Prevention of bullying at a young age is currently a focus of many educators and programs. The White House even hosted a bullying prevention conference in March 2011, but the spotlight is always on children and teens and never adults it seems. Adults are generally more able to resolve conflicts through talking, and mature enough to avoid bullying. Or are they?
Harassment could be considered the grown-up word for bullying, and it’s still a problem for many adults that can affect mental health.
Elizabeth Englander, a psychology professor at Bridgewater State University and the director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, said in an email that whether an incident is defined as bullying or harassment depends on the state.
“Here in Massachusetts, harassment refers specifically to incidents targeting protected classes,” Englander said. “Bullying refers to the intentional, repeated abuse of someone with less power, by someone with power over them. In many places these would essentially be the same thing.”
It’s convenient to think that children won’t continue their bullying ways when they’re older, but some still bully other adults or even become bullies as adults.
“I think the focus is on children because it’s presumed that children are less able to defend themselves if someone with power over them were bullying them – a boss, for example,” Englander said.
Although it’s uncertain how common adult bullying is, just think of your own life and you might have some answers. Because of the nature of bullying, it can have some negative mental health effects on victims.
“Victims of all types of abuse tend to suffer from similar problems: anxiety, depression, and heightened possibility of violence or aggression,” Englander said. “Most abuse victims, however, are never violent.”
Although becoming a bullying victim in work or social situations can seem hopeless at the time, there is a way you can fight back for the sake of you and your mental health.
“If possible, reduce or eliminate contact with the bully,” Englander said. “Document instances of bullying and if possible, be sure to report them to supervisors. Be sure that the bully knows exactly what you object to. If they know what is objectionable and they continue to do it, that may be grounds for supervisors to take action against them.”
She suggests that it’s easier in social situations to prevent bullying.
“In social situations, it is usually possible to avoid or ignore bullying among adults,” Englander said. “Do not permit others to take advantage of you.”
In my personal experience, if you have friends or family members who are bullying you, confront them about the issue, and if they still continue the bullying, then cut off contact with them and talk to other friends and family for support.
Erik Fisher, a licensed clinical psychologist, wrote in an article on www.divinecaroline.com that bullies are everywhere in society and don’t just pop up in childhood. He said that bullies are allowed to continue in society because people, including victims, are afraid to speak up.
“I believe that this action of not confronting only reinforces this behavior in all of us,” Fisher stated. “In the bully it reinforces the idea that he/she can continue to act as he/she does. In his ‘victims’ it reinforces the belief that they are powerless. The truth is that no one can take our power away unless we give it to them. I believe that we can be victimized by others, but I believe even more that we often remain victims by choice.”
Bullies have their own mental health issues, including their own fear or even a past of being abused.
“People bully others because they have something to hide: insecurity, inadequacy, lies, fears, failures … and too many times we do not see through them,” Fisher said.
Have you been a victim of bullying as an adult? How did it make you feel, and what did you do about it? Share your stories in the comments section.
Englander, Elizabeth. Email interview. June 15, 2011.
Reviewed June 16, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton