The Banes of Bullying: How Harassment Kills, & How We Can Make a Difference

There is no doubt about it: bullying has officially become a mainstream media topic. And with nearly 13 million students falling victim to such violence each year, it’s certainly about time.

While bullying has finally made mainstream news, it is still up to communities to ensure violence of any kind is not tolerated, and victims are treated as leaders in their care in order to heal the insidious wounds of repeated trauma.

We have seen suicide increase by 50% over the past three decades as the result of bullying, making suicide the third leading cause of death for youth (and even higher for young women); and witnessed the advent of cyberbullying and its critically brutal effects and aftermath). With celebrities such as Lady Gaga launching the Born This Way Foundation alongside her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, in an consciousness-raising effort designed to bolster awareness regarding bullying (she has a blog on the site dedicated to the stories of survivors, which anyone in the world may submit to), and “to foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated” writ large; students at varying universities holding bullying prevention and healing rallies from May 20-26, which marks National Prevention Week (Suicide Prevention, specifically, is slated for the 24th, and the Promotion of Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Health for the following day), which “celebrates the work that community organizations and individuals do year-round to prevent substance abuse and promote mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being;” and the new controversial and critically acclaimed documentary Bully (warning: the movie trailer may be triggering), which chronicles the experiences of “5 kids and families over the course of a school year” and provides “intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias, and principals’ offices, offering insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children.” The rate of bullying, not shockingly but surely horribly, is vastly higher for members of LGBTIQ/gender nonconforming communities (78% of youth are harassed, and starling numbers of adults as well) as well as for those with behavioral health illnesses (some which are chemical in nature, and others that worsen from abuse and trauma, including bullying itself).

All of this, and so much more not mentioned here, certainly seems to auger well for those whose physical and emotional health and very lives hang in the balance. But with bullying at an all-time high, can new foundations (even if founded by the fabulous Lady Gaga [and yes, I confess to being a Little Monster, which somehow feels a bit more exposing than writing about my experiences with, for example, manic psychosis!]), federal initiatives, and media studies truly offer?

Well, the answer is quite a lot: but only if those who have been brutalized, those who are primary sources this stark violence, those who have been assaulted in all types of insidious ways not to simply take part in but to lead the discussion. The movement, if you will.

Bullying: Recognizing The Warning Signs

Due to years of stigmatization, it is quite likely someone being harassed might be reticent to speak up. Therefore, it is an important task of allies and comrades to take careful notice of the warning signs of bullying in order to be of crucial support. Since bullying have been proven to lead to behavioral health illnesses such as depression, it is no surprise many of the signs are similar. The warning signs may include the following:

  • unexplainable injuries; hesitance in explaining where injuries are from;
  • lost of destroyed clothing or other personal possessions, including money;
  • physical symptoms such as frequent headaches and stomach-ache, and/or displays of anxiety;
  • difficultly sleeping/plagued by nightmares;
  • loss of friends/propensity toward isolation/avoidance of social situations;
  • loss of interest in things one used to partake in/enjoy;
  • demonstratively lowered self-esteem;
  • engagement in self-destructive behavior (i.e., self-injury, drug/alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation).

Helpful Interventions For Trauma Victims: Identifying The Type Of Bullying & Applying  Appropriate Invention Strategies

The marked and often prolonged violence of bullying can have exceedingly dangerous, long-term effects such as the development of personality disorders, mood disorders (namely Dysthymia, Major Depression, and Dissociative Identity Disorder, depending on the severity), PTSD, and other mental health issues. It is of critical import to allow victims to speak out when ready, but if a loved one is in danger, it may be essential to act immediately to prevent further injury. This is, without question, an extraordinarily difficult terrain to navigate.

