Bullying: Effects On Social Anxiety And Self Esteem

The present study documented measures of social anxiety and self esteem in adolescents and sought to determine its association with dimensions of bullying in victims. Social anxiety entails feelings of apprehension in social situations, while bullying involves recurrent and intentional acts like teasing to injure another and has been suggested in the occurrence of social anxiety. Self esteem refers to the general view of oneself and proposed as a link with bullying. An independent variable of this study is bullying while dependent variables are social anxiety and self esteem. Two hypotheses were yielded: (a) higher rates of bullying in victims were linked with social anxiety and (b) there is a relationship between bullying and self esteem. Erikson’s developmental theory of “Identity versus Role Confusion” supported hypotheses of why bullying increased social anxiety and lowered self esteem in adolescent victims. Adolescents between ages of 12 and 20 completed self-report questionnaires on bullying, social anxiety and self esteem. Results proposed individuals who identified themselves as bullied victims had higher degrees of social anxiety and lower self esteem.

Keywords: social anxiety, self esteem, adolescents, bullying, victims, erikson, developmental, identity, role confusion

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Chapter One: Introduction

Before measuring the association between bullying, social anxiety and self esteem, it is crucial to be equipped with an understanding of the variables.


With the intention of conducting investigations on bullying, researchers have to first determine what exactly is bullying As denoted by Marini, Spear and Bombay (1999), bullying is the manipulation of physical and emotional influence of deliberate harm towards a person, thereby producing a destructive environment instilling anxiety, threat and apprehension in an individual.

Adding onto Marini et al.’s (1999) definition, researchers who further assessed bullying indicated two different types namely direct and indirect. Direct bullying is portrayed as perpetual, existing as bodily assaults like kicking and hitting, while indirect bullying consists of behaviours such as teasing and intentional exclusion of an adolescent (Fitzpatrick et al., 2007; Haddow, 2006; Hampel, Manhold, & Hayer, 2009; Nansel et al., 2001; Omizo et al., 2006; Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007).

Social Anxiety

An underlying characteristic of social anxiety is a phobia of social settings and interpersonal communication yielding self awareness and negative beliefs of oneself. Individuals suffering from social anxiety typically dread negative assessment by people (DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Based on Slee (1994), social anxiety has been unveiled to impact negatively on peer involvement, thereafter contributing to peer refusal.


Schaffer (1996) postulates self esteem as an assessment of an individual and the extent to which one perceives himself or herself as either optimistic or undesirable. Cooley (1902) proposed an understanding of oneself is shaped in accordance with people’s behaviour towards the self. Those who obtained positive views from others like a compliment would have increased self esteem.

Onset of Bullying

Bullying has evolved into a universal issue in adolescence. Several public findings by Cho, Hendrickson, & Mock (2009) recognized bullying as multifaceted, producing a series of adverse societal, psychological and educational effects on adolescents. A justification for the rise of bullying occurrences in adolescence could be because of numerous progressive changes happening in this stage. Such changes include emotional ones like escalation in anxiety (Green, 2007; Nansel et al., 2001; Pergolizzi et al., 2007).

Bulach, Fulbright and Williams (2003) theorized the manner in which bullying contributed significantly to the development of school violence. This was evidenced by an incident in 1998; Georgia, where an adolescent succumbed to death due to school bullying. The misfortune evoked awareness in the country where regulations on bullying were authorized. Hence, it is no wonder bullying is acknowledged as a prominent kind of violence in schools (Bulach et al., 2003; Olweus, 2003; Siris & Osterman, 2004; Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum, & Modzeleski, 2002).

The following describes the influence of bullying on victims by highlighting the prevalence rates, thereafter introducing traits of victims and how these are linked with social anxiety and self esteem.

Prevalence of Bullying

Bullying is highly prevalent among adolescents and differs among cultures. It results in detrimental consequences and persists as a stumbling block in schools, where adolescents struggle to handle distress from bullying. National studies directed by Nansel et al (2001) demonstrated an approximate of 2,027,254 adolescents identified themselves as victims of temperate bullying while 1,681,030 youths engaged in repeated bullying.

