“Strong people stand up for themselves. Stronger people stand up for others.” Chris Gardner
I was bullied a lot as a kid.
I was tall and skinny for my age. I had a really raspy voice, and freckles. My hair wasn’t really straight, or curly. It was more frizzy. Oh, and it tended towards a not so pretty red-orange. To top it all off I was super sensitive.
I got it all. Name-calling. Pushing. Shoving. Insults. Rumours.
This was of course before the internet and cyberbullying, so I could at least get away from it. Or try to.
Like others who are bullied, at times this impacted my mental health. I felt scared and alone. I had trouble trusting others - were they really my friends? Was it a fake kindness?
While bullying has changed over the years, it definitely hasn’t stopped. So, what can we do about it?
Psychology Today defines bullying as “a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller, weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully. Bullying is not garden-variety aggression; it is a deliberate and repeated attempt to cause harm to others of lesser power.”
Bullying, then, isn’t one off or in-the-moment. It’s a repeated behaviour and belief that it’s okay to treat someone poorly just because, well, as the bully and the one with power, you can.
While there are many different ways to bully someone, Stop Bullying has highlighted three key types of bullying behaviours:
With so many different types of bullies and bullying beaviour, it can be hard to spot what a bully (or potential bully) looks like. In the article Stand Up to Bullies, Dr. Rick Hanson identifies three bullying characteristics. The first is dominating. Bullies have a need to be the “alpha” or leader, and will look down on those they see as “lesser” or “weaker.” The second characteristic is an attitude of defensiveness. Bullies need to always be right and will not take responsibility for their actions. Finally, deception. Bullies will blame others, cheat, and lie to avoid taking responsibility for their behaviours.
The truth is bullying isn’t harmless teasing. It’s real and it’s happening pretty much everywhere. At home. In schools. On sports fields. In the office. Just how prevalent is bullying?
Here’s the thing though. Bullies only have as much power as we give them. “When no one in [a] social group tolerates bullying,” explains Alex Lickerman in Psychology Today, “bullies not only have trouble finding a victim but also often feel intimidated enough to stop seeking one out.”
We all have the power, therefore, against bullies. All we have to do is stand up against it.
This is, at first, easier said than done. We get that.
It takes courage to stand up to a bully even if you aren’t the target. Because standing up can make you a target, and who wants to be the target? But, there are steps each of us can do to spread more kindness and confront bullying.
You don’t need to do this alone. Standing alongside other tips the power away from the bully. You may also want to involve someone with more social power (like an adult, a teacher, a manager) to help make sure the bully hears the message.
In supporting the bully’s victim, be sure that you don’t use bullying behaviour yourself. This isn’t about punishing the bully or getting back at him/her or talking badly behind their back. Your goal is to remove the power imbalance by making sure the bully and the victim know you are not okay with bullying.
Bullies don’t naturally outgrow their behaviours. In fact, they will continue to seek dominating power relationships as long as they are able to. PREVNet, a Canadian organization dedicated to research and resources for bullying prevention, notes that “without intervention, a significant number of youth who bully in childhood will continue to bully as they move through adolescence and into adulthood.” Therefore, early identification and intervention of bullying behaviour are key in reversing this trend.
There are so many reasons why I decided to join HeartBeatsHate, including the chance it provides me to help others stand up and speak out against bullying.
Each and every one of us has a powerful role to play in ending bullying. Be kinder. Show more compassion. Don’t tolerate bullying behaviours. And, together, we can spread more heart, and end hate.
If you or someone you know is being bullied be sure to seek help.
For youth and students, go to a trusted adult or contact:
Kids Help Phone - 1-800-668-6868
Bullying Canada - 1-877-352-4497
If you’re experiencing bullying the workplace, report it to HR or your manager, or visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
For books on resources, please check out our Reading List.