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What is bullying?


Explanations > Behaviors > Bullying > What is bullying?

Bullying actions | The intent of the bully | See also


Bullying is a global problem. Here's a description of what it is.

Bullying actions

Bullying can be both physical and psychological. In practice elements of both may occur together.

Physical bullying

Physical bullying is carried out through the use of the body, threatening or harming the other person or things with which they identify. In doing so, it applies direct control to the victim.

For example:

  • Physical harm, hitting the victim
  • Bumping 'accidentally' into the victim
  • Swiping at them 'just missing'.
  • Moving into their personal space
  • Occupying space they normally use, such 'their' chair.
  • Taking their property.
  • Being careless with their property.
  • Deliberately damaging their property.

Physical bullying is more common amongst boys. Girls are often more subtle, as are adults of both genders.

Physical bullying often has a psychological element, although the physical side may be more visible.

Psychological bullying

Whilst physical bullying can be terrifying, psychological bullying can be even more harmful and can have much longer-term effects. It seeks to demean the victim by attacking their identity, changing their self-image and self-esteem.

For example:

  • Criticising the victim.
  • Telling the victim they are worthless.
  • Teasing the victim in a way that reduces their self-esteem or reduces the esteem of others.
  • Spreading damaging lies about the victim.
  • Talking about the victim in front of them, as if they were not there.
  • Refusing to acknowledge the victim, walking past them as if they did not exist.

Girls and adults can be good at psychological bullying, as it can be done without visible damage.

The intent of the bully

The core difference that makes bullying what it is, as opposed to teasing, playing and so on (as bullies will often claim) is in the intent of the bully.

The bully builds their sense of control through the control of others. They enjoy the sense of power this brings and feed off the fear of their victims. People who do not show fear of bullies are typically left alone, at least after a concerted effort to bully has little effect.

Bullies typically lack empathy, not really feeling what their victims feel, although at the same time they may be surprisingly fearful, possibly due to a historic and early reversal where they were the victim.

See also

Proxemic communication, Control needs, Fear


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