There is a myth by most teachers, parents, law enforcement, and community leaders that victims of bullying are random. This has been debunked by most research, but since the focus of attention by the media has been on the bully, the new information has not been predicated. The truth is the victims of bullying are usually targeted in a variety of settings by various people because of certain physical, psychological, and social traits. Even when a victim of bullying moves to different locations, schools, or employment they will soon find out the victimization occurs in the new environment as well.
The above “truths” are somewhat disheartening because it appears to place some of the blame on the victim for the bullying. I was torn when I was doing the research for this article of this cold, hard truth. I, like many other people, wish to stop the bullying focusing on the aggressor. However, to decrease the incidents of bullying, we must have focus on the victim as well.
When I read there were certain physical, psychological, and social traits that would lead a bully to victimize targeted traits, it brought thoughts into my head of the rape victim, who were grossly misrepresented when others say “she wanted to be raped or she would not dress or act that way.” Rape and bullying are two very different types of victimizations.
Rape occurs usually as a single incident, if you exclude domestic sexual victimization. Bullying usually is more a process of repeated behaviors outside of the domestic setting such as in school or in the community. I feel that rape and bullying should not be looked upon as the same. But let me go on the record as saying I DO NOT feel rape victims ask to be raped in any manner either.
Victims of bullying are usually smaller in physical stature. The bully may target these smaller children because that would be less of a fight if a physical altercation were to happen. There may be some physical weakness that can be exploited by the bully and therefore, makes the victim an easier target. The victim can identify this trait as a reason why they may be the target. This trait of a victim is the easiest to accept but the trait that ties the hands of the people trying to help the victim the most. We can actively change other aspects of the victim but the physical size is something that we have very little control over.
Victims tend to be more timid or anxious that most. The aggressors are very inept in finding this trait. The obvious signal the potential victim is timid is he or she tends to socially withdrawal from situations. They are fearful of past situations where they have not been successful or are expecting the same bullying to happen again. This reminds me of movies and television shows where the “new kid” is faced with the bully on the playground and will eventually stand up to the bully and win the hearts and friendships of the bystanders. In the real world, this does not usually occur. The victim backs down out of fear and will open the flood gates to more bullying from that aggressor and other potential aggressors.
The lonely and sad victim may have significant symptoms of depression. It may be acute or chronic. The symptoms may be logical, in that if the child was moving to a new school, they are leaving behind friends and what they know for this new place. The symptoms might be more long term psychological problems such as clinic depression. As with the anxious and fearful traits of the victim, the bully can pick up on these depressed symptoms for an easy target.
Correlated with the anxiety and depression are the poor self concepts that a lot of victims have. They might not feel they are worthy of being treated any better. This concept is puzzling on the etiology of the poor self worth. Did the bullying cause the poor self concept of does the poor self concept cause the bullying? However, the bigger question is not which causes which but rather how can we help the victim increase their self concept in order to take this targeted behavior away to reduce the chance of bullying.
Perron in 2005 stated males victims of bullying tend to have overly close families. They are enmeshed with their parents and the parents resemble a helicopter flying around “rescuing” their child from potentially harmful situations. This type of parent does not allow the boy to work through and gain confidence in handling difficult situations. I am not saying the parent should not get involved at some point, especially when physical harm is or could occur or when the duration of the situation is extremely long. The parent should be teaching the male child the appropriate proactive and reactive behaviors to bullying situations.
Perron also stated female victims tend to have unhealthy emotional families. This could be interpreted as a variety of things. Most of the female child is from a family where her opinions are not valued; her parents are too aggressive with each other, and too restrictive of her. The female victim has learned that whatever reactions she has inside her home does not matter and the “learned helplessness” feeling tends to evolve. The female victim of bullying has those same feelings in other situations. In the female victim’s mind, the non reactive approach has much less immediate negative consequences than does the reactive approach. In essence, she just lies down and takes the punishing effects because it is what she is taught at home.
Both male and female receive a lack of healthy support at home. Poor role modeling of what to do in aggressive situation or the rescuing of a victim before they can learn the outcomes of some situations can be a positive learning situation are problematic. The transference from home to other situations are going to happen but can go even further than that. These situations, when not handled effectively, can extend into adulthood and the relationships of that adult with their significant others and everyday situations. Yes adults can be bullied too. Adult victims will develop a victim mentality about quite a bit of things. We will cover this in another article later on.
Hyper reactivity is something that will thrill the bully and continue to provide the impetus to continue. Hyper reactivity is when the victim reacts in a way that appears funny or amusing to the aggressor and the bystanders the aggressor may want to impress. Younger victim reactions are crying, withdrawal, and futile anger. Older victims will be tardy to school/work, be absent, or run away from home.
Low socioeconomic status (SES) seems to be a factor that comes into play in the characteristics of a victim. There is no clear cut evidence of why this is so. However, statistics show a correlation with low SES and a lot of the classified mental disorders. There is not a cause-effect here, just a correlation. In other words, Low SES does not CAUSE bullying, but it is a trait that a lot of victims have when reported in research.
Some victims of bullying are not “direct victims” of the situation. They are witnesses or bystanders to the bullying. They will have or develop fear of being the victim themselves and will not intervene when they see the situation occurring. This leads to guilt.
Boulton and Underwood (1992) asked middle school children “what do you do when you see a child your age being bullied?”
- 49% said they would try to help in some way.
- 29% said they would do nothing, but would think they should do something.
- 22% said they would do nothing because it was not their place to intervene.
In that same study 33% of the children interviewed stated they could see why the bullying occurred and why the bullied picked that particular victim. This provides information that the bystanders knew what was occurring, could see the situation for what it was, and knew the predictive characteristics of the situations.
Whitney and Smith (1993) found that 18% of middle and high school students said they would join in if a friend was bullying someone else.
These two research studies do show a bright spot even though the percentages would convey otherwise. These research studies show that the adolescents do know what bullying is and can identify bullying actions and victimizations is occurring. As G.I. Joe stated “knowing is half the battle.” With this in mind we should start to increase the knowledge of what to do with bullying instead of just disseminating information about what bullying is. We need to start to give professionals, school personnel, parents, law enforcement, community leaders, and peers advice of what to do when bullying is occurring. So far, this series of articles are more informational but includes some “how to’s.” As we go along in this series, it will be more straightforward of what we all need to do to curtail the epidemic of bullying. Stay tuned and please feel free to leave comments and questions.
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