“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”

This is the biggest BS I’ve ever heard. For some reason, we should only hurt when someone has physically injured us, not when someone says something painful about us or to us.

Teasing, taunting, and bullying have been around forever. And unfortunately, it’s not surprising that bullying happens over social media. According to the I-Safe Foundation, “Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying.” And, “about half that are bullied, don’t tell their parents what’s going on.”

Why is cyberbullying rampant?

Social media is an environment where tearing someone else down is so much easier than in person. There are less inhibitions to say and do things that hurt other people because it’s not a face-to-face interaction. It’s a place where the vulnerable are more accessible.

Cyberbullying is possible with just a few clicks. Posting an embarrassing photo or saying hurtful things can be done with ease. We can fall prey to it and not give it a second thought when the person isn’t in front of us.

Why is bullying more harmful online? It can feel like there’s no escape when someone is bullying you online. Before when you were bullied, you could escape the person, walk away, or the school day ended. Now the bully can persist even after you walk away. It can go on 24/7.

Before social media when a bullying event happened, others may have seen it. But now, hurtful words, rumors, and embarrassing photos can be posted. They can remain for days before taken down or even permanently posted. The embarrassment and shame can linger.

What is the psychology behind someone bullying?

We know that bullies can be insecure individuals that are also hurting in some way themselves. They can have something going on in their own lives they’re having trouble dealing with. Problems at home, being bullied by someone else, low self-esteem, or a need to exert control or power because they feel powerless in some way. They prey on individuals that most likely won’t fight back and are less secure with themselves. This enables the bully to feel superior and feeds their need for control.

Bullies may not seem like sensitive individuals, but they are. We’re all sensitive. Accessing and expressing our feelings and sensitivity can be learned. A safe environment is necessary and is something a bully may not have.

I see individuals with tough exteriors. My curiosity helps me connect with my clients. The safe place I establish allows them to let their guard down. And then the floodgates open. It never fails… even those who bully. Anger is a defense mechanism. Bullying others is a way to push off something that is wrong inside of them and push it onto someone else.

Not all bullies intend to bully. Some just go along even though it wasn’t their idea or intention to bully someone else. They may feel they will be rejected by their current group of friends if they don’t partake in the kindless act. They fear if they speak up and don’t join in they may be excluded from the group. OR they may be next in line. Either way their belonging becomes at risk.

For those who intend to bully, belonging can be a catalyst. It can be a way to exert power in an effort to be known in a particular group and be popular.

Some are compelled to comment when no comment was asked. They feel others must know their opinion when it wasn’t solicited. If the comment or opinion is positive or supportive, then great. How nice to put something out there in cyber space and get back some kudos. But when the tone of the comment is negative, it can cause the same result as bullying behavior, the feeling of ‘I don’t belong.’

Whether it is bullying or a few unkind words said in cyberspace, it can be painful for the person on the receiving end. It can have a lasting negative impact. When interacting with others on social media, always ask yourself before posting: is this necessary, kind, or helpful?

If you’re a parent, talk to your kids about bullying even if you don’t suspect it’s happening. Give them examples of what bullying can look like and let them know you are there to listen and help. And if they are being bullied or dealing with unkindness over the internet, don’t minimize the impact it can have on their mental wellbeing.

Please read the other blogs in this series: