And This is What Bullying Looks Like

So, anyone not seen a tweet, facebook status or news story about bullying in the past couple of weeks?

It's a pretty important topic in our collective conscience right now. As such, the word is being tossed around by all and sundry. I even wrote on it last week myself.

After I wrote that article I got some harsh comments from someone who:
1. Didn't agree with me about the definition of bullying.
2. Accused me of bullying her when I continued to discuss with her.

I can give you a dictionary definition of bullying, but sometimes the dictionary defintion isn't enough. The semantic meaning is shared by many, especially those who have been bullied.

The dictionary will define bullying as as an act of intimidating another, usually weaker, person. If one took this definition at face-value, a single act of name-calling or shouting down an argument or excluding a person from an event or conversation could be considered bullying.

I think we all know that's not what bullying is. We've all done those things. Even the saints among us are not nice to everyone all the time. Heck, given the dictionary definition I bully my children into eating their supper and going to bed.

Anyone who has ever been bullied will tell you that it's systemic. A single act does not make a bully. An ongoing attack is what defines a bully.

Bullying is not typical childhood behaviour. It's not teasing someone on the playground or not inviting everyone in your class to your birthday party. It's not getting into fights or calling another child a name. Those are normal childhood conflicts.Terming them bullying and intervening in a legalistic way will just diminish our children's ability to resolve conflict in social peer groups.

Bullying is much more than simple conflict. It's a deliberately aimed, ongoing attack to undermine another person. Whether in school, social networks, or adult workplaces, a bully is a person who uses their voice and physicality to squelch someone else's voice and personal respoct on an ongoing basis.

It can be subtle and it can be incredibly obvious. It depends upon the aggresor and the victim.

But here's the thing, bullying must have both an agressor and a victim. Getting into an argument online and being shouted down by someone does not make you a victim, it just makes you the loser of that argument. Calling someone names, whether publically or privately, and then having the same flung back at you does not make you a victim, it makes you a victimless aggresor.

I'm getting tired of seeing people fling the word around like it's the latest fad or coolest slang. Bullying has meaning. It has powerful connotations.

You can ask anyone who has ever been bullied. Ask me. I can tell you how horribly it can destroy your self-esteem, your self-value, your life.

Meaning is important. Keeping the defition of bullying clear is vital to insure that real victims can tell their stories. Muddying the meaning will only muddy the response to the type of bullying that is a true crime - whether in our judicial system or just as a human being.

Please, tell me, what do you think of when you think of bullying? Let's firm up the meaning.


  1. You know, I am really happy that you posted again on this Dara. Are the timing is impeccable for me. Today we spent some time at the park with a friend of mine whose children are also friends of my children. Let me get this clear from the start. This friend, I will call her A. She and I have been friends for 6 years. Since the birth of my first son. We started a playgroup together when our boys were just a few months old. 6 years later, I have 2 boys ages 3 and 6. She has 4 children, ages 9,6,3, and 9 months.

    For years our children have played well together. Her two older boys and my son Nino loved playing and got along great. Her 3 year old daughter and my 3 year old son also enjoy each other very much.

    But, I've begun to notice over the past few months that her boys, particularly her older son has begun to treat my older son unkindly. It began at first with simply him ignoring my son, not playing with him. I took this to mean he was grumpy and starting to feel too cool to play with little kids.

    But then he began to team up with his brother and do things that were specifically meant to leave my son out. To make him feel like an outside. Still, I watched, but didn't intervene. I thought that eventually they would all work it out.

    Today we met them at the park and her boys were systematically mean to my son. They teamed up together, told secrets, and walked away whenever my son came near. Nino was devastated. He came to me and told me what was happening. I told him that this behavior was not right and that he should play with other kids and ignore his so called "friends" if they were going to treat him this way.

    I finally told my friend that we had decided to leave because her boys were being unkind to my son. For the first time since this has been happening gradually over months, she confronted her children in front of me and my son. (She has seen the whole thing all along just like me and was more than aware that her children were being unkind.)

    She told her children that they had hurt Nino and how did they feel about that. They showed no remorse.

