Who gets Bullied and Why?
Bullies generally identify something they perceive as being ‘different’ about their victims to
single them out for bullying. It could be the most minor item that the bully identifies in the
victim they home in on as something that sets the victim apart from his or her peers.
There need not be any difference required- ultimately the bully requires a victim and a
reason will be found by the bully to justify persecuting the victim. One must remember that
every individual IS different. If the bully wishes to target someone, it is easy for him or her to
come up with a “justification” for such behaviour.
That being said, while people can fall victim to bullies for a diverse range of reasons, in
the majority of incidences these reasons tend to fall under some broadly identifiable categories.
- Physical Trait or Characteristic
The stereotypical image of the victim of bullying is the child that is considered to be
overweight, is very tall or very small, wears glasses, etc. It could be hair colour, skin
markings such as ‘freckles’, birth marks or moles. Physical traits are often the ones identified
by bullies at a younger age, but once the bullying begins it can continue long beyond the
point when the perceived physical difference has changed. If a person has been bullied for
being heavy or very tall, even if these characterises change over time as children grow, often
he or she has been identified as the ‘victim’ and the bullying can continue under a different
guise. If the bully has got a ‘reaction’ from the victim in the past, attempts to trigger this
again could be the reason that the bullying persists.
- Behavioural or Personality Trait
Children who are quiet and reserved or who are shy and not outspoken and forward can be
targeted by bullies as they are less likely to be in a position to stand up for themselves and
threaten the bully’s dominant position. The way a person speaks or pronounces certain
words can make them the focus of ridicule and bullies may engage in public conversation
with them to ‘get a laugh’. The individual may try to stand up to the bully in their interaction
but generally the bully will focus in on some comment or response as ‘further evidence’ of
their perceived difference and it becomes more ammunition for bullying.
- Poorly Refined Social Skills
For a wide variety of reasons, children’s social skills may not be as well developed as those of their
peer group. This could originate from language limitations or difficulty in reading behavioural
‘cues’ in conversations and interactions. Such factors can lead bullies to interact publicly in what
appears to be an innocuous manner with the intention of triggering an inappropriate
comment or response. If the individual is aware that he or she is being ‘tested’ it creates an
even greater pressure. This makes it almost impossible for the victim to respond in a natural or
spontaneous way, further increasing the likelihood of the response for which the bully is hoping.
This form of bullying may be less obvious to adults than victimising an individual over his or
her physical characteristics and can be very difficult for those responsible for the supervision
of children to counteract or even identify. When the bully believes that a strong emotional
response (anger or rage, crying, fear, etc) can be triggered, this can also be the driver for
bullying an individual.
- High or Low Achievers
Being a high or low achiever, particularly in terms of academic performance, is another
marker of ‘difference’ that bullies may use to identify their victims. High achievers can be
labelled as ‘swots’ or ‘licks’ because they do their homework well, study or even participate
in class. The bully may try to create the impression that he or she could perform equally
well but that it is simply not ‘cool’ to do so. Equally, the bully may not be able to reach such
high standards and is justifying his or her own performance by making it more difficult for
the high achiever to get the recognition they deserve. Victimising the “poor” performer is
always an easy target for the bully. Whether academically or in physical tasks, the victim can
often respond by withdrawing from the activity in question or, where this is not possible, by
acting the ‘fool’ in an attempt to find favour with those involved in the bullying activity.
- Religion, Ethnicity, Culture
As fairly readily markers of difference, these aspects of an individual’s make up can be easy
targets for bullies. This is particularly the case when there are very small numbers of people
with these characteristics. Many of the justifications which people use for victimising people
who are different for religious, ethnic or cultural reasons are reinforced by negative
stereotypes that exist within broader society. The manner of reporting events in media
circles, particularly in relation to international news, can create a “rationalisation” or
“justification” for persecuting certain minorities.
- Other potential differences that can be a catalyst for bullying
Sexual Orientation– people who are perceived as being different on the basis of
their sexual orientation are likely to be targeted by bullies. A person does not have
to be Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual to attract the attention of bullies – they may have a
trait or characteristic or dress in a manner that that is labelled as ‘gay’. For people of
all ages victimisation for one’s sexual orientation is extremely traumatic, but for
young people making sense of their own sexuality this form of bullying can be
Physical Disability– inability to carry out some tasks as well as other ‘able-bodied’ people might
be a source of bullying. While this type of bullying still occurs, it is perhaps not as
prevalent as in the past due to great work being done and the education provided towards recognising the
achievements of people with disabilities. For older people with disabilities, the situation
may be depressingly familiar to what they experienced as children.
People Experiencing Traumatic Home Circumstances– the myriad of circumstances an
individual may encounter in home life may single him or her out for bullying. In
addition to the difficulty in having to cope with the emotional stress of the home
situation, the additional pressure of bullying can have devastating consequences.
The above are just some of the many reasons that an individual can be targeted for bullying.
The list is far from exhaustive and there can be as many reasons for bullying as there are individuals.
The above is not a hierarchy of reasons, but simply a highlighting of some ofthe most severe causes.
Irrespective of the reason for which the victim is chosen, the impact on the individual who is
bullied can be traumatic and devastating. It is usually a life-changing experience, which can even be life ending.
The factors which the above categories of reasons regarding why people are victimised DO have in common are as
Bullies tend to choose their victims based on DIFFERENCE, either real or perceived.
There is also an imbalance of POWER between the bully and the victim.
We cannot change the fact that everyone is different and why should we try? What makes
us unique as individuals is our difference. Difference is something not just to be accepted,
but appreciated and cherished.
What I’m a Friend aims to do is to address the imbalance of power between the bully and
the person being bullied. People who support the ideals of I’m a Friend make a proud
I do not agree with bullying behaviour.
I do not accept that it is ok for others to bully me.
I will support the victims of bullying in whatever way I can.