“We have got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage.”
– Barack Obama ?
January 2022, Volume 10
The G.T.Health Letter
~Adding a dose of mental health awareness to our community~
Mental Health Spotlight – Bullying
Xtra Scoop of the Week – The Dangers of Cyberbullying
Weekly Testimonial – I Have Never Been Bullied
G.T.Health will be putting on another CHECK-IN EVENT at the end of January or beginning of February!!! We will collect our thoughts in the new year and set ourselves up for success in 2022 with affirmations, bonding activities, and a self-help book! The book we will be using is pictured below; it’s all about mental clarity and positivity, which are awesome goals to have for the next year! More details will come to you soon, so stay tuned!!!
Mental Health Spotlight – Bullying
What defines bullying?
Bullying is unwanted behavior that is physically, verbally, or psychologically aggressive. It is often thought of as occurring between school-age children, but bullying is not limited to the playground; humans of all ages can be and be victims of bullies. In order to consider aggressive behavior bullying, two main factors must be present: an imbalance of power, and repetition over time. To elaborate, I will give some examples of behaviors that are and are not bullying…
A woman is contacted in private daily by her boss and told that if she does not put in five extra hours of work each week, he will spread confidential photos of her
A boy shares a class with someone two grades above him; every time they have class together, the older boy makes rude gestures behind his back the entire time
A girl is pushed down by a kid on the playground one day, but she never sees the kid again and so cannot confront him
A woman is repeatedly told crude jokes by her desk-mate at work and can’t get them to stop
By definition, the first two examples above constitute bullying, but the second two do not. In examples 1 and 2, there are power imbalances: a woman is bullied by her boss, who has the ability to fire or discredit her, and a boy is bullied by an older boy, who is likely bigger, stronger, and has a more tight-knit group of friends and supporters. Because of this power imbalance, the thought of reporting the behavior or standing up for yourself is much harder to stomach; there is actually something at stake if you do, like your job or your reputation. There is also obvious repetition in both these scenarios. So why aren’t examples 3 and 4 bullying? In example 3, there is no repetition; a girl is targeted once and then left alone. This is still intolerable behavior, but it is not bullying. In example 4, there is repetition, but it can be argued that there is no power imbalance, as the coworkers seem to be equals. Therefore, this is harassment and unacceptable, but not technically bullying; when bullying occurs, there is something at stake. There are three main types of bullying: physical, in which a person’s body or possessions are targeted (i.e tripping, kicking, rude gestures, theft), social, in which a person’s friendships or reputation are targeted (rumor/gossip spreading, public embarrassment), and verbal, in which a person is targeted with mean words out loud or on paper (i.e name-calling, teasing, threats). In 2019, it was estimated that 22% of American adolescents age 12-18 experienced bullying. It is an incredibly common phenomenon, and one we should educate ourselves about and arm our peers against.
How can you help someone who is being bullied?
Of course, one of the most important things to do when bullying is spotted is to somehow report it and put a stop to it. However, there are many factors that make this very difficult. Three stand out in particular: the victim’s shame, the perpetrator’s power, and the indifference of others. Imagine that you are in high school, and you have been targeted by one of the most popular people in your grade for the way you dress. They torment you daily about your looks, even going so far as you rip your shirtsleeves on occasion. But their father is on the school board, and their family is wealthy and has a great reputation. Besides the obvious power imbalance here, there are a lot of things at play. Firstly, the victim’s self-esteem has likely suffered from repeated attacks on their socioeconomic status and lack of illustrious wealth. Even a confident person, when exposed to ceaseless comments implying inadequacy, can feel the effects of social pressure and begin to question themselves. This not only puts the victim down, but also makes them feel powerless to change the situation: if they say it enough it must be true, and if it’s true then what good am I? Then there is the power of the bully: if there are threats from the perpetrator about what will happen if the bullying is reported, the victim will be much less likely to report. Such an influential power imbalance is especially common in cases of sexual abuse in the workplace; for example, a boss threatening to spread photos if a woman does not comply to his demands. The more powerful the perpetrator, the more a victim stands to lose if they speak up. Although it may seem like an easy choice from the outside, trading a reputation, a job, a friend group, or a school for justice might not be worthwhile for the victim in the moment, especially if they are feeling disempowered or resigned. Finally, the indifference of others plays a huge role in a victim’s silence. Even if they do work up the courage to tell someone about their experiences, there is a not-so-small chance that they will not even be believed. This is, again, very common in workplace sexual abuse cases: if a graduate student claims that she is being taken advantage of by her advisor, the other faculty might gang up against her to protect their friend (something like this has actually happened). The #MeToo movement was inspired by this ignorance, and sought to expose wealthy, powerful men as being capable of horrific, chronic sexual abuse. Given what we have just described, victims of bullying need quite a bit of support. They may be receiving threats about the consequences of talking, or might be too ashamed on their own to confide in you. The best thing you can do as a friend, therefore, is offer constant support and empowerment. Pay special attention to the traits your friend is least confident in, like their ethnicity, sexual orientation, or behavioral quirks; it is the things that make people wonderfully different which are the most obvious targets for bullies. Give your friend affirmations and try to instill self-confidence; even in the absence of bullying, this is a great skill to practice and can really make a difference in the life of another.
How can you help someone who is a bully?
