Most people agree a bully is someone who physically assaults another by pushing, hitting, punching, grabbing, knocking books out of hands, stuffing someone into a locker or a dumpster, sticking a head into a toilet, etc. But physical bullying is not the only brand of terror; emotional bullying often leaves as many and deeper scars, especially since it’s not as easily detected.
But there’s debate over what is and isn’t bullying. Especially for some who have never been bullied, the outsiders and even insider’s view of bullying can be murky.
In its simplest explanation, emotional bullying is when someone makes another feel lesser, while asserting their dominance by belittling or giving orders or commands. And many people, adults and kids, don’t even realize they’re doing it. This can be a semi-regular or habitual occurrence, leaving no place for the bullied person to breathe.
Intent is communicated in words. “I didn’t mean that,” “you know what I meant,” and “you are reading too much into it” are arguments often used when someone verbally and emotionally bullies another, but in actuality may reveal that person’s inability to effectively communicate. After all, communication, by definition, is when a message is sent from one point to another. But it’s the sender’s job to communicate the message to the receiver, not the other way around. If someone doesn’t receive your email, you don’t tell them they should have expected the email and should have intuitively known and understood the message that never came.
Differences of opinions can also degrade into emotional bullying. If you call someone “stupid,” most people would concur… that’s bullying. But what if you say… “you’re wrong,” “you’re making too big a deal of this,” or “you’re being too sensitive” – is that bullying? Yes, it is. Those statements are directed at the person, not the disagreement. Opinions are in the first person… “I think.” If someone changes the opinion into “You don’t, shouldn’t, etc.…,” it exposes a need for supremacy to win the debate without merit by belittling the other’s opinion. There’s a difference between disagreeing with another and diminishing them.
Everyone has a right to their opinion and the right to disagree with another’s opinion, but no one has the right to tell anyone their opinion is less than. If I say, the water is blue and you say the water is green, that’s ok. It’s a difference of opinion. But if I say “you’re crazy, that water is blue, you don’t know what you’re talking about”…that’s bullying. Often people resort to bullying when they want you to agree with them and can’t get you to change your mind.
Psychologically, bullies declare superiority in physical or verbal forms over another to compensate for something lacking in their own esteem or to claim control. These people will sometimes use commands to diminish another while elevating themselves. Commands like “Forget it,” “Get over it,” “Move on,” “Get off of it,” “Don’t worry about it,” especially when prefaced by “You need to…” is one person ordering another what to do.
Anyone, any age can bully another and anyone, any age can be bullied. Parents, teachers, spouses, partners, friends, siblings, significant others or even strangers can all stealthily and even inadvertently cut emotional scars into others. This can cause resentment; lack of self-esteem and can fester into long-term issues which often lay dormant until they erupt, creating division which can break the person or the relationship.
Several tools can be used to prevent bullying…
- Clearly communicate your message and intent in words; don’t expect another to understand your meaning if you don’t say it.
- Stay on topic in disagreements and express YOUR opinion. Use “I” not “you.” And sometimes you have to agree to disagree or find a fair way to arrive at an agreement, like flipping a coin.
- Respect everyone’s opinion and feelings. Only they can decide how they think and feel.
- Don’t try to make yourself taller by standing on someone else.
It all comes down to this…making someone feel inferior can never make you superior.