We most often think of bullies in the classroom or the workplace, but bullying can occur in other places, including the home (in the family) or in the neighborhood.
I was intrigued by the story of a mother whose adult daughter was bullied by a neighbor woman in their apartment building. The bully, who herself was a wife and mother, constantly harassed her target, making fun of the way she dressed, belittling her, and insulting her and her family members.
Intimidated by the constant bullying, the target’s family decided to move to a nearby town. When the bully realized they were moving, she vandalized the family car with spray-painted profanities, dents, and scratches. The police were unable to tie the crime to the bully, and seemed indifferent to the family’s complaints, which is all too often the case.
I thought I would use this story to discuss some of the research on bullying.
First, who and why are certain individuals targeted?
Targets of bullies are often different in some way – a physical disability, different lifestyle (e.g., gay/lesbian), particularly competent, or nice. In our target’s case, she was an extremely nice, young woman who stood out because she was attending college in a low-income neighborhood. But anyone can be a target for bullies.
What should or what could this young woman have done to stop the bullying?
Dealing with bullies is not easy, but recognizing the problem is the first step. Realize that the bully won’t simply stop, but will persist. The second step is to take some type of action – reporting the harassment to the police, for instance, so that they have a record in case the bullying escalates, as it did in this case. There is some good news in this regard. Society, and the police, are becoming more aware of bullying (and there is increased legislation to control workplace bullying), so it can help to put the authorities on notice.
Another issue is confronting the bully. Although this takes courage, and could lead to escalation of the bullying, in this instance the mother could have taken action to confront the bully. All too often, bullying persists because of the “bystander effect” – those observing the bullying don’t take action. Sometimes, being confronted by persons other than the target, can stop the bullying, although it can be risky.
What motivates the bully?
There are many motivations for bullying. Many bullies cover up their own feelings of inadequacies and low self-esteem by putting down others. Some bullies are egocentric and narcissistic, and uncaring of the impact of their behavior on others. Some bullies were themselves targets of bullies, or may be bullied at work and bring it home.
What to do if you are a target of bullies?
It is important to get some help. Seek counseling to have a support system. Standing up to the bully can be risky and may lead to increased bullying behavior, but it is an important step. One good resource is bullyonline.org.
Author: Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College