Emotions and Bullying
"Could a scar be like the rings of a tree, reopened with each emotional season?"
Magenta Periwrinkle, Cutting Class
Emotions are specific reactions to particular events, existing of several components, including experiential feeling, cognitions and physiological reactions (Vie, 2012). Emotions can vary in intensity and type and they direct our attention to events, stimuli or thoughts as well as organise perceptual and thought processes, activating and motivating most aspects of behaviour. Positive emotions include: enthusiasm, alert social activity and satisfaction. Negative emotions include: being upset or unpleasantly aroused and are linked to stress poor coping and health complaints.
Many emotions may follow the experience of being bullied. These emotions include anxiety, fear, anger, distress, irritability, helplessness, despair, guilt and shame (Vie, 2012). Both the bully and the victim can develop psychological and social maladjustment problems (Jose, 2012).
Emotions play a role in the way a bully acts both before, during and after a bullying incident. Studies have shown that children who identified as a bully exhibit a variety of externalising behaviours, such as aggression and impulsivity (Huang, 2013). Bullies generally have high self-concept, accompanied with poorer academic performances, inadequate coping skills, trouble with emotional regulation and higher levels of psychoticism including recklessness, interpersonal hostility and antisocial behaviour (Cooper, 2013; Huang, 2013). Bullies often struggle maintaining interpersonal relationships, experience peer rejection and affiliate with anti-social peer groups (Cooper, 2013).
A person who bullies another may exhibit any number of the following behaviours. They may repeatedly tease, imitate, exclude, ignore or make fun of the same target. They also show no compassions for someone who is experiencing bullying and feel the need to dominate or control others (Department of Education, Training and Employment, 2013). Bullies are usually skilled manipulators who use their psychological skills to control the minds of others and cause them distress (Menesini, 2003).
A factor which may put people at risk of developing bullying patterns is low levels of fear reactivity. Fear reactivity involves unpleasant effect, reactivity or avoidance in the presence of new, strange or threatening stimuli (Terranova, 2008). Low fear reactivity is a particularly important risk fact for bullying behaviours as it disrupts the moral development of conscience and empathy. A bully with low fear reactivity are not distressed enough by the potential negative consequences, such as punishment, harm or retaliation, or the inappropriateness of aggression to motivate the avoidance of its use (Terranova, 2008).
The Homophily Hypothesis
"Birds of a feather... Flock together!"
Homophily is the tendency of individual people to associate and bond with other people who are similar. Individuals who are in homophilic relationships generally share common characteristics, such as values, education and beliefs, which make communication and relationships form more easily (Huang, 2013). Adolescence is a period where friendships and peer support are essential for development (Cooper, 2013). Generally peer groups are usually formed based on shared similarities. Therefore, according to the homophily hypothesis, students who associate with friends and peers who bully others are more likely to engaged in bullying themselves (Huang, 2013). As this bullying trend progresses into adulthood, bullies are more likely to continue their behaviour in the workplace, become involved in gang membership, misuse substances and have a higher chance of becoming involved in criminal activity (Jose, 2012).
The homophily hypothesis links quite nicely to the Social Identity Theory. This theory assumes that part of an individual’s identity comes from membership of social groups and that people are motivated to find positive differences between their own group and others (Jones, 2012). Social identity mechanisms are important because they affect emotional reactions to bullying. In 2012, Jones conducted a study which investigated a link between group-based emotions (those that take groups rather than individuals as the subject and object of the emotion), action tendencies and group membership in the context of bullying. The results showed that pride was associated with a tendency to affiliate with a bullying group, whereas regret was linked with a disposition to apologise to the target, and anger with the likelihood of telling an adult about the incident (Jones, 2012).
Emotional Display Rule Knowledge
Emotional display rule knowledge is concerned with the understanding of the guidelines that govern the expression and management of emotions in social situations and their associated motives (Garner, 2010). This knowledge develops during primary school, as this is usually when children start to understand they can or should conceal their internal feelings by using one of a variety of different strategies, including masking their true emotion, maintaining a neutral facial expression or varying the intensity of their emotional expression (Garner, 2010). Having strong emotional display rule knowledge is a vital part of development. Being emotionally competent requires for people to understand that at times it is necessary to be concerned about other people’s feelings and to try to prevent people from experiencing hurt or harm. Children with low display rule knowledge to tend generate aggressive solutions to conflict, which is how bullies tend to deal with conflict. Children who bully have difficulty accurately perceiving the emotional signals of others, attribute anger to the actions and statements of others when it is not present and show indifference to other children’s displays of negative emotion (Garner, 2010).
