Understanding Bullying Victims

Bullying victim

When it comes to bullying, parents often worry about whether or not their child will become a victim of bullying. Whether it is at school, on the athletic field, or even online, bullying happens more often than people might realize. In fact, some researchers estimate that as many as one out of every six kids is bullied. What's more, while there are some kids that seem to be targeted more than others, every child is at risk for bullying. Even confident kids with a large social circle can be targeted. Here is an overview of what it means to be a victim of bullying. 

What Do Bullies Look for When Choosing a Victim?

Sadly, sometimes people assume that bullying victims deserve to be bullied—that they did something to cause the bullying or that they are weak. But these are victim-blaming statements that place the responsibility for change on the wrong person. Bullying is about the bad choices bullies make and not about a defect in the victim.

While some people brush off bullying falsely believing it is a right of passage that will make someone stronger, it is not. Bullying is a very serious issue that has a serious impact on bullying victims.

When it comes to bullying, bullies are looking for a victim that they can assert power over. But their choice on who to bully is much more complex than picking on people weaker than them. In fact, there are a variety of reasons that a person might become a bullying victim, including everything from personality differences to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Some of the more common reasons that kids are targeted include being different in some way, such as being tall, short, heavy, or thin. Kids also are targeted for their race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender. Other times kids are bullied because they are gifted in some way. Perhaps they are good in school or excel on the soccer field. Whatever the reason, there is something about the bullying victim that draws the attention of the bully.

It also is not uncommon for popular kids to be targeted by bullies just as often as the socially isolated student. The difference is the motivation of the bully. A bully that targets a socially isolated student is looking for an easy target with few friends to back him up, while a bully that targets a popular student is likely motivated by envy. The bully wants what he perceives the popular student has and will do what he can to get it. Many times this means spreading rumors, undermining the student, and excluding him from activities.

Even the type of parents a child has can play a part in becoming a bullying victim. In fact, research has shown that overprotective parents often have kids who are targeted by bullies. Researchers believe that this parenting style prevents kids from developing autonomy, self-confidence, and the assertiveness needed to deal with potential bullies at school. Consequently, they often fall prey to bullying at school

Common Misconceptions About Bullying Victims

Unfortunately, society believes some misconceptions about what it means to be a bullying victim. For instance, when some people hear a report about bullying they automatically might assume that the victim did something to encourage the attacks.

They also tend to believe that bullying victims are whiners and that they need to toughen up. When they believe that, though, they are not only buying into the myths about bullying victims, but they also are removing the responsibility for bullying from the bullies' shoulders and placing it on the victims' shoulders.

Another common misconception is the belief that only weak, isolated students are targeted by bullies. But this is simply not the case. Bullies target well-liked, popular, athletic kids just as often as they target kids who struggle to make friends. In fact, sometimes the more attention a student receives at school, the more likely they will catch the eye of a bully.

Overall, being a victim of bullying is not an overreaction. Likewise, bullying victims are not "too sensitive" and they do not "need to learn to take a joke." These mean statements deflect attention away from the real issue—the words and actions of the bully.

How Does Bullying Make a Victim Feel?

There is nothing easy about being bullied. In fact, it is a traumatic experience with long-lasting consequences. Bullying victims are impacted physically, emotionally, socially, and academically. They also are left feeling alone, isolated, weak, and vulnerable. And many times, it feels like there is no end in sight and no way to escape. These feelings are especially true if the victim is experiencing cyberbullying.

Victims of bullying also can begin to develop serious issues if bullying is not addressed right away. For instance, some bullying victims experience anxiety and depression. Some even develop eating disorders, sleep disorders, and post traumatic stress disorder. In severe cases, victims of bullying may contemplate suicide, especially when they feel hopeless, alone, and out of options.

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Many engage in self-blame and feel if they were different in some way, they would not be bullied.

If your child is being bullied it is always a good idea to speak with your pediatrician. He can evaluate your child's physical and emotional well-being and offer suggestions for counseling if it is warranted.

