullying include:

Physical aggression is what was once the gold standard of bullying – the “sticks and stones.”

Verbal aggression includes hurtful words and statements.

Relational aggression is a form of bullying that threatens social exclusion, shunning, hazing, or rumor spreading.

Cyberbullying is a specific form of bullying that involves technology. It is willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. The likelihood of repeated harm is especially high with Cyberbullying because electronic messages can be accessed by multiple parties, resulting in repeated exposure.

The most common areas that an adult experiences bullying are in the workplace and at home. The challenge with adult bullying is that the bully has become more skilled and subtle.

Some examples of workplace bullying include being ignored, disrespecting your time, or sabotaging your work. The bully may not respond to your phone calls or emails or fail to get things to you in a timely manner. They may take credit for your work, put you down in front of others, or start rumors about you. Sexual harassment is a form of bullying.

Because workplace bullying is seldom physical (except sexual harassment), your options are less dangerous. You can avoid the bully or confront the bully. If you confront the bully here are some suggestions:

Prepare for the encounter: Decide what you want to say and where you want to say it.

Having a plan can help to reduce the anxiety.

Don’t attack them: Calmly and self-assuredly stand up for yourself. Avoid getting emotional or escalating the situation.

Be specific: Avoid blanket requests like “stop bullying me.” Tell them specifically what they are doing and that it is not OK.

While often not thought about this way, domestic violence is bullying. The three elements that bullying entails: intent to harm, a power imbalance, and repeated acts of threat or aggressive behavior perfectly describes domestic violence. In the case of domestic violence, avoidance or confrontation, are not the answers. Seeking assistance from a domestic violence shelter or the police is the safest and most effective approach.

Adult bullies act out for the same reasons that kid bullies do; they’re trying to make up for some shortcomings of their own. As difficult as it is to accept, bullying is not about you. You’re not the one with the problems, so you shouldn’t ever take bullying personally. Bullys have serious insecurity issues.

Whether the bullying is taking place at work, at home, or in the community your safety should be your number one concern.

The Stark Citizen’s Mental Health Task Force meets quarterly at the Bradford Library. The purpose of the group is to promote mental health access, advocacy, and education in Stark County. The next meeting of the Task Force will be November 16. Anyone interested in joining the group is welcome.

For more information, contact Gail Ripka at 309-312-1716 or [email protected]

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