Bullying in its Relation to Psychiatric Suffering


Much has been said of bullying – it is a form of rejection and results in thwarted belongingness. As such it is a risk factor for deep emotional pain and often precipitates wishes-for-relief-from-punishment or sometimes can lead to suicide.

Besag (1989) described bullying as being “The repeated attack – physical, psychological, social or verbal – by those in a position of power, which is formally or situationally defined, on those who are powerless to resist, with the intention of causing distress for their own gain or gratification”. Olweus (1994) noted that bullying is characterized by aggressive behavior or intentional “harm doing”, which is carried out “repeatedly and over time” in an interpersonal relationship characterized by an imbalance of strength.

He noted that there may be individual or group bullying (or victims), and that bullying may be direct or indirect. Indirect bullying includes slandering and spreading of rumors and manipulation of friendship relationships, which is more common among girls. Harassment with non-physical means (words, gestures, threats) is also the most common form of bullying among boys.

Researchers have been able to localize the affectively distressing components of physical and social pain to a discrete region of brain tissue called the anterior cingulum. The dorsal anterior cingulum is responsible for what is called “felt unpleasantness” in contrast to the more distinct sensory features of pain that are held in the back-half or “receptive” part of the brain, the dorsal side.

At the level of psychological description, a 2012 report by Kristi Kõiv found: “this study does extend to early findings that have demonstrated that children and adolescents with parental insecure attachment were more likely to be involved in bullying, also showing that adolescents’ current attachment styles may influence the participant role in bullying behavior: bullies were most likely to be classified as avoidant and victims as insecurely attached.”

Similarly, Rodkin & Hodges found sociological patterns in bullying: “Bullies appear to gravitate towards (or select as targets) children that are physically weak, exhibit internalizing behaviors, lack prosocial skills, and have low self-worth and perceptions of social competence.” In that study, “chronically victimized children, relative to non-victimized children, are more likely to increasingly evidence behaviors of an internalizing (e.g., anxiety, depression, withdrawal) and externalizing nature (e.g., aggression, argumentativeness, dishonesty); to show drops in self-esteem; to become less well-liked and more disliked by their peers; and to feel a greater dislike of school that likely leads to increases in skipping or absenteeism. Perhaps most disturbing is that chronic harassment by peers has been consistently linked to suicidal ideation in several concurrent studies.”