General Article Can you unintentionally bully someone? Here’s the science

Topic Selected: Bullying Book Volume: 380


Priti Patel says she didn’t intend to harm staff. Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Geoff Beattie, Edge Hill University

I was nine. Some girl, maybe around 15 or 16, old enough to tower over me, asked whether Bill Beattie was my brother. I nodded. Without saying another word she grabbed me by my hair and started to drag me across the street – pulling out clumps of it. The whole time she was swearing about my brother – how he thought he was too good for her. I was bent double, trotting to keep up with her in her rage. In shock, I prayed that nobody had witnessed the attack.

I never mentioned this to anyone – it was too humiliating. I always saw it as a particularly nasty act of bullying, but now I’m not so sure. Bullying, it seems, can be a slippery concept. Fast forward half a century and Priti Patel, the UK’s home secretary, has managed to keep her job, despite reports of bullying – claiming she didn’t mean to upset anyone. So what actually counts as bullying?

According to the psycholo...

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