The Cost of Popularity

Recently, bullying has been seen in the media more often– unfortunately, it is often because these destructive acts have led to suicide and acts of violence.  The traditional view of bullying involves a higher status or tough individual intimidating and/or hurting a weak person who has low social status.  As the author of this NY Times article conveys, bullying in high school now involves people who are considered rivals and often occurs in the middle to high social status class.  This mean of increasing one’s social status may not be a typical public health issue, but it is a great threat to well-being.  Powers and Faden’s dimensions of well-being can be used to analyze bullying and to highlight the need for intervention.

Personal Security- This one may be a little more obvious, but if an individual is bullied (whether at school, work, or even at home), his or her sense of personal security is violated and potentially nonexistent.  The fear of being hurt physically and mentally can disrupt daily functioning and affect one’s performance in activities.  If people feel unsafe in their environment, they cannot focus on responsibilities and other activities.  How are people supposed to accomplish goals, enjoy hobbies, or form relationships if they live in constant fear?

Health- Living with fear for one’s safety can take a great toll on one’s mental health.  Some repercussions of anxiety include increased heart rate, difficulty sleeping, muscle aches, and nausea.  Bullying may also include physical abuse, resulting in additional negative health consequences.

Reasoning- School is supposed to be a place where one can study subjects like math, science, and history while learning social and other life skills.  However, if bullying occurs at school, the victim may not be able to focus on academics and may avoid or not be permitted (by the bully) to participate in social activities.  Bullying can disrupt this important time for learning and growing.  In addition, the fear and anxiety that can accompany being bullied may cause an individual to be irrational and believe that there will be no end to the abuse.  As stated earlier, the media has brought attention to more cases of death and violence that have resulted from bullying.  In these cases, the bullying, fear, and embarrassment impaired these individuals’ reasoning, resulting in devastating consequences.

Self-Determination- The victim of bullying may lose self-determination if the bully does not allow him or her to do certain things.  In movies, the schoolyard bully is often seen taking lunch money, restricting where the victims can sit in the lunchroom, and making a victim do his or her homework.  While movies and television are not always accurate sources, the idea that a bully has some control over the victim’s actions does translate to real life situations.  Intimidation is often a strong and effective force.  If one fears the consequences of not complying with the bully’s demands or tries to avoid interaction with the bully, he or she may deviate from what is desired for the self and do what is necessary for self-preservation.

Respect- The victim of bullying is not respected by the perpetrator.  The abuse may also result in a lack of self-respect and feelings of worthlessness.  By hurting someone physically and mentally, the bully is treating the person as if his or her well-being is insignificant.  How can someone have so little respect for a person that he or she thinks hurting the person is acceptable and enjoyable?

Attachment-  The article describes bullying as a means to gain popularity.  A “friend” might turn on you if it means gaining social status.  Forming meaningful relationships in which respect, support, and trust are present may be difficult for a bullied individual, especially if the bully was once considered a friend.  Others may side with the bully in order to avoid being bullied themselves, further limiting social interaction and peer support for the victim.

I typically associate bullying with children and adolescents, but this issue extends into adulthood as well.  Whether it is competition in the workplace, hazing, or even hurtful gossiping among friends, bullying takes many forms and exists at every age level.  The issue itself is important, but it is also worth acknowledging the role of bystanders.  It can be intimidating to speak out against an individual or group if you witness bullying, especially when the bully is a peer or a friend.  However, the effects of harmful words and actions can be devastating, so it is crucial that schools continue to acknowledge this issue from an early age and that all ages recognize that each person deserves respect and the right to live free of intimidation.

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