It's normal to want to be liked at school or in the workplace, to enjoy yourself, have fun with your friends, and to expect a safe environment where people are equally valued and respected. Bullies can stop people from fitting in and feeling safe, and leave victims lacking confidence and feeling very much alone.
I was bullied at secondary school for three years because I wasn't like the other boys. I didn't like football, preferred the company of girls, and was softly spoken. I was gay. Although not open about it then, a group of pupils knew I was different and used it as justification to bully me.
Why do people bully each other?
Bullies are people who enjoy, for one reason or another, abusing and undermining another person or people. Often bullies target those who they notice as different. Examples of difference include being gay, being from a different racial background, or looking different in some way. The bully may also feel that their victim is weaker than they are: physically, emotionally or both. Bullying based on the victim being gay is known as homophobic bullying.
Bullies exist for many different reasons. A popular and overused explanation is that bullies are insecure people who work out their problems - gaining the power and confidence they lack - by making victims of others. The bully may feel he or she has to act tough to impress his or her friends, who may be bullies too. Maybe the bully has aggressive and unsympathetic parents: growing up in a house where there is violence, a lack of love and positive attension, can produce a very angry and aggressive person who communicates in the only way he or she knows how. Sometimes the bullies are victims of bullying themselves and have a lot of anger and hurt to deal with. It is also true – and seldom admitted - that some people simply get a kick out of humiliating and tormenting other people and this is all the justification they need. Some people just aren't very nice but that doesn't mean they can't change.
Whatever the bully's background may be, nobody deserves to be their victim and it's not your fault if you are.
Am I being bullied?
Bullying comes in many forms. It can range from name calling and verbal abuse to being physically attacked. Other forms of bullying include:
- Being deliberately excluded from a group
- Having rumours spread about you
- Having your possessions tampered with or stolen
- Pranks performed on you that others find amusing but make you feel uncomfortable
- Being pushed or intimidated into doing something you don’t want to do
- Being undermined and made to feel less valued than others
- Constant criticism
What can I do to stop the bullying?
It’s a good idea to keep a record of the things that the bully does to you. This will be useful if you need to ask for help. Remember to save nasty emails and texts for the same reason. Stay in a group if you can and lean on the support of your friends. You could try talking to the person who is bullying you if he or she is approachable and you feel comfortable doing so. Tell them that their behaviour makes you unhappy and scared. They may not realise how their actions are affecting you. If the person is receptive, a talk might be all that’s needed to put an end to the bullying. If this doesn’t work or if the bullying is more serious or you are being targeted by more than one person, then you need to seek outside help. Speak to a teacher or parent about what is happening to you. It may be a scary step to take but telling someone about the bullying signifies a shift in power and control: you’re taking it away from the bullies and claiming it back for yourself. Why should someone else get to decide whether you are happy or not or how much you do or don’t enjoy your daily life? That’s your job.
What will happen after I speak up?
The bullies will be spoken to by a teacher and told that their behaviour is unacceptable. They will be told to stop bullying you and may be punished. They will likely be told that worse punishment will follow if they don't behave. Sometimes the bully won’t have realised how much he or she was hurting their victim and may feel embarrassed and ashamed. Having adult intervention is a real wake-up call and can bring the bullies to their senses and stop things getting worse.
In my case, my Dad called a teacher and the three pupils who were bullying me were spoken to, though not actually punished. I was so scared at the time. I thought the boys would give me a harder time for having spoken up. What actually happened though was that they left me alone after that. One of them even apologised to me. I was able to enjoy my final year in school without torment. Sadly, I’d spent the previous two years being very unhappy and I wish I’d spoken up sooner.
I want to get help, but don't want to come out
The fact that you are being bullied is the only relevant thing here, not the reason the bullies use to justify it. Remember, there is no justification for bullying anyone. A large percentage of homophobically bullied pupils will never tell because they are scared that their sexuality will be revealed in the process. You don’t have to tell your teachers or parents that the bullies are using homophobic language or motives if you don’t want to, but choosing to be more specific isn't an admission of being gay. Bullies use homophobic language on straight people too. Speaking up about homophobic bullying does not necessarily mean coming out at the same time. I didn't. They were verbally abusing me, calling me names and hitting me, which is as much detail as any decent teacher needs. It's okay to say "I'd rather not repreat the words they use".
It's your wellbeing that’s relevant here, not your sexuality.
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