Bullying: it’s psychological vandalism
Bullying is a pernicious, malevolent act, which can make life miserable for the person on the receiving end of it. Not just confined to the school playground, adult bullying appears to be a growing phenomenon, although this is difficult to verify. Certainly bullying in the workplace is increasingly grabbing newspaper headlines.
However, adult bullying takes place in many contexts; perpetrators can be neighbours, colleagues, or even other family members. Cyber-bullying is a new emerging variant of bullying behaviour.
Although it’s difficult to give a precise definition, bullying is the repeated verbal, psychological or physical attack on another individual. Adult bullies often have a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ nature; charming one minute and vindictive the next. They are highly devious, probably with sociopathic tendencies. And for victims on the receiving end of this type of malevolent behaviour, the often-quoted anecdote that bullies are "deeply insecure themselves" probably carries little comfort. The point is, bullying hurts. It is a painful psychological onslaught, designed to undermine confidence and resilience.
Bullying behaviour can be surprisingly insidious, almost creeping up on its victims; snide comments here or there; belittling remarks; silent treatment; manipulative behaviour. All of these behaviours are designed to undermine the self esteem and confidence of its victims. Above all bullies maintain dominance through fear, and victims can go a long time before speaking out, either because they feel embarrassed or because they are made to feel that somehow it’s their fault. A cycle of self-blame can then occur, with victims made to feel that they are being overly-sensitive; or that they don’t have a sense of humour, or that they are not being a team player.
Experiencing sustained bullying has a serious effect on the mental well-being of its victims. Individuals can become depressed, withdrawn, angry, anxious, or experience insomnia; it can even lead to suicidal thoughts. But how can the cycle of bullying be stopped? The first step on the road to recovery is to stop suffering in silence, as anonymity is a bully’s greatest defence.
Even when bullying stops, recovering from the emotional damage bullying causes can take time. Victims may carry a sense of shame, anger or anxiety. Talking therapies can offer a safe, non-judgemental environment to talk through feelings, process what has happened and start to heal the psychological scars left behind.