Taking back your power
Bullying is a broad term that describes repeated, often unprovoked, attacks towards a person of less-than-equal power. Though commonly associated with schools, bullying exists in many other settings across the lifespan, such as workplaces, university, through technology (e.g. Internet, phones) and in social clubs.
Bullying can appear in overt forms, such as physical intimidation, humiliation and verbal threats, but it can also take on more subtle forms like passive-aggressive behaviour, exclusion and the spreading of rumours. To an observer, isolated events may appear trivial, but the recurrent and often personal nature of bullying means victims may report feeling alone, helpless and humiliated. Over time, bullied individuals may experience problems of greater duration and severity such as; depression, substance abuse, reduced motivation, loneliness, lowered self-esteem and in extreme cases, may even question their will to live. Stopping bullying at an early stage is vital to saving yourself, a friend or anyone else from long-term harm.
People in the role of bullies often use aggressive behaviour as a means of demonstrating or asserting their power, resolving perceived conflict or simply for entertainment. They often come from a background where aggressive tactics are frequently used to assert control. These factors mean that bullies are often on the lookout to take aggressive action. Hence, it is possible to be a victim due simply to circumstance. However, victims are often identified due to being perceived as different in some way. This can include individual characteristics such as appearance, race or behaviour. They are also often singled out due to having relatively less perceived social support, meaning bullies feel they can attack them without consequence from others.
What can I do?
Over time, victims may develop a sense of "learned helplessness", where they feel powerless to stop the attacks and buy into the insults, feeling increasingly worse and out of control. Once in this mindset, it can be very difficult to believe that there is any way to change these problems. However, there are things that you can do:
In almost all settings, you will be able to identify at least one person or service that can help provide suitable action and/or advice. This might be a UQ Discrimination and Harassment Officer HR representative, a course coordinator, a lawyer, or a police officer, etc. In some cases, this action alone may be enough to stop the bullying in its tracks and provide you with helpful support. The situation may not always improve straight away (it may even worsen temporarily), but it puts the issue out in the open and may help instigate future action. You may have been told or feel that reaching out is weak or won't solve anything. This mindset only serves to prolong the bullying and means the bullies can continue without consequence. Don't give them that power. It is always recommended to act sooner rather than later, but if you perceive a reasonable level of risk, it is recommended that you get in contact with the police or supervisor immediately.
Bullying is often directed towards people they perceive as an easy target. People who are self-confident, communicate effectively and willing to take action are less likely to be bullied. Asserting yourself doesn't mean being aggressive or attacking back- such actions rarely work and often result in legal or other complications. However, expressing yourself clearly and with confidence, both in and out of bullying settings, makes you appear a more difficult target. Practice by calmly yet clearly telling your family or friends of your thoughts or ideas, walking confidently towards new situations or by openly pursuing your interests and goals.
With repeated bullying, you may start to feel that you are worthless or have done something to deserve it. It can be easy to buy into the words and actions of bullies, however they are NOT true. We all have our flaws (many of which might be raised by the bully), but we also all have our good points. Even more importantly, we all have a right to feel good about ourselves. Frequently take the time to remember (and even write down) reasons that you are a good person - for example your achievements, values, actions, roles, physical characteristics. This isn't boasting, it's something you deserve. If you find it hard, think about positive comments that others have said about you in the past, or recognise the qualities you admire about someone else (chances are you have many of these yourself). Take part in activities that allow you to achieve and feel good about yourself- confirm and support these positive thoughts. When we feel good about ourselves, we unconsciously communicate self-confidence and assertion, meaning we are less likely to be bullied. People with high self-esteem also have greater resilience to the effects of bullying and have better outcomes.
Bullies often pick targets they perceive as having limited support, because they feel there is little chance of repercussions or consequences for their actions. Having a supportive peer network or close friend can help reduce the likelihood of being a target, provide support in times of difficulty and make life more positive overall. Perhaps you know someone who has shared a similar experience, has a similar interest, appears empathetic or is a good listener. Try meeting new people through interest groups, classes, church, sport or work. It's up to you, but it is suggested you aim to find people you can talk openly to and share positive experiences with!
Consider your options
It is always recommended that you try as much as possible to work through your problems using one or more of the above strategies. However, if you feel that your situation is not improving or has become too dangerous, it can be worthwhile to consider alternative arrangements. This could include changing location, such as rooms, classes, lunch areas, or even entire suburbs or cities. For online or phone "cyberbullying", it may be helpful to block the bully's email or phone number, or even change your own contact details. If you are considering such changes, make sure you aren't short-changing yourself. Look for possible benefits of these changes and make sure you aren't depriving yourself of opportunities or future achievements. Take the time to generate a list of possible options (including the option of staying), then generate pros and cons for each. Ask for advice from other people and consider through these before making any final decisions.
Don't give up on your life
Don't let the bully ruin your future. Bullying is generally short-term in nature and often confined to specific life contexts. Remember or discover what you want to do with your life and pursue it- do what makes you happy! If you feel you are at a point when you question your will to live or find you are at risk of harming yourself, then talk to a trained counsellor or other authority support immediately.
Try some of these ideas as they may help you break the loneliness cycle. However, sometimes it can be helpful to reach out and get support. For more information on managing loneliness, please refer to the resources.
- Lifeline: Call 13 11 14. A free 24 hour telephone counselling service designed to provide support for people in crisis.
- Mates@UQ: A service that encourages new friendships and shared activities.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions provides module-based online self-help resources that use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principals to manage a range of psychological concerns. Some links that may help in dealing with the potential process and outcomes of bullying are listed below:
- Assert Yourself: Approaches to developing helpful assertion skills.
- Managing Self Esteem: Strategies for restructuring your self-concept more positively.