Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy, comments: “Bullying is the intention to harm, intimidate or dominate another person” which is obviously something none of us want to be apart of. Am I right?
I had never considered Constructive Bullying as a thing before, but as I sat opposite my friend emotionally recounting her experience of being on the receiving end of it, I realised that this is a legit concept which many of us have endured when navigating the relationships with friends.
I found myself relating HARD to the concept, having had “friends” openly say harmful things to me and despite the misleading title, I would like to stress that there is nothing constructive about bullying whatsoever.
So what actually is Constructive Bullying?
Constructive Bullying is when you find yourself in need of a friend to give you guidance; but the said friend abuses your vulnerability and decides to unleash criticism they feel compelled to share about you, to you.
Ironically, this criticism is not constructive, but they feel their cruel words are the cure for your apparent incompetence (which is not actually incompetence FYI, we can’t be good at everything) in dealing with whatever situation you find yourself in.
In essence, this is someone close to you, abusing their status as a friend (*removes name from Christmas card list*) by offloading serious harm onto your shoulders by masking their words with the “this is constructive-criticism”, “I’m only saying this because I’m your friend” spiel, despite blatantly choosing to ignore the fact that they are in essence, bullying you.
So, why does this happen?
We’re social beings wanting to connect with like-minded people (aka friends). And being apart of a social group we feel comfortable to be ourselves in, is vital for our mental wellbeing. But, Dr Elena Touroni goes on to explain that when “friends” exhibit this Constructive Bullying behaviour it is “likely to come from a place of insecurity. It may, for instance, be an overcompensation for feelings of low self-worth i.e. putting someone else down in the hope of making themselves feel better.”
Disclaimer: this isn’t us justifying the behaviour of someone who chooses to bully – saying intentionally harmful things to anyone is considered bullying regardless of how they’re feeling about themselves or their relationship to you.
After confiding in my current circle, it was apparent that we could all relate to being on the receiving end of Constructive Bullying in past friendships.
Lucy* is currently a student who has undergone two sets of surgery in an attempt to feel confident in her appearance.
“When I was 16 years old, two friends told me that the reason I wasn’t in a relationship like them was because of my ears sticking out and that my boobs were only a B cup.
It made me feel miserable about how I looked and I desperately wanted surgery on my ears to have them pinned back, as I didn’t want to go out in public with them looking as they did (part of my ears were not properly formed as a child and this resulted in my ears looking elf-like and prominently sticking out).
My parents knew how miserable I was becoming and planned to re-mortgage their house in order to get the surgery done quickly and privately, because I refused to go to college looking the way I did. It was always in the back of mind what those girls said to me.
I had the surgery on my ears and my mum made me swear I wouldn’t get surgery on my face but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have surgery on my body. So, at 19 I had a bilateral breast augmentation in secret, to go from a B to a DD/E cup too.
People thought pointing out my apparent flaws in order for me to be deemed attractive was constructive and alas this affected me more than I could ever have imagined. Today, I am learning to love myself and now I am very happily engaged to someone who loves me for me.”
Daisy* an avid gym-goer, despite not feeling as though she needed to go as much as before receiving harmful comments about her appearance.
“After a shopping trip with a group of friends, I was about 17 years old when one particular friend looked me up and down after I had come out of the dressing room in a top I liked. It was tighter than I would usually go for but I thought it made me look toned.
She said “don’t you think you should lose some weight before wearing things like that? You don’t have the figure for that shape top.”
It made me sad and I started going to the gym, pushing myself hard to prove them wrong. I didn’t want to be insulted anymore, so I worked out constantly. I had really low self-confidence but I managed to take myself to the gym because I started to hate my body and how it looked until I started seeing improvements. I didn’t want them to say those things about me anymore.
Luckily, Now I go to the gym for the right reasons but at the time those comments took me to a really low place.”
Sophie* who has battled with an eating disorder throughout her teens, found herself negatively viewing her body again after a friends comments.
“An ex-friend asked to borrow one of my dresses and of course I said yes. As she put it on she said “I don’t know how you fit into this? I’m way smaller than you and it’s tight on me”.
This really affected me. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder since I was 12 years old and she knew that I struggled with how I viewed my body.
When the situation happened, I just brushed off her comment, even though I wanted to cry and tell her how much it hurt me to hear her say something like that. Her comment made me stop wearing fitted clothing and I stopped eating again. I felt so ashamed to be me. I also doubted my previous confidence in wearing that dress. Did other’s think it was unflattering on me? Did I look fat in it?
If your closest friend can say that to you, why wouldn’t a stranger think something even worse? I’m not friends with the girl anymore, there had been multiple other times she has made comments about my appearance and you realise that you’re not the problem it’s them. That toxicity is not worth having in your life.”
Friends CAN say things innocently and we must be aware that sometimes we have to judge whether our emotional response is relative to what has been said.
But, it’s important to surround yourself with people that make you feel good about being you and if you find yourself on the receiving end of someone who Constructively Bullies you on the reg, Dr Elena Touroni suggests “simply disagreeing with the criticism, while maintaining a calm tone of voice, facial expression and posture” and “ask yourself if there’s anything you can benefit from what you’ve been told.”