The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

The many faces of bullying

Mark Said Sunday, 31 July 2022, 07:25 Last update: about 12 days ago

This multi-headed monster can be detected anywhere. It is commonplace to think that it is rife only on school premises but we cannot neglect looking also outside school premises, at the workplace, within social circles, within sports activities, on the university campus, in the cyber world and, why not, even within the domestic unit. Victims of this monster can be any one of us, from the young student to the frail and aged person and the reasons can be infinite.


Bullying can occur randomly or regularly. It can happen daily, weekly or monthly. The bullied victim can rarely predict when the bullying will occur, and if it can be predicted, he or she may not address the incident. With beatings, death threats and 24-hour harassment via technology, bullying has become a dangerous, life-threatening epidemic. Victims sometimes cannot get away from it, which has led to many suicides. We are struggling to take a stand against bullying, and with parents, politics and the media involved, educators have a difficult time pleasing everyone. We need to find better and more ways to reduce this problem. This includes having all stakeholders on board to prevent bullying from occurring. We need to have a common definition of bullying.

Bullying can be defined as being characterised by intentionally aggressive behaviour that involves an imbalance of power and strength. It can be exemplified through physical, verbal/nonverbal and/or relational means. One should also be able to distinguish between teasing and bullying. Teasing is reported more frequently than bullying because teasing is done to irritate or provoke another with persistent distractions or other annoyances. Bullying, on the other hand, is an imbalance of power. This is the main distinguishing factor. Bullied victims are unable or viewed as unlikely to defend themselves, which is what causes the imbalance of power. Bullying occurs in different forms such as threats, teasing, name-calling, excluding, preventing others from going where they want or doing what they want, pushing, hitting and all forms of physical. The severity of bullying varies from case to case.

Moving on to cyberbullying, then, this can come about by the use of any electronic device to harass, intimidate or bully another. This includes texts, emails, videos and posts and messages on social media. It used to be that bullies only cornered victims in physical spaces but in the modern era of social media, cyberbullies seem to be lurking everywhere. Even the safest of places, like one’s own bedroom, can be penetrated if there’s Wi-Fi and a computer, tablet or phone. Cyberbullies may use texts, emails and social media to spread rumours, reveal secrets, post embarrassing photos and more. The incidence of cyberbullying in our country has been increasing year after year. Indeed, it was President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca who in 2017 had stated that the fight against cyberbullying should not only include the strengthening of existing legislation but also the enactment of a specific law. Luckily, members of our Police Cyber Crime Unit regularly visit schools, youth organisations, local councils and other activities held in the community to promote responsible internet use as well as provide tips on how to lessen the chance of being victimised and bullied over the internet and other social media. Yet the threat of cyber abuse and harassment should be a constant concern for us all.

Unfortunately, at times, victims disclose they are bullied and intervention does not occur. Victims of bullying have human rights that should be considered and advocated for. Bullying is a social injustice issue. Because bullying may be considered the exercise of perceived authority or superiority in a cruel and unjust manner, it exists as an example of oppression in society. Any oppression in society against a person, group or class of people is considered a social justice issue. Bullied victims also have a right to feel free from oppression and spared from humiliation caused by repeated bullying.

Bullying is a relationship problem and its victims are bullied for various reasons. Sometimes they are bullied because they are different or because they are clever or popular. It can be caused by differences in race, sexuality, religion, disabilities and abilities, weight, height or anything that creates a difference between one person and another. At other times they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those who bully sometimes have problems and are unhappy. They may be trying to make up for a lack of attention, power or love in their own lives. By bullying, they try to get these in their own lives. These people need to feel powerful and seem to enjoy harming others. They often do not understand the feelings of the person they bully. Those who persistently bully often do so in order to dominate others and improve their own social status. Bullying often comes from a belief that it is okay to act that way. Sometimes they do not even know that what they are doing is bullying behaviour or they do not understand how much hurt and anxiety they cause.

If we think workplace bullying does not affect employees, we are mistaken. Employees may be affected by it. There is a misconception that bullying is overt. Rather, it is often subtle, slow, and insidious mistreatment that passes over the radar screen. Rarely can bullying be identified based on one action, but rather a pattern of actions over a long period of time. This is why it so often goes undetected in the workplace and employees could be suffering because of it. Isolation, undermining work, removal of responsibility or creating a feeling of uselessness are just a few examples.

Not everyone has been a bully or the victim of bullies, but everyone has seen bullying, and seeing it, has responded to it by joining in or objecting, by laughing or keeping silent, by feeling disgusted or feeling interested. Bullying is so common that it is viewed as almost normal”, but it should never be.


Dr Mark Said is an advocate

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