In the – this doesn’t surprise anyone news – it turns out that being bullied makes you more susceptible to further bullying. It’s like bullies groom their victims to be victims.
And that’s actually true. But in behavioral terms we would say, being bullied conditions victims to respond to bullies in a way a bully likes, by showing submission and this conditioned response makes victims more attractive to bullies.
The University of East Anglia recently did a study on whether being bullied makes you more susceptible to more bullying. The answer is yes it does. It beats the victim down and leaves them emotionally weaker and this leads to a spiral of abuse. (see: http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2015/feb/workplace-bullying)
Dr Sanz Vergel said: “We found that being exposed to workplace bullying leads to deteriorated mental health and decreased well-being. But at the same time, showing anxious behaviour puts the victim in a weak position and makes them an easy target – leading to a spiral of abuse. She goes on to say, “We are by no means victim-blaming here. Clearly employers need to have strong policies against workplace bullying. But training programmes to help victims learn coping mechanisms could help to break the vicious cycle.”
What this means in laymen’s terms is that being bullied creates habits of behavior in the victim that attract more bullies. In order to break the cycle, the victim needs to unlearn these old habits and exhibit different behavior patterns.
Now, every time I say this or write this I’m accused of victim blaming. Let me be clear about this. It’s not victim blaming. It’s acknowledging that the victim has been conditioned to respond to bullies in a certain way and just like rape victims need counseling bullying victims need counseling. Saying that victims need help and can be helped is not victim blaming. It’s giving them the help they need so that they won’t be victimized further.
What we are talking about isn’t huge changes in behavior. We aren’t talking about telling a victim to not be who they are. This is training on what it actually means to stand up to a bully and yes, introverts can learn these skills when they are taught them and it doesn’t change who they are. These are little tweaks. In almost every case the victim is already capable of displaying the behavior they need to get the bully to stop, they are just lacking the knowledge of how and why so that they can do it consistently enough to get the bully to stop. The people I have helped tell me this knowledge is empowering. It turns them from victims into victors! That is knowledge worth learning! Denying victims this knowledge is cruel.
Saying that the only person who needs to change is the bully is a nice thought. And in an ideal world, that would be great. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in the real world. And in the real world, even if we fire the bully or get rid of them, the victim will still be displaying behaviors that will attract another bully to them in the future.
I can’t tell you how many parents I have spoken to who have told me, we changed schools to get away from bullies and then kids at the new school started bullying their child and it started all over again. It started all over again because their kid was conditioned by bullies to respond to bullies in a certain way.
In order to not attract new bullies and in order to not have the cycle repeat, victims have to be taught how to respond to bullies differently. This is easy to teach and the idea that we should just let victims figure this out on their own instead of teaching them these skills is cruel and heartless and causes a tremendous amount of unnecessary suffering.
The only way to break the vicious cycle of bullying is through education and specifically, education for victims so that they can break the hold their bullies have over them.