How minor or major can bullying be?

The term bullying is overused and largely meaningless. And yet, it’s a word we continue to use. Why?

Bullies Bully because it works

Bullying is hard to define. It isn’t about any particular behavior. It’s about how that behavior impacts the target. If you feel bullied, you are bullied and that’s why we keep using the term. It helps victims self identify what is happening to them and allows them to justify their emotional reaction to what is happening.

And this might seem like an odd thing, after all – we shouldn’t be victims, we should be former victims. But what every victim of bullying who has overcome it can tell you, is that acknowledging what is happening to you as real, is the first step towards reclaiming control over your life.

This is especially true if the bully is a master manipulator. If you are being gas lighted, you may not even be aware that what is happening is bullying. All you know is that you are starting to feel like you are going crazy. You are uncomfortable and nervous around people and you can’t quite sort out what is happening. Then you realize you are being bullied and it all suddenly makes sense.

To people who haven’t experienced this dynamic – it may seem hard to understand how a victim or harassment may not recognize what is happening to them, but it’s actually quite common.

But having accepted the reality of the bullying, we now have to decide what to do about it. And that requires us to be strategic if we are going to get it to stop. To get bullying or harassment to stop, you need to enlist the support of others. And to do that, you need to stop using the term bullying.

The word bullying, like the word harassment, describes the subjective experience of the victim. And while it’s important for the victim to have their emotional response to what has happened validated, it’s not very helpful in explaining what is happening to others.

First, by focusing on your experience and emotional response, you run the risk of others not understanding why you are responding the way you are or why you are focused on something that others may thing is minor.

2nd, bullying can be major or minor. A lot of different things can happen that can be called bullying and unless you are specific, people won’t understand what you are talking about. Bullying is about your subjective experience. You need to let people know what the person bullying you is actually doing. Not why it upset you.

How major or minor can bullying be

Bullying can be anything from verbal taunts, to threats of violence to actual acts of violence. It is very easy to consider verbal taunts to be minor, but they aren’t.

Bullying is a pattern of behavior. The pattern is designed to socially isolate and harass the victim. This means, that once a bully has conditioned their victim to feel harassed by them, the slightest thing will trigger the feeling of being harassed. It’s cumulative.

This is one of the reasons why people responding to bullying complaints wonder whether the victim is blowing it all out of proportion. A victim will tell say, the bully verbally taunted them. The person listening is thinking – and that got you upset? It’s so minor.

That may be true if the verbal taunt was an isolated incident. But the whole point is that if this is bullying, it isn’t’ an isolated incident. Its part of a pattern of behavior that is beating the victim down to the point that minor things are major, because in the context of the sustained harassment campaign the victim is experiencing, there is no difference between the taunts and the threats – it’s all bad and it all triggers the same emotional response.

If you are being victimized in this way – you need to start keeping a log of everything that is going on. The minor things and the major things. Then, when you reach out for help, emphasize the pattern of behavior and be specific about what is happening. Yes, it’s bullying. Yes, your emotional reaction to it is totally justified. Still, you need to help others see the pattern and you can only do that by documenting and showing people the pattern.

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