I was the smallest kid in my classes in primary school. It was easy for the two boys who bullied me to push me around. As someone who was deemed socially awkward and over-emotional (I had a penchant for bursting into tears), I hardly had any friends. So I was an easy target.
In secondary school, I was faced with social isolation from my classmates because one of the most popular members of the form disliked me. I learned then that those who have greater confidence in their power are more likely to do the bullying than to become a victim, because they have more resources to carry it out.
Bullying doesn’t involve physical violence most of the time – the most common form of bullying manifests itself verbally. Name-calling, brutal teasing and consistent derogatory remarks are what usually constitute verbal bullying.
The important distinction between verbal bullying and friendly teasing is that the former involves malicious intent – the remarks are spoken specifically to offend the person it is directed at. A study by the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, United States in 2009, which surveyed 7,182 students from grade 6 – 10 showed that verbal bullying was the most prevalent type, with 53.6% of the students reporting having experienced it.
In contrast, physical bullying, which among other things involves the victim being pushed or hit, occurs far less often with 20.8% of the students in the study reporting it.
Now this is one very significant misconception that people may have about bullying – that it only involves physical violence. That is simply not true. The metaphorical heart can bleed just as profusely if not more than human flesh, and it takes more than just medicine and time to heal up.
Incidents of name-calling, rumour-spreading and social isolation tend to be taken much more lightly. Adults have a tendency to overestimate a child’s ability to handle their offenders.
From experience, I know that even if verbal bullying is reported, or perhaps even witnessed by a teacher, there is a reluctance or lack of capability to adequately resolve the problem. Back in year 5 of primary school, my class teacher once even ridiculed me for letting my bullies get to me.
Bully victims are often left to struggle with their oppression alone, not only because of willful ignorance by peers and surrounding adults, but also because lonely children are the easiest targets. Since bullying involves an imbalance of power, with the bully having the upper hand, victims typically lack a solid support system and are volatile in their social standing amongst their peers. They could be new students (and hence do not have an established group of friends), or students who are socially inept. These weaknesses are commonly exploited by bullies. Victims are also more likely to be physically small or weak, meaning that their ability to retaliate is often limited and bullies feel assured that their activities do not put themselves at risk.
Bullies typically choose those who are most vulnerable as their primary targets. As such, it is wholly unrealistic to expect victims, in particular young children, to be able to handle the situation alone. Assistance will always be welcome, and reasons like “It’s not a big deal” do not suffice to justify allowing them to suffer the consequences.
And the consequences can be dire – bully victims can face a range of issues, from lack of confidence to depression and even suicide.
A study by Yale University found that bully victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than those who have never been bullied. The case of Rachel Ehmke is one that provides direct evidence of the serious consequences that bullying can have. The 13-year-old girl from Minnesota, US hung herself in her home following her classmates’ verbal bullying, which involved sending an anonymous text message to other students at her school – the text message referred to Rachel as a “slut” and said she ought to leave the school.
Some people will bounce back from the experience of bullying better than others, but one thing all victims have in common is that they are left with scars from their fights, be it physical or psychological. Some may argue that leaving a child to fend their bullies off on their own would make the child stronger, but given the possible side-effects, it is better not to risk it.
I can say that being bullied in school taught me to be self-dependent, but I’d also say that it ruined the time I spent at school. To this day, I still have doubts about my ability to socialise and form lasting friendships. I definitely wish I had had more help when I was being bullied.
For those who are reading this, here is my advice when dealing with bully victims :
1) Do not react negatively if you are sought for help. Victims are not expected to be able to defend themselves alone. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness on their part.
2) It is not easy to deal with bullies, and victims shouldn’t be made to feel bad about getting upset or distressed when they’re being bullied.
3) Do not tell them to pick fights. Victims should defend themselves only if necessary, otherwise, they should be advised to keep a low profile and avoid drawing attention. It is not their job to seek revenge.
4) Root out the source of the problem. If attempts to put a stop to the bully are met with limited success, provide support for the victim. Do not leave them to fight alone.
Bullying is not just another phase of growing up, so don’t treat it like it’s okay to do nothing.
If you are a bully victim, please remember this – there is nothing wrong with asking for help. The fault does not lie with you, but with the mean-spirited people who derive pleasure from seeing you in pain. Find solace in people who do appreciate you, stay strong, and you will come out a survivor.
KKA has been both a bully and a bully victim. Both experiences have taught her valuable lessons on humanity.
Image taken from here