Bullying 2: Who Are We? Bullies, Victims, or Both?
In our last article on bullying, we looked at the “What” and “Why” of bulling – What exactly is bullying, and some reasons why bullying occurs (You can take a look at the previous article here http://www.toc.edu.my/csr/bullying-1-what-it-is-and-what-it-can-do/. This time, we’re going to focus on the “Who”– we’ll take a look at some typical characteristics of bullies, victims, and bully-victims. In the last article in our series on bullying, we’ll focus on the “How” – How we as parents, teachers, siblings, friends, and functioning members of society, can do our part in preventing and helping those who have been touched by this societal ill – whether as bullies or victims or both.
The “Who” of Bullying
New research had shed light onto the characteristics of those who engage in bullying behaviour and what they have found might surprise you. UNICEF Malaysia and the American Psychological Association lists some characteristics of those who bully as being more likely to1 2:
– Have average or above average self-esteem.
– Have impulsive, hot-headed personalities.
– Have difficulty conforming to rules.
– Have positive attitudes towards violence.
– Have problems with academic work.
– Come from a highly conflictual home environment.
– Having parents with poor parenting skills.
– Have low thoughts about themselves, or others.
– Perceive school as negative.
– Be negatively influenced by peers.
– Show little empathy.
– Have a strong need to dominate.
– Have poor social problem-solving skills.
By far, the study found that the biggest predictors of bullying behaviour are 1) poor social problem-solving skills, and 2) poor academic performance. Additional research outlines 3 broad categories of bullies that are a mix of some or all of the characteristics above3:
1. The aggressive bully, our usual example of a bully, is usually an aggressive individual who are motivated by power and want to dominate others, usually impulsive, coercive, and lacking in empathy for their victims. They can be rebellious, confident, and hot-tempered. They are also more likely to interpret behaviour in a negative way e.g. seeing insults or aggression from behaviour that may actually be neutral. Aggressive bullies may be popular in their early school years.
2. The passive bully tends to be insecure, are usually less popular than the aggressive bullies, and who tend to not initiate a bullying interaction but usually wait till one is already under way. Passive bullies may have problems in school, have few likable characteristics, and may be prone to temper outbursts that can cause problems. Once a bullying incident is underway, passive bullies can become very aggressive followers who may align themselves with the most powerful aggressive bullies.
3. The pure bullies, healthy individuals who enjoy school and tend to use bullying to get dominance, have usually not been victimized, and are rarely absent from school.
Victims of bullying were also likely to share certain similar characteristics with bullies, which we shall examine below. On the victims’ side, a typical victim of bullying may exhibit the following characteristics, as found by research from the American Psychological Association. Victims of bullying were more likely to:
– Feel negative thoughts about themselves and others.
– Exhibit signs of aggression.
– Have poor social problem-solving skills.
– Has trouble with social interaction.
– Come from a negative family, school and/or community environment.
– Be noticeably rejected and isolated by peers.
– Be lonely and sad.
– Seem anxious, depressed, and fearful.
Like the bullies described above, research has also broadly outlined 2 types of victims:
1. Passive victims are the quintessential bully victim, representing the largest group of victimized individuals. Passive victims do not provoke the bullies, and are usually social withdrawn, anxious, fearful, and with poor self-images. They are usually loners, with few friends, and are more anxious about new situations. This makes them attractive targets for bullies who are adept at detecting these kinds of vulnerability.
2. Provocative victims are a small subset who tend to get negative responses from those around them e.g. anger or irritation. They tend to behave in ways that lead to social rejection through characteristics such as restlessness, off-task behaviour, and/or hostility. Individuals in this category may have a disability of some kind that results in the disruptive behaviour.
Last but not least, we have the bully-victim. This individual is usually someone who has been seriously bullied themselves and who in turn bullies others. They tend to be physically weaker than their bullies but stronger than those they bully. They tend to be easily upset and may provoke others who are clearly weaker than they are. They also tend to have more peer relationship problems, being more unpopular, and generally may exhibit more anxious or depressed symptoms when compared to other bullies. Such an individual tends to have negative beliefs about themselves, and others, and are also more negatively influenced by peers.
Therefore, it can be seen that bullying is a multi-faceted issue with a variety of factors contributing to a bullying situation such as what drives the bully, the victim’s behaviour and traits, and the particular conditions that may perpetuate the bullying situation3. Thus far, we’ve examined different aspects of this complex issue but the question that must be asked in the end is “What can we do about this?” In the last article in this series, we’ll explore the different aspect of bullying prevention to gain awareness of how we can help not just the victims, but the bullies as well.