A bullies behaviour is significantly related to their moral understanding of the consequences of their antisocial behaviour, it often appears that bullies may not understand that victimising others for personal gains in morally wrong (Menesini, 2003). The emotions of guilt, shame, indifference and pride are often referred to as moral emotions. Moral emotions serve as an emotional barometer giving people feedback on their social and moral acceptability, they are founded on social relationship in which people not only interact but also evaluate and judge themselves and others (Ttofi, 2008). These emotions are highly correlated to moral behaviour and play a large role in regulating the individuals sense of responsibility towards other people (Menesini, 2003). During a bullying incident the bully may experience guilt or shame for the harm done to the victim or feel proud of his or her success.
Guilt: involves a sense of tension, remorse and regret over a bad action. Guilt is often elicited in an event in which an individual violates the rule that a person should not hurt or disadvantage others. Children who demonstrate higher levels of guilt are more likely to try to repair a negative action. Guilt is usually a less painful feeling than shame as its primary concern is with a particular behaviour (Menesini, 2003).
Shame: Is a highly painful emotion that is normally accompanied by a sense of worthlessness and powerlessness. Shame often induces a desire to flee from the shame-inducing situation. Unlike guilt, shame is not exclusively related to the moral value event, but also to the personal sense of having adopted an ‘unwanted identity’ (Menesini, 2003).
Indifference: If a bully is indifferent to the response of a detrimental behaviour, which is shown through the lack of negative emotions such as guilt or shame, it can reveal the absence of empathy toward the victim (Menesini, 2003).
Pride: is generally considered a positive self-evaluative emotion that occurs in situations where a person is satisfied with their own performance. However, in the case of a bully, the feeling of pride focuses just on personal gains of the bully without considering the consequences for the victim (Menesini, 2003).
A study on the impact of moral emotions on bullying found that bullies differed from victims and the control group (neither bullies or victims) in moral reasoning processes. Bullies showed a higher level of indifference and pride, and a lower level of moral responsibility through guilt and shame, when asked to put themselves in the role of bully in a hypothetical scenario (Ttofi, 2008).
Victims of bullying experience a wide range of emotions whilst they are being victimised. However, exploring the emotional experiences which are associated with bullying can be problematic as often high emotions are difficult to verbalise and may not be accessed from consciousness (Tehrani, 2009). The consequences of being bullied during adolescences may extend into adulthood (Cooper, 2013) and persistence of episodes over time is related to an increased emotional impact on mental health (Ortega, 2012). Victims often display high levels of emotions in response to provocation by a bully, however victims who respond to bullying with nonchalance or expressions of neutrality may reduce their chances of being victimised again (Garner, 2010).
Victims of bullying often display internalising behaviours, including lower self-esteem, depression and feeling socially isolated. Victims also display a higher level of neuroticism (Huang, 2013). Bullying is damaging and can lead to a range of psychological disorders including physical conditions and post-traumatic stress (Tehrani, 2009). Irrespective of age or gender bullying victims tend to be more afraid, upset, angry, guilty, hostile, nervous, frustrated, ashamed, stressed and scared then non-victims (Vie, 2012).
Victims of school bullying may experience a range of academic problems which are exhibited by truancy, absenteeism and eventually school dropout (Jose, 2012). Adjustment problems may also occur and these include feelings of rejection, negative self-concept, withdrawal, loneliness, depression, helplessness and a sense that he or she deserves to be bullied (Cooper, 2013). Bullies are equally likely to display positive and negative emotions towards their victims. However often victims lack the ability to interpret the ‘true’ meaning behind these displays and this may signal to the bully that these children can be easily intimidated (Garner, 2010). This may suggest that in some cases, a victim may have a lack of emotion-related knowledge, and may approach peer interactions in ways which provoke negative behaviour, in turn creating a cycle of victimisation and poor emotional understanding (Garner, 2010).
Victims of workplace bullying generally report low levels of job satisfaction and well-being, along with feelings of social isolation, social maladjustment, low self-esteem, sleeping difficulties, concentration problems, chronic fatigue and depression (Vie, 2012).
In 2012, Ortega conducted a study which investigated the emotional impact of cyber victimisation. The results demonstrated the 93% of cyber victims were negatively affected by the bullying incident, with participants reporting feelings of sadness, hopelessness, depression and anxiety. Emotional responses of the victims of chat room bullying were as follows; 41% felt angry, 30% were upset, 20% felt frustrated, 15% vulnerable, 15% felt depressed and lastly 8% reported they felt frightened (Ortega, 2012).
