Back in school and college days, there was always this famous, super-cool, ‘bad-boys/girls’ gang, who became so by displaying a brash attitude- that they termed ‘cool’ , picking others, conducting small ragging sessions, pass lewd comments, wear uniform in out of the rules manner, etc. Remember? They were known as the trouble makers, rule breakers or the like. Interestingly, these gangs always had a sense of power higher than the other students which came from their social status, economic strata, academic superiority, etc. In earlier days, these gangs were feared and distanced. Later at a time, children and youth coveted a position in these gangs. What changed, you ask?
‘Normalizing these behaviours’.
But, for change to occur, the worse had to happen and it did. Then, after a lot of complaints, activism and fighting for justice came the anti-bullying, anti-ragging policies in schools and colleges. It created a revolution. These policies became a saviour for students undoubtedly, but did they completely stop the maltreatment and abuse?
Any form of repititive or deliberate act or behaviour intended to hurt or harm others physically, mentally or socially involving a real or perceived power imbalance between the bully (one who bullies) and the targeted individual or victim (the person who gets bullied) is bullying.
Earlier, only physical form of harm or hurt was considered to be an act of bullying. However, overtime, with research and case studies the term broadened to other areas as well. Although bullying is mostly associated with children and adolescents, there has been a change in the age range as well. Earlier, the term ‘bullying’ was restricted to children and adolescents, however the perspectives have changed. Therefore, anybody who faces such acts by other people around them irrespective of age and situation is bullying.
This can occur between peers, couples who are dating, husband-wife, employee – co-workers/boss and so on. Many a times bullying goes unnoticed due to socio-cultural constructs or predetermined definitions of certain social relationships. For instance, an individual within a friend’s circle or class is expected to take every hurtful word or actions done to embarass them by others as a joke or ‘roast’.
What is Bullying Victimisation?
The process by which an individual is deliberately and repeatedly subjected to ill-treatment or behaviour (which are mostly negative), by peers, co-workers or people with higher power is bullying victimisation. The act of deliberately targeting people with lesser power is what distinguishes bullying victimisation from ‘being mean’ to someone.
A bully victim can experience a series of mental health problem if the bullying is done over time. Sometimes, the effects can be too traumatic and long lasting for the individual or their family. The victims often feel helpless, worthless and powerless over their bullies. In some cases, the bullying can lead to severe abuse, which affects the physical as well as mental health of the victim. Researchers had found evidence that bully victims mostly choose other bully victims bullied in the same manner to be friends with, i.e., victims who were relationally victimized choose friends who are relationally victimized. (Sijtsema et al. 2013 ).
It is often noticed that the victim is further ridiculed and bullied for ‘playing a victim’ causing ‘victim blaming’. This can have hazardous effects on the individual. Another point to be noted is that a section of victims later turn bullies to uplift their wounded self-esteem and gain a sense of control.
Bullying can take many forms and it is important to understand the different types of bullying. Some of them will be listed below-
Types of Bullying
Some of the most common types of bullying are as follows:
1. Physical Bullying:
The most obvious form of bullying, prevalent across decades. Physical bullying entails causing physical harm to someone who may be smaller in size, age or power from the bully. Some examples of physical bullying acts are kicking, slaping, punching, hitting, etc. This can also include damage to one’s physical property. Physical bullying is one of the most conspicuous type of bullying as it is evidently visible through marks and bruises.
2. Verbal Bullying:
Verbal bullies use mean words, foul language or hurtful phrases/ statement to bully someone. This could be more if the target individual is weaker than the bully or posses any disabilities or deficits. It can be difficult to identify this kind of bullying by parents or teachers as the name-calling and abuses occur when the target is alone. Verbal bullying can cause emotional trauma to the victim, over time.
3. Relational/ Exclusion Bullying:
This type of bullying is when the bully isolates the target from groups and makes them feel left out. The aim here is to attack the reputation of the target individual and humiliate them. The tactics used for this could be, spreading rumours about the target, publically embarrassing them, making them feel unaccepted and deliberately excluding them, as well as encouraging others to do so.
4. Cyber Bullying:
When the bully uses the cyber/ digital space to bully the target, it is called cyber bullying. This can be done by sending online threats to the target individual, posting wrongful images of them, sending perverted or hurtful texts, etc through social media handles.
5. Sexual Bullying:
Sexual bullying involves sexual name-calling, inappropriate touching, vulgar comments, sexual propositioning, sharing sexually explicit images, pornographic materials, etc. Sharing private pictures of the target individual without their consent to deliberately harm them is also a form of sexual bullying.https://www.verywellfamily.com/types-of-bullying-parents-should-know-about-4153882
6. Extortion bullying:
In this type, the bully threatens the victim to hurt them or blackmail to expose their private information if they do not agree or fulfill the commands of the bully. The victim maybe forced to steal, asked to give away their possessions, money, etc.
7. Prejudicial Bullying:
When the bullying occurs due to the prejudices the bully possess towards people of different gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, it is called Prejudicial bullying. This could lead to crimes later.
