Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone seeks to establish social dominance by intentionally and repeatedly harming or humiliating another person who is smaller, weaker, younger, “different,” or more vulnerable in some way in order to intimidate and manipulate them.
It can take the form of physical contact, verbal attacks, or more subtle actions as well. The bullied individual typically is non-assertive, has trouble defending him or herself, does nothing to cause the bullying, and radiates fear.
Why does a person engage in bullying?
Bullies are not usually happy people. There are many reasons why they may bully others.
Often, it’s because they have low self-esteem and a need to gain and maintain control over others to feel better about themselves. Bullying is their outlet for dealing with their own feelings of hurt, stress, anger, frustration, and/or insecurity.
They may also bully because they’re being encouraged to do so by their friends and don’t want to feel left out, or because they’re looking for attention,
Types of bullying.
Physical bullying is any type of unwanted touching, such as tripping, shoving, flicking, kicking, or hitting. It can also involve taking or damaging the victim’s property.
Verbal bulling includes repeatedly taunting, name-calling, mimicking, or making bigoted comments about someone.
Psychological bullying involves making a person feel bad about himself or herself by gossiping about them, spreading rumors, making threats, and/or excluding them from groups or activities.
Cyberbullying involves using the internet and social media to send hurtful or threatening e-mails, texts, or instant messages; spreading false rumors or falsely impersonating their victim; making mean comments on his or her social media posts; or posting photos, personal information, or videos designed to hurt or embarrass the other person. Often this is done anonymously and the victim has no idea who the bully might be.
Bullying can also take place in the workplace and may include aggressive behaviors such as verbal abuse, gossip, slander, and/or deliberately damaging the victim’s job or work relationship in some way.
It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to. – W. C. Fields
How to respond to bullying.
Bullies like to target victims who radiate insecurity and fear, become visibly upset when they are picked on, and who do not have friends or allies. To them it’s a game between winning and losing. If they can gain power over you, they win and you lose.
Bullies enjoy getting a reaction, so the more upset, fearful, or angry you get, the more fun they have and the more persistent they will be. If, however, you do not let them get to you, you win and they lose, and eventually they most likely won’t want to play the game anymore.
Practical suggestions for responding to bullying.
Don’t get physical or try to retaliate.
Stay calm, and learn to express yourself clearly and assertively.
Use “I” statements and draw clear boundaries.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – Timothy 1:7, NLT
Learn to be resilient and flexible in your thinking.
Your thoughts have a powerful influence over your emotional and physical wellbeing, and how you feel is a result of what you tell yourself about your circumstances.
Know who you are in the Lord.
Don’t let the bully into your head or allow the lies he/she tells you influence what you think about yourself.
- You are created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27)
- You are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)
- You are a Divine original, created for a purpose no one else can fulfill. (Ephesians 2:10
- You are more than a conqueror. (Romans 8:37)
- You are the head and not the tail. (Deuteronomy 28:13)
Let God be God.
Trust Him and surrender your situation to Him. Pray for His guidance and protection. These verses can encourage you to trust Him more.
Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. – 1 Chronicles 16:11, NIV
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. – Proverbs 2:6 NIV
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. – 1 Peter 5:7, NLT
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7, NIV
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10, NLT
That does not mean excusing the bully’s behavior or putting up with it without sticking up for yourself, but rather, keeping your heart free of bitterness so that you can move forward without allowing the experience to debilitate you. Let God deal with the bully in His way and time.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. – Romans 12:17-19a, NIV
Be willing to extend grace and reach out to the bully if and when you feel it is safe to do so.
“’It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:19b-21, NIV
Pray for the bully.
He/she is not your real enemy. Your real enemy is Satan, and he will use anyone or anything to push your buttons and get your eyes off of God’s love.
If you see someone being bullied, don’t just walk away and ignore it. Intervene if it’s safe to do so. If not, report it to the proper authorities. That’s not tattling. Doing nothing allows bullies to continue bullying. Reach out and offer support to the victim as well.
What if I’m the bully?
- Ask yourself why you bully. Is it to feel superior, or because you’ve been hurt, or to cover up a weakness of your own? Is it because the victim shares a trait you dislike about yourself? Do you use bullying as a way to show off, or fit in, or seem cool?
- Practice empathizing with others. Think of how the person being bullied feels when they are being bullied, and how you would feel if you were the target.
- Appreciate what makes each person unique instead of judging them for their differences, and look for the best in them instead of reasons to bully them.
- Remove yourself from groups who reward you for bullying others.
- Apologize to the people you have bullied.
- Forgive yourself and move forward.
- Find healthy ways to boost your self-esteem.
- Speak to a mental health professional about your problem. He/she can help you change your behavior.
Finding support from Christian counseling.
Christian counseling involves a combination of biblical principles and clinical intervention. If you or your child are struggling with the aftereffects of bullying and need more help than what this article could provide, please give me or one of the other faith-based counselors in our online directory a call today.
We would be happy to answer your questions and/or set up an appointment to discuss how we can help you manage the challenges you are facing and walk you through the healing process. You don’t have to do it alone.
Brooks Gibbs (April 24, 2022). Sermon: Healing the Hurting Heart, https://www.brooksgibbs.com/blog/.
Brooks Gibbs. How to stop a bully, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oKjW1OIjuw.
Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD and Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD (April 28, 2022). Bullying, MedicineNet, https://www.medicinenet.com/bullying/article.htm.
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