Tag Archives: bullying

Teasing vs. Bullying

by Kassandra Lamb

In response to my Ask a Shrink request for psychology topics last week, one of my fellow authors, Lynn Kelley (she writes children’s books) asked this question: What’s the difference between mean kidding and bullying, and what does it say about the person doing it?

This is a question I can address not only as a psychologist but as someone who has lived it.

“Mean kidding” is an oxymoron. If it’s truly kidding, then it isn’t intended to be mean, although it might accidentally cross that line. When this happens the kidder will usually backpedal and apologize if they realize they have hurt the other person’s feelings.

Kidding around or teasing can actually be a means of showing affection. Teasing someone about a flaw can be conveying unconditional acceptance. One is essentially saying, “I recognize that you have this idiosyncracy but it doesn’t matter to me; I can make light of it.”

I come from a family of teasers and being the youngest, I got the brunt of it (mostly for being talkative). But it left me feeling warm and loved, not attacked or excluded.

In school, on the other hand, I was emotionally attacked on a regular basis by kids who weren’t teasing. They were putting me down to build themselves up.

So what is the difference between this kind of mean kidding and bullying? There is none. Mean kidding is one form of a type of bullying called relational bullying.

Relational bullying is more common in girls but boys certainly use it as well. It includes making fun of someone, ostracizing them, spreading rumors about them, etc. And now, with the Internet, there are even greater opportunities for relatonal bullying.

photo by Vivianlee2005 CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

photo by Vivianlee2005 CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Human beings are instinctively pack animals. Some of us strive to be the alpha of the pack, others end up the scapegoat who gets picked on. Most of us are trying to hold our ground somewhere in the middle.

By the time we reach adulthood most of us have been able to rein in these instincts. Perhaps we have even harnessed them in constructive ways, such as through athletics. But this pack mentality is still quite blatant in children.

What does mean kidding say about the person doing it? It depends on that person’s position within the pack. The alpha member of the pack isn’t always a bully, but the odds are good that they are. Bullies are often the ones who rise to the top, usually because the other kids are afraid to cross them. Bullies are insecure, and they deal with their insecurities by seeking out weakness in others.

But those in the middle of the pack will go along with the putdowns, adding their own insults so they can look cool in the eyes of the other pack members, and especially to please the alpha. These kids, on their own, are often nice kids. They just want to belong and are instinctively trying to survive in the pack.

The victims, or scapegoats, are also riddled with insecurity. But they tend to express it more by being shy and self-effacing, or being too eager to please (that was me). The alpha senses their vulnerability, like a shark smelling blood in the water.

photo by Harlequeen from Cambridge UK CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

photo by Harlequeen from Cambridge UK CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

And once a scapegoat has been branded as such via the verbal attacks from the alpha, they are unlikely to be able to break out of that role. Even in a new environment, they may not be able to shift their position in the pack.

Most people who know me as an adult are shocked to find out that I was a social outcast through most of my school years. Even when I changed schools in sixth grade and tried my darndest to fit in with the popular kids (or at least not be noticed), I ended up suffering the verbal slings and arrows of the alpha and her following. My only friends were the other outcasts.

It wasn’t until high school (in another community, thanks to boundary changes in the school districts) that I finally broke out of the pattern and had a circle of friends. We weren’t the most popular kids in school, but we weren’t outcasts either.

What can we do about relational bullying? It’s really quite simple; we as adults need to step in when we see it happening. Don’t wait until the first punch is thrown. Stop the mean teasing. Point out to the group that they aren’t being very nice. Ask them how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of that treatment.

You won’t change the alpha most likely, but you’ll stop that particular assault. And you’ll make the victim feel better because someone cared enough to step in. (By the way, make sure the victim walks away with you so the alpha can’t immediately start up again.)

Where you’ll have the most impact is with the middle of the group. You have supplanted the alpha as the authority figure, at least temporarily, and you’ve made them think about what they’re doing. Next time, some of them will refuse to participate in the teasing, and that may begin to shift the tide away from that alpha as a leader.

I’ve seen this approach in action. One of my son’s classmates in elementary school was pretty dorky. He acted weird and wore thick glasses. During the school year, he was teased unmercifully and ostracized completely.

But during the summers, that same group of kids went to a local daycare center’s summer camp. There, the adults did not ignore the bullying. They stepped in, stopped the mean teasing and encouraged the other kids to include this boy. By the middle of the summer, they no longer had to step in. He was a member of the pack.

How about you? Have you ever been the victim of mean teasing? Do you have other suggestions for intervening?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )


by Kassandra Lamb

Bullies have been on my mind lately for two reasons. One, they play a role in both of the stories I’ve been working on lately, one of which is releasing today (more on that in a moment).

Two, a friend of mine has been dealing with one lately–a forty-something adolescent who thinks it’s okay to disturb the peace in the neighborhood and harass those neighbors who object to his behavior.

Wikibully (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Wikibully (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

What motivates bullies?

I’ve wondered about that ever since first grade, when I was playing on the school playground by myself one day and an older girl–probably a fourth or fifth grader–came at me out of the blue and shoved me to the ground.

I wasn’t hurt and she walked away again as quickly as she’d come, so I didn’t even have time to feel scared. I was mainly just shook up. But I can still see her angry, sneering face in my mind’s eye, after all these decades.

I was amazed that some stranger wanted to do that to me. And I still am.

The other thing that amazes me is the frequent response to bullying expressed by those in authority–that the parties involved should “work it out amongst themselves.” This shows a total ignorance of how bullies operate. They count on others abiding by the rules, as they blatantly break them.

