Meagan Houston, Ph.D., SAP
Bullying has become a major factor among school-age children and has been linked to increased diagnoses of depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, eating disorders, body image problems, low self-esteem and feelings of low self-worth.
The harmful effects of bullying outlast childhood, and many adults continue to manage the damaging and devastating consequences of this behavior. In particular, female bullying is much different and unique when compared to their male counterparts.
Female Relational Aggression, also known as covert aggression or covert bullying, is a type of aggression in which harm is caused to another by damaging their relationships or social status. It has long-lasting effects on relationships, self-esteem, self-worth, and the ability to navigate healthy relationships with others.
The peak of this type of bullying typically occurs during a sensitive period when intimate and close relationships involving trust, bonding, and self-image are forming.
Relational aggression can involve:
The cyber age has provided a breeding ground for this type of aggression, and our clients can be bombarded daily with negative comments, images or untruths about themselves.
- Being unexpectedly ousted from a “friend group”
- Being ignored by a group of friends
- Not being invited to a party that everyone else is attending
- Having rumors spread about you
- Someone posting derogatory images of you online
- No one liking your pictures on Instagram
- Having someone post negative or demeaning comments about you on a social media outlet
For example, since being ostracized from her “friend group,” a teenage client has been addicted to Instagram. She stated, “I know it’s not good for me to look at it, but I can’t help it. I can at least see what they are doing, and I can at least know if they are having fun or not. I look to make sure other people don’t “like” their pics on there. I feel like if people don’t like their pictures, it will make me feel better. And that’s all I want; to feel better about what they did to me.”
Another client taught me that her self-worth was associated to her “likes” on her Facebook page. She reported that her moods were contingent on these “likes,” and she would even inquire when a post is not liked to make changes to her image or how she may word a comment.
Because this type of aggression is covert, others may be oblivious that it is happening. Some children may even deny being victimized due to embarrassment, their desire to preserve their friendship with the aggressor, or fear of reprisal.
This is not a “coming of age” or “initiation” into adolescence. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, and as clinicians, we have a duty to our clients to educate and promote awareness.
Navigating this issue to help preserve a sense of self-worth, self-love, and self-image is key to providing adequate care to our clients. There are several social media forums which promote this type of relational aggression.
It's important to understand how your client is using social media. You can explore your clients social media behaviors by using the worksheet: 10 Questions to Ask Your Client About Social Media Use.
It is key to educate ourselves on the existence of social media sites used for bullying, and how to use this technology to assist our clients in healing and moving forward to establish healthier and productive relationships with others.
Download: 10 Questions to Ask Your Client About Social Media Use
Meagan Houston, Ph.D., SAP, specializes in providing suicide treatment in a wide variety of settings and populations. She has experience in high-risk settings where the application of suicide prevention, assessment and intervention occurs daily.
Learn more from Meagan Houston, Ph.D., SAP, in her CE Seminar on DVD:
Children and Adolescent Behavioral
Female Relational Aggression