Regardless of how crucial it is to acknowledge the trauma of a bullying victim, it is also important to understand that people because bully others because they suffer from trauma themselves. Some bullies hold on to the idea that self-confidence is zero-sum: that in order to make themselves feel better, they have to make someone else feel worse. Even in the example of male bosses and female subordinates, there is likely some trauma fueling the abuse: the man might have grown up in an abusive household with a father who punished him for not being masculine enough and beat his mother in front of him, for example. The point is, bullies often have major insecurities or unresolved issues from their past, and they lash out and horrifically hurt others in the process of trying to mask and repress those issues. Now, I will be incredibly clear here: past trauma is NOT an excuse for bullying another. It does not give you a pass or make your behavior less deplorable. However, it is a justification: a symptom that explains your current condition and provides inspiration for your treatment. A bully is not a monster; in fact, nobody is. A bully is simply someone who has not been given the proper love and attention through their life, and thus is incapable of regulating their emotions, having relationships with others, or behaving appropriately in society. Although it can be very difficult given their actions, therefore, it is important to still treat bullies as people in need of compassion. All humans deserve the chance to learn from their past mistakes and put their history behind them in search of a better future, and bullies are no different. Whilst it is a sad and intolerable fact, the victims of a bully are really the victims of that bully’s past trauma; they are an extension of the bully himself. People who have lived through trauma are more likely to display bullying behaviors; by trauma, I mean any form of adverse childhood experience (ACE), from abuse to neglect to maltreatment to domestic violence, and much more. Even wealthy children can hold trauma, from a strict, harsh parent or an uncaring household. Again, I know that it can be difficult to see beyond a person’s deeds, but if we are to move forward as a society then we have to try and treat bullies as traumatized people who need preventive interventions and therapy, not rebuke and retribution.
Bully is such a pervasive malady in societies throughout the world, especially competitive ones where individuals have a lot more to lose if they fail. I urge you strongly to do your research on bullying: be a good friend, don’t be a bystander if it’s possible to speak up, and educate yourself so that you can see the signs!
Let’s – Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Let’s not talk about bullies. Let’s teach each other to care.
Let’s bring our favorite snacks to school.
And then let’s sit and share.
Let’s eat and tell stories of people
right here in our neighborhood
who hold open doors and feed small birds who make us want to be good.
Let’s read books about people
who made our world better somehow
Let’s make a plan to help our world. Let’s make it better now.
Let’s look for goodness all year long.
Let’s write the things we find. I’ll learn from you. You’ll learn from me.
Together, let’s be kind.
Let’s hold a door for someone. Let’s feed a bird in the air.
Let’s not talk about bullies.
Let’s teach each other to care.
This poem is simple, but incredibly powerful nonetheless. It hides a very serious message inside a lovely little rhyme scheme, therefore making anti-bullying campaigns accessible even to young readers. And the author is exactly right; the more energy we put into spreading kindness and compassion, the less we’ll have to worry about bullying, because bullies are born from neglect and lovelessness. If a child is born into a world colored brightly with good will, it will actually be less likely to grow into a hateful person. This is my absolute favorite type of intervention: prevention. If we can stop cruelty from ever happening in the first place, there will be no need to catch it when it spirals out of control and hurts others down the road. To the victims of bullying thus far, I say this: you are not forgotten. You live in a society where there are more problems than answers, but stay true to yourself, cling to your real friends, and together we can slowly but surely drown bullying in a tide of human decency and respect.
Xtra Scoop of the Week – The Dangers of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is any bullying that takes place on the internet, commonly on social media platforms or in online chatrooms. This form of bullying is arguably much more insidious for two reasons, both stemming from the same problem: that cyberbullies can easily make themselves anonymous, thus hiding their identity from their victim. Firstly, anonymity can increase feelings of permissibility; that is, if you can distance yourself from your actions by removing your name from them, it is much easier to do much worse. This is the same principle that allows soldiers to kill in battle: if you are indistinguishable from the masses, just another uniform and helmet, you are less likely to associate your crimes with yourself, attributing them instead to your team. A bully who makes sexual remarks to your face, for example, is more likely to demand sexual favors if they are hidden behind the protective curtain of a username. The second problem, of course, is that anonymity makes cyberbullies much harder to catch. A school bully can get caught on camera, a workplace bully can be witnessed by others; a cyberbully, on the other hand, is relatively hidden until they are tracked by some kind of authority. As part of the #MeToo movement, women sent in texts and emails they had gotten from male superiors as proof of their victimization, but a person who experiences cyberbullying is not always so lucky.
Weekly Testimonial – I Have Never Been Bullied
As the title suggests, I have never experienced bullying in my lifetime. I have been through many other forms of school and workplace adversity, such as being the target of misogyny and having a fairly traumatic pubertal experience, but I have not been bullied. I do not know how it truly feels to be in such a situation, and therefore I am not the most qualified person to write about such topics. Well. I am not diagnosed with any of the disorders I’ve written about, either, but this one feels even more personal, since it is so common and something that I actively escaped, not just something I was born without. (To clarify, disorder symptoms manifest because of an interaction between genetic predisposition and environmental stressors, but there is a heritable, biological component; being the victim of bullying, on the other hand, is mostly bad luck). My dad was bullied as a kid for being small and studious, back when kids were still frequently shoved into lockers and left there (not that this doesn’t still happen). It probably helps that I do not have any identity labels that mark me as a minority. I am a cishet white female (which means I am heterosexual and identify with the sex I was born with) with no physical disability, which makes it easier for me to stand out less as a target. As I said before, bullies often go after those who are different. I am aware of the incredibly privilege I hold in this regard, and I do not take it for granted; however, I find it difficult to write about topics that I am less likely to understand because of my privilege.
For this reason, I implore all you readers to have courage and share your testimonials with me, to be posted anonymously on this blog. You don’t need to write about bullying, or have any major experience with any of our topics so far, but it would be my honor to hear your stories, as I get pretty sick of hearing myself talk sometimes.
That’s all for this week, folks!
Next week’s topic:
Bipolar Disorder (BPD)
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