People Involved

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

statement that

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.