Bully to Buddy – Time to Stop Bullying
The fact that bullying incidents are occurring, is a fact. The fact that such incidents are being increasingly noticed, along with a growing prevalence is also a fact. The fact is that bullying has become a reality, not just in schools and colleges, but in all spheres of our lives, be it in our workplace, be it in a relationship, be it at a public place, be it with family members, in a mode of public transport, or even in traffic on the roads!
However, the point to be remembered is that, in spite of such a growing prevalence of bullying incidents, along with an increasing awareness of the accompanying adverse consequences brought on by such incidents, there are still numerous incidents which are being unidentified and underreported! In fact, there are also many times when the victim of bullying himself/herself is unable to identify or label the behaviour as bullying and would be dealing with the same without even registering that the behaviour needs to be reported!
Understanding Bullying: What does it mean?
First and foremost, it is important for all of us to be able to get a complete and correct understanding of the phenomenon of bullying as well as what all it entails. Most commonly, bullying has been recognized only in terms of physical aggression, which could include behaviours of hitting, beating, kicking, pushing or physically hurting someone intentionally. However, what is vital to understand is that bullying does not have to be restricted to a physical action. It could, in fact, be manifested in a variety of behaviours, including verbal behaviour (calling names, teasing, insulting or threatening individuals, etc.), non-verbal behaviour (like making rude or offensive hand or finger gestures, unpleasant facial expressions at a person, etc.), stealing, hiding or destruction of another individual’s property or belongings, or actually coercing someone to do something against his or her own will, deliberately ignoring an individual, avoiding an individual deliberately, alienating the person, spreading false rumours, or finding means to say or do things to embarrass the other person, not letting another individual get their rightful place in a public transport or on the roads… and the list can go on! Yes, bullying therefore can be any form of physical or non-physical action which is intended to cause hurt or harm to another individual, without any further ulterior motive besides causing the individual to experience distress. The basic premise underlying the dynamics between the bully and his or her victim is the interplay of an imbalances sense of power, be it real or perceived.
Going Beyond the Perpetrator and the Victim: What is the Role of the Bystanders?
Most of the times, efforts are made in order to understand what made the victim be singled out, why did the victim not be able to stand up to the bully, etc. At most, there is also an effort made to try and reason what could be the reasons leading the actual perpetrator to be indulging in such a behaviour. Yes, in order to completely understand the phenomenon of bullying, it is important to get an understanding of the mindset and psychology of the victim as well as the bully. However, something that is often neglected, and in my opinion, happens to be the most important aspect, especially if we are to try and avert such incidents of bullying from occurring, is to understand the role of the bystanders.
Bystanders are the individuals who are witnessing such an act, maybe as a passer-by, an observer, a participant, a follower, a defender or an outsider. Such a bystander is the one who actually has multiple options, as he or she may choose to actively intervene to stop the bully, or may end up being able to encourage the bully to continue such actions, or might even choose to view the bullying passively, without doing anything about it! Therefore, the choice made by such a bystander, is what can go a long way in helping prevent or avert adverse consequences of such bullying incidents, especially in a group setting, whenever this is possible.
At the same time, it is undeniable that we need to have the actual victims also feel empowered enough to be able to deal with such incidents, if possible, and minimize the frequency of such altercations. The role of the bystanders and a strong support system shall definitely go a long way towards such a cause. It is also understandable that a victim of bullying may not always be willing or open to seek help, and this hesitation could actually be due to a multiple reason, including a fear of the consequences, a feeling of isolation or alienation, a fear of being perceived as weak or being labelled as a tattletale, etc.
In addition, there are times when the person may not even know whom to reach out to, whom to trust, and whom to talk to… they may not talk about it for a fear of humiliation, fearing being rejected by peers, and not be understood. And the worst-case scenario could be when the victim might end up believing or being made to believe that he or she could be guilty or responsible in some way for the bulling behaviour.
Therefore, it is essential for us to create awareness amongst people, especially the young children, to know that asking for help is not something to be hesitated, and in fact should also be perceived as a sign of strength.
A Preventive Approach: The Actual Need of the Hour
While we need to remember that bullying is rarely meant to be spiteful in nature, which implies that there are likely to be possible psychological and environmental factors which are making the bully indulge in such behaviours, including a lack of parental involvement, an intolerance for frustration or distress, and an exposure to violence, history of having been a victim of bullying, or difficulty in channelizing anger or emotions. Furthermore, it is also important to understand the factors underlying the target of bullying behaviour, which could include being perceived as different from peers, amongst other factors, who is chosen as an easy target.
Building the skills of assertiveness are essential, so that we all are equipped with necessary skills to learn how to stand up to and say no to the bully. At the same time, it is also important to develop a preventive approach, with awareness programs, assertiveness skills training, teaching emotional awareness and regulation skills, establishing strong support systems, helping in the identification and reporting of such incidents, creation of anti-bullying policies to be implemented, and in addition, bystanders also need to be strengthened, helping them have a sense of a shared concern and responsibility, inculcating the values of empathy, compassion, care and cooperation.