Social bullying is done with the intent to hurt somebody's reputation, relationships, or social standing. It could include spreading a story to damage someone's reputation, or having others ignore or threaten a friend. This type of bullying is most common among girls, but can certainly happen with guys as well.
Due to how hurtful and damaging bullying can be, it can be hard to know how to cope and problem solve. Here is a common type of message that we receive related to social bullying:
Message from 14 year old Kerry:
I am really getting tired of some of the girls at my school. There is a group of them that bully me any time they have a chance. Every day at lunch I avoid them and go sit at the opposite side of the cafeteria. I know they are talking about me and I just want to cry. Can you help?
Before saying that Kerry is definitely being bullied, it is important to understand that bullying has three key components:
- There is an unfair use of power. Whether that power is found in size, age, strength, social standing, number of friends, or intelligence, bullies will use their power to hurt and control others.
- It is intentional with the purpose of hurting someone. Bullying occurs when somebody does something with the primary goal of harming somebody else emotionally or physically.
- It is repeated over time. True bullying is something that occurs more than just once.
In the example above, it would be helpful to know if Kerry's perception of these girls' behavior is accurate, what they are doing to her, and how often or how long it's been going on. Regardless if it's bullying or not, what's happening with these girls is upsetting to Kerry.
So what should Kerry do?
You may have many suggestions for what Kerry should do in this situation. But what if there were different sides to Kerry's story…
- How might your opinion change if you know that Kerry is very popular, has a group of friends that often exclude each other, and this is her week to be the target?
- How might your opinion change if you have heard these girls make fun of Kerry and have seen them push her around in the hallway, and know that they are posting mean comments about her online?
Understanding everyone's behaviors in relationship to Kerry's message is helpful. In the first situation you might be wondering if Kerry's behavior has anything to do with how others treat her. In the second situation it seems clear that no matter what Kerry may have done or said, these girls are crossing a line by being abusive and hurtful.
For those who are truly being mistreated by others, bullying can intensify already serious problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, self-injury, alcohol or drug abuse, and violence. If any of these issues arise, it's important to get some help and guidance from others.
Learning how to navigate social groups and make friends can be challenging. There will always be people who aren't very nice, who may not like you, and will never be your friend. Maybe they act that way because their life isn't perfect all the time either. It's OK. You can't control or fix how other people act, but you can try every day to be a better version of yourself than the day before.
You are only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with, so be brave enough to let go of those who keep weighing you down.
-Ziad K. Abdelnour