Another form of addiction

Dr Muhsin says bullies may be unable to regulate their own behaviour and subsequently become impulsive.

BULLYING can happen anywhere, from the home to social media platforms.

Part one looked at how bullying can happen to anyone, anywhere and anytime. It most likely happens in school, in the workplace, and a place one would least expect - home considered a “safe zone” by most people.

Creativity at Heart co-founder and child therapist Priscilla Ho says the main reason bullying happens at home, or anywhere, is because of messed-up family relationships and dynamics.

But what about in school and beyond the school compound such as cyberbullying?

Bullies are made, not born

As how some parents project expectations onto their offspring, children who may not know how to cope and deal with their emotions and frustrations, would project it onto fellow students.

“Most of the time, children who become bullies are experiencing hurt or bullying as well. Seeing someone else getting hurt is a release of their own pain and feelings, ” says Ho who often conducts anti-bullying workshops with children.

Bullying, she stresses, is a learned behaviour with the intent to harm repetitively when there is a power imbalance. It is also a choice a child makes.“Bullying happens and when a child chooses to take part in a particularly harmful activity and does not stop despite seeing that they are causing harm, ” she notes.

However, the root cause does not lie with the child who is only a product of his or her upbringing.Ho says most of the time, children who become bullies are experiencing hurt or bullying as well.Ho says most of the time, children who become bullies are experiencing hurt or bullying as well.

“An increasing amount of research is showing that bullying behaviors are developed between toddler and preschool years and further ingrained into a child’s communication style as they continue to progress through primary to secondary school with the behavior unchecked, ” says Ho.

Noting that most bullies are completely unaware of how they are perceived (as a bully), Ho adds that most bullies also have low self-esteem.“The bullying behavior is typically fostered at a very young age. A difficult upbringing can result in low self-esteem, when coupled with aggressive behavior, can create a child who not only lacks communication skills, but feels the need to defend themselves constantly.

“It’s due to this that so many bullies are able to make peace with what they do. They see threats and insults everywhere they look, and in their eyes, everyone else is asking for it. They lash out as a defence mechanism, and then often seek out ‘weaker’ victims to bolster their own sense of superiority, ” she shares.

Universiti Malaya (UM) Department of Psychological Medicine Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari explains that a bully may be unable to self regulate their own behaviour and subsequently becomes impulsive, which can lead to physical bullying.

“Bullies want to subdue and dominate another person so they may have a sense of emotional relief after seeing victims suffer emotionally, ” says Dr Muhsin who is also Malaysian Psychiatric Association vice presidentEight in 10 kids face bullyingAccording to Unicef’s Children4Change Survey 2018, an astonishing eight out of 10 surveyed claimed they have encountered bullying in schools.

Administered both online and offline, the nationwide survey - which involved over 2,000 children below the age of 18 - was part of the Kindness Project by the Education Ministry, WOMEN:girls and Unicef.

The survey found that 70% of children had witnessed a peer being made fun of because of how they looked, dressed or walked.

It is also reported that bystanders would intervene by either asking the bully to stop (51%), approach a teacher (46%) or tell a friend (43%).

A total 27% of the respondents were victims of humiliating name calling.

Another 16% were victims of hurtful rumours. Others were bullied through digital platforms, purposely excluded or isolated from their peers, and even physically threatened or hurt.

It was noted that one in two children identified the classroom as a venue for such bullying incidents.

Older children are more likely to have been bullied online, with about a third of those aged 16 to 17, saying they have experienced cyber-bullying.

About 17% of the respondents called for a national anti-bullying law, anti-bullying school policies to be put in place and also educational school programmes to counter bullying.

The Children4Change Survey was carried out to better understand the children’s experiences of bullying from bystanders, victims and bullies’ standpoints, and to determine the types of intervention that children feel would create a safe environment that could protect them from bullying.

A form of addiction

Besides having an outlet to release feelings of hurt and frustration built up from elsewhere, bullies get a thrill out of asserting power.

The million ringgit question is, is bullying behaviour addictive? In Malaysian Mental Health Association president Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj’s opinion, yes it is.

“In most cases, bullying can become addictive because gratification comes in the form of displaying such power, ” he says.Dr Andrew stresses that bullying is a primitive display of power that shouldn’t be tolerated.

