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Bullying as a behavioral/process addiction

A process addiction or behavioral addiction is a compulsive disorder involving a particular action that creates a dependence on the feeling of pleasure caused by the action. For the most part, behaviors such as gambling, sex and shopping have all been characterized as process addictions. Until recently, bullying hasn’t been categorized with these types of addictions but now trending studies are leaning towards associating bullying with other behavioral/process addictions, due to its repetitive nature.

Process addictions are classified as more than habitual or daily occurrences, which are what they would be for most people; but the person addicted to these behaviors tend to seek out and obsess over them. Behavioral/process addictions happen when an entity of any kind is capable of stimulating a person’s brain. For some people, dopamine that is released from the brain produces pleasurable feelings, which leads to addiction. Studies show that anything capable of stimulating a person’s brain can be addictive, thus there are a number of similarities and differences between drug addiction and behavioral/process addictions. The difference between behavioral addiction and drug addiction is that the former lacks most physical symptoms.

Bullying has been a form of expressing a power imbalance since the beginning of time. When different people are placed in a group with different backgrounds, educational levels, financial status, physical characteristics, age or popularity, this could lead to power imbalances that are expressed through bullying, which could lead to not only abusive, but also addictive behaviors.

The pleasure experienced by the person addicted to behaviors such as bullying, or otherwise shaming and emotionally or physically abusive behavior, isn’t normal. Most people don’t find pleasure in causing fear, feelings of inadequacy or insecurity in another person. Unfortunately, the pleasure reward that some people experience from bullying behavior or from the consequences of their behavior, such as acceptance from peers, or a sense of power – has an addictive quality for some.

Most people might be rude because they’re having a bad day but they won’t make it a daily occurrence. When bullying becomes a daily or repetitive ritual, the question of whether the bullying behavior is an addiction or some sort of mental health issue comes into play. Bullying might serve a purpose for certain people. For some, it might enhance social standing, financial status or future goals and aspirations. However, there is more to bullying than simply a sheer wish to be in better standing financially or occupationally, with some people, bullying and other kinds of emotional abuse are symptoms of other disorders.

Bullies that repeatedly take part in offensive, abusive and rude verbal or physical behavior may have lacked the attention or praise that is needed during childhood or they might have very low self-worth and feel that if they cut down another person it will give them the power and notoriety that they are so desperate for. They may even have been taught to get praise and attention by stepping on others. Whatever the reason for the bullies’ behavior, it is damaging to both their reputation as well as the reputation of the victim. When negative behavior continues on a regular basis, it deviates from the norm and leaves the possibility of a mental health condition in question.

Psychological damage caused by bullying

Whether bullying behavior is manipulative and psychological (covert) or physical and loud/obvious (overt), it is equally harmful and psychologically damaging to the victim. Repetitive put downs, verbal assaults or threats can be extremely damaging to a person’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem and at times can very easily lead to violent or self-destructive behavior on the part of the person being bullied.

Short-term effects of bullying

  • Depression
  • Avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur
  • Greater incidence of illness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Lower grades than non-bullied peers

Long-term effects of bullying

  • Increased incidents’ of bullying
  • Inability to trust others
  • Avoidance of close relationships
  • Poor self-perception/easy to victimize
  • Reduced occupational opportunities
  • Lingering feelings of resentment, anger, bitterness, desire for revenge

Signs of bullying as a process addiction

Signs that bullying behavior has or is becoming an addiction are very similar to those of other addictions. One’s mood is altered without the bullying behavior to fall back on. Further, when one isn’t able to experience the euphoria that is brought on by the bullying behavior, because of the target not being present, they will simply find another target to bully. When too much time is spent thinking or obsessing over the target/person being bullied, this could also be a sign of an addiction to the behavior, or other mental health issues. When the behavior takes time away from other responsibilities such as school, work or taking care of home responsibilities; or when the bully attempts to hide their behavior and continues the bullying behavior despite adverse consequences, this too could be a sign of addiction.

Finding help

Recognizing and treating all behavior/process addictions, such as bullying and other abusive behaviors that are compulsive and addictive in nature, is incredibly important. Treatment prevents the unwarranted behavior from becoming a larger issue that could result in further physical or mental abuse of another person or the bullies themselves. There is help available for the victims of bullies that can be sought through school therapists, church ministers, as well as psychotherapy treatment centers. Diversity training is also an available option for schools and workplaces to ensure that the community is aware of what constitutes bullying, harassment or other abusive behaviors.

To learn more about behavioral addictions and treatment you can call the mental health helpline at 855-653-8178 for more information.

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