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 that 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 wants to target someone, it is easy for him or her to come up with a justification for it.
That being said, while people can fall victim to bullies for a very diverse range of reasons, in the majority of incidences, the reasons that bullies tend to focus on individuals 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 then 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 developed as that of their peer group. It could originate from language limitations or difficulty in reading behavioural ‘cues’ in conversations and interactions. This 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. It make it almost impossible for the victim to interact in a natural or spontaneous way, further increasing the likelihood of the response the bully is hoping for. 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 perhaps identify. If the bully believes 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 labeled 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 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
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 that 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 of 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– again 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 is labeled as ‘gay’. For all ages of people, victimisation for ones sexual orientation is extremely traumatic but for young people making sense of their own sexuality, this form of bullying can be devastating.
- Physical Disability– inability to carry out tasks as other ‘able bodied’ children might can 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 and education in recognising the achievements of disabled people. 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 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 individual reasons for bullying as there are individuals. This is not a hierarchy of reasons highlighting the most severe causes. Irrespective of the reason that the victim is chosen, the impact on the individual that is bullied can be devastating. It is usually a life changing experience. It can even be life ending.
What the above categories of reasons why people are victimised DO have in common are as follows. Bullies tend to choose their victims because they have identified some trait or characteristic of 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 will not partake in 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