In my own experience, when I was attacked through out junior high school for appearing something like a bit gender nonconforming (I am bisexual, and suppose I was read as queer by my “peers,” which still surprises me somewhat, as I rarely have been as an adult); dubbed “unique” (but not as nicely) and outspoken (ditto); afflicted with obvious early onset Major Depressive disorder and Generalized Anxiety disorder; and was in all of the “gifted classes”/a serious bookworm, this did not seem to bode well for an easy life. Once, I was jumped by four girls, and was left with a wealth of bruises and a concussion, despite an egotistical scramble that (frighteningly) left me proud of taking two down before their friends continued to physically assault me out of consciousness. And yes: you can be embarrassed and feel it is all somehow your fault, and even hate yourself a little. And then later on, if you face physical and/or psychological again, or at least this was the case with me, the level of PTSD is just beyond horrid. Nightmares. Sleeping with the lights on. Afraid to be alone. Afraid not to be alone. It can be so completely total, though with appropriate therapy (including EMDR) and/or medication, one can ultimately find a way to deal with past trauma.

It is essential to first identify the type of violence you or your loved one is dealing with. According to many psychologists, bullying predominantly takes the following forms (which may overlap):

  • Narcissistic Adult Bully: This type of adult bully is self-centered and does not share empathy with others. Additionally, there is little anxiety about consequences. He or she seems to feel good about him or herself, but in reality has a brittle narcissism that requires putting others down.
  • Impulsive Adult Bully: Adult bullies in this category are more spontaneous and plan their bullying out less. Even if consequences are likely, this adult bully has a hard time restraining his or her behavior. In some cases, this type of bullying may be unintentional, resulting in periods of stress, or when the bully is actually upset or concerned about something unconnected with the victim.
  • Physical Bully: While adult bullying rarely turns to physical confrontation, there are, nonetheless, bullies that use physicality. In some cases, the adult bully may not actually physically harm the victim, but may use the threat of harm, or physical domination through looming. Additionally, a physical bully may damage or steal a victim’s property, rather than physically confronting the victim.
  • Verbal Adult Bully: Words can be quite damaging. Adult bullies who use this type of tactic may start rumors about the victim, or use sarcastic or demeaning language to dominate or humiliate another person. This subtle type of bullying also has the advantage (to the bully) of being difficult to document. However, the emotional and psychological impacts of verbal bullying can be felt quite keenly and can result in reduced job performance and behavioral health issues such as depression.
  • Secondary Adult Bully: This is someone who does not initiate the bullying, but joins in so that he or she does not actually become a victim down the road. Secondary bullies may feel bad about what they are doing, but are more concerned about protecting themselves.

It is important to remember that adult bullies often faced violent upbringings, and younger bullies are at great risk of becoming batterers. For them, they have witnessed many incidents where violence led directly to power and domination, and thus these internalized realizations may be used to garner force for themselves. Violence and trauma produce incredibly complex cycle of victimization and replicated acts, and therefore proper interventions must put those directly harmed as the leader in the discussions in order to restore some semblance of strength, and ultimately turn victims into survivors. This is the primary step: to speak to the person directly (unless you find it essential due to danger to speak to the authorities first, it is not recommended by most doctors). You can also encourage them to avoid the bully as much as possible (even though this is gravely challenging in schools and the work place; but there are proper authorities [i.e., Human Resources or the school’s administrative staff) who should be alerted so the case is well documented. You can also encourage your friend, or yourself, to be more assertive (but not put yourself or another in even more precarious situations); and even practice with the person who is at risk so the words and/or actions are at the ready. Depending on the level of violence and trauma, it may be highly advisable to encourage one to move in groups as much as possible, and not be alone when a situation of violence is likely to occur. Most importantly, you are part of an essential support system. You must take care of your own health as well. Don’t forget that.

This is what bullying and violence do. They hurt, scar (internally and externally, depending on the circumstance), horrify, and traumatize…to the extent, for some, that their lives are dramatically altered. And, of course, depending on the severity of the bullying/violence, it can be tremendously difficult (but is is no way impossible!) to overcome.

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