Bullying can be a problem at any stage of your life. For the hapless victim it causes serious distress and can affect mental health for decades to come.
The mindsets of the people doing the bullying are often similar, whatever their ages. It's when the ancient ‘tribal' instinct of terrorising a perceived ‘enemy' comes into play. And who is the supposed enemy? It's anyone who is seen to be different in some way from the rest of the peer group. The instinct of the bully is to chastise and taunt the person seen to be ‘different' so that, by so doing, the bully is made to feel somehow more confident and ‘king' of his domain.
The bullying victim at school
Too often, the school will pathologise the victim. If a child is described as sensitive, it's implied that the parents are neurotic. It's less trouble to ignore the bullies than address the real problem. So the parents of a bullied child may themselves feel bullied by the system.
Individual children feel hounded by the need not to be seen as a ‘grass' or a wimp, so often bottle their feelings deep within themselves. With teenagers, too, it's often a question that they would feel embarrassed by parental or teacher intervention. If a child doesn't want you to intervene, suggest they keep a record of the bullying.
Bullying encourages submission, which then strips away self-esteem and confidence, especially if it occurs at a time of transition such as child to adolescent. This is when a person's identity is being shaped and negative feedback can have a big impact.
Are some children more likely to become victims of bullying? Any child can be bullied, but risk factors like timidity, lack of assertiveness, a lack of friends or a different sexual orientation play a major role in identifying the potential victim as ‘different'.
It's clear that schools should do far more to address the problem. Some innovative approaches for younger children are the siting of a ‘lonely' bench in the playground, and special ‘buddies' who are trained to help any individual who is found sitting there. For secondary schools, teachers should organise class workshops in which all pupils act out scenes around bullying. It's often the case that in workshops like these, when a bully (unknown to the teacher) is chosen in all innocence to role-play a victim of, say, malicious texting, embarrassment and confusion often occurs which is sometimes only noticed by his victim. That would probably be just enough to stop the bully in his tracks in future.
Bullying at work
Bullying at work is when someone tries to intimidate another worker, often in front of colleagues. It's usually, though not always, done to someone in a less senior position. If you're forced to resign due to bullying you can make a constructive dismissal claim.
Examples of workplace bullying:
constantly picked on
humiliated in front of colleagues
regularly unfairly treated
physically or verbally abused
blamed for problems caused by others
always given too much to do, so that you regularly fail in your work
regularly threatened with the sack
unfairly passed over for promotion or denied training opportunities
Bullying can be face-to-face, in writing, over the phone, by fax or email. If you think you're being bullied, it's best to talk it over with someone because what seems like bullying might not be. For example, you might have more work to do because of a change in the way your organisation is run. If you find it difficult to cope, talk to your manager or supervisor who might be as concerned as you are. Sometimes all it takes is a change in the way you work to give you time to adjust.
Speak to someone about how you might deal with the problem informally. This might be:
an employee representative like a trade union official
someone in the firm's human resources department
your manager or supervisor
The bullying may not be deliberate. If you can, talk to the person in question, who may not realise how their behaviour has been affecting you. Work out what to say beforehand. Describe what's been happening and why you object to it. Stay calm and be polite. If you don't want to talk to them yourself, ask someone else to do so for you. Write down details of every incident and keep copies of any relevant documents.
If the bully is your manager, but the firm's grievance procedure says that's who you should speak to, make the complaint in writing to your line manager, and ask that it's passed on to another manager to look into. If that doesn't happen or isn't possible, make the complaint to your boss's manager, or the human resources department.
If your boss is violent and abusive towards you and you're afraid to make a complaint, you should consider taking legal action.
In many ways, both the victim and the bully need mental health therapy: the victim to learn how to build self-confidence again, and the bully to discover why he did the bullying in the first place.
If the bullying is affecting your health, visit your GP or consult a mental health therapist.