Just the Basics….
JUST THE BASICS……
“…..Sugar and Spice and everything nice. That’s what little girls are made of.”
Little girls (watch a kindergarten class someday!) as well as big girls all engage in relational aggression—as do boys. Relational aggression is Emotional and Psychological Violence. It seeks to injure its victim by damaging other’s opinions of, and relationship to, her. It manipulates other people, situations, and social forces (see, below) to instigate discord, and intentionally bring about pain, isolation, and humiliation.
Relational Aggression relies on social networking to (covertly) spread gossip, rumors, lies, and photo-shopped pix. The reputation which accrues to the victim as a result of this cruel behavior often causes her to be shunned and humiliated, and leaves her self-esteem in tatters.
Relational Aggression often leaves its victim with little or no recourse. There is no forum in which the victim can refute the assertions and accusations of her tormentors. Any protest on her part—let alone tears or a formal complaint—confirms her status as a social pariah, and ‘legitimates’ the abuse which has been directed at her. She ‘cannot take it’, often causing the torment and exclusion to escalate.
WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO ADDRESS?
Relational Aggression is a social phenomenon, supported by normative social forces. Social forces are comprised of the norms, institutions, or groups that stand over and above the individual, and exert an influence on her actions. These forces are often grounded in the tendencies and desires of human nature. Competition is a social force, as is peer pressure. Both exhibit a ‘power’ which only comes into being in relation to a group, and become tangible in interaction. (The ‘group’ does not need to physically exist next to me for social forces to influence my behavior).
Relational Aggression harnesses a number of the normal social forces which swirl around us on a daily basis, and employs them for its own end. These include gossip, laughter, stereotyping, competition, and shame. You cannot “ban” any of these behaviors, because they are integral to the fabric of social interaction—and some, like stereotyping, are even rooted in the way in which our brain perceives, and catalogs, the world around us. Gossip is another example. It functions in society to create bonds between individuals. We share our opinions and points of view with people around us, and those who have similar responses and tastes begin to become our friends. Opinions often evolve around reactions to a third party’s behavior. Laughing at the behavior in question bonds individuals. Publicly laughing and encouraging others to laugh along and adopt this point of view bonds a group—at the expense of the individual, who is judged, humiliated and excluded. This turns gossip into relationally aggressive behavior. Laughing with becomes laughing at, with the intent to belittle, disgrace, shame.
SO? THIS HAS ALWAYS GONE ON. WHY SHOULD IT MATTER NOW?
During adolescence, young adults are involved in developmental tasks which include: 1) the development of an identity; 2) separation and independence from family; and 3) fitting into a peer group. When these tasks are ‘perverted’ by the punishing aggressions of peers, long-term affects may result.
In situations involving Relational Aggression, “mirroring” –the peer group’s reflected reaction to an individual (her clothing, her behavior, her choices, etc)—often occurs along negative lines. Mirroring is crucial to the formation of an identity. To a greater or lesser degree, we see ourselves the way others perceive us (we often pick and choose from amongst these ‘reflections’ and form to form a coherent image of ourselves which may not reflect the whole person).
Relational Aggression reflects inadequacy and cultivates shame. During this formative period, these definitions may lay the foundation of her sense of self. The cornerstones of her identity may ‘loser’, ‘reject’, ‘not good enough’, ‘unlovable’ – in other words, a waste of space. Low self-esteem and feelings of insecurity may persist throughout life.
Take all of this behavior and put it in cyberspace, where the perpetrator can not only remain anonymous, but network her cruelty to innumerable individuals—forever. Once something exists in cyberspace, it exists somewhere, forever.
Cyberspace contains aspect of fantasy-land: an individual can do or say what she likes, and someone, somewhere, will endorse her. In terms of day to day Relational Aggression, cyberspace provides an interactive forum in which revenge fantasies can readily be put into motion. Facebook, IM and twitter can virally circulate knowledge, and can do so relatively anonymously. The possibilities to embarrass and humiliate are only limited by one’s imagination. And, because so much can be done ‘anonymously’, the perpetrator does not have to provide even a semblance of restraint. Cyberspace removes the checks and balances which moderate social life because it is virtual—i.e it exists beyond the range of social censorship which constrains individual passions.
But this is only the tip of the ice-berg. Cyber-technology levels the playing field. Cyber-bullies do not have to be pretty/handsome, popular, or even noticed. Harassment can come from the nerdy student who is always overlooked, from the ‘wannabe’ who sets out to be noticed by orchestrating reactions, from the jealous rival, from the victim du jure (who has had enough and reacts) or from the bored mean girl as readily as it can originate in a social slight. These perpetrators turn bystanders into aggressors by enlisting them in spreading the information—by one click. Hitting ‘forward’ or ‘send’ does not engage moral censors the way verbally repeating a vicious lie about a little-known peer might. And it gives the term “everyone” (as in “everyone hates you”) a whole new meaning. Navigating to a site or opening a message that contains a list of the “biggest losers” at your school (faces can be creatively photoshopped onto any virtual image) turn passive bystanders into accomplices—kids who laugh in relief because their image is not on that wall, and, because of their inclusion in the social media network, allow them to feel part of the “in-crowd”. [[In resources note site stopcyberbullying.org]]