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A bull market for bullying

October 4, 2012
by H. Steven Moffic, MD
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October is anti-bullying month. It looks like some of the bullies have been celebrating lately, at least if you look at the my hometown Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from October 3rd.

First, on page 1 of the Local Section is the article "Arrest spurs talk about bullying". A 17-year-old high school senior was arrested after writing a bomb threat in the boys' bathroom before homecoming. 

As it is turning out, surprisingly, he may not be charged with a felony, but rather a misdemeanor, because it was discovered that he in turn had been humiliatingly teased by his peers for a long time. 

One of those times was when he was voted onto the homecoming court as a joke. All of this occurred at one of the rare schools that has had an extensive program on bullying awareness the last two years.

Then, a story on the same page, "Documentary tells abuse victims' story."  Here, deaf boys were dismissed as "retarded" after they tried to report being molested by a popular priest years back. Of course, bullying was only a small part of the more extensive abuse and trauma. Now there is a new movie on it being released, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God".

Finally, a Wisconsin story that has reached national and international news, the story of "La Crosse reporter scolds bully on air." Here, a female anchor went on air to respond to a man who criticized her online for being a bad role model, given her being mildly "fat." She then accused the man of bullying.

When to draw the line between rudeness, bullying, and hate speech is difficult at times. Or when teasing turns into trauma. There's also no DSM diagnosis for a "bully."

But I think I know bullying when I see it. Or experience it. I saw it as a child over 50 years ago when other kids bullied a couple of classmates. I recall it being a bit uncomfortable, but I tended not to say anything to anybody. I saw it later from a high school teacher, who I thought was bullying a friend who stuttered badly and could not respond to the teacher's badgering questions. I spoke up there, which ended up being one of the factors on my not making the honor society.

At first, as these memories emerged, I could not remember being bullied myself. Then, the uncomfortable memory emerged of my being so frightened when, in high school, at my first job in a Zenith TV factory, an older and much stronger male threatened me if I kept working fast. I had to call my father to be there to pick me up after work, and I never returned. Then I embarked on a weightlifting program so that no one would dare threaten me physically again face to face. And it never did happen again.

As an adult, I heard it from many patients, especially both the victims and victimizers that I encountered in my prison work. I even saw it in my workplace, when administrators occasionally tried to use their power to label someone inappropriately.

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H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...