By Freddie Cocker
Bullying is a highly disturbing social phenomenon. Oxford Dictionary defines a bully as “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable”.
Bullying can be conducted in a multitude of environments and is not limited to taking place within a school building. However, for many victims of bullying, including me, this is where bullying can and does happen.
The workplace is also somewhere where bullying could take place, either perpetrated by work colleagues or your boss. It could take place within family homes, hospitals, police stations or the Houses of Parliament as recent developments have come to light. There are no limitations on the reach it can extend to.
Bullying can be conducted by an individual or a group of people. Methods of bullying take many different forms. It could be carried out through more ‘traditional’ forms like face-to-face name-calling, personal abuse or physical assaults of violence. It could take the form of social exclusion of someone from a group. Furthermore, it can sometimes manifest itself through a manipulation of other social groups so they in turn exclude that person from a particular social hierarchy.
As we have entered the digital age, other forms of bullying have emerged. One such consequence is the rise of cyber-bullying. Now bullying can take place over text message, Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, Twitter or other social networks. Some bullies now video their attacks and post it online. Previously, being bullied for a day ended at 3:30 or 5pm when a person left work or school. Now it can be a never ending cycle of abuse, where the only obstacle to someone’s ability to inflict pain is dictated by their Wi-Fi signal or their data allowance.
The impact of being bullied is an endless list of negative outcomes. It can take the form of severe mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, paranoia or schizophrenia. It could also have massive long-term consequences like marriage breakdown, fractured relationships, job loss or suicide.
As I write this, it is worth pointing out that I myself was bullied. Almost all of the above forms of bullying I just described I had to endure myself. The impact of being bullied over a nine year period when I was in primary school and secondary school included several suicide attempts born out of severe depression, trust issues particularly with figures of authority or friends, paranoia, self-hatred and a myriad of other self-esteem issues.
But it doesn’t have to always be like this. If you can spot the signs that someone is being bullied and intervene with the right amount of compassion and protection, you could not only stop the short-term pain but maybe save a life.
Whilst I cannot give a definitive list of dos and don’ts that will provide a sure fire answer to solving this societal problem, the tips I list below could help and ensure as much as possible that you do not allow bullying to take place under your watch:
Believe their story
When someone is being bullied, the most important moment can often be the first time they confide in someone about it. It might have taken them weeks, months or years to pluck up the courage to open up and if you are the one being confided in, the best and simplest thing you can do is listen to their story and just believe them. Unfortunately, when I first opened up about my bullying to my parents, they did not believe my story straight away. This initial scepticism was the worst way they could have reacted. It meant I immediately did not think that I had their 100% support or protection. This made me doubt myself and whether I was over-reacting to being bullied in the first place. It also made me with-hold information about being bullied in the future because I feared not being believed by them or teachers I confided in either. For a short while, the only people that believed me were my two closest friends.
Protect them from harm
The second and most important thing you can do if you are a parent, a loved one or a close friend of someone who is being bullied is protect them. Speaking from experience, this was something I wasn’t given enough of. Whilst I was given help in some instances and my parents did intervene on several occasions when I told them I was being bullied, on other occasions when I needed help and emotional support I was told to essentially solve my problems on my own when it came to being bullied and handle it myself.
Obviously you cannot be a person’s bodyguard or be with them 24/7 to protect them from abuse. However, whatever’s possible that’s within your power to do so, make sure you implement. This could be something as simple as hanging out with them if they are at a particularly low point or getting them to talk about how they are feeling. Being an outlet for them to share what they are going through can sometimes be the biggest source of comfort. Knowing they have someone who believes in them and loves them can make all the difference.
If they want you to help them put an action plan together for how the bullying can stop, by all means assist them but only cooperate with their consent. Sometimes intervening in their lives without their say-so can be damaging as well.
Nurture their ability
In times of hardship, many people who are bullied will have low self-esteem, self-worth and in many cases, hate themselves because of the abuse they have received.
For individuals who experience this self-hatred, nurturing them through this difficult period with advice, kindness and compassion is the best medicine. If they feel like they have support and are loved by someone, this is hugely powerful and can sometimes be the difference between them taking their own life or not.
