The Connection Between Low Self-Esteem & Bullying

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  • 0:03 Bullying and Low Self-Esteem
  • 1:35 Victims and Low Self-Esteem
  • 3:04 Bullies and High Self-Esteem
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

We often hear that bullies have low self-esteem and therefore resort to bullying, but is this theory true? In this lesson, we'll learn the definitions of bullying and low self-esteem and how the two are connected.

Bullying and Low Self-Esteem

Amelia returns home from school in tears. Once again, she has been called a ''fat pig'' by Ursula, a bully in her 7th-grade class. Amelia feels ugly, worthless, and humiliated. With the best of intentions, Amelia's mother tries to lift her daughter's spirit by claiming that the bully is probably an unhappy person with low self-esteem. Amelia is unconvinced as Ursula appears to be a happy and popular girl with high confidence and self-esteem.

Bullying is repeated, unwelcome, and aggressive behavior by a person who has higher perceived power than the victim. That power can be in the form of socioeconomic status, physical size, physical strength, popularity, intelligence, etc. Bullying has become so prevalent in the United States that it occurs to a child every seven minutes. Victims of bullying can suffer from a number of negative consequences, including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, and self-harm. It is for this reason that bullying prevention programs have infiltrated school systems around the world.

Low self-esteem is a feeling of being unimportant, unworthy, and inept. It is true that individuals with low self-esteem are more prone to victimization by bullies. Additionally, victims of bullying tend to suffer from lower self-esteem due to bullying.

However, a once-held theory that bullies have low self-esteem has been debunked in the past couple of decades by numerous research studies. New research shows that bullies tend to have inflated self-esteem and high confidence.

Victims and Low Self-Esteem

People with low self-esteem are more likely to become targets of bullying. For example, Grace is emotionally or verbally abused by her parents at home and suffers from poor self-esteem as a result. Rachel, a bully at school, picks up on her low self-esteem and lack of confidence and capitalizes on it. Grace is an easy target who is too timid and unsure to stick up for herself. A research study of students who stuttered found that the lower their confidence in communication and self-esteem, the more likely they were to be a victim of bullying.

Being a victim of bullying can have significant negative consequences on a child or teen's self-esteem because of their strong desire to be accepted by peers. Acceptance by peers is a large factor in a child's sense of happiness, positive self-concept, and even academic success. Being bullied can affect a child's belief in themselves as people. They begin to truly believe they are ''worthless'' due to bullying.

Bully-victims have even worse outcomes. A research study on cyberbullying showed that students who were both bullies and victims, also known as bully-victims, were found to have significantly lower self-esteem than students who were just victims.

Adults in their early twenties were found to still have a higher level of depression and lower self-esteem if they were bullied in childhood, even if they were not being victimized as adults. Bullying's consequences on victims include depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, loneliness, and, of course, low self-esteem.

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Additional Activities

Bullying and Low Self-Esteem Activities

Writing Prompt 1:

Bullying is ubiquitous in childhood today. Bullies only used to be encountered in schools and other public places, but today the bullying behavior follows children into their homes via cyberbullying. Interventions with bullies have been modestly successful. For this activity, create an intervention that you think would help bullies understand the harm that they are causing and reduce the bullying behavior. In two to three paragraphs, describe of what the intervention would consist. For example, you may believe that role-playing could be effective, putting the bully in the position of the victim to experience what it feels like. Describe three to five elements of your program that you think may be effective.

Writing Prompt 2:

Have you ever been the victim of a bully, either physically or psychologically? How did this experience affect you? What advice would you give to your former self as a victim? Write a two to three paragraph essay describing the bullying you experienced, and, if you had to do it over again, how you would respond differently as a victim. If you have never been bullied, then write your paper on how you think a victim should react to a bully in order to decrease the bullying behavior (e.g. report it to the authorities, stand up for oneself, etc.).

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