    She seemed embarassed about the whole thing and apologized to Nino and to me, but I am left feeling confused about how to go forward. I think highly of their family in other ways. We have a longtime friendship. But today left a bad taste in my mouth. I feel like she does not take seriously enough the damage that her children's behavior is doing to other kids, particularly kids that they have true long-term friendships with.

    She has talked to me about her children's behavior before and said, "I don't know what to do. I can't MAKE them play with kids they don't want to play with."

    This is true. But even if you can't make your children play with other children, you can certainly teach them that exclusion and teaming up against other children is extremely unkind and hurtful, right?

    What should I do? We live just down the street from each other. This situation is not going away....

  2. A vaguely similar thing happened to me, Organic Mum. I am friends with a mum down the road, but our boys don't really get on. I've found that imposed friendships like that move in phases. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.
    My solution was not to impose the friendship any more but continue seeing my friend on an adult basis, for drinks/dinner etc. When they do meet up now, like for a picnic the other Sunday, the boys are happy to be together.

    If your daughters are friends, have the girl over to play but not the boys.

    It's not running away from the situation, it's making an adjustment to maintain your friendship with A. Otherwise you may become so disgusted with her boys and the fact that she's not doing anything that you could lose a friend.

    As for the definition of bullying, I agree that it's a sustained behaviour. A one-off argument is not bullying.

  3. Fabulous post, Dara, I could kiss you. Totally agree. Bullying is a campaign not an instance. It is systematic and sustained and the bully rarely acts alone but will assemble a team behind them, further to press home feelings of isolation and alienation in the victim. It is a terrible, terrible thing for anyone - adult or child - to have to contend with. Arguments and fallings out are unpleasant but they are a different thing entirely to bullying.

  4. I agree the term bullying can be overused. A friend and I were accused of bullying another friend's girlfriend when we disagreed with her views. She had made some outlandish comments re the UK class and benefits systems, and while I wouldn't normally be too vocal, I found her comments generalising and hugely insulting so spoke up. When she later made some equally shocking remarks re date rape, I left the room rather than argue with her because I didn't want the discussion to get out of hand.

    The following morning, I was told the friend's girlfriend had gone to bed in tears and claimed she'd been bullied. I initially felt terrible but came to realise that simply disagreeing with someone and verbalising that disagreement doesn't make me a bully. It was unfortunate that two of us happened to share the same view that opposed the other girl's, but surely as a grown up, she could see a difference in opinion doesn't constitute bullying but debate.

  5. Online bullying is not debating in comments once in a while. A continual derision by the same person or group everytime an individual commented would be though. In the playground as a mum,I have been ignored and excluded by the same 2 women. Bullies are clever even in a group nobody else seems to notice their behaviour ( or the group chooses to ignore it).

  6. Thank you Dara for a great post. I am with you on your definition, bullying is continual in general.
    I could not believe how Steve was jumped on the other day and attacked for his comment on another blog. Anyone who reads Steve will know he is witty (now do not get a big head Steve) and he was having a joke in his first comment. Some stuff gets so taken out of context.

    ((Organic Motherhood)) my heart goes out to you and your boy. It is heart wrenching stuff being a Mummy.

    I have heard so much talk of bullying in blogging and I have never seen any of it (thank the Lord). I have seen silly arguments in the comments but so what, that is just life...

    Cheers Mich x

  7. Thanks for the kind comments, Sarah and Michelle Twin Mom. Your suggestion, Sarah, is a good one and I think I will try that. I'm sorry to hear it has happened to you as well. And, Steve, I'm sorry to hear that you got virtually beat up. Some people just don't understand humor.

    I also meant to add in my original comment, Dara, that I completely agree with you. I also agree with the general conversation here in the comment thread that bullying is absolutely not a single disagreement. It sucks when term like bullying gets hyped up in the public mind, overused, and then begins to lose it's meaning because of this. Bullying is systematic and mean-spirited. If we cannot have and discuss our own opinions, how are we ever going to have intelligent conversation?

  8. I also agree that bullying is an ongoing, purposeful harrassment of a single other individual.
    A one-off insult is just that, a one-off.

  9. I think in the definition of bullying it's important to understand that it is not brought on by the victim, that they have not said/done anything to warrant the attack.
    I was bullied in high school, I ended up moving schools because of it, and that's why I feel so strongly. It destroyed my life, it's where my anxiety stems from, it kicked off my self-harm. I still can't see people in that school uniform and not feel terrified.
    I definitely think we need a definition to give to those who haven't been through it so don't understand what it is.