Reviews have generated an increasing interest on bullying in the 21st century (Rigby 2003; Arseneault et al. 2009), with adolescents of United States of America (USA) generating the highest distress from either forms of bullying. This is evident in a study, where an estimated 10% claimed to be bullies or victims at least once a month (Omizo, Omizi, Baxa, & Miyse, 2006).

A study by Olweus and Limber (1999) stated approximately 1.6 million of college adolescents in (USA) constituted bullied victims. Additionally, Nansel et al. (2001) uncovered 30% of them were linked with bullying, existing as a bully, victim or both. A separate statement by the U.S. Department of Education revealed 77% of adolescents whom were assessed were victims throughout their entire education (Garbarino et al., 2003). With bullying occurrences on the rise, researchers have thus commenced detailed examinations to further evaluate such occurrences in adolescence (Espelage & Asidao, 2003).

Since such elevated incidences of bullying are a cause for concern, it is vital to be mindful of different types of aggression and that bullying is just a specific kind. Despite majority of studies on issues of adolescent bullying for bullies and victims, only those pertaining to victims and the relation to social anxiety would be investigated.

Attributes of Victims

This group of adolescents are known as receivers of violence inflicted by their aggressors. Victims are more likely to appear timid, withdrawn and lack motor synchronization. Besides being known to have minute body sizes and regarded as undesirable by their peers (Bernstein and Watson, 1997), they have nervous disposition characterized by an intense worry of negative appraisal from people, (Bernstein & Watson, 1997; Haynie et al., 2001), a trait of social anxiety. In addition, these victims display avoidance in social settings as a result of being bullied (Fitzpatrick, Dulin & Piko, 2010; Ivarsson, Broberg, Arvidsson, & Gillberg, 2005; Hampel et al., 2009).

Olweus (1973, 1978) recognized victims exist in two groups; submissive and highly aggressive or provocative victims. The submissive ones are portrayed as vulnerable and do not incite bullies to further violence. Instead, they behave in ways that intensify the act. As submissive victims do not protect themselves, they are deemed weak, therefore undergoing peer refusal, an aspect of social anxiety. On the contrary, provocative victims exhibit restlessness and seem more irritable. They are likely to retaliate during assaults. Though all victims are highly susceptible of appraisal especially negative ones, submissive victims are more affected by such criticism and reproach themselves repeatedly. Highly aggressive victims portray nervous tendencies and difficulties focusing on tasks at hand, experiencing greater disregard compared to submissive victims.

Victims and Social Anxiety

Though anxiety is manifested in several forms, social anxiety is most palpable in bullied victims and acknowledged as a persistent disorder (Watson and Friend, 1969; as mentioned in Slee, 1994).

Adolescents who suffered from childhood bullying may be at greater exposure to being bullied in school (Chapell et., 2004). Despite beliefs on bullying as uncommon in schools, a study has disputed such claims, indicating bullying rates as frequent across some colleges (Chapell et al.). A study was held on 1,025 university students where 60% claimed to have witnessed bullying and around 44% noticed a lecturer victimizing a student (Chappel et al.). This finding led Chapell and his team (2006) to further investigations, where a clear link regarding bullying occurrences in infancy, adolescence or both stages and chances of becoming victims in school was established. Their results are of considerable importance as it can assist some medical practitioners in treatment effects as they manage patients who might be bullied victims before.

Social anxiety results in public aversion and restraint in affected individuals, reducing peer involvement due to a self belief of being undesirable by people (Ginsburg et al., 1998), therefore affecting peer communication which prolongs bullying and decreases their self esteem. This understanding was further developed as Crick and Bigbee (1998) noted adverse peer communication can affect one’s self assessment, thus accounting for insufficient self esteem and exacerbates social anxiety.

Investigators uncovered not all victims of bullying manifest social anxiety in adulthood (Hawker & Boulton, 2000; Jantzer, Hoover, & Narloch, 2006; Newman, Holden, & Delville, 2005; Olweus, 1993; Schafer et al., 2004). However, regardless of their studies that bullying might suggest psychosocial issues during adolescence, there is still inadequate interest in the understanding of why only certain adolescents may experience such issues.

