If you’ve been on the receiving end of bullying, it can be hard to imagine that the perpetrator doesn’t realise what they are doing.
But according to Linda James, CEO of the charity Bullies Out, “while bullying is a form of aggression, the actions can be both obvious and subtle”.
Bullying can stem from personal insecurity, stress or past experiences and because of this, those who are displaying bullying behaviour may not realise how much their actions are affecting others.
“Understanding what shapes our own behaviour can be very useful, not only because it can help us understand and motivate ourselves more easily, but because our behaviour affects our relationships with our friends and colleagues,” James tells HuffPost UK.
“At some time during our life, we all have to deal with negative emotions and it is very important that we learn to cope and deal with these feelings. Negative emotions can spread and people will find it very hard to be around a person who adds negativity to a group.”
To mark Anti-bullying Week, we found out the possible signs to look out that may signify you’re bullying others, plus tips on how to shift your mindset and behaviour.
How to tell if you’re being a bully:
According to Relate counsellor Martin Burrow, if you find yourself “making all or most of the decisions” when interacting with someone else, whether a colleague or a friend, this can be a sign of bullying behaviour.
The decisions may seem to be about insignificant things, such as where to go out or what activities to do when you get there, but they all add up.
“Of course, it might be that the other person is perfectly happy to take a back seat, but if you aren’t giving them the opportunity to be involved or are dismissing their suggestions then this isn’t healthy,” Burrow tells HuffPost UK.
He adds that talking over people, finishing their sentences or thinking about what you’re going to say next rather than listening to the other person can be another “sign of disrespect”.
“Some people just need to refine their listening skills, but if you find yourself trying to actively dominate conversations, it may be time to take a step back,” he says.
If you finding yourself seeking out confrontation, this should also raise a red flag.
“Starting arguments because it makes you feel important or because you find silence uncomfortable and want something to say is something to watch out for,” Burrow adds.
“If you are being critical or unpleasant for the sake of it to try and provoke a negative reaction this can make people feel uncomfortable.”
According to James, other key behaviours that could signify bullying include:
:: Excluding or isolating someone socially
:: Intimidating a person
:: Making jokes in person or e-mail that are obviously offensive
:: Intruding on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking
:: Yelling or using profanity
:: Criticising a person persistently or constantly
:: Belittling a person’s opinions
:: Tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment
:: Physically abusing or threatening abuse
:: Spreading rumours and/or gossip
How to overcome bullying behaviours:
The reasons for why one person may find themselves bullying someone else are often complex and unique to the individual, but Burrow says recognising discontentment in your own life can be the first step towards acknowledging and working to amend bullying behaviour.
“If you’re not feeling secure and content, you may find that heavily criticising others, whether in your own head or out loud, leaves you feeling better about yourself,” he says.
“Another sign is that there either is or has been an area of your life in which you’ve felt bullied yourself.
“Perhaps it was a parent, an older sibling or a former boss who was or is picking on you. It’s very common for people who display bullying behaviour to have been bullied themselves.”
James agrees that self-reflection is key to becoming a kinder person, saying: “Know and understand what causes your negative emotions and when those feelings begin to appear, control them before they control you.”
There are also practical steps you can take to ensure your behaviour isn’t having a negative impact on others.
For example, Burrow recommends trying to start conversations with “something positive like a compliment or by asking the person about their interests” because this is “likely to get a positive reaction”.
“Try to sit back and allow others to step forward,” he adds.
“Perhaps try to start with something that doesn’t feel quite so important to establish a more equal position. This is likely to help build better relationships, as bullying behaviours are often a sign of loneliness.”
Finally, he recommends attending counselling through a service such as Relate to help you understand what is causing you to act in the way that you are.
“Working on your self-esteem and improving your overall wellbeing through mindfulness is likely to make you feel less prone to pick on others,” he says.
“It may also help to do some assertiveness training so that you can learn how to stand up for yourself in a non-aggressive way. This may also be helpful if you’re experiencing bullying yourself.”