  10. This is a wonderful post, and something that I think we have all sadly been forced to consider over this last week or so.

    As someone who has genuinely been a victim of bullying, I only hope those who are so arbitrary in their definitions never have to actually experience it for real. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

    Thank you for writing this, I think it needed to be said.

  11. I commented just before on your article. Think my comment is still moderated though.

    As far as the definition of bullying, yes it is ongoing, not one instance. It also does not mean disagreeing with someone and opposing their views strongly.

    If you were to oppose a person's views and then convince all your friends to stop communicating with this other person, that in my eyes would be bullying. If you put your comments out to the world and other people agreed and on their own decided this person is not someone they want to be friends with, that in my opinion is not bullying. Again as long as your comments were the truth.

    As I replied to your column, I think bullies are just as unhappy as those being bullied or they would not be bullying. Every person on this earth wants to belong, wants to feel a part of a family, a community, a group or a workplace. I think in the end, that is what drives all of us. The feeling of belonging.

    Bullies in my opinion are trying to do the same. They want to feel loved and they want to belong. I think even if bullies have loving parents, they don't FEEL they are loved. They don't feel like they belong. It is their way of acting out and trying to find that feeling they are missing.

    I have a son who was so bullied by his friends who were our neighbors, that i jumped on a chance to move to the states for two years when he was in 5th grade. I do need to say, those boys have changed and they are all really good friends now. (9 years later) People do change. It was also very important that my son knew he could talk to us.

    Naomi-if you like your friend, buy her a copy of Gary Chapman;s book The five love languages of children. I think if she figures out what language of love her kids speak, she will be able to give them the confidence they are looking for.

    And Steve, sorry to hear about your experience. I find it interesting that all the bullying incidents seem to fly right over my head. i just seem to either not see them or just not hear about them till after.

    Good post Dara.

  12. Great post Dara my thoughts entirely. Brilliantly expressed. I was really annoyed to see Steve lambasted for a very droll comment on that blog the other day. Very annoyed to see that it was blown up out of proportion and that he was held up for shame as a bully! What absolute bollocks! Steve is very funny and an absolute gent.

  13. Great post and very timely. I would add that bullying is often carried out by someone with more authority than the victim - i.e. older, stronger, the employer versus the employee, etc. Last year I was the victim of workplace bullying by my headteacher, after gaining sufficient evidence I made an official complaint. She was suspended and eventually, after a lenghty investigation, sacked. Not all bullies win, but you have to be strong to stand up to them.

    With regards to the 'bullying' that's been going on in the blogosphere this week, I would say that bullying is not completely overreacting to anything that is said online, it is not taking everything personally, and that just by saying you have been bullied does not make it so.

  14. I agree too. But I believe in standing up to bullies - I call it 'kill with kindness'. The more vile the person, the nicer I am. It has never failed me yet. Niceness is a fabulous defence.

  15. This is a brilliant post Dara, well done lady. I love AMMM's way of dealing with it.

  16. I agree with you that bullying is a systematic attack on a person/group. And I'm so glad it's getting the attention it needs so people start fighting it.

  17. I think that the distinction between bullying and arguing is drawn when people stop focusing on the argument and more upon the person.

  18. I agree with what Jack said - and I get totally annoyed when people think disagreeing is the same as being bullied - especially if they started the argument! I know someone who is SOOOO confrontational, even the most inane statement gets a huge WHAT DO YOU MEAN from her, and if you dare contradict what she THINKS you are saying, she cries bullying and threatens legal action. Needless to say, we're not that close anymore!

  19. I cringe when I think of bullying. Firstly, because I remember being bullied at high school by the "cool chicks", then in turn myself and a few friends started bullying a younger girl, she started bullying some other girls.... you get the idea. It was horrible being the victim, but it's being the aggressor which haunts me now. I have three very little girls, but already you can start to see the beginnings of nasty behaviour by other older kids. It breaks my heart.

  20. Great post and insightful comments bullying is something that has to be treated carefully so that it is not belittled. If that makes any sense at all!


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