Bullying and Self-Esteem

Those with low self-esteem are likely to be the victims of bullying, but does low self-esteem cause others to bully?

Bullying perpetration and victimization circumstances occur over the course of adolescence and are a worldwide concern. Determining the affecting factors and impacts of bullying and their circumstances are vital to understanding adolescents’ development and to creating effective prevention or intervention programs. Low self-esteem is one of the vital core variables closely connected with bullying experiences among adolescents, and it may be considered to exist before and after the bullying circumstances. Bullying experiences in adolescents may result in maladjusted developments such as low self-esteem, which, in turn, could boost the probability of having bullying experiences (Choi & Park, 2021, p. 739). In their study, Choi & Park (2021) clarify the long-term reciprocal relationship among adolescents’ being bullied and their experiences of victimization and low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem may result in victimization in three specific ways. First, adolescents with a negative perspective of the self are likely to be shunned by their peers, which may spontaneously result in being bullied. Adolescents that have low self-esteem are recognized as having several emotional and behavior problems, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Those maladjustments may make it challenging for them to be a part of peer groups, and it may invite bullying from peers. Second, adolescents that have low self-esteem do not have enough confidence to defend themselves from likely harms by counterattacking or retaliating. They see social conflicts as threatening and display maladaptive coping approaches in social-conflict circumstances. Peers (particularly bystanders) may be inclined to attribute victims’ unlikability to their own wrongdoings and think that they deserve to be bullied. In such circumstances, students that have low self-esteem are more likely to feel that they deserve to be bullied and that they have no way to change the circumstance of being bullied. Third, it is possible that low self-esteem already suggests an imbalance of power; low self-esteem is normally connected with low social status within a peer group. When compared against mid or high self-esteem, low self-esteem may be considered a risk factor that accounts for the conceptualization of bullying perpetration (Choi & Park, 2021).

Bullying experiences faced in adolescence could result in maladjusted development (for instance, low self-esteem), which, as a result, could boost the likeliness of having bullying experiences (Choi & Park, 2021, pp. 745–746). Because bullying perpetration and victimization are likely to co-occur, it is essential to simultaneously examine them in a model as possible influencing factors and consequences of low self-esteem; however, these have not been explored enough. In their study, Choi and Park (2021) provide a broad understanding of adolescents’ bullying experiences (e.g., bullying perpetration and victimization) and low self-esteem by looking at their recurrent relationship after controlling for previous bullying experiences, making use of three years of longitudinal data from Korean high-school students. The results from their study displayed no relationship among low self-esteem and bullying perpetration. The results showed that low self-esteem does not necessarily foresee bullying perpetration, and bullying perpetration does not necessarily foresee lower self-esteem after controlling for concurrent and previous bullying perpetration, victimization, and low self-esteem.

Therefore, the “low self-esteem hypothesis,” which proposes that low self-esteem may result in bullying perpetration, was not supported. The null relationship among low self-esteem and bullying perpetration may be attributable to the unique characteristic of bullying perpetration (e.g., an imbalance of power) that distinguishes bullying perpetration from general aggressive behavior. As a result of this power and high status, bullies are likely to favorably perceive themselves, or at least no less than normal peers that aren’t involved. By bullying other people, bullies may consistently uphold favorable views of self (Choi & Park, 2021).

Do you have a teen that is facing bullying? Therapy may be a great place for them to process their emotions and learn to deal with their bullies. Book an intake session today by emailing me at newfoundresilience@protonmail.com.

Or book your intake session today at https://newfoundresilience.janeapp.com/#/staff_member/1/treatment/3


Choi, B., & Park, S. (2021). Bullying perpetration, victimization, and low self-esteem: Examining their relationship over time. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 50(4), 739–752. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-020-01379-8