Bullying Isn’t Just for Kids

What you don’t see with your eyes,
don’t witness with your mouth. 
~Jewish Proverb

October is National Bullying Awareness Month and I’ve been getting a ton of press releases in my inbox. They offer tips on how to handle bullying, explain personal rights, tout books and promote an endless number of “fun runs” and T-shirt sales to raise money for educational materials and programs. There are extremely sad stories about physical maimings and suicides, broken dreams and shattered self-esteem. And, they underscore the reality that bullying is often learned at home. It’s not just for kids.


All this made me stop and think. Growing up the oldest of five children, I know first-hand about resentments and intimidation by the older kids against the younger ones. I know how it feels to be the oldest and have the little dweebs “dis” me and I’ve done my share of verbally picking on a sibling. And, I’ve been picked on right back.
But, I don’t think I’m the bully in the family. I’m afraid, however, that one of my siblings may be, which is shocking when I consider we’re all mature adults. It’s, not the sock-you-in-the nose, steal your lunch money kind of bullying. I’m talking about the vicious passive-aggressive kind, attacks by someone who will verbally pull your pants down in public and call it a joke; grin while you squirm in mortification. It goes something like this:
“Remember that boyfriend Kate had, the one with the green teeth? What was the guy’s name? Roger, wasn’t it? How could you stand to kiss him, Kate? Why the hell didn’t his parents take him to the dentist? He’d be Roger over-and-out with me.”
“I don’t care what you say, Kate, that kid doesn’t look like so and so’s. I always did think his wife was a fast one. How do we know if it’s his kid? I’d demand a DNA test, if it was me.”
“Remember when so and so’s wife threw the cereal box at him? About broke his nose? Bitch, that’s what’s for breakfast.”
“I feel sorry for Kate. Her granddaughter’s fat, just like her grandmother. Obviously runs in the family.”
“The woman’s a gold digger. Every time I see her I want to sing the 49er’s football song.”
“You’re voting for Romney? Isn’t he the guy who tied his dog to the roof of his car?”


What is bullying?

 PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, founded in 2006, says, “At first glance, many people might think this behavior is easy to define. Their first image of bullying might be of a physically intimidating boy beating up a smaller classmate. While that can still be considered bullying today, people need to know that bullying behaviors can be much more complex and varied than that typical stereotype.”

For example, harmful bullying can also occur quietly and covertly, through gossip or on the Internet, twisting truth like a pretzel to cast a family member in a bad light, causing severe emotional damage. PACER offers a few other definitions of bullying that fit the one in my family.

·       The behavior hurts or harms another person physically or emotionally. Bullying can be overt, such as fighting, hitting or name calling, or it can be covert, such as gossiping or leaving someone out on purpose.

·       It is intentional, meaning the act is done willfully, knowingly and with deliberation.

·       The targets have difficulty stopping the behavior directed at them and struggle to defend themselves.

Bullying can be circumstantial or chronic. In the case of my family, the behavior I’m thinking about has lasted a lifetime and is rooted in envy, jealousy, fear and disappointment.  It comes out as the most mean-spirited digs at the most hurtful moment and is aimed at getting one sibling or another’s ire up. It’s calculated to humiliate in public or in social situations where the target can’t or won’t make a scene. It’s aimed at children and grandchildren, criticizing the child and hurting the parent obliquely.

Whatever is said or done, whether purposeful or not, this behavior has created a negative atmosphere in our family and no one wants to be around it. I dread the holidays without my extended family, but no one wants to get together for an ambush.

Signs of a bully


  • Insulting a family member (one person’s “joke” may be another’s insult).
  • Undermining a family member by creating a hostile environment through criticism, back-biting and gossip. Or perhaps by consistently calling attention to their “flaws”.
  • Ignoring other family members suggestions, comments and thoughts or belittling them.
  • Humiliating a family member in front of others.


If any of these signs sound familiar, you’re not alone. The experts say it’s important for victims to address the situation and for the bully to make amends to the victims. A family member confronted with the pain they’re causing may want to speak with a professional—doctor or get counseling or get sensitivity training, anger management or other behavioral modification treatments. In the case of our family’s 60-year-old bully, that’s not likely to happen.

More information on bullying is available online at:
·        PAPACER.org/BullyingCER.org/Bullying: This is the portal page for parents and educators to access bullying resources, which include educational toolkits, awareness toolkits, contest ideas, promotional products and more.

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