Ho agrees saying that bullying becomes a bad habit of the bully so that he or she feels good after asserting power on another.

“They need to feel in charge of someone and to be in control of something. By having a say in someone else’s day, it helps them cope with not having a say in their own.

“If they’ve had a tumultuous upbringing with a lot of big changes that were completely out of their control, they might lash out and assert their dominance over others as a means of coping.

“Major changes and volatile circumstances can make a child feel vulnerable. Hence, they turn to others to victimise in an effort to protect themselves, ” explains Ho.

Dr Muhsin, however, opines that while the bully might have emotional distress and which can be relieved by watching others suffer, not all bullies get the thrill through their victims’ suffering.

“In fact, the most fearful bullies do not feel any sympathy with the victim, ” he says.Seeking out the bullied

When bullied, children may not be able to communicate their fears directly to adults.Instead, Dr Andrew says bullied children (in the primary school age group) usually show symptoms such as refusing to go to school, throwing tantrums and bed-wetting.

“However, symptoms might be more difficult to identify among older bullied children as they tend to be less forthcoming. One common indicator would be a sudden drop in academic performance, ” he says, adding that self-withdrawal is another symptom to look out for.

Noting that it is important for students themselves to identify that they are being bullied, Ho advises students to know their self-worth and be alert towards physical and non-physical “attacks”.

She says a direct physical punch on another student, verbal attacks such as name calling, and emotional attacks such as taking away one’s items (books, stationery); putting sand or waste into another’s drinking bottle; telling others not to “friend” a particular student; spreading rumours; hurtful messages on social media and in person, are all forms of bullying.

“Teachers should be able to identify victims of bullying as they tend to be isolated, keep to themselves, have no friends - which may result in the child halting school, ” says Ho.

Dr Muhsin says teachers and parents should look out for unusual behaviours as they could be indicators of being bullied.

“They may become more sensitive or socially withdrawn. The student might be secretive about the perpetrators as fear and anxiety may be predominant, ” he notes.

Pointing out that the long term effects of being bullied include higher risk of mental illnesses and affected emotional development, Dr Muhsin says victims are usually those who are emotional and would easily break down.

“Bullies would target those who are physically weaker (smaller in size, younger age); have learning disabilities, mental problems such as depression; cannot fit in with the majority of friends; and those with gender problems, among others, ” shares Dr Muhsin.

Pulling the plug on bullies

Bullies gain satisfaction from victims’ reactions, which would usually be sad and scared.

They are intent on upsetting or angering victims just for the sake of “taking away power”.

If you show them you are not sad and scared, they will often lose interest and the bully will lose their own power.

Dr Muhsin says avoiding the “wrong crowd” can limit bullying that could potentially happen.

“Do not mix with groups which show unhealthy relationship towards each other such as exclusion, name calling or physical violence, ” he says.

Another method to make a bully lose interest in the victim is to refrain from reacting emotionally - which could provoke the situation further - and getting the adults involved.

“Informing teachers and parents about what happened can enable can enable quick intervention to stop the bully from inflicting more harm onto others, ” says Dr Muhsin.Dr Andrew says bullying can become addictive as gratification is in the form of displaying such power.Dr Andrew says bullying can become addictive as gratification is in the form of displaying such power.

Meanwhile, Dr Andrew believes that standing up to a bully and reporting the incident is the most definite way to make the bully lose interest in the victim.

“School children must be made to embrace the concept that bullying is ‘not cool’ and reporting it is the right thing to do, ” he says.

Schools, he adds, must adopt an anti bullying policy and students must be told of the consequences of their actions.

“This is particularly true of residential schools where being bullied (hazing) is taken as part of being toughened up in life. Unfortunately in Malaysia, school bullying has become a systemic problem, partly because of the principle of zero tolerance on bullying is not seen to be institutionalised.

“Adding to this challenge is the reality that bullying among school children has been taken out of the school compound – with cyberbullying among students from the same school, thereby creating a nexus between school bullying and cyberbullying, ” Dr Andrew points out.Ho suggests ignoring the bully and refraining from fighting back is the best way to lose the bully’s interest.

“If it doesn’t work, report to the teacher and also let parents know. Tell the bully face-to-face that I am not for bullying. Why not be friends instead?” says Ho.

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