Bullying: Is It Just Kid Stuff?

This week our guest blogger is Dr. Denise Millstine, a regular contributor to the blog and a friend, Denise is a member of the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos in Scottsdale, AZ. She is a loving mother, an excellent physician and a kind and generous person.  Her contributions are always enlightening and this post is no exception, please read on as she discusses bullying in settings we don’t always consider when the topic arises.

Bullying has become a hot topic in educational settings, and October is National Bullying Prevention month. Many schools have defined rules for bullying and have adopted no-tolerance policies for the behavior. The attention has, no doubt, heightened awareness and, hopefully, enacted change. Still, outside of academic settings, the concept of bullying is rarely considered. Is that because it is not there or that we are not recognizing it?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has focused some of their violence prevention work on bullying. In their report, “Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences: A Compendium of Assessment Tools,” they define three hallmarks of bullying:
1.    Aggressive behavior – including physical and verbal
2.    Repetitive attacks
3.    Involves an imbalance of power either real or perceived

Rates of bullying in children are estimated in the millions per year. What happens to those who are bullied, who bully, or who do both? As young adults, they are more likely to have psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. It may surprise you that the ones who are both bullies and victims of bullying do the worst.

We probably all have an image of the prototypical neighborhood bully when we see the list of bullying characteristics. I picture him wearing rolled up jeans and a leather jacket in a back alley lying in wait as some nerdy kid walks home from school. If I stop though, I can see these hallmarks in other people as well, even adults. Consider complaints of a friend about pressure at work or with a boss. Have you known anyone harmed emotionally by items posted in social media, whether true or considered too private for the public domain? In truth, we have seen these behaviors many times among our contemporaries. For me, I never labeled this bullying until now.

Bullying in adults has been described in many environments, particularly graduate schools and healthcare. Much of the adult bullying literature is among nurses. With the broad use of social media among adults, however, the potential for bullying is fairly ubiquitous.

In practice, I have known two women who I now believe were victims of bullying in the workplace. In both situations, the issue involved a direct supervisor. For one, she needed to change jobs and relocate to avoid the situation. For the other, she opted to stay in her position but perceives her ability for advancement to be significantly impaired. I’m embarrassed that I did not label their situations as bullying. If I had, perhaps there would have been more assistance available for them.

What can be done about bullying? The first step is recognition of what is going on and understanding that the bully is the one with the problem, not the victim. Consider praying for the person even though they have hurt you. Bullies should be addressed in an assertive, but not aggressive manner. Humor has been helpful in some situations, especially if done kindly. Bullying is often derailed by having a witness, or someone on your side who knows what is happening. When bullying continues despite these strategies, professional assistance should be sought.

Bullying is different than other difficult work interactions and communication. Bullying has distinct characteristics that should be recognized, identified, named, and discussed with a professional. In that light, opportunities for correcting the behavior will hopefully be more likely.