The victims who want to be bullied

24th October 2008 at 01:00
Some pupils could be deliberately provoking aggressors, hooked on the attention they gain from adults, writes Adi Bloom

Victims of school bullies often have as much to gain from being bullied as their tormentors do from ill-treating them.

Dennis Lines, a school counsellor at Shenley Court college in Birmingham, believes victims seek out opportunities to be bullied in order to meet a deep-seated psychological need.

"It's patently obvious that bullying isn't ever justified or right," he said. "But if you start from that as a fixed point, you can see the more conventional pattern of bully and victim doesn't apply in all cases."

His research has led him to believe many victims have an inherent need to be perceived as victims.

"There are some youngsters who have unmet needs, who need to be understood," he said. "That might lead them to become a victim in certain circumstances.

"There's a sort of payback for the victim. For example, lots of adults come rallying to their defence. They get extra support. That can be quite a powerful position to be in."

The need to be seen as a victim, and to receive adult support, can stem from a desire to feel wanted and valued. For example, children who feel consistently overlooked by their parents may feel they do not receive the support they need.

"By being a victim, they get that support," said Mr Lines. "They have a deep psychological need to get their parents to recognise them.

"In peer-group friendships, they find themselves a little bit outside the main group. So they might set up unconscious processes where they become the victim, as a means of getting support."

He draws parallels between partners of abusive alcoholics and victims of school bullies.

No one would ever say someone consciously enjoys being beaten by a partner or tormented by a bully. But, he said, each family member plays a subtle, unconscious role in the alcoholic's power games. Similarly, the attention that bullied children receive acts as an unconscious incentive to keep placing themselves in a situation where they will be bullied - perhaps by deliberately provoking known class aggressors.

"No one wants to be a victim, but they're unable to see that a certain repertoire of behaviour always brings that about as an outcome."

Essentially, a power game is taking place between the bully and the victim, where each is reliant on the other fulfilling a certain role.

Teachers should be aware that bullying can be viewed, not simply as a case of bad versus innocent victim, "but as a game that has an unconscious pay- off for not only the top dog, but the underdog as well".

`The Bullying Game' by Dennis Lines is in the current edition of Counselling Children and Young People journal. His book, `The Bullies: Understanding Bullies and Bullying', is published by Jessica Kingsley.


The victim

Three months after Lauren had started a new school, a gang of bullies had threatened to kill her.

Described by her teachers as bright and intelligent, Lauren had moved secondaries mid-way through Year 8 after serious bullying incidents.

But shortly after arriving at her new school, four girls, all with a history of bullying, began to pick on her. When asked why she thought she was being bullied, Lauren said: "I'm confident and I speak my mind."

But a classmate who befriended Lauren said: "I was fooled by her at first, and didn't see the game she was playing. She can fool teachers into thinking she's Miss Innocent.

"She invites the kids who are not so bright to set about her, so she becomes a target. All the teachers rush to her assistance, largely because she can be so convincing."

The bully

Jack may have thrown a classmate against a wall and kneed him in the balls, but he insists that the victim "invited" the attack.

It began when Jack asked Sam, a classmate, to pass him a pencil.

Sam refused, saying: "No, I can't."

"Why not?" said Jack. "They're right by you."

"Get it yourself," Sam retorted.

"You know what?" Jack said, after the event. "You know when you start getting that buzz, like, trying to fight everyone and that?

"Then I thought, `no way, man'. I just got up and threw him against the wall and kneed him in the privates"

The provoker

"These sorts of kids just don't help themselves." This, says Dennis Lines, is how teachers often describe the provocative victim: the child who gains emotionally from being the victim of bullying.

Often, teachers will help the child to sort out one problem, only to find that another occurs. And another.

The provoker might be someone repeatedly bullied, despite being dominant and assertive in other contexts.

"Rather than rushing to punish the perpetrator, the teacher should look at a deeper level," he says.

The teacher

The usual anti-bullying practice is to punish the bully while offering support to the victim.

But Mr Lines questions whether this is the most effective tactic.

"Rallying to their defence may not always be the best means of supporting them. It may just reinforce the same behaviours."

He claims it is often more useful to offer support to the bully.

"Working with the bully should be part of any school's anti-bullying policy," he says.

"That's the real support. And it's more economical: if you stop their aggressive behaviour, you prevent any future incidents of bullying."

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