Keep in mind that getting your child counseling is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a sign of strength because you and your child are taking steps to overcome the impact of bullying. A counselor can help your child develop essential skills as well as offer a safe place to talk about his fears and concerns without judgment. 

What Skills Should Kids Develop in Order to Prevent Bullying?

While there is no fool-proof way to keep bullying from occurring in your child's life, there are certain skills and behaviors that develop a protective barrier from bullying. For instance, kids with a strong self-esteem, assertiveness, and solid social skills are less likely to be bullied than those kids who are lacking these attributes. Likewise, kids who have healthy friendships are less likely to be bullied. In fact, research has shown having at least one friend can go a long way in preventing bullying.

Other characteristics include learning to maintain eye contact, having good posture, and possessing strong problem-solving skills. Another way to avoid bullying at school is teaching kids to be aware of their surroundings as well as knowing where the bullying hot spots are and avoiding them.

Meanwhile, kids who develop resilience and perseverance tend to handle bullying experiences more effectively. And kids who are able to keep a positive attitude despite being bullied will fair much better than those who dwell on what is happening to them.

Some Ways Bullying Victims Can Cope

The most important thing bullying victims can do when dealing with bullying is to recognize what they have control over and what they cannot control. For instance, bullying victims may not be able to control what the bully says or does, but they can control their reaction to the bullying.

They also can make choices about how to handle the bullying, such as standing up to the bullying, defending themselves, and reporting bullying to the appropriate people. This step of taking back control is often the first one in healing from bullying because it empowers the bullying victim and allows him to move away from victim-thinking.

Another way to cope with bullying is to focus on reframing the situation, or finding a new way to think about the bullying. For example, victims of bullying can look for what they learned from being bullied rather than focusing on the pain the bully inflicted. Perhaps they discovered that they are mentally stronger than they originally thought. Or maybe they discovered that they really do have some great friends that always seem to have their back. Whatever direction they take with their line of thinking, the goal is that they deflect the words and actions of the bully. They should never own the words said about them or allow those words to define who they are.

Why Do Bullying Victims Often Remain Silent About the Abuse?

Contrary to popular belief, your child may not tell you about the bullying he is experiencing. In fact, most kids do not talk about the pain they suffer on a daily basis, even if they have a great relationship with their parents. For this reason, it is imperative that parents know how to spot bullying in their child's life. Otherwise, you may never know what your child is going through until they reach a breaking point.

While the reasons for remaining silent vary from child to child, most kids do not talk about bullying because it is embarrassing. They worry that others will believe they did something to warrant the treatment or that they somehow deserve it. Additionally, kids do not talk about bullying because they are worried about retaliation or they believe they can handle the situation on their own.

Kids need to know that bullying requires adult intervention. In many cases, it is the only way the victimization will stop.

How to Best Respond to a Bullying Victim

If you discover that your child, or someone you know, is being bullied it can be difficult to know how to respond. Sometimes the best course of action is to simply listen to what they have to say and empathize with what they are experiencing. Remember, it is not easy to talk about bullying.

If a bullying victim has opened up to you about his situation, tell him that you admire his courage in sharing his story. You also can offer to brainstorm on ways in which he can handle the bullying. Avoid trying to "fix" the situation for him. Doing so simply emphasizes that he is powerless. Instead, look for ways to encourage and empower a bullying victim.

You also should avoid making insensitive and inaccurate statements such as "get over it," "what did you do to cause it," and "toughen up." Also refrain from minimizing the bullying. Regardless of your opinion about what the bullying victim is experiencing, it is a big deal to them.

Be sure you offer your support and encouragement. Say things like: "It took courage for you to tell me," "This is not your fault," and "You are not alone."

A Word From Verywell

Bullying is a complex situation that takes time and patience to overcome. But with patience and perseverance it can be done. And with the proper help and encouragement the bullying victim will emerge from the situation more resilient than ever before.

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