Reviews (Chapell et al., 2004; Chapell et al., 2006) indicated adolescents who recalled being victims of bullying were at heightened possibilities of social anxiety in contrast with those who had no recollection. Such experiences pose worry particularly since bullying throughout adolescence has displayed a significant connection with higher emotional and interpersonal difficulties (Dempsey & Storch, 2008; Hawker & Boulton, 2000; Jantzer, Hoover, & Narloch, 2006; Newman, Holden, & Delville, 2005; Olweus, 1993; Schafer et al., 2004; Tritt & Duncan, 1997). Further analyses on previous bullying occurrences in males who were weekly sufferers discovered that they regarded anxious tendencies as a result of being bullied (Gladstone, Parker, & Malhi, 2006). Similarly, the ability to recall past episodes of attacks was known to influence its start, with adolescents who recollected their situation recording a hastened experience of anxiety conditions and greater unease in social settings as compared to those who failed to remember their traumatic experience (McCabe, Miller, Laugesen, Antony, & Young, 2010).

An analogous study revealed adolescents who were victims before displayed more negative perception of the public than non-bullied adolescents. This perception is an example noted in anxiety disorders (Hawker & Boulton, 2003). Furthermore, bullying accounts have specified adolescents who were once victims had more inclination to display characteristics of social anxiety like phobia of negative appraisal from others and social avoidance (Dempsey & Storch, 2008).

In comparison with non-bullied adolescents, victims are known to experience elevated psychological and emotional suffering due to bullying episodes they faced in school. Research has suggested this intense distress would persist even in adulthood (Fekkes, Pijpers, & Verloove-Vanhorick, 2003; Hampel et al., 2009; Solberg & Olweus, 2003). Estevez, Murgui, and Musitu (2009) piloted a finding on psychological changes with regards to social anxiety and self esteem in 1,319 adolescents. It was revealed bullied victims manifested higher social anxiety and greater discontentment with life compared to bullies and those non-bullied. This was reinforced in bullied. This was reinforced in Fitpatrick et al.’s (2010) review where low self esteem and high degrees of social anxiety were evident due to bullying occurrences.

Graham and Bellmore (2007) formed a profile sheet for bullying by grouping it based on bullies, victims, bully-victims and those non-bullied. They discovered significant disparities of psychological changes in victims, bullies and non-bullied adolescents, where victims garnered the most scores for anxiety and least in self esteem. In contrast, bullies yielded the lowest degree of social anxiety and were extremely high on self esteem scores.

Based on cross sectional information, a study on 226 adolescents with past occurrences of being bullies and victims was operated (Gladstone et al., 2006). Gladstone and his team focused on victims and their likelihood of displaying anxious tendencies in adulthood. Self reported measures were used to determine anxiety. Results depicted bullied victims had greater levels of social anxiety and suffer from insufficient self esteem. Furthermore, social anxiety was still constant in a notable percentage of victims, expanding current findings on the relationship between bullied victims and adverse effects they experience.

Additional research on bullying was conducted by Menensi et al. (2009) which concentrated specifically on psychological influences of bullying on victims. This assessment indicated bullies engaged in threatening behaviours like violence while victims suffered from worrying symptoms including social anxiety. In Esbensen and Carson’s (2009) four year analysis, based on the belief that bullying happens continuously which causes major psychological issues like social anxiety, a set of questions were devised to establish the outcome of bullied victims and bullies. An apparent disparity in bullying frequency was uncovered. A meagre 28% indicated themselves as victims in yes and no questions; whereas 82% admitted they were victims on questions inquiring personal development and behaviour. Victims faced with bullying on a constant basis also experienced increased social anxiety, higher possibilities of being harmed at school and a severe fear of being bullied, which was supportive of Menensi et al.’s (2009) study.

Bullying and Self-Esteem

The effects of bullying are well documented in countless reviews, from lingering health issues to emotional distress and diminished self esteem. Self esteem is constituted by a series of beliefs an individual has (Berk, 2009).

The relationship of bullied victims and low levels of self esteem is clear. This is apparent in Houbre et al.’s (2006) report which implied a lack of self worth in victims who were seemingly displeased with their physical appearance. This negative self evaluation may cause victims to isolate themselves from the public, and this could result in mental health issues. Hence, it is significant to identify the connection between bullying and how it leads to low self esteem in victims.

