Doesn’t Anybody Ask the Obvious Question on Bullying?

What I typically find when examining the literature on bullying are lists of signs to look out for in children and teenagers who are being bullied. These signs are important indicators for those at the receiving end of bullying. However, what I don’t come across are lists of signs to look out for so as to identify those young people and, indeed, older people, who engage in the multiple ways one can bully nowadays. Surely, the sooner these signs are spotted by parents, teachers, workplace managers, the more likely it is to ‘nip in the bud’ the bullying behaviour. In identifying bullying behaviour, here are some of the signs to watch for:

  • Glaring eye contact
  • Intimidating gait
  • Smart-alec remarks
  • Sneering
  • Under-breath mutterings
  • Uncooperativeness
  • Hostile presence
  • Glowering presence
  • Swaggering
  • Always in a group
  • Loud guffaws of laughter
  • Loitering with a group
  • Taking things by force
  • Don’t look like they’re comfortable with their appearance
  • Slouches about the place
  • Over-bearing
  • Demanding
  • Show-off, bragging, macho behaviour
  • Hate school

When those in governorship positions miss out on seeing these signs or turn a blind eye when they do spot them, is it their inaction arising from a fear of their own bullying behaviour being identified, or the opposite, that they are steeped in the defensive behaviour of passivity which protects them from putting their heads above the parapet. Whatever the situation or source of their denial, are there other adults in the home or school or workplace who are in a mature and solid place to name, understand, be compassionate and take firm action in resolving the bullying. When there are not, there are great dangers.

However, there is a deeper issue, a deeper question that is not being asked – how is it that some individuals have come to a dark place of not affirming, celebrating and enjoying the individuality of a peer? What is in the individual’s story – and the answer always lies therein – that (s)he holds little significance  for self and has found a way to get substitute recognition by being the ‘bully’, the ‘cynic’, the ‘tormentor’, the ‘tough one.’ Being seen and having a sense of real belonging is essential to our progress toward maturity. When a child is not cherished, (s)he unconsciously finds an alternative way of belonging, and when this is of a bullying nature, woe betide the parent, peer or teacher who crosses his or her path.

Dr. Brendan Byrne who has contributed much to the debate on bullying says that the best definition of bullying he came across is ‘the breaking down of the person.’ What is missing in this definition is that if you systematically set out to ‘break somebody down’ it is because you are an ‘emotional wreck’ within, but, of course, you wouldn’t want anybody to see that, would you? Bullying is a relationship issue and all relationships are couple relationships. In any bullying situation – those who perpetrate need the most help and those at the receiving end of it deserve to have their person and dignity affirmed, championed and upheld whatever the cost.

Whilst my heart goes out to the deep inner turmoil that lies within the individual who bullies, my head is very clear and strong that ‘two wrongs do not make a right’ and, until the young person begins to get the help required to resolve his inner pain, then definite and clear boundaries around safeguarding the dignity of others he or she encounters will be monitored and maintained. This needs to be done in a way that is non-threatening (otherwise who is bullying), unconditionally loving and with a compassionate understanding for his or her sad plight. No child comes out of the womb wanting to bully, harass, intimidate or violently threaten. When later on these behaviours do emerge, they need to be speedily identified and, critically, the lack of loving that has been inevitably present needs to be resolved. What often happens here is that it is the parents and, sometimes, teachers that require the greater help. As healthcare professionals, we need to do whatever it takes to help those who are bullied, those who bully and those adults whose own inner issues resulted in the present, often chaotic situation. There is no room for blame here – that is bullying – but there is room for a return to loving relationships for all concerned.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/Author and International Speaker.  His recent book with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationship: The Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to today’s topic.