Bullying / Cyberbullying : Shapes, Forms And How To Address

By Marcy Marklay, LPCC, Adolescent Therapist,
Lindner Center of HOPE

Technology has changed the way people bully each other. Cyberbullying via text messages and use of social media, as well as the more traditional forms of bullying,can occur in childhood, adolescence and into adulthood, even in college and in the workplace. Bullying is far from uncommon and needs to be addressed.

Reasons For Bullying
Bullying can occur due to someone being different. Elevating one’s social status can be a common motivating factor for bullying. Some bullies are motivated by obtaining power and control of others through fear. Some groups can gang up on someone, or another group, because of different beliefs, for example, being bullied for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

How It Appears
Bullying can be subtle or overt, occur once or be persistent and chronic in nature. Bullies can use rumors or gossip and berate a victim and turn others against them in a deliberate attempt to sabotage their reputation. Chronic bullying takes a greater toll on the bullied individual, and can lead to mental, emotional, physical and social harm.

Addressing Bullying
Best practices in addressing bullying will include providing education about bullying as well as providing treatment interventions to those individuals affected or targeted by bullying. Education needs to include what to look for or ways to identify bullying, why bullying is harmful and unacceptable, and how to go about reporting it. It is generally a bully’s goal to disempower the victim. Teaching assertiveness skills are not the only interested in touring method to teach the target of bullying. More recently, utilizing bystander intervention has become increasingly helpful in combating bullying because it addresses the problem from a systems or group perspective. Bystander intervention involves enlisting the help of others in the school or community to assist in addressing and reducing the problem behaviors, by using a social norming campaign to teach students about appropriate behaviors. By adopting a community responsibility standard, bullying can be reduced in an environment where it is not acceptable. The number of individuals willing to confront bullying , whether cyberbullying , assault, threats, verbal abuse, or offensive behavior that can be humiliating, intimidating or threatening can be reduced more significantly in this way.

It is important to thoroughly listen to the victim of bullying’s story without quickly jumping to conclusions, and to explore possible options, such as what a treatment professional can provide, a victim can do for themselves, what a school or the police can do to help the victim. Narrative therapy is helpful in letting the victim tell their story. It can help them look at what is in and out of their control. It can externalize the negative experience of being bullied from the victim. In some cases a threat assessment is indicated to assess for the potential escalation of violence by the bully and retaliation from the person being bullied. Suicide prevention is also a concern, as some who are bullied may become suicidal and need crisis intervention. Victims can experience a wide range of symptoms due to being bullied, which are not limited to anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, falling grades, family stress, isolation. Victims often blame themselves. It is critical to focus on finding a sense of safety, addressing mental health concerns, and connecting the victim to a support system. Work on self-esteem and coping skills is helpful, and working to restore lost confidence is a goal. Victims may suffer from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, acute stress disorder and even suicide. The victim’s primary relationships may suffer as a result of the bullying.

Help for victims
Helping those who have been bullied includes exploring ways to heal, examining realistic solutions to the problems, and prioritizing health. Encourage self-care and social support. Provide psychoeducation. Assist victims with finding resources. Keep a focus on the present and near future; focusing too much on the past does not give the goal-directed and strengths based approach these individuals need. Role playing and practicing and rehearsing coping skills in a safe space can be empowering. There is immense power in the act of listening to a victim of bullying. Parents are important in supporting the young person and can also benefit from internet and online safety training, and social media training along with their children. Many parents fear the internet and require their children avoid technology, which may help in the short term, but is not a realistic long term solution, as the internet is used for homework, employment and socialization. Teaching internet and online safety skills to both youth and parents is most effective. Parents then can become good role models for youth in using technology, enhance communication and develop a greater bond; this can result in personal empowerment for both youth and their parents.

Cyberbullying: What Counselors Need to Know by Dr. Sheri Bauman; published in 2011