The American Psychoanalytic Association condemns bullying in our schools, playgrounds, sports fields, youth organizations, homes, communities, and workplaces. The Association endorses specific measures to educate the public regarding bullying and develop intervention programs to prevent bullying and deal with its deleterious effects.
Bullying is one of the most common forms of aggression and victimization: 27% of middle school students1,2, 16% of high school students2, and one-quarter of workers3 are bullied. Depression, suicide, substance abuse, and other serious psychiatric, medical, and public health problems are consequences of bullying. Bullying occurs across the lifespan and in many social settings. As professionals devoted to listening to and fully appreciating each individual’s unique story, psychoanalysts are exquisitely aware of the importance of the positive regard of others in helping each person reach his or her full potential, and of the innate human need for love and friendship. We are deeply concerned about the emotional pain caused by and the destructive power of bullying.
Bullying is any repeated act or speech that subjects someone to hurt, indignity, humiliation, intimidation, physical abuse or threat of physical abuse, social or other isolation, shame, or disgrace. Bullying includes teasing, name-calling, mockery, threats, harassment, social exclusion, rumors, dating violence, hazing, and cyber-bullying (texting, sexting, sharing photographs or videos, and misuse of other social media). It is unacceptable in all its forms. Too often our schools, communities, churches, sports teams, and workplaces tolerate or ignore this destructive group and individual behavior.
Understanding the Bully-Bystander Phenomenon
Bullies will only do what bystanders allow4--it is a group process and a social dynamic that grips a victim’s entire world. As part of the American Psychoanalytic Association's expertise in these matters, we view bullying as a triadic (three party), rather than dyadic (two party), process in which there are interactions between bully, victim and bystander(s). The bully does not act only as an individual. Via complex and often hidden psychological forces, the bully becomes an “agent” of the bystander audience and together they create a complex and destructive power dynamic. Thus harm may be caused through direct physical or psychological means and/or indirectly through encouragement of the process or avoidance by the bystanders. Given this new triadic characterization of bullying, any intervention must consider the interlocking social interaction among bully, victim, and the audience of bystanders observing or being involved directly or indirectly with the process. The bully is therefore part of this complex group process, not simply an individual driven by his or own psychopathology4.
The American Psychoanalytic Association endorses the following to further the goal of preventing bullying and its associated morbidity and mortality:
- Promoting public awareness about the nature, impact, and prevention of bullying.
- Reviewing the efficacy of available/currently implemented anti-bullying programs
- Developing safe schools, homes, communities, and workplaces though evidence-based prevention and intervention bullying programs that enhance respect, empathy, tolerance of diversity, and disapproval of bullying.
- Implementing measures that improve the school, community, and workplace climate and enhance the sense of community and belonging. The antidote to bullying is friendship4.
- Establishing graduated systems of discipline for bullying. Policies should carefully define infractions, and staff and supervisors trained in appropriate means of speedily handling each distinct type of violation.
- Establishing comprehensive school-wide and workplace education programs for administrators, teachers, staff, supervisors, students and employees to specifically address bullying.
- Providing confidential support for victims of bullying.
- Instituting programs to help educate administrators, teachers, staff, supervisors, students and employees on how to identify and assist those in distress.
- Increasing funding to study bullying and its effects in schools, homes, communities, and workplaces, and to study ways to prevent and minimize the incidence of bullying.
- Supporting research efforts to understand the psychology of the bully.
- Supporting research efforts and develop intervention strategies directed at understanding the bystander community, which is manifesting maladaptive and destructive mechanisms for handling aggression and social relationships.
In endorsing these principles, we join our colleagues in the American Psychological Association5, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry6, and the American Psychiatric Association7.
As psychoanalysts, we see the effects of bullying in the lives of our young patients, in the current lives of our adult patients, and its repercussions in the lives of our adult patients. The threat of physical aggression and social scorn can have a devastating effect on development and progression in life. The potential for a positive self-image and identity is lost and what can emerge instead is an identity built on internalization of the hatred and loathing of the aggressors. Although it is less obvious, bullies and bystanders also suffer destructive consequences due to their participation in bullying. These negative effects on all participants are preventable.
1. Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M., Pilla, R. S., Ruan, W. J., Simons-Morton, B., & Scheidt, P. (2001). Bullying behavior among U.S. youth: Prevalence and association with psychosocial adjustment. Journal of the American Medical Association 285:2094-2100.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, April 22, 2011. “Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students: Massachusetts, 2009.”
3. Lutgen-Sandvik, P., Tracy, S., & Alberts, J. (2007). Burned by Bullying in the American Workplace: Prevalence, Perception, Degree and Impact. Journal of Management Studies 44:837-862.
4. Twemlow, S.W. & Sacco, F.C. (2011). Preventing Bullying and School Violence. Washington, DC & London, England: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.
5. American Psychological Association. (2004). Resolution on Bullying Among Children and Youth.
6. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2011). Policy Statement: Prevention of Bullying Related Morbidity and Mortality.
7. American Psychiatric Association. (2011). Joint AACAP and APA Position Statement on Prevention of Bullying-Related Morbidity and Mortality.
Approved June 2012.