This was certainly true in my case. The bullying I received and the hatred that my bullies had for me as well as the majority of my year group in school who hated me as well began to destroy my entire being. It wasn’t just a small group of individuals who would abuse me. It became a daily struggle. It’s hard to explain to people how bullying doesn’t just take the form of an individual or group targeting you. If you’re unpopular in school and you know you are universally disliked or hated, it can sometimes be worse. When I would walk into a room, people became quiet, regular and openly disparaging comments were made about me on a daily basis, I would get whispered comments as I walked past or blurt out open deconstructions of why I was hated.
In your school years, many people who’ve had similar experiences will attest to this fact; if you were known within your school or outside your school as someone who was bullied or a “victim”, you were cast to the bottom of the social ladder and had very little chance of succeeding. You had a black mark against your name. Girls would poke fun at you and boys would look down on you as the runt of a very large academic litter. Your belief in your own ability would disintegrate to the point where you feel you have nothing to offer the world.
The forms that bullying took to affect me personally included amongst others: violent assaults inside and outside school, daily personal abuse, social exclusion from my own friendship groups as well as others I tried to integrate with and cyber-bullying through Facebook – even a page was created about me. In a socially conservative Christian school, holding an opposing viewpoint on certain topics made you a candidate for social exclusion. To be different was to be weird, to be clever or in my case, have a willingness to learn was castigated, anti-intellectualism was rife and to stand out was taboo.
“No one likes you anyway Freddie”, “Everyone hates you”, “Fuck off and die” are just a couple examples of comments people used to say to me quite casually and regularly in lessons or around school. There’s even been examples in adult life where I’ve happened to bump into people I used to go to school with who would repeat this second comment years after I left school in casual conversation as if it’s an acceptable thing to say as an adult.
This laissez-faire, disregarding attitude manifested itself in one particularly hurtful example. One morning in year 10 in my form class, I overheard a group of girls talking about who they liked out of the boys in my class. They rattled through a list of names and when my name was mentioned they all had a little giggle saying; “Who the fuck would fancy him? Can you imagine going out with him?” and the laughter and conversation continued along these lines. Those words pierced through me and it is incredibly difficult to keep a straight face in response. When you hear comments like that repeatedly and consistently over the course of a five year period it is very hard to insulate yourself from them whatever kind of person you are.
Although this example technically might not be classed as bullying itself, these comments are a demonstration of the ‘universal dislike’ argument I outlined above. They made me feel like I wasn’t just trapped within a cycle of abuse from my bullies but also, as my world back then was basically my school, that the entire world is physically against you.
Make them know it is not their fault
Bullied individuals often can be allowed into thinking that the reason for being bullied is somehow their fault. This is a falsehood that can endanger lives and it is critical that you reassure them that is not the case. In my case, it was suggested to me by my parents that my behaviour and personality in school was a factor in why I was being bullied over the years that I suffered. Whilst they certainly didn’t intend to cause the psychological harm that this brings, it is extremely traumatising to hear.
This rhetoric can be incredibly damaging and dangerous as once someone who is being bullied believes that it is their fault for their own misery, self-hatred and suicide can sometimes follow it. If someone believes that their character is the reason for their pain, then suicide can often be seen by them as the only way out to ease that pain.
Throughout the time that they are bullied, constantly reassure them that things will get better, it is not their fault and they are loved by many people. It is this message of love that, given consistently, will alleviate some of the pain that they are going through.
Many people who are bullied might need counselling whilst they go through it and after the suffering has stopped. If you are a loved one or close friend, let them know that support is available to them if they need it and make sure you are on hand to provide any additional support that is required as well.
No one ever “gets over it” – realise this and act appropriately
A few of my friends have asked me in the past whether I’m “over” the stage of my life when I was bullied or I’m “past it”. To be honest, you simply cannot “get over it”, as if years of unimaginable pain can be quickly forgotten. The truth is that for me and I’m sure for many people who’ve experienced similar stories, you never truly “get over it”. Being bullied is an experience that will never leave you as a person and it shapes people in ways they might not even recognise.
Whilst bullying is something that will probably never be eradicated in society, what we can do is make sure that those who are bullied are given the support, the help and the protection they need to make it out the other side. There will always be individuals who gain pleasure out of the suffering of others or whose minds are warped to the degree that they will cause such harm to another individual for no reason. I hope this article provides help, comfort or direction to people who are being bullied or those who wish to help someone who is.