What’s a Bully-Victim?

By and — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Jul 26, 2010

Children who have bullied others and been bullied themselves are called bully-victims. A large body of research has documented the difficulties associated with being bullied and with bullying other children. For instance, children who are bullied suffer more greatly from anxiety, depression, loneliness, and post-traumatic stress than do other children, and they have a heightened risk of suicide (1). Children who bully are more likely than other youngsters to experience peer rejection, conduct problems, anxiety, and academic difficulties, and to engage in rule-breaking behavior (2, 3).

Recent research has shown that a substantial number of children have been victimized by bullying and have bullied others in turn. In one recent study, about one third of the children who either bullied others or were bullied themselves were identified as bully-victims (1). Schwartz and his colleagues (4) have suggested that a distinguishing feature of bully-victims is that they struggle to control their emotions. For example, bully-victims may unintentionally prompt children to bully them again by reacting very emotionally to teasing, threats or physical aggression, and may have similar problems controlling feelings of anger and frustration, predisposing them to retaliatory aggression.

Bully-Victims Often Experience Behavioral And Emotional Difficulties

Given that they experience a broader range of behavioral and emotional difficulties than do children who are either purely involved in bullying or the victims of bullying, it is perhaps not surprising that bully-victims show social and emotional problems that are frequently present in victims of bullying, such as anxiety, depression, peer rejection, and a lack of close friendships, as well as the cognitive and behavioral difficulties often apparent in children who bully, including a greater acceptance of rule-breaking behavior, hyperactivity and a tendency toward reactive aggression (1, 4).

In addition, children with a combination of behavioral and emotional problems are at greater risk for psychiatric disorders and criminal offences in young adulthood (5) than are children dealing with only one of these problems, and have proven less responsive to a comprehensive school-based program for children with severe emotional disturbances (6). Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that these individuals receive support and services that address the full spectrum of their needs.

The Importance Of Recognizing The Bully-Victim's Needs

When parents and teachers are faced with trying to help a bully-victim, one difficulty might be recognizing and attending to their full range of needs, rather than focusing on only the most salient problems. Specifically, the behavioral problems may garner the lion’s share of attention since they can be so disconcerting, in light of the physical and emotional injuries that bullies can inflict on victims, the disruption to other students in the classroom, and the substantial challenges that parents and educators face in attempting to manage this troublesome behavior. However, although less visible and distressing to others, internalizing problems such as anxiety and depression can also be debilitating, and deserve an equal amount of attention.

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