Working with Targets of Bullying

Ginger boy hand with stop

We are often asked for help in working specifically with targets of bullying as this can be a very delicate and upsetting situation.

Hopefully the following information will be useful to those wanting to offer support and alternative responses to those who are being bullied.

The following information has come, with thanks from Val McFarlane, ABA North East Regional Advisor.

The 'Boring Victim' approach

To produce a successful bullying incident, there are a few factors that must be taken into account. What is the bully hoping to achieve? In my experience it is usually one of two main goals:

  1. To look "hard" in front of their peers
  2. To be funny and to get their peers to laugh at someone else's expense

Both of these goals will gain credibility and adoration for the bully from their main peers, although the wider audience may be less impressed.

So, with this in mind, there are two things the victim needs to do to help the bully be successful, they need to be humiliated, or scared.

The audience reaction is all important, and even if the audience are not present, they are guaranteed to have the story relayed back to them later.

Now we all know that victims are told to ignore the bullying and just walk away. That is not as easy as it sounds, especially when someone is called your lovely mum a "fat slag" or something equally derogatory. The secret to becoming a boring victim, or certainly a less appealing victim, is to genuinely not care about what is being said to you. So a cognitive approach to this can be helpful when working with victims of verbal abuse.

Firstly, it should be explained to the victim that they can only be bullied if they process the words being said to them as being meaningful. So firstly, do they respect the opinion of the bully? Is this a person that they are going to have a long friendship with, perhaps beyond having to share an educational establishment with them? Unlikely. Explaining to the victim what is really happening in this situation can really make them focus on the reality of it. Someone is using the victim to make them feel and look more important, they do not trust that their friends like them just for being them, they have to constantly thrive to look for new ways to impress them, just to keep them. That is quite sad actually, and when examined in this way, can make the victim see the situation quite differently.

Does the bully really hate the victim? Unlikely. The victim is being used to make the bully feel better.

So who makes a great victim? One that will provide the audience entertainment that the bully is seeking. There are many strategies that can be used to assist the victim to cope with a verbally abusive situation if they cannot physically remove themselves from it.

In Your Head You Can Be Anywhere

Just because you are being followed by a gang of kids who are trying to make you get upset, and you cannot physically escape, doesn't mean your head has to stay there. Once you have realised what the bully is trying to do, and that they want to use you, you can take your head anywhere you like.

Encourage victim to practice mind walking. Escape to a lovely beach, your favourite shop, your gran's living room, anywhere you like, in your head you can be anywhere. When you have mastered this mind walking, you can just walk along, with your head held high and look absolutely fine. This is not what the bully is hoping for, you are becoming a less exciting victim.

Broken Television

If you came home from school and your television was completely broken, just as you were hoping to watch your favourite programme, what would you do? Well sitting watching a blank screen isn't going to help, kicking or hitting it will get you into serious trouble. Best thing to do is either forget it , or find another television which is going to work. Be a broken television, give out nothing at all, no verbal response, no sad or upset looks, nothing. Just a blank or perfectly fine face. Not what the bully hoped for. You are becoming a boring victim.


Perhaps to reverse this process will put it into perspective. The bully is very important, their opinion really matters, when you leave school you will always stay in touch, you would take the bully shopping with you if you were buying jeans and needed their view.

When the bully says something bad to you, it really matters because they really matter. I don't think so.

The bully is no-one, just an insecure person who is desperately trying to gain and keep friends. They need to make you look small to make them look big. If you cry or shout back, or look terrified, then you have made their day. They have won, it is 1-0 to the bully and you have done exactly as they wished.

Let's turn that around now, let's make it 1-0 to you. Let the whole scenario fall flat on its face, no entertainment for the audience, no pat on the back for the bully, just a moment of silliness which achieved nothing and made you look pretty good really, and the bully look dumb.

Resources - Working With Targets of Bullying