Bullying: Is This the Real Problem?

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Duke University researchers interviewed 1400 kids between the ages of 9 and 16 about their social lives and then they checked back with the same sample between the ages of 19 and 26. They found that those who were the objects of bullying were four times more likely to experience anxiety disorders as adults than those who had never experienced bullying. On the other hand, kids who did the bullying were four times more likely to have an anti-social personality disorder. However, the most troubled group were those who had been both bullies and victims were 14 more times more likely to develop a panic disorder and nearly five times more likely to be depressed. The author of the study, William Copeland, told Slate.com that “the biggest cry for help is coming from that group” and that he is “starting to view bullying the same way I do abuse in the home,” as “something that has very detrimental and very long-lasting effects.”

Understanding that bullying has become a very looming problem in our society … and perhaps in the world … I tried to determine from my own role as a psychotherapist and my work with children on ‘both sides of the aisle” what might lie beneath the obvious determinations that are described by researchers. The problem doesn’t only manifest itself in vivo but also on the internet which has led to several reported suicides. Although the emphasis is usually placed on the bully, there are usually factors which point to the fact that he or she is also a victim or sorts. Bullies are looking to bring a sense of control into their lives albeit in a destructive manner by virtue of their behavior. This would tend to indicate that there is generally a lack of control in their lives which, in their search to bring some balance into their lives, results in their seeking out the weakest link that they could find … viz. a victim. The bully is usually filled with a great deal of anger and rage with no place to vent and so a victim becomes the most convenient target. The more that the anger has been repressed … let’s say as a result of a dominant and abusive parent … the greater the need to find some relief with the victim essentially fulfilling that role.

Now, for the victim. A victim may experience a similar home-related atmosphere as the bully but the difference is that the victim, instead of turning to anger and rage, tends to experience feeling guilty and helpless in the face of conflict and the anger that usually goes along with it. As a result of the abuse that the victims may experience in their family, they may end up feeling that somehow they are the source of the problem incurring that abuse ending up feeling very guilty and responsible. That guilt drives a sense of being at the mercy of anyone who tends to try and control them outside of the home. It is not unusual for victims to carry on that role into their adult lives, again, inviting a victimizer or bully into their life. This may play out in a marital or work situation in which a similar set of emotional and psychological circumstances prevail with adult players instead of children. The attraction between victims and victimizers is uncanny. They are usually drawn to one another like bees to honey in an almost magical way. As the reader is no doubt aware, there is considerable emphasis being placed on the number of abusive relationships in our society.

In my book STRESS: Playing the Game of Russian Roulette I refer to the feelings involved in the bullying problem as “guilt and anger, the perfect marriage.” In effect, then, the victim and victimizer syndrome becomes a “perfect match” for bullying to take place no matter what age. However, what lies at the bottom of each of these roles are two basic and usually problematic feelings. For the bully, it’s anger and rage. For the victim, it’s guilt and helplessness. For both, it is the fear of the loss of love. As I view the problem, unless those feelings are addressed and somehow changed, little can be done to curb the problem. However, blaming the bully is not going to afford a solution. Neither is the attempt on the part of some parents to have the victim fight back.

I believe the answer lies in education. As with the teaching of math and spelling, teaching children from a very early age about what those feelings entail so they can learn appropriate methods of dealing with them is very important. Usually those feelings go unnoticed or at least, avoided by both parents and teachers. Essentially, my recommendation would call for a grass roots approach to dealing with what, in effect, is a mental health problem. The problem with that, though, is the fact that usually mental health is not seen as being a viable alternative to be taught in a classroom situation. many superintendents believe that mental health is the responsibility of community agencies and not of school districts. I categorically disagree. From a funding point of view, mental health professionals who might work with the classroom teacher teaching students methods of handling their feelings more appropriately are usually the last to be hired and the first to be let go. I admit my prejudice with regard to this dilemma but I really have to wonder whether this issue might have as equal importance in a child’s education as “’readin’, ‘writin’ and ‘rithmetic.”

(12 February 2014)


Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.

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