Standing Up to Bullies

“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?

Let’s start with understanding what bullying is. 

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:

  1. Verbal - saying or writing mean things about another person, including teasing, threats and everything in between
  2. Social - harming relationships and reputations of another person, including leaving them out or spreading rumours
  3. Physical - causing harm to a person or their things, including spitting, hitting or stealing

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? 

  • At least 1 in 3 Canadian students have reported being bullied
  • Those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, queer or questioning experience bullying and discrimination three times more often than heterosexual youth 
  • 40% of Canadian workers experience bullying weekly 

This is not ok. 

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. 

  1. Call it out. Use your voice and call bullying behaviour for what it is. The power of your voice can stand against the bully and his/her actions. This can sound like:
  • “That’s not nice.”
  • “That’s not true.”
  • “We don’t believe you.”
  • “Don’t say/do that.”
  • “Not cool!”
  • “That was not funny.”

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.

  1. Help the victim. If you see someone being bullied, take the bully’s power away by showing kindness and compassion to the victim. This can look like:
  • Including the bully’s victim in your plans. 
  • Inviting the bully’s victim to sit with you. 
  • Helping the bully’s victim after the behaviour. 

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. 

  1. Take action - now! “One of the biggest mistakes people make when they are up against a bully is to...hope that the problem will go away,” explains Signe Whitson, a national educator. “The longer a bully has power over a victim, the stronger the hold becomes.” So don’t wait. Be bold and push back against bullying when it happens. Stand up and speak out against it. Unite yourself with the victim. Bullies can’t have the power if we don’t let them. 

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.

Victoria Ford

Victoria thinks the world could do with a lot more heart. Her goal? To encourage others to stand up, speak out and push back against hatred.