Here’s the dictionary definition of bullying: using superior strength, influence or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Let me put on my psychologist hat for a moment and try to explain the motivation of bullies. They are insecure people who have figured out that they feel better about themselves when they are lording it over others. The problem is that their insecurities run very deep. So like a drug, this “fix” of power through intimidation of others only feels good for a brief time. Then their insecurities come roaring back, and they have to compensate again and again by bullying somebody.

Trying to “work it out” with them is often viewed as a sign of weakness, and eggs them on instead. (If you’re thinking “That doesn’t make any sense,” then congratulations, you do not think like a bully!)

This was my friend’s experience (we’ll call him Bill) when he confronted the neighbor who was racing his unlicensed four-wheelers, with no mufflers, on the vacant lots and streets of their rural neighborhood. Bill’s complaints about the noise, exhaust fumes and potential fire hazard (flames were coming out of the exhaust pipes while being driven through winter-dry underbrush), were met with the proclamation that the neighbor (we’ll call him Jack) “would ride wherever and whenever he damned well pleased.”

Jack then started intentionally riding around in circles on the lot next to Bill’s house for hours on the weekends.

So Bill bought the lot (he been thinking about doing so for other reasons anyway).

Jack reacted poorly to the new fence and “no trespassing” signs on the property. He intentionally ran into the fence, yelled at and shoved Bill. Jack then raced his unlicensed vehicles up and down the paved, county road in front of Bill’s house and on the other vacant lots beyond the one Bill had bought.

Other neighbors gathered and were flabbergasted by this man’s childish behavior. Bill took pictures of these events and then called the county sheriff’s department.

The sad part of the story was the deputies’ response. These were not bad cops. They were trying to do their jobs as they thought best. Which is the saddest part of all. This is a typical response by authorities to bullies, unless and until the victim is seriously hurt. And this response allows bullies to continue to do their thing.

To the report of the shove: “Did he knock you down? Were you hurt?”
“Well, then we can’t do anything.”

(Note: Bill is 66 years old; Jack is in his mid 40s. So it’s okay for people to intentionally shove senior citizens as long as they aren’t hurt?)

To the report of him riding his unlicensed vehicles on county roads: “We have to see it ourselves in order to ticket him.” This, despite the fact that Bill had pictures; the deputies wouldn’t even look at them.

To the report of Jack running into his fence and intentionally tearing up the property just beyond it: They pointed out to the neighbor that he had no right to damage others’ property.

Then they told my friend he should “work this out” with his neighbor. Bill’s response was that this had already been attempted and they were now long past that point.

Bill persisted and finally the officers went to talk to the neighbor. Jack has been marginally less obnoxious since then.

Say no to bullying (image by Andrevruas CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Say no to bullying (image by Andrevruas CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Again, I’m not trying to paint the deputies as bad cops. I suspect they thought they were handling the situation appropriately.

But these attitudes have to change if we are going to put a stop to bullying in our society. We need to “Just Say No” to bullies. In other words, those in a position to do so need to stand up to bullies and make them cut it out!

This is for the bullies’ sake as well as the victims. Until a bully learns that s/he can’t deal with insecurity by being a bully, they won’t even try to deal with it any other way.

Here are some tips for how to handle bullies.

How to advise a child who is being bullied or who witnesses bullying:
1.  Calmly walk away if you can. Tell someone. Parents, teachers, coaches. Keep telling people until someone listens and takes action.

2.  Know that you are not a wimp, sissy, weakling or loser no matter what the bullies say. Don’t let insecure bullies define who you are!

3.  If you are being physically attacked, yell and make as much noise as possible. Bullies don’t like to get caught.

4.  If you are being verbally attacked, walk away. Don’t hit the bully no matter how tempting it may be. Some bullies intentionally egg others into violence, then report them to school authorities as if they were the innocent victim. Report their verbal bullying to teachers, etc.

5.  If you witness bullying, don’t laugh. That just eggs the bullies on and it isn’t TV or a movie– a real person is being hurt, either emotionally, physically or both. Indeed, don’t stick around at all; don’t give the bully an audience. Instead, go find an adult to intervene.

For adults encountering an adult bully:
1.  Don’t show your fear. Try to maintain a demeanor of calm and confidence.

2.  Get away from them if you can, without significantly compromising your own needs, rights and desires. Ignoring a bully sometimes takes the wind out of his sails.

3.  If you stand up to them (my preference), do it quickly, calmly and firmly.

4.  Give them an out to save face if possible. Don’t back them into a corner if you can help it.

5.  Try reverse psychology. Ask them to do the exact opposite of what you want. You want them to go away, so invite them to sit down and talk things over.

6.  Call the authorities and keep pushing until you get results.

Adults dealing with grown-up bullies is the subject of my new novella, Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas, which officially releases today. It is just 99 cents for today and tomorrow only! It goes up to $1.99 on 3/25/15.

Please check it out and then talk to me in the comments. Have you ever been bullied? What strategies for dealing with bullies have you found effective?

cover of Ten-Gallon Tensions in TexasTen-Gallon Tensions in Texas, A Kate on Vacation Mystery

Town secrets, an old nemesis, a corpse–what else will show up at Skip’s high school reunion in Texas?

When Kate and her husband arrive in his hometown for the event, they discover that new disputes have been heaped on top of old animosities. Tempers flare, fists fly, and before the evening is out, Skip stumbles upon a dead body.

Fortunately the town’s sheriff is an old buddy of his, but will that keep him from becoming a prime suspect? Trying to uncover the real murderer leads Kate and Skip to uncover long- buried secrets instead, and their names just might end up on the killer’s must-die list.

Also, the 1st two books in the series, An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine and Cruel Capers on the Caribbean, will be 99 cents through the end of the March.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and the Kate on Vacation mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )