What do you think of when you hear the word bully? Do you picture a middle-school boy intimidating a smaller kid into giving up his lunch money? Or maybe a high school mean girl spreading rumors?
It would probably surprise you to know that bullying also occurs in places you might not expect — like senior housing, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and senior centers. In fact, experts estimate that between 10-20 percent of residents living in senior communities are bullied by their peers.
Like their younger counterparts, senior bullies employ tactics ranging from verbal intimidation like insults, teasing, and gossip to non-verbal behaviors like shunning and mocking, to physical violence. Seniors also follow the lead of youngsters in that regardless of age, female bullies tend to exhibit passive-aggressive behaviors such as gossiping behind someone’s back while male bullies tend to be much more “in your face” with both verbal and physical bullying behavior.
Why do seniors bully? Bullying behavior can be related to low self-esteem with a bully attempting to build themselves up by putting others down. It may be related to loss that can occur in old age creating a need for control that bullying seems to provide. It can also be related to suddenly having to compete for resources in shared living environments like senior communities.
Who gets bullied? Generally victims of senior bullying are similar to victims of any age. They tend to be those who have an overall difficulty defending themselves. They may be perceived as weak or shy, have anxiety or social difficulties, or have minority status within their population. Seniors suffering from dementia may also be easy targets since they are less likely to be able to stand up for themselves or seek help.
What should you do if you are being bullied? First, ask yourself, “Is this bullying behavior?” Whether or not an action is actually bullying depends on the type of behavior, the situation, history and whether the behavior is being used to gain power or control at the expense of others.
Remember, being “cranky” is not being a being a bully – everyone has bad days, and older adults may be dealing with health issues that are causing them stress or discomfort. Also be aware that those suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s can misinterpret normal actions as threatening which can lead them to react aggressively to those around them.
If you are being bullied, here are a few things to remember:
1. It isn’t your fault. It is the bully that has the problem – not you.
2. Respond to a bully by standing up for yourself calmly and confront their behavior rationally while asserting your rights.
3. Don’t try to appease a bully. If you are unable to immediately stand up for yourself at least let the bully know you are not afraid and quietly walk away.
4. Ask for help. Approach a friend or family member for assistance. If you are living in a senior community go to a staff member. Many senior communities are beginning to adopt “no bullying” policies and training both their residents and staff how to recognize and deal with bullying behavior.
No one deserves to be bullied regardless of age. Remember to treat yourself and others with the consideration, respect and dignity that you and they deserve.