Bullying Victimisation And The Brain:
Like we say, every action has it’s own consequences. Being repeatedly and intentionally targeted for maltreatment by others can lead to problems for both the bully and the victim. Since we are specifically talking about victimisation, we will discuss some serious effects of being bullied, on the brain.
Being chronically bully victimized is related to depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, unemployment and low academic achievement (Mccullom, 2019) https://undark.org/2019/09/09/can-bullying-change-brain/ Researches studying the neurobiological processes of the brain confirm that bullying can impact the stress-response system of the body. This, in turn leads to changes in the structures of the brain.
Constantly undergoing physiological or psychological stress, like being bullied, activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is related to the body’s stress-response system. (Dallman et al., 2003 ; McEwen and McEwen, 2015 ). The HPA is activated by the amygdala which is the brain’s flight-or-fight center (activates during danger or threat). This can lead to release of adrenaline and if the stress persists, cortisol is released. More the cortisol, more the body is on guard, with respect to the stessor. When an individual is persistently bullied, the stress is acute, which may lead to higher levels of cortisol. However, being constantly on alert can cause more bad to the body than good, giving rise to physical and mental health issues (Mccullom, 2019). https://undark.org/2019/09/09/can-bullying-change-brain/
Researcher Tracy Vaillancourt found that bully victims have abnormal level of cortisol which can weaken their immune system and kill cells of the hippocampus (area of brain associated with memory). She found evidence for this, wherein; the bully victims perform very poorly in memory tests, confirming the results (Bates, 2015). https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/childhood-and-adolescence/2015/bullying-and-the-brain
However, research scientist Scott Russo observed that although there are damages to the immune system, some victims are resilient. In his experiment, Russo & colleagues injected immune system cells of a resilient mice on another stressed mice. They found that the stressed mice was able to benefit the same effects of the resilient mice. However, the resilience is found only on some and for others the social stress can lead to severe psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety (Bates, 2015) https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/childhood-and-adolescence/2015/bullying-and-the-brain
Along with the above findings of depression and anxiety levels, an important brain structural change was found by the researchers of King’s College London as an effect of bullying. When they compared the data of severely bullied victims from those of their non-bullied counterparts, the one’s severely bullied showed decrease in the volumes of brain parts called caudate and putamen. These areas are associated motivational conditioning, reward sensitivity, emotional processing and attention. (Quinlan, et. al., 2018). https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-12-bullying-affects-brain.html
Another researcher aimed to study bullying victimisation in children and adolescents and his findings meet the ones mention mentioned above. Children and adolescents who had an exposure to bullying victimisation had an increased propensity towards depression, anxiety spectrum disorders, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , social phobia, non-suicidal self injury (NSSI), etc. Bullying Victimization was also associated to drug abuse, wherein frequently bullied children were at more risk of drug abuse as compared to those that are occasionally bullied (Moore., et.al., 2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5371173/
Another study with similar findings was Klaus Miczek’s study. He attempted to study bullying, using rodents. He found that the bullied animal has higher level of stress hormone called ‘corticosterone’ in the reward processing areas of brain such as those related to drug abuse. This leads to a possibility of drug abuse in the victim even long after the stress has ended (Bates, 2015). https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/childhood-and-adolescence/2015/bullying-and-the-brain
Another study explained association of bullying with self-harming behaviours and suicidal ideation. This study also found that girls are more likely to be bullied than boys, however there were no findings to associate certain age with bullying (Alavi, Roberts, Sutton, et. al., 2015).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4679118/
Interestingly, bullying victimisation can lead to a vicious cycle wherein; the bullied victims later on become bullies. A team led by Yvon Deville studied this on hamsters and found that those hamsters that were bully victims of adult hamsters turned more aggressive towards smaller hamsters while remaining submissive and fearful of the bigger hamsters and those of their same size (Bates, 2015). https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/childhood-and-adolescence/2015/bullying-and-the-brain
Researches specific to bullying at workplace prove that bully victims had lower social support from colleagues and supervisors, and had more symptoms of somatisation, anxiety, depression and negative affectivity (Ase Marie Hansen et al., 2006). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16380312/
While the bully might be busy playing the ‘super-cool dude’ image by ‘roasting’ the passive ones around them, the victim might really start seeing themselves through their words and lens.
In many cases, it is possible that the victims do not realize they are being bullied because it comes from the people they think of as friends or family. However, overtime, the accumulated stress of being a repeated target can affect them emotionally and psychologically.
With the help of the researches mentioned above it is obvious that bullying victimisation can lead to serious physiological and psychological stress, leading to a range of mental health problems. The fact that it could lead to a vicious cycle wherein; the victims could possibly become a bully is alarming. Additionally, there are researches which prove the psychological problems faced by witnesses of bullying, even in adulthood. Hence, it is very important to spread awareness about these ill-effects of bullying victimisation and take dedicated steps to stop bullying.
Let’s strive to be more kind to each other, because as Hannah Baker said, “Everything affects everything”.