Reducing the Impact - How to Cope
Coping has been defined as ‘the way people manage life conditions that are stressful’ (Hunter, 2004). A vital element of reducing the emotional impact of bullying on the victims is to tell someone in order for them to help to resolve the situation (Hunter, 2004). Students who are victimised may wish to tell their teachers, parents or guardians. Victims of workplace bullying are encouraged to seek support from their superiors.
Process theories of coping explain the large role that a persons perception of any given situation play in determining coping behaviour (Menesini, 2003). Such perceptions, known as appraisals, include the anticipation of loss or harm, the degree of perceived control over the stressor and the emphasising of potential gains. These appraisals have been shown to be important factors in coping strategy choice in a range of different situations (Menesini, 2003). Being able to correctly appraise the emotions of others may help children to avoid certain forms of peer-related aggression (Garner, 2010). Emotions also play a part in the coping process. In Lazarus’ appraisal model, appraisals influence coping strategies, which in turn influence one’s emotional reaction to events (Menesini, 2003). The more negative emotion people experience when they are being bullied the more they are likely to seek out help in order to deal with those emotions.
A central step in the counselling process is to help victims become aware of their emotional and cognitive reactions associated with bullying. According to Lazarus, being aware of the emotions associated with stressful encounters, such as bullying, creates an opportunity for a reappraisal of the situation, which in turn may help the person to gain control and be more able to cope with the situation (Vie, 2012).
To reduce aggression and violence, workplaces and school communities should focus on developing safe social and physical environments, provide health, counselling and social services and train staff to promote safety (Levasseur, 2013). Researchers have suggested that schools and workplaces should encourage cooperative norms, rather than competitive ones (Jones, 2012).
For Further Information
The following links may be useful for further information:
A final thought "Be kind to everyone, including yourself."
Cooper, L. (2013). Parent Retrospective Recollections of Bullying and Current Views, Concerns, and Strategies to Cope with Children's Bullying. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 22(4), 526-540.
Department of Education, Training and Employment. (2013). Bullying! No Way! Retrieved October 20, 2013 from http://bullyingnoway.gov.au/
Garby, L. (2013). DIRECT BULLYING: CRIMINAL ACT OR MIMICKING WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED?. Education, 133(4), 448-450.
Garner, P. (2010). Emotional display rules and emotion self-regulation: Associations with bullying and victimization in community-based after school programs. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 20(6), 480-496.
Huang, H. (2013). Understanding Factors Associated with Bullying and Peer Victimization in Chinese Schools Within Ecological Contexts. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 22(7), 881-892.
Hunter, S. (2004). Help seeking amongst child and adolescent victims of peer-aggression and bullying: The influence of school-stage, gender, victimisation, appraisal, and emotion. British Journal Of Educational Psychology, 74(3), 375-390.
Jones, S. (2012). The influence of norms and social identities on children's responses to bullying. British Journal Of Educational Psychology, 82(2), 241-256.
Jose, P. (2012). The Joint Development of Traditional Bullying and Victimization With Cyber Bullying and Victimization in Adolescence. Journal Of Research On Adolescence (Wiley-Blackwell), 22(2), 301-309.
Levasseur, M. A. (2013). Intersecting Identities and the Association Between Bullying and Suicide Attempt Among New York City Youths: Results From the 2009 New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey. American Journal Of Public Health, 103(6), 1082-1089.
Menesini, E. (2003). Moral emotions and bullying: A cross-national comparison of differences between bullies, victims and outsiders. Aggressive Behavior, 29(6), 515-530.
Ortega, R. (2012). The Emotional Impact of Bullying and Cyberbullying on Victims: A European Cross-National Study. Aggressive Behavior, 38(5), 342-356.
Tehrani, N. (2009). Lost in translation - using bilingual differences to increase emotional mastery following bullying. Counselling & Psychotherapy Research, 9(1), 11-17.
Terranova, A. (2008). Fear reactivity and effortful control in overt and relational bullying: a six-month longitudinal study. Aggressive Behavior, 34(1), 104-115.
Ttofi, M. P. (2008). Reintegrative Shaming Theory, moral emotions and bullying. Aggressive Behavior, 34(4), 352-368.
Vie, T. (2012). How does it feel? Workplace bullying, emotions and musculoskeletal complaints. Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology, 53(2), 165-173.