Say the word ‘bullying’ and it’s usually children in the playground that comes to mind but Cognitive Neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw warns there is an epidemic of bullying of the over 50s which is being kept under silent wraps.
With November known as anti-bullying month in the UK, Shaw points out that the bullying of elder adults is not limited to younger people targeting those who are older; there are often senior to senior offences. The widely accepted figure of between 10-20% of elderly people have experienced bullying from other members in their communities, whether it be verbal intimidation or an escalation to physical abuse, may be just a splash in the ocean according to Dr Shaw.
“With everyone facing increasing time limitations there is less of a chance for us to sit down and find out if there are any problems facing our loved ones. Bullying is also a bit of a taboo subject if you are the target because just saying you are being bullied makes most of us feel disempowered and weak. We need to stop and take the time to check everything is ok with our ‘elders and wisers’ and help them put a stop to bullying which is unacceptable regardless of type or age.”
Dr Shaw is also increasingly concerned about the targeting of the elderly by younger members of the family. “We are now more often hearing about instances where mothers are feeling victimised by their daughters, or grandparents are being mistreated by grandchildren. As we age and possibly feel more physically vulnerable we can feel disempowered and some disrespectful young people can take advantage of this. We are often frightened of losing our connection to the younger member of our family and in some cases just put up with the emotional abuse because of this fear.”
Dr Shaw says that bullying within the family is often a sensitive subject and can be difficult to deal with. “Parents will often find excuses for their children’s behaviour, but we need to encourage young people to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences. Our families are supposed to be the people who support us and keep us safe, but what happens when it is the very people who are supposed to be protecting us turn into the ones we need protection from?”
“Sit them down and talk about what it is that is making them resentful and try and work together to find solutions to the problem instead of hoping that they will stop themselves. At the same time, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for external help if the problem is getting too difficult to deal with by yourself. It is not a sign of weakness or failing if you need to ask for help.”
Adult bullying can also be found in the workplace, be it older staff feeling pushed out or younger staff seeing those older as road blocks to their progression in the company. Dr Shaw says HR departments and managers need to be vigilant and on the lookout for any types of discrimination or unfair targeting of the older members of their teams.
Tips on what to do to stop bullying
- Don’t give them the reaction they want. A lot of bullies get satisfaction from seeing the effects of what they do – don’t give in to them.
- Counselling is often a daunting prospect, but it can really help in these types of situations. Don’t be afraid of asking for help. Find someone to talk to when you are feeling particularly down about it.
- Don’t blame yourself. Know that bullying is unacceptable in any form whether it be cyber, workplace or relationship bullying. Call it what it is and tell the bully not to bully you.
- See if treating them with kindness works! Bullies are often nasty because they consider you a threat in some way and or because they have experienced a lack of kindness in their lives. Saying a friendly good morning may seriously throw them off course from a bullying attack. It doesn’t always work but may be worth a try.
- Never blame yourself for being bullied. Most bullies pick on other people because of insecurities of their own, jealousy or problems in their lives.
- Whether it is cyber bullying or to your face, don’t dwell on anything nasty that has been said about you. Try instead to focus on the good things about you and on compliments that others make about you.
- You might not be able to control the actions of others but you can make things better for yourself. Exercise is a great way to make you feel strong and confident. It may also lighten your mood and make you feel happier too.