Bullying may be defined as a persistent, deliberate attempt to hurt or humiliate someone.
There may sometimes be misunderstandings about the meaning of the term‘bullying’: one-off incidents, may be very serious and must always be dealt with but do not really fall within the definition of ‘bullying’ which must be persistent. The information here has been prepared for the victims of bullying.
However, the “bully” him/herself will also benefit from sessions by addressing the need for them to bully others and other issues.
If you are or have been reasonably accused of bullying then you may benefit from seeking sessions.
Types of bullying.
There are various types of bullying, but most have three things in common:
1. It is deliberately hurtful behavior.
2. It is repeated over time.
3. There is an imbalance of power or even a perceived imbalance, which makes it hard for those being bullied to defend themselves.
Bullying may take various forms, including:
- Physical e.g. kicking, hitting, pushing, intimidating behaviour or interference with personal property
- Verbal/Psychological e.g. threats, taunts, shunning/ostracism, name-calling/verbal abuse or spreading of rumours
- Racist Bullying e.g. physical, verbal, written, on-line or text abuse or ridicule based on differences of race, color, ethnicity, nationality, culture or language
- Faith-based Bullying e.g. negative stereotyping, name-calling or ridiculing based on religion
- Sexist Bullying e.g. use of sexist language or negative stereotyping based on gender
- Sexual Bullying e.g. unwanted/inappropriate physical contact or sexual innuendo
- Homophobic Bullying e.g. name-calling, innuendo or negative stereotyping based on sexual orientation or use of homophobic language
- Disability Bullying e.g. name-calling, innuendo, negative stereotyping or excluding from activity based
on disability or learning difficulties
- Gifted/Talented Bullying e.g. name-calling, innuendo, ostracism or negative peer pressure based on high levels of ability or effort
- Cyber Bullying e.g. abuse on-line or via text message, interfering with electronic files, setting up or promoting inappropriate websites and inappropriate sharing of images from webcams/mobile phones
Effective therapy after bullying for the victim should include:
Affirmation that you have been abused, that you are a damaged person and that you are not to blame for the bullying
Validation of your experiences
Help in dealing with any traumatic memories so that they no longer control you or take over your life
Help in understanding and managing any post-traumatic symptoms you may be suffering
Help in overcoming fears and anxieties – but without pressure to tackle things before you are ready and willing to do so
Why might a bully bully?
I’d suggest that bullying occurs due to the bully’s projected hatred/disgust of themselves.
As we are all people who need to be loved, cared for, taken care of etc, we don’t like to think of ourselves as being someone who is incapable of being loved. Whilst some of us do have these thoughts, others avoid such torturous ideas through a process known as a psychological defense. I’d suggest such a defence’s purpose might be:
…make sure that I don’t know about something that would cause me great pain if I were to become aware of it.
Being an unconscious defensive process, the bully psyche would be using projection to help the bully avoid recognizing himself as being the person “in need” of being bullied. I mean ‘in need’ as being the bully’s psyche’s conclusion of what to do with the psychological pain the bully is carrying: destroy.
The bullying process continues whilst the bully’s defense continues to successfully keep the bully from recognizing that it is himself he’s attacking through bullying.
I’d suggest this is why, anecdotally at least, it’s said that bullying parents create bullying children – the pain is passed down from parent to child … as is the way to deal with it.
So, bullying is taking place and now we have two people participating in the bullying: the bully (the initiating participant) and the bullied (the unwilling participant). The two have entered into a psychologically torturous relationship.
This relationship is why I suggest that both participants in the bullying are in need of help: the bullied because he (probably) didn’t see it coming, and the bully to help him understand (and then deal with) his own pain.
Like a hook-and-eye closure, both participants have something that makes the bullying relationship succeed; both are contributed (at some level) something to the bullying relationship. The bully contributes something so that he gets to avoid his own pain, and the bullied contributes something for the distress to take root. The bullied acts out the distress that the bully causes (and which may also be the distress that the bully himself is hoping to dispose of – psychologically he’s done it successfully by physical means).
Part of my responsibility in a session is to struggle to understand what sort of responses I’m privately having with a client. It is not my usual practice to reveal my responses (my counter-transference) directly – although this can be appropriate too. Instead, I work privately on understanding my responses, my feelings, so that I might gain an understanding of them in the context of the patient.
If I am feeling as if I were going to be physically harmed by a client, perhaps I am receiving an unconscious communication from the patient – something being communicated about the very real alert about harm.
Sometimes de-attributing ownership of my feelings/thoughts can be helpful: re-framing my fear that instead of thinking…
‘I’m afraid that my client is going to harm me’
…I re-frame this into something like:
‘someone is afraid that someone is going to harm someone’.
This can lead me into wondering if my client is in fear of being harmed by someone – someone else, themselves, me?
Preparing to share an interpretation.
When I’m ready to offer an interpretation of my counter-transference, I find Winnicott‘s ‘spatula’ concept helpful. Donald Winnicott, worked as a paediatrician (and later a psychotherapist) the 1920s to 1970s. He found that when he offered a tongue-depressor (‘spatula’) to a child and allowed the child to discover the spatula for itself, the child would invest more play into the spatula than if Winnicott had indicated the spatula to the child.
When discovered for itself, the child might invest in the spatula becoming an aeroplane, a giraffe, a car … or just something that could be held in the hand and waggled a lot!
When I offer an interpretation of my counter-transference to a client, I allow the client to try and discover the interpretation-meaning for himself (and if he takes no interest I wont force the issue). I might say something like this:
Y’know, I’m a bit puzzled by something; you see whilst I experience a man who seems perfectly capable to take part in the world, you’re effective, you take charge, you get things sorted out, I’m still left with this puzzling sense sometimes of someone who’s… I’m not sure … maybe concerned of being harmed himself? …of being vigilant for attack sort-of-thing?
(I’m aware that my style can sometimes come across a little like stage spiritualists perform: ‘I have the name Lazzaro – does anyone here have someone called Lazzaro in their lives…?’ – and perhaps we are using a similar psychological technique of laying out something for someone to discover for themselves).
As I offer my interpretation, as I’m offering my ‘spatula’ to my client, I’m trying to allow him enough space so that he might pick it up and play with it himself. If my counter-transference is accurate (my sense of feeling afraid of being harmed) then the client may invest in what I have just said and flesh it out. If my counter-transference is not accurate (or I have just hit an area that the client is not ready to go into just yet) then the client may tell me he doesn’t know what I mean, making no investment in the interpretation at all.
In offering to understand the sometimes-terrible experiences that I will get from some clients, I’m working to get to a place where I can invite the client into be curious about what they might be responsible for. Usually this will be in the context of the problems that they are talking about in therapy – and sometimes what I have to say challenges the client’s beliefs. I try and do this with empathy … and without necessarily telling them how I am being impacted upon (we’re here to understand the process, more than we are to watch the content). At the same time, because I’m challenging the client’s defense when I do this, the client may wish to strengthen the defense and not wish to take responsibility for their unconscious part in this interaction. This will be OK.
But often I find I have allowed a client’s door to be opened a little further and more details about the client’s reasons-for-being-in-a session come out. All this from working to understand the impact a client sometimes may have upon me.
Bullying has purpose.
When we’re faced with bullying we quickly recognize the pain that the bullied are suffering and our attention is pulled towards those who are suffering (incidentally, also neatly turning our attention away from the pain that the bully may be projecting outwards too – neatly falling in line with the bully’s unconscious intention).
I’d offer you the thought that the bully is in great need help and understanding too.