Bullying is aggression, force or verbal abuse levelled against another and usually involves an imbalance of power. This is behaviour that is usually habitual on the part of the perpetrator and is sometimes directed on racial, religious or sexual grounds. It most commonly happens in schools and playgrounds, but can also be found in churches, offices, homes and neighbourhoods.
The victims of bullying often suffer from stress related problems. More seriously, however, are the cases of loneliness, depression, low self-esteem and tragically, suicide. It is estimated that bullying causes about fifteen to twenty-five suicides in the UK each year. Many high profile suicide cases in which the victim was bullied have caused changes in law and precedent-setting prosecutions of juvenile delinquents.
Verbal abuse is almost always seen in bullying. It is defined as a negative or derogatory statement intended to cause discomfort, inferiority or anxiety and is usually targeted at a weaker person. The subject of verbal abuse can be anything from size, ethnicity, class or gender to sexual orientation, individual characteristics, physical appearance or lack of ability.
Behavioural analysts hold that in schools bullies use verbal abuse as a tactic to feel superior to others and to create a bond or fighting force against the victim. The bully knows no other way of forming social connections with people. In couple relationships it is the intention of the abusing bully to target the individual characteristics of the victim, such as their opinions, thoughts, desires or feelings. Analysts also hold, however, that it is not necessarily true for a bully to have low self-esteem. Other factors leading to verbal cruelty are envy, jealousy, prejudice, shame and anxiety.
Verbal ill-treatment is seen by psychologists as leaving deeper marks than physical abuse. A victim might recover from physical damage, but verbal mistreatment leaves much deeper scars; it almost always results in post-traumatic stress disorder or clinical depression. It is also more difficult to prove as the victim does not have any evidence of this form of mistreatment.
If a person is abused throughout their childhood, the psychological impact may stay with them well into adulthood, especially if it is left untreated. In fact, it is felt that the victims of verbal mistreatment or bullying may project the same cruelty on to others in an attempt to regain control or to vent frustration.
Verbal exploitation involves activities such as derogatory remarks, racist statements, sexual comments, name calling and abusive anger. It is not always overtly done; even subtle remarks may qualify as verbal mistreatment. In fact, it is the more subtle comments, such as ‘You’re too sensitive’ that have the worst effect in the long run, because this abuse is not identified and so may continue for years without the victim ever realising.
Other than with obvious name-calling, many people fail to recognize verbal mistreatment, especially when it is coming from a loved one or directed by an authority figure. This kind of mistreatment requires counselling and should not be ignored because the scars can take years to heal.