We hear a lot about bullying in schools, most recently in relation to Kate Middleton’s experiences as a young teenager. Many parents are aware of the possibility that their child may experience bullying, and schools are required to have procedures to deal with the problems that arise.
Bullying in the workplace is also well recognised, with many firms having documented policies and procedures to deal with it.
Such safeguards may help prevent bullying occurring by raising awareness, by reinforcing the message that it is not to be tolerated, and making clear that such behaviour will be treated with the seriousness that it deserves.
The impact of bullying on its victims can be severe, undermining their self confidence and self esteem, raising anxiety and giving rise to feelings of insecurity. It can often be dismissed by those who have never experienced it, and because bullying is often carried out in secret. Others who are not themselves bullies can align with the bully out of fear of receiving the same treatment as the victims, leaving those who are bullied isolated and without support. In extreme cases, bullying has been cited as a factor in some suicides.
While bullying in schools and workplaces has been well recognised, its less obvious counterpart is bullying that goes on in the community and in families. It can happen in sports and social settings, in committees, among so called friends. Spouses can bully spouses. Parents can bully children and children can bully their parents, and their siblings.
These forms of bullying are spoken of less often, but their effects are no less damaging for those on the receiving end. Their victims can be left baffled as to why they have been singled out, and if the bullying continues, they can come to believe that they deserve what is happening. The emotional scars from childhood bullying can still be making themselves felt in adulthood.
Bullying can start innocently enough, a joke, some friendly banter, a little light teasing. It can start with a comment about someone’s appearance, or some gossip about someone who might be seen as different. I’m not suggesting that all banter and teasing leads to bullying, of course not. However, in my experience those accused of bullying can often be shocked that their behaviour has been interpreted in this way. And we all have a responsibility here; to question our attitudes and beliefs, to question our own behaviours and desires, and to question the temptation to join the herd response.
Bullying can ruin lives. We all have a part in changing that.
If you have been affected by the content of this article, please talk to someone about it.
Jude Fay is a psychotherapist with AnneLeigh Counselling and Psychotherapy, Celbridge and Naas.