5 Myths Around Bullying

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It’s unlikely that you can read or watch your favorite news source and not hear something on the subject of bullying. Here are some of the most common myths about bullying and why it happens.

Bullying is in the news and connected more and more now to the suicide of children, adolescents and even adults. It continues to play a relevant part in social trauma that so many people experience and plays a significant role in the retention of students in school and adults in the work place. Yet, our understanding of the phenomena could still use a boost.

Bullying is defined as aggressive and intentional, harmful, behavior that is repeated over time and that often takes advantage of some imbalance of power. The imbalance of power can take many different forms, not just physical size, but power from gender, socioeconomic status or privilege, hierarchy (like a boss or teacher), and groups, both small and large, like on social media. Our traditional views about bullying are changing. No longer is it seen as the bigger kid bullying the smaller one in secluded areas of the school yard or hallway. No longer do we see it as just physical assault, but we understand that it can be done through social media and other means more readily accessible by everyone.

Lets take a look at some of the common myths around this behavior:

Individuals who bully do so because they themselves suffer from low self esteem.
This myth reflects the idea that bullies pick on others to make themselves feel better. The more we explore this myth, the less significant and prevalent it becomes. Truth be told, more and more research now can show that bullies actually tend to show average to above average self esteem. They can often be the ones who are more popular and display confidence and higher than average social skills. What bullies tend to actually lack is empathy. In addition, they tend to have aggressive temperaments and grow up with aggressive parenting models. Programs that traditionally focus on self esteem building for bullies are showing less impact than programs that address building empathy towards those they hurt.
Bullies are just looking for attention.
This myth reflects the idea that if we all just ignore the bullying behavior it will go away. It suggests that all bullies want is attention for themselves. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. What bullies truly desire is not attention, but control. As a matter of fact, often when the bully is ignored, their behavior may actually escalate. As the bully sees his actions having less impact, they often step it up a notch to regain that sense of control. Bullies may temporarily redirect their aggression towards other people when ignored or bored with the person, but they usually return to those individuals that they have been successful with before. Ignoring the behavior and hoping it will just disappear can be quite traumatic for the person being bullied. In addition to the bullying behavior escalating, we send the message that ignoring violence and aggression is an OK thing to do. Bullying needs to be addressed as often as it can be. Frequent intervention shows more impact with bullying than ignoring it.
Bullying is something we all outgrow.
This myth suggests that bullying is just a phase, or that it is something pertinent only to children. The truth here is that bullying is not outgrown. The number of incidences in high school, college, and the adult workplace are significant. We can even see its presence in nursing homes. As we get older, the incidence of females who bully almost begins to equal that of men. Bullying gets more socially sophisticated as we get older too. Relational and cyber bullying become more prevalent than physical bullying. Bullying is not a phase that we go through, and some who bully can go on to more intense negative behaviors and antisocial activities.
Victims just need to stand up to their bullies.
This myth reflects the idea that just fighting back will end the torment. However, those who are bullied are often ill equipped to deal with the imbalance of power in bullying. They may be more socially awkward or shy and lack needed support from others to lessen the power difference. What these victims need are advocates. Programs that espouse peer mediation and conflict resolution do not often take into consideration the imbalance of power in bullying. Sometimes the victim is made to work directly with their bully to resolve the issue only to face retaliation later. Support and advocacy tend to work better. Often the isolating effects of bullying are mitigated when you can bring them closer to those who are supportive, helpful and have been bullied themselves.
Reporting it tends to make it worse.
Bullying is quite under reported as it is, which has done nothing for this problematic issue. However, those who are bullied frequently don’t report it because they fear retaliation or feel like nothing can be done. Often, there is a lack of response to bullying from authority figures at school or work, and physical forms of bullying tend to get most of the attention. What we do see in some research now is that when bullying is reported, it tends to benefit not only the victim, but also the bully. (Alas, most will just prefer not to talk about it, hoping it will go away.) Reporting it can help both the bully and those bullied find the interventions they need. When bullying is left unreported, we are unable to gather the numbers to understand the relevancy of the issue and begin to change our policies at work, online and school.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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