Bullying and the hierarchy of needs

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Bullying: what is it? What are the consequences of it? And how can we fix it?

Bullying is known by lots of different names: Social exclusion, being ostracized, peer rejection, being left out, feeling like you’re alone in a room full of people, hazed, (and the list goes on).

Bullying includes (but is not limited to): getting teased, picked on, singled out, getting pushed, name-called, made fun of, misogyny, being tripped, always being picked last for teams, being systematically never invited to any birthday parties or pool parties, excluding you from team meetings, belittling you in front of co-workers, (and the list goes on).

Victims of bullying are often called names like: loser, fag, social misfit, loner, outcast, she-male, weirdo, four eyes, bitch, he-she, it, (and the list goes on).

Intended consequences of bullying include:

  • to hurt the person,

  • to make the other person feel small,

  • for the bully to feel powerful

  • to make sure the bullied person KNOWS they are not liked

Unintended consequences of bullying include:

  • increased aggression in the bullied (both toward self and others)

  • increased stress-related physical illnesses

  • decrease in wages across the lifespan for the bullied

  • increased impulsivity and self-destructive behaviors for the bullied

  • increased sensitivity to hurt and rejection in the bullied individual

  • increased mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and anger

Now, what can be done about it?

For school-aged people, what we are finding is that the best approach is for other students to stand up for the youth being bullied. This is referred to as the bystander approach.

Another approach is making sure teachers and school administration are aware of the problem, but all too often they turn a blind eye to bullying and resist becoming involved.

The child may also benefit from either therapy or a social skills group where youth can practice getting along and practice conflict resolution skills in a safe space.

For adults, Our choices involve having a direct conversation with the person who is bullying us. If that does not help we can have a conversation with that person’s supervisor or with human resources in order to develop a fair plan.

Another choice is to seek new employment because the stress related health problems are just not worth it.

If you have an on-going problem getting along with others (during school and work, or you have had a problem getting along at several jobs), then I strongly recommend therapy.

Therapy is a great tool to practice conflict resolution, anger management, and considering other ways we can handle our situations. Therapy can be short term, and you don’t even have to talk about your mother if you don’t want to.

Work-place bullying is more common than we would like to admit. In fact, some states are now considering bullying laws for worker protection.

We all have needs. Maslow’s hierarchy is a great guideline that any of us can look at to see which stage we are having difficulty with. In general, one cannot move up the triangle until the bottom is taken care of. This means, if you are struggling with securing food or shelter, then your esteem needs are not generally on your radar.

For most of us, our physical needs of food, air, and water are met easily. Our safety needs of a place to live and sleep without fear are also met.

Some individuals start to struggle with the need for love and belonging. For some us the struggle is temporary (like being bullied in middle school). We have family or we have friends who we share things in common with (volleyball, video games, music, etc). Some of us are lucky enough to find friends to pass the time with and some of us even fall in love and get married.

Esteem needs are a bit harder. This includes feeling like we are smart, capable, and contribute to society. Esteem is often met from having a career or a degree we are proud of or doing volunteer work for a cause we believe in. It is very difficult for those who were bullied in school or are bullied at work to ever truly meet this need.

The hardest need to meet is self-actualization. It is so hard that, in fact many people never make it. Self-actualization includes wanting what is best for others and not just for yourself. It is seeing things from the perspective of others and being able to do good to those who may be rude to you. So, chances are, if you see someone (anyone) holding a sign or screaming at you about some controversial topic, they have not achieved self-actualization, either.

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2 thoughts on “Bullying and the hierarchy of needs

  1. “It is seeing things from the perspective of others and being able to do good to those who may be rude to you. So, chances are, if you see someone (anyone) holding a sign or screaming at you about some controversial topic, they have not achieved self-actualization, either.” That’s not true. Maslow documented that self-actualized people can be cold, rude, and righteously indignant. It’s in his book Motivation and Personality.

  2. Hi, thank you for commenting. You are right, Maslow absolutely believed self-actualized individuals have strong opinions about right and wrong. What I was referring to as behavior not generally associated with self actualized people would be comments such as:
    “What kind of an idiot believes more gun laws will solve anything? I hope your whole family gets shot.”
    In the USA we have a few hot-button topics (NRA, abortion, political parties) where some people lose their minds and threaten each other with violence or wish evil upon one another on a regular basis for having a different opinion.

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