According to Hodges and Perry (1999), bullying serves as factors of self esteem and social anxiety. A co-relational study on 8,249 Irish adolescents indicated links between rates of bullying and esteem, where bullies garnered least self esteem and anxiety (O’Moore & Kirkham, 2001). A separate study directed by Rigby and Slee (1999) on bullying in adolescence revealed 48.8% of males and 62.5% of females who lacked self esteem suffered more negativity following an assault. As a result, they have lesser peer involvement and suffer from refusal, triggering weakened self esteem and isolation from social settings, a core aspect of social anxiety. Thus, as predicted, it appears that self esteem contributes notably to the domains of bullying as well as social anxiety.

In a subsequent finding, Houbre, Tarquinio and Lanfranchi (2010) questioned if low self esteem was a determinant and outcome of bullying. Their study supported the idea of self esteem as a predictor of bullying based on results portraying pessimistic beliefs as the strongest indication of the act. In addition, further examination by them on repetitive bullying and self esteem described the extent to which both were connected; the lower the self esteem, the higher the occurrence of the attack. Apparently, bullying can reduce a victim’s self esteem. Despite victims possessing a likelihood of being bullied, such attacks decrease their self esteem and also exacerbate feelings of anxiety as they accept their aggressor’s beliefs. Thus, these findings imply that self esteem can exist as a cause of bullying and can also be influenced by it.

Ample evidence regarding self esteem in bullying occurrences has been displayed before (Andreou, 2000; Callaghan & Joseph, 1995; Ross, 1996). Boulton and Underwood’s (1992) study unveiled a whopping 80% of adolescents claimed to experience more happiness and confidence in life before episodes of bullying commenced. This is further evidenced in Bosworth et al’s (1999) analysis on 558 students of a certain academic level, where low degrees of self esteem and higher bullying rates were linked. Moreover, victims of bullying were recognized to have lower self esteem in comparison with bullies and those not implicated (Andreou, 2000; Bolton & Underwood, 1992). Hence, self esteem served as an originator and a result of bullying (Graham and Juvonen, 1998). In a precise finding by Graham and Juvonen (1998), it was noted that adolescents who perceived themselves as victims came across several social issues like low self esteem. This is in contrast with adolescents, who were identified as bullied victims by their peers, suffering from peer issues like refusal.

Nansel et al.’s (2001) research relating to self esteem and the capability to befriend others produced an unfavourable relationship with school bullying, but was surprisingly positively correlated with victimizing people. This is reasoned by Borg’s (1998) study which stated male victims were extremely resentful and female victims were mainly unhappy. As feelings of resentment and unhappiness result in distress which affects victim’s self esteem, they may also be placed at heightened risks of being bullied (Hazler, 2000).

In different reviews, the extent of bullying is considered an influence of an adolescent’s mental well being. This seems to imply anxious tendencies of an adolescent are likely to stem from bullying. This notion was supported by an examination on bullying as a correlation of decreased self esteem and elevated intensities of anxiety (Mynard, Joseph and Alexander, 2000). An exact finding by Mynard et al. (2000) purported oral bullying as a negative link with self esteem and that adverse outcomes of bullying may vary based on the extent of aggression applied.

As a majority of adolescents are predisposed to intimidation by bullies, one possible reason for those who are more confident and less anxious would be their low acceptance of assaults by bullies as they attempt to protect themselves against harm, instead of the victims who fail to retaliate (Egan & Perry, 1998). This explanation hence clarifies why only some adolescents who lack self regard and display social anxiety depict a phase of bullying.

Several findings specified self esteem as a significant link to bullying and social anxiety, proposing that bullying incidents cause unfavourable effects on an individual’s self esteem, thus justifying the high degrees of social anxiety according to them (Bernstein & Watson, 1997; Fosse & Holen, 2002; Kumpulainen, Rasanen and Henttonen, 1999; Kumpulainen & Rasanen, 2000; Mahady-Wilton, Craig, & Pepler, 2000; Marini, Spear & Bombay, 1999; Nansel, Overpeck, Pilla, Ruan, Simons Morton, & Scheidt, 2001; Perry, Kusal & Perry, 1988; Rigby, 2000; Roecker Phelps, 2001).

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