What is bullying?

black man grabbing student near university
Photo by Keira Burton on Pexels.com

What does it mean to be bullied? Cambridge dictionary defines this word as follows: “the behavior of a person who hurts or frightens someone smaller or less powerful, often forcing that person to do something they do not want to do”.

We often hear children and teenagers saying that they are being bullied at school. They mean that other children pick on them for being different or simply because they don’t like them. Being different can mean anything: from having a different skin color to have different hair color or style, speaking different, being the new kid who just moved in the neighborhood, being too fat or too skinny, or too short or too tall, being too bright or not, wearing glasses or not.

All of us had our shares of bullying in school. One of my shares was because I was reading too much. I still do. I can’t help it, there is too much valuable information around. I am too curious not to look it up.

Origins of bullying

From my perspective, bullying does not start at school. The first bullies we meet are in our closest circle of caregivers: family, parents, siblings, extended family of cousins, and uncles. They are people who took care of us at a certain point, long before we started school.

How many of you do not have mothers who tell funny stories since you were in your diapers? There are many videos on the internet showing adults how they test various reactions of their children and then make fun of them as if they are not there? What do you think that is? Or keeping a baby within a reaction which the adults like, yet they have no idea that being in that reaction is hurtful for the child. That is also “forcing a smaller or less powerful person to do what they do not want to do”. Adults often do not take the child from that state until the child starts crying, and sometimes (more often than we would like to think) not even then. 

We also have parents/caregivers who call their babies names: “little bug”, “little mouse”, or shorten the names they have chosen to give to the children: Billy for William, or Andy for Andrew, or Seby for Sebastien, Alex for Alexandra, and so on. These are the happy cases, and I am sure you can think of your examples which can be more unfortunate. Many parents do not even ask the child if they like the short name they picked as a sign of love or simply because they don’t consider they have the time to pronounce the full name – this sends the message to the child that it is not worthy of the parent’s time. The child does not protest because the parents/caretakers are their “Gods” and its survival depends on them.

If people grew up in a culture where violence, public shaming, and bullying were a tool for child-rearing, they have met the less happy version of parents or caretakers who used violence to make them obey.  Perhaps you can recognize phrases like “You have to do this because I told you so”, “God speaks through a parent hand”, or “I gave birth to you, I will kill you”, and I am sure that in each language there are expressions which can express “tough love”. One of my course participants called this once “a regime”, which sounded like a rigorous environment, or dictatorship to me.

It is good to remember that these parents did not necessarily apply this regime because they felt pleasure (well, some may have, if we are speaking about pathological cases). They did it because it was the regime they have experienced themselves from their parents. They didn’t know any better. At the time, there were no child psychologist and parenting courses. This is modern science, only about 50 years old.

Children deal with the situations the best way they can so they can survive. Since they cannot distinguish between the behavior and the feeling, they will store the feeling of inadequacy within their body with the nametag “familiarity” or worse, “love”. They will carry this familiarity with them at school, where other children feel it’s natural to pick up on these particular children. Even if the feeling of being bullied is uncomfortable, it will also give a thrill because it reminds of how “love” was shown at home by caretakers. These children are not yet equipped with the intellectual tools to deal with abuse at home or at school. They need help from the adults around to step up for them. Either the person doing the “bullying” to apologize and say “I am sorry”, either someone else to come into their defense.

How can it be fixed?

When parents realize their children are bullied at school, it is always a good idea to change the schools. It sends the child the message that their feelings are right and their needs of being safe are fulfilled, and that mum’ and dad’ are present and involved in their lives, which is the ground for a human being to grow up with a strong sense of self and certainty. Even if the parents cannot do much anymore concerning the “bullying” they did themselves to the child when it was very small, it is never too late to rectify the behavior when they become conscious of the harm.

Since the conscious brain is not developed until we are about 25, we meet many cruelties in school, high school, and college. Keep in mind that bulling means “crossing personal borders/lines/boundaries” other people have. Which is a subject I’ve already approached in a bit different manner in this article.

Unfortunately, bullying does not stop in school. It continues in the workplace. As adults, the difference is that people are expected to “deal with it” or fight it back the best they can. We hear phrases like “He/she can take this”. Or when a boy/man pics up on a girl/woman, or the other way around, people would say, “It’s because he/she likes you”. I would think that showing love by hurting someone would not be the best way to get to that person’s heart. Yet, we see this behavior, and we hear these words around us a lot.

When we are immigrants/expats, we also carry with us the tag of being different. We speak the new language with an accent, or perhaps we pronounce the words in a way that means something else than we actually intend to. Perhaps we have a different skin color, or perhaps we grew up in a “regime” not only at home but in the country of origin. As immigrants we can be more often a subject of bullying, it is something that comes in the same package, it depends a lot on how politically correct the locals from the host country are raised to be. At the same time, if at home we had good and caring parents/caretakers, it will always be easier to deal with the bullying. There is an HBO series called “Six feet under” where the youngest child in the family is writing on the walls of her apartment “Terror starts at home”. Watching that episode and following the story of the family, the scene made a lot of sense.


Experiments show that people who have been bullied themselves at a specific time in their lives become bullies for other people. It is an unconscious strategy the human body and brain is programed “to release” the frustration once felt by giving it to another person. It is the same with good experiences. When someone is treated well, they tend to treat well people around also. It comes naturally, and it is not harmful since we are talking about positive experiences.

Yet, when we deal with less positive experiences, like anger which can be provoked by a bully, as adults, it is essential to find ways to channel that anger towards something else and not someone else.

So, if you are an adult and you experience either that you are still bullied by people around, or that you feel like bullying other people, and perhaps actually doing it, how does it feel for you? Let me know in the comments below, or tell only me, in confidence, by signing up here.

I wish